Car number 2, which you read about last week, was my big black 1963 Cadillac. Among the Cadillacs of 1963, the Fleetwood Sixty Special sedan was the boss of the lineup. But it was a boss that needed a little help, and parts would be necessary.
During the fall of 1978 I came home a lot. My college was about an hour and a half drive from my house. I wasn’t falling easily into dorm life and besides, my car was at home. I was all about my car then, and I spent my weeks looking forward to going home and communing with my Cadillac.
That was a mistake, in retrospect. I roomed with my best friend Dan and we both had tendencies towards insularity and found in each other pretty much all the company either of us needed or wanted. The downside was that we both missed an opportunity to make new friends. We did better the next year, but I had a much better experience that way when I was dumped into a new pond all by myself when I started law school a few years later. But in that first fall of college, I found ways to make the hour-and-a-half trip home more weekends than I didn’t.
Back home, my friend Lowell lived in a neighborhood that was designed around a long central street. On that street was “the house”. We all know what this means – it was the one place that stood out as the worse looking house in the neighborhood. The paint was flaking, leaves and tree limbs that fell were left there, and the grass was always long. And this particular “the house” had two derelict cars in the driveway.
It was interesting that we knew the family that owned the place. The dad was a widower who lived in my neighborhood with his two sons, one of whom was a casual friend. “The house” had been kept as a rental. I wondered why anyone would rent a house with someone else’s cars parked there, but that wasn’t my problem. One of the cars, however, interested me.
There turned out to be three cars there. In the garage was a light green ’63 VW bug with a sunroof. I later asked about that one, but was rebuffed. “With gas prices what they are, I think we’re going to get that one back on the road.” I’ll bet that never happened. In the driveway there was another immobile car, a 68 Caprice (I think). Those were both interesting but irrelevant to my life. But the third car was highly relevant – a light metallic green 1963 Cadillac.
I knew I was going to need some parts for mine and knew that this was going to take some deep junkyard recon to find some good ones. I needed a passenger side fender skirt for starters, and also a windshield wiper switch (which, as it turned out, I only thought that I needed). The stationary Cadillac had both, so one day I asked my friend if his father would consider selling any parts from it. The Dad’s answer surprised me.
The car had been his father’s. I don’t recall if it was a Series 62 or a Sedan DeVille, or whether it was the 4 window or the 6 window sedan body style. I just remember the faded light green paint with not a hint of a shine. What was it about light green cars that sought me out? The most recent license plate was from 1970, so the car had been not driven for longer than it had been. “If you get it out of here you can have the whole thing.” Holy crap – a free car!
I set to work finding a place for it. My mother would no sooner allow that thing at her house than rent the front yard out to a circus. My father lived out in the country, so I asked if I could keep it there. He probably figured (not wrongly) that I was capable of dragging all manner of parts cars there, so he (wisely) suggested an alternative. There was a little mechanics’ garage along the old 2-lane route for US 30 between Fort Wayne and the Ohio state line. This place (the Zulu Garage) had likely been there since the 20s if not before and was run by a couple of grizzled old mechanics who could fix anything, as long as there were cigarettes dangling from their lips. I miss places like that.
The garage carried the name of the little town that had barely existed at its peak. If the town consisted of more than that garage, I don’t remember what it was. I was kind of amazed to find this picture of their old sign on the internet. Out back of the Zulu Garage was a tiny yard where probably ten or fifteen old wrecks moldered away. “Why don’t you stop by the Zulu Garage and see if they will let you put it out back.” My dad was a regular customer so they recognized me. I made my pitch and the old guy who seemed to be the boss (I think his name was Dick) thought for a second between drags on his cigarette and said “Tell ya what – You can put it back there and I won’t charge ya, as long as I can sell parts off of it.”
Now, fully-grown-adult-me doesn’t think that was such a great deal. The car was complete and likely had quite a lot of useful stuff. It was straight and not rustier than average. But I had no other options and it sounded good to me. The challenge was getting it there.
