COAL: 1971 Dodge Dart – Chase, Chase, Chase, POUNCE!

In May of 2002, on my first venture out into traffic after my primary (before my secondary) battle with some godawful strain of flu, I spotted an alien. At first I didn’t realise it was an alien; it was doing a very good job of blending in, looking normal, and acting casual. And it wasn’t green or grey the way they’re supposed to be, don’tchyaknow. It was red. It gave every appearance, from about a half-block back in the rearview mirror of my 1992 LeBaron, of being a sharp red ’71 Dart with what looked like a single yellow frog lamp installed on the bumper. “Probably a Swinger”, I thought.

The Dart passed me shortly later. No, not a Swinger, but a perfect-lookin’ 4-door. Slant-6 engine, by the exhaust note. No, not a yellow frog lamp, it was a yellow driving lamp, a Cibie type 45, second version.

And amber rear turn signals, looking very much like factory equipment. WuhTuhFuh…?! I couldn’t think of any version or variant of the ’71 Dart that might’ve come with those. The South African cars had US-type red ones, and that body wasn’t sold in Australia or any other places that required amber. The car got away from me, and I wished I’d made an effort to catch up to it, wondered if it was a right-hand drive car, and hoped I’d see it again (…hoped it belonged to a willing seller, etc).

Careful what you wish for; the gods hear you and laugh. Three and a third years later in September 2005, I was walking along Bloor St when I happened upon the same Dart parked at an expired meter. The parking warden was waiting to cross to our side of the street, so I tossed a quarter in the meter and waited for the owner to show. By and by, a couple of elderly ladies with European accents of some kind approached the car. We had a brief chat, I had a brief look at the car, and I gave my name and number in case they ever needed parts or advice or anything.

In March 2006, just as I was about to turn off the phone and eat lunch, a call came in from the Dart’s owner: the car’s for sale, might I be interested or know someone who might be? I said I’d certainly like to take a look at it, at least, and laughed that I’d seen the car from time to time in traffic but had never been able to figure out where it lived. “Oh, it’s easy to find, right off a major road,” he said. “Do you know where Bloor Street and High Park Avenue is?”

I’m looking out my office window at that intersection. Turns out the Dart lived one whole, entire block away. Took me four minutes to get there, on foot, including waiting for the notoriously slow lift to take me down to street level from the 21st floor.

Guy was a mechanical engineer, an Austrian one. Bought the car new in November 1970. He considered the lighting system inadequate—my people!—so he made the rear directionals amber by grafting some truck/van marker lenses over what were originally the reversing lamps, before he cut away most of their lenses, inboard of the brake-tail lights. Hosey? Yeah, kinda, but they were good enough to fool me in traffic’s brief glance. This had deleted the reversing lamps, so he put a small rectangular fog lamp for that purpose under the left side of the rear bumper. He added turn signal repeaters on the fenders above each front wheel; by the time I came along the driver’s side had a Lucas L734…

…and the passenger side had a similar but not identical English Ford item:

He installed that one yeller driving lamp I mentioned (inoperative, and the reflector was corroding), and perched a little round sideview mirror atop each fender, just above the repeater. These were just as useless with as without the stick-on convex mirrors; too far away and too small.

The purchase price included the horsepower chicken shown here.

The car was a base-model Dart, not a Custom. The only options were the big Six (225 instead of 198), and automatic transmission. It was FE5 Bright Red outside, black inside. Lots of empty real estate on the fender tag:

The headliner was in good condition; grab handles had been added. Door cards were nice. There were were homemade covers over the low-line black vinyl front and back seats. I really, really dislike black interiors, but I really, really liked Darts!

It had 142,000 miles on it, and ran and drove credibly. The steering seemed reasonably responsive, suspension seemed fine, engine ran smoothly with no noise a valve adjustment wouldn’t fix and no smoke, transmission shifted just as it was supposed to, and the 9″ drum brakes stopped the car as well as that sort of brake ever stopped that sort of car. The speedometer had a carefully handmade metric calibration overlaid on it. I drove the car for about 10 minutes, and it put a smile on my face. All the right sounds and shapes! (wait, there’s someone else who would do these kinds of lighting mods?).

Rust, it looked like there was almost none (yay) by Ontario standards (boo). The trunk floor looked as new.

