COAL 4: The 1960s – Serving, Saluting, and Swapping

In the fall of ’61 I got my U.S. Army draft notice, and signed up in the U.S. Marine Corps instead. Since I would be away for some time, I prepared the Fury for storage at Bill Berry’s shop, in the town just north of where I lived, which was also home to the Berry Brothers’ № 407 stock car. She remained in storage from mid October ‘61 until some time in the Spring of ’62 when I was in electronics school and later telephone-teletype school at MCRD (Marine Corps Recruit Depot) in San Diego. I managed to get a military air-hop to the east coast and home, then I returned to San Diego with the Fury. Upon graduation, I opted for my permanent duty station to be at MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) in Cherry Point, North Carolina.

While stationed there, the Fury and I made liberty weekend runs home and to stock-car races in New York and Pennsylvania on a regular basis. In November 1963, I had the opportunity to take leave. The Fury’s 318 engine had grown tired, and the car’s original automatic transmission had previously been replaced by a 3-speed manual with a floor-mounted shifter from a ‘55 or ’56 Thunderbird.

While home previously, I had found and bought a complete used 383 engine and TorqueFlite 727 transmission in half of a 1962 Chrysler Saratoga with very low miles—just the front half of the car was there in the junkyard. During a 20-day leave beginning 1 November 1963, I replaced the Fury’s engine and transmission at Larry Landrine’s shop, where I had worked before (as described in COAL № 3). Larry and I remained friends, and he let me service my Fury there when I needed to during my years in the service. Because the Fury was not too old at the time, a complete exhaust system for a ‘58 Golden Commando 350 Fury was readily available, as well as other needed pieces like engine mounts. So the ’62 383 fit directly into the Fury with only one non-stock piece added: a 5″ × 5½” support plate for the rear transmission mount to attach to the Fury’s crossmember. I also logged notes—these records from just before the engine swap show I was averaging a little over 13.7 mpg, and the swap came together with the ’58 generator (and belt!); the ’62 starter and power steering pump and belt, and a radiator recore and reconfiguration for $40 (around $400 in 2023 dollars):

And this next photo shows me checking the 383 while back home after the first round trip to Cherry Point. Notice the scoop visible on the underside of the hood—that’s the mark of young vanity messing up a perfectly good, stock-looking car:

The Fury had become a people hauler; my fellow Marines were dropped off and picked up at 9th Avenue and 42nd Street in New York City during weekly swoops.

On Wednesday, 20 November, I returned to Cherry Point. On Friday the 22nd, President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Texas. On Saturday morning the 23rd, I and another Marine in my outfit headed for DC in my Fury. We had the privilege of attending the funeral procession that weekend after the shooting. Another car full of Marines accompanied us to DC, but on the way up, the other car broke down and had to be abandoned at a filling station somewhere in Virginia. Everyone piled into my Fury, and we made it in time for the ceremony and to stand at attention and salute as the procession passed by on Pennsylvania Avenue.

All the while, I was keeping up my logbook. 11.6 mpg for the first group and 13.7 mpg for the second group on this page, perhaps reflecting better mileage on the highway trip to see President Kennedy’s funeral procession. I boosted the oil pressure by shimming the oil pump pressure regulator spring; found № 5 spark plug a bit oil-fouled, and I added a quart of oil every 400 to 500 miles—engines aged more and faster back then. All the gasoline on this page added up to just under $38 sixty years ago, or about $375 in 2023 bucks:

On the return trip, the Fury ended up towing the broken-down car all the way to Cherry Point by a tow rope. I’m glad I was not in the other car, as we drove quickly through the night over dark North Carolina back roads. We were able to make it back by early Monday morning to stand tall at reveille. That Fury really got a workout during ‘62 through ‘64 with those weekly trips to NY/NJ!