My father had a 1978 Lincoln Town Coupe that was probably six or eight months old, with a big trailer hitch on the back. Dad had bought a lake cottage and occasionally towed a boat trailer, but the hitch looked ready for much more serious towing than that. How perfect – a big-assed Lincoln to tow a big-assed Cadillac. I asked my father if I could borrow the Lincoln so that I could rent a tow bar and haul the Cadillac the ten or fifteen miles to its final resting place. He got a funny look on his face and suggested that I could use my stepmom’s 74 Cutlass Supreme coupe. It also had a trailer hitch. Adult/lawyer me understands now that the Cadillac had a good 1000-1500 pounds on the Cutlass, but I was young and stupid and took the path of least resistance.
The guy at the rental place did see a problem. “What are you towing?” he inquired. I answered “An old Cadillac.” The look on his face changed, and the follow up question seemed to be packed with a little more gravity. “What are you towing it with?” My answer (on which I knew the rental of the tow bar depended): “A big Olds” seemed to satisfy him. It probably would not have satisfied him in 2022 (or 1992) but it worked in 1978. I am not sure how I might have handled a follow-up question like “Can you be more specific about this big Olds?” At least not while being truthful about it. And besides, I had grown up in a ’64 Cutlass, so the ’74 certainly seemed big to me.
Thus began the adventure. I needed to swap two tires from my black Fleetwood so that the car would roll. The old Hydra-Matic employed a rear oil pump so that 35 mph towing was not something that would require getting underneath to disconnect a drive shaft. The green Cad had no lights so good old Lowell followed behind me with his flashers on as I began to get lessons in geometry and physics.
I was towing a 5,000 pound car with a maybe 4,000 pound car. The 4 bbl 350 in the Cutlass was clearly up to the job and we were able to get moving. The problem came when I made a small steering correction. The Cadillac made a bigger steering correction a moment later, shoving the rear of the tow car to one side, which required another steering correction by me. Rinse and repeat. For fifteen miles.
I settled into a rhythm – no sudden moves and everything would be fine. Every once in awhile things would start getting out of hand and I would have to slow to under 10 mph and get everything back into a straight line. Also, periodic stops on the berm to allow drivers on 2-lane U.S. 30 to pass our little fate-tempting caravan came fairly frequently. I never had any desire to exceed about 25 mph and matured by maybe five or ten years on that drive.
We got to our destination and the final maneuvering was done with me in the drivers seat while the sole young guy at the garage got into the ’66 Ford wrecker with the wooden push bar bumper. We did a big and really bumpy loop through a bare plowed farmer’s field that abutted the property of the garage and finally went Ka-Whump into the spot where they wanted the car.
I got my tires off along with the fender skirt and the wiper switch and returned to get my black car. That may have been the last time I saw the green Cadillac. I might have gotten a title or I might not have, I do not remember. I know I got the keys, but left them in the car.
Sometimes I feel a little bad. With some effort (and fresh gas), that car could probably have fired up and moved under its own power. The interior smelled very musty, so something was probably leaking somewhere. But it was complete (though filthy). I have no idea what ever happened to it. When I sold my black Cadillac I told the guy where it was but don’t know if he ever tried to get any parts.
At a later time in life it
might have would have made sense to part it out. Or to get it running and sell it. But then I would have owned two running 1963 Cadillacs at a time when one of them was more than I could afford, and I certainly had no time or place for parting it out. If nothing else, I could probably have netted a little cash by selling it to a junkyard. But at the time I envisioned the green Cadillac as an endless supply of useful parts, all for me. And once that changed I was ready to move on from the whole experience and rarely thought about the old green Cadillac after that.
That green Cadillac is the only car I ever owned that I never drove under its own power. It is also the only one that I never took so much as a single picture of. But for a time, I was the big shot owner of TWO Cadillacs AND a Ford convertible besides. How else should I have defined success at the age of 19? Technically speaking, I think I might still own a light green 4 door 1963 Cadillac. I just wish I knew where it was.
