pic 01 - 2018May - PNG

Becoming a Car Guy

by Gary P Hale

I just read the last Road Relics newsletter and I saw an article from member JC Carter.  It was a very good article and was mainly about his cars from an early age and it was about all the many cars that he has had.  JC and I went to Travis High School in South Austin together and we graduated in 1963.  I never had a car in high school and I usually rode to school in my buddy's 56 Chevrolet.  Another good friend has a 53 or 54 Ford Station Wagon that we rode around in after school and another guy had a 58 Chevrolet that was pretty nice.

If you look in the parking lot of most high schools today you will find lots and lots of really nice and pretty new cars.  Back in South Austin in the early 60's we were most poor or middle class kids and there were very few cars.  The cars that were there were older and pretty used up.  There were actually several pickups (with shotguns or .22 rifles in the gun racks) in the parking lot.  This was in the days when we went dove or deer hunting after school.  Nobody shot up the schools and no one made a big issue of this.

I played football and basketball all three years and was not a "car guy".  I really did not know much about cars and I sure did not know how to repair or restore them.  I think J C was probably what you would call a "car guy" although I don't remember that term in those days.  I think they were called "hot rodders".  I finally got my first car while I was in college at Southwest Texas State in San Marcos.  My grandfather in Lubbock died in 1963 when I was a Freshman in college.  I asked my dad if I could maybe get his old car.  He made a deal with Grandma and I rode on a Greyhound Bus  to Lubbock and then drove his old 51 Plymouth Cranbrook back  home.  It was a flathead six with three speed on the column and it had an overdrive transmission.  It had an AC of sorts.  It was a squirrel cage blower and you put cold water or ice in a small compartment.  You would call it a swamp cooler today.  It was "high tech" at the time.  The only thing that I ever had to do was to get a clutch job and put sparkplugs in it.  It had an oil bath air filter I believe.  This was a really nice 4 door car that was very comfortable and easy to drive.  I drove it all though college and it made a many a trip to Nuevo Laredo, Mex.

I can't remember the purpose of these trips but it will come back to me one of these days and I will fill you in.

My senior year at SWTSC I was able to get a brand new Candy Apple Red 1966 Ford Mustang with a White Vinyl top and that was the end of my Plymouth days.  I sold it for about $300.  The Mustang cost $2489 brand new.  I think 1966 was one of the really big sales years for Mustang.  Those were very nice cars for the price and they sold lots of cars.  I drove it for one year and then when I graduated from college I went into the Army for three years with a little side trip to Vietnam.  I went over looking for J C but could not find him.  When I came home I still had my Mustang and drove it for several more years until I started a run of Chevrolet PU's and mainly Ford pickups and Bronco's.  I sold the Mustang for $575 and I sure wish I still had it now.

While at Ft. Hood, TX and just before I got out of the Army I bought an old and pretty ragged little sports car that I was not really sure of what it was.  Not being a car guy I was at a disadvantage.  It turned out to be an old 1955 Chevrolet Corvette that my Sergeant sold to me for $500.  I was not making much money as a Lieutenant so that seemed like a lot to me.  I later found out that it was the "original Corvette body style" as started in 1953.  This 55 was the first year that Chevrolet put a V-8 engine in them.  It was one of only 700 cars made that year.  I drove it for about one year but only a few times on weekends.  It was actually in pretty rough condition.  The engine was completely worn out and the transmission made a lot of noise.  In about late 1970 it went in my garage and never came out for 43 years.  The only thing I ever did was pull the engine and rebuilt it from a 283 to a 292.  It was not the original 265 engine.  The car did not have one more mile for those 43 years.

In 2013 I guess you could say that I finally started becoming a car guy, or at least an apprentice car guy.  Lee Reed of the Road Relics found us a 1955 Chevrolet 265 small block engine and we started to rebuild the little Corvette in Lee's Garage in Dripping Springs (Driftwood, TX).  It took 16 months and lots of bucks but we finally got the car back to original, in Harvest Gold color.  It turned out to be a beautiful little sports car that is very fun to drive, but only in good weather.

Lee Reed got me into the Central Texas Road Relics and he got me to the Pate Swap meet several times as a parts hauler.  Since then Lee and I and several other guys have completely rebuilt several more old cars.  A 67 Chevrolet Chevelle, an 87 Chevrolet PU, and two 69 Chevrolet Camaro's.  I guess in the past 5 years I have started to become a car guy.  I am still not up to the standards of JC Carter though.

​In the morning we had breakfast and across the street a used tire shop was opening up, so before we hit the road I purchased a replacement tire so we would have a good spare.    We picked up I40 east and continued on our journey that day. We headed north on I55 thinking the worst was behind us. Soon after, we picked up  I57 and northbound we went. This area is remote but you can make good time. After about 30 miles on I57, we heard a squealing noise from under the hood. I pulled over and opened the hood to find that the alternator bearing had frozen up. I loosened the belt and started pouring water on the alternator to cool it down. After about a half hour the alternator had cooled down enough to mess with it. I tapped on the alternator and was able to free up the bearing. I put the belt back on loosely and we were on our way once again. The first town we came to was Marion, luckily for us, they had a small auto parts store. I went in looking for an alternator, they wanted $125.00 for a rebuilt one and $10.00 to remove the pulley from my old alternator. After thinking about it, I asked if they had the front bearing for my alternator and if they would pull the pulley off for $10.00. They said yes, so I removed the alternator, replaced the front bearing and installed it. And off we go yet again. About 49 miles from I94, the left rear tire blew out—I changed it and on we went. Things went well till we got between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek MI. This is when the car developed a hard pull to the left. I pulled into a closed gas station and found that the left front wheel was smoking. I knew this was serous and not a simple repair. I called a friend Mark who worked at a repair shop and had access to a wrecker to tow the car. Dawn called a high school friend who lived in the area and the two went off to leave me to deal with the car. While I waited on Mark. I turned the car around and jacked it up and disconnected the drive shaft so the car could be towed from the front. Mark showed up and within 15 minutes we were on are way to Lansing. Once we got to the shop and got the car on a lift, I was able to access the damage. I ended up replacing the left front spindle and the inner and outer bearings on both sides. The right side was about to have the same problem. Someone had overtightened the bearings when the front brakes were done. I think this is what happened to the alternator also. I wanted to replace all four tires being we had two blow outs and purchased two used tires along the way. But, Dawn said no, only purchase two, due to the money we had already spent in repairs. I decided to keep one of the tires for the trip back just in case. The rest of our vacation went without any more issues with the car.

Early Friday morning we headed for home down I69 south to Indianapolis. We picked up I65 and headed south through Kentucky to Nashville. We picked up I40 and headed south west to Little Rock. The car was running good. Just as we were getting to the Arkansas boarder, I felt a wobble coming from the rear. I pulled into the Welcome area and changed the right rear tire with the spare. We continued on towards Little Rock picking up 30 and only stopping for gas and to have the tire changed. We stopped for the night in Texarkana. In the morning we continued towards Dallas and looking forward to getting back home. When we turned onto I35 and headed south from Dallas it felt great. Everything went good till we were just north of Waco when we developed another wobble. Yes, the last tire started coming apart. I changed the tire and we filled the tank with gas and we had $14 left to get us back to Austin. We made the rest of the trip home without any problems. The funny part is, the Monte Carlo got worse mileage then the El Camino. I think that was due to the 400 two barrel. But, it was a smoother and more comfortable ride. The one thing this vacation did teach me, was to take things in stride and try to enjoy the adventure—and to always carry a tool bag with me. This would come in handy during other trips. And those are other stories.