COAL – 1971 Plymouth Satellite – Dad’s Car

I haven’t even had that green thing in the picture for 4 years yet, but located within the confines of its steel, plastic and rubber soul is a lifetime of memories and a direct connection (no pun intended for the Mopar fans) to my Father.

When I was born, we were a 1 car family and that car was a blue ’68 Valiant that my Dad bought new.  Can you imagine a family of 5 today with only one, 2-door compact car as the sole source of transportation?  There had been a handful of second cars that my Mom had; a ’68 Rambler and a ’66 Cutlass Cruiser (both used) had come and gone and I’m not sure the reasons why they didn’t last but now that I was the youngest of 3 boys, my Mom needed a car as she was going to need to start working again since my Father’s police officer salary was not going to support a family of  5.  I don’t know what the exact timeline was and my Mother doesn’t remember either, but within 2 years of when I was born, the Valiant was given to a close family friend that was in need of a car, my Mom bought a used blue 1972 Mercury Montego and Dad bought a used gold 1971 Plymouth Satellite sedan.  The Montego lasted until around 1979 or ’80 and the Satellite went all the way to the summer of 1983, when it was retired and replaced by a new Buick Riviera.

So, my first 10 years alive were spent in that Satellite.  That’s a lot of childhood memories for one car.   Little League games, Scouts, the occasional ride to school, summer trips to our family farm in South Carolina (with no air conditioning and a black vinyl interior-that was pretty brutal)  SC trips were the best because I got to see my favorite cousins and play in the barn.   As the youngest of 3 boys, when I was little, I was sometimes relegated to laying on the rear package shelf on car trips, which was better than riding in between my 2 sweaty, obnoxious brothers on the driveshaft hump.  How did us ’70s kids make it through alive?  Today we bubble wrap our kids.

Our car was similar to this one from the factory brochure, except no vinyl top, bumper guards or side molding.  It did have the 1971-only ‘flying saucer’ hubcaps and it was a base model Satellite with a 318 and a Torqueflite automatic.  It had an AM radio and a basic black vinyl interior, and the seat belts, which were usually tucked into the seats because we never used them, would leave second degree burns on my legs in the summer.  I remember we would almost never lock the car and usually left the windows open when parked.  It was just easier than have to roll all the windows up.

Oh man, the memories in that Satellite.  In the summer of 1980, we took it to Busch Gardens in Virginia (which is about 15 minutes from where I live now ironically) and my brother accidently locked the keys in the trunk.  Since I was the only one small enough that could actually fit in between the cross braces separating the back seat from the trunk, I was voluntold to crawl into the trunk and fetch the keys.  Those that are following my COALs will remember that I had to do the same thing last summer in my ’69 Charger at the Carlisle Chrysler show.

The following summer, on another car trip to a rented cabin on Lake Winnipisaki in New Hampshire,  we had originally set out in my Mom’s orange ’74 Volvo 145 wagon.  I hated that car.  It’s the only car that I’ve ever actually hated.  We made it maybe 2 hours from home before it conked out on I-95.  We somehow got it to a nearby garage and I remember the shady looking mechanic on duty ‘fixing’ something and telling my Dad that it was “good enough to get to California.”  We didn’t even make it 10 more miles down the road.  We somehow found a Volvo dealer and I remember them saying that it was a fuel injection problem and it would take about a week to get the parts.  We had the Volvo towed home (I can only imagine what the tow bill was, it had to be around 100 miles) and tried again the next morning with the now 10 year old Satellite.  True to its nature, it made the weeklong trip without an issue.

Oh man, would I have loved to have been dropped off at school in that!

Sometimes to kill time, my Dad, my brothers and I would go walk the new car lots and I would pick up the new car brochures.  So, in the spring of 1979, we stopped by the Dodge Boys in the Satellite and he was looking really hard at a new ‘Lil Red Express pickup.  He loved those trucks, although Im not sure why.  He was from New York City, not the rural South like my Mom, and pickups were for farmers and contractors back then.  He also wasn’t a car guy, but he could appreciate a nice car; he would sometimes talk about the Packards and Cadillacs that he saw the rich guys roaming around in New York when he was a kid.  But Mom made it clear that the truck wasn’t happening and we drove home in the Satellite.

In the summers, I loved washing the car and I would do it once a week, if not more.  If we didn’t have any car wash soap in the garage, I would use dish soap from the kitchen or my Mom’s shampoo.   Then I would let the hose run in the driveway and ride my metallic blue Schwinn Stingray through the puddles.  My parents told me to knock it off when the water bills started to get outrageous.  I would also open the hood and stare at the engine, spinning the fan and constantly topping the radiator and washer bottle off with water, which I learned how to do by watching Dad do all the maintenance on the big old Plymouth.

