It was time to find another engine for my ’63 Wagon. Frontier Auto Wrecking in Sunland turned out to be the place where I found a gold mine of parts for it. I had gone looking for a power brake booster setup, as this car, with its 10″ drum brakes, was really hard to stop. The guy there at Frontier took me into the yard and showed me a 1970 Plymouth that had been in a rollover accident, with power brakes. But the setup wouldn’t fit my ’63; I couldn’t use it. He told me I could buy anything off this car at a reasonable price, as it had been included in a group sale—they’d had to buy it, even though they “really didn’t specialize in late Chrysler product stuff”, as he said. I kept that in mind, and found and bought a brake booster from some older Mopar there.
After getting the brakes updated with power, the car stopped so much easier. I went back a few Saturdays later and asked how much he wanted for all the running gear, engine to rear end, and the front disc brake setup. The ’58 Fury back in Jersey—still in service with my parents!—had developed rear-end gear or bearing problems, and Dad had asked what to do to repair it. I needed to find another rear axle for the Fury, so I spent two Saturdays at the yard disassembling this 5,234-mile ’70 Belvedere. I basically bought the whole car, less the body.
Years later, I learned from a Chrysler factory representative that the rolled-over ’70 Plymouth I’d raided for near-new working parts, VIN RL41G0E295104, had been leased to MGM Studios to be used in the movie ‘Vanishing Point’ starring Barry Newman (and co-starring the new 1970 Dodge Challenger). In a chase scene, the Belvedere—done up as a police car, chasing ‘Kowalski’ driving the Challenger—rolls over into a ditch:
The car was totaled, and that’s how it ended up in a Southern California salvage yard. It had the 318 with a 904 TorqueFlite, and a 2.93:1 8¼” rear end in it, an integral rear axle assembly—you can unbolt the cover to take a look at the gears, but that’s as far as it goes for easy disassembly. That would have been tough to transport cross-country to install in the Fury, so on 13 March 1971 I installed that rear end in the Belvedere, gaining modern 10″ rear brakes.
From 30 March to 2 April, I worked to install the ’70 318 engine in the ’63 Belvedere. I also overhauled its 727 TorqueFlite transmission, and installed a second gas tank in the right side quarter panel that I bought at the same wrecking yard, Frontier. Now I had a car with at least a 38-gallon fuel capacity, which I could drive almost all day without refuelling. At the same time, I installed the front spindles with the attaching hardware with the disc brake calipers and rotors, as well as the double-chambered master cylinder. The wagon’s brakes were now 1970-spec, and I was ready to roll.
On 14 June 1971, I left LA and headed east to New Jersey to deliver and install the much-easier-to-haul center chunk or “pumpkin” from the 8¾” rear axle I’d removed from the ’63, into the Fury in New Jersey. On several occasions, I managed to pump nearly 40 gallons of fuel into the wagon at one fill-up. So no stopping for fuel during the day, unless I saw someone having a price war along the way. Once I found such a place and filled both tanks at 11¢ a gallon! (83¢/gal in 2023 money).
A strange thing developed as I was traveling along on this trip: I would be passed by hurrying travelers in their newer cars and SUVs during the morning, then again by the same ones in the afternoon, and once again in the early evening. Many of the passengers looked surprised as they passed me that second or third time, wondering how I managed to get ahead of them again and again (by not stopping for fuel and eats).
Arriving at my parents’ home on 17 June, after a little rest and preparation, I installed the rear axle and then had some time to visit family and friends. The great thing with Mopars: parts are interchangeable over so many years and models.
On 26 July it was time to head back to Los Angeles; I arrived on the 29th. That’s 7,433 miles between 14 June and 29 July. Average economy was 14.2 miles per gallon, with a vehicle weighing 5,540 pounds.
I was still living in Los Angeles, but looking to move to another Chrysler product Dealer—I was still working at the Auto Club, as I recall. I found out a Dodge dealer in Oxnard was looking for a mechanic, and went there, but the position had been filled. They told me Bailey Chrysler-Plymouth, there in town, was looking for a tune-up mechanic so I went there and got the job. Here they worked 5½ days a week, which was OK with me. The prima-donna tune-up guy had quit over having to work part Saturday. So I rented an apartment in Port Hueneme, and went to work.
