AUTOMOBILES REDUX

 

Not all of my misadventures involving cars have come at the hands (wheels?) of my own vehicles. Other people's cars have taken their shots, sometimes with amusing results, sometimes not. Below are the more memorable instances.

 

 

 

My Brother's Cars

1957 Kharmin Ghia

My brother is not known for his mechanical aptitude. He was educated in, and has a career in, a technical field, but the operation and repair of things mechanical is not his forte. This is unfortunate, because when he was a young man he owned some real basket cases. It wasn't until I sold him my Pinto wagon that he had a truly reliable car.

 

 

One of his first cars was a 1957 VW Kharmin Ghia, similar to the picture except his was a sort of turquoise color and didn't look nearly as nice. When I first saw it I thought "I hope they paid you to take it away." It looked like someone's project car that they had given up on halfway through. At some point the original wiring had been taken out to upgrade the car to a 12V system, but the wiring looked and functioned like it had been installed by three different blind men.

That particular model of VW didn't come with such modern-day amenities as a gas gauge, so the only way to tell when you were getting low on gas was when the engine started to sputter, then you kicked a lever on the floor, opening an auxilliary tank which hopefully had enough gas to get you to a filling station. That was part of the deal when driving this car, but it also had a nasty habit of overheating if you drove it more than 20 or 30 miles. This tended to limit it's usefulness as a form of transportation.

He eventually fixed the overheating problem and took off for Ohio to see a girl he knew. A few days later he was back home driving a totally ratted-out 1970 Pontiac LeMans. It turned out that the VW had crapped out somewhere in West Virginia and the LeMans had been parked at a gas station in the town he was stranded in. So he took his remaining trip money, bought the Pontiac, and drove it home.

1970 Pontiac LeMans

I did not even post a reference photo for the LeMans, because no photo on the Internet could do it justice. It looked like a car that had been parked behind a gas staton in West Virginia. The interior was, um, inside, and you had to hold the steering wheel at 90 degrees to travel in a more-or-less straight line. But the most notable feature of the car was that someone had painted the exterior with flat black latex. With a brush. This immediately earned the car the moniker "Stealth Machine", because if it was parked at a large lot, like, say, a mall, you could not find it. It would simply disappear.

The car's other main quirk was that the transmission linkage would randomly freeze up, which meant my brother would have to crawl underneath the vehicle and beat on it to free it. This led to a memorable experience on my brother's 21st birthday.

I agreed to drive him into town to celebrate his birthday and I would be the designated driver. For some reason we took the Stealth Machine, and I was not looking forward to piloting that beast. As you might expect, my brother got totally stinking drunk, so after pouring him into the car, we started home. And as you also might expect, the transmission froze up. Thus we were immobile on one of the busiest streets in town and I had no idea what voodoo I needed to perform to get the transmission working. I woke my brother up and told him what had happened. He crawled out of the car with a large wrench, crawled underneath to the transmission, and proceeded to beat the hell out of the transmission with the wrench. This left me standing beside the driver's side trying to keep traffic from running over his legs. After this had gone on for a little while he crawled back out and told me it would work. And it did. I never drove the Stealth Machine again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1968 VW Bug

My brother's next car was a yellow 1968 VW Bug, very similar in appearance to the photo. There are those who do not believe in demonic possession, but they have not had to deal with this car. It was just one thing after another with this vehicle.

We could start with the sticking gas pedal. We were driving through a residential neighborhood, the kind with curvy streets and cars parked by the curb, when I noticed that we seemed to be going a little fast. I remarked "Going a little fast here." and my brother told me that the gas pedal was stuck. "Well", I said. "Put it in neutral!" He did and we pulled over with the engine going full throttle. It didn't take long to fix the problem, but I was a little perturbed, not least from wondering when my brother had planned on mentioning that the throttle was stuck.

 

 

The same thing happened again when I was in the car, but this time it happened on a highway and my brother knew what to do. This time we couldn't get the cable to release, so we had to call some friends to pick us up. This was PC (Pre Cellphone), so calling someone involved hiking to wherever the nearest phone was. I don't know how many times this happened when I wasn't in the car.

We could talk about the time I was replacing the rear shocks on the car and the jack failed, dropping the car right on to my tool box, which kept it from dropping on to me. I've never had that happen before or since. Of course, I use jackstands now, but at the time it was unnerving. That incident made me big fan of metal tool boxes, and I was disappointed years later when I went to replace my toolbox and all I could find were plastic ones.

In a closely related incident I got a call early one morning from my brother when a rear wheel came off while he was tooling down the road. In fairness, this occurred because after I replaced the shocks I asked my brother to put the wheels back on, and apparently he didn't tighten the lug nuts as well as he should have. When I got to the scene there was a sheriff's deputy, a couple of other guys, and my brother searching the woods for the runaway wheel. We found it behind a log about 60 yards from the car. I was happy to see that this had occurred on a dirt road and you could see the furrow that the brake drum had plowed. We were also fortunate to find all the lug nuts in close proximity to where the wheel and the car had parted company. When I asked what happened, my brother said "I felt the back drop and then I saw a wheel rolling out in front of me." The brake drum didn't appear to be damaged so we put the wheel back on, making sure the lug nuts were tight. I checked the other rear wheel and sure enough, those nuts were loose, but hadn't yet come off.

The yellow VW met it's end in a suitable fashion when my brother plowed into a mule one night. I was familiar with the place the accident occurred; a blind curve going uphill. Coming home from work, he had rounded the curve at speed and there was a mule right there. The car looked about like you'd expect a VW to look after it hits a mule. Because the front of a Bug is one big crumple zone, my brother escaped with minor injuries; the mule, not so much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Burning Bug of Fire

I once had a girlfriend who had a red Bug that she adored. Her sister's boyfriend was a VW mechanic so she got free work; not that her car needed much. Regular maintenance was about it. This also worked out well because at the time we were living in two separate states and were engaged in a long-distance relationship. On one of my visits we looked at fire extinguishers for her car, but ultimately chose not to buy one. You don't have to be an English major to figure out what happened.

I got a call a couple of weeks later from a very upset girlfriend telling me that her beloved VW had burned to the ground. How long do you think it takes a Bug to burn? Answer: Not long at all.

She estimated that from the time she smelled smoke to the time the Fire Department arrived was less than five minutes. She said the car was gone in about three. She did rescue a camera from the car and took pictures. She was right, it was an outright conflagaration.