Whether through divine intervention, good karma, or a combination of both, sometimes good things just drop into your lap, as if it were a gift from above. This truck did- right when I needed it most. Over the next decade, this trusty machine proved not only to be reliable transportation, but often my very salvation as well.
By the summer of 1999, my life had taken a significant downturn. AutoNation had recently bought out Champion Chevrolet / Olds, the dealership where I was working at the time. Due to corporate politics, I was swiftly demoted from mechanic to “helper” in the takeover, and had to take a hefty pay cut as a result. Because of this, I was forced to move back in with my folks- at age 28. For a fiercely independent and proud individual like myself, this was both extremely humiliating and deeply depressing- more so than anyone could imagine.
My once-carefree weekends riding my bike at the beach, playing on the computer, meeting friends for lunch, or hitting the mall scoping babes were now spent either assisting my folks in their endless gardening and home improvement projects, or running all over town earning extra cash by doing odd jobs for people. If that wasn’t bad enough, my love life at that point was virtually nonexistent. I felt utterly bereft over the whole situation, trying to deal with the stress caused by the loss of my freedom, privacy, and independence, my greatly reduced income, a total lack of female companionship, and my somewhat cloudy future as I lay awake at night pondering my next move.
As the rancid icing on a very bitter-tasting cake, I suddenly found myself without reliable transportation. My 1968 Mercury Cougar was convalescing in the garage, never to run again thanks to a blown engine. The car’s resurrection never occured, thanks to the combination of my small bank account and a schedule stretched to the limit due to working full-time, taking various side jobs, attending nighttime college academic classes, and checking off items on my folks’ ever-growing and ever-changing “honey do” list. My 1985 Mercury Topaz, a generous hand-me-down from my pop, had been serving as a temporary replacement for the Cougar. That was until the Topaz’ overworked, underpowered four-cylinder engine finally barfed its guts out on the 105 freeway late one night as I was headed home from a party.
I needed wheels- fast. I didn’t give a damn about year, make, or model- I just needed something that worked. I didn’t have the luxury of being picky. I mentioned my dilemma to the manager of Champion’s used car lot, a nice man named Eric. He asked if I might be interested in an old truck which had just been traded in. I looked it over, liked it, got a bank loan, and the rest is history. It was the right vehicle, at the right time, for the right price. Owning this truck changed my fortunes. In the process, it also changed my life. At the time of its introduction, this truck was a harbinger of positive change in the domestic light truck market as well.
When the radically redesigned GM C/K series pickups ( also known as the GMT400 platform ) made their debut in late 1987, they hit the light truck market like a rogue wave. Their sleek aerodynamic profile, with a low sloping nose and generous glass area, turned their competition from Ford and Dodge, and even their own long-lived predecessors, into instant dinosaurs. And their advanced-looking design wasn’t merely skin deep. Underneath, the GMT400-based C/Ks boasted an all-new fully boxed frame with revised suspension geometry. The new chassis was significantly stiffer than on the previous model, and ride and handling were both noticeably improved. NVH was greatly reduced. Compared to its predecessor, the GMT400 platform was a huge leap forward in comfort, refinement, and civility for a light truck. Rust protection was vastly superior to the outgoing model. Strangely, GM kept the Blazer and Suburban SUVs on the archaic R/V platform, not switching to the GMT400-based design until 1992.
The interior is typical 90’s GM- cheap, cheap, cheap. Even so- the reduced wind noise, superior visibility, cushier seats, heavier insulation, and an overall roomier cab make these trucks a more pleasant place to sit for long periods than their contemporary rivals- even in the standard cab configuration. To this day, 88-98 Chevy and GMC full sized pickups are about the only regular cab pickups from that era that I don’t feel totally squeezed in.
I told you that this truck saved my butt ( and occasionally other folks’ butts ) and in the process changed my life, didn’t I? Well, it did- more than once. As a struggling, low-paid mechanic’s helper, I earned steady side money helping people move, hauling their unwanted crap away to the dump or recycling center, or even towing them home after their cars broke down and left them stranded. When my old church lost its original building ( long and complicated story ), and had to rent out the nearby middle school auditorium for Sunday services, Goldie and I were right there to lend a helping hand with transporting furniture, equipment, and whatever else was needed.
