I love listening to classic radio programs. Richard Diamond, Dragnet, I Was A Communist For The FBI… These have all, at one point, acted as the background soundtrack for my life. If I needed to kill time during a long drive, or doing housework, these and many shows like them are my go-to.
This passion for radio shows started with my time working for a concrete pumping company shortly after turning eighteen. As I spent countless hours doing brutal manual labor, oftentimes late at night and completely alone, I had discovered quite by accident the Gunsmoke radio show.
What most people would find corny, I discovered a love for. With the tap of a finger, I would be suddenly transported to the wild, weary desert town of Dodge City, Kansas. I would delight in the adventures of Marshal Dillon and Chester Proudfoot, allowing me to escape my bleak world of concrete, half an hour at a time.
I find myself remembering these times as I listen to the show again at my current job working for a classic car dealership. I’ve listened to the whole series three times through over the years and am happy to be slowly working my through it once again.
What does this have to do with my new car? Well, it has made me consider it with a fresh prospective. Driving a vintage car as your daily feels like being transported to the mythical American old west, at least to me.
This is Dixie. She was traded for Rosie, my 1961 Corvair after it became obvious that it would not be suitable for highway use in the dead of winter. My girlfriend’s car was on it’s last legs and she would need a reliable way to her new job. Giving her my (then daily driver) Mazda, would mean me suddenly relying on a classic car in a way not done since my Plymouth Gran Fury. With a lot of thought, I decided to find a four door sedan with working AC. A classic, though not as old as Rosie and hopefully easier to fix. I needed to find known technology that even I, as a shade tree mechanic, could fix.
To make a long story short, I found someone willing to trade their Caprice for my Corvair. Rosie was driven up to Frisco in the freezing rain and the deal was made in less than two hours. I felt a sense of relief looking at my new daily driver that, at the time of writing, has yet to fade. I’ve put over 10,000 miles on her and have only had to change a set of shocks and do an oil change so far.
Dixie is my trusty steed. She’s become a friend I talk to as I sit in her saddle colored cabin, listening to her speak back in the squeak of plastics and the roar of her dual exhausts that have become familiar to me as we stampede along the Texas highways. Her Grant steering wheel became the reins by which I guide her.
To break from these philosophical ramblings, I’m sure my readers would like to know her specs. She’s a 1969 Caprice hardtop sport sedan in Olympic Gold. Her engine is a 327 with camel hump heads and a hot cam sourced from a 1968 Camaro. A few months before I took possession of the car, a speed shop in her home state of Arkansas added an aluminum intake and new 600 CFM carburetor. Her transmission is a rebuilt two speed PowerGlide, and unfortunately, still has drum brakes all around.
Al, the man that gave me Rosie, was thankfully understanding about what I felt I had to do. He said I was doing this for me and my new family, and as good as the Corvair was, it wasn’t meant to be on a modern highway. My girlfriend can drive it thanks to the automatic and our partner can be somewhat comfortable in it’s larger cabin with working, modern AC. Driving dynamics are what you might expect from a B body of this vintage. Smooth, floating, boat-like. However, while the 327 is no big block, it will pull like a freight train from 60-90 mph. It’s not fast off the line, but that’s not what this car is meant for. Dixie cruises like a champ and oftentimes, I find myself going ten miles over the speed limit because the power delivery is so smooth. The sound of her dual exhausts ending in trans am tips has become (for better or worse) my calling card for the people that know me. They can hear Dixie coming up the road from a block away.
In the classic Western, the horse of the main character is a character all on it’s own. What would the Lone Ranger be without Silver? For those of us having to rely on a classic car for our daily, if by choice or circumstance, they become wrapped up in our lives because they are all we have. You learn to appreciate the unique aspects of your car, taking care of it, so that it takes care of you.
Dixie is far from perfect. Her paint is faded and sunburnt, she’s got some minor rust bubbling on her rear fenders, and every single bit of plastic in the cabin looks like it was left in the sun for decades. Her brake pedal squeaks, the front suspension is due for a rebuild, and there’s a small oil leak I’ve yet to fix.
However, speaking as someone who has been transitioning for the last year, just moved out of her parent’s house, and finished her first three months on HRT… you learn to appreciate the things you have and the small improvements made overtime. Yeah, Dixie isn’t perfect and needs work. However, she’s a little better than when I got her and I’ll continue to keep fixing what I can. With this new year, I find myself in a new home with just my two partners, a second hand Mazda, and a battered old Chevy-
-And I’m just fine with that.
Sharp Chevy. I agree that the Impala is better suited to today’s roads than the Corvair… but with a Powerglide and drum brakes, not by much. Time for a TH350 (heck, why not a 700R4) and some front discs.
I say that not as a safety ninny, but as a fella who once eased out to pass on a two lane in a 68 Impala equipped just like yours… at 75 mph, no downshift, and once I chickened out on the pass, no real braking either. No such drama happens in my pal’s 69 DeVille. The TH400 drops to 2nd, the Q jet roars into the secondaries, and the Caddy disappears over the horizon. And when you run out of speedometer and step on the wide pedal, it actually slows down. I love the 65-70 GM big cars, but the way they equipped lower end models was really half-baked.
