COAL: 1972 Dodge Coronet – 170 Slant Six Powered; Seriously

While I was working at the auto parts store, my manager mentioned to me about an old car he’d heard about.  He wasn’t interested, but thought I might be.  He knew it was a Dodge, but that was about it.

We went to look at it, and it turned out to be a base model Coronet.  It was all complete, and in remarkably good condition given that it was a local car.  I got the complete rundown from the owner.  It was his deceased uncle’s car, bought new from the dealer, but not the car he had wanted.  The uncle had ordered a plain-Jane Coronet – manual-steering, column shift.  Apparently somewhere in transit from the factory to the dealer, someone had dropped a cinder block on it from an overpass, and damaged it.

He was offered this car instead, apparently ordered for a taxi customer that refused it on colour, or something.  It was a 225/Automatic, with power steering, AM radio, and nothing else.  He bought it, and kept it till he died.  It was greased and graphited, giving it a fighting chance against the elements.  The nephew had been given the car in the will,  he played around with it, replacing the worn-out 225 with another slant-6 he had gotten from the vocational school.  The story on that engine was that it had been given to the school by Chrysler Canada as a demonstration engine the students could tear down and rebuild.  The school had closed, and this fellow ended up with the engine.  He’d had his fun with the car, and wanted to sell.

What a bumper!

I took it for a quick trip around the block.  Aside from the massive hesitation, it sounded OK.  $900 was exchanged, and the car was mine.  Out on the highway, it was a struggle to get to 40 MPH.  It had a huge, huge flat spot in it.  I did get home in one piece and had a better look at my purchase.  The body and underneath of the car was in exceptional shape, with the exception of the front fenders.  The front end was tight, the tires good.

The inside was worse than the outside.

The dash was all cracked, the seats torn, but some blankets fixed that up.  Everything else worked though, with the exception of the wipers.  The plastic bushings had cracked on the wiper linkage, but new ones fixed that.  The doors on this old sleigh closed nicer than any I had ever closed – with a satisfying click and thunk.  The brakes were all good, as were the lines.  It did have drum brakes all around, but the fronts were really big – something like 12 inch and 3 inches wide.  It was time to familiarise myself with the engine and get it sorted.

A few things here for the keen-eyed…

I got a kit for the carburetor and put it in, and installed a set of points.  That was not fun, given the engine was in the way.  I think I had to pull the distributor out to get them in.  After setting the timing, the car started and ran really well.  It did have a tendency to run really hot – the radiator core was plugged with scale or solder bloom.  A replacement from a late-70’s F100 was installed, and that took care of the overheating.  The car was comically underpowered, though – a mid-sized early-70’s car with a small six?  It wasn’t going to be fast, but this one couldn’t take any kind of grade without downshifting into second.  When it would hit second, it would sing its way back up to 60 MPH, and go back into drive.

It loved to rev.  With the little bit I knew about the 225 and its undersquare ways, something was fishy.  I did some reading courtesy of Allpar, and some visual confirmation, I found what the previous owner had installed was a 170, the 225’s short-stroke brother.  I was happy to hear that – even though this engine was short some 30 horsepower, it was a ball to drive.  Getting on the highway, put it to the floor and enjoy the show.  Passing another car?  Don’t even think about it!  It just sounded like a sewing machine, and never got coarse or rough.  It’s in my top-3 favourite engines, along with International’s 304 and Chevy’s 283.

Still a nice instrument cluster, even in a base car.  Everything you need.

The car ended up working well enough that I felt confident taking it on a weeklong trip with my wife-to-be and parents to Newfoundland to meet friends and tour around.  I did have the Scout at the time, but I had some worries about its limited range and limited chances in NFLD to get gas.

Dad and his ’38 Ford at a picnic park in Newfoundland, Summer 2006.


We filled up before we hit the ferry, took the night crossing, and got to the island very early in the morning.  It managed to keep up with the traffic so long as the hills weren’t too steep.  Soon we had made it to Corner Brook, and had a lousy breakfast.  We filled up the cars again.

Filling up the car.  

If I recall, he burnt a little less fuel than I did, with his average being 20 MPG and mine being about 18.  Flogging the car at 60 MPH wasn’t good for economy, but it never missed a beat.  It was comfortable, and its heater worked well.

The Humber Valley Lodge.

We met up with our friends, and toured around the west part of Newfoundland for a week.  We had a ball.  A very hilly art of the country, the car struggled up the hills, being passed even by the Beetle pictured above.  We took in Gros Morne National Park, and saw some small outports.

Pasadena, NF Car Show

We even got to take in a car show while we were there, with a nice barbecue and dance afterwards.  The people were great and welcoming.  I can recommend going to Newfoundland to anyone, it’s like nowhere else on earth.

Soon, life got in the way, and I wasn’t getting to use the car like I should.  I decided to put it up for sale and let someone else enjoy it for what it was – not a performance car, not even a fast car…but a car that could be enjoyed.  I always had a smile on my face when I drove it.