(first posted 6/5/2016) In 1971 life was diverging onto two paths: excitement and success on a professional level and confusion and despair on a personal level.
Grumman was an exciting place at which to work. It was in the thick of developing Navy aviation and NASA space exploration projects. There was more computing work than the MIS departments could handle and they were willing to invest in new data processing technologies that could speed up development times.
At home, my wife Annie and I were flailing at a disintegrating marriage. This was especially disheartening to us both because little Chris was caught in the middle.
We were both our late 20s and relatively well educated adults, but it seemed that we were clueless as to what was causing the problems and how to solve them.
I was driving the 1964 VW Beetle to work and Annie had the 1967 OHC-6 Tempest. My route to work took me onto a relatively new road called the Seaford-Oyster Bay expressway, NY State Route 135. Its speed limit was 65 mph. That was a tad more than I could get out of my seven year old 40 horsepower Beetle. But even more worrisome was the way the bug reacted to crosswinds and wet road conditions on that stretch of my commute; scary was the word that came to mind.
But that ended when a not very friendly co-worker slammed a copy of Newsday onto my desk as I was head down trying to decode a hexadecimal dump and said “I’ll bet this guy was saving a lot of gas just before he died”.
Newsday was the most popular newspaper on Long Island and I delivered it as a kid on my big heavy one speed coaster braked bike back in the mid 1950’s. This particular edition had a gruesome traffic accident on its cover. A VW Beetle had collided head on with a standard American car. The VW driver was dead; the bug itself was a tangle of twisted metal to the rear of the doors. The driver of the larger car was not seriously injured and that vehicle looked like it could be repaired and put back on the road.
I looked at the cover a long time.
What an awful mess.
Our home had a single garage at the end of a one lane driveway and I was usually the first-out in the morning and the last-in at night, so when Annie, Chris, and I went out anywhere we usually took the bug. Chris loved to ride in the cubby spot behind the rear seat and just over the transmission.
What a bloody mess.
If Annie or Chris died or were hurt as a result of riding in the VW, well that thought made me ill. It would be my fault, even if I were gone too. I needed to make sure that would not happen. After all, I was a father and a husband; that job had responsibilities that went above being a provider, mowing the lawn, and fixing up the house.
What to do.
Grumman had assigned two staff members to be on my new Mark IV development team. Chuck, an old time Grumman employee and Cobol guru who like new challenges had seen the Grumman Data System notice looking for Mark IV trainees. Chuck drove a yellow 1960 Chrysler 4 door that we called the yellow bird. Chuck was a good man to have on your side and his huge old yellow Chrysler would play a role in a future COAL story.
The second guy on the team was a new MBA graduate who looked like he had not yet started to shave named Steve. Steve read IEEE proceedings for fun. He was a true geek. I may have looked like a geek, but Steve had the smarts to be a real geek.
Steve liked to sit sideways at his desk and nurse a constant chain of cigarettes as he read and thought and read some more. On the wall behind him he had taped his favorite quote. It was a picture of a big bruiser football player. The quote beneath the picture read “If I was smart I would have been a doctor, but I’m not, so I hit people”.
Steve and I were to get long just fine. Indeed, a few years later, Steve, two other individuals, and I would form our own software service company. That is also in a future COAL.
Steve had just bought a 1971 Plymouth Valiant slant six with automatic. “Consumer Reports recommended it.” he told me. He gave me a copy of that issue. CR also said the Plymouth Duster was similar to the Valiant and while the Duster had not been tested, it would most likely get the same high marks.
I like the six cylinder 225 cu. in. Duster better than the four cylinder 140 cu. in. Vega.
Also, the Vega had an aluminum block. Didn’t GM have reliability issues with aluminum blocks and heads in their 215 cu. in. V8s back in 1961-63-ish?
Besides, there was a Chrysler-Plymouth dealer just a short ride from Grumman.
And, a not unimportant consideration, Annie said she liked the Duster.
I went to the Bethpage Federal Credit Union which was in a trailer along side Grumman’s main 6,700 foot runway and took out a loan, went to the local Plymouth Chrysler dealer and ordered a base level 1971 Duster with three on the floor, the big 225 cu. in. six, and full wheel covers. And a radio. No stripper for me.
Now I had four outstanding loans: my college loan, the first mortgage we took over on the house, the second loan on the house, and now this. It made me uncomfortable, but the thought of that smashed VW on the front page of Newsday made me even more uncomfortable.
At one point in a bit of a temper, Annie destroyed all of the photos I had from my youth up to the then current time and threw the pieces into the shower where I was at that time. One photo of the Duster (above) was still in my camera and that turned out to be the earliest picture of my COALs that survived.
I took this picture because Chris’ cat was sitting on top of the left front tire. But when it was developed we didn’t see the cat.
I liked the sleek wheel covers.
The Duster had a nice shape, a green and yellow plaid interior, and a solid feeling floor shifter (no synchromesh in first). Despite having just a six cylinder engine, Annie could lay a single strip of rubber with it and I do not think she had the gas pedal all the way down.
I tried it myself when no one was looking. Yup, not even floored; that was one strong engine from a stop. Or too little weight at the rear, or a numerically high rear axle. Or all of the above.
Going from a four speed floor shift to a three speed floor shift has one important caveat. Do mindful shifting. Because where the VW’s first gear was, the Duster’s reverse is. This is very important at a stoplight with traffic behind you. Mindful shifting; I made a point to keep that in mind.
The 225 slant 6 block, which came out in late 1959 to replace the last of Chrysler’s flat head sixes in the lower tier models, was slanted (no surprise) 30 degrees to the right (passenger side) and was relatively powerful for its size. It fit under the hood of the smaller Chrysler models, gave them a lower center of gravity, and had unusually long and efficient manifolds, which curved out to and from each of the six cylinders in graceful large radii intake and exhaust tubes.
These intake and exhaust tubes were almost equal in length and this helped inhale the fuel and air mixture and exhale the exhaust gases somewhat equitably between the six cylinders.
If that wasn’t good enough, these engine had a reputation for being sturdy and reliable.
As you can see, it was easy to reach the plugs, points, and oil filter. The above view also shows the graceful curves of the intake manifold.
The Duster’s 225 slant six developed 145 horsepower at 4,000 rpm and 215 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,400 rpm. Max torque at 2,400 rpm, no wonder it felt so quick.
