I grew up with trucks. My father owned 3 of them over many years. A 1978 Ford F100…
I remember the long shifter, the foot activated high beams, and most of all the tube through the firewall into the carburetor where he’d spray starting fluid on days when it was tough to start. Yeah… love the man, but after seeing the same fix on his last ride-on, I threatened to steal his Craftsman if I saw it again… but I digress.
My earliest happy memories were in that truck, driving to Franklin, NJ for bagels as he sang “You are my sunshine” in that gravelly deep voice toned by decades of non-filtered Pall Mall and Chesterfield cigarettes. Then there was his 1985 Chevy S10…
The S10 was a mid size pickup with an Isuzu 4-cylinder engine that my father raved about. The rest of the truck slowly fell apart around that motor. If you’d ever driven around Warwick, NY and saw one of these with a big, black oak bumper on the back – that was my Dad. He’d been rear-ended by a small Pontiac, her car was trashed, and his bumper was twisted beyond repair. His solution? A big slab of Oak from Conklin’s. He wired it for lights, added a good coating of varnish, and mounted it to the S10. Nobody ever rear-ended that thing again.
One thing I always loved about trucks was the utlity of it. Any time we went camping with the Boy Scouts, there was the S10 ready for duty. One year my Dad even built an A-Frame for it that he assembled at the camp-site, so we slept in the bed of the truck with much more room than your standard pup tent. The next morning I’m pretty sure we got stuck in the med, but I’m pretty sure the term Glamping was invented in an old Chevy on Iona Island in the late 80s.
Lastly, there was his 1994 Ford Ranger. That’s where I learned to drive manual.
One day at work, this was after the Chrysler Concorde, he asked if I wanted to learn. I can’t recall the exact words he used, but it was along the lines of “Put it in gear, and slowly lift the clutch until it starts moving. If the engine sounds like its going to stall, give it gas. If it starts to take off, ease off the gas. Pretend there’s an egg under your foot and you don’t want to break it.” Simple instructions that have served me well over the years.
I made a crack in that caption about A/C. Local dealership sold my Dad the truck, salesman told him it had A/C. Bought it thinking it had A/C, was probably autumn or winter so it was cold enough. Spring and summer came along, the truck just wouldn’t get cold. Turned out that no, the truck had no A/C. Window sticker had no A/C. My dad took them to court, paperwork was on their side, the salesman lied (they all lie). In the end, he got the A/C installed afterwards, and I always made sure to double check every sales claim before I dropped the cash. Lesson learned.
So I’ve got my trusty GTI, but I want a truck. Turns out, friend of a friend has this old ’89 Silverado for sale. She picked it up for $1k from a local dealership (same one I got kicked out of for haggling too well). Now when she bought this thing, the suspension was BLOWN. When I say blown, I mean you could rest your hand on the hood of the truck, and push down with as much force as you would use to say…close the trunk on your car.
Tires were bald. Seats were shredded. Headliner was sagging. Exhaust was leaking (we’ll get there later). Cab corners were rusted out (common Chevy thing back then). It was an absolute heap with maybe 150k on the odometer, but the engine seemed strong enough, and it shifted well. I handed over $1000 and brought it home.
In short order, I replaced the suspension with the help of my cousin, resolved my headaches and odor of exhaust by replacing everything from the cat back at the local Monroe. The front CV joints were also shot, I had Pro Automotive replace those. Everything else was working quite well overall, and it was an absolute tank in the winter.
You might notice the VT sticker on my VW, that reminds me WHY I bought the Chevy. I was buying a house with my fiancee, and a truck would be handy… Then I was dumped. On Valentines Day. By my fiancee. The day before we closed on our house. So originally, I bought it for utility. Then after everything went to crap in my life, I held onto it. I had happy memories of trucks, I wanted a truck, and turning a wrench has always been a healing practice for me. I would do a lot of healing with this truck.
Now between meeting my ex-wife, and getting dumped by my ex-fiancee, there were the VW and the Chevy in my driveway. I was headed into NJ with my girlfriend at the time when the engine started ticking LOUDLY and it didn’t seem to have the same level of power. I brought it home and started looking for a new engine. The two main options were Jasper or a GM crate. Jasper sells remanufactured (used) engines and there was a hit or miss opinion of them online. GM crate (brand new engine made by GM) cost more, but also had a very generous warranty. I reached out to a good friend who sold auto parts for a living, and he hooked me up.
The only thing that followed from the old motor was the distributor and intake manifold. I picked up all new accessories including exhaust headers. We also made a point to detail the engine bay…
Over the course of a few months, my cousin taught me how to swap an engine, detail a vehicle, strip the engine bay, paint and restore it… New fender wells, new bushings, all the bare metal media blasted and restored. It was absolutely beautiful. It also had its terrifying moments. While working on the truck, I was constantly raising and lowering it on the lift.
Anyhow, I’m under the truck, can’t recall what I was doing exactly, but I had just raised it back up. I hear a loud BANG behind me, the entire truck lurches upward in front, and I dive out of the way, probably cleared 10 feet. The high school baseball coach who judged me as lacking with my jumping ability would have been impressed. Turned out the passenger side rear pad on the two post lift had slipped off the rear leaf spring knuckle. The truck thankfully didn’t drop, and I was able to safely lower it and reposition the lift pads. Every day after? My shit goes up on jack stands. I’m not counting on a second chance.
Eventually everything got bolted down and it was ready to drive her home. I start her up, get down the steep driveway to the road, hit the gas, and it stalls. I start it again, ease onto the gas, and it stalls. Crap. My cousin (the greatest mechanical genius I’ve ever known) quickly figures out that the timing is off. We get it back into the garage, advance it until the engine is running smoothly (albeit quickly) and alas, it’s able to drive. Still, something is off here. So I do a little Google detective work and it turns out to set the timing on one of these, you need to disconnect the distributor from the computer, set the timing, then reconnect it. Previously we just set the timing, so the computer compensation would stall it out. Easy enough fix.
So on the outside, besides the custom wheels and tires, the truck looked like a beat up old Chevy. Under the hood? Absolutely pristine.
Oh yea, the turn signals were new, and I’d attached the headlights with molex connectors from computer power supplies. We worked our ass off on this truck. It ran great, looked great, I loved it.
Then I needed money.
VW wasn’t paid off yet. Goodbye truck. I miss that truck to this day. Wedding rings don’t buy themselves though…