It is great to have Mel up and running. My miracle moment is when I push that little unmarked white starter button to the left of the steering wheel on the dash. The 6 volt starter starts Chug…Chug…Chuuuuggggh…Whooomph! and Mel starts up with a nice roar. The automatic choke sets in, I reckon 2,500 rpm, fast – fast – fast. A couple minutes later I jump in, and give the pedal a push to damp down the idle speed. If he’s warm, he settles down. If, not, fast – fast – fast. A few minutes of this and I damp the pedal and he settles into a nice idle, fast enough to keep up to speed and low enough not to bang the automatic transmission. (“Bang” being a technical term denoting the slamming of gears unneccesarily – ed.)
I find it best to fire Mel up with a 6-foot piece of metal tubing over the tail pipe tucked under the garage door (mostly closed) with the business end pointed toward the diminishing ozone layer outside the garage. This is the safest way to control unburned hydrocarbons, CO, NOx, etC. that would otherwise permeate the garage and set off the CO alarm faster than you can say no catalytic converter.
Ten minutes later after pushing that tiny white unmarked button that makes this miracle possible, I raise the garage door, jump in, make a silent apology to the polar bears, and put the truck into reverse.
A slight digression: in my humble and unsophisticated opinion the Hydramatic transmission is a miracle. The truck is 55 years old plus and is simplicity itself in what I understand of cars, with the exception of the transmission. With a small column shifter (everything about this truck except the truck itself is small, indicating a time before testosterone driven marketing teams beefed up knobs, shifters, etc.), I move the transmission lever to N, 1-2, 1-3, 1-4, or R. There is no P for Park. To park you put in neutral or reverse when stopped and set the parking brake.
Whenever I shift I make a leap of faith that all of the engineering of bands and gears and transmission fluid and a lot of iron will simultaneously work, causing the truck to move forward, backward, or stay where it is without springs and gears flying down the street. Truly a miracle.
So as spring approaches we move into the next phase: details. Here you can see the detailing and cleaning and painting that will be needed.
Inside the cab we will definitely be looking at redoing the interior – new seat and door panels. It may also involve new flooring since the linoleum Mel put on the floor is ancient.
Here are some other shots of detailing that we will be undertaking.
Mostly everything is in great shape, and will involve gentle cleaning. Some additional repairs will involve the fuel gauge (not operating), flush the radiator (although the fluid looks good), and begin cleaning the motor and undercarriage.
As I have been looking at the Stovebolt forum (a great resource for learning about these trucks), I have come to understand that the best course of action for Mel may be preservation with some restoration as needed. Uncle Mel took great care of the pickup and it shows more than half a century later.
Seats are torn, no big deal. These things are easily fixed. I find my mind recollecting all the cars I’ve had in my life. Mel is at the tops. I used to to go out to the Mel and Bernie’s garage as a young child, climbing on the truck and imagining what it would be like to drive such a vehicle.
Later, when I was a teenager I completely forgot Mel as I got caught up with a lot of my friends in Richland. We were obsessed with muscle cars. Ed had his ’72 Dodge Charger, Billy his ’74 Charger with the hemi. Barely put your foot on the pedal and you were flying past 40 mph on a 25 mph zone up Stevens Drive or George Washington Way. Steve had his ’67 Cougar with the 283, burgundy red, georgeous. Turns out it later got cracked up in an accident. Such a beautiful car.
Me? I had occasional access to my dad’s ’74 Plymouth Scamp (light baby blue), with dual exhaust glass pack mufflers and a 1968 Rambler Rebel, bought by dad at auction for $250 from Department of Energy, replete with gray paint job, painted out black lettering, black vinyl seats (pleasant on 102 degree Hanford summer days), and a posi-traction transmission which saved my bacon in the desert more than once (more on driving adventures in Richland later).
The Rambler was a great car. The last new car my dad bought was the ’63 Rambler station wagon, the same year I was born. Dad had a thing for Ramblers so I guess the ’68 was meant to be (note: watch the cult film, “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” and you will see what these cars are capable of doing).
The Plymouth Scamp (1974, 318 c.i. V8) served us well, despite its dowdy appearance. The 318 was a great engine and the glass packs with the dual exhaust was a symphony to my ears.
But I wanted my own vehicle. I really wanted a Chevelle, blue, four speed Hurst on the floor, 350 c.i. and Holly carbs, but as my wallet would have it, came upon a 1974 Pontiac with a straight six and three-on-the-tree manual Ventura owned by Fr. Murtagh, a Catholic priest and very tolerant of a young pup without much money to spend on his own vehicle.
