Friday, December 6, 2013

I'm Still Not Over My Fury

When I was eighteen my dad bought me my first car. The impending object of my teen affection was pretty well used up by the time it fell into our hands, but to me it was more valuable than gold. Coincidentally, that's what it would have cost to get it back on the road and no longer redefining "eyesore".

The 1969 Plymouth Sport Fury was part of the family until 1985, preferring to spend all but one month basking in the comfort of the driveway. Sometime in September of 1979 I was racing a friend and neighbor home from school. I think it was at the intersection of 419 and Colonial Avenue that the car encountered a spun bearing -a virtual death sentence to an engine. I was able to nurse my baby home where it exhaled one last P-B-P-B-P-B-P-B before it became a driveway ornament.

To say that my father wasn't happy about what had happened would be like saying Penn And Teller know a few card tricks. Dad, who became quiet like Clint Eastwood when he was very angry, went into the kitchen and poured himself a drink. Fifteen minutes later he made the sacrificial decision to rent an engine lift and, with both he and I providing manual labor, remove the engine from one of his two cars and install it in the compartment about to be vacated by an engine destined to become four refrigerators in the metro Cleveland area.

Now, getting a rented engine lift home in a Dodge Monaco isn't as easy as you might think. In our case, it cost dad sixty dollars, a couple of six packs, an entire carton of cigarettes, and hours' worth of linguistic practice in the art of world class vulgarities. It cost me several "why can't you drive without turning the roads into a race track?" kinds of issuances. Even as a teen I was able to drive the former Chrysler engineer crazy with impulsiveness, a lead foot, and poor judgment.

The car then spent the next five years sitting while dad observed my rather flat learning curve with regard to automotive maintenance. I learned how not to prioritize the car's needs. I learned how not to install an exhaust system. I even learned how not to do bodywork. What I didn't learn was how to make the thing run. And, while the car sat, I observed more things going wrong with it.

One of those things was installing parts that it didn't need, thereby introducing me to the concept of confounding variables. When the replacement engine was installed, diagnosing why it didn't run was tough. It became tougher as I installed (incorrectly) high performance exhaust manifolds, a used intake manifold and carburetor, and removed any number of  little "unsightly" rubber hoses which dad later explained were called vacuum lines -necessary for a car engine's reliable running. They say that part of learning something is learning how not to do it.

I think one poignant moment of that was the result of learning how not to prepare a car for paint. Starting with nothing except willingness, I began sanding the old paint away. Within a few days its original paint job lay in the driveway in pile which today would merit a visit from the EPA and a hazmat team. That didn't deter me a bit, though; having stars in my yes, I could already imagine the Fury making its triumphant return home, resplendent in its brilliant new enamel and ready to cause drivers in Pintos to pull over and gawk. In fact, what happened was this: Never having sanded anything in my entire eighteen years, I overlooked the three numbers on the back of each sheet of dad's old sandpaper. I didn't have a clue about those digits. Turns out that "Grit" wasn't a brand name. Along with that detail I had assumed that a sanding block was merely to keep one's hand from getting tired.

That's why I was the only one in my neighborhood who wasn't surprised to see the car returning home, by the tow truck, looking like a half-plucked banana too premature to eat. Every scratch, every groove caused by barehanded sanding, made me feel slightly nauseous as every imperfection seemed amplified by a factor of ten.

I shouldn't have been too upset, though. The sum total of flaws came in handy. There were so many ripples in each body panel that if I were to have driven past a waving friend, my car would have waved back.

Since those days I've learned a great deal about bodywork. I've even received several compliments from those who make their living performing such duties. I'm proud of that. Still, I feel sad when I think of that first car.

I no longer have the Fury.


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