COAL 6: The 1970s, Part II – Barking and Forthing

At the end of chapter 5 I mentioned filling up the ’63 Plymouth wagon’s two tanks twice, at two Bingo gas stations. That was not a casual mention; that ‘gasoline’ was of terribly poor quality. The car pinged after the second fill, and when I got home, the engine was misfiring badly; it had lost compression in one or two cylinders. There in the RV Park where we (I) lived, I had to remove both cylinder heads, remove all the valves, and clean the buildup of gooey, gummy, rubbery carbon from them. They were unable to fully close due to the massive buildup of carbon deposits on the valve stem and in the intake ports. The only good thing was that I had installed heads from a 318-3 (premium truck motor) when I built the engine for this car. Those valves are virtually bulletproof; all I did was buff off the carbon and reassemble the heads. Up to that day they had never been touched, nor had the seats been ground. The exhaust valves were sodium-filled, with Stellite seats; they were not going to burn.

As promised, on 3 July Brenda stepped out of our home and my life. I got a job at Art Chase Dodge on Auto Center Drive in Ventura, as a line mechanic. I sold the mobile home and rented a condominium in Ventura near the dealership. I joined a local church, and one Sunday the pastor introduced me to a young lady who was a member and was single at the time and had 2 sons. I asked her where she lived and she told me she lived—wait for it!—at my same address, right above my ground floor unit. Here we go again…!

We got married in 1977 at that church. She drove a blue Volkswagen Type 3 Squareback with fuel injection, and had a lot of trouble starting it in the morning when it was cold. I didn’t want to mess with it and suggested another, used car. She liked the Mustang fastbacks, but I persuaded her to go with a dark blue 1970 Barracuda 383 4-barrel car instead. It turned out to have a ferocious appetite for high-test gasoline; it got 7(!) miles per gallon around town, though it did better than that on trips to Fresno to visit her parents, the boys’ grandparents.

Hers wasn’t bright green. (sv1ambo photo at Flickr)


Together we rented a condominium in the same neighborhood, and even got the opportunity to have court-ordered visitation of my three children from time to time; their mother had had some scrapes with the law. I got the bright idea to replace my wife’s Barracuda’s thirsty big-block V8 with a Slant-6 (as I write this, I’m beginning to see a pattern here: just like a criminal let out of jail returns to the same criminal activities, I return to the same M.O. with each woman I become associated with) and began gathering the major components: a 225 engine, an A904 TorqueFlite transmission, and an E-body Slant-6 K-frame. I built a transmission with lock-up torque converter for maximum fuel economy, and with all the pieces assembled, I pulled out the 383 and A727 transmission and installed the Six and A904 (no pictures of that car; the Slant-6 you see here is in a 1973 Dart):

During this time period I had also been offered a position as Service Manager at a dealership in Santa Paula, some 11 miles east of Ventura where we lived. My wife thought it a good idea if we bought a house near the dealership, which we did, just half a block away. Now I could walk to work and go home for lunch with ease each day. Unfortunately, this job did not last long; Santa Paula was a relatively small town, and business was bad. He went out of business at Thanksgiving time.

Next I accepted a job as Service Manager at Harbor Chrysler-Plymouth, though it was not really my cup of tea. Meanwhile, the wife’s older son, Robert, kept asking us to get him a dog, now that we had our own house. My wife Carol located and bought a cute black-and-tan Cocker Spaniel for sale, and Robert named him Toby. Carol researched the dog further and found he was a purebred, from the Pine Shadows kennel. Investigating further had us contacting Vern, a local breeder of Cocker Spaniel show dogs. We drove to his home/kennel with Toby to show him off and see if Vern knew of the breeders and whether they’d allow us to name the dog using their kennel name. Both Vern and the Pine Shadows Kennel owner approved, and so Toby officially became Pine Shadows Black Gold with the American Kennel Club (AKC). So now we had a show-quality Cocker Spaniel. This guy Vern also persuaded us to buy two female Cockers who had recently been bred to two of his “Champion” Dogs.

As time passed and puppies came, we officially became Carhem Cockers (Carol and Hemi), and we were now driving to dog shows all around California. We needed a van to haul ourselves, the boys, and the dogs in cages to the various show locations, with all the gear needed to prep the dogs for the ring. I bought a Dodge Sportsman B200 window Maxi-Van with a 360 engine and Thermo-Quad carburetor. It worked out very well for us all, though it was not all that great in gas mileage. So I bought a dual-fuel propane kit, got a propane tank mounted on the driver-side underbody of the van, and installed it. It worked out and ran on both fuels very well, so we ran the van locally on propane and on longer highway trips to dog shows, on both propane and on gasoline.

While working as Service Manager at Harbor Chrysler-Plymouth, I had to deal with the owner of a body shop which did a lot of work for the dealership. My B200 needed bodywork and paint spotting, so I sent it to the body shop. But instead of just spot repairing, the manager had the crew go over the van completely and when they returned it to the dealership, it looked like brand new! I asked how much this was going to cost me and was told it was on the house. There was nothing I could do about it at that point, but I was sure it meant he was expecting some sort of compensation in return. As it turned out, he lost out and I ended up with a great-looking van.

Now, Harbor Chrysler-Plymouth had hired a man-and-wife team of accountant types who were going to work for the service department doing the warranty claims. They were a couple of real thieves and did end up fired, eventually, but not until they had managed to get me fired from my service manager job.

In 1977 we had a lot of trouble with the new lock-up torque converters on the A904 and A998 TorqueFlite transmissions. We went through a time where we just replaced them with piss-poor ‘remanufactured’ units that sometimes failed faster than the originals, sort of the same as a little over a decade later with the UltraDrive A604. We had a customer who asked if there was an alternative, and like a dummy I told him I could build him a good non-lockup transmission, which I did. The parts department was supposed to charge the customer for the transmission, but instead our warranty guy, who was gunning for my job, told the customer to pay me the money for the transmission personally after he had already paid the dealership repair order which did not have the transmission listed on it.
Somehow(!) word got to management about it, and I got called on the carpet, chewed out, and fired on the spot. As the words rolled off the lips of the main man, I was really very relieved and happy to be out of there—for a while, at least. The warranty guy got to be service manager and his wife got to continue doing warranty paperwork and cooking the books along the way. They were found out soon after I was gone, but gone I was.

So I needed a job again. For a time I worked as a forklift mechanic at Power Machinery Center in Oxnard. Heavy forklifts have HEAVY parts!

PMC was a good place to work. The owner, Bob Powers, had a ’69 Dodge Charger with a 426 Hemi engine. While I still had my job at the Chrysler dealer in Oxnard, Mr. Powers ordered a new 1975 Chrysler Cordoba with the 400 engine. I discovered later that his plan was to remove the 426 from the Charger and install it in the Cordoba. When the project went down, it turned out to look a lot like the Magnum, the last in a several-decade line of Petty Dodge race cars, which Richard abandoned to race a Chevrolet.

Richard Petty and his Magnum, which I think was being loaded onto a trailer to be sold.


By and by, Harbor Chrysler-Plymouth came under new management and they were badly in need of a tune-up mechanic—theirs had quit—so I got a job there again.

I thank you for your patience as we get through this clump of years. I promise there are more interesting car stories in the next chapters!

Previous chapters:

  1. First Transport – Coming to ‘Amerika’
  2. Being American and Picking a Car Company
  3. Motoring Into the Working World
  4. The 1960s · Serving, Saluting, and Swapping
  5. The 1970s, Part I · Backing and Forthing