I’ve never driven a car from before I was born, let alone owned one, let alone considered one as a daily driver. I’m impressed! This is a great side of CC; I happy to see it’s not just old guys like me who drive modern cars and engage in Internet nostalgia about the stuff from our youth. One of my favorite years for big Chevies, maybe just behind ‘65 and ‘66.
The stuff from the 60s is quite capable of modern living. A bonus is that by 1969 shoulder belts and head restraints were there. The belts were not as convenient as the later ones with the inertia reels, but they are better than a steering wheel in the face in the event of a crash.
I had forgotten that Chevy was still selling the ‘Glide in big cars as late as 1969.
TH350 became standard for the full-size V8s in 1970. So did disc brakes.
Interesting trade. Having had a four speed Monza like you, it’s not one I would have made, but we each need to travel our own road. Enjoy Dixie as well as this new phase of your life.
This is exactly the kind of old car I’d love to have. Solid and complete, but worn. The kind I would just drive and drive, and if it got a little damage from use, eh, so what, it’s already worn.
This wheel size makes the styling work! Handsome car. So great it’s still earning it’s keep.
That’s a very good looking car. I had no idea something called Caprice could look so good, and in that golden brown! I wish you many miles with that one!
This hits home for me. The first new car I remember in family. We had a stripper 327 Impala, automatic , champagne gold, stripper bought when I was three. It was the newest car- a demo – my Dad ever had an was a huge upgrade from his 1962 Rambler. Huge upgrade for a family of 6. We took this car in 1970 , middle of summer, to Florida. I-75 was not fully complete. No AC but big vents which they called Astro Ventilation- my dad called it As*hole Ventilation. Dad loved that car and it later was handed down to my brother and it was in the family until the late 70s. Good stuff. Thanks
Great looking car, that color really sets it off. The wheels/tires/stance are also top notch for this car. I bet it is a great cruiser on the highway.
If someone were to ask me to picture a 69 Caprice this is the body style and color I would see in my mind. The only difference is that the one in my mind would be wearing the OE wheel covers or Rally wheels.
My first car was a similar 1969 Caprice, but that was back in 1978, when it was only a 9 year old beater for a kid just starting out driving. Big, thus safe, and cheap. The A/C was busted, and the gray Earl Scheib paint was crazed all over, but it was mine. I can concur it is a great cruiser, while the gas mileage is not exactly great, it’s not horrible. That engine has enough pep to keep you happy, but not enough to really get you into trouble. I hope it provides you with great service and tons of joy.
Great to read about your newest CC! You’ve had some pretty sweet rides and have learned a lot about cars over these last few years, which you can be proud of. With your interest in cars, coupled with working at a classic car dealership, you’re in a a great place for enjoying (and hopefully hanging onto) your latest ride.
Gunsmoke is way before my time, but I can relate to the idea of nostalgic tastes in cars and in entertainment that make for an old soul. I’ve been meaning to start watching the old Magnum PI’s again, as the character TC drove the first generation air-cooled Vanagon, which is my choice as a classic steed. There is something about the nostalgia of those old shows, coupled with getting behind the wheel of a classic car that brings out an irrational, but exuberant joy.
I recognize that sweet sound of a dual-exhaust 327 from my own ’64 Impala. I’ve read somewhere that the 327 has the perfect balance of bore and stroke, making it the smoothest-running Chevy small block. The four-door hardtop styling on the 69-70 GM B-bodies is handsome and sleek, like a Boeing 727.
I love a four door hardtop, especially a big GM one. This will be a fun car in the summer. It is handsome.
A collector car I’ve had for a long time has the worst of both of the two cars you wrote about; I have a powerglide Corvair 700 coupe. It was probably only good for a teacher’s local commute; it is not fun (but it looks cool).
My four door hardtop history was a ’76 Electra 225 – sort of the opposite of the Corvair coupe. I kept it only for a few years; it was too long for my storage ability.
Enjoy the four door hardtop. Not many of those are left and yours sure looks attractive to me.
I remember Dad watching Gunsmoke on the TV (along with every other Western he could find), but don’t remember it as a radio show.
Lovely car, and a beautiful colour scheme. My first mod would be to put discs up front though.
Oooo, a hardtop! That’s a beautiful colour. Thankfully, these haven’t all gotten the resale red treatment or whatever colours people think will appeal to 2020 hearts rather than something authentic, and it’s not one of those nauseating greens or yellows or browns that became popular in the 70s.
