My first vehicle was a Ford Falcon Van, and I can feel it’s anguish for it’s tree-borne kin in this photo.
I bought that van on Friday 13th, 1984, telling myself I wasn’t superstitious. When it died driving it home, I accepted that perhaps there’s a very good reason for superstition. Fortunately, the seller had another head for the engine on his second “dead” van, behind his mobile home near the state penitentiary. After a motor-head in Los Alamos swapped the cracked head for me, I was able to drive it across the country from Santa Fe to Rochester. The gas gauge didn’t work, nor did the speedometer, or the windshield wipers. But I could figure out when to fill the tank from the odometer, and carried a spare can in back just in case. It also required a quart of oil every 30 miles, but this was simplified by the fact that the engine was accessed from a cover between the passenger and driver’s seat.
After visiting a friend in Toronto, I drove onto the highway in a thunderstorm, crawling along through the sheets of rain since I couldn’t see because of the broken windshield wipers.
A Canadian trooper pulled me over. “Can you tell me why you were doing 35 kilometers per hour in a 80 kph zone?”
“I’m afraid that’s the best she’ll do sir.”
He about died laughing.
I sat in his Troopermobile in the rain with him, chatting about the baffling condition of state-side traffic for about 30 minutes until he decided there wasn’t an APB out for me.
Headed towards Boston, I picked up a dancer in Amherst, Mass, who needed a ride to see her drummer BF in Boston. After 3 unsuccessful attempts to crest a hill south of Amherst, I decided to take the more gradually inclined Mass Pike. As we headed east up a long slow rise, I watched the temperature gauge rise rapidly. I turned on the heat, hoping to help cool the engine. (that’s what they told you to do before the put computers in our engines, remember?) No avail. The vehicle slowed to a crawl, and I pulled onto the shoulder. The dancer glared at me.
Then the engine started to make a long slow whining noise. It started low at first, then began to rise higher… and higher… to a high whistling howl. I looked under the hood and the engine was… purple! Acrid smoke had began to fill the cab. You’ve never seen two people get out of a vehicle so fast.
It didn’t explode for some reason. I had never imagined spending a night with a dancer in a motel room could be such a miserable experience. But I look on the bright side: I got $50 for the van.