COAL: 1962 Dodge Lancer, Part III • Nothing Is Permanent

[Part I is here. Part II is here.]

After I went off to university, dad carried on driving the Dodge every day, to and from work and wherever-all he wanted to go. Everyone loved it—people waved at him with an open palm or an upraised thumb (not the other kind of finger) in traffic. In parkades and at gas stations and curbsides and at red lights they’d ask what year it was, and he always went “Guess!” I came home on holidays and saw to whatever it needed; in between I provided guidance by phone and newfangled email.

After two years at the University of Oregon, I decided I wanted better academics. I think I was actually after better excuses; I remember myself as a lazy, mediocre student. But since then I’ve had several of my UO professors say I wasn’t, and when I look at some of the work I handed in, it’s really pretty good. And there was some kind of a squeeze on that made it harder to fill up a courseload; I think the state was slashing education funding or something like that. So I can’t say what the real story was with me. Maybe it had nothing to do with academics; it could easily have been an attempt at running away from my closeted self (this didn’t work; wherever I went, there I was). Whatever the real reason/s, I decided to take a year off from school and see about transferring elsewhere.

I drove D’Valiant back to Denver by way of Ventura, spent two or three weeks with a temp agency learning I wanted to never work in an office space with coworkers, and got a job as a cater-waiter. The day after my last assignment at that job, and a few days before I started at the wrecking yard, the Lancer went in for a repaint. Its original paint, dull when we got the car in 1991, had been polished to its last possible thinness, and dad finally decided to spruce it up. No Earl Scheib or Maaco slop-job, either. Here’s dad just home after picking up the car from the paint shop.

That pic was taken before the car’s original windshield took a rock. I still remember the ’60-’62 Valiant windshield is a NAGS № DW-591—National Auto Glass System—and the new one had a blue-green sunshade strip at the top. Neither windshield was cleared very effectively by the 12″ opposing-sweep single-speed wipers!

The car’s first- or second-ever muffler went soft at some point, and a much less underspecified exhaust system was installed: 2¼” headpipe (instead of 1¾”), a muffler that I wouldn’t buy again, and a 2″ tailpipe (instead of 1½”). The car had a quietly authoritative mutter at idle, and sounded spectacular revving up through the gears. A highway onramp manually shifted with the buttons, 1-2-D, with the windows down: ohhhhh, yeah! But the muffler giveth, and the muffler taketh away; there was an obnoxious drone that would slice right through you, which came in at about 55 and didn’t quiet down til a tetch over 70. That wouldn’t do. We had a resonator put in the tailpipe and that helped some, but it wasn’t long before we just had to go back to a regular ol’, normal ol’, boring ol’ stock-type muffler. Not the miniature wheezer specified for the car; we (i.e., I) picked one for, I think, a late-production 318 A-body. It matched up to the upgraded pipes and quieted things down quite a bit, but no more rapture-spec onramps, sigh.

Bitchin’ wheels!

Shortly after the (first) repaint, it finally came time to replace the tires we’d put on back in Autumn 1991 when the car first arrived from California. They were Arizonian Silver Editions—a Discount Tire house brand, P185/80R13s on the original 13 × 4½” wheels. They’d held up quite well, but finally came due. I plotted for a set of Cragar S/S chrome 14 × 5½” wheels and P205/70R14 BF Goodrich Radial T/As, and I might’ve stealthily borrowed the car one day to have this upgrade swapped on. What did dad think? He came outside, took a walk around the car, and for the first and only time I ever heard, exclaimed “Bitchin’!” At my suggestion he had good quality Llumar window tint applied. Not limo-dark or full-mirror or anything like that; it was much more subtle, but from the outside it seemed to reflect a greenish black. Ohhhhh, yeah!

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