When I moved to Las Vegas in 1994 I was without a vehicle. Nothing special about that, lots of people don’t have cars. I didn’t really have much of any thing else either though and Las Vegas is a pretty spread out rural kind of place with a relatively lousy public transportation grid. Getting a car wasn’t very high on my list of priorities though. I had a healthy check from the government, courtesy of a medical discharge from the Army and I wasn’t in any rush to launch myself into the tedium of a job. I preferred instead to sit around watching TV and getting fat, you know, the American dream.
It became swiftly evident though, that in order to get about and spend some of the government money burning a hole in my pocket that I would need to procure transportation. I’d never been particularly fussy about the kind of vehicle I get around in and had never spent a lot of money on cars. I began looking for something cheap and reasonably dependable. My idea of “reasonably dependable” is slightly out of kilter with the traditionally definition. I wasn’t necessarily looking for something mechanically sound so much as I was looking for a combination of rubber and metal that had a better than sixty percent chance of not spontaneously exploding or erupting in a magical fountain of monkey dung. Whether it would start or even move was really secondary to my expectations of intervention by unexplained phenomena. I wasn’t really right in the head in those days, a diet of pain killers, ibuprofen, and liquor had led to some minor decreases in my perception of reality.
Fortunately, I had a good friend willing to sell me a vehicle that we both could agree was not prone to engine failure, mechanical flaws, or the sudden need to vomit clouds of vampire bats. We settled on a price which was ridiculously small and I was the proud new owner of a 1972 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. It wasn’t the “Last of the red hot V8s” but it was one of the last real muscle cars produced by Detroit and certainly the last good year for the Monte Carlo, with the possible exception of 1981.
If you’re not familiar with it, the 1970 to 1972 Monte Carlos are essentially the same, with slight differences in interior and engine depending on what model you got. The cream of course is the SS model packed to the steel gills with the powerful 454 engine, bucket seats and floor mounted transmission lever. I didn’t have that one, but it was close, lacking only the engine and special body details. The Monte Carlo is an aggressive looking auto that shares many interior and body details with the Chevelle and Camaro, while lacking the sweeping round hood details that made the later models of Monte Carlo look like caricatures of the pimp lifestyle.
The Monte Carlo is a two door coupe that seats five, this combined with the elongated hood and engine compartment and relatively short trunk (for the time) makes for a long and mean looking car. Mine rumbled like a car is supposed to and left rubber and smoke if I wasn’t cautious accelerating from a stop. My fanciful ideas about practical transportation evaporated in the first few weeks of ownership as I began to drive like the heroes I grew up with. To hell with God, Jim Rockford, David Starsky and the Duke boys were my co-pilots. It wasn’t long before I learned how to do a bootlegger turn and figured out that that my penis compensation mobile could do a U-turn in one lane of traffic. I was having a ball and had completely forgotten about the possibility of being carried away by gigantic flying elephants.
The fact that I was really good at performing suicide lane changes on the highway and maneuvering my vehicle on the slick veneer of burning rubber its spinning wheels left behind, does not excuse the fact that I had become a road hazard. I felt perfectly safe and confident, but my friends no longer were interested in riding with, or even, near me. Fortunately, fate and the heavy hand of vehicle maintenance intervened before I turned anyone I loved into canned pate. It turns out you can’t drive a vehicle like that and not expect certain mechanical problems if you perform little to no maintenance.
I’ve heard it said recently that “vehicle maintenance is a religion.” If that’s true, I’m a heathen. In the eight years I owned the car, the only time I ever performed any maintenance is when it failed to get me where I wanted to go, or to install a stereo component. In retrospect, the results were predictable and the list of repairs became lengthy:
- Front ball joints replaced after failure
- Complete suspension replacement after failure
- Engine mounts replaced after failure
- Engine rebuilt after failure
- Radiator replaced after failure
- Carburetor replaced (five times) after failure
- Tires replaced (three times) after failure
- Radiator hoses and thermostat replaced (four times) after seizure or rupture
- Entire brake system replaced (twice) after failure
Practically the only thing that never failed me was the transmission, a solid and dependable Turbo Hydromatic 400. I was spared only because that variety of transmission is practically indestructible. The Turbo Hydromatic is a marvel of modern engineering and in all likelihood the only real link to the US government’s culpability in reverse engineering alien technology.
If it isn’t clear by now, I had grown to love that car. Most people considered it ugly. It had two or three different colors of paint, an interior that looked as if wolverines had bedded in it and the vinyl top had rotted away years ago. Like a mother whose new born infant has raised bumps on its head from the forceps used to pry it from her cloying embrace (and look for the all world like the starting bits of yearling horns), I alone saw the beauty of my car. It was a bit like a trailer park romance in that our love was fierce and passionate till she stopped running smooth, or threw a wheel off in public. Then we spent several days trying to cripple each other by hurling insults and crescent wrenches. My auto-eroticism reached the point that I even wrote angsty teen poetry devoted to my car, despite my neither being a teen or angsty.