With a three on the tree, an inline six cylinder and a clutch that had never been replaced, I was in no shape to compete against Ed, Bill or Steve. But it was freedom, and for $250, the Ventura was a glorious old car that I took out to Waitsburg and Dayton and other side trips enjoying a vehicle of my own.
Being idealistic and as the Tappett brothers would say, unencumbered by the thought process, I drop-kicked all reason into a 55-mph headwind and decided to put a V-8 under the hood of the Ventura. I really thought it would be the sleeper Chevelle, despite the six cylinder engine and three-on-the-tree transmission. It would emerge as the blue Chevelle with a Hurst 4-on-the-floor and V-8 power to screech the Radial TA’s on the back end. As some might say, Not!
Advertising the motor for trade, a certain person, who shall remain anonymously known as Dirk F., Pasco, WA (ca. 1979), accepted my offer to exchange a perfectly running six cylinder for a rebuilt V-8 motor. After undergoing an unceremonious operation involving removal of the 6-cylinder from the Ventura and placement of his so-called rebuilt 283 c.i. V-8 next to the now soulless vehicle on canvas tarp, there both sat in the cul-de-sac at my parents’ house in Richland throughout a very long summer without a functioning car.
Little issues arose, such as putting the motor in the Ventura and hooking the transmission to the V-8 which as it turned out would require some extensive modifications. Now reader beware, this is a warning to putting wants above needs. I had no clue and thus spent the summer trying to find a way, without financial resources or reliable technical expertise, on figuring out how to put the 283 V-8 lying dolefully next to the Venture, as they would say, together.
This amused my father greatly. Today, having a place of my own, envisioning a car without an engine occupying the front curb with my progengy not knowing what to do, I can say he was quite generous in not having the whole mess towed away.
I, nursing what little pride and entrepreneurial spirit remaining, decided to put an ad in the paper for both (then not being Craig’s List or the Internet, but our local newspaper, The Bird Cage Herald).
Amazingly, within days I had offers on both. The Pontiac Ventura sold to someone and then someone else came forward and bought the rebuilt V-8. What really amused me and greatly amused my dear mother is that I sold both for more than what I paid for each, essentially making a profit on an otherwise bad gig gone wrong.
Lesson of the story: be careful taking on “new” vehicles and getting in over your head, especially anything involving V-8’s, 4-speed manual transmissions on the floor, and testosterone.
Back to Mel. Basic commitments: #1: I have absolutely no interest in swapping out the 235 c.i. straight six for a V-8! #2: I have no interest in swapping out the automatic transmission. #3: NO drag racing!
More pedestrian pursuits include repainting the hubcaps and exterior paint detail when we get to that point. For now I want to do more research on going about exterior restoration before undertaking anything radical.
Here are some additional details to focus on once we move beyond the interior: repaint the hubcaps, shine up the rear view mirrors (looks like they could use reglazing), and shine up the windshield wipers. They are vacuum assist and quite loose. Suz will work on repainting the hub caps. I may do so when we have the tires replaced so I can repaint the wheels.
I went to a local auto parts store but the new blades they put on looked ridiculous so I am keeping the current blades which clearly aren’t designed for heavy use in western Washington. The springs are loose so they don’t fit snug against the windshield. A related issue is a fairly good sized pit from a rock that struck the windshield at one point. No idea how much that would cost to replace and that point I would be looking at resealing all the windows.
As the days get longer so do my plans for getting some work done on Mel. Unfortunately it’s still winter in western WA so the probability of a nice sunny weekend day at home coupled with no other commitments and several hours to putz around is expressed mathematically as 1 x 10 -6. Not that I can’t dream for warmer days, a can of degreaser, a boat load of rags, and a Corona.
We just returned from a business and vacation trip to Washington, DC. Had a great time, especially going to the Smithsonian museums, including the Museum of American History. Claire and Susan went while I was at a conference and look what they found! Mel’s cousin Bob from Oregon! A 1947 GMC looking like it just stepped out of the showroom.
I really enjoyed the exhibit and seeing a place in history for these trucks.
We also saw the Tucker automobile, clearly a car ahead of its time. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie again.
So today is somewhat sunny after a stormy day yesterday. Other duties call so I will content myself knowing that Mel is up and running and spring is on the way.