Titties, Trauma and Manual Transmission

I daydream a lot about driving Mavis.  She looks kick-ass, I look even better.  I feel amazing, windows down, engine gurgling and popping, paint flecks shimmering in the sun.  Sitting at a red I don’t even notice getting checked out because I’m so into my machine.  Then, I put her in gear and coming off the line it happens.  I stall.

Heart beats, hands sweat, try again and…stall.  This time hard, so my head jerks forward then kicks back against the headrest.  It’s ok, I’m cool, shit happens.  One more time and – NOPE!  Mavis lurches forward about a foot before the tires screech to a stop.  If anyone wasn’t already witnessing this wonder behind the wheel, they are now.

I’ve never owned a stick shift, but I can drive one if I had to.  I used to drive an old boyfriend’s Suzuki Sidekick to college in Chicago and I don’t remember having any issues with that other than almost rolling it when someone cut me off on I-90.  I love the Maverick’s three speed transmission and Pop and I are keeping it for sure.  Before we broke her down I drove her and didn’t do too bad.  So, where do these imagined ego-busting scenarios come from?  I’ll tell you exactly where.  Torrance, California, 1988.

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D, Jenni, me and Shelms.

My girls and I are 17 and 18 years old and staying in one bedroom of Jenni’s grandma’s house.  We’re about four blocks from the ocean and it couldn’t be more perfect.  Basically no supervision, spending all day at the beach, cool water, warm air, boys blonde and tan.  Bonus was that Grandma let us use her VW Rabbit that she didn’t drive.  Bummer was that no one had driven it in what looked like 20 years and it was in shit shape.  May have even seen fire at some point as the plastic on the steering wheel was melted off its metal frame.  But we were Midwestern teens in California and we had wheels.  Life was good.

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Our wheels.

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Dirty seats, frayed seat belts, melted steering wheel…perfect.

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Torrance, CA – 1988 – Jenni, me and Bether.

We drove that car to Santa Barbara on a side trip to see Beth’s cousins Chris and Andrew (blond and tan).  We went to parties with belly dancers and hung at the beach.  I remember thinking I could almost pull the California girl thing off but for the time I got whomped upside the head so hard by a wave that it slammed me onto the ocean floor.  I got up, acting all cool while I found my bikini top and trotted back to the beach like I hadn’t just recieved a jet-powered saltwater enema.

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At least we weren’t as bad off as this guy.  At this point, wouldn’t you just forgo the sheet?

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“If we hide our booze in a dirty sock…no one will know we’re drinking, underage, while driving.”

Back in Torrance, to get home from the beach we had to drive up a super steep hill every day.  That one day, that one time, we stalled halfway up and could NOT get this car into gear.  We laughed and laughed as we inched backwards down the hill every time Jenni tried to move that little car filled with our five sweaty, Hawaiian Tropic soaked bodies.  This got even more HIGH-larious when a car full of guys pulled up behind us, honking and teasing.  Our giddy teenaged ‘panicking’ rose to new levels.  “Come ON Jenni!  Oh my God, oh my God, they’re right behind us!  Don’t hit them!!  Tee tee hee, hahaha!!!”

Then a third car rounded the corner at the bottom of the hill going fast and BAM, slammed into the back of the guys car.  Within seconds after impact the girlfriend of the man driving is out of the car, heading up the hill, screaming in Spanish and swearing worse than I do.  She gets the quick gist of what is going down and comes at us, blaming us for the crash.  One of the guys has now moved our car to the side of the road and we’re pouring out of it.  This chic is coked up or something because she is LOSING HER SHIT, pointing at each of us individually while yelling, “Rush me, bitch!”  Her boyfriend is behind her trying to hold her back with his arms wrapped around her waist and her tit keeps popping out of her tube top.  She’d pull it up and the other one would pop out, then both titties.  She was like a wild dog, she didn’t give a crap.

While this is all happening, Shelma is cracking jokes and the other girls are laughing their asses off, but I’m HORRIFIED.  I do not like conflict, I do not like to fight, I’m afraid of this woman and at the same time can’t stop thinking about how dark her nipples were.  Eventually the cops were called, things calmed down, and we were deemed ‘not guilty’.  Then the guys invited us to a party.