Minor bubbles in the very tippy-corner of the left quarter panel, and at the forward-inward corner of both front fenders— almost invisible when the hood was closed.

He’d bought the factory service manual with the coupon in the owner’s manual (oh, he’s the one!), and had repair logbooks from day one. Paging through it, I saw where one of the ladies had, in perfect proper-old-lady penwomanship, neatly entered my name and phone number in the logbook with the date and a note that I was a Dart afficionado of some kind.

He didn’t know how much to ask for it. His mother and aunt, who’d shared the car, were wiped off the road by an Eastern European truck driver while they were stopped alongside the Austrian highway trying to fix a flat tire that had been deliberately caused by a gangster tampering with the valve stem while they were stopped for fuel. This is reportedly a problem in parts of Western Europe that border the formerly-Communist parts of the European Union: You stop, they loosen your lug nuts or slice your valve stem. Down the road you have to stop, then they rob you or worse; this time it was or worse. So the guy had lost his mother and his aunt, he was moving to Alberta because that was where the engineering jobs were since there was an oil boom on, and he hated to sell it so it would have to go to someone who would care for it properly.

So you can see my dilema: this Dart really had to be saved, and I mean, come on, amber turn signals and repeaters on a Slant-6 Dart 4-door? The car might as well have been calling my full name and social insurance number, right out loud. But I didn’t need one more car, I needed one less truck. And I wasn’t sure I could trust myself to leave it alone; what if the 9″ drum brakes would have to go away, and I’d have to have the rust fixed, and, well, the car hadn’t any A/C but it did have a black interior, and…dammit. Did I ever really have any choice in the matter? By early April we’d come to terms.

Then came time to register it, which required an inspection, which the car failed. It needed new brakes like right now. I think the drums were still usable, but all the shoes were paper-thin, all five cylinders were leaky, and some of the lines were rusty. No time to gather parts for an upgrade to 10″ drums or discs, sigh. There were also worn-out steering and suspension components—ball joints, tie rod ends, idler and/or pitman arm, and assorted others. The fuel tank was okeh, but a longish section of fuel line was rusty and fuel-damp. I think the tires were also past due. So right away, there was a whackload of spending and/or a spendload of whacking at the shop conveniently located a block from home.

Fine, now I had a valid inspection, which was one piece of the puzzle. I went to the Driver and Licence office and got turned away, because I had no appraisal of the car, and no ownership slip. I didn’t even get a chance to bring up that the province had the VIN recorded incorrectly in their system, missing one character.

I thought an appraisal was going to be an enormous hassle, but foresight prompted me to ask the clerk for an appraisal form. “Oh, the appraiser will have them,” she said. “Yeah, I’m sure, but it’d be an awful shame if they’re out of them. May I have one, please, just in case?”. Yes. I swung by the garage where they’d played slow-and-expensive with my bill for installing A/C in the truck a few summers before, and the same guy was happy to “appraise” the car at $475 without seeing it. I was in the truck, and he remembered squeezing big money out of it. Said “Stop by and gimme $50 sometime” for the appraisal. No hassle at all; sometimes it’s helpful to know people whose ethics are flexible.

That afternoon I called the Licence Assistance Office and was informed that the VIN correction would require one of the following documents:

• The vehicle’s original invoice (nope!)

• The vehicle’s original Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin (LOLROFL!)

• The bill of sale from the vehicle’s original delivery to the first purchaser (I’m so sure!)

• A letter from the selling dealer confirming the VIN (Not!) or

• A letter from a police officer stating the correct VIN (Aha! much more feasible).

I went to the nearest cop shop, where Officer Friendly looked at the VIN on the dash and on the door label and wrote up a nice little signed note on police letterhead stating the correct VIN.

Drove out to Mississauga, to a different office—my experience was that unless I happened to get an unusually kindly clerk, the more times I came back to the same office/clerk, the harder they’d try to send me away without what I came for. Presented the appraisal, safety certificate, signed bill of sale, and police letter. The province’s record was promptly changed to the correct VIN, and I walked out of the office after 10 minutes with a set of plates. Total cost for “replacement for lost ownership slip” ($10), sales tax on the car ($22) plates and rego through two Januaries thence ($143) was $175.

So, now I was legal and could carry on pouring money into the car.

