COAL 7: The 1980s, Part I – The Barracuda Goes Into Dry Dock and the Wagon’s a Tractor

Now we’re into the 1980s. The Omni and Horizon L-Body cars with front-wheel drive had come out in ‘77, certainly different from what we were used to. Then for 1981 came the K-Car parade—first the Aries and Reliant with the new Chrysler-engineered and -built 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine as well as the Mitsubishi 2.6-liter engine. Everything was carbureted, and some real stinkers they were! The 2.2 with the Holley/Weber feedback 2-barrel that literally fell apart while still mounted on the engine, and the 2.6 with a Mikuni progressive 2-barrel with vacuum diaphragm-controlled secondary—actually a better carburetor, but widely misunderstood and troublesome after a time.

We also got the new 1981 Imperial with a 318 engine with so-called ‘fuel injection’. Here’s the special factory test rig:

Fuel certainly was not injected, it was just sort of drizzled into the airpath! Here, look at the throttle body assembly:

Those “fuel injection nozzles” indicated in the factory pic here are merely metering ports, and there are only 4 of them. The other four (8 total) are holes in the other two tubes that just pour fuel into the two throttle openings at various flow rates depending on the speed of the pump motor. This is not fuel injection. It was a disaster; Chrysler wound up converting them to feedback Carter BBD carburetors under warranty, at enormous cost. (Take a look at the retrofit manual; if you look at the various pages you quickly rack up a long list of expensive parts included in the job -ed.)

After I left Harbor Chrysler-Plymouth some years after today’s chapter ends, I purchased 2 or 3 of the crated kits to convert the system to 1984 M-body 318 specs. Then I did some private conversions for Imperial customers at my first shop. I sure had a lot of take-off stuff for a while. Maybe I should have saved it, but most of it went in the trash.

Anyway, Carol and I had spent around three years breeding and showing our Cocker Spaniels.

We would sometimes join Vern at the shows; he was the one with the class-winning (and often show-winning) dogs. We did it just for camaraderie with fellow breeders and for the fun of competing, and sometimes we were fortunate to win a class or group and a ribbon. We offset the costs by selling the majority of the puppies we bred, keeping the ones that showed promise.

When Parvo (a viral disease) hit the dog world, we lost our top potential winner, and a few years later her only offspring was accidentally killed while at the veterinarian. Enough; we decided to hang it up.

We were also near the end of that five-year warranty on all my marriages, and Carol moved on as well, in her Slant-6 Barracuda. Soon after, she sold it at the yearly Fall Fling car show in Woodley Park, Los Angeles. I paid off the personal loan I had with her mother, and kept the house in Santa Paula. My parents, still living in New Jersey, had to suffer the hot and humid weather in the summer and cold and snow in the winter, plus dad was becoming frail and got sick easily in the winter. I, on the other hand, had a comfortable home in temperate Santa Paula, and convinced the folks that they should sell their home and come live with me in California. Here’s me, dad, the Plymouth, and the trailer:

This move took place in the summer of 1984. All the important furnishings from their home in River Edge had to be sorted, and either left behind or transported to California in this one-shot move. As the time approached, I arranged with a friend—a former mechanic where we bought our Honda cars, who had become the operator of a U-Haul facility—to rent their largest 4-wheeled trailer.

The ‘63 Plymouth wagon already had a hitch heavy enough to pull a large travel trailer, and by this time the 318 engine had been replaced by a 340 which did not have the correct torque requirements for such a heavy car—especially not with the rear axle ratio in the car at the time. I love to build engines, especially ones without computers, and I had miraculously acquired a very low mileage 360 HP short engine from a warranty claim on a ‘74 Plymouth Duster 360. You’ll be reading about that engine again and again; it wound up powering three more cars and one truck, and is still under the hood of my son’s ’63 Belvedere, but for now we’ll have it powering the move of my parents and all their accompanying stuff from New Jersey to their final home in California.

I rented the U-Haul trailer on a local-use daily basis for the sake of economy. This way, I had no commitment on when I had to return it. I had put out the word that I would be hauling a large, empty U-Haul trailer cross country to New Jersey, and if someone was moving east during this time period, I would haul their stuff across to their destination. I found a family who were moving to the area near Natural Bridge, Virginia, and had friends there where I could drop off their stuff. So we made a deal on the cost of the move and I left the trailer at their home for a few days so they could load it. I hadn’t realize what great packers they were, given the time I gave them to load their belongings. When I went to hitch up to the trailer, I looked in through the rear doors to find it was packed tightly, front to back. I sure was glad to have the extra torque of that longer-stroke 360 engine!

My father and I had arranged for my good friend Brad and his wife to fly to the east coast. I think it was Newark Airport where we would meet them with the Barracuda, and they would drive it back across the country in a leisurely manner and do some sightseeing along the way.

