After a solid 3 years driving my old Plymouth, I felt I was ready for something nicer, something quicker, something without over 200k miles on the odometer. Back then we had a family dealership we bought all our cars from. Stanley Chrysler Plymouth in Warwick, NY. Right now it’s still a dealership / garage, albeit one I got kicked out of the last time I tried buying a car there.
Now at the time, I wasn’t set on a car, I actually wanted a truck. I’d been saving money from my job so that I had a down payment that’d cover roughly 1/4 of the 1998 Chevy S10 flareside with a Vortec V6. The dealer (Country Chevy) had a black extended cab in stock for $20k brand new. So I pull in with my jalopy (my first ever dealership walk-in), and look for someone to help. No immediate bites.
Finally Dan waves me over. He’s on the phone. What happened next is why I cheered when Country Chevy closed for good. I tell him I’d like to check out the truck I mentioned earlier, and ask for a test drive. He’s still on the phone, half paying attention to me. Finally he gets off the phone, looks up the truck, then tells me he has another S10 coming in later, silver with magenta trim, regular cab, 4-cylinder. Not what I wanted. I explain that to him, he suggests I come back later with my dad.
K. I’m 18, making a decent wage, literally had a WAD of cash in my pocket. This guy royally pissed me off. I got up and left, just walked out without saying a word. So I go home, and write an email to Sylvio Pettruci (the owner) about what happened. I get an apology back, and an invite to return. The day I plan on doing so, I see ‘ol Dan walking over to the Sunoco. He sees me in my jalopy, points, and laughs. Ok, I’m done.
I head over to the dealer my family used for years and see what is on the lot. My first choice? A Ford Taurus with a V6. A good friend of mine swore by the things so I decided to check it out. Alas, it was blocked in. What was it blocked in by?
The owner handed me the keys and let me take her out. 214hp. Sport suspension. Leather interior. Bigger, faster, and better handling than the Plymouth. I was in love. A quick negotiation, my down payment, and I was on my way. Yes – I did stop by Country Chevy to thank Dan for suggesting I take my business elsewhere…. I’ve mellowed with age, I swear.
The very night I got the car, my friends and I all piled in and tore up to Middletown at unmentionable speeds. The thing was FAST. I never controlled power like that before. On the way back, they said I was going to miss a turn. Without slowing I cut the wheel. The car cornered like it was on rails. Pretty sure I gave my guardian angels a real workout that night.
Within 2 months of owning the car, the front right fender was torn off by a passing landscaping trailer. Despite the fact I was stopped and the trailer was over-width, town of Wallkill PD still put me at fault. Queue increased insurance rates for 39 months! Also learned that not all body shops are the same, as the one who repaired the car did a decent job at first – a year later as the paint was fading… not so much. Also someone crushed part of my rear quarter panel and left the scene while the car was parked in the Grand Union (now CVS) parking lot in Warwick, NY.
Now the downside to a big, fast car is that the way I drove – things like brakes and tires wore out quickly. I think it had 16″ wheels and tires, sport compound, so generally I’d be dropping near $800 for new tires. Over the course of roughly 100k miles of ownership, I can’t recall how many sets of brakes and tires I went through, and roughly I went through front brakes twice as often as rears. At this point in my life, doing my own brakes was verboten magic.
Some of the first things I did to the car (mods, if you will) – tinted glass, loud stereo, bass cabinet in the trunk, cat-back exhaust, remote start, those headlight blackout things, and high output fog lights. Remember when I set my Plymouth on fire? Yeah, I should have kept that in mind when I installed higher wattage bulbs in my fog lamps to accommodate my blacked out headlights. No fire this time, but it DID melt the multi-function switch on the steering column. Whoops. I tell you that car sounded fantastic at wide open throttle. The only thing besides steel pipe hooked up to the engine’s exhaust was the catalytic converter. I also had 12″ subwoofers in the trunk for some real thump. I tell you, teenage me was the coolest broke kid in the neighborhood!