Four or five months later my credit card had stopped popping and sizzling quite so much, so I took the car to an upholstery shop and had the front and rear seats refurbished. The work was gwahgeous, as my father would’ve said. The upholsterer supplied a material which, while not original, matched the exterior paint very appropriately. The seats looked new and felt amazingly comfortable for such simple benches. The rattles that came from displaced springs went away. I was stuck in godawful traffic all the way home from the shop, but I was still grinning. That one change radically transformed the whole feel of the car. It put it past the tipping point: a car gradually deteriorates little by little and you don’t notice or care, really, until you hit the tipping point and suddenly the car feels like it’s ready for the junkyard. It works the other way, too: you put effort, money and time into a car, not necessarily in that order, and while everything you do makes some improvement, you complete one particular repair and all of a sudden wow, what a great car!.

The renewed 9″ drum brakes weren’t the world’s best, but were passably adequate for the slow city traffic I mostly drove in, so I shelved the idea of upgrading them. And starting from there, by and large I actually did a pretty good job this time of keeping my hands off stuff that was working. I was constrained by finances, to be sure, as well as time, but also space and physical resources. I wanted a well-lit, well-equipped car workspace, but what I had was a space in the underground parkade of the apartment building where I rented office space. It was dim down there, without any available electricity or water, and with the constant comings and goings of people who felt the need to stare. Just what I needed, eh, an audience. When I was already gritched by lack of tools and light and space and workbench and power, I really found it trying when people would walk across the parkade, staring at me with one degree or another of distaste. Lookit the funny misfit who doesn’t buy a new Corolla or Accord or Bimmer every three years. Or they’d come over and want to know what’s wrong, or guess at the model year, or stand directly next to the exhaust pipe and go “Eww, stinky!”, or want to chat about trivial crap while I was trying to concentrate. Seriously, unless I had an actual helper, I just wanted to be left alone! There was none of that available down there, either, in the dungeon.

This is from The Oatmeal, which I highly recommend.

But at least—find the good—it was only about a hundred-foot walk (plus two security doors and two key-locked doors) from my parking space to my storage locker, so I didn’t have to wait for the lift up to the 21st storey, get whatever I needed, then wait for the lift back down again. All I had to do was walk, present my key fob twice, use two keys, then rummage around in the boxes in my unlit locker.

One day I decided to tackle some of the car’s driveability flaws. The Holley 1920 carburetor, probably original to the car, had never worked right. Those ’70-’73 1920s seldom did; it had started out in 1962 as an inexpensive yet respectable and dependable carburetor in 1962, but by 1970 it was junk. This one on my car made weird, contradictory problems: four and five tries for the engine to stay running when started from cold and put in gear (too lean), but started immediately on slow idle without the choke after sitting in a cold garage all day or night (too rich). No high-rpm power at all; felt like it was running out of fuel—too lean—but very poor gas mileage and very dirty-smelling exhaust (“Eww, stinky!”—too rich). I’d been putting off repairs for months, but the need was growing. Wintertime offered the choice between a dim, cold, underground parkade or a dark, snowy, colder street. The parkade won, but only because it was slightly less bad.

When I was a teenager, first messing with cars, I had plenty of physical stamina for bending myself into all kinds of pretzel knots under the hood or under the dash, snaking my hands up or down into cramped spaces, etc., but I had very little mental stamina/patience for jobs that took longer than planned (which is pretty much all of them). No longer a teenager, I had more patience, but less physical stamina. The universe demands equilibrium like that.

I had no problem finding a new (and I mean it; not “remanufactured”) Carter BBS carburetor, because at the time I owned many, many new carburetors. Some of them are still pictured here from the great sell-off. The BBS I picked out was the one for the 198 Slant-6 in 1971: all the right hookups and linkage configurations, and the calibration was entirely compatible with the 225. The only hurdle was that the BBS has its fuel inlet at the front, rather than on the right side like the 1920 with its side-hinged float (which was why 1920-equipped cars liked to stall in left turns). So I took the opportunity to do what had become known on the Slant-6 boad as “the fuel line mod”: remove the steel pump-to-carb line, install a 90° inverted-flare hose barb on the pump outlet and carb inlet, connect them with carefully-chosen hose—SAE J30R9 fuel injection hose, with much higher resistance and strength by all measures—rerouted over the valve cover rather than along the exhaust manifold, relocate the fuel filter from just above the hot exhaust manifold to just behind the alternator in its cooling fan blast, and clamp all junctions with double-wrap, smooth-lined fuel injection hose clamps.