That, my friends, is where my irrational fear of manual transmissions comes from.  I act tough sometimes, but I’m soft.  The girls went out that night, but no, I did not go to that fucking party.  I was too afraid the crazy titty chic would show up and try to rush me.

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Ah, to be young again.  I could never land this now, although I don’t believe I did then.

 

Give Me a Brake

No seriously…I need brakes.  Old Mavis has 4 lug wheels and 9” drum brakes on front and back.  To ensure satisfactory stopping, Pop and I want to trade out the front drums for disc and change the 9″ back drums to 11”.  Just as most people upgrade the inline 6 to a V8, most change out their 4 lug setups to 5 lug.  Again, Pop and I don’t want to do it like most people.  I have great 4 lug wheels and I don’t want to spend a grand changing those out too.  So what’s the problem?  Finding a brake kit to simply change out both the front and the back brakes has proven to be a real bitch.  Pop said to me the other day as we discussed brakes for the umpteenth time, “This stuff is keeping me up at night!”  We’ve both become obsessed with finding a solution.

Let’s talk front discs first.  SSBC has a kit that seems to be exactly what I need.  Made for 4 lug, 6 cylinder cars.  Includes master cylinder, proportioning valve and all hardware needed.  Sounds perfect, but for the fact that they say it’s for 1964-66 Ford Mustangs.  The SSBC guys say that this kit also fits a ’72 Mustang, and if my spindles are the same as a ’72 Mustang, it should work for me.  (If this was true, why the hell wouldn’t they list the ’72 Mustang as well?  And I’m supposed to drop $500 plus based on what an 18 year old pimple faced kid says?) So I chase this little tidbit of a fact down and find I have the same spindles as a ’72 Mustang, but now we’re dealing with the fact that the bearings that come in the kit don’t have the same inner diameter.  So frustrating!!

Back drum brake upgrade to 11” drum brakes. Quick Performance sells a 11” rear drum brake set up.  They offer 3 different flange bolt patterns.  Large bearing, small bearing and new Ford.  $300 for everything.  But they are all 5 lug and don’t fit our axle flanges.  As it stands, we’re gonna have order those and get them machined back into 4 lug.  Our buddy Curt has machine shop connections that may be able to help us out.  We need to find a shop anyway for the engine work we’ll be needing in the future.

The issue is that not only is all this not straightforward and complicated by the fact that we are dealing with a 40 plus year old car, but I’m still trying to learn about brakes in general.  Just when I think I’ve got it down, Pop throws in a new word.  Inner bearings, outer bearings, spindles, backing plates, hubs, rotors, flange ends, tie rod pin size and on and on.  But this is part of the journey…learning, researching, hunting, etc.

Momma and Pop are going to the Maverick/Comet gathering in Summerset, KY in a week.  There should be plenty of folks there Pop can talk to about brakes and see if he can get any more information.  He’ll also take LOTS of pics including any and all green cars (with paint name).  I’m still trying to fine the perfect green to paint Mavis.

I’d like to be able to put the back end together next visit, after we finish the final patch welding and undercoatings.  Other than determining the brake configuration, we’re ready.  The differential got a new pinion seal (old was leaking) and a nice clean up.

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Rust Galore

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Brushed and Buffed

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Painted and Slick

New u-joints are in on the drive shaft.

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And the transmission is right tight and lookin’ alright!  Isn’t she pretty?!

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I’ve also just ordered the rear brake lines.  The ones we pulled off Mavis were crap but the main line is all good.  We got those cleaned up and painted as well.

So it’s July and my 47th birthday is fast approaching.  I started this project last year on my birthday with the hopes that it would take 2 years.  It’s truly looking more and more like I’ll be 50 before I drive this car back to Denver.  When I lamented to Pop about this he said, “But we HAVE been working hard.  Well, you have.  I might have fucked off somewhat.”  At least he’s honest.

