POAL: Tales of Sales of Parts to Parts Unknown


No matter the definition of “old” and “car”, an old-car hobbyist spends a lot of time, attention, and money on auto parts. It goes with the territory; when most parts aren’t available anymore—or aren’t availble in original quality, or in quality worth having—one must hunt, pounce, forecast, anticipate, stash, and hoard. It’s great sport and/or exasperating reality, depending on one’s perspective, resources, and actual need for whatever part. I bought a staggering amount of auto componentry, new and used, during my time in the hobby. The majority of it I didn’t actually need when I bought it. During and after whipping my mad car disease into remission I also addressed my elevated collectserall; I sold off almost every bit of what-all remained of that staggering number of parts, too, sooner and later—and more besides. Many of them have been unusual, little-known, rare to the point of near-nonexistence, or otherwise interesting—at least to me.

SBEC (ECM), 1991 Mopar AA-body 3.0 V6, European export calibration

 

My second job was in a print shop the summer I was 16, and I had some business cards done up. “Etcetera Enterprises”, I called myself, and the highly optimistic tagline was All Sorts of Parts for Valiants and Darts (it didn’t have to be completely accurate; it rhymed). Shop manager Wayne liked my newly-bought 1965 D’Valiant and put the card design together for me, centred round a line drawing I shamelessly lifted from somewhere, of a 1961 Valiant. Wayne refused when I asked to set the name and slogan all in small-caps (uppercase letters the size of lowercase ones). I asked why not, and he said “Figure it out”. Took me a minute or three. Uhhh…oh, yeah. I chose a deep grass green ink, but this black-and-white rendition is all that survives:

Here’s an early, pre-card ad from the back pages of the Slant-6 News:

That’s the rickety, pretentious beginning whence things grew…rather out of hand. I’m thankful not quite to be a hoarder, but only just scarcely not; at the depths of things my collection occupied space in Colorado; Michigan; California; Washington; Wisconsin, and Ontario—all at the same time. And all the pictures in this post are of parts I’ve bought and (in most cases) sold. If this seems like a big, spread-out mountain of parts getting in the way all the time…yeah.

Stainless steel fuel filters, methanol-tolerant, for 1993-’95 Spirit/Acclaim FFV

That brief wrecking yard job was really only a minor part of it; my years-longer history of buying parts from that yard, amongst others, and many additional sources besides, all helped build a formidable collection of new and used parts, accessories, literature, and related stuffs.

’61-’62 Valiant-Lancer heater control valve (also fits/works on ’60)

Some of it was just part of keeping a ’62 and a ’65 car in dependable daily service in the ’90s, so routine maintenance and predictable repairs could be done with parts on hand for minimal disruption. But I collected a lot of parts not to meet any immediate or predicted requirement; just, y’know, in case I might need them someday. Or because they were available and affordable and I knew what they were and what someone might buy them for one day; just plain old buy-low/sell-high. Or because they offered such prominent textures and shapes and colours—the glossy blue or tan or black or red bakelite, alkyd, or glass-filled thermoplastic of a distributor cap—that they tickled the vestiges of my early-childhood synæsthesia (and smells! A new set of spark plug wires, can you smell them?). Or because I’d read all about some particular kind of part—its engineering improvements and design changes and feature additions. Or because it was fun to scrutinise, in the actual metal, the detailed evolution in Slant-6 carburetors (…distributors, water pumps, fuel pumps, air cleaners…) over the years. I could’ve put together curated exhibits!

Guess I still can, at that. Here are selected representative Slant-6 carburetors from 1962 to 1979:

1962-’63 Holley 1920

 

1963 Carter BBS

 

1967 Carter BBS

 

1968 Carter BBSs

 

1970 (California) + ’71 (50-state) Carter BBSs

 

Aftermarket high-economy Holley 1920 for 1960-’70 cars

 

Aftermarket high-economy Holley 1920 for 1973 cars

 

1975-79 Holley 1945

Here I’ve left out the most interesting carburetor; it’ll get its own article.

Eventually, having mostly bought for a lot of years, I had to sell-sell-sell. Here’s a partial view (because you can’t see in the trunk) of one carburetor; six carburetor kits; eight carburetor gaskets…

My beard and pics like this might make people mistake me for the Lord of the Rings.

 

’67-’75 Slant-6 export 2-barrel carburetor, new…

 

…in box.

…one intake manifold; one choke thermostat; one electric choke conversion kit…

Slant-6 1960-only aluminum 1-barrel intake modified to take big 2-barrel carburetor

 

Choke thermostat, ’70-’72 Slant-6

 

Electric choke conversion kit for ’60-’72 Slant-6

…five sets of key blanks; six sideview mirrors; one accelerator pedal; one speedometer…

It’s mirror madness! Most of these are seldom seen in the Northern Hemisphere.

 

’72-’76 Dart-Valiant-Duster metric speedometer

…one pair of side marker lights; one distributor vacuum control valve; one box of miscellaneous ’64 Dart parts…

This component will have its own article soon.

 

…four more carburetor kits; one more distributor vacuum advance control valve; three distributor vacuum advance pods, one gas cap, one Mallory dual-point Slant-6 distributor…

Advanced technology

 

New-in-box…

 

…Mallory racin’ distributor for Slant-6

 

all about to head for the nearest U.S. Post Office. it was sort of a –wheelbarrow– laundry basket full of pebbles and stones in context of the overall mountain, but it was a start.