The smaller 198 slant six was no slouch either. It developed 125 horsepower at 4,400 rpm and 180 lb.-ft of torque at just 2,000 rpm.
David Saunders did a CC write up of a slant six truck at here and Paul wrote up a 1968 Good Old Boys looking Charger with a slant six here.
This engine certainly got around, Dusters, trucks, and muscle (looking) cars; and many other applications.
My drives to and from Grumman on NYS Route 135 became less worrisome and more secure. Except for those darn pasty faced VW Beetle drivers blocking traffic at 5 to 10 below the posted speed limit.
Back at work, Chuck, Steve and I started implementing some of the smaller engineering tracking projects in Mark IV. This impressed our boss Pete so much he started bragging to his boss Greg that his three man Mark IV team could out code those Cobol Neanderthals in one third of the time and get it right the first time.
So when Pete and Greg walked over to our area of the steel desk bullpen we put down our pencils and looked up. Greg said that he understood we could beat any Cobol estimate by 60% or more. Chuck and I stared silently at him; Steve said “absolutely – maybe even better than that”.
“Good” said Greg, “because Pete and I just came back from a meeting with Chet in Property Management and we have an agreement”. Chet was Mr. Grumman inventory, the most cantankerous and hard to please customer possible. All the Cobol guys were hoping Chet would retire soon because his inventory was the holy grail of yet-to-be-automated applications at Grumman. However, Chet was refusing to fund a Cobol estimate to get his inventory off of unit record equipment (basically a semi-manual card based system) because he deemed the Cobol estimates to be too high and their schedule too long.
Chet may have been a crusty curmudgeon, but he was right.
Greg and Pete had talked Chet into letting us automate a small part of his inventory (office equipment) and if it went well, he’d fund automation of the entire corporate inventory. Greg would fund this trial effort. Chet would only have to pay for it if he liked it.
“Piece of cake “ Steve said. “Let’s get started.”
Hey I thought, I’m the team leader; I need to be the one to speak.
“Piece of cake” I said. “We got to finish up the E2C Hawkeye documentation but…”
“Tomorrow, you start tomorrow” Greg said, and walked away.
Pete looked as proud as a new father. He knew we were miracle workers. Indeed, two weeks earlier he had broken down in his barely running 1964 Mustang 170 cu. in. six on the Long Island Expressway and had a passing Grumman employee tell us where he was. Chuck, Steve, and I grabbed some tools and rode to the rescue. Pete’s carburetor float had sunk and we performed open carb surgery right there on the center median of the LIE, using chewing gum (Steve chewed the gum) to make a temporary repair of the leaking float, and got Pete and his car back to the Bethpage office in a matter of minutes.
We told him he had to get a new float and gasket kit and that we’d install it if he wanted. I’m not sure if he ever got that new float; I know he never asked us to install it. Not sure how chewing gum reacts with gasoline.
We had spent the rest of the day smelling of gasoline and feeling really proud of ourselves.
Because Chet’s trial inventory already existed on 80 character punch cards, we knew these cards could be used as input transactions to build the initial database. Coding the application went very quickly and Chet was very detailed and competent in how he wanted to manage the database. This was quite easy in Mark IV. In less than two weeks we had it up and running in test mode.
One Friday morning as we were looking at the test runs, Steve and Chuck and I admitted that as a training exercise, we now knew so much more about how to code Mark IV that we almost wished we could redo the whole thing from scratch. It would be much cleaner code, easier to maintain, and run a bit faster.
Silence. Steve sat in his chair turned 45 degrees to the left, leaned against the partition, and smoked his cigarette; Chuck rubbed his chin; I cleaned my glasses.
We all agreed. Tomorrow is Saturday; we can probably do all of the coding by Saturday night. We can then run tests by sitting in Plant 30 (where the computers were) and test the code with great turn-around. We might only need a day or two next week to polish it up.
We were done testing by Sunday early afternoon. It was beautiful code, like a work of art, just beautiful.
Later the following week Chet gave us the actual unit record inventory cards for the trial run. We had reserved Plant 30 computer time for an immediate run and the system generated about three or four inches of green line 14 × 11 inches 132 column pages. You know, that old computer paper with the printer tractor holes on each side.
There were subtotals throughout the document, and a final page with a summary of all the subtotals and a final total.
“What’s the final number?” Chet asked.
We read it off..
Chet reached into the chest pocket of his short sleeve white shirt and removed a well worn piece of paper, looked at it, then us, then smiled, and said “close enough for government work”.
We were dead on. Our four inch thick report grand total matched Chet’s scrap of paper. None of us were surprised; we had used Chet’s own punch cards to load the database, so as long as his number on that scrap of paper was accurate, we would match it.
We were then charged with automating Grumman’s entire inventory, project by project, Bethpage and Calverton, government and non-government. Everything was put into the new Grumman Mark IV Property Management System. It was called The Grumman PMS.
This was the early 1970s. I do not think the acronym PMS was yet in the common vernacular as is it now.
We won the battle.
But we lost the war.
Management of the Cobol Cabal complained to the corporate suits that the upstart Mark IV group in Engineering DP threatened the investment Grumman had made in building its huge cadre of Cobol experts. They referred to my team as a bunch of “Eggbeaters”; we were stirring things up for our own benefit.
We got Chet’s full inventory system up and running, but we would be on a short leash from that point on. The Cobol cabal had pulled their corporate strings and they had won.
Oh yes, Consumer’s Reports rave review of the Valiant/Duster. I almost forgot.
One rainy day I was driving to work in the Duster and went through a not very deep puddle. The result was no brakes at all. Not like my 57 Oldsmobile where the pedal sank to the floor. The Duster had good pedal, just had no brakes. Like someone had sprayed all of the drums and shoes with WD40.
A few weeks later CR retracted their Valiant recommendation unless the car had the optional front disk “super-stopper” brakes (see above options list). It appears CR discovered – a tad late for me – that the Valiant/Duster front drum brakes tended to be ineffective when wet. With drum brakes, my car was “Not Recommended”.
No s**t Sherlock, what was your first clue? You only run car tests on dry roads and sunny days?
Steve’s Valiant had the front disks option. He was OK.
Back on the home front, Annie had a temper and when it exploded things were thrown, dishes and jewelry boxes broken, and fears aroused.
