COAL: 1963 Valiant (+ the Spirit R/T Goes Away) • Planes, Trains and Automobiles

That ’63 VW I referred to before was in fact a Valiant wagon. Beyond that, gosh, what’s to tell? Everyone who visits California from Colorado gets a free ’63 Valiant station wagon—at least that’s how it was a couple of decades ago. Or maybe it was just me. Yeah, come to think of it, I guess it was just me.

My father died in March 2000, a month and a few days shy of 58 whole, entire years old; seriously raw deal. At least I got to spend his last days with him when I wasn’t simultaneously propping up and fending off my mother, whose already-difficult behaviour did not improve with pressure, stress, and grief. I jetted to San Francisco in early July on excuse of a meeting, but actually to get away from her and try to collect my wits in the company of friends before I would resume school in September. Flew into Sacramento, public-transported to San Francisco—fine, but I had some friends to visit in Los Angeles and San Diego, and some sights to see that would be easier with a car. Renting one as needed wasn’t a practicable option, as I wasn’t (quite) yet 25.

Not long after arriving in the Bay Area, I headed down to Sunnyvale to spend a few hours with noted Slant-6 guru Doug Dutra. He picked me up at the railway station in his ’66 Dart wagon with the stroker 260 cubic inch Slant-6, and we headed (torquily!) to his home in Sunnyvale.

He mentioned an elderly lady in Santa Clara had rung him a few days before and wondered if he wanted her ’63 Valiant wagon; her husband had died some months back and she herself was in ill health and no longer capable of driving a car with nonpower brakes and steering. Doug had installed a good used 225 in it some years before, replacing the original 170. We swang by her house and found nobody at home, but the car was parked on the street. It was that orangey-red colour they came in, chalky as they grow in the sun. Like the old red lead primers, but five or ten notches brighter.

We flipped open the hood to find everything looking pretty well intact. Grabbed a screwdriver and arced the starter: sounds of compression on all six.

You sure she’s not home?

Yep, I rang the doorbell a few times and gave it a few minutes.

Doug suggested we hotwire it. No wire, per se, but he had a set of jumper cables. Awright then: high-performance hotwiring with a giant low-resistance cable between battery + and the ballast resistor. Arced the starter again and the engine started pretty quickly. No cloud of smoke, no rattly valves. So far so good!

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