I don’t guess I’ll ever know why the leather on these is this purply-magenta colour. Fashion-forward accelerator pump plungers…? Doesn’t seem likely.

I removed the top of the new old stock BBS, oiled and flared its leather accelerator pump plunger cup, oiled and installed a new airhorn gasket, and put it back together. Everything hooked right up to the new carb. I frowned at the car’s original choke pushrod, which was mangled from some hackwork evidently done years previously, but this was another “if it’s working at least a little, don’t touch it” item: most Slant-6 exhaust manifolds had a well cast into the № 5 runner to hold the choke thermostat, but on the ’70-’72 manifolds the floor of this well didn’t exist. It was an open hole right into the inside of the manifold. There was a stainless steel cup installed in this hole, and a gasket to (theoretically) prevent exhaust leaks. The intent was to heat up the choke faster so it would come off sooner—emissions were beginning to be measured. That gasket stopped being available many years ago, and so did the cup, so I left it be.

Lots of cranking, but no fire-up. I cracked loose the new elbow fitting from the carb inlet, cranked some more, and when gasoline made itself apparent, I retightened the fitting. More cranking, no fire-up. Oops, the pointy viton tip of the inlet needle was stuck on its brass seat because that’s where it had been since 1971. I should’ve spent ten more seconds unseating it when the carb was apart. Instead, I sprayed the carb full of cleaner through the internal bowl vent and started the engine on that. It ran for about 10 seconds, progressively slower, and just as it was about to stall out, the needle unstuck, the carb filled up, and the engine picked up and ran. I twiddled around making gross adjustments while it warmed up. It was clearly running better than before, and even with the choke mostly closed the exhaust smelt much less toxic, but there was still misfiring evident.

Well…h’m. I removed and inverted the distributor cap for a look: I’d seen worse, but I’d also seen better. This was a new old stock Echlin MO-6, the black bakelite kind with the extra-wide aluminum contacts—a change Chrysler had made in ’62 when they were still figuring out how to make Slant-6 engines start and run well in all weather.

There was a bunch of dust on the inside of the cap, and the central carbon contact was chipped and chunked such that it was making only small contact with the rotor spring. Okeh, let’s replace that. No luck in the storage locker, so I went back up to my office and from under my desk (…doesn’t everybody?) fished out a Blue Streak CH-403X: the old premium cap from Standard Ignition, compression-moulded from bright blue glass-filled thermoset phenolic, with narrow copper contacts. I installed the plug wires 1-5-3-6-2-4, snapped the cap on, and hit the key. The starter gave half a groan and hitched. Say what? Oh, yeah, that’s right, this distributor was missing the locator tab for the distributor cap, and I’d forgot having dealt with that last time I messed with it. I rotated the plug wires one tower clockwise, hit the key again, and the engine started right up. It ran smoothly for a couple of seconds, but then began misfiring worse than before. Also, there was a hell of a racket coming from the right side of the engine, sounded like the valves were out of adjustment, but that made no sense; valves don’t suddenly go out of adjustment from one moment to the next. Still, I put a screwdriver on the valve cover and my ear on the handle: nope, the valves were still quiet. The noise was too fast to be fuel pump rap, and it was growing quieter as I stood there listening.

So what changed? Distributor cap. I popped it off and saw the problem at once: the contact arm on the rotor was no longer pointing along the axis of the rotor, it had been knocked askew. I inverted the cap. Sure enough, both the end of the rotor arm and the cap contacts showed signs of physical contact. Not a hard enough hang-up to lock the distributor and break stuff, but enough to knock the rotor arm out of line, just like that time with D’Valiant H’mm. Why did this happen, and how was I going to fix it and get home to fix the water heater?

Previously I’d swapped in an Auto-Lite (Prestolite, not the spark plug people) distributor from a 1964 Canadian Valiant, I think because the car’s original distributor had some excessive wear and I had the Auto-Lite item in great shape, so I just dropped that in. Same cap as the Chrysler distributor, but different rotor—not like this item used for decades in Chrysler-built distributors:

Went fishing again in the storage locker; got skunked again, so I went back up to the office, dug around a box or two (or three) of ignition parts, and came up with an Echlin AL-160 rotor, which was what belonged in this distributor: about the same as the busted AL-150 I’d removed, but with a slightly shorter contact arm—bingo!