As word of mouth spread among my friends, neighbors, and casual acquaintances, I got even more side jobs and also met lots of interesting and cool people, a few of whom eventually became good friends. I still had to watch my budget, but thanks to that old truck I always had a few extra bucks in my pocket. As an added bonus, I also scored numerous free meals.
This old truck also greatly improved my success with the ladies, believe it or not. Whether it’s the “manly” image that a truck conveys, or the woman’s knowledge that a guy can use that truck to do things for her, I don’t know. Probably both.
On one memorable occasion, a good lady friend of mine asked me to help out a gal friend of hers. This friend I had met once before, and thought she was kind of cute. The friend was half Jewish / half Italian, mid-20’s, a recent transplant from New York. She had a cute face, dark reddish brown hair, and a butt that you couldn’t ignore. This gal was built like a 71-73 Buick Riviera. Her hooded sweatshirt stretched to the breaking point, while her rather generous backside threatened to burst free from its blue denim prison every time she bent over.
Anyways, she had bought a fancy used dinette table and a queen-size art deco metal-framed bed from some funky little secondhand store in Hollywood, and needed to get them back to her newly rented place in Santa Monica. After a quick stop at Del Taco, we headed back to her place and set them up.
Me and this gal were giving each other looks all night, even before we picked up her furniture. After we all sat around yukking it up for a while, my friend said she was working early the next day and needed to go home and get some sleep. I noticed she looked at her friend with a sly grin when she said that. Minutes later, me and furniture gal were alone.
One thing led to another, and I wound up driving home from Santa Monica to Inglewood at 4 A.M. with a smile on my face and a spring in my step. To this day I still thank my lady friend for introducing us. There was also “Jamie”, the former cheerleader and budding adult entertainer that I delivered a refrigerator and ab machine to, but that’s a story for another time 🙂 . I also enjoyed several successful dates in this thing. When one thinks of stereotypical studmobiles, one normally thinks of Porsches, Bimmers, and Jags. Not a faded, oil-burning old pickup with a sagging headliner and a cheap aftermarket seat cover. Who woulda thunk it?
I’ve had many other memorable and amusing moments with this truck as well. Hastily loading up another lady friend’s stuff and whisking it ( and her ) away to her new apartment at the opposite end of town before her drunk loser live-in boyfriend got home from work ( that is when he actually did work, which wasn’t always ). Sitting with two friends on a dark side street in downtown Santa Monica with a cold 12-pack of Rolling Rock on the cab floor and passing a doobie back and forth, stumbling into Hooters restaurant an hour before closing time, completely blitzed. Hauling several hundred pounds’ worth of ancient, rusty scrap metal out of my maternal grandparents’ backyard, not realizing that one of those old lengths of pipe contained a very large wasp nest.
Losing a dresser mirror on the 91 freeway in the middle of rush hour. Being rear-ended by an elderly Eastern European woman who completely demolished the front end of her ’87 Delta 88, but left my truck undamaged. In the end, she cared more about making it to Hollywood Park Casino to gamble than driving home at night without lights. Being cut off by a station wagon and having to slam the brakes while hauling a fully-dressed 454 engine, nearly giving myself a big block Chevy enema. Shredding my right front tire on an improperly secured metal storm drain cover in Home Depot’s parking lot. Leaving Westwood Village and being followed by UCLA campus police almost all the way to Inglewood before being pulled over for my trailer hitch ball partially blocking my license plate ( no ticket, fortunately ). Taking Koby, my 18 year-old tom cat, for his first and last rides in it to the vet just days before he peacefully passed away at home.
I plucked this from Champion Chevrolet’s wholesale used car lot, with 123,000 miles on the clock, for $3500 total out the door. Just like that truck rescued me, I also rescued it. It was a truly symbiotic relationship from the very start. When I first acquired it, it was a lot like me at the time- sort of a mess. I met the previous owner once and he was an interesting fellow. Physically, he resembled a cross between a young Gene Wilder and a young Marty Feldman with wild curly hair, a crossed eye, a slightly spaced out expression on his face, and a noticeable speech impediment. He had traded the Cheyenne in on a brand new, fully-loaded Tahoe. He noticed his old ride sitting in the employee parking lot and asked who bought it. That’s when the service advisor introduced us. He wished me luck and advised me to take better care of it than he had.