That remote starter was fun to install. 40 year old me wouldn’t have had the patience that 18 year old me possessed. It involved installing a small box the size of an eyeglass case, carefully splicing wires into the factory harness, and hoping that when all was done the car didn’t turn into a fireball. I probably spent about 6 hour taking the dashboard apart and trying to reversibly splice into the connectors. I pulled it off, and in the winter having a warm car waiting for me was a beautiful thing.
Did I mention tinted glass? First car I ever tinted was my Plymouth. It looked great, but before the advent of backup cameras, made backing the car up at night very stressful. It was also fairly illegal but generally speaking as long as you’re not driving a beat up Honda – nobody’s going to pay attention to a nice looking car with tinted windows… or so I thought. I’m heading back from Palisades mall with a group of friends, driving through Sterling Forest (because the twisties between Sterling & Greenwood lake are great if you have a well handling car)… Of course, we all see and point out the speed trap by the Ren Faire area. As I’m looking to see if he’s pulled out, he nails my drivers side mirror with the spotlight, I panic and cut hard right to pull over. I didn’t notice but I missed a telephone pole by an inch or two.
So the officer comes to the window, glass tester in hand, and he’s asking why I pulled over like I did, pointing out I nearly hit the phone pole. I explain that it was a reflex after I got blinded by his spotlight (which lit up before his emergency lights). He tested the glass, told me it was illegal, but let me go – likely concerned that if I pointed out how I was stopped with 4 other folks, blinded and nearly run into a telephone pole… might not look good. Of course, being a teenage driver – driving late at night back then – I always had issues with police. The most common thing they’d do back then is tailgate a young driver so that they’d speed up. Once they speed up – boom – you’re pulled over and likely getting a ticket. One time in West Milford, there’s this two lane uphill stretch, I saw the WM cruiser coming so I set my cruise control to 35mph. Still, he sat at my rear quarter panel in the hopes I’d give it a little gas. No luck. That leads me to another interaction I had.
Remember my friend with the fireworks and Pontiac? Well we’d just dropped a friend off at their car in Vernon, NJ around 2am. No sooner did we leave the parking lot than a Vernon cruiser was so close to my rear bumper I could read the officers badge number in my rear view. I signal right, and immediately pull into a bank parking lot and stop. Seriously caught the guy off guard. He pulled in as well, turned on his spotlight, and parked next to me. In my hot-headed 19 year old mind – what I said next made my buddy nearly require his brown pants.
Officer: Why did you pull over?!
Me: I was being tailgated! That’s what I do when someone is tailgating me! I pull over!
Buddy: (seeing how pissed off I am) SAMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!
Officer: Where were you coming from!?
Me: You know where I was coming from! You jumped on my ass 2 seconds after I pulled out of the lot!
Officer: Were you there two hours ago?
Me: Yes! We went to a diner!
Officer: Where are you going now!
I was *HOT*. After I shouted at him that i was going home, he shut off his light and left. That’s something I always did in my early years of driving though, I pulled over. If someone was on my rear end, I didn’t brake check, I pulled aside (or outran them, as I was of course – young and stupid).
Speaking of – again I’m in West Milford, at the other end. Rainy night, heading out to Route 23. I catch up to a Dodge Ram doing 35-40mph in a 50mph zone. Back then that was a mortal sin to me. Nothing bothered me more. So I go to pull out and pass. He speeds up. I finally pass him well over the speed limit and start to slow down. Suddenly the driver who thought 40mph was too fast was on my rear bumper at about 55-60mph. Fine by me, there’s a curve coming up. I start to slowly speed up so he stays on my rear bumper. I take the curve at… a speed his truck couldn’t. I see him slam on the brakes and come to a dead stop, and don’t see him again.