What was there (and got broken)


What went in, and should’ve been there all along

I dropped it onto the distributor shaft, reinstalled the cap, and the engine started right up with no clacking and much less misfiring. Weird that there’d been no physical contact between the too-long rotor and the previous cap. There is (now) a big, extend-o thread on the Slant-6 board about the huge variation in cap-contact-to-rotor-tip dimension amongst different distributor caps, and what to do about it.

I eventually got home that night—scraped up and stinking of gasoline, but the car was running a lot better. That’s a thing about working on a car whereon the maintenance has been let slide: Absolutely everything one does, every little adjustment and minor consumable-part replacement, makes the car run significantly and observably better. It makes one feel like a genius mechanic.

There were other repairs, too, of course. One wintery day I turned on the wipers midway through a left turn, whereupon the driver-side wiper arm popped off the shaft, skated across the hood, and was never seen from again. Fun drive home. Fortunately, Anco offered a universal replacement arm—still do, as far as I know—with a clever means of adjusting the blade angle so it will sit whatever which way any particular car might need, and a bag of adapters to fit whatever kind of wiper shaft might present. I bought a pair inexpensively and they worked a treat. This critter appears to approve:

I didn’t entirely stop myself making upgrades to the car, but they were much narrower in scope, much less overambitious. I put a new Lucas L734 repeater on the passenger side so the mismatch would quit bothering me.

I replaced the sealed beam headlamps with British-made Wipac H4s (without upgrading the underspecified-and-aged wiring, tsk). I cleaned up that amber rear turn signal conversion, too, by having self-confessed Australian David Azzopardi make me a one-of-none pair of ’71-’73 Dart outboard brake-tail lenses in amber instead of red. He did highly craftsmanlike work.

These I installed on the inboard lamps, and then the conversion looked like factory export equipment, especially since while we were at it I had David make me a pair of rear side marker lenses in amber, too. Now the car really had a Commonwealth-type lighting system. Eee! Isnt’ that fun? Isn’t it neat? Isn’t…guys? Hey, where are you going?

I took out the damnuisance separate lap and shoulder belts and installed 4-point harnesses. They were certainly easier to use than the original equipment; pretty much like putting on or taking off a backpack. I thought this was a great idea at the time. In fact it was a hideously bad idea. Four-point harnesses are ducky in a race car with a sturdy cage, but they are severely dangerous in a street car without one. If the car rolls over and you have a 3-point belt on, the upper half of you can move forward, out the way of the approaching roof. But if the car rolls over and you have a 4-point belt on, your upper half stays upright, which means all the force crushing the roof is applied to your neck via your head, which means you get extremely dead or extremely broken.

And even without a rollover, a hard crash while wearing a 4-point harness will apply some wicked compression to (human) body parts not meant to withstand it. Make it a 5-point harness and if you had intact testacles before, you won’t afterwards. Three is the right number of anchor points for roadgoing seatbelts. Not two, not four, and five is right out.

There were other repair ventures, too, and on one of them I learnt how to make an old car really quiet. That’s a thing about old economy cars: they tend not to offer the quietest of rides. There’s a lot more noise, vibration, and harshness than in most newer cars. Back when Darts were new, if you wanted a quiet ride from a Chrysler product you bought a C-body; if you wanted silence you bought an Imperial.

On 11 July 2009 I took a mental-health day (as they call it, but so far no luck): drove down to Hamilton, spent a few hours walking around the Royal Botanic Gardens, then I dropped Bill off at his mother’s place for a visit and drove across town to a blacksmith fellow Dart owner’s forge. He had space and light I lacked. The Dart’s steering column had been loose at the top ever since I bought the car, the ignition lock cylinder had been on the way out for half a year, and it was finally time to dig in and fix it.

I’d called around to some locksmiths hoping to get the new ignition lock cylinder reworked to accept the same key as the old one so I’d still have only one key for doors and ignition. Most of the locksmiths said “Uhhhh…sorry, no”. One said “$250, about three days”. Eh, I’ll live with separate keys and maybe eventually rework a new pair of door lock cylinders to match the new ignition key instead.