Many of the arguments were about money. Annie wanted to travel, take vacations, get new carpeting, buy a color TV. I was waiting for the color TVs to be perfected; besides what’s wrong with B&W TV?
One Sunday night in the summer of 1972, after a difficult day at home and an argument about – what – I do not even recall, I was sitting in the den we had just paneled with my trusty Samsonite briefcase open on my lap going over some Grumman work. Annie came into the room holding a pot of boiling rice and, without saying a word, threw the pot and the rice and the boiling water onto me.
I didn’t feel the boiling water right then. I was in shock. This was crazy. Some of it hit me in the chest, some went into the briefcase, and some splashed on my face, and some went onto the couch.
I couldn’t stop shaking. Chris was upstairs and may not have even heard the commotion.
For a while I just sat there. Shaking. I was not accustomed to physical violence.
I got my car keys, went to the Duster that was in its last-in first-out position, and after trying more than once to get the key into the steering column ignition, got the car started and lurched out of the driveway and then lurched forward. My legs were shaking so much on the clutch I was surprised I got it going.
In my mind I knew she would never hurt Chris, but she just might hurt me. Better to leave, and let the heat of the anger dissipate.
I drove to my sister Pat’s home a few miles away. Pat had a daughter one year older than Chris and a son one year younger. The three of them were always together, especially when Annie was at school and I was at Grumman. Maybe I’d stay there a bit, wait it out, and then go home.
I pulled into Pat’s driveway. He 1967 Buick sport wagon was gone; her husband’s 69 Cadillac was in the garage, but no one was home. I did not have a key to their house.
As I pondered what to do next, I saw to my right the Tempest come around the corner. Annie drove past the driveway, from my right to my left, and I walked away from the back of the Duster to try to say something to diffuse the moment. Annie then turned the wheel hard left and gunned the engine. The Tempest swung left, jumped the curb, and headed straight for me. I pack pedaled as fast as I could, no time to turn around, and bumped into the back of the Duster’s trunk just a bit right of center.
The Tempest hit the Duster’s right rear corner with the right portion its front grill. I was maybe 9 or 10 inches from the point of impact. It was loud; I could “feel” vibrations from both cars and engine heat coming from the Pontiac. Both cars rose up a bit at impact, the Pontiac more so as the Duster was solidly in gear and had the parking brake on. The Tempest fell away and rolled backwards, the engine had stalled. Chris, who was un-belted in the back seat was thrown into the front seat. I heard Annie cranking the engine for a restart.
I ran to the open window of the Tempest. The ignition key of the Tempest was on the dashboard just to the right of the steering column. I reached way in and took the key out.
What a damn mess.
I don’t understand Annie, but I wont judge someone I’ve never met. I’m glad the Duster seems to have served you well, excepting the brakes issue of course.
I feel like I understand Annie. Drawing the audience into such a captivating and suspenseful tale only to cease disclosure when interest is at its peak might inspire one to throw a boiling pot of rice onto someone and then attempt to run them down with a car.
I feel I understand Annie all too well. At the least, she deserved to be arrested for multiple counts of assault with intent to do bodily harm. She should have been put in jail and kept away from dealing with minor children especially, pending a psychiatric evaluation.
Certainly, the 70s were a different time, but similar behavior today would get you arrested.
That is quite a story. Hopefully both parties moved on to better things.
This series is fast becoming my read of the year. You turn antiquated computer programming into a compelling story, and your lightness of touch re: Annie delivers consistent narrative surprises (or shocks). Then there’s the cars.
Wow. Quite the tale. My marriage ended on a similar note, minus the boiling rice and attempted vehicular manslaughter. Your article took me back to a sad time in my life when I was unable, like you, to understand or rectify the situation. Well written. Hope things have turned around.
Is this my sister Kelli? Veterans Service Office Dakota City Ne.
Wow that’s rage
as far as drum brakes getting wet in deep puddles ,my dad always said to keep your foot lightly on the brake pedal when going through deep water , then ride them a little to dry them off
What did you do to trigger that rage?
Interesting you chose to ask what he did to trigger that rage, instead of what triggered that rage….
Like what, the rice was under cooked ? My wife and I have never raised a finger in 32 years of marriage
That may well be, and I offer my congratulations on your situation sir, but I think you missed my point. Your question clearly assumes the writer did something to provoke her actions, and my comment was meant to point out this may not have been the case and other factors may have contributed.
The part of having a child in the car during an act of such aggression (and likely danger) makes it difficult to think this person’s mental state was stable.
I’d forgotten till now, but I was taught that about drum brakes too. Haven’t driven an all-drum car since I sold Dad’s Falcon back in ’90.
My family had an Aussie Valiant of similar vintage and I remember the front drum brakes were dicey in the wet, which was often in the tropics — they would become dangerously ineffective or lock up unevenly. Back then we just accepted it as a quirk of the car to watch for and work around.
I honestly don’t recall flooded drum brakes on my Duster as being any more or less ineffective as the flooded drum brakes on my first generation Mustang or my girlfriend-at-the-time’s Chebby Nova.
“CR” is a great source for washing machines or vacuum cleaners; less so for automobiles.
What a damn mess indeed! My marriage unraveled earlier this year when trapped in my house with my wife by an ice storm – how apropos! Ang Lee should make a movie . . . Let this be a PSA for the younger folks on the site thinking they should get married. Your potential spouse should be like a slant six; sturdy, reliable, easy maintenance, and ready for the long haul. Go buy your older coworkers a drink after work(to get their inhibitions down, he he) and get the long term test report on marriage. I’m not full MGTOW, but I’ll make darn sure I’ve got a good one before I sign that contract again.
Again, thanks for sharing something that was probably pretty sureal in a bad way when it happened. This has to be in the top 10 submissions to this site.
It is hard to talk about the cars after such an intense personal story, but that is what we are here to do. How do you think the powertrains of the Tempest and the Duster matched up?They shared the common domestic malady of the time of too few gears and a mild state of tune. On the other hand the two cars were both fairly light for the time and the outputs were still fairly robust pre emission.
To my younger eyes, cars like the Duster were just not as attractive as the cars from five years earlier, Was that your perception at the time?
Hope Annie and yourself got some help. Sounded like a hell of a situation. Very anxiously awaiting the next installment.