Quick side note on potty mouths and the fact that I am one.  Momma used to say, “I have two sons and two daughters. My sons don’t swear but my daughters have mouths like sailors (ignoring the fact that we were the daughters of a truck driver.)  Pop once burned the garlic bread in the broiler when we were kids.  I think before he knew it he yelled it –“FUUUUUCK”!  From then on it was game on, the f-bomb had been unleashed.  At 15 I said ‘motherfucker’ in front of Pop.  Don’t remember the reason, but I’m sure it was warrented.  He very calmly leaned in and said quietly, while looking straight ahead, “Babe.  You can say  mother, and you can say fucker.” Then he shook his head back-and-forth slowly and waggled his finger, “But you can’t say motherfucker.“  There were some limits.  My sister Kristen, I must say, is an excellent curser mostly because it’s unexpected.  She’s a quilter, a former preppy, has exceptional organizational skills and is involved in her non-denominational church, but ‘fucker’ rolls off her tongue as smooth as silk.  I love her.

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Kris and I on my first birthday.  Pre-swearing days, although it looks like I would if I could.

 

Mavis, Deconstructed

Holy smokes it’s been weeks since I’ve been home and I haven’t told you about week two of the Kentucky maiden voyage!  With the Firebird finally running and out of the garage, Mavis was now the center of attention.  Yes…Mavis.  Makes me think of a wise old lady, African American, steady, proud, and cool as shit.  Cross her and she will KICK YOUR ASS.  “Sleeper” is a term for a car that looks unassuming, isn’t overly showy or flashy but can pack a punch in the power department.  Mavis is going to be a sleeper, classy and quiet, but ready to tear it up if need be.

But, we need to break Mavis down before building her back up.  The goal of the week was to get the engine and transmission removed.  To do that, you need to disconnect anything attached to them and take off anything that would impede their removal.

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Me and the old man in our workspace.  Mavis, now in the spotlight.

We started with the fender, headlights and grill.  I found that there is no such thing as “just unscrew that bolt” in these old cars.  The bolt has been bolted for 40 something years, rusted, perhaps bent and can be a bitch to get off.  I find this to be a great challenge.  We spray it down with our trusty Kroil, let it sit for a bit and then go at it.  Sometimes it’s brute strength that’s needed,  sometimes it’s finding the right tool or angle to finesse it off.

As we removed parts, Pop would explain them to me;  what they did and how they worked.  Everything was saved regardless of needing to be replaced or not.  We’d make notes of what we needed to either buy, repair or find in a junk yard.  Parts were stored in labeled containers according to what they were.  For example, headlights, their rims, bowls and wires were in a box, and all engine bolts, screws, washers and nuts were put in an old coffee can.  Wires were labeled with a sticker and note so we knew what the hell they were connected to and larger parts (hood, front fender, bumper) were propped up along the garage wall.

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The parts cart including transmission, valve cover and fly wheel.  We used to use this cart to roll the garbage to the bottom of the driveway when I was a kid. I told you, the P’s get rid of NOTHING.

Pop and I work well together because we tend to work alike.  We stay organized, work slowly and thoroughly and keep the workspace clean as we go.  It’s funny to watch him and see where I get some of my quirks.  When there were too many tools out and he’d step on one or one of us would catch a foot on the air hose and trip, we’d both seem to do a little freak out thing.  You feel a little clausto and disorganized and have to ‘tidy up’ before moving onto the next task.  It’s something about the state of your surroundings directly affecting your ability to deal.

We worked in this way for a couple days, removing every wire, tube and pipe attached to the engine.  While Pop was at breakfast with friends one morning I felt the need to get a jump on things.  Momma was in the garage with me and we had been poking around, seeing what we could clean or whatever.  I got a bit bold, decided it would be a good idea to remove the radiator and went about the business of draining it.  Momma sat in a chair, one leg crossed over the other, bouncing her foot like she does, and watched.  I undid the top hose and was surprised as to how much antifreeze came out.  Luckily I had already thought to put a bucket underneath to catch it.  Feeling confident, I proceeded to loosen the bottom hose, which started a slow drip.  Sat back with Momma to wait, but soon became impatient and decided to pull the entire hose off.  HOLY SHIT!  Neon green fluid spewed from the thing like projectile vomit!  The power of it knocked the bucket over and flooded onto the floor.  I’m screaming, “Oh my God!!!” trying to get the hose back on which only intensified the spray.  It was flowing like a firehose! I finally get to the bucket just as the last of the antifreeze empties out with a belch and it’s over as quickly as it started.  Momma’s still sitting in her chair and she says quietly, “wow.”  Clean up involved mops and the garden hose and when Pop got home I told him about my faux pas.  That’s when he showed me the petcock at the bottom of the radiator, a small valve conveniently located to drain the antifreeze.  (Yes, it’s called a petcock.  Awesome.)

