Sometimes the best way to get a project going is to remove


Matthew Litwin

History has a habit of repeating itself. Maybe not down to the finite details from one event to the next, but close enough. I know this from my own experiences as a vintage-car owner, which means you probably know where this story is going: Nowhere.

Like others before me, I had been justly sentenced to garage purgatory. My failed self-defense excuse was as common as “my dog ate my homework,” except that it had a more mature connotation in the guise of “life took precedence.” It’s a broad yet true statement, but it means one must be proactive with time management. In my case, I was guilty of failing to spend not even an hour a week addressing an anti-cruising malady. To explain, let me backtrack and paint a picture from exactly two years ago.

Many may recall that fellow editor David Conwill and I attempted to revive a Hemmings editorial staff version of “garage nights,” with the exorcism of an electrical gremlin that had taken residence in my 1961 Buick Invicta a few years prior. On that night, intentions were good, ambitions were high, and we were armed with tools, manuals, and knowledge to solve the problem quickly.

Lesson One for any novice: Never assume anything will go “quickly” within a garage. The notion of starting the 401-cu.in. Wildcat V-8 — in order to properly diagnose a copious flow of voltage, or in this case, lack thereof— noisily became Preliminary Project A (PPA). Cranking the big V-8 repeatedly proved useless, until we spent time clearing the fuel line of debris and coaxing the Rochester carburetor’s floats back to life.

Lesson Two: Solving one problem to correct another can lead to a new issue. Although we solved PPA, it initiated Problem Two. Habitually stepping on the brake, while attempting to start the Buick, forced the aging main front-to-rear hydraulic line to erupt like Mount St. Helens; the master cylinder’s contents unceremoniously discharged onto the garage floor in less than a second. Later, as we stood in a shallow lake of DOT 3 fluid, the Buick’s malfunctioning generator continued to taunt us. I thought I heard the haunting laugh of Vincent Price echo from the nearby mountain. We called it a night, neither of us aware this was when history would repeat itself.

Further attempts at automotive resurrection stalled. Though the thought perpetuated, schedules conflicted, and by spring I had regressed into a deflated state of mechanical limbo. A summer of car shows and cruising weather began its steady march. Fall turned to winter. The spring thaw was tumultuous, and as another summer ebbed into the past, my friends’ subtle-but-unending questions pertaining to my car’s status became a full-fledged inquisition.

Surrounded by other interests that consume part of my private life, I was bracing for another winter of stagnant progress. The future looked bleak; another chapter added to the half decade of mechanical misery—a story going nowhere. That is, until those same friends, Ken and Dave, heard enough and hatched a proactive plan to reverse the automotive mess I have been wallowing in, before it was too late.

After returning from Hershey, they arrived on a damp afternoon with trailer hitched to truck. The idea was to start the Invicta and drive it— albeit carefully—to their waiting trailer, whereupon an electric winch would guide it aboard for safe transit to their shop, where they would affect all the necessary repairs before spring. Like a bad horror movie, though, the engine wouldn’t start. They weren’t going to leave without the Buick, so we pushed the car out of the rear bay, around a corner, through a temporary carport, to the trailer.

With its rescue came immediate progress. Fluid levels have been topped off, a new fuel pump has been installed, and the fuel line from the pump to the carburetor has been purged of contaminants. Fueled by fresh gas, the big V-8 starts in an instant and purrs like it did when new. As I type, the generator and voltage regulator have been sent to specialists for examination, and a complete brake job is next on the list—a task that I’ve always enjoyed tackling.

My release from garage purgatory is underway, but it’s far from complete. As I’m sure many can attest, help from friends like Dave, Ken, and David is always a welcomed blessing, but you’re never truly liberated from limbo until you contribute to the effort, especially when the calamity was your own fault.

It’s going to be a bright 2020.


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