The automotive landscape of 2018 is one of angry headlights, floating screens, and electric vehicles. In the wake of advanced technology that is gathering on the horizon like a cloud of Eldrich black smoke, I decided my next car would be opposite of all of that. My own personal Alamo, just as doomed to fall but that which I will defend all the same.
The story begins shortly after I paid off the infamous Rio. As a member of classic car club local to DFW, I had a solid line to any number of classic cars. The issue was, most of these were either too far gone to be driven daily, or too expensive to be practical. A friend mentioned offhand that his grandmother was selling her Plymouth Fury and I was instantly intrigued. You see, I had three goals that my next car had to meet:
It had to be American
It had to be rear wheel drive
It had to have more than four cylinders
This one was located two hours away in Royce City, with only 78,000 original miles, and after seeing the pictures, I was smitten. I didn’t know much about this generation of Chrysler, or even that the Fury name was carried past the 70’s. I did a bit of reading up (admittedly not as much I should have!). After setting up a day to meet and stopping at the bank to take out more money then I had ever held all at one time, we made our way down there.
I knew it was all over as soon as the car pulled up. Still slick with rain, the red paint stood out among the drab gray and tan crossovers and white sedans in the parking lot, and the chrome caught the light of the big Shell gas station we eventually settled on meeting at. After looking the car over, I was amazed to find that the dash pad wasn’t cracked, the seats weren’t torn, and all the power accessories still worked.
Aside from a “Salon” badge broken off the door panel on the passenger side, and a strange thing where the radio would only pick up AM signals, the car seemed almost perfect. I slid into the driver’s seat and wrapped my hands around the thin steering wheel, and something felt… right. It was as if I was where I belonged. Nervous, I backed the huge car out of the lot and took a short drive down a dirt two lane road with rolling farmland to either side of me. I was amazed by the effortless pull of the engine, the way the car floated down the road, and how the hood seemed to stretch on forever.
Time seemed to pass in a daze, as I went about the process of making sure it passed inspection and went about filling out paperwork. After paying more than I originally agreed too (no one’s fault but my own!) I was down quite a bit of cash, and up one used Plymouth. After fueling up and saying our goodbyes, my friend hopped in my Rio and I in my new car. I had purchased walkie talkies for the trip, thinking we could keep in touch on the way back.
This proved problematic, as we lost each other twice and had to stop for a bathroom break at a dicey looking store in a bad part of town as night fell. After losing each other one final time, I hit upon the bright idea of making sure BOTH of us had my address in case we got lost. (It was a day of not-so-bright moments for me). Three hours after heading out, I pulled up to my house and waited for my friend to do the same. After driving him back up to the apartment where he was staying the night with some mutual friends, I finally got home and called it a night.
Since then, I’ve done quite a bit more research on this generation of M body and the history of my car in general. It was made in 1987 (obviously), at the Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit Michigan, and was sold new at the Greenville, Texas Chrysler dealership. Both the auto factory and the dealership remain open to this day, which does my heart good! It was owned by an elderly women in Royce City who had the car a few months before passing away, where it was bought by my friend’s grandmother and kept until the point where I bought it. It hadn’t been driven very often at that point, and my pressing it into daily service caused issues, as almost every line and hose on the car was original. A few months in… It was clear not everything was as it seemed for my new ride.
I can imagine many of you readers just had some PTSD flashbacks from seeing the above picture. Yes, Helen (which I decided to call her shortly after signing the paperwork), had the horrible computer known as the Lean Burn System. This black box, which even Pandora would be loath to open, worked quite well when new, using sensors to monitor the functions of the engine and adjust spark and timing accordingly. It wasn’t a bad little system, but cast your minds back to the middle of the previous sentence, and you’ll recall I said it worked well when new.
Unfortunately, these fragile computers (which some no doubt world-class intellect decided should be attached to the air cleaner) aged like milk left to become chunky and fetid in the noonday sun. The poor girl would lean out and stall if the gas was pressed too firmly from a stop and would sometimes fumble and falter when at idle. The suspension and steering components were so worn out that when my step father had to borrow her to get to work, he vowed to never set foot in my car again until it was fixed properly. It was taken to a mechanic in Dallas who removed the computer and converted her back to a regular carburetor set up with that classic orange box mounted on the firewall to allow me to have electronic ignition.
After replacing the heater hoses and the master cylinder, she seems to be sorted out for now. The steering gear box was replaced as well as the idler arm and sleeve along with all the other needed components. My next stop is for some new tires, as the ones I’m riding on are from 2011.
Now, back to the title of this post. I love this car and don’t mind spending time and money to fix her because I love knowing I’ve got the one of the only M bodies in town. She is unapologetic in her size and nature. She doesn’t pretend to be sporty like modern sedans. No thin, uncomfortable “sport” seats, no LED headlights that give the car an “aggressive” look, just soft bench seats and dual beam sealed headlights. Helen doesn’t have to look angry. She’s a big old family sedan and doesn’t have to hide that fact. I wanted a car that I could keep for the rest of my days. One that would work if I ever decided to have a family. One that was built to last, with simple, if outdated controls.
My closing thoughts are thus: In a world where our cars monitor everything we do, where engine bays are covered in plastic, and electric vehicles will one day surpass any and all attempts for the gasoline engine to soldier on… Classic cars will remain. There will be those who refuse to back down from our passions in the face of a changing world. Logically, it doesn’t make much sense for a single young man like me to need a car larger than a modern Chevy Impala, one with a huge thirsty V8 that only makes 150 horsepower (on a good day!), and one with such archaic means of safety and comfort. However, I won’t let a little thing like logic keep me from making questionable decisions! It’s the same thinking that leads me to collect typewriters. Perhaps I’m a man born in the wrong time… But here at Curbside Classic, I know I’m in good company.
Thanks for reading everyone!