I think about the cars today that are virtually maintenance free and how so many kids are denied that opportunity to bond with their fathers over their car.  It doesn’t have to be a hot rod; the Satellite sure wasn’t, but the routine tasks of changing points, plugs and oil was definitely instrumental in bringing me closer to my Father.  We love living in an automated world but I think it comes at a price.

On one Halloween morning, I think it was 1982, and it was on a Saturday, I woke up at O-Dark-Thirty, and one of the TV stations was running an all night scary movie marathon.  The movie that was on was Spielberg’s “Duel,” the one where the evil-looking semi terrorizes a red ’71 Valiant through the desert.  My 9 year old self was weirded out by the movie, even today I find that movie creepy; not scary, but creepy, and I associated my Dad’s Satellite with the Valiant in the movie just because they were both 1971 Plymouth sedans.  Later that day, my Dad took me to Toys R Us to spend my allowance (probably on some kind of toy car) and I remember watching all the cars and trucks around us to see if anyone was trying to kill us.  Since then, Ive always associated Plymouths as some kind of terror-oriented cars; actually Mopars in general but more so Plymouths (at least the old ones anyway; K-cars not so much as its hard to term any K-car as terrifying.)   Christine, the Duel Valiant, the Phantasm ‘Cuda; all Plymouths.

There was also the Dukes of Hazzard connection.  Also in my Charger COAL, I talked about how influential the show was in my becoming a heavy duty car guy.  The General Lee was a Charger and I knew a Plymouth Satellite was a close cousin to a Charger.  Roscoe and Enos typically drove 1977-78 Plymouth Furys and Dodge Monacos (but occasionally, they would slip an earlier model by us, as seen in the picture above) and those cars were really just rebadged Plymouth Satellites with updated front clips and taillights, and my Dad was a cop.  So in my mind, our Satellite could have been a Dukes of Hazzard cast member.  I was 8, OK?

Anyone remember this monster?  Steve Tansy was a well-known NHRA Funny Car driver-turned-show car builder in the ’70s that built some famous show cars, including the Zingers and this one, the Top Kop.  I found the article on the Top Kop in one of my older brother’s Hot Rod magazines and I said, “Hey Dad, can we do this to your car?”  Anyone know where it is today?

Monogram came out with this model ‘Satellite’ sometime around 1983 or ’84.  Of course I had to have it, even though Monogram wasn’t sure exactly what it was.  It had the twin scoop hood, which only Road Runners and GTXs had, a 440 4 bbl, and neither Satellites nor Road Runners came with a 440 4 bbl; only GTXs did; and it had the strobe stripe, which only Road Runners had.  No matter what it was, it was cool and it was one of my favorite models when I was a kid.  It was later reissued by Revell as a GTX.

But even better than the family trips and water-wasting car washes was the time spent in that car with my Dad.  I loved and idolized my Father.  He was a big bear of a man; a U.S. Marine that at one point had been drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles.  He was 6’1″ with linebacker shoulders and he looked like the stereotypical red-haired New York Irish Catholic cop that ruled the streets with an iron first and didn’t take sh*t from anyone.  But really, he was a big teddy bear.  I learned from his buddies that he was very well-loved and very much respected in the neighborhoods where he worked, and he worked in some of the toughest areas of New York including Harlem and East New York in the very tumultuous 1960s and ’70s, when crime in New York City was at an all-time high.  He worked the evening shift and when I was very young, I guess before I started school, he would be home with me in the mornings, and many of my happiest childhood memories are of me riding around with him in that Satellite, just running day to day errands; the bank, the post office, things like that, and he would put his huge bear paw hand around my shoulders, singing along to whatever was on the radio, and all was right with the world.

Hearing “Carry On Wayward Son” by Kansas in the car was one of my earliest memories.

A few times I remember him bringing me to work with him in the Satellite, like to pick up a paycheck or something like that, and once on a Cub Scout trip.  I remember seeing my Dad with all of his cop buddies; all intimidatingly large men with guns and badges that on the outside, were these larger than life superheroes, but in reality, they were just guys like my Dad.

Unfortunately, in those years, he was a heavy smoker.  Winstons were his brand, and, in a move that is verboten today, he would send me into his favorite smoke shop to pick up a pack of Winstons for him while he waited in the car.  This was probably when I was 7 or 8 years old, can you imagine that today?

