COAL: 1962 Valiant, 1964 & 1970 Dodge Darts • Hot Dogs and Mustard

Old cars and stashes of old car parts go together like Calvin and Hobbes or hot dogs and mustard: the one doesn’t function well without the other. So! Zero auxiliary backups for two old cars in daily service; how was one eager, perfectionist Slant-6 freak to keep them that way? Why, with a complete parts and service literature library, a passably decent collection of tools—not a set, because I couldn’t get myself to store them neatly, so individuals went missing all the time—and a large collection of parts.

I made frequent trips to wrecking yards; yarding was high-quality recreational fun. I dragged home lots of parts from CAP, but that surely wasn’t the only one. Just up the hill from CAP was Svigel’s New and Used Auto Parts, who didn’t employ non-Svigels (I asked). They had a big yard—eight acres, so they said—accessible by permission subject to revocation at any moment, full of ’40s-’70s cars, plus a warehouse full of pulled parts next door to another full of new old stock. Cars tended to stay in the Svigel yard for many, many years; there was a television repair van from the mid ’50s, with its hand-painted signwork faded but still visible. There was a ’75 Valiant 4-door built with a 225 Slant-6 and a 4-speed overdrive transmission. And there were a couple of early Valiants, the shell of a ’61 right next to a ’62 about the same colour(s) as this one:

Not long after dad bought the Lancer, I took a closer look at the ’62 Valiant at Svigel’s, and I went on a feeding frenzy: trim, lights, grilles (plural because there were really nice ’60 and ’61 grilles stashed in its trunk, plus the ’62 item on the car itself), and on and on. Aside from a few dashboard parts, none of this stuff would fit the Lancer, but shush; I was collecting !

Every nearly-never in my poking and prodding at old cars in wrecking yards—or driveways, for the matter of that—I would encounter a very old, very high-miles car with virtually all original working parts: distributor (cap and rotor and all), spark plug wires, heater hoses, starter and alternator, carburetor, fuel pump, and so on, crusty and caked with decades of dirt, but still working fine. This ’62 was such a one, last registered eleven years prior, and it had an aluminum 225 like the one in dad’s Lancer. I put a battery, cables, spool of wire, toolbox, a few quarts of oil, a gallon can of gasoline, and a wheelbarrow in the trunk of the Valiant; my dad in the passenger seat, and off we went. Battery in the tray, oil in the crankcase, wire to the coil, a glug of gasoline down the (original!) carburetor, a screwdriver across the terminals of the (original!) starter, and it didn’t take much cranking for the (original!) engine to start and run on all six.

There was a pressurised oil leak somewhere near the oil pump—probably the pressure sender, or maybe the filter gasket, or one of the pump gaskets—but I’d already heard what I needed to hear. I pulled the battery and threw tools back in the box. As we wheeled the barrow back up the hill, dad said he was impressed with how easy I’d made it look to wake up an engine left outside for over a decade. I arranged with the Svigels; they’d pull the engine for me. That engine eventually came to rest against the side of our house, covered by a tarp, and it stayed there through a few more Colorado winters. We haven’t heard the last of it yet, but that’s all for now—except to note that many years later, Old Man Svigel saw a nice sheet of plywood fall off a truck driving past. He dashed through the traffic gap, picked up the wood, and lifted it up perpendicular to the road. This turned it into a very efficient sail, which the wind pushed (with Mr. Svigel still attached) into the path of a big truck in the far lane of fast-moving Santa Fe Boulevard; so much for Old Man Svigel.

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