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Get your motor runnin'

I drove by an auto dealership today, and all the cars in front of the showroom had their hoods open and up, like mouths at the doctor saying "Ahhhhhh."

I have no idea why dealers do this. I think it's a throwback to the days when you could open an automobile hood and actually see the entire engine. When I was growing up, it was a ritual: a guy bought a car, he'd open the hood so his buddies could see the engine, and the guys would gather around the front and look at the engine. I mastered the enthusiastic "oh yeah!" and respectful "wow," even though I had no idea what I was looking at. No, that's not true. I could identify the air cleaner cover.

The extent of the rest of my automobile knowledge was that when my car started running rough, I had to take it out on the expressway and floor it long enough to "burn the gunk out of it." That's in quotation marks because it's a technical term. I always wondered how a state trooper would react: "Did you know you were doing 92 miles an hour?" "Yes I did, sir. The car was running rough and I needed to burn the gunk out of it."

Oh, and if a car ran out of gas, I knew enough to put gas in the tank somehow and save a little to pour in the carburetor so the car would start. Yeah, I could actually find the carburetor too. I'd forgotten about that.

These days, you open the hood and the engine compartment is jammed with all sorts of things that, truth be told, I have no idea what they are. Compressors for power this and power that, emissions control equipment—who knows what else is under there. When I open the hood of my wife's vehicle, it takes me two minutes to find the reservoir that holds the windshield wiper fluid. That's after it takes me two minutes to figure out how to open the hood.

I wish I knew enough about old cars that I could fix them. I'd love to get a car from the early '60s with huge Space Age-inspired fins in the back—an old Cadillac, ideally, but lots of cars of that vintage had fins. We'll see one parked along the road for sale sometimes, and I'll say to Sherry, "I want to buy that car." And she says, "You can buy it once you learn how to fix it." Stops the conversation every time.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 22nd, 2010 03:33 am (UTC)
I was just thinking today about how little I know about cars. Of course, as things like that get more complex, there are fewer opportunities (like shop class, etc.) for my generation to learn about them.

But it's good to see someone just a couple years older who doesn't know a heck of a lot more than I do about cars.
May. 22nd, 2010 02:09 pm (UTC)
Cars these days are almost impossible for the shade-tree mechanic to work on, thanks to all the emissions-control technology.
May. 22nd, 2010 12:53 pm (UTC)
I giggled reading this post. My brother had an old Galaxy that was huge and held together by spit and determination. One especially good repair I recall was the use of an empty soup can to somehow hold up the exhaust pipe.

My husband wants on old 60's era bus - your Sherry speaks the truth...
May. 22nd, 2010 02:10 pm (UTC)
A lot of those old cars were the size of aircraft carriers, weren't they?
May. 22nd, 2010 02:47 pm (UTC)
Indeed! I drove an old Pinto at that same time. I recall going to a junk yard with him, getting a new door for the Pinto. The door fit flat inside the trunk of the Galaxy!

Now I drive an old Volvo wagon that is so complex it has to be hooked up to a computer before the mechanic can sort out the issue.

I love this old V70 - it's a brick, accelerates like it's chained to the front lawn, not even a little bit sexy - and PERFECT for my teen age male driver... :)

In my alternate universe I drive an old fastback Mustang. One day...perhaps.
May. 22nd, 2010 03:02 pm (UTC)
That's funny descriptive stuff about the V70. Volvos were cool cars until they fell into Ford's clutches. Same thing happened with Saab and GM. Both used to be a little idiosyncratic, but in charming ways. The Americans ironed all of those wrinkles out.

I love those old 'Stangs, but as Nick Nolte says to Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours, "I'm a ragtop man." Or a pickup truck, depending on the circumstances.

May. 23rd, 2010 01:36 pm (UTC)
She's a wise one, she is.
May. 23rd, 2010 02:45 pm (UTC)
Except for that one lapse in the spring of 1980.
May. 23rd, 2010 03:58 pm (UTC)
I could say something smart-ass, like "Nobody's perfect" but that's not really how I feel. You both made a wise choice that day.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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