It was 2007 and I had just got my learner’s permit. I had been practicing driving in my mom’s 2003 Acura MDX, and my dad’s 04 Dodge Ram 1500 quad cab with the 4.7 v8. I got a job at a local restaurant and I needed some wheels of my own. I had a year ’till I got my real license so I began saving. I was working part time at the restaurant and the guy who worked full time got into a bad ATV accident and I was given all of his hours so I saved my checks. After a few months I had enough set aside to start looking ($1500) for a ride of my own.
My friend had just restored a 1965 Chevy C10 truck with his grandpa; rebuilt motor and paint, and it seemed easy enough that I could too own a classic. My mom specifically told me only car I was allowed was a year 2000 and newer! So I started my search on Craigslist, and after a few weeks came across this ad headline “1965 DODGE CORONET 440 BIG BLOCK AC RUNS!” I was hooked, and called up the old man who owned it. He was local and wanted $800. He didn’t know how to send pictures so I had to fill up my friend with an ’05 Mustang GT to get a ride to see it. As we pull up, we saw it in a fenced in lot with a big sign that read “We Buy Junk Cars”.
So we pulled inside the gates, and there she was, in her primer and surface rust glory. Keep in mind up to this point in life the only classic pre-1980 car I’ve ridden in was my friend’s 1965 Chevy truck. The old man promptly came out of his office and asked if I was the guy from the phone. I replied yes, and then he threw me the keys and said start her up. It was two keys, one was Chrysler shaped, the other was round. The old man said one was the key for ignition, the other for the doors and trunk. I was baffled that the car had a separate door and ignition key, as my parents cars from 1989-2000s always had a single key. So cars obviously advanced and technology got better, or so I thought.
That was until I went to pop the hood. Looked all under the dash and didn’t see a hood open lever anywhere. Old man directs me to front of car and between the slots in the grill you can access one lever that you slide to the right then the hood pops open enough to get the other lever, then voila, the giant square hood opens easily, almost effortlessly, and to my surprise there’s no hood prop rod or air shock holding the hood up; it looked like some kind of spring assisted mechanism that held the hood open.
No missing or broken hood prop rod or no worn out air shock. I then thought why don’t they use this on modern cars? It’s worked flawlessly for 42 years, the springs definitely look like they have went 42 years with no lubrication but they still did their job of opening and holding up that massive hood flawlessly.
So the Coronet had 440 badges on both fenders as well as on the door panels, so the old man assumed it was a 440 big block. I did my research before hand to identify a big block from small block. Soon as I saw the distributor in the rear and the scalloped valve covers I knew it was the polysphere 318. No big deal as I didn’t really need a big block. Turns out the 440 badging was just to designate the trim model, not engine size. The 440 wasn’t even around in 1965.
After hearing her run for a few minutes, and checking all fluids I told old man I’ll call him. That night I went home and convinced my dad to go look at the car tomorrow. He eventually agreed to go look at it. We go, and he ends up liking the car. So we made the deal that as long as I got the money he will get a trailer to bring it home. Brought the beast home the following night.
Of course my mom did not know I was bringing this home. Once I backed her off the trailer I backed it into our covered carport and left it running with the lights on and then went inside to get my mom. Keep in mind it was a cold dark night, so when my mom walked up to the carport, the Coronet was covered in a steam cloud from the exhaust as it was so cold out. She was probably expecting to see an early 2000s Cavalier or Sunfire, but no, to her horror there is the ’65 Coronet sitting there with that poly 318 rumbling, all while surrounded by a steam cloud from the exhaust, so you could really only see the round headlights through all the vapor in the air. WHAT IS THAT OLD DINOSAUR SITTING IN OUR DRIVEWAY!? was her response.
I had the title in my back pocket and there was no way she was getting it from me. She calmed down and eventually came to her senses. After a new Carter 2 barrel carb from AutoZone, she was purring like a kitten. I would then find out how hard it is to get Mopar B body glass as the Coronet needed front and back windshields. After weeks of searching I found a Dr Mopar from Neiderwald, Tx. He has a yard full of 60s mopars. $700 later I had front and back glass being shipped to my house.
The front glass arrived but UPS lady told me the rear glass didn’t make it. Broke During shipment. After a call to Dr Mopar he said that he only had 1 more back glass for my Coronet on his entire yard, so he decided to drive it down to me in the back of his truck personally. You don’t experience life until you have gone 60mph down the road with no windshield. That’s exactly what me and my friend did, we piled into the Dodge, proceeded to kick out the old windshield, and once that was out, I then drove to the street, did a one wheel burnout and got the old Coronet up to 60 mph then ran out of road.
Then I found out when trying to install Glass old windshields aren’t glued in like modern cars there held in with a rubber gasket. My grandpa came out and showed me an easy way to install the windows with a string and the new gasket. I still had a year before I got my real drivers license so I used that time to get her roadworthy. After new headliner, new front seat upholstery, all new bushings in the front end, a rolled-on Rusteoleum paint job, which didn’t look half bad, and a lot of miscellaneous repairs over the course of that year and she was roadworthy. And I had gotten my license.
I drove the hell outta that car and got a consistent 10 mpg no matter what I did. Didn’t really matter as all I had to pay for at the time was gas, so it wasn’t an issue. That car was so spacious with those big blue bench seats front and back. One time I had 8 people sitting comfortably in that car; we had the ac on blast, cruising to the next town. That’s when I realized the exhaust was leaking into the cabin, as after driving 30 minutes me and all 7 passengers had bloodshot red eyes along with a feeling of being intoxicated. I knew we were all getting poisoned by the exhaust but we couldn’t smell it. So down the windows went the rest of the ride and that’s when I also realized how useful those front vent windows were, another feature I wish modern cars had.
Over the next 10 years I went through at least a few dozen cars but always kept the Coronet. Drove that car to high school, drove her to college, a 1 hour commute. Took my future wife on a date in that car, used that car for our marriage car after our wedding, let my daughter ride in her first classic; a lot of memories tied up with that car. I kept it ’till about early 2017 when me and wife moved to another city about 2 hours away. The old Coronet made the trip out there, but then I parked her and after a few months what with my daughter about to start school and me and my wife really having to make it on our own, the Coronet was just money sitting there as I had another project and my daily driver. So I sold the Coronet and my other car. I felt like I had made enough memories in the old Dodge.
The polysphere 318 and torqueflite 727 were a reliable combination. Over the course of 10 years the only major work was heads redone and transmission rebuilt, other than that, and the Rustoleum roller paint job me and my brother did (actually didn’t look half bad) I ran that 318 hard. I’ve towed with that car even, haha, and power or torque were never a problem. The highest I ever got that old car was up to 100 and she still had more to go but the aerodynamics of the body mixed with the 40+ year old suspension made it feel like I was doing a whole lot more than 100 and I didn’t try to go any faster.
Looking back it was a simple car, yet it was the simplicity that made it so reliable. I did upgrade the ignition to the electronic Pertronix ignition because I didn’t know anything about points as they were phased out before my time. Had mostly front suspension problems; that car would eat bearings and even after a whole new front end kit and alignment I could never get it to stop eating the insides of the front tires. Besides those issues it was the perfect car to start me on my long list of future cars, as that 1965 Dodge Coronet set the standards for any car that I got afterward up until this day.