COAL Update: A Song Of Rust And Fire

I’ll never forget the feeling of sitting in that cabin when Lily died. Smoke began to pour from her vents and well up under the hood. Flames licked the passenger side of the windshield and I leapt out to grab a fire extinguisher. I threw open the hood and a wave of heat and smoke blinded me as I pointed the nozzle vaguely at the orange waving light and squeezed the trigger. A torrent of white and it was all over…

It had started so innocently. I had to make a stop at work over the weekend to grab a package. I decided to take my 1985 El Camino project for a spin, since I had nothing but time to kill. I had replaced the distributor, wires, and plugs, and was going to install a Holley carburetor I had purchased recently sometime that next weekend. I never got the chance. I took her around the warehouse for a couple laps and everything seemed fine. She was running smooth, shifting good, and I was having a blast. I even took her down a couple side streets. Unfortunately, this would be her last ride. As I pulled in she suddenly shuddered to a stop. I could see a tiny amount of smoke curling from under her hood, but thought nothing of it. This is the first time she’d really been driven on streets in a while, not just puttering around my parking lot. Since the car had been sitting for some time I thought I might just be burning off old gunk. The smoke would clear, it always did…

After the fire was out, I stared forlornly at the tangle of melted cables with that familiar feeling of dread weighing down on me.  As I looked closer and as the smell of burnt electronics made my eyes water, I saw the culprit. A tiny plastic bracket that was holding the wiring for the distributor had broken and sent the mess of cables into the hot valve cover. The fire had reduced that part of the engine to a tangled mess of melted cables and fire tinged hoses.

I was once again at a crossroads. I was left with a few hundred dollars worth of repairs… if I was lucky. It would also take time just to get her back running like she was a few moments before. With winter coming, and no garage… I had to make a choice. With a heavy heart, and a deep appreciation for the fact that I hadn’t been hurt and the car wasn’t a soldering pile of blackened metal… She was put on Craigslist the following morning. She was sold for $800 to a man who worked at an auto shop about ten minutes away. He was going to restore her for his father who had wanted a fifth gen El Camino of his own for years.

Just like that… She was gone. Towed away that following morning. I could have kept her… but at what cost?

When one door closes, open it. That’s how doors work.

In the middle of feeling like I had failed in the most spectacular way one could with a car, I was asked to help my girlfriend move some things into her grandmother’s house. This would prove to be a very happy circumstance, as I seem to have a knack for pulling cars out of people’s backyards. There, in the bushes, was a 1971 GTO. Just sitting there like it had been waiting for me all its life. Though it wasn’t exactly what most would expect:

This sad, rusty lump, is an AMF 500 series pedal car that was once my girlfriend’s mom’s “first car”. Her brother owned a real 1969 Pontiac GTO that was jet black. She fell in love with it and told her grandmother that was going to be her car one day. On Christmas day, 1971, she was gifted this little pedal car as a sort of precursor to the car she hoped to own one day.

This IS  ANwhat it looked like when new, with slightly different graphics. Nearly fifty years of play and neglect had left it in quite a sorry state. It was given to me because it was better than it just rusting away.

I took it back to the warehouse with me and began to work on it during lunch that week. It was sanded down and new parts were ordered. I decided to make it more like the GTO the mother had fallen in love with and painted it black, keeping the grille the original blue color. The broken plastic shift knob was replaced with a ball handle from my parts room. The wheels were replaced and the tires are gaskets I sell.

Two little spot mirrors were put in place of the broken plastic lenses, and the antenna was made from a broken magnetic pick up tool. The grille was repainted blue (after this picture was taken) and the bumpers made chrome.

I plan on giving this back to my girlfriend’s family for Christmas this year. The paint isn’t perfect, the decals aren’t exactly straight, but it was a labor of love and I am very proud of it. Do any of you remember having a pedal car like this? I understand they were pretty common as a “Fire Chief” car. I am sad to have lost Lily, but I know she’s in good hands and the new owner said he’d bring her by the warehouse when he and his team were done with her.

 “Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Denis Waitley