Pulled the horn cap, horn switch, steering wheel; got as far as the steering wheel lockplate. H’mm, that was definitely not going to respond to the lockplate depresser tool I’d bought, nor any other. Closer scrutiny revealed a thin sheetmetal retainer collar which was easily removed to reveal that the lockplate was held to the steering shaft with a simple roll pin. A dozen knocks with a hammer and punch drove out the roll pin, and off came the lockplate. Unlike some GM columns, this lockplate clearly served no purpose other than to lock the steering wheel when the ignition is turned off; it didn’t act as a crucial spacer or anything, so I decided it wasn’t going back on. That meant no more need for the pawl arm that engaged the lockplate; I removed two screws and the pawl arm, spring, and retainer came right out. I noticed the pawl arm had a central pivot point and a wear polish on both ends, and quickly discovered it served not only to lock the steering wheel, but also to lock the gearshift. No qualm losing the shift lock; my ’65 didn’t have it and the era of 4-door Darts being common theft targets had ended the better part of three decades previously.

Onward: I removed the turn signal switch, then the upper column collar and bearing assembly, then the ignition switch. After a bit more close scrutiny, it became apparent how the ignition lock cylinder was held into the column; it came right out, spewing a shower tiny tumblers and springs. Ooh yah ya betchya, that cylinder was definitely ready to strand me somewhere; good riddance.

I cleaned up a thirty-eight year accumulation of dust and grease inside the upper part of the column, tossed in the new ignition lock cylinder, made use of some electronic contact cleaner on the turn signal switch, applied white lithium grease to all the sliding-contact areas in the ignition switch/lock, gear shift, and steering shaft bearing areas, reassembled the lower and upper collar with threadlocker on the bolts that had loosened in the first place. Back went the turn signal switch, the steering wheel, the horn switch, and the horn cap. Reconnected the battery, tested all functions. Everything worked except the brake lights; I’d knocked their wire off the brake lamp switch at the top of the brake pedal. Easy fix.

All in all, the project went great. Nothing broke, everything came apart and went together exactly as intended, no emergency runs to the parts store. Car Repair Lake does not normally offer sailing this smooth. the ignition key now went right into the lock, which now turned easily to all its intended positions. There was no more slop in the steering column, and that bizarre chunky/binding feeling in the steering was greatly reduced.

Wait, so how do you make an old Dart really quiet? Well, there are options. you can gut the interior and apply soundproofing and insulation and padding and whatnot. That gives a fine result, but it takes up a lot of money and time and effort. Much easier and less costly: get the kind of cold that stops up your head and makes your ears quit working. The car was amazingly quiet on the drive home from Hamilton. I could scarcely even hear Bill remarking about the noise!

The ’74 Valiant belonged to the across-the-street neighbour. More about that car another time.

Exactly two weeks later, 25 July, was a very difficult day. Shortly after my morning shower, there was a weird THPOFF! sound from the kitchen, followed by the sound of running water. A plumber had “repaired” some previous winter’s frozen pipes by cutting out the split section and connecting the cut ends with flexible clear vinyl hose, “secured” at each end with a single worm-drive hose clamp. Totally to code, I’m so sure. I reattached the hose and tightened the clamp; it seemed to hold fine, but three minutes later, nope. Habbout that, seems temporary repairs aren’t permanent no matter how grossly they’re overbilled (complicated house situation at that time—neither Bill nor I had been on site to supervise or inspect the repair). I called the plumbing company and politely but firmly explained that no, Monday would not do.

Soonest they could have someone out was 5, so I went off to run errands, each of which was partly or wholly foiled. Nothing major, just a collection of minor nuisances. Eventually I got to Public Storage to look for some lamps for a would-be customer—nope, didn’t have ’em—and excavate one of the bicycles. I picked out one of the Raleighs, dragged it out the lockup, borrowed the shift spindle from dad’s Norman and installed it on the Raleigh, pumped up the tires, grabbed the pump, helmet, bike, U-lock, and car bike rack, and went to transport the works. The instant I stepped out the storage building, it began pissing down rain. Perfect! I got thoroughly soaked trying to untangle the bike rack and attach it to the car. Stopped off at my apartment-office-thing-building—I’m sure the Germans have a single word for this—and put the bike in the lockup (no room in the house and noplace secure outside the house), then got a call from the plumbing outfit: they had a tech available earlier than anticipated and he was about 20 minutes away.

