Saturday, September 16, 2006

She's Baack

I need my own tanker truck now

Part One of a long damned story:



Last week I took a road trip from Mobile to Fort Worth and back. Of the 38 hours I was gone, I spent 20 on the road; the result was worth the trip.

Before I launch into the fiasco that retrieving my prized '68 Oldsmobile Toronado turned into (in a later, soon-to-be-posted entry), a wee bit of back history:

In July 2002 I came home from Texas on leave to spend a couple of weeks with my father, who by then had survived four years of liver and pancreatic cancer. Whether he was bored sitting at home or felt that his luck and time were running out (which they were, but he spent another agonizing year and a half before the disease claimed him), he had come up with a cracked notion of taking a road trip to buy an Oldsmobile Toronado. After poring through months of Car Trader ads, he had settled on two candidates, both 1968 models-- a black Toro in New Jersey and a bronze one in north Alabama.

I was concerned about the effect a four- to five-day trip to NJ would have on him and persuaded him to take the shorter trip to Huntsville, about a six-hour drive from here. We contacted the owner, looked at the car, took it on a brief test drive, and fell in love with it. Six thousand dollars and one day later, we convoyed home, in a 12-hour ordeal drawn out by rest stops for an enervated cancer patient, a thermostat replacement in Chilton county, a slew of near-overheats, and a bevy of driver changes between the beater Civic we drove up north and our new pride and joy. Five miles from home the radiator split a seam, and we made it home by the skin of our teeth trailing a fine spray of coolant. Within a few days we had a new radiator core, but the shakedown cruise home had revealed a small number of problems that required immediate attention.

Loose, badly grounded wiring behind the fuse block.
Inoperable fuel gauge and speedometer.
Leaking power steering hoses.
Touch-and-go driver's side power window, stuck up in fair weather and down in bad, as luck and Mr. Murphy (of Murphy's Law fame) would have it.

Noted problems aside, the car also excellent qualities to make the initial gremlins worth fixing.

A powerful, torque-churning, drum-tight 455 CID engine rated at 375 HP and 510 pound-feet of torque.

Pristine body and interior, except for decayed weather stripping and a shocking number of body rattles.


I returned to Texas, and Dad had free run of the car for as long as he could drive it. The crazy bastard, in his condition, would take his cancer-racked body out in all weathers working on the Toronado; he would often launch on repair projects that petered out and were left to me to repair whenever I was home on leave, but I was always glad to do so. As many things as he messed up or left incomplete, he immensely enjoyed tinkering around with and driving the car. It wasn't until August 2003 and he was no longer able to drive that he signed the car over to me. Even then, I would still let him drive; it kept his morale up as his body shut down on him over the course of his last 18 months, and in spite of the medicoes' warnings, I let him take the wheel as long as he felt up to it, although with supervision.

This all being said, I have gone through the enormous expense of towing this car home from Texas on account of him, and I am about to rebuild its now-stricken engine (I burned up the #7 piston running the car on pump gas.) The Toronado was his car, pretty much all he had left at the time of his death; before anyone asks, it is not for sale. And that, my friends, is not negotiable.

More to follow....

1 comment:

Everyman said...

Man, what a car! a true Classic, somewhat overlooked. My uncle had one, changed his life. He started wearing scarves and Racing gloves. He was 65 in '68.
After what it did for your Dad I'm sure it ranks special and to paraphrase Jimmy Stewart
in "Winchester '73"..."The cars not for sale". steve