Thanks for this great read, I too enjoy the computer related stuff. Hope you weren’t too badly hurt in the rice incident.
This is becoming a very compelling series. The writing is straightforward and clear, the storytelling comes off simply, but the subject matter is intriguing enough to really build anticipation. Usually I’ll read a COAL entry and FD finish wondering what car the writer moved on to. A rather mild cliffhanger. In this case there’s so much more meat to the story, and he cliffhangers feel a bit weightier. Great stuff.
Having gone through a divorce in my own family right around the same time (I was 4), one thing that stands out in my memory was the lack of understanding of the situation by the involved parties and those around them. The phenomenon of “The Divorce Epidemic” was new and confusing in this country at the time. There just wasn’t a protocol for ending a relationship that didn’t work, and things could really get strange and scary. The confusion on the author’s part is palpable here, and easy to relate to. Congratulations, I guess……for keeping a cool head in the face of a really uncomfortable and scary storm of events. I’m anxious to hear more of how life unfolds for this family.
Thank you for this COAL series. I am sure it was difficult to write it up in regards to the family life. Putting it down and sharing it publicly may be a good coping strategy.
The slant six. I can imagine myself in a slant six powered car. At car shows I feel attracted to the mopars and when I arrived here in ’86 I found myself liking the 1980 or so Dodge Dart quite well.
This has more cliffhangers than the Blacklist!
I hope Chris was alright, removed from Annie’s care, and that Annie got the help she desperately needed.
I just hope Chris was alright and Annie magically disappeared.
Esteban: RPLAUT loved her. And her personality changed so dramatically. This must be extremely hurtful to him and Chris. Thus I find your comment insensitive and uninformed.
Let’s not do this, we’re not here to judge each other’s comments.
Yes, Annie needed care. Today there are more options available to treat disorders.
I know well that feeling of shock over violence happening to you, and a feeling of dissonance over it because it’s not supposed to happen here, and the shaking that follows. My first wife turned violent toward me in the last couple years of my marriage. You’re right: what a damn mess.
A compelling, thoughtful, well-written account. I kept scrolling up, hoping it was fiction. What a mess. I hope Chris remembers little (if any) of this. I think my favorite thing is that you posted about the year, make and model of car I most closely associate with my late father on what would have been his birthday, today. So, thank you.
Your COAL’s have been fantastic reads. Can’t wait to see what comes next. Thanks for sharing these with us!
I’m normally a peaceful person, but if she did that to me I would have…..
I always imagine that 40 or 50 years ago things were more peaceful, it turns our we had many of the same issues back then as we do now.
Crazy in the head means crazy in the bed. But don’t marry them.
Stay out of the red zone
Yep. Fortunately I didn’t marry the crazy one I used to date. Also, never date an ex-stripper…
Cool story. Slant Sixes were great, and I think that a good portion of that torque came from the fairly long–and well shaped– runners in that intake manifold. I always wonder how much someone like Yenko or Shelby would have managed to make out of a Slant Six, had they tried, or if someone had fabricated a forced induction version of it back then.
Wow, what a story. But I must add GM had more of a technology problem with the 215 V8. As in coolant and aluminum radiator technology hadn’t caught up or GM was just too cheap (more likely) to use it. The Aluminum V8 itself was a gem. Just ask Rover 🙂
The problem with the aluminum engine was corrosion, probably the coolant technology was not what it is now. But there was a need for a six cylinder engine, and Buick figured out how to transform the V8 into a reliable six using the same tooling, getting it into production in 6 months.
Yesterday’s coolant wasn’t as good at inhibiting corrosion as today’s, but it was adequate if it was kept fresh (changed on schedule). A bigger problem was the persistence of archaic “wisdom” of how to take care of a car: too many nitwits drained the antifreeze out when frost season passed and ran straight water all Spring and Summer and first part of Autumn. Even rather well-executed aluminum engines (Chrysler’s aluminum 225 Slant-Six) couldn’t stand up to the electrochemical warfare enabled by straight water in the cooling system; sloppily-designed engines didn’t stand a prayer.
I remember people draining their antifreeze to “save it” for the next year, as it was considered to be a horrible expense. These were invariable the ones who had overheating problems in summer.
My Dad used to flush his cars every year and refill with 50/60 water and glycol. We never had a cooling problem.
Growing up in the 50’s/early 60’s, I do not recall my Dad draining the antifreeze from the cars/trucks for the summer. I think the tractors all kept their antifreeze too, but the windrower may not have had coolant over winter (this one had riveted sections).
What Buick/GM sorted out was that the compact cars needed a 6 instead of an expensive to build 8.
A big problem with these Buick 215 V8 early engines was porosity in the aluminum block castings. Grandfather had a Tempest from this era and always had to add antifreeze. It was seeping through the block. The only cure would have been to replace the block which he was not willing to do. He drove it that way for a couple of years before trading it in on his last car, a new ’65 Bonneville convertible.
The worst a woman ever did to me was throw a plate complete with dinner in my face, and then lunge at me with a steak knife. I was able to take it away from her. Just glad we were only living together.
I guess I was off when I said I was sure in your previous story that things in your relationship went well. Sorry to be wrong about that. I saw so much of this kind of mess with recently married friends and family. Made the decision a long time ago to never marry.
I remember when my dad and I went car shopping and bought a new ’74 forest green Duster total stripper. It was 225 3 on tree, as I recall 1st was syncro on his.
I did put an AM-FM cassette player with a couple of door speakers in it as soon he bought it. It had the worthless when wet drum brakes as well. After a year or two I replaced the troublesome column shifter with a hurst floor shift conversion. That car held up well and was problem free. But the smog requirements in 1974 California cars really sapped the horsepower as compared to your 1971 version. My 70 C10 had all drums, and spoke steel wheels that made it easier for the drums to get wet when going through deep puddles. I got into the habit of riding the brakes whenever I went through deep water so they would work when I needed them. Had a couple of scary moments when I forgot to do this.
The Duster had like 30k miles a year put on it, was commuting between SoCal and Portland a lot. Traveling salesman. When I was around 19 my then 50 year old Dad came home with his 19 year old “secretary” and wanted her to stay at our house. To say mom was pissed would be an understatement! They were married for 54 years despite this kind of bullshit. I remember a few months before mom died and had rapidly advancing Alzheimer’s she told me he was screwing around with all the other women in the assisted care home they were in by that time. She was very delusional by this time, but it told me a lot about what she went through with him during their long marriage.