Having collected parts cars for a period of time years ago, and having moved them to and stored them on someone’s farm 40 miles away using a bolt on tow bar, your description of the process of getting them there is very familiar. At least your resting site was attended to by the garage guys. My site was a friend’s farm that he didn’t live at. Small parts would occasionally disappear, including some that I wanted. Mice would damage interior parts. In the end, other than the powertrains I took out, the rest of the enterprise wasn’t worth the effort. Disposing of partially disassembled cars is another story for another day. From then on, parts cars were taken home and I took off everything I thought I could use and then sent the rest to the crusher.
Primary lesson learned: it is much easier to buy cars than to get rid of them.
You make me feel better about how little effort I put into this enterprise. You are probably right that after a year or two in that area surrounded by farmland that the parts Cadillac would have become Mouse DeVille.
Oh, the youthful frustration of adults not getting the plot.
Given the circumstances, this played out about as well as it could. That Cadillac’s last trip did create some tension on this end, but towing an inert car is often nerve-wracking.
Have you been by Zulu’s location anytime in the last decade or two? Perhaps your Caddy awaits.
I remember having visions of an ugly jackknife if I didn’t get the tail wagging under control, and quick.
I have not been past there in decades. The old 2 lane route of US 30 was replaced by a modern road on a different alignment there by probably 1980. I think I recall my father telling me that it had closed, and that would have been 2000 or before. I have never gone looking. It would be an interesting trek, now that you mention it.
Tow bars are great; they solve all sorts of stretching, snapping, and tow-er and tow-ee coordination issues with braking and “un-braking”.
My father’s aging 61 Pontiac Ventura died on his way home from work in NYC on Sunrise Highway in front of the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream NY. I got a call to rescue him and showed up in my much lighter 67 Tempest OHC-6 with a 2 speed automatic.
I thought he just wanted a ride home, but Doc had a better idea. 20 to 25 feet of 3/4 inch manilla rope from his old Elco cabin cruiser was in the Ventura’s trunk, so we tied the line to the front frame of Doc’s car to the rear frame of the Tempest and away went went. Very slowly.
Starting was an exercise in slow gentle moves, inching up to tighten the line’s length, then gentle powering up to get movement with minimal stretching. Any time I (the tow-er) wanted to brake I put up my hand and Doc applied his (now manual) brakes to keep the line tight and help me slow down too. Start, cruise, slow, stop, for the 8 to 10 miles of traffic lights on the mostly 2 or 3 lane (same direction) road. Doc also steered the tow-ee with the then dead manual steering wheel.
All of this is probably illegal now, and I know the Ventura did not have 4-way flashers – cannot recall if the Tempest had them. A tow bar would have worked much better regarding the coordination aspects but to the best of my knowledge, the manilla rope may have lessened any tail wagging of the heavier 3800 pound car being towed by a lighter 3110 pound car. Of course we probably never went over 20 mph. We stayed in the right lane and traffic just went left to pass this sad parade of Pontiacs.
I think the Ventura needed a new battery ground cable – maybe some other electrical part. Neither car seemed to suffer from this amateurish endeavor; the Tempest continued on for another 7 to 8 years and its two-speed transmission never had a problem. Later, the Ventura was stolen from a parking lot in Queens NY and used in an armed robbery. It ended up in a police impound lot and we never got it back.
The thing we do when young – also when not so young.
It’s only illegal if you get caught! 🙂
About fifteen years ago I saw the biggest disparity between tow-er and tow-ee ever…on I-435 in Kansas City I saw a Dodge Neon towing a Chevrolet Suburban using a very long, very thick tow rope. They were running about 40 mph.
Given they were in the vicinity of several large u-pick-it salvage yards, it made me wonder if both were being dropped off there.
I have towed with ropes/straps too, and I have learned that it is a huge difference when there is someone doing the steering in the back car. With the tow bar you rely on a kind of caster effect, but one working through a pretty nasty mechanical disadvantage, which causes lags in both the turning and the straightening.
What a terrible end for your family’s Ventura.
I had Stephanie tow my F100 with her Forester when its fiber cam gear disintegrated at the dump. I always keep a tow strap in it because I use it to pull off loads of yard debris. She was a bit too enthusiastic on take offs…I thought something was going to give once or twice. It involved one very steep hill too; no problem. The Subaru chugged right up it.