Our troubled relationship hit a snag several years ago when she finally stopped running. The circumstances were mysterious, she would run for fifteen or twenty minutes and then just stall, but only when in gear. She would idle for much longer periods of time, but no amount of coaxing would motivate her to keep running after selecting a gear. I was devastated at first and devoted much of my time to repair efforts, all of which were failures. She was no longer my daily driver and I began to suspect simple jealousy had robbed her of the will to perform. My roommates insisted that I was anthropomorphizing to an unhealthy degree, but they simply didn’t understand. Because I didn’t rely on her for transportation any longer, the problem rather quickly became an issue of storage rather than repair. Like any man, I then lost interest and only occasionally attempted to show my love by trying, and failing, to uncover her affliction.
Years passed, and time took its toll. I had moved to a new residence and she sat in a new spot, but sitting just isn’t good for cars, they need to be driven, loved, and my inattention was beginning to show. I started her engine every month or so to keep the battery fresh and the float free, but it wasn’t until last summer that I took an active interest in her well being again. My new home was in a community with a Home Owners Association and those pricks simply didn’t understand that a good car can’t be discarded like garbage or sold to just anyone.
I had always maintained the illusion that I would fix her up, restore her, giver her back the glory she deserved. That was a lie of course, I hadn’t even managed to get her painted in all the years we were together, and she needed some cosmetic work badly. Frankly I think such was the impetus of the HOA. My car was ugly, thus no one wanted to see it.
I began to work on her with some earnest, attempting to repair the malady and get her in condition to sale. After spending several months of half assed hobby time and a couple of hundred dollars on a carburetor rebuild (again), new wires, plugs, filters and fuel pump did I discover the source of her malady. When I removed the fuel pump to replace it, the rubber fuel return line practically disintegrated in my hands. The line had become so dry that it had cracked in many spots. While cold, and hard, it remained mostly air tight, but when warmed upon the hearth of her fiery V8, it became supple, and relaxed. The cracks expanded, letting air into the fuel line.
I replaced the line, topped off her fluids and she was restored to her former robust self, mostly. After sitting for so long she desperately needed a tune up and an all around once over. Total cost of replacement hose, $1.50. For years I had let her languish in disrepair and humiliation while all that was needed was a cheap rubber hose. I felt pretty bad about the whole affair. Unfortunately, simply returning her to operational capacity wasn’t enough for the HOA, they wanted her gone for good, or in the garage. The latter was simply impossible though as my garage was filled to the brim with old computers, half finished wood working projects and Star Wars toys.
It was with heavy heart and trembling hands that I then decided to sell her. I knew I couldn’t get much, but I couldn’t bring myself to sell her for scrap. I needed to find someone who would restore her, fix her up. Love her. Suckers are hard to find though, or so I thought.
The ad was placed in the paper Saturday. By Tuesday I had four calls and one buyer. At first he seemed to be on top of things and opened the negotiations strongly.
“I’m calling about the Monte Carlo, what can you tell me about it?”
“Well, it’s a 72, the engine was rebuilt about a couple of years ago, it needs some work, but sh, IT’S a good car.”
“What about the engine, does it run?”
“Well it did run last time I started it, sometime around June. The battery finally died in the heat of the summer and I never replaced it. It could use a tune up.”
“Okay, I’m not really concerned about that. What about the body?”
“It needs paint, but there’s no rust.”
“It’s not smashed up? No dents?”
“No, it’s smooth.”
”Okay, I’m not worried about that. What about the interior?”
“The interior is pretty shot, it’s all original, but it’s been in the desert for thirty years and it’s all split and messed up. The headliner’s completely gone.”
“Okay, I’m not worried about that. Can I look at it?”
I was beginning to wonder exactly what it was he was looking for in a car. He seemed like a reasonably insane fellow though and I figured that was the kind of customer I needed. I gave him directions and told him the car was parked in the driveway, that he could check it out all he wanted. I half expected never to hear from him again and find my car stolen that evening, but he called me back an hour later and asked how much I wanted for it.
I quickly agreed to a price that was less than I wanted, but more than I expected. It happened to be twice the amount of my original purchase price but about a tenth of what I had put into her. Edgar and his son-in-law Darryl met me that evening and they put a gallon of gas, two quarts of Dextron, a battery and a couple of gallons of water in her. With a little coaxing she started right up and Darryl backed her down the driveway and drove her around the block.
When she started I got goose bumps and I’m not afraid to admit, a little erect. Her deep rumbling song has always affected me in a manner that is unexplainable. I’d chalk it up to instinct, except that the internal combustion engine is a relative late comer in man’s history and until a few hundred years ago loud noises almost always spelled doom for the ancestors whom I draw my genetic imprint from. When Darryl disappeared around the corner, and I heard her scream her rubber joy upon the asphalt, I nearly caved in and called the whole thing off.
I held strong though, I was filled up to here with the HOA and their bullshit and I needed the cash to buy a rock for my lady. Within a matter of minutes the deal was complete. Edgar and I shared some pleasant words about the cars we had known and we both spoke of them as old men might speak of lovers past the veil. He seemed like a good guy, and I suspected she would be happier with a man who would take proper care of her. Despite that, when she drove off, and I watched her taillights turn around the corner, I felt a wetness on my cheek. Which was odd, because this is the desert, and the stars were bright that night.