In February of 1964 I bought tickets to the Daytona 500 at Daytona Speedway, and drove there with a friend in the Fury. It was a great time to be there to see Richard Petty win his first Daytona 500. While there, I was notified that my new 273/Hurst-shifted 4-speed 1964 Dodge Dart GT 2-door hardtop had been delivered to the McCrane dealership, and was ready for pickup. When we returned to Cherry Point from Florida, I made arrangements to get a pass to go pick it up legally. I drove the Fury home for the last time, and it was officially retired from active service in the USMC. Dad got to take care of the Fury and use it as his work car while mother continued driving the 56 Plymouth just a little longer. Here’s the only surviving picture of the ’64 Dart:

On 31 October 1964, I was honorably discharged from active duty in the Marine Corps, and returned to civilian life. Shortly before getting out, I’d sold the ’56 Plymouth to a Sergeant living off-base, and then my folks had only the ’58 Fury to drive around. I went back to work at McCrane Auto Company, which was now a Dodge dealer. The folks really liked my ’64 Dart, and looked at ’65s, but dad decided it would look too much like the 64; he didn’t want one that looked the same.

He’d been a housepainter in his earlier days, but for years had worked as a bartender on a cruise line traveling back and forth to South America. Once retired, he wanted to do some handyman-type work, so he needed a car which could carry a ladder long enough for second-story work. A Barracuda fit both requirements: it didn’t look just like the Dart, and he could potentially shove an extension ladder into it through the trunk with the rear seat folded down. I wanted them to buy one with the Commando 273 (4-barrel, high compression, etc), but dad overruled, saying mother didn’t need all that horsepower. So we opted for the 225 Slant-6 with TorqueFlite. She didn’t even get a radio or power steering, just an extra-cost Copper Metallic exterior.

But it was a Plymouth model, and I worked at a Dodge dealer. McCrane managed to get us the Barracuda through a Plymouth dealer in Paramus. I added a Sure-Grip differential and Goodyear Blue Streak tires on 14″ wheels to the order—and a little money to the down payment—as I had plans for those two items.

So on 27 April 1965, my mother officially owned a ’65 Barracuda (that same day was also the birthday of Carolynne Dell Parks—at the time I didn’t know she existed, but I married her at the end of ’65). The salesman who typed up the invoice made two errors: it should read Sure-Grip differential (not trans[mission]), and Goodyear Blue Streak (not whitewall) tires. That $2,505 price in 1965 is about $24,200 in 2023 dollars:

I immediately swapped the Barracuda’s 2.93 Sure-Grip rear axle and its 14″ wheels with Blue Streak tires into the ’64 Dart, since that was my main driver; the open diff and 13″ wheels were adequate for mother’s Slant-6 car. This pic taken decades later, after a great deal of refurbishment and upgrade to be described in a future chapter, will have to stand in, for there are no pics of the Barracuda from back then:

Back to the Dart: it did not remain as-delivered, mechanically. It came with the only V8 offered in ’64, the 180-horsepower 2-barrel 273. I turned it into something like (probably better than) the 235-horse 273 that came out in mid-’65 with 10.5:1 pistons and a Racer Brown ST-14 solid cam; the 4-barrel setup, and that loud, virtually-a-straight-pipe 2¼″ exhaust system—all of which I bought when I went back to McCrane’s after getting out of the Marines. Too bad, now, that I don’t even have one picture of the 273 as configured in that car! (also, after I got married, the 4-speed came out and a 904 TorqueFlite with ’65 floor shifter went in so my wife could drive it).

Now, this combo was hard on spark plugs—I had not yet discovered the Champion N5 race plugs, which were really cold compared to the stock N12 or N14 items.

So unless I had new plugs in the engine, we were not race-ready, so to speak. One Saturday afternoon I gave the engine a new set of N11s: still too hot a plug, but it would run fine for a couple of hundred miles.