I make it to Fort Wayne at least once a week, and now I’m feeling a pull toward a pilgrimage to the old Zulu Garage!
Haha, if you do, let us know if it’s still there!
My’63 VW’s engine crapped out somewhere in Ohio (or was it Indiana) on a the way back to Iowa City from the Great Smoky Mountains. I managed to make it to a gas station off the freeway, and told the guy I’d be back in a couple of days. My GF and I hitchhiked to IC, and then borrowed her mom’s Corolla with a rented bumper hitch and VW-specific tow bar, the kind that bolts to its front torsion bar tubes.
The 500 or so mile drive was uneventful; the Corolla managed it easily. It was just a bit disconcerting whenever I looked into the rear view mirror: someone is tailgating me mighty closely!
I would imagine that a VW would be near ideal for towing with a bar – a rear weight bias would keep weight low over the steering wheels so that they would not be fighting against the towing car, even a light one like the Toyota.
Ive done lots of towing of dead cars both with trailer and rope trailers work best but how you load it has a huge effect on how the trailer tows, you want the heavy end of the car on the trailer at the drawbar end then it all goes well if not the result can be interesting/terrifying dangerous, Free parts cars can be worth having I got a Toyota MK2 coupe free for parts for my four door I only really wanted the rocker shaft but took the 5 speed and pedal box, towbar, rims and sundry other pieces anyway then took the rusty remains to the dump,
I did the rope tow stunt in my teenage youth with my friend. We got double value out of this one.
My first car was a ’58 TR-3. Red over black interior. Mike’s was a gray ’57 TR-3 – one of the “big mouths”. Both cars were tired and mechanically challenged and of course we knew nothing. In the spring of 1967, shortly after buying these Triumphs, we both had cars that could not be driven sitting in our parents’ driveways. Mine had a failed radiator and needed repair. Mike’s had no brakes and needed repair. But my car had brakes and his had power. So of course, being resourceful but dumb, we did the obvious. Mike’s TR-3 provided the motive power, a rope connected us and I did the braking.
We made it the 5 or so miles to the shop without incident and without police involvement. Stop signs involved some judgment on my part, being in the rear but also having to look in front of the lead TR-3. The trip might have involved four or so stop signs and maybe six or eight traffic lights – all timed at about 20mph. So we made it.
I’ve never towed (or been towed by) another car since.
I love this story – youthful ingenuity and optimism at its finest! And you even turned out to be right that the plan would work.
I think that must be some sort of record for tons of old car owned by a college kid. And yes you didn’t get much utility out of your parts car but your input was so low I’d call that a win.
By the time I was done with AMCs I had the spoils of two stripped down Matadors in my parents garage and basement. After a few years I came to my senses, realized I was never going to find another and gave the whole mess away. Zero return on many hours of work…
I had been feeling a little foolish about how little effort I put into the parts car, but you and some others here have made me feel better about that.
I like the concept of vehicular tonnage per owner as something to measure. I had never thought about that.
I like the white Imperial behind the first Caddy….
Towing with ropes or chains used to be a regular thing, I found the other person was usually the problem if there was any .
Most of the time there were problems caused by the other person failing to grasp the “slow and easy” aspect that insures you’ll make it home alive .
I usually have only 1/2 ton 6 cylinder trucks so speed isn’t an option and when you have a barge behind and unladen pickup it’s easy to jackknife (never did) or four wheel drift (scary but never crashed one) .
So many good cars were summarily junked way back when now I’m scrapping out my back yard of them .
I’m really enjoying all the pictures here ~ “I cold save that one !” etc….
The “other person” factor is a good point. A relative owned an old Model A and the battery was dead. He asked his wife to drive the lead car in an attempt to pull-start the A. She put it in gear and just started driving, which was fine as long as the tow chain was slack, but then she pulled the front bumper off the A. 🙂
That’s the usual issue ~ you tell them to slowly take up the slack and instead the motor away normally and you’re stuck with whatever damage is caused .
I don’t use bumpers as tow points after I was 12 or so and suffered the carnage .
Quite a story! But at least you were able to walk away from your mistake and didn’t have it hanging around your neck for years.