On Friday, after work, us guys would frequent Domenic’s Pizza joint next door to the dealership. We would order a couple of pitchers and glasses, and unwind before driving home. Our server was a young gal of about 23, named Brenda. She was a cute blonde and, I found out, of Norwegian descent. After a few weeks of frequenting the place, I decided to have dinner there after work instead of at the apartment. Brenda and I became better acquainted, and one day she asked if I would like to meet her Norwegian parents and her brothers, so on a Saturday I drove to her parents’ home in Camarillo. Everybody liked me, especially her father and mother; you likely know where this is leading.
Time passed and we went out here and there and I really don’t remember where. She found out where I lived, and one night after midnight she was at my door, banging on it furiously. I got out of bed and answered. She came in crying, saying her father had tried to rape her and she was afraid to go home. Oy vey, what do I do with her in the middle of the night in a bachelor apartment, simply furnished, with only one single bed?
We kept seeing one another. One day when I was visiting her home, her mother came to me, overjoyed, telling me how happy she was for us, that we were going to marry. Oh! We are? Oh! And so Brenda became my second wife. And she needed a car to drive. Being a little bit too naive (or something; y’think?), I almost bought her the car she really wanted, a Porsche 911. But the price was a little too steep for me, and so she had to settle for a 1969 Datsun 2000 roadster. It was silver and had the 2-liter 4-cylinder engine with twin side-draft carburetors, and a 5-speed manual transmission. It sure was a fun car to drive ! But it was also a cold car to drive in other-than-sunny weather, and Brenda wanted a hard roof, so I bought an aftermarket hard roof which fit on the car very snugly. Better in the rain and chill, but now it became difficult to get into or out of this car.
I felt that Brenda needed a more all-around daily driver, and by and by the ‘73 Honda Civic was introduced. The Honda dealer was right next door to the Chrysler dealership where I worked; I knew their sales staff, and they offered me a great deal. I sold the Datsun to my service manager at the Chrysler dealership, and we had ourselves a new car large enough for us to transport my three children when we had them on visitation weekends—we all hadn’t fit well in the Datsun. The Civic looked about like this:
When the ‘73 energy crisis struck, we were fortunate to have the Civic. I used my double-tanker ‘63 Plymouth as a fuel storage facility, and would pump fuel into the Honda whenever it was low. This way Brenda would not have to sit in long lines to pump only a few gallons. When my Belvedere got low, I would find a convenient time to go fill her up.
While I was working at the Oxnard Chrysler dealer, they took in a very nice, clean-looking 1971 Plymouth Scamp with the 318 and TorqueFlite, on a trade-in. It had around 117,000 miles on it but ran great, except many of the 14 core plugs in the engine were rusted out and leaking—including the ones between the engine and transmission. ‘They’ decided to wholesale it rather than recondition it, so I managed to buy it cheaply. My Uncle was still driving his 1962 Valiant, which was getting old. I thought the ’71 Scamp would be a nice improvement for him, as it had power steering, so I fixed the leaks from the engine and whatever else the car needed and the Scamp became the uncle’s car.
Now I had the ’62 Valiant and needed to do something with it, so I built up a used 225 Slant-6 engine, installed it, and had the car painted yellow; it became Brenda’s driver. It looked more or less like this one:
Sometime in May of ’76, the dealership went into receivership; all the employees were locked out. After some negotiations, we mechanics were permitted to enter the shop and remove our personal toolboxes. Then it was off to the unemployment office to start that process. There were no Chrysler dealer jobs open, so I just reported in every two weeks to collect my unemployment check. Brenda suggested I take some time and go visit my parents, who were now living in Whiting, New Jersey. I thought that was very generous of her to suggest (as it turned out, she had motives other than generosity).
So on 16 June 1976, I left Brenda at our mobile home in Port Hueneme, drove to the unemployment office in Oxnard, reported in, got my bi-weekly unemployment check, and headed for New Jersey. I arrived on the 19th, having traveled 2,741 miles in two days 22½ hours, refuelling the car eight times, for a total of 157.3 gallons of gas. That was good for 17.4 mpg in that same old ’63 Belvedere wagon with the ’70 318.
I visited with the folks and friends in my old home town, River Edge, and then on Friday 25 June I headed back to California. On my last two fill-ups at Bingo gas stations, I bought a combined 49.5 gallons of their fuel. I arrived home in the late afternoon on the 29th, so I’d be able to go on time to the unemployment office in Oxnard the next day to check in again. But also on the 29th, the day I got home, Brenda announced she was leaving me on June 3rd, to go live with a guy she’d met at the beach. She planned to marry him, as he had custody of his young son from a previous marriage and she needed to be a mother to someone’s child.