People from the depression era just sucked it up and made marriage and family work despite the problems, for the most part.
Your COAL’s are great. I respect your honesty in relating your life’s complications.
“ When I was around 19 my then 50 year old Dad came home with his 19 year old “secretary” and wanted her to stay at our house”
Wait, what?!? 😮
I gotta go grab my ice pick…
Out of many great COAL series, this one is the topper. I admit it helps that I can remember those days (and definitely remember the Duster-Vega comparison ad) and that I lived in Metro NYC for four years at the end of the 70’s.
Today is my 34th anniversary and in reading this, I realize anew just how fortunate I am; I’ve never had anything resembling the episode you describe here. I commend you for just leaving the situation rather than retaliate, even though Annie came after you and trashed two cars in the process.
Better than must-see TV, this is must-read CC. Can’t wait ’til next week!
I, too, recall the Duster-Vega ad. I think it was a direct result of the failure of the Cricket (aka English Hillman Avenger) leaving Plymouth without a model in the Vega’s subcompact class.
While it seems like a no-brainer to choose a Duster (or Valiant of any sort) over a Vega, it should be noted that, at the time, $74 was not quite as insignificant as it would seem. Adjusted for inflation, that $74 would be at least $740 in today’s dollars. Even so, unless one was on an incredibly tight budget, it’d be worth it to go for the much more substantial and reliable Duster, even though the fuel mileage wouldn’t be as good as a Vega.
A fascinating juxtaposition between cars and domestic strife. That must have been a tough thing to experience, let alone write.
Indeed, the intermingling of COAL and life events really brings to the fore how much a part cars play in our lives. Many times, it’s possible to pinpoint the year of events simply by recalling the vehicle that was around at the time. Unfortunately, the events that are most vividly recalled are overwhelmingly the negative ones (such as an outraged spouse violently attempting vehicular homicide). I guess it’s related to the way the human brain works in learning by remembering the things ‘not’ to do and, thus, it’s always the bad things recalled the most.
At least he had a couple of decent cars. Compared to some of the dreck of the era, an OHC 6 Tempest and slant-six Duster are pretty good choices. Imagine how much worse the situation might have been if the family cars had been of a substantially less reliable nature.
I know your pain, brother. I once lived with a girlfriend who had rage issues, and I was terrified every hour I spent at home. On behalf of all of us following this series , thank God you survived such a horrid relationship; that you can write about it objectively (and quite eloquently) today is admirable .
Like several others here I am speechless. I am fortunate that my marriage has now lasted for 30+ years with no major, and few minor, hiccups. My wife and I were both in our mid-thirties when we got married and I believe this has been a positive for our lives, at least we weren’t fresh out of school and had some life experiences before marriage. Three of my siblings got married in their early or mid-twenties and, while only my one sister has been divorced, the other two had to endure their share of issues. Everything seems to be better for them now, possibly because once you reach your sixties you no longer care to waste time and energy on the social ramble.
Glad you survived an abusive spouse, and hope that she got the help she needed.
Regarding the BOP 215 aluminum V-8, the only reliability issues (unlike the Vega’s) were if antifreeze replacement was neglected. That was a great little engine that Rover bought and built and used successfully until what-3 or 4 years ago? The reason GM quit it was that thin-wall iron blocks were now commonplace and were so much cheaper to cast and build. The aluminum 215 was just two expensive.
The disc brakes definitely made the Mopar A-bodies quite a lot less unsafe up front. Unfortunately, what the
leftfront hand gave, the rightrear hand took away: the disc-braked A-bodies would lock up the rear drums if you so much as sneezed at the brake pedal. Consumer Reports and every other magazine that tested them complained about it, and rightly so.
Chrysler stared at the sky and said “Tut tut, looks like rain” about it. The sad punchline: they already had the parts and knowledge in the house to fix it at a cost of $0.00 per car: in 1962, some years before discs were offered on the A-body, Chrysler issued a directly applicable fix on police cars that were also prone to scary-easy rear lockup: smaller-bore cylinders in the rear brakes. Read about it here and here.
Having owned numerous A-bodies with a variety of brake systems, I can attest to the drums being useless when wet (and the standard-equipment 9″ drums were only marginally less useless when dry, and then only for one stop in a row), the easy lockup of the stock disc/drum setup, and the complete cure effected for same by swapping in the smaller rear wheel cylinders.
Probably no TSB was ever issued for a murderous spouse, though.
That’s so disturbing on so many levels that Chrysler could have fixed the problem simply by substituting a rear brake cylinder that was 1/8″ smaller in diameter.
Hate to pile-on but since we’re discussing flaws in the A-body, besides the wet front drum/rear drum lock-up with front discs issue, the one-venturi Carter carburetor also had some problems. I don’t recall exactly what the cause was, but it was common for them to develop a bog or stumble from a standing or slow rolling start if even normal pressure was applied to the accelerator (and these were pre-emission control cars, too). It wouldn’t happen if you feathered it, but if you were in a crisis situation and had to try and motor your way out of it, it wasn’t going to happen. Flooring it, although the engine wouldn’t outright die, would come close. Don’t ask me how I know…
The bottom line is even the sterling reputation of the ‘bullet-proof’ sixties’ A-body slant-six/Torqueflite has a few chinks in its armor.
Actually the Carter BBS 1-barrel was one of the better ones used on the Slant-6. The Holley 1920 (particularly the cheapened post-’63 units) were considerably more prone to driveability faults than the BBS, and the Holley 1945 that supplanted the 1920 for ’74 was godawful in that regard. Partly these problems were due to cheap and wheezy carburetors, but after about ’70 mostly they were due to cheap, primitive, halfassed approaches to emission control. It was simultaneously a skinflint attempt to spend as little as possible on it and part of a cynical ploy to gin up enough public backlash to do away with the notion of government regulation of vehicles per se (another example: seatbelts deliberately made as uncomfortable and difficult-to-use as possible).
If we’re factoring that out and talking only about pre-emissions cars, it’s purely a matter of cheap carbs combined with that era’s technology needing constant tune-ups to provide passable driveability.
No matter the direct and indirect causes, there’s nothing, is there, quite like that stereophonic gasp (one from underhood, one from behind the wheel) when you step on the accelerator and nothing happens.
