The Cars They Are A-Changing

Right now, the guys I envy the most are the ones converting their cars over to fully electric. It’s a throwback to the 1930’s-1960’s when young men would get under the hoods of their cars and try to improve on what Detroit shipped them. But even in the 70’s and 80’s, when you had to, you could get into an engine and do what needed to be done.

Out walking the trail Sunday morning, I noticed the cars parked along Riverside and Eastern and at the Sky Galley at Lunken Field. They’re all front-wheel drives, with the odd Mustang or Charger running rear-wheel. Those cars, like the Neon I’ve driven for the past three years, aren’t very friendly to modification or do-it-yourself work. Even changing oil is a pain. And tune-ups?

Good luck with that. I no longer have the ratchets needed to get at the plugs in today’s engines. If I did, I’d still be driving my father’s 2000 Taurus.  Ziggins owns it now. Ziggins worked on cars in the 1990’s and still has some of the tools I can’t justify buying now.

Back in the eighties, when I was too broke to do anything but dream, I wanted very much to buy and restore an old muscle car. Likely a Plymouth or Dodge from the late sixties. One of my uncles swore by Chrysler (which he hasn’t really done since that idiotic merger with Benz), so I would have a lot of input on how to go about it and what parts I should have used. As it was, I spent most of the late eighties and very early nineties trying to keep really cheap beaters running.  And it wasn’t hard. Open the hood, and everything you needed to get at was there. If you had a four- or six-cylinder vehicle, so much the better. The sixes were some of the best engines to run and to work on. Chrysler’s inline six had a slanted block that put everything you could possibly work on right at your fingertips. It also had the advantage of blocking water from shorting out the electrical system.

The cars I least liked working on – and ironically the cars I like best these days – were Fords. Fords needed special transmission flood, put metal tubes in the way of fluid dipsticks, and leaked oil like sieves. Mind you, this was back in the days when Detroit somehow forgot how to build a proper car, from about 1973 through the early nineties.

Even the first foreign cars I owned – an old Datsun I bought off my ex-brother-in-law and a Toyota Corolla – were easy to work on. Both were built in the mid-eighties, the heyday of the Japanese car.  Now?

It’s hard to find anything. You can’t rig anything to work when it breaks because everything is computerized.

But the guys trying to get ahead of the electric curve, they’re the new hot rodders, the tinkerers. The technology is new, like it was early in the last century. Had I the money and the time, I’d probably be trying to convert the Neon.  Just for the helluvit.

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One thought on “The Cars They Are A-Changing

  1. I also cheer the home-brewers, but for once I’m cheering the factories even more; they’re shifting the paradigm from oil to silicon. No longer are the engines under the hood, they’re now inside the wheels themselves. Type-F transmission fluid? We don’t need no stinking transmissions!

    Granted, engineering under the hood to replace an old internal combustion engine with electric is an awesome improvement. It eliminates *most* of the oil usage, but not all, since you still need regular oil changes, and yes, transmission fluid and lubes. Hybrids are a half-hearted half-step; the best and worst of both worlds. (Well, okay, they haven’t tranmissions either.) But I’m seriously considering the factory purchase for the first time in decades: Plug-ins like the Teslas and Leafs.

    Oil can be replaced with vegetable products, or cleaner silicon lubes, creating drip-free environments when done right. But what’s really cool is that it’s not just carbon free enough for indoor use… it can even work in the vacuum of space like the lunar rover.

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