When I was a teenager I bought a similar-condition MGB, in a ridiculous attempt to restore it. Somehow, my father offered to let me store it in our garage, which was a decision he instantly regretted… kind of like letting your kids get a puppy.
I bought the MG for $250, but then was somewhat surprised to find that it would cost a lot more money to actually restore it. I’d rather spend that money on things gas and repairs for my other car, that actually ran and that I could enjoy. So I fiddled around with the MG a bit, but quickly lost interest. My folks had to deal with a partially-dissembled car in their garage for about 8 years before I finally sold it. I wish I had just hauled that thing out to Zulu’s Garage at the beginning, and forgotten about it…
I am seeing after your and other comments here that Cadillac No. 2 could have turned into a monumental time and money suck, so I’m feeling pretty good about that.
I understand your MG story. At least you learned early – I waited until I was an adult to learn that lesson, which will be a chapter for a future day.
I remember hooking a couple of what looked like glorified cargo tiedowns (may have been hiking related) to the rear tow eyelet of my Lexus RX300 to pull a 2005 grand caravan that my sister had used as a storage unit for some heavy toolcarts in between jobs (she is a mechanic and a dang good one I and her customers would say.) It wasn’t long at all but there was a bit of bumping bumpers but at least we got it to a safer lot instead of the streets. Thankfully she now has a company-provided Metris equipped with what is essentially a mobile workshop but I certainly felt like we were asking for a moving violation that day!
Coming from a long line of gear heads a tow rope was a necessity. For those of you who remember the Vacation series movies, my father was Clark Griswald before Chevy Chase brought him to life on screen. My father’s pride and joy was his first project car: a 1930 Ford Cabriolet Convertible. After spending eight painful years restoring it he looked forward to enjoying it. The problem was it would never start on it’s own. The Saturday ritual would be it would be pushed out of the garage and the tow rope would be connected to our 1977 Caprice Classic with my step-mother at the wheel. Down the driveway and down the road we would go, we lived at the top of the hill, and my father would pop the clutch halfway down and it would start. However, one day it would just not start so my father told my step mother to nail the Caprice and she ended up pulling the Ford’s front bumper off and proceeded to drag it and the tow rope down the road. I was in the front seat of the Ford with my father and he had such a look of anguish on his face. I said, Why do you put up it with this? His response, Son, I have had a relationship with this car longer than my two wives and someday you will understand.
Haha, I had not seen your comment before I replied to Nate, above. I had a relative whose wife yanked the bumper from a Model A too.
JP and Nate, I got confused. At that time my father had two Fords: 1930 Model A Sedan in two tone green, and a 1935 Ford Cabriolet in maroon with beige top. It was the 35 that had a starter/wiring issues. He finally got it solved and we did have some fun. However, it was his last major project and was sold for a 1964 Thunderbird.
Okay, cool .
The 1935 Ford is _BEAUTIFUL_ ~ Ford had a lock on styling through most of the 1930’s .
The cars were somewhat crude but *very* sturdy and hard to kill .
I haven’t learned yet it seems…..
I got rid of most of the project cars but am still hoping to get the 1959 VW Beetle going again, all it needs is the engine replaced……..
Plus of course 15 or 20 old Motocycles…..(insert eye roll emoticon here) .
I used ‘A’ Model Fords as daily drivers and my shop truck, I can’t imagine one not starting easily and instantaneously, I wonder what was wrong with it .
I can remember my neighbor Jim, long gone now, who tore up the former homeowner’s gorgeous rose garden shortly after he moved in as his two grown sons liked to tinker with trucks. The sons’ respective wives would not allow old vehicles or vehicle parts to languish in their yards, but dear old dad didn’t mind, so that was how the three of them often spent their Spring through Fall weekends. The sons both worked for the steel mill like their dad who had since retired at age 55, so Saturday mornings they went to the junkyard to search for parts. They spent so much time at the junkyard that the younger son saw a help wanted sign and got that part-time job so he could check out the incoming vehicles to score parts. I can remember those very long bodies of those Caddys and it would be daunting towing it lest it fishtail – yikes!