The A-bodies were generally better than their direct competition in a lot of ways, but that’s an awfully low bar; the cars of that era were in general nowhere near as good as we like to pretend we remember them.
I’ve tried all three (1920, 1945, and BBS) on my Dart. Right now, it’s got the 1945 on it, but it’s jetted up to 64 (from a 61) as kind of a compromise between driveability and fuel mileage (and I have a wideband, which helps). I’d like to drill the idle feed restrictor a thousandth or two, but it’s buried down in there and my pin drills aren’t long enough.
The BBS is from a ’74 D-100 or something, and it runs OK, but it cruises a bit rich and has a slight hesitation on tip in that I could probably tune out. The 1920 just leaks fuel from people overtightening the bowl over the years. Needless to say, all three are pretty underwhelming, but as of right now, the 1945 runs best.
Well, sure, at this late date the condition of any given carburetor is more important to how it runs than its make or model. The general comparison above assumes we have access to brand-new examples of all the different carbs, which mostly we don’t.
One of my favourite 1bbl Slant-6 carbs is the 1970-’71 BBS, which hits a real sweet spot in terms of genuine improvements in fuel metering and air management but before the emissions strangulation efforts began. Another fave is the 1963-only Bendix Stromberg WA3, a very simple, very well made, very well calibrated carburetor that runs very sweetly in good shape. The ’62-’63 1920s are also on the shortlist.
Strangely enough reading about abusive spouses is almost as painful as living through it. Sometimes we think we can work them past the problem. Generally it’s biochemical and you will lose according to Doctors that I know.
Leaving doesn’t help them and mine died of an overdose about 15 years after the divorce. Always some feeling of guilt when that happens. Like you I had a youngster and I raised him from that point. My dad used to say that some situations are like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer. It feels so good when you stop.
I liked that car when it came out but was still getting good service from my 68 Nova (230/stick). Good story and hope that telling it lends a little cathartic effect.
I wanna read the next episode 🙂
The bronze colored Duster with the vinyl top looks like Al Bundy’s car on the late 1980s – 1990s Fox sitcom Married with Children.
Back in the day, those bronze Dusters were everywhere, probably mostly due to the very popular ‘Gold Duster’ package which were invariably built in this specific color.
Very appropriate, too, considering how well they sold. It’s a shame circumstances, i.e., the seventies and the emphasis on fuel mileage and clean air, pretty much was the death knell for the aging A-body. Chrysler had wrung about as much as they could out of the platform and it was time to move on.
At risk of taking literally something you said for poetic license: the Gold Duster package was available in a variety of paint colours.
RLPlaut, I’m grateful for this and every installment in your COAL saga. I do hope that–for you personally–writing this all down has been more positive/theraputic than negative/traumatic (for lack of a better way to say it).
Relationships aren’t simple, for sure. I’ve never been married, but I assume no one gets married expecting acrimony/drama/violence a few years later.
I’ve never been violent with a woman, but in college I felt a girl had done me wrong. Whether she really had was debatable, but that was how I felt at the time. I generally harassed her for about a year and a half. I don’t know why she didn’t get a restraining order on me—maybe she wasn’t aware that she could have. At one point I made a tour of the men’s bathrooms at the college writing, “For a good time, call [her name]” on the walls. it didn’t make me feel better—it was as close as I’ve been to going crazy. Of course, now I really regret doing this.
I’m no fan of the Koch brothers’ conservative politics, but they’ve made common cause with liberal groups on sentencing reform. I understand they lead off forums by saying, “Raise your hand if you’ve never done anything that could have gotten you in trouble.” My hands would have to stay down!
No bug was a great handler, but yours was a ’64, so it would have had the treacherous swing-axle rear suspension.
When I got my first car in 1971, I wanted something better-handling and more crashworthy than a bug, so I got a ’68 Saab 95 V4. A year and a half later it was T-boned by a Duster at maybe 30 mph. The Saab landed on its roof with my passenger and me hanging from our 3-point belts, but not a scratch on us. As i crawled out, I knew I’d bought the right car! I assume the Duster that hit me wasn’t your Duster, unless it had migrated to Boulder, Colorado. I remember that it had W. Va. plates, so the owner may have been a University of Colorado student.
You said Annie earned multiple masters degrees—in what?
I appreciate your honesty regarding your failed relationship. If and when you do have kids (and this goes to everyone), make sure to teach them to not make the same mistakes. On behalf of those who have women in their lives, whether it be mothers, daughters, sisters, or lovers, it will make a world of difference as we move forward in this thing called life.
Sir, I am really enjoying your series. I am sorry to hear about your wife’s attacks on you, especially with your young son in the car. I hope all eventually worked out.
You are a fine writer and I really enjoy your articles. I had to go back and start reading the series from the beginning; the first one I read was on the 1964 VW commuter.
Wow! I knew things were getting bad, but I think that I am just as much in shock as you were when I read about the rice, and then, no surely she’s not going to try to hit him!
Something that has changed, at least in present-day California: under spousal abuse laws, Annie would have gone to jail immediately…figure it all out later, but get the obvious deadly threat (in this case a double attempt) confined. Now.
There is also no assumption that the woman is likely the victim and the man the aggressor. It’s “equal opportunity,” as it was in this story and in too many cases which I saw in the course of just doing my job.
I see nothing wrong with the change; as I grew up (in the 80’s) it was almost always my mother escalating things to physical violence. She never was held accountable, and thus the cycle continued…
The difference is that by California law, the crime of spousal abuse is now legally one against society, not only against the person who is the target of the violence. Thus, it is no longer up to the victim to prefer charges, but up to the police agency and prosecutor, and the victim has no control over those charges. The law even provides that among the elements of the crime is destruction or damage to the property of the other spouse; thus, smashing into his Plymouth Duster would have been within the scope of California spousal abuse law.
I’m glad for that.
Living and growing up within a violent household stole a lot of my innocence. I’ve caught myself reacting out in ways I wish I could take back when I was younger…
Taking the topic back to cars, I was sure glad to read it wasn’t your Beetle in that crash.
I suffered through two psychotic girlfriends (yes, the sex was incredible) and one hyperstrung wife before I figured it out , no more drama like that for me .
I’m glad you made it out O.K. , many do not .