In the eight years that I drove this truck daily, it only quit on me three times, all for minor reasons. By this time I had a good-paying city job and was once again living on my own.
The first breakdown was a failed water pump. Due to the noise it was making, I had anticipated this and purchased a new water pump ahead of time. When the old one disintegrated in front of the South Bay Galleria mall, I had the truck towed home, slapped the new water pump on, and was mobile again in a couple of hours- just in time to accept a last-minute invitation to dinner with friends at PF Chang’s in the Valley. Everything went great- except for me requesting a “to go” container for my leftover veggies and then carelessly leaving them behind at our table as we departed 🙁 .
The second hiccup a few years later was equally minor- a failed electronic pickup in the distributor. Thankfully it happened right in front of my apartment building. I pulled three feet away from the curb and the truck just died. I pushed it back into its space and went inside. I had to rent a car to get to work on Tuesday, until a friend and I could figure out what was wrong. That little mishap cost me a date with “Kristie”- yet another female “friend with benefits”. As luck would have it, her ride was also busted. Did I mention that it was a three-day holiday weekend when this happened? Oh well.
The third incident was when I was washing the truck and somehow water got under the hood, getting the distributor cap wet. When I went to pull the cap off to dry it, the cheap and brittle plastic broke in my hand. I was supposed to go pick up my aunt in Altadena and bring her back to my folks’ house for Thanksgiving dinner. My dad had to stop cooking, help me push my lifeless truck out of the driveway and into the street, and go get her himself. He wasn’t too happy about that. After dinner, while my dad was driving my aunt back home, I hopped on the spare mountain bike that I store in their garage and rode it back to my apartment, thankfully a distance of only two or three miles.
The next day I pedaled over to Pep Boys for a new cap and rotor, and then straight to my folks’ house. After finishing the job and scarfing down a generous amount of Thanksgiving leftovers, and having my mom load my arms up with even more leftovers, I headed back home- happy to have both a full stomach and a working vehicle. By 2006, I had picked up a clean, straight 2001 Ford Crown Vic ( civilian model ) to use as my daily driver, so the truck got a bit of a break. It certainly deserved it by that point. In December 2008 I also acquired my Ford F250.
Goldie soldiered on until 2009, when, after 223,000 miles, the little throttle body injected 4.3 decided that it had had enough. It still runs like a top, but burns so much oil that it kills every bug or bird within a mile radius. There was no way it would ever pass a smog check, so I parked it at my parents’ pad where it’s been sitting ever since. Some time last year, I started it up and let it run to charge the battery. Once it was fully warmed up, it smoked so badly that a neighbor freaked out and ran across the street to check on us. She thought that the house was on fire.
I once had big plans for this truck, and started collecting parts to fully resurrect it. Those plans came to a screeching halt when a hefty pay raise, combined with a generous inheritance from my Nana, allowed me to purchase my 2002 Ford F250 Powerstroke, as well as my various other CCs that you’ve seen here. I realized that a half-ton six cylinder just wasn’t going to cut it for the serious towing that I anticipated doing, so the decision was made to park the Chevy and get something beefier. I did make numerous upgrades to the Chevy while I was still driving it, however.
After all the money I’ve already spent, and after all the work I’ve either done myself or had done, I refuse to scrap this truck or part it out. I’ve had this truck listed on Craigslist for over a year now, but still no takers except for folks who want to procure the straight, rust-free sheetmetal from it. That’s not happening- it’s either all or nothing.
I’ve got a line on a good used replacement engine, and if the truck hasn’t sold by then, I’ll throw that engine in and stick the truck on a consignment lot somewhere. Neither the junkman nor some shady “charity” is getting their hands on it. Hell- I’d give it to somebody before I’d feed it to the crusher. This truck deserves a loving home as its final reward for a lifetime of faithful service, and for helping to enrich my life during my ownership of it. Hopefully a new chapter in Goldie’s life will be written, and she can be just as much of a blessing and a life changer for some other honest and hardworking soul as she once was for me.
Here’s to you, Goldie, and thanks for all the memories.