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

Now, I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I’d been advertising the Spirit R/T without success. I’d started by putting up a web page—archived here, and if you click the link I can’t be held responsible for your eyes bleeding. This generated nothing. Who would have even seen some random page off of my University of Michigan student homepage? Eventually I forgot I’d put it up. A series of newspaper and Auto Trader ads with prices marching steadily downward to a low of, I think, $3,300 OBO followed—these, too, had generated nothing but tire kickers. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but it was just one of the many things that had to be put on hold when I fled Denver to try to catch my breath.

So there I was in the Bay Area with my free ’63 Valiant wagon, catching my breath, and one day my phone rang from an unfamiliar number with a North Carolina area code: Hi, I saw your ad for the Spirit R/T. I’ve been looking for one for quite awhile. I like yours, and the price seems fair. Is it still available for sale? Yes, it is; which ad had he seen, please? It was the web page. The one with the $7K price on it. Um…okeh!

Last-minute plane travel was easy back then with frequent-flyer miles, and our whole family was heavily into the Untied Airlines Mileage Plus program, so it was just a matter of picking up the phone and requesting a ticket: done. But now I had a problem: where was I going to put the Valiant? I drove around San Francisco for over three hours looking fruitlessly for someplace I could park for more than a few hours, let alone the three days I needed. Private vehicle ownership in that city was a giant hassle at that time; I’m sure it’s far more so now. Practically every street was 2-hour parking, metered, no parking any time, or otherwise like that. Finally I gave up and headed for the parkade under Civic Center, figuring I’d just have to pay whatever it cost to park conveniently in the middle of town. The ticket said “We’ll impound if you leave your car 30 days or longer”, so I assumed three days would be okeh. But it was gonna cost me!

I got up at 5-something in the morning, took transit to the airport, and arrived in Denver at about noon. My friend picked me up and I ate lunch (breakfast? Dinner? Donno; I hadn’t eaten the night before, either). Got to the house, got in the R/T, drove it to Grease Monkey and had them change the oil using my Mopar filter. Washed the car; touched up the paint scrape with my red Sharpie; emptied the garage of all R/T parts—into the trunk they went, collected three weeks’ personal mail and a few parcels and tossed ’em in my day bag. Drew-up an as-is, where-is bill of sale and almost managed to get out the house before my mother returned from New York, but she got home early, drat.

Subsequent-owner pic. He didn’t like the Jaguar-style tailspout I’d installed, for it wasn’t original, yet he painted the spoiler black…

Mr. and Mrs. Buyer arrived from North Carolina at 8:15 that evening; their luggage appeared at the baggage reclaim around 9:00. It was dark when we went out to the car in short-term parking. I drove, and Mr. Buyer commented on the unusually good headlamp performance. We got to their hotel, and Mr. asked me to park the car under one of the parking lot lights. He walked around it a few times, looked under the hood, got in, drove it (with me in the passenger seat) three exits up I-25 and back, parked it at the hotel, and handed over the $7k cashier’s check. All in the dark.

…installed a bra and clear-lens side turn signal repeaters…

I removed the licence plate and headed back home around midnight. Threw a steak on the grille, ate half of it, cleaned the kitchen, drove up to the King Soopers with the FirstBank ATM, deposited the check. Crashed into bed around 2:30AM. Clock went off at 6AM…got up, collected my stuff, ducked mother’s inappropriate questions, caught a cab up to friend’s, and we headed out to the airport.

…and this very high-endy steering wheel cover.

Got off the plane in SF, keyed the celphone, and the “Voicemail Waiting” light came on. Hit “retrieve” and it was…Mr. Buyer! Seems the R/T quit ten minutes onto I-70. He was able to get it restarted, but it would run only a few minutes at a time. Got it to a nearby Chry-Ply dealer, where a bad SBEC was diagnosed. The spare SBEC from the parts box was installed, and they were on their way. He made it clear he wasn’t peeved, just letting me know. Good of him. Me, I’ve bought cars long distance and had to sink $1k into them to get home safely.

I took a taxicab to Civic Center and walked into the parkade. On my way past the tollbooth, I saw a big sign:


Because I had parked for more than 24 hours, this struck me as less of a threat and more of a helpful suggestion. I left the ticket stub in my pocket, started up the car, and pulled up to the tollbooth. “Hi, sir, I’m afraid I lost my ticket.” The attendant pointed to the warning. I sighed. The car stalled—its choke wasn’t quite properly adjusted. I paid my eighteen whole, entire dollars’ worth of lost-tickets-pay-full-24-hour-charge-no-exceptions, and eventually got the car started again and drove off. I sold it for $500 to a friend who wanted to fix it up; I don’t know that he ever did, but I think he had fun with it. So did I. Parking hassles aside, it was exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it.

Next week we’ll be jumping back and forth in time, but all the seat belts will work—I promise.

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