I was born in 1976 so I remember all the horrors of the carbureted era and the pre electronic ignition and that keeps me far, far away from anything carbureted. I remember when it would get cold, and the car wouldn’t start, or it would rain, and the car wouldn’t start, and you had to get a Magic Mechanic to get the car to run well, someone who had the perfect ear and sensibility to tune these cars. We had to warm up cars for 10-15 minutes before they would not stall, and this was in Atlanta. Petrol stations were called service stations and every Petrol station had a couple of service bays because these cars ALWAYS needed servicing. Nowadays, (putting on old coot hat) you can run a car to 300k with only oil changes and brake pads and a few wear parts. I have no idea how to use a timing light and no desire to learn.
The oldest cars I have ever driven regularly were an 86 Dodge Aries convertible, which was fuel injected, and an 86 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Brougham, and that was 93-95? and 95-96 ? and they were fine for then or now but I wouldn’t trust the carburetor on the Cutlass now. It wouldn’t pass emissions then. Now the oldest car I drive regularly is a 1991 Cadillac Brougham, which was the first Fuel injected year and I can drive him 40K miles in a year with no problem. Now he starts up every day with no problem whatsoever. My drivers look at him very askance and do not much like to drive him, but they don’t like Rebecca the 2006 Sebring Convertible either.
I’m happy you are keeping this car and enjoying him and congratulate you on the courage for your transition.
OK hold it! Frank Cannon was Marshall Dillon on the radio program?
I have to listen to that now.
Mine was the same colour combo and power train but an impala 4 door hardtop instead of a Caprice.
Classy ride for a classy lady. May you both continue to survive and thrive for many years to come.
As one of the other out trans contributors to CC (though it’s been a while since I published) I’m really truly moved and so happy to read this beautiful COAL and to get a glimpse into your story. Thank you so much for being you and for bringing your full self to this article. You never know who might be reading, and our stories can change lives. All my best to you and yours.
Nice car, P_Fox.
I’ll admit I’m a little biased towards the ’68 of this generation having good childhood memories of the one my Dad had back then. However, as an 8 year old boy in late August or early September of 1968 when these came out, I remember vividly how cool looking the brand new ’69(s) were when I first saw them on a car carrier on I-81 Southbound heading to my Mom’s relatives in Southwest Virginia for a visit.
Heck, one of them may’ve even been a gold 4 door hardtop like yours! Back then, they did not cover up the new cars on the carriers like they do today, even before they went on sale.
The loop bumper in the front, and the curvier body compared to our ’68 Impala really grabbed my attention. And although everyone says dynamically, the ’70 was the best, I have to say I’d rather have the ’69.
And in Caprice trim yet… a rare find indeed. Personally, I think you made the right choice in this over the Corvair. Bravo!
Since you like to name your cars, I am very surprised you didn’t name your beloved Helen in your post. No matter, all the best to you in your new chapter in life!
Love this story, and love the car! If it were mine, I’d upgrade to front discs, definitely think about a THM 350, and HEI.
I love classic radio shows as well – The Shadow and Suspense being my favorites along with Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. They are great to listen to on long road trips, especially if cell service is spotty and you can download them ( https://www.radiospirits.com/ is my go to). I also enjoy listening to oldies (50’s & 60’s rock & soul) in my 88 Brougham (Igor), especially at night with the dash glowing in a soft white that has gone the way of the dodo bird lately. Not that you have to worry about such things, but up here in PA where they throw salt down like it is going out of style I don’t want to run the risk of rusting the car out (at least until I can get him undercoated). So for that reason I have a Chrysler New Yorker Fifth Ave to serve as the winter beater – not quite as luxurious but it gets the job done.
I’m glad you at least have the Mazda around for when Rosie needs work – I love Igor but would not like to rely on it daily – until the EFI conversion at least. May Rosie give you many miles of faithful companionship – and congrats on the new phase of your life!
I haven’t noticed it before, but I think the front grille of the ’69 Chevrolets look like an upside-down Cadillac grille of the same year.
Nice car and great essay.
I’d forgotten that body style, but it looks good and I enjoyed reading about it.
In relation to your personal project, do you follow Mercedes Streeter on Jalopnik?
Great piece. I remember “Helen”, your Gran Fury from before – also a very nice car. Olympic Gold is a color that suits Dixie very well, and I like the idea of likening Dixie to the Lone Ranger’s Silver.
Beautiful car… the kind I’d like to own. Living in Chicago, garage space is short… so a “classic” I could park on the street and not care about too much would be perfect. So there’s some blemishes, some warts… who cares?
Nice to see another 69 owner here. Looks like your car is Olympic Gold. I’ve owned four 69’s since 1980, yet they’ve all been Impalas, never a Caprice. My first car was a 68 convertible, which I still own, and I currently own a 67. I’ve also owned two 65’s in the past but never a 66 or 70. My current 69’s are a convertible and a Sport coupe. When these were new, my Dad had a 69 Biscayne sedan as a company car and his own car was a 68 Impala Custom Coupe. I’ve been around these cars since they were new and have always loved them. You’ll get lots of miles of of yours! Here’s my two current 69’s.
Given the reference to Gunsmoke, it’s ironic that Dixie is the color of a horse.