On the drive east, I stopped at a truck stop that had had scales. I had the car and trailer weighed separately, and found that the U-Haul weighed more than the car, even while they were connected. Total weight of the two was over 10,000 pounds. I arrived at the residence where I was to deliver the contents of the trailer. In this part of the country, the roads are well above the homes and properties that lie along them. As I looked down at the house and vast green ground cover, I wondered how safe it would be to roll this massive weight across this suspected soft ground, not knowing what might be below the green—maybe even a septic tank?

As you see here, I had no problems. The trailer was emptied, and I was on my way to my parents’ home. We spent a couple of days loading the trailer and were on our way to the airport to meet our friends and deliver the Barracuda to them.

The trip across the country to our home in Santa Paula was uneventful. Here’s a pic showing me, dad, the Plymouth, and the trailer during that trip in September 1984:

Our friends arrived back in Santa Paula a couple of weeks later after their more scenic trip across the land.

I had hopes of doing a little traveling around Southern California with my parents, and had always had an interest in Volvo cars, them being from Sweden. For my birthday in October 1985, I leased a Volvo 765 Turbo Diesel station wagon from the local Volvo dealership precisely next door to the Chrysler dealer I was working (again, for the third time):

I encouraged my folks to become interested in social activities in the area, and the three of us joined a Swedish-American lodge, the Northern Light Lodge in Ventura, part of the Pacific Southwest District of the VASA Order of America (“a Swedish-American fraternal, cultural and educational organization which seeks to benefit its members by sharing Swedish and Scandinavian culture and heritage” –Wikipedia).

In the summer of 1985, we took our last trip together back to the homeland. Our SAS flight was to depart LAX in the early evening of Sunday September 1st., the same day as the Southern 500 NASCAR race at Darlington, South Carolina, where Bill Elliott was racing with the hopes of winning the million-dollar challenge. Elliott was dad’s favorite driver, and we were glued to the TV as the race progressed. It took 4 hours and 8 minutes, start to finish, with 14 cautions for 70 laps. Mother was pacing the floor, pleading with us to turn off the TV and get under way to the airport. We said no, we were going to see this to the checkered flag—and we did. We saw Bill Elliott become ‘Million Dollar Bill’, turned off the TV, and off we went.

We had a nice time visiting with family and friends for the last time, the three of us. Unfortunately, as we went through the winter of 1985-’86, my father became more frail and unable to travel far any more. He had developed leukemia, and eventually died of it on December 1, 1992.

The restoration of the Barracuda became a focal point in 1986. I found a ’65 Valiant Signet in Los Angeles to use as a parts car for the project, though the owner did not have the registration or bill of sale. I bought it anyway and brought it home to Santa Paula, where I began by removing both front fenders to be installed on the Barracuda.

We also needed a car for mother to drive while the Barracuda was being worked on, so I found a really nicely-kept 1965 Valiant V200 with a Slant 6, column-shift TorqueFlite, and power steering (which the Barracuda did not have). The owner was an elderly fellow who had bought the car new, and he was very picky about whom he would sell his car to. Apparently we passed the test, and had to promise not to mess the car up in any way. Here’s more or less the whole cast of car characters so far:

When mother first drove this car, she never again wanted to drive the Barracuda. With the power steering, it was so much easier for her, a little 5’2″ gal. So the project of restoring the Barracuda sort of turned over to me owning the Barracuda when it was all done—which I was perfectly happy with as well.

Both cars, the Signet and the Barracuda, then went to a local body shop. They were to cut out the rear quarter panels of both cars and install the panels from the Valiant to the Barracuda, as well as primer all panels requiring it. I kept various other parts, such as the power steering gear and pump, as well as the complete steering column.

Now in this next pic below, we are not going to the racetrack, but to the paint shop for a complete repaint. With no windshield, it would get a little too windy so I wore my motorcycle helmet and a jacket for the drive. In front of the Barracuda is the ’65 Valiant V200 4-door I bought for my parents to use while the restoration was in progress. There was even some swapping of bright items between the 2 cars after the paint job.

When we got the Barracuda back, I drove it to a One-Day Paint place to have it painted a color near that of the original Copper Metallic.

This last pic is along the Pacific Coast Highway at the western end of Sunset Boulevard, I believe. The car is fixed up to be filmed for a movie, but I do not remember the name of it, not even how much I got paid for its use.

Next week things take off in a different direction for me, professionally, and there’s another non-Mopar involved…!

Previous chapters:

  1. First Transport – Coming to ‘Amerika’
  2. Being American and Picking a Car Company
  3. Motoring Into the Working World
  4. The 1960s · Serving, Saluting, and Swapping
  5. The 1970s, Part I · Backing and Forthing
  6. The 1970s, Part II: Barking and Forthing