Carl S

The car that just would not stop

In 1972 I received my driver's license, and went looking for a car. A buddy had a '61 bug body he had taken the engine out of for his dune buggy, but he had seven bushel baskets full of engine parts he said I could have. There actually was enough parts for an engine (the block was dated 1958), so we bolted it all together, put in in the car, and two days later I had a running vehicle! He sold me the body and engine parts for $50, even though the body had four new tires and a new battery in it. About once a week it would only run on about 2 1/2 cylinders, but it always started and ran and was mine!

For safety I replaced all the brake lines, the master cylinder, and the slave cylinders. Even so, every once in a while the brakes would completely fail, with no warning. I could pump them up to get them functioning again, but that had to be done while I was downshifting, steering, and applying the hand brake, which only worked on one wheel. This was disconcerting, but I was 16 and came to think of this as normal. My father, who was an auto mechanic, supervised my work, and since there never was a leak, air was bled from the system, and it never lost fluid, was also mystified why this randomly occurred.

One day three buddies (who were all football players) and I squeezed into the bug and went for a drive. With the car wide open, going downhill, with all of us rocking back and forth, we set a new land-speed record of 62 mph. Our thrill was short lived, though: the brakes chose to fail at this moment, and we were approaching an intersection with cars waiting for a red light.

I immediately started the procedure mentioned above to get the brakes back, but the additional mass was not allowing the car to slow down quickly enough. Out of desperation I opened my door, and told the guy in the front seat to do the same. I yelled for the guys in the back seat to prop the doors open with their legs, trying to create air brakes like I'd seen military planes employ. The left turn lane was shorter than the others, with only one car in it, so I steering for that lane, trying to gain all the rolling room I could.

Believe it or not, those big flat doors (and sturdy legs) really made a difference. When we stopped we were one inch away from a brand-new Thunderbird's rear bumper. To this day I involuntarily flinch when I see sequential tail lights operating!

I drove that car through most of high school, and it always got me where I was going, and always got me home. I sold it my senior year for $75 to a friend who knew all about its foibles, and was thrilled to get it.

This car would not die, and even though it often wouldn't stop, I still consider it my favorite car I've ever owned, and hope to have another one some day, but in more reliable shape!

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