In the summer of 1983, my Dad retired from the police department with more than 20 years on the job in the NYPD.  Just before he retired, the Satellite also retired and it was hauled off to the junkyard after it threw a rod with around 120K on it, and that was a hard, commuting-to-New York-120k miles.  I cried hysterically when I watched the wrecker drive off with it.  The body wasn’t even in all that bad of shape; there were rust spots starting to show up in the quarters but the paint still looked decent, at least that’s what I remember anyway.  When the Satellite quit, he special ordered himself a new 1983 Riviera as a retirement gift to himself.  He had a job lined up at the post office and now my Mom had a decent job with the government and bought herself a new Delta 88 the year before (COAL coming) so they could finally afford a couple of new cars.

Life went on from there with our family.  Me and my brothers grew up and out of the house and started families of our own.  Both of my parents had at least semi-retired by 2005 and they were both enjoying the beginning of their golden years, they both had Cadillacs, travelling and spending time with their grandkids.

Until my Father passed away in 2006 from a sudden, massive heart attack at the age of 64.  He was otherwise in pretty good health so it was a shock.  13 years later, I still cant believe he’s not here to spoil his grandkids, take them fishing, or give me career or parenting advice.  I miss him very much.

If you’re following my COAL series, you may remember that I found my Charger at the Carlisle Chrysler show in 2009.  At that same show, while walking the car corral, I stopped dead in my tracks, and as a hard core Mopar lover that has seen pretty much everything that is out there in the Mopar collector world, not many cars will make me do that.  Parked in front of me was a gold 1972 Satellite sedan, identical to my Father’s car, except it was a ’72 instead of a ’71 but otherwise, it was pretty much even optioned out the same way.  The last time I saw a gold Satellite sedan was when my Father’s car went for its Last Ride on the back of a rollback in the summer of 1983.  I guess others felt the same way as me since there was a bit of a crowd around the car most of the weekend, and the seller was asking a not-unreasonable $4000 for it.  I took a few pictures of the car and continued on my merry way since I didn’t have that much cash on me.

A couple of months later, I was looking at car porn on the internet and came across an ad for the very same Satellite I saw at Carlisle.  Despite its clean condition and reasonable price, it was still for sale.  I called the seller, who was a car flipper in Pennsylvania, and, after reminding him that it had been for sale since at least the Carlisle show 2 months earlier, made a deal for considerably less than his asking price.  I also realized that, since no one bought it at the show despite the foot traffic around it, that when it comes to collector cars, everyone loves looking at a nice, classic 4 door car but no one wants to buy one.  I even got him to deliver the car to me in Virginia as part of the deal.

Not that I would ever forget him but now I would have a rolling memorial to my Dad.

I showed it to my Mom, expecting some kind of emotional outburst but instead got “what are you doing with that old thing?”

I went through the car and it didn’t really need much to put it on the road, in fact I don’t remember doing anything to it.  It only had about 50K miles on it and came with a stack of original paperwork.  I tagged and insured it and pressed it into service as one of my commuter cars.  I probably pushed it too soon though.  At the time, I was stationed at Camp Lejeune, (I know, it seems like I talk about Lejeune a lot but I did more driving in those years than at any other point in my life) which was 200 miles away from home and I generally came home on my days off.  There were some weekends that I couldn’t come home though, and being gone every week for 3 years, I really missed my kids.  There was an ice cream shop in a little town in North Carolina just over the Virginia state line that was right at the halfway line between the base and home and sometimes my ex would bring the kids to meet me there for ice cream so I could see them for a couple of hours.

One of those trips in the fall of 2009, just a couple of weeks after buying the car, I noticed smoke pouring out of the back of the car while on my way back to base after meeting them there.  The oil pressure gauge sending unit had broken and was pouring oil everywhere.  On a late Sunday afternoon in rural North Carolina, options are pretty limited for roadside repairs.  None of the chain parts stores were open and even if they were, chances that they would have a sending unit for an almost 4o year old car were limited.  I did stop at a Walmart and bought a case of oil and stopped about every 20 or 30 miles or so to keep adding oil.  And that worked great until at around 10 PM and I literally got 1 mile from my house in NC.  The valvetrain noise quickly became deafening and I was out of oil.  I just needed one more mile….


Maybe as a nod to my Father’s old car, the engine seized.  I’m could almost hear him laughing about it.

I had it towed to my base house and I could see the bottom of the car was covered end-to-end in oil.  I believe up north, they call that rust prevention.

Luckily, my ’73 Duster was also at my base house so I had a car to drive to work for the rest of the week but I had to figure out what to do with the Satellite.

