The other day while going through old photographs, I came across a 1971 Dodge Charger I once owned. The car had originally been owned by an elderly lady whose penchant for drinking and cruising inevitably led to crumpled fenders. Mechanically, however, it was a bargain. Purchased for seven hundred dollars, it was motored across town to the west side of Las Cruces, NM. to take up residence outside of my apartment. Despite its asymmetry, it was destined for epic experiences.
The first order of business was to head to a nearby junkyard for some replacement panels. Returning home with a fender pointing through the passenger's window at other motorists attracted a lot of unwanted attention -especially when the tip of the panel poked some guy in the shoulder as I made a slow right turn onto Solano Avenue. Still, I finally had the pieces in place to rebuild my almost-a-classic. Soon this car was off to the body shop for paint, and I was off to the Golden Bull for a quarter pounder.
Looking sharp in "dig-me-orange", but still lacking in performance, my missile wannabe needed help. That meant I needed help from my friend Louie, who had had extensive experience rebuilding engines. In a couple of afternoons, camshafts were swapped, an exhaust system was replaced, a carburetor was adjusted, and an engine was tuned to symphonic perfection. This car was ready to rock. And rock it did. The Charger's appearance and performance were, quite simply, visceral. Before long, that car had earned a reputation by scaring away any Chevy or Ford wandering onto Plain Street looking for a contest. "Vroom", said the would-be competitors. "GROWWWWWWW!!", bellowed my Dodge in bloodthirsty response. With no mufflers, it sounded like something exiting turn four at Daytona. Study breaks consisted of quick trips up University Avenue in search of enemy autocraft, finding them, and promptly vacuuming the headlights out of them at speeds I'm too embarrassed to admit to.
As with all manmade things, nothing lasts for forever. In my case, the Charger lasted about a year. One night I noticed a miss in the timing. Having pulled into the neighborhood supermarket, I began the process of working the backfire out of the engine. Leaning into the engine compartment, I pulled the throttle lever back and revved the engine. Whoops.
I had forgotten to replace a broken engine mount.
That's bad; while the engine was revving, it was now free to twist just enough to pull the transmission into reverse. That sent the car hurtling at maybe thirty or so across the parking lot. So many things happened in an eternity which lasted perhaps a minute. The car somehow turned itself around and headed for me. I began a sprint that under different circumstances would have guaranteed me a starting position with the Kansas City Chiefs. All you-know-what then began to break loose. It was ugly.
A motorist trying to pull into the lot saw the car careening toward him, bulged his eyes like a Warner Brothers character, and reversed his own car back down a side street. A second later, an orange blur shot past him en route to awaiting gas pumps across the street. Chaos ensued.
People yelled and ran in every direction.
The Charger, at the very last second, turned course once more. Getting stuck in a sandpit at the edge of the lot, with its engine screaming the scream of death for want of oil, began melting its bearings. When it was over, the Charger was largely damaged, having bounced off of every decorative palm tree planted at the end of the lot . Following the event, a deal was made: a friend bought the car, and I bought a one-way ticket to Minnesota.
I bought a Dodge, and dodge it I did.
Irony haunts me.