Parts is parts!

 

Stephen Pellegrino’s onrunning series about Consumer Reports has me in mind of a longstanding feature in the endpages of that publication. “Selling It” is a show-and-tell of advertising and packaging CR considered deceptive, tricky, goofy, thoughtless, or poorly-worded. Well, I guess I’ve got some tales of selling it, too.

About 15 years ago, this highly recommendable book came out. It was launched at one or another SAE function in Detroit, which author Bill Weertman attended to give a talk on the Hemi engine. I also attended, and had put out a call for interest on autographed copies. I bought a dozen or so, and Bill signed ’em for me (at that time the price was much lower). I sent them out to everyone who’d squawked, and about a week later everyone had their copy…except for one dude in Argentina. His copy never arrived, and the post office eventually did their trace, the result of which was ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

A year(!) later, the book arrived back at my address in Seattle, still in the undamaged packaging I’d applied, with stampings and markings and stickers indicating it had enjoyed a prolonged all-expense-paid trip round the world.

A few years after that, I sold a custom-ground Slant-6 camshaft; lifters, and valve springs and stem seals to a Finn. It worked out most economically to send the small parts and the cam in separate boxes, both by Priority Mail Express. They, like the book destined for Argentina, each had a machine-printed address label so there could be no handwriting issue, all customs forms were properly filled out and attached, and a sheet with destination and return addresses was inside the box in case the outer label would be damaged.

Canadian-made bolt-together fuel pump, ’60-’63 Slant-6 (but fits all years)

The small parts arrived in Finland in 7 days, and the camshaft vanished. The post office did their trace and found it had been sent to Ghana (Ghana…Finland…easy mistake). They said they’d have to wait for the Ghanian postal authority to do their own investigation, and they never heard back. Okeh, fine, somewhere in Ghana somebody’s using a custom-ground Slant-6 camshaft as a wicked cricket bat or something.

1960-only, 170-only Slant-6 water pump

Filing for the insurance and collecting it started out routinely enough: USPS sent me their forms № 2855 (insurance claim) and 3533 (postage refund) with instructions to take them to my local post office where the insurance form would be accepted and sent in for processing, and the postage refund would be issued on the spot.

Only that’s not what happened. The counter clerk told me to meet the head clerk at the package pickup, a dutch door (bottom and top halves open separately). The manager came and opened the top half, and I presented the duly completed official USPS forms. He said “What are these?” I briefly explained, and he said “There’s no such thing as a postage refund. Postage is never refunded under any circumstances.” I asked him to please take a look at the cover letter USPS had sent with the forms. He glanced at it and said, “It doesn’t say postage refund.” I said “Please look at the first paragraph, it says file a request for a postage refund by completing the enclosed Form 3533, Application for Refund, which can be used to request disbursement for Priority Mail Express International refunds. This form must be submitted at your local post office. Look at the form; the first checkbox is for postage refund.” He said “No, the form doesn’t say “postage refund”, it says ‘application for refund of fees’. We don’t refund postage. Ever. If you bought insurance on your package, you can file a claim and you might get some money for the lost item, but we DON’T! REFUND!! POSTAGE!!!” and he tried to close the door in my face. My arm on the door ledge stopped him.

Chrysler Saratoga (export Dodge Spirit) sideview mirror

I said “Sir, for god’s sake, please read the letter; it’s right there in black and white.” He responded by threatening to call the cops and have them haul me away for causing a disturbance and raising my voice, which I hadn’t done. I said “I’m not raising my voice or causing a disturbance. Since you won’t honour the form, may I please know your name?” He laughed and said “Dave. Get your arm off the door ledge or I’m calling the police and having you banned from this post office. We’re done here.” I said “Sir, no, we really aren’t. If you haven’t encountered this form before, I understand, but it is a USPS form, and it’s got a USPS cover letter, and I’d like you to please check with whoever you need to check with about it”.

Add-on cruise control kit!

He said “I never heard of it. How many times do I have to tell you? WE DO NOT REFUND POSTAGE EVER. Get your arm off the door ledge NOW.” I said “Alright, Dave, may I please know your last name or your employee number?” He laughed and said “Boy, you must really wanna be dragged outta here in handcuffs. Move your arm if you wanna keep it”. This from the manager of the same post office where before I’d intervened on behalf of a perfectly competent counter clerk being abusively screamed at by this awful woman (I stepped up to her and said excuse me, sorry to interrupt, but I just have to say…you remind me of my mother, which let the air out of her tantrum).

Slant-6 replaceable-elephant oil filter assembly, first design…

 

…and second design…

 

…and replacement elephant kit

So I drove 15 minutes to another post office where the counter clerk accepted my forms, issued my postage refund, and advised me on processing time for the insurance payout, which arrived promptly—gosh, I guess Dave was wrong. I had another cam ground, sent it, and it arrived in Finland in 7 days.

Nine months later, the first camshaft landed on my doorstep in fine condition with no explanation, so I sold it again; that time it stayed gone.

Slant-6 thermostat housing/water outlet, used only on 1960 cars with power steering

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