One of my Coast Guard buddies was also a car guy (he is big into Ford Mavericks) and had a truck and trailer and offered to take the Satellite home for me after work that Friday for the cost of gas, dinner and a few beers.  Done!  Thanks Mark!  Another friend had a low-mileage ’69 318 that he had pulled from a Barracuda he had built and I think he just gave me the engine.  I think I blew the engine in October and just after Christmas, I had the car back on the road with the new 318.  I remember the old 318 was locked up so bad that I couldn’t free it up at all, and I couldn’t turn the flywheel to get to the bolts that mated it to the torque converter so I had to pull the engine and transmission together.

Once back together, the car ran fine for the next 2 years, regularly making the 400-round-trip miles to the base and back without any further drama after blowing the engine up.   I bought a set of 1980s-vintage 15X7 Chrysler slotted police wheels and mounted them on 245/60/15 tires and it made such a difference in the way the car rode, drove and stopped; compared to the 15s, the OE 14″ wheels and 205 series tires that it had originally were downright dangerous on a car that size.   I took my kids up to New York in it one weekend for a quick trip home so that they could get a taste of what it was like when I was kid in one of those cars.

Just before Thanksgiving in 2011, I was rear-ended in the Satellite by a texting female Marine in an Escalade while traffic was stopped for a drawbridge opening.  Despite the now infamous NHTSA video, there’s a lot to be said for the way these old cars are built with high strength steel.  The front end of the Escalade did what it was supposed to do; it collapsed under my Satellite but the airbag never deployed and the driver had some pretty serious head injuries.  She pushed the rear bumper of the Satellite in about a foot but it also bent the rear package shelf right about where it meets the quarter panel.  The car was totaled.

It could have been fixed but the repair cost would have far outweighed what the car was worth and I used the insurance money to buy a new Challenger (another future COAL) and I bought the gold Satellite back from the insurance company for parts.  At least it didn’t die in vain though; it’s firewall and cowl went to save a ’71 Road Road Runner, the inner fenders went to save a ’71 Charger, the engine and transmission went to a ’73 Challenger, the hood, doors, driveshaft, rear end and some interior parts went to another ’71 Satellite sedan and I kept the fenders, dash and some trim parts.

I wanted another Satellite though; this time I was going to get a proper ’71, and 4 door Satellites are not easy cars to come by.  (My Father was shaking his head by now)   So for the next couple of months, I scoured all of the online ads for a ’71 Satellite sedan.  A few popped up here and there but they were either too far, too expensive or needed too much work.  In February, 2012, I found one up in Fredericksburg, VA, about 90 miles away.  It was white with a tan interior and after I got it home, I realized it needed more work than I wanted to do but it ran and it was a ’71 with a 318.  It needed an exhaust, the engine, even though it looked like it was rebuilt at some point, was tired and ran horribly, and there was rust in the lower quarter panels that had been patched with duct tape and fishing net.  It also smelled like cheap cologne and the front and rear seats came from a later ’70s Diplomat (I found the build sheet in the rear seat, that’s how I know what kind of car they came from.)

I swapped the nice black interior and the police wheels and tires from my ’72 onto the white car.   I never really bonded with that car though; by that time I was working close to home again and didn’t have the long, car-bonding driving experiences like I did when I was at Lejeune, and I had only put a couple of thousand miles on it in the 3 years I owned it.  In 2015, within a couple of months of each other, my 14 year old Beagle/Boxer mix and my 12 year old German Shepherd both took their last rides in the white Satellite.  After that, I couldn’t bear to drive the car anymore and sold it to a fellow that built a beautiful 1-Adam-12 replica out of it.  He was happy to get it and I was happy to see it go.

Here’s what became of it.  He did a really nice job making an accurate show car and now it has a strong 383.

Which finally brings us to the actual car that this COAL is about.

I got to be pretty friendly with the guy that bought the white car and he knew I was looking for a replacement Satellite.  He’s always looking for 1-Adam-12 replica cars to build and sent me the ad to this F3 Sherwood Green car, located in Western PA because, as he said, it would take too much to de-green it for a show car replica.  In what should really please the true CC-ers out there, it is one of the 3020 1971 Satellite Broughams, although by the standards of the ’70s, its not very Broughamy.  The Brougham package on the Satellite sedan got you the extra chrome trim on the fenders and around the windows, the nicer plaid cloth and vinyl interior and the Rallye dash from the Road Runner and GTX.  The seller also claimed that it only had 60K miles on it.  I drove up in TBT with my trailer and it checked out.