So as the car crossed 100k miles on the odometer, things started to break. I wasn’t rolling in dough either, so I made an effort to repair what I could. Now keep in mind here, I still hadn’t done a brake job yet. That was too difficult. The first task I undertook? Timing belt. I the stock belt in the car was rumored to last about 105k miles, and as my father already lost one on his ’93 Concorde, I didn’t want to wind up stranded if it let go. The belt itself cost about $100 at the time, and according to what I read online it was a 2-3 hour job to complete. The top mechanic at the family dealer gave me a hint on how to speed things up..
Over the course of 4 or 5 hours, I’d removed the radiator fans, timing belt cover, timing belt, installed the new timing belt, set the timing, put it all back together and…. the timing was off. Now in plain English, the timing belt controls when the engine is inhaling fuel and air, when it is exhaling exhaust, and when that lines up with the spark plug firing to ignite the fuel/air mix. If the timing is off – the engine will not run correctly, if it runs at all. In my case, the timing was off just enough that the engine ran, but I knew there was a problem immediately as my mpg dropped to single digits and I could smell unburned gasoline in the exhaust. 3 hours later, all fixed.
The next repair I had to complete so my car would pass inspection. A week before, the dreaded Check Engine Light illuminated, the error code indicated that the PCV valve (part of the emissions system) was bad. This valve was hidden deep behind the engine, in a very crowded 6 inch gap between the rear of the engine block and the firewall. Still, I was bent on completing this repair. So there I was, hood up in dark 25F temperatures, physically kneeling on the intake manifold (my full body was under the hood and ON the engine). I think it took about an hour, and a full set of shredded knuckles, but the PCV was swapped and my car passed inspection.
Now up until this point, I wasn’t really the type to feather the throttle. When I needed to move, I hit the gas. When I needed to stop, I hit the brakes. The boss at my 2nd job gave me some paradigm shifting advice that nobody had shared before. If I ease onto the gas, my mileage will improve. It did, I went from a slot250 miles per tank to over 350 miles per tank. Not to mention, going easier on my brakes kept me from having to replace them as often. Learning to properly corner (from a video game, Gran Turismo to be exact) – slowed down the rate at which I went through tires.
Something else I learned from video games, how to properly steer into a skid. One time speeding along on some back roads when the rear end caught some gravel and the car started to come around. Instinctively I steered into the skid and quickly regained control. Both my gf and I looked at each other ‘did that just happen?’ Video games people. Love them. I also pulled a 360 once in that car. Driving through Harriman State Park (great driving road btw, just don’t get caught speeding) – about a half inch of snow on the road, I’m doing 15-20mph, and coming around a curve where one side is a rock wall and the other is the reservoir… The rear of the car comes around. I was along for the ride this time, as the rear end swung 180 degrees and hit the snow bank on my side of the road, the momentum (and steering into the skid) managed to get the car spun 360 degrees driving along like nothing had happened.
My first recall was a fun one. One day I’m driving the car, and I start to smell gasoline through the vents. Turned out the rubber o-rings on the fuel rails (metal tubes on the engine that deliver fuel to the fuel injectors) were defective. A recall just came out that week, but it hadn’t reached the dealer yet. The dealer wanted to charge me for the repair. Thanks to allpar.com, I got the recall number and was able to get the dealer to fix it for free.
Now the last time I got tires on the car, the shop (which is now long out of business, thank goodness) – managed to MELT my wheel. No offer to repair or replace it. Just a “well, if a lug gets stuck we use heat, sorry about your wheel.” A replacement cost $500, and none of the nearby junk yards had any, so I ran around on 4 lugs until i sold it. Also, the intake manifold gasket was leaking. that lead to a telltale “hiss” on acceleration. I’d already been nailed with a $300 charge to replace the automatic climate control console… so with the car paid off and me frustrated with having to fix things, I decided it was time to move on. Hindsight being 20/20, I should have kept the car. I’m sure with some basic repairs – I could have easily gotten another 50 to 100k miles out of it.
Instead, with a wad of cash burning a hole in my pocket I moved on… to a Dodge Neon (aka don’t let hormones decide your next vehicle purchase).