My first summer with my 1965 Galaxie was almost over and things seemed to be going well. A rebuilt radiator, new gaskets, repaired brakes, a new throttle cable, and a dozen other little things had turned my classic car into a fairly reliable vehicle with a lot of style. I’d gotten used to the new ‘hot rod’ sound. Even if it did tend to wake up the neighborhood when I left for work in the morning.
Some people at work had even begun to admire the car. One of my older coworkers asked me to pop the hood one afternoon as I sat warming it up. I got out, opened it up and watched him look under the hood. After a few seconds, he said, “Are you gonna fix that exhaust leak?”
“What exhaust leak?”
“Right here. “ He pointed to the right side of the engine. “Put your hand there.” I put my hand there and felt the exhaust hit my hand. “There’s supposed to be an exhaust donut right here between the exhaust pipe and the exhaust manifold.”
On the way home, I called my brother. He said it’d be a relatively easy fix and we should just do it at his house some Saturday. Saturday rolled around and I pulled into my brother’s driveway. We got the car onto a couple of struts and crawled under the car. Not only was this the first time I’d been under the Galaxie. It was the first time I’d been under a car. I was enthralled.
We decided to do more than just work on the exhaust pipe. We checked fluid levels, checked and replaced the spark plugs, and while we were at the auto parts store, we bought a new air filter as well. Now it was time to deal with the exhaust pipe.
The exhaust pipe did not want to disconnect from the exhaust manifold. One of the two bolts was stripped and it wasn’t in the best angle to get at anyway. By the time we were done with it, one bolt was completely unusable and the other was stubbornly hanging on. We realized that in addition to the three dollar donut part, we were going to need some new bolts. The stripped bolt would neither loosen up enough to come off nor retighten. This was going to take tools and time we didn’t really have. My brother called a mechanic friend of his. He was out fishing, but could look at it Sunday. My brother found another bolt and we decided the best thing to do would be tighten the bolt on there and I’d bring it to his guy tomorrow.
We got the bolt tightened back on and I started up the car. My brother told me to rev it a couple times just to make sure everything was working. I hit the gas and suddenly my brother yelled, “TURN IT OFF!!!”
I turned the key and took it out of the ignition. It didn’t help. I could hear something splashing on the pavement. It turned out to be all of my water. A freeze plug had blown. My car had gone from loud but drivable to completely undrivable.
We laughed at our luck and then spent the next hour or so trying to find an auto parts store that hadn’t closed. We were not successful. We decided the best thing to do was to take it to my brother’s guy tomorrow and get it dealt with then.
My brother’s guy turned out to be a good guy, but the whole mechanic thing was sort of a weekend thing with him and he didn’t get it done on Sunday. So it was another week before I got my car back. My brother gave me a ride out to see the guy and pick up the car. He’d put the donut on with new bolts and replaced two freeze plugs. He’d checked the other freeze plugs and when he tapped on one with a screw driver, it blew out. He charged me $150 for his trouble and my car was back up and running.
The first thing I noticed was that as soon as I started it, it was back to that low hum it had before. It suddenly dawned on me that the morons I’d taken my car to a couple months earlier had probably just taken the donut off when they were replacing the gaskets and never bothered to put it back on. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that what they’d really done was put on some gaskets and then a bunch of things to make a guy who doesn’t know any better think they’d fixed up his car. The paint and the sound were just there to distract me from the fact that what they’d done probably shouldn’t have even cost half as much as I paid.
It turned out to be one of the last times I’d have my Galaxie at the mechanic’s shop. It was becoming clear to me that working on cars is just like working on websites or any other skill. If you don’t know how to do it, it seems complicated. Once you know what you’re doing, it’s fairly simple. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I was learning and I was smart enough to have people around me who knew more than me.
A few weeks later my car didn’t start. I called my brother over to help me troubleshoot it. He found that the starter was okay. We replaced the solenoid and the battery cables. This seemed to help. About a week later, I was having trouble getting it started again. My brother took a look at the battery. It had 425 cranking amps. My brother said, “Let me guess, you have trouble starting it on cold mornings.” I nodded. He said, “This isn’t the right battery for this car.”
I flashed back to the jerk at Napa who had told me I’d gotten a bad deal. The asshole had actually sold me the wrong battery. I wanted to go back and throw it at him. After making some calls, we went to a place my brother was familiar with called The Truck Shop. A hundred dollars later we had a truck battery that had 900 cranking amps at zero degrees.
We got back to the house and hooked the battery up. The Galaxie started instantly. There’ve been a few problems over the past few months, none of them major, but with the new battery, the car always turns over.
As fall turned into winter, I was afraid that something major might break on my car. I don’t have a garage and the weather is not always kind. It turned out though that I was right. The first year of owning a Classic Car is a learning experience and it’s expensive. The next year has so far been very good.
I check all the fluids at least once a week. I listen for uncommon noises. I put fuel cleaner in my gas tank every three or four tanks. I start it at least once a day. Old cars aren’t maintenance free, but that maintenance has its rewards. Every car I’ve owned before this was just a means to get from place to place. It could be any car in the world and if it got wrecked, I wouldn’t care once I got another car. When it comes to cars, my Galaxie is my first love. I don’t just drive to get from place to place. I drive to drive. When I’m driving my Galaxie, I don’t always need a destination.
Note: Thanks for sticking with me through this. When I got my car, I’d tried to find something on the net about the first year of owning a classic car and couldn’t find anything. I promised myself I’d write one for those who were interested. On another note, I’m planning on making some significant changes to this site. I hope you’ll stick around to see them. As always, you can write me at firstname.lastname@example.org .