Hopefully Chris was never hurt physically nor mentally and is doing fine now .
I worked very hard to be a good Father to my Son , I think I did O.K. , he’s happy and well adjusted , always has time for me like this morning when I texted him @ 0-Dark:30 inviting them to breakfast , when he woke up he said yes .
Good writing skills here Sir .
Thanks for sharing these narratives. We are here about the cars but it is obvious that the cars we love to talk about are just part of our lives in general and cannot be separated from other aspects of our lives. Your writing is superb to the point that we feel your pain, your enthusiasm for work and friends, and your interest in the cars. I too look forward to each Sunday’s installment and agree that your series is the best I have read. Having been married in 1971, I have lived through all those years but without the raging turmoil you describe. Hasn’t always been easy either but we have been together 45 years.
That was a great story, and I am happy that Mrs. Fratzog, after 38 years of marriage only occasionally gets on my nerves. That is to be expected, especially after spending that much time with me.
That pic of the VW wreck reminds me of experiencing a bad case of sellers remorse after selling a very pristine 68 VW Type 1, tan in color. That remorse lasted until there was an accident near the place I was living, a similar 68 to mine had been T-boned by a 65 Cadillac. A young lady was hanging out of the VW, sadly deceased. The Cadillac was hardly damaged. That was the end of my remorse over that VW!
Makes me think of “Play Misty for Me”.
Too bad about the Duster. I had the use of a 1974 as a company car for 18 months with the 225/auto/disc brakes and A/C. Great car.
CC effect going well today, there are two Plymouth Dusters around here that I know of a Gold Duster 340 auto and today taking my daughter to visit gran I see a metallic green one the twin of the car in the post, certainly a big step up from a Beetle and you might survive a head on in a Plymouth we only had the Valiants here new and the one I had was 225 like they all were with tree shift good old car actually but it rusted long before I got hold of it for its last few thousand miles, I’d rather be in that in a crash than the beetle the did ok in rollovers but actually hitting something? yeah nar they just fold up badly.
I quickly learned to have my car keys on me at all times in case I had to make a fast escape. After about 18 years of a pretty normal relationship it suddenly turned violent.
Back then it seemed my car was my best friend, the only thing that could let me leave Hell for a while.
I can only describe being finally free of all this, as how a former prisoner must feel, on being released from jail.
Wow, what a strong read. This makes me appreciate my own marital situation so much more than I did fifteen minutes ago.
I had a 71 Scamp with 9 inch drums. They were great in dry weather and at speeds under 30. Otherwise, they were the worst brakes I ever had on a car excepting the 29 Model A, which I never drove as daily transport. A shame, because the rest of the car was so good.
I hope things improve for you in the next installment.
When I lived in Dallas, some of my friends were amazed to see four disc brakes in my 1971 Alfa Romeo 1750A Berlina. They couldn’t conceive a small four-door saloon having all disc brake system as standard feature. They assumed that was reserved for expensive high performance sports cars and that front disc and rear drum system was ‘best’.
Funny story: a friend of mine had a 1965 Ford Mustang with all drum brake system and no federally mandated dual braking system (that wasn’t until 1967). Front disc brake was about $60 option ($465 today) in the 1960s. And no seat belts. Every time he offered us to ride in his car, none of us would dare jump in his Mustang…
When it came out, I think the Fiat 124 sedan was the most inexpensive car to have 4-wheel disk brakes standard.
Was the 124 less expensive than a Renault 10?
Not sure about cost, but my Dad bought a new Renault 10 in 1968, in 1967 the Cadillac Eldorado had disc brakes as an option. this article
Not sure if 4 wheel discs are as necessary on such a small car, but they’ve become almost universal since…my current VW Golf (2000) has them, as well as my previous (1986 VW GTi)
Rare is the person who can interweave cars, history, personal stuff, and anecdotes without it seeming like it is scattered or oversharing. In addition to apparently being a great programmer, you’re a top-drawer writer. I went back and reread the ones I’d missed. They did not disappoint. It also helps that you’re exactly my father’s age or a year or so older, similar perspective from another person who was born between the Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation.
Really excellent stuff.
Amazing story. I had a coworker whose life was shattered by his wife’s violence. She operated an in-home daycare, and shook a crying infant who died of injuries suffered. Within months he was divorced, his wife in prison, and he was a single father of two. He quit his job and moved nearer to family to start over again. From what I know, he is doing okay. I hope you and your son came out as well as can be.
A shame that Chrysler’s tendency to do many things right, and something major wrong surfaced in the brakes of the A body variants. A Consumer Reports recommendation for a Mopar product was always pretty rare. To lose it over something as basic and as important as brakes seems so typical of Chrysler in that era. Amazing that it didn’t result in a massive recall campaign.
Did you give any thought to getting a set of front disk brakes from a wrecking yard and retrofitting them to the Duster?
I had a 1972 Dodge Dart and I thought about adding disc brakes after I found out that the wheels were different. Changing from drums to discs was too much work. The people you see on TV have clear garages and lifts. The Dart did eat shock absorbers.
Sadly, I can relate to the thrown food thing, except it was my father throwing it at my mom. Fortunately that came to an end when they split up in ’75. Did have a couple of Duster rentals way back when, my father was a lawyer and one of his clients owned a Thrifty franchise. Every now and then he’d loan a car to him free of charge, one I particularly remember was a brand new green Duster. I remember the first time my father shut the driver’s door the window fell out…
Wow, you ended on a cliffhanger. Everyone is waiting for the next chapter. Clearly Ann is not entirely rational, at least part of the time.
There is a reason why Chrysler was a distant third in sales among the big Three. This is also part of the reason why GM had such a large share of the market. Mercury was not really competitive with any of GM’s mid range models.
She does sound like what would be diagnosed as “Bi-Polar” today.
Sounds like the COBOL Cabal triumphed over the Mark IV Mafia!
What a great read! Can’t offer up any better comments than what has already been said.
You really do have a gift for storytelling, and for interweaving stories about the car itself with other aspects of your life at the time. I’m sorry to hear of the turn in your marriage and respect your ability to talk about it in an objective manner, even all these years later. Hope to read about things getting better for you as time marches forward in the next installment.
