A little over a week ago, I picked up my "new" car because I had a somewhat crazy idea. You see, over the years I have owned quite a few vehicles and eventually came to the conclusion that for someone like myself, owning a pre-emissions regulated car so old that the plastic to steel ratio is nearly negative makes the most sense for me. That and sometimes you find a car on the internet and can't get it out of your mind for nearly a month - this can also happen.
Over the past week I have been daily driving my 1963 Mercury Comet and it only ended up on a tow truck once...
The Comet is a survivor, so everything that was original to the car is either intact and sitting where it should be, or attached and rotting right where the Lorain, Ohio factory worker bolted it back in July of 1962. The original AM radio is no exception to this rule, with pre-selector buttons looking like a set of eroded dentures which disintegrate when you so much as look at them.
Honestly, I'm not sure if it even works since the pigtail was unhooked, and I really don't care that much because AM radio stations around Atlanta are mostly political and I would much rather hear some Allman Brothers Band over Rush Limbaugh's throaty-nasal-cackle. Luckily for me, the cardboard liner in the glove box was long gone, so I had the perfect place to mount the headunit salvaged from my old daily driver.
Who needs a wiring diagram when you have a multimeter, right? I even put the speaker in the factory location, on top of the dash.
I spent some time building a bracket for my headunit, painted it, and while all of that was drying, ran all of the new wires instead of tapping into the old, slightly crispy factory harness.
To be sure my twenty-eight year old self spent as little time as possible upside down with my head against the clutch pedal, probing into an ancient wiring loom, I decided to figure out why the gauge cluster wasn't working and buttoned all of that up as well.
Later on in the week, I was coming back from the grocery store and I heard the most awful clunking and grinding noise coming from the back, passenger brake drum and found this after yanking it off:
I don't know why, but I didn't question the fact that I somehow had replacements for all of those in a random box of parts beside my toolbox at home.
Then I got sassy and decided the best thing to do would be cutting the muffler open, gutting it, and welding it back together. Because a Comet is supposed to sound like a geriatric Massey-Ferguson tractor, right? Well, maybe it isn't supposed to, but that's what happened.
This is where the tow truck comes into play.
On Friday, while I was working on some other projects for my actual job, I decided to change the oil in the transmission since that was the last piece to the fluid puzzle of maintenance.
Fill plug, drain plug - easy.
Test drive, get a drink at the store, get back in the car, shifter snaps off in my hand.
You may not have known, but this particular Mercury Comet is a three speed manual. Back in the day, if you had a four speed, the shifter was in the floor like most cars of today, but the three speed was up on the steering column. "Three on the tree." as the older folks call it. This makes my car pretty much theft proof because essentially nobody around here even knows a column-shifted manual exists. Forty years ago, you could call any auto parts store if your shift collar sheared off and buy a replacement, but now? You're stuck with buying them online and waiting about a week to get it. I had the car towed back to the woodshop and was sure I would be without my car for the weekend, but went ahead and took the steering column apart anyway.
Do you have one of those uncles who has random boxes of random old stuff? I do. When my uncle heard about what happened to my car, he started digging through a box in his garage and brought me the thing you see on the right:
The one on the left came out of my car and you can see the retainer that holds the shifter in place is broken. The "new" one is silver, but the same exact part. Apparently, in the 1980's my grandfather rebuilt the steering column on his truck and that collar had been sitting in a box since then. The truck was sold around 1991 and my grandfather passed away in 1994. Crazy...
I'm throwing this in just because, but the door panels were original, cardboard, and looked like they had been through a pretty rough life. So, I used my carpentry skills to make new door cards and upholstered them in plaid fabric.
When everything was said and done, nothing all that crazy happened to the car in my first week of owning it. The towing bill is an insurance reimbursement and it took me all of two hours from the moment the tow truck loaded up the car to it being fixed and on the road again. The issue with the rear brakes was a pretty freak happening and I took care of that in about fifteen minutes. Also, after logging my mileage through an entire tank of fuel, I managed to average just a hair under 25mpg, which I will compare to the next few tanks I use for a more accurate number.
You see, I went into this expecting little things to go wrong until I work out the problems that come with a car being in long term barn storage, so none of this is shocking or inconvenient to me. Frustrating, yes, but I knew what I signed up for from the beginning.
Truthfully though? I get so many compliments from people both older than me and younger than me. Teenagers yell out "Awesome car!" and the like from across parking lots, older guys purposely park next to me and we talk about their family members who owned old Fords in the past. The only negative reactions I get are from guys right around my age who either assume I bought an old car because I am ignorant to them and am going to regret it or say things like:
"Yeah, I'd have an old car too, but I have clients and can't have scraped up knuckles from working on a car."
And then they step into their 3-Series or C-Class feeling really good about themselves.
Thank God I don't work in an office environment and have to make stupid excuses like that...
If you're local to Atlanta, I'll be at Caffeine & Octane on July 6th. Let's hang.
Grace and Peace,
-J. Drew Silvers