Dad wasn’t a car guy: He was a people guy. He owned almost 30 cars over the years, but to him they were mostly just cars, not automobiles.
Born in 1900, in his 87 years he witnessed the fruition of many technologies, including steam, air, and automobile. He drove with a buddy in a Model T from Colorado to California in 1917; he courted his girlfriend, later my mother, in an Essex in the early ’20s, and came to California with his wife and first child in 1928 in another Essex. He did love to drive though, and whenever possible we were off on a trip in whatever car he owned at the time.
In 1951, we covered the U.S., going to Quebec by way of New Orleans (and back) in a 1948 Chrysler Windsor pulling a Higgins pop-up trailer. Dad was not an impulse buyer. Still, in Sacramento one day in 1964 he spotted a Chrysler he liked the looks of, drove it, and bought it on the spot. It had been the dealer’s own car which he replaced every year. Dad had the car undercoated and lap belts installed, wrote out a check for $3,998.72, then brought it home. It was a 1964 pillarless hardtop New Yorker, white with maroon interior and some of the costly extras. It came with a “balance of 5 or 50 warranty,” as shown on the bill of sale that I still possess.
Dad had a lot of fun with the Chrysler. He drove it to his home state of Colorado several times, where he was fond of the often unpaved roads. In fact, he was something of an explorer, and he never saw a back road he didn’t like. A favorite was the road to Bodie, California; another, the OMG road up to Central City, Colorado.
Sometime in the ’70s, I took possession of the Chrysler to do some repairs. The heater core leaked; the shifters for the heating system needed lubrication, and some other minor things I don’t now recall. The day I drove it back to him, I got out on Highway 5 early in the morning and decided to see if I could “pin it.” I did hit 120 mph briefly. When I told him I had done this, he turned white and said, “You didn’t!” But I assured him I had, and obviously had lived to tell of it.
I inherited the Chrysler in 1987. By this time, the front end was so out of adjustment the tires squealed driving straight down the road. Dad was pretty deaf by this time, so he didn’t notice, and truth to tell, he did not put many miles on the car in his last years.
The first thing I did for the Chrysler was to have the front-end fully rebuilt, along with new tires and check of the brakes. It ran like new, so I began driving it on some trips of my own. The next to go was the Detroit ball head CV-joint: It nearly shook the car to pieces before I found the place that could replace it with a proper U-joint, which remains on the car.
I took the Chrysler on its first long trip in 2005, to Jackson, Michigan, to attend an event there. Every other year since, I have taken it somewhere: Florence, Alabama; Hanover, Michigan; Brattleboro, Vermont; Moline, Illinois; Woodstock, Canada; and most recently Independence, Missouri. Along the way, it has been to the top of Pike’s Peak twice.
I had the engine rebuilt and blue-printed in 2008, with 200K on the odometer. Having had bad luck with reproduction tires, I changed the wheel size to 14-inch to make it easy to buy off-the-shelf tires anywhere I went. We put on a set of high-quality tires whose outer diameter remained as before, but I had a lot of trouble keeping them balanced and they tended to shake the car mercilessly. Nevertheless, they remained in service for 10 years. When I replaced them, it became clear that those tires had not been round. New tires made the car ride like new again.
Most of my long trips were without untoward events, but there was one: After crossing the flats of Utah and Nevada with an unknown “noise” gradually getting worse, nearing home there was a loud crunch, the temperature gauge whacked over on its pin, and the engine died. Turns out, the water pump had failed catastrophically, before the seal failed, so I had not had the usual tell-tale leak and overheating. My mechanic suggested I find a new fan, as the original one was badly bent when it collided with the radiator. But before buying a replacement, I beat the old fan back into shape and it remains in use to this day.
Somewhere along the way, I took out the back seat to replace the fuel-level sensor: There I found the IBM punch card that had accompanied the Chrysler on its build. The technology for tracking this has sure changed!
So, Dad’s Chrysler survives, not exactly a “daily” driver, but an automobile I take out every month or so for a recreational drive. The destination for its next planned longer trip is currently unknown. I have no doubt it will make it without any problems.