(please welcome our newest COALer Marc) I’ve been thinking about writing my own COAL series for a long time. Wondering if I could write well enough, whether I had the discipline to commit to a long-term assignment, or even have anything interesting to say. Ultimately, Curbside Classic has given me so many hours of reading pleasure with both the articles and commentary, it is the least I can do to contribute to something that’s given me so much.
I’ve always been interested in mechanical things – growing up in the country on an old farm, and having a father and uncles that shared the same interests fostered my curiosity in these things. There was always an old truck or car, tractor, Skidoo that needed some attention, and by watching and asking questions, I learned the basics.
Dad has always had an interest in old cars, having restored a 53 Dodge pickup, and, as his family grew, traded it for a 1938 Ford that he restored. Once I started getting close to 16 and the much-longed-for drivers license, he decided that I should have my own old car as well. He came close to a deal on a four-door Falcon, but decided against it when he found a 1970 Chevy fleetside pickup for sale. It was duly bought and brought home, to await restoration and paint.
It was a local truck, red in colour, and seemed to be solid. A supposedly rebuilt 327 V8, manual drum brakes and steering, 3-on-the-tree, nothing special besides the optional gauge package. Once we had started into it, it was apparent the truck wasn’t as good as it looked. The box had fill, the cab had fill, the fenders, hood, tailgate all had fill. This was going to be more work than we bargained for. This was in the days before MIG welders were common, and aftermarket parts were quite expensive as I recall as well. So we started scrounging and collecting what we could for replacement parts and repairing the rest. We were given a one-ton dually that had a good hood, glass, and door – we towed it home in the dead of winter with a tow bar, a wish, and a prayer. We would never do that today! I was lucky in that I had an uncle that was very good at doing body work. He was a bank manager by trade, but always enjoyed restoring cars. He had restored a few over the years, with his ’48 Ford truck being the most notable as he’s had it for almost 40 years. He also had helped Dad with the Ford. The Chevy, however, was turning out to be a project. All of the patching was done with oxy/acetylene, and copious amounts of filler was used to put it back in shape.
After I turned 18, the truck was finished. A plate and insurance were put on it, and I started driving it to university. I loved it. The turquoise green and creamy roof really suited the truck, and when I think back I think it was one of the nicest driving trucks I have ever driven. The ride and handling was solid, and the seat was comfortable. The previous owner had modified the shifter linkage so it only had a short throw. One big trouble spot was the engine. Right from the get-go, it had very little oil pressure at a hot idle, and as I drove it, it got worse. Combined with using a gallon of oil for every tank of fuel, it was apparent I’d have to find another engine for it before it blew up. It was put away for the winter, and in the meantime I found a ’83 Monte Carlo with a good 305 at a price I could afford. The Monte served well for the winter, and when spring came, the engine was put in the truck, and power steering was added at the same time. This made the truck a pleasant driver. The truck always handled well, and wasn’t rough at all on the road.
The cabs on these trucks were a nice place to be – roomy, with a nice upright seating position, and lots of glass. The heater worked well given how much thought was given to heating systems back then. The instrument panel was well-equipped with all gauges, and were brightly lit at night to boot. I put a smaller steering wheel on it as I found the big original wheel too large, and was cracked in several places.
I ran the wheels off the truck every summer. To our cottage, adventures over dirt roads, car shows all over the province – it never let me down. Sure, I had a little bit of trouble with it. I’d had a coolant leak during a visit to our provincial capital, Halifax, and put some Bar’s Leaks in it. It managed to plug the leak, and plug off most of the radiator as well. It was a slow trip home that time. The drum brakes needed a fair bit of adjustment to keep the truck stopping true.
The new engine allowed a power steering pump, and with that, I put a power steering box on it. Although some don’t have much respect for the 305, this one worked very, very well. Sure, it wasn’t a high-winding banshee likea 283, but with the 3-speed and 3.73 gearing, it would pull from about 20 MPH in high without too much trouble. Driven sensibly, it’d get near 20 MPG on the highway. It seemed to be an ideal truck engine, pulling OK from idle, and never failing to start and run.
However, given that the truck had so much body work done to it, it was inevitable that the fill would start bubbling through, and it did at the ten-year mark. The proper thing seemed to be to sell it while it still looked good, and someone eventually gave me my price for it. I miss it, and would really like to have another one of these someday. I’ve always had some sort of antique vehicle, and I did use the money I got for it to buy something more interesting, to me at least.