On Saturday nights I would drive the hopped-up 4-speed Dart to upstate New York, to the stock car races at Middletown track, which was along the 2-lane divided highway that led east from Middletown itself to the New York Thruway. Frankie Schneider, known as “The Old Master”, was one of those who raced there weekly. After the races, this old guy in his new car would challenge anyone willing to take him on as he was heading home on highway 17. I had taken him on in another car in the past, with not such good results, but this night he came up on me just driving along, him in his new 1965 Plymouth Satellite with a wedge-head 426 engine. It was on! We began from about 70 mph; nailed it, and ran up until he backed off around 130. He took three tries at me, and each time I stayed right with him with my little 273 Dart—remember, I had 2.93 rear gears and a 4-speed, while he had a 727 TorqueFlite automatic with 3.23 rear gears. So he was turning a lot more RPM on his long-stroke 426 compared to my 273. It wasn’t as though I blew him away, but neither did he blow my Dart off, so it was a draw. And did I mention my Dart still had the factory 9″ drum brakes at all four wheels? It did.

On 16 July 1965, my best friend Butch and I left River Edge on a sightseeing trip around the United States in the Dart—call it a shakedown cruise for the hop-ups. We traveled through Pennsylvania; West Virginia; Ohio; Illinois; Missouri; Oklahoma; Texas; New Mexico; Arizona; Nevada; down through Needles, California on to the Salton Sea and San Diego. Then back north through Los Angeles and on to Yosemite; Reno, Nevada; Idaho Falls; Yellowstone; Cody; Gillette, Wyoming; the Black Hills of South Dakota; Davenport, Iowa; three turnpikes (Indiana; Ohio, and Pennsylvania), and on to Paramus, New Jersey and home by the 31st. It was a total of 8,290 miles, and the Dart averaged 16.5 mpg, burning 500 gallons of fuel. Little did I know this was the last time I would be a free person to take a trip like this!

On 10 May 1968, I took the Dart on a trip to Darlington, South Carolina to the spring NASCAR race. On 30 May, I left New Jersey with a full U-Haul trailer headed for Los Angeles via Saint Louis to pick up the wife and two kids who had left Lodi, New Jersey (where we lived)—my wife had left a note reading “If you want to see your kids again, you will come to St. Louis and pick us up and take us to California”. I should have charged her with kidnapping and crossing many state lines doing so!

On 19 June 1968 we all arrived in Los Angeles, soon found lodging, and I got myself a job as transmission mechanic at Wil-Mar Dodge on LaBrea Boulevard. By now the Dart had 41,000 miles showing. On 29 December 1970, with around 109,000 miles, the Dart was transferred by the divorce court to my ex-wife. Then, around 127,000 miles with her at the wheel somewhere in New Mexico, the Dart spun a rod bearing and towed back to LA, never to run again—dead in the back yard of Carolynne’s apartment on South Detroit Street.

A little earlier in 1970, on 8 September, I had purchased a 1963 Plymouth Belvedere station wagon. Its VIN was 3635121681, and it had 117,727 miles showing on the odometer; I bought it to use on weekends to haul my toolbox to various homes to do some auto repair work on the side. This car had originally been owned by the Petersen Company (misspelled with an “o” on the title), publishers of Hot Rod and MotorTrend Magazines, among many others.

This wagon was destined for the scrapyard, but for $125 I rescued it from the crusher. Each weekday I used it to drive my two older children to the Salvation Army daycare center, and then I drove on to work at The Auto Club of Southern California, at Figueroa & Adams in downtown LA. At the end of work, I’d pick up the kids and drive home. The worn-out 318 engine would smoke so badly while idling at a traffic light that the car behind was engulfed in blue smoke as I drove away.

I’m not done telling about the wagon; there’ll be more in the next chapter. For now I’ll just say I was fortunate to have it when the court awarded the Dart to my ex.

Oh, one other thing: I found a color photo of mother and me with the ’52 Coronet I described in Chapter 2. I’ll move it to that chapter, but you really should see it, so I want to show it here:

Previous chapters:

  1. First Transport – Coming to ‘Amerika’
  2. Being American and Picking a Car Company
  3. Motoring Into the Working World