Terrific, I said, I’d be there in about 20 minutes. Locked up the bike and headed for the house. It was still pouring. Traffic was heavy and slow on Dupont street, which had recently for some strange reason been repainted in such a manner as to make traffic very much worse. I stopped before a crosswalk because the intersection on the other side of it was full. By and by, traffic on the other side of the crosswalk began to move. I lifted my foot off the brake and was just about to apply it to the accelerator when BAM! I was hit from behind. Perfect!

A dark blue Mazda Protegé was shoved into me by the ’94 Civic that hit it. The Civic was lunched: no apparent radiator penetration, but the front bumper was all torn up, front lights hanging by wires, and hood very bent. The Mazda had some scratching and minor deformation of the back bumper, but the front got bent up where it hit my car. One headlamp pushed rearward off its mounts, grille gone, bumper deformed, hood buckled, and other deformation. My Dart lost its under-bumper reversing lamp, which got pushed forward into the rear valence panel, putting a foglamp-sized dent therein. Really very minor damage to my car, as it seemed. Everyone was okeh, though the woman in the passenger seat of the Mazda was pregnant and very frightened by the whole thing. I called 911 and was told that if everyone was okeh and insured we could all swap information and report to a collision reporting centre within 24 hours. We swapped info, but Mrs. Mazda preferred to get the cops on sight, and I couldn’t really blame her.

A Toronto policeman came along shortly, but then things slowed to a crawl. All in all, it was at least an hour—probably closer to two of them—spent sitting in my car in the pouring rain. I mean that as written, too: the Dart was not watertight; when it rained (outside), it poured (inside). The whole thing could’ve been even more exciting on account of my not having proof of insurance with me. Eeep! I must’ve removed it from my wallet in an overly-zealous cleanout. I called my insurance company, got the policy number and expiry date, wrote it down and gave it to the policeman, who accepted it. All the involved parties wrote up reports (hard to write on wet paper), Mrs. Mazda, though seemingly fine, went off to hospital by ambulance for a checkup, then the officer spent a great deal of time doing paperwork in his car. Mr. Mazda, Ms. wasn’t-paying-attention-and-didn’t-try-to-stop-for-stopped-traffic Civic, and I each got a copy of the incident report, and then I could drive home. By then I’d made up my mind about two things: I was going to get a mobile phone—the day would’ve been much worse had I not borrowed Bill’s. And the Dart had to go. I’d willingly dive pretty deeply into mechanical repairs and upgrades, and I’d have upholstery work done, but I just didn’t want to know about repairing body rust and leaks. And there was a big short circuit that pulled the electricity whenever I’d shift into reverse; the fog-as-reversing-lamp wiring had been mangled in the crash and was now a dead short to ground. Basta. Finito! No more.

I put up ads, and pretty immediately had a bite from a couple hours North of Toronto. Things moved quicker than I expected, and I faced a choice: do I keep the custom-built one-of-none starter motor, or do I keep the really excellent carburetor (not the BBS; I’d swapped that for a much more unusual factory carburetor—it’ll get its own article eventually, as will that starter). I wanted both; the starter was really cool (…guys? Hey, come back!) but that carburetor was a honey of a sweet runner. It really had to be the starter; the carburetor could be duplicated much more easily than the starter, the starter was a quicker swap requiring no subsequent adjustments, and a honey of a sweet runner would be easier to sell anyhow. I swapped on one or another of the boring ol’ regular ol’ normal ol’ starters I had lying around, the biters came and bought the car, and that was almost that.

But not quite, because the following year when I was commissioned to photograph and report on Moparfest 2010, I saw the Dart there, proudly exhibited on the show grounds. All the body and paintwork had been done, and the car’d been jazzed up with a blackout hood and bumblebee stripe. The spurious sideview mirrors had been removed, and that decaying single driving light, as well as the repeaters. A pair of silly little marker lights had been spliced into the rear valence, pointing down at the ground. Useless as reversing lights, but evidently good enough for whoever inspected the car for its new owners. But I’m picking nits here. The car was clearly in good hands, and that was nice to see.

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