My first car. Three hundred Canadian dollars. It was a 1972 Dodge Dart Demon, applicably named I noted to myself. It had a 185 slant six with an automatic transmission, accessed through the steering column. It had an air shock system in the back end, to which you would fill an air valve in the middle of the trunk in order to raise or lower the rear end. Two doors that seemed like they were twelve feet long, and it was painted lime green. There was rust along the bottom of the rear quarter panels and it had the original push button radio.
I loved that car but it was blowing blue when I bought it.
So, I did what I imagine most other teenagers either have done or would like to do – I parked it in my parent’s carport and proceeded to pull out the engine. I wasn’t a mechanic by any stretch of the imagination but I didn’t want that to stop me. However, I was artistic, so I put that talent to good use. I rented an engine lift and disconnected the engine block from the mounts and pulled it from the car, placing this mass of cast iron, metal, and protruding parts and hoses onto a makeshift stand in my parent’s back yard.
There it stayed for the next few months, while I ‘worked’ on it.
In regards to the engine block my approach was to draw a picture of the engine at every stage of disassembling and from all four sides, often labeling my drawings with arrows pointing to the ‘black thingy’ or the triangle piece with three bolts or screws or whatever. Little by little I took every bolt off and every hose off. Every cover, every gasket, making sure I drew every piece with before and after ‘shots’.
Finally, I got it striped bare, leaving only the block itself. That I loaded into my parent’s truck and took to a machine shop for them to do their thing. In the meantime I went shopping, unaware that I was embarrassing myself by walking into numerous automotive shops often with a hose or gasket or bolt in hand, walking up to the front counter and asking, “Do you have one of these?” My test was always to take a look at the new part and compare it to the old one I have in my hand to make sure that the salesperson’s giggling wasn’t them trying to pull a fast one on me.
I had no idea what any of these parts were but I knew how to compare shapes and sizes.
I also sanded down the inside of the engine compartment, replacing parts as required and painted it a light sky blue, the color I intended to paint the entire car. This was accomplished by purchasing several spray cans, and standing in the center of the engine compartment, I sprayed all around me, trying to get some of it to stick to the car, oblivious to the over-spray issue that my working environment was susceptible to.
As the project continued I was growing more and more confident in my pseudo mechanical ability so I went exploring at several junk yards until I found an automatic transmission that I could mount on the floor. Utilizing my drawing skills, drawing pictures in the junk yard as I was removing it from the car it was in, I then reversed the process in order to install it into my car, removing the steering column transmission in the process.
Then I also went out and purchased a newer radio/tape deck combo with speakers and installed them into the car, following the color coded wires and instructions, placing my hope that someone other than me knew what they were doing. This whole process was one gigantic step of faith, trusting that all of these processes and instructions that came with every new part was accurate and on the blind assumption that one didn’t necessarily need to be a mechanic in order to pull off the complete rebuilding of the motor.
At the end of the project, I had a new exhaust, extensive work on the brakes, a new motor, a different transmission, a new sound system, and one awesome vehicle. It took some tweaking to get the vehicle purring correctly, to which my dad and his friend spent a few evenings tinkering with the settings, probably reliving some of their youthful moments in the process. I pulled this green beast out of the carport and hit the open road. I had spent three hundred dollars on the original purchase price and an additional fifteen hundred dollars on this transformation.
I also had a box of bolts.
This perplexed me as I had taken extra care along the way to save and document each bolt I removed and then when I installed everything, putting each bolt back. Nonetheless, the motor was in the car and it was running but I was staring at a box of bolts that was left over. I concluded that they weren’t necessary, or better yet, during the process I had inadvertently gathered extra bolts, but somewhere deep inside I had my doubts.
This car took me back to the mountain top village for part of my grade twelve year of school and then back home again when the mine closed and three quarters of the town lost their jobs. It took me all over the valley back in that crummy town that my parents now called home. However, in the end, those old cars really did require a mechanic to love it and it would end up besting me so I had to sell it. I ended up selling it for my original purchase price, taking the hit on all the rest.
I sold it to another teenager who had his own dreams. However, in his case he actually thought he was an amazing mechanic, and in the end the car ended up as scrap, after spending a considerable amount of time in his own parent’s yard.