COAL Dust • The Rest of the Stories + Afterword

The metal, unpadded dashboard on D’Valiant wasn’t just matte (an anti-glare improvement from the glossy paint used in ’64), it was also textured. Wrinkle-finish, to be specific, as found on old metal typewriters and photo enlargers and furnaces built in 1949 (such as the one decommissioned from grandpa’s-then-my house in 2009; this Honeywell box was glossy-wrinkle black, but I still can’t resist showing it):

Over the course of my ownership, there came to be a smooth, slightly glossier patch just above the HVAC controls. It got there partly because when we would achieve something difficult—climb a steep mountain pass, get home through harrowing conditions, narrowly miss a collision—that’s where I would pat it (well done!) and partly because that’s where I would smack when the cheap and nasty front speaker would get to buzzing and rattling—kind of a slapdash repair. You can’t really see the shiny patch here, but I can:

Oh, and I remembered what spurred me to do that completely dumb timing chain replacement in the driveway in the snow on a schoolnight: I’d long been reading “Say Smokey…”, which was Smokey Yunick’s car repair Q&A column in Popular Science magazine for many years, and had bought and read his book “Power Secrets”, and I figured he might have a suggestion of how to cure my car’s gutlessness. There was a picture of his shop in the book, so I called Directory Assistance for Daytona Beach (is how we did it back then), got the number for Smokey’s Best Damn Garage In Town, and called. He answered, and I told him I read his answers in Popular Science. “Read Circle Track; it’s got more meat and less crap”, he said.

I told him I had a ’65 Valiant with a 225 Slant-6 that seemed down on power. Well… he said, in a basso raspy with years of cigars and exhaust, …pull the timing chain and hold it sideways so it’s parallel to the ground. If it droops down like a limp peter, replace it. I thanked him and, against the judgement of an audience-timer that looked like an expired parking meter in my head, I asked one more question: what did he like for sealing stubborn gasket joints? There’s a good RTV silicone…can’t recall its name right now, I think it might be 3M-Bond. I thanked him again and ended the call before I could take up much too much more of his time. I chased 3M-Bond but had no luck; 3M had all manner of sealants and adhesives, but no RTV with a name anything like that. I got the idea onehow or another that 3M-Bond could be had under a Nissan part number and brand, and picked up a tube of the only RTV Nissan dealers offered, but didn’t have very good luck with it. Eventually I figured out I could get good results with Chrysler’s RTVs and quit looking for 3M-Bond. Many years later, I stumbled on what Smokey had been talking about:

• • •

I wrote a lot of words about a lot of different Dodge Spirits, so how on earth did I forget to mention that time I drove a very rare rear-engine 1991 Spirit ES? I swear I’m not making this up. The Chrysler 225 Slant-Six wasn’t just in the rear, it was also made of die-cast aluminum. I took a picture, see for yourself:

Hey, I said it was a ’91 Dodge Spirit, I said there was an aluminum 225, and I said it was in the rear. None of that’s false! Aside from the one under the hood of my ’62 Lancer, this was my last aluminum 225—down from a high total of five—on the first leg of its journey from Seattle to its new home in Pennsylvania. So I got one more chance to do a pet stunt, though this time instead of calling a machine shop and saying “I’ve got a Dodge 225 to bring in”, I called FedEx Office and said “I’ve got an engine block to ship”, then walked in through the front door, carrying it with my two hands and no sweat. Official FedEx weight of the block with main caps: 76 pounds (just under 35 kg).

This was block number 44126 of approximately 51,000 built, but it was an early-type block with lifter oiling bosses, and was assembled into an engine on 11 June 1962, relatively late that model year.

It was in very fine condition with no corrosion and stock bore with only enough of a shadow of a ring ridge to just barely catch a fingernail held at just the right angle. I’d held onto it for more than two decades without doing anything with it; it was time to let it go.

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