I wish I had taken pics of when my ’71 Cutlass and a ’62 VW Bug tangled up. The VW won, by a mile. It didn’t even stall, and it was still driveable, or it would have been if someone had pried the fenders away from the tires. My Cutlass was hit at the rear driver’s door seam. All the glass was broken, the trans was broken in half, the driver’s door had to be pried open. I wasn’t hurt bad at all, and the driver of the VW didn’t have a scratch on him. His wife ate the dash, and most of her teeth were on the floor of the car. My dad was certain we would be sued, but we never were.
My crazy GF had rage issues too, but she used her fists. She was 5’11, and could hit very hard. She would “accumulate” issues and punch me in the gut while I was asleep. I finally had enough and told her that if she hit me again, I would hit her back. She said she wouldn’t, but it lasted about 12 hours and she punched me between the legs and we went at it. I won. I put her on the bus with a one way ticket back to Los Angeles and called her parents. At that point, I found out she had been abusing them for years, and she had been seeing a shrink for almost as long. She eventually got her head straightened out, married an old rich guy who died a few years ago, and is living in a giant house in the SoCal desert with about 6 dogs and a couple of horses. She called me a few months ago and we talked for some time. She actually seems to be sane, and happy now.
Lots of scenes from my upbringing here, though in my case it was my parents fighting about something and those fights often split onto me. My best move was to leave the house and do anything else. They naively thought I didn’t notice what was happening (“let’s keep it from the kids”; NEVER works, the kids will pick up on something, anything, many things that show something isn’t right).. Sometimes, I had to play peacekeeper although I wasn’t qualified to take on that role. My own relationships have mostly been better, but usually been short-lived as that’s the only kind I know.
We always had Mopars, but never had issues with the brakes. We were not aggressive drivers, by nature, so that could have been a factor, and I recall being taught to ride the brakes for a bit after going through a deep puddle. Criticizing ChryCo cars of that era for poor engineering is an anathema to me.
Never been married, myself. Had it happened, and she turned out to be violent, I can’t say that it would have ended quickly, given the lack of information available to those suffering from such abuse in the ’70s and ’80s. It’s totally understandable that the victim might try to “love the violence away”, particularly with children involved. Nrd515 learned that even a warning of retribution can’t prevent recurrence, and things will always escalate when someone has a violent nature or learned from available adults that it’s the way to proceed through life.
Great respect for you in how you reacted to the hot water being tossed on you, in not reacting violently. I to this day, don’t know how you managed to drive a car with the burns you must have been suffering.
Thank you for sharing your story. Also, too bad about your photos.
None of my business, but someone like Annie should never have been left alone with a child. After the boiling water episode, I’d have let 911 handle it.
911 was probably not available at that time. It was initially deployed in 1968 in Huntington, Indiana, and took quite a few years for coverage to become universal. He would have had to look up the local police number in the printed phone book if it was not handy, and dial that number – most likely on a rotary dial phone which took a bit of time as well. Events probably were moving too fast for that.
911 didn’t reach my area until around 1971. Before then the local emergency number was 424-3111 (only needed to dial 7 digits back then unless you were calling out of your local area). I remember that number because the phone company gave out red stickers to place on your phone handsets, and all of ours had them.
911 by the way works only in North America. In Australia, you’d dial 000; in the UK, 999 will get you emergency assistance as will 112 which also works throughout the EU. Actually, 112 will get you emergency help from any GSM network mobile phone from anywhere in the world (including USA if you’re on AT&T or T-Mobile).
1974 not 1971
I agree about not leaving Chris behind after the boiling rice incident. (I had incorrectly remembered it as boiling spaghetti sauce.) I also didn’t remember that the ramming incident happened the same evening.
Certainly after taking the keys away from Annie, I would not have returned them to her. Then, I’d take Chris and order Annie to get lost on foot!
Wow! Is that sticker originally from Plymouth? I saw it on a Dacia Duster! https://www.flickr.com/photos/riveranotario/49038765751/in/album-72157711504876041/
Behold the Plymouth Duster or as our mechanic referred to it as “The Dust Mop” !! Tales from the front of life with a Duster. Ours looked just like one of the pictures–dark metallic Green—the color of pea soup that you should not eat. Our few negative experiences was usually an easy fix–except for the time when the front brake assembly completely came apart due to a rusted spring and basically locked us up fortunately near the mechanic’s place who did a “Valiant” job to get us back up and running quickly. The other problem with the Dustmop was it had a low spot in the fuel line and it seemed to know my wife would be driving and get about 300 yards away from home and it would stall as the rot gut gas I put into the car (we were broke at the time) always had just enough water in it to find that low spot in the fuel line and freeze—shutting off the flow of gas and stalling the car, So when the weather person predicted low temps—I put in HEET in my fuel tank and away we went. It was those “surprise” temperature drops that killed us and it would freeze up and stall. So from late October until early May HEET was my friend and we didn’t stall if I remembered to put it in. Great car and I would have kept it but had a great opportunity to upgrade at a good price so I sold it. Interesting that I bought it from a friend of mine who bought it from his dad—I drove it for a few years and my friend’s sister bought it from me—so we kind of kept it in the “family”. RIP Dustmop may you still be cruising the streets somewhere that is warm.
Thank you for your very well written story. Your honesty is wonderful. Tales of domestic violence always scare me. My dad was like a hand grenade rolling around on the floor on a bumpy road, with a loose pin. He seemed to be staring into the abyss many times. Fortunately no one was ever physically hurt. The emotional scars have damaged us all.
Must say, I never liked the Duster/Demon. The Valiant and the Dart were the only Chrysler products I respected. I wonder about the intake manifold. How can the different runners be similar in length? The outside runners are much longer than the center two. I think the center two should be fed outside of the next two and the long curves should be closest to the head. This would require a multi barrel carb though.
Glad you are a smart guy who didn’t react to your wife’s violence.
The Slant-6 intake runners were a whole lot closer to equal length than the log/rake type intakes used on GM, Ford, and AMC inline-6 engines—take a look at the intake just above the description of the ’64 Ford with the sunk float, and you’ll see a much bigger difference between the middle and end cylinders.
A Slant-6 intake along the lines of what you describe was tried by Chrysler South Africa, with a 4-barrel carb mount. I have no info on how well or poorly it worked, but it’s certainly an interesting-looking item.
(I never much liked the Duster/Demon, either, purely for design reasons—mechanically, they are Dart-Valiant cars through and through)