Eventually it was time to remove the engine and transmission.  Pop and I cut the exhaust off all together as it was junk.  That was interesting…Pop on his back under the car with a sawsall bouncing around on the pipe, inches from his face.  We were, though, wearing safety glasses.  We supported the rear of the engine, then disconnected and removed the transmission.  Removed the bolts from the front motor mounts and lifted the engine out with the chain fall.  We are fucking pros!

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Pulley systems make you feel strong.

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Success!

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The inline 6, chained up and out.

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Mavis, now just a cold, empty shell of herself.

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We sprayed the engine compartment down with degreaser and gave her a rinse.  God how I love a power washer!

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And this is how I left her (after we pulled the wheels off).  On stands for the duration, engine extracted, ready for her make over.

Although we did get a lot of work done, I was able to spend a little fun time with the P’s.  I went with Momma to her water aerobics class a couple times.  Me and 20 plus ladies from about 60 to 80 years old moving some serious water, chatting it up.  I saw neighbors Danny and Vicki, who were so thoughtful and brought me a Life magazine that had a 1972 Maverick ad in it.

The three of us attended a surprisingly religious bluegrass concert at the Kentucky Opry House.  Apparently the word ‘gospel’ in the program title didn’t tip us off.  We went with it, had a great time and Pop kept saying, “I don’t know, I just keep smiling.”  We met Pop’s friend Jimmy there who is 89 and peppy as ever.  It’s not often you get a chance to talk with someone who starts a conversation by saying, “When I was in the Philippines during World War II.”

Pop has some stories himself and I thought I had heard them all, but during my visit things would spark a memory and he would share.  While laying under Mavis, draining transmission fluid, he told me about the old gas station he worked at as a kid.

“We moved from Rogers Park (Chicago) to Wilmette when I was 12 and I always hung around the gas station a block away.  It was called Lee’s Shell and I just showed up and started doing stuff.  The place was full service so I’d check oil, wash windows, whatever.  I wasn’t in high school yet and I don’t even know if I was paid.  Eventually I worked part-time for a little money and stayed until they sold the place when I was 17.

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Pop at 12

I was there by myself one day, I was 13 or 14.  A guy brought his car in for an oil change so I put it on the lift, drained the oil and put 5 quarts back in.  I collected his money and he left.  Turns out I hadn’t drained his oil, but mistakenly had drained his transmission fluid instead.  The guy calls later from across town with a burnt up transmission.  I was devastated…I cried…it was terrible!  Must have been a couple hundred bucks that came out of my pay to rebuild the guy’s transmission.  I remember I had to take some money out of my savings.  Very young mistake.  Lee probably would have let me get away without paying for it, but I insisted.  I was in tears.

Lee was a heavy set, rough guy.  He was nice enough to me.  Gad, the people that hung around that place.  Willy T was a Chicago Outlaw who worked there.  He was real thin, rode his Harley.  He was a full time bad dude.  Two other guys hung out there, motorcycle guys, two characters.  They had a Cushman, big motor scooter, that they had put a Harley Davidson engine in.  It was like an 80MPH Cushman!  I remember one night they were drinking and had to go to the hospital because they had crashed into each other.  They were all alcoholics.

They were all nice to me though.  They’d give me beer and let me smoke cigarettes.  I would be with Lee and on some occasions we’d go get parts or whatever, I’d tag along.  Sometimes he would go to collect bills from the housewives.  He would go into the house and I’d wait.  Sometimes he took a long time to collect the bill.”

Yes, I’m learning a lot about rebuilding cars, but I’m learning even more about Pop.