I love that rear end.  BTW, see the Durango in the background?  That’s a hint.

It even smelled like my Dad’s old car.

Sure enough, it was legit; it only had 60K miles on it.  The story on the car goes, I bought it from the son of the original owner, who owned a small Chrysler/Plymouth dealership in Monessen, PA.  (if you look closely at the Satellite’s butt picture above, you can see the original dealer decal on the trunk.)  As the dealer owner got older, he became a Florida snowbird and took the Satellite down to Florida with him to use as his winter car while he was down there, therefore the low mileage and lack of rust.  He passed away and his son went down to get the car and drove it back to PA, and then sold it to me at the dealer, although they lost their Chrysler franchise in the great 2009 ‘restructuring’ and now they are a general auto repair shop that also does restoration work.

When I got it home, I found that the car was in good (not great) shape.  It has its share of old man dents and dings on it, it looks like it took a bit of a hit on the forward edge of the passenger side fender as it and the hood have been (poorly) repainted, but thankfully there is no rust on it.  The driver’s seat has a couple of nice tears on the plaid section which will be difficult to repair.  Much of the paint is faded and its next in line for a fresh coat of F3 Amber Sherwood green after my Grand Prix gets painted this year; sure its not gold like Dad’s car but I like the green better anyway.  But the worst part of the car was the brakes.  It came from the factory with power drum brakes and they had a propensity to lock up very quickly.  No matter how much I tried to adjust them, they just never worked right, plus they faded way too much, even for drums.  Remember I said my Charger had factory drum brakes that worked just fine in normal modern traffic?  This car didn’t.

So, I called a buddy who has a stash of Mopar parts (all classic Mopar guys are either that guy or have know someone that is) and he sold me a set of disc brakes from a ’73 Dart that bolted onto the Satellite, plus I added a sway bar that I had stored in my own parts shed.  I was pretty surprised to see it didn’t have one from the factory; lack of a sway bar was something I was used to seeing on a stripped out /6 A-body, not an optioned out, V8 B-Body.  I also gave it a Pertronix electronic ignition and put the set of police wheels that dated back to the gold Satellite on it.

Other than the Brougham package, the car doesn’t really have any other options.  It has an AM radio and 2 speed wipers and surprisingly, it doesn’t have the light package which it seemed most of these cars came with.   What it does have, which is odd, is a factory 8 3/4 Sure-Grip rear with 3.23 gears and an A727 transmission.  Most 318 cars in 1971, unless they were ordered with a trailering package, came with the lighter duty 8 1/4 rear with a 904 transmission.  I decoded the fender tag and it is a an early build, sales bank car so maybe that had something to do with it.

I’ve had the car for almost 4 years now and its a happy addition to my little fleet of old car daily drivers.  I put about 15K miles on it since I’ve owned it and the only repair I’ve had to make, besides the brakes, was replacing the water pump 2 years ago.  The original air conditioner works great and I charged it with R12 just after I bought it.  You forget how much colder R12 feels compared to R134.

My kids love it too.  They love the green, there aren’t very many green cars out there today, much less one with a green interior, and they have lovingly named it “Granny Smith.”  The day I brought it home, I drove it to their Mother’s to show them and took them for a quick ride.  It was just a quick ride and I didn’t grab my wallet when left, and as luck would have it, I got stopped at a random vehicle license check point.  Luckily, I knew the state trooper that was running it from work and the kids got a good laugh out of it.  Hopefully they are building their own memories in the Satellite.

You also may remember my Great Skivvies Run from the Carlisle Chrysler show in my Charger COAL, so I took this wonderfully air conditioned  Satellite up to Carlisle in 2016, just a couple of months after I bought it.  With about 6000 show cars there, this was the only 1971-74 Satellite sedan and it got quite a few compliments.

I was spotted cruising at Carlisle.

If this wasn’t a sign that I needed to own this car, I dont know what was:  soon after I first got it home, as I was going through the car cleaning it up, I found a pack of Winston cigarettes under the front seat.  Those were my Father’s brand.  I don’t even think they make Winstons anymore.  I put the pack in the glove box.

Every car has a story.  And the story here is not the car itself but the countless memories of my Father’s car that live on in this one.  Every time I lift the door handle, every time I hear the ka-thunk of the door closing, and every time I hear that starter, that oh-so-wonderful starter…

…I’m with my Dad again.  I even put my dog tag on the keychain just like he did.  But I sure do wish he could put his bear paw hands around my shoulders again.

Uh oh, what’s that on the left?  Another COAL?  But I’m going to make you wait for that one..