The Buick and the Whale Tail Mustang 5.0 - April, 2007

A clear and dry night coming up Highway 18 East Bound

It was after 10PM on a Saturday night and Band On The Run was playing through the iPod (yeah, remember those). Already shaking in rain the Riv has already bombed up the hill as only drivers who give into their impulse to get up the hill give into. 

By time the Highway 18/I-5 interchange had come up, I thought the adrenaline would have burned off but thanks to a late 80’s 5.0L Mustang (White) heard cackling and merging – and pulling hard exiting the off ramp to Highway 18 the fuse, apparently, was re-lit. 

It was irresistible and in an instant the torque-y Buick downshifted from 1600RPM and 65MPH to 3rd gear out of Overdrive. From a roll the Buick easily walked the Mustang and he took it as a personal affront, as well he should have. 

 
3.8L Gen II Huffer

The next light was too busy and both street racers knew it so we rolled a few blocks.

Finally, after having enough time to disable traction control for the coming launch, our cars rolled to a stop. 

I pre-loaded the transmission and got the supercharger into producing some boost as the light was about to turn. The Mustang turns out to be a manual transmission as I can hear the slight bog at the light. We launched hard, the Riv’s torque spinning the tires off the line and grabbing quickly thanks to the dry street. 

After the light there was a downhill bank. The cars are evenly matched handling wise, but the heavy throttle through the turn had both cars asking everything of their tires. Traffic loomed up ahead in my lane so I backed off the throttle, not wishing to ask anymore of the hot tires on my car. The Mustang was behind me a half-car length at least and this easing off gave him an opening to jump in front.The next light ahead had four cars in each lane so we both shut down. 

Always liked the lines of the Riviera
To stop at the light, even though I was light on the brakes, the ABS kicked in a bit. I guess slowing down from 70 even in dry might have some uneven wheel spin. The best thing about this ending was the thumb up from the Mustang driver. The second best thing was as we shut down and coasted, loping down the street, we passed two of Federal Way’s finest watching the streets on a Saturday night. My guilty conscience assumed they were waiting for us… but no. I guess the Rivira is pretty quiet.


Maybe they thought I was driving an old man’s car.

Summer of '93

Summer, 1993

I had just started a new full time job, freshly out of high school and attending community college. I was hired on at Denny's Chevron on 192nd and Benson Highway in Renton, WA. At this time I'd call myself about "shade tree" as far as hands on mechanics go but an above average understanding in things mechanically related.

My boss was "Wes" and working for him, there was nothin' that couldn't be done. What he lacked in tact and reading ability he made up for in wizard-like mechanic ability. He rebuilt Rochester Quadrajets ™ or Carter Aluminum Four Barrels (AFBs) hell, any carburetor in 45 minutes. If you have never seen, heard of or worked on a carb, look one up: They're complex.

Under Wes' tutelage I became not quite a master mechanic, but became an accomplished mechanic who was instilled with fearlessness that only true gear heads develop, minus taking classes. I went on to be the "Van Man" as vans are a pain in the royal ass to do tune ups on, generally. Their engines require contortions that Wes just wasn't gonna put up with, the lanky 20 year old me grudgingly knew when a van pulled up - Wes' eyes sparkled and he'd smile at me with his missing tooth prominently... I was gonna bleed.

My eye got better at knowing how much to bite off one Sunday. The shop was closed Sundays - I was working so that meant my '62 Chevy 2-DR street racer and classic was in the garage but it didn't need nuthin' done, minus friends and fellow weekend road warriors stopping by to talk shop or ask for a hand.

My 1962 Chevrolet Biscayne 2-Dr and a pal I sold it to.. waaaaaaaah!

And out of the blue, and rare for a Sunday, a guy called in from outta state and was desperate. He needed a new water pump on his Chevy Truck or he was stuck in Washington! Well, he may think he didn't want to be stuck here but I sure as heck wanted to help him get his California butt back to California.

"Shops Closed," I told him. But he was desperate.

He told me it was a V-8 and I thought, "oh hell, I can do that."

So I told him to bring it in and give me three hours. At that time I could swap a V8 water pump in 30-45 minutes if pressed so that'd be no sweat.

He walked in, handed me the keys and off he went!

I was confident. All the tools, great air powered stuff, lifts, disposal, anything you could want!

I pulled the truck in and popped the hood and dove in. Radiator and fans, pullies, etc off. And I see the water pump. It's odd lookin. It's a diesel!!

I had never done more than an oil change on a diesel motor - and a water pump on a diesel Chevy 350 is much more time consuming and involved than a gasoline Chevy V8.

But I was proud and fearless. Yeah, I was sweating now now, between the summer heat and the dawning realization of the task that I just bit off was more than I could chew.. and definitely above my pay grade. Due to my childhood I knew it was on me and there was no internet, no phone line and nobody home to help me.

I was alone at the gas station half way through a job on a Sunday. Real quiet. Only success or humiliation could result.

I got in my car, locked the place up (it was open 24/7), and bombed down to the auto parts store. I think I turned a 13.1 ET as I banged home top gear and the roller rockers on the hood of my 283 with 327 cranked hotted up motor responded to my needs and at the same time soothed me with its silky smooth power.

Long story short is I got it all together, test drove it, and it all ran fine. I only charged the guy what I quoted (about 1/3 a diesel job) and off he went. I lived weeks in some pretty deep anxiety waiting for the long distance phone call that I screwed something up.

And some nights, like tonight, I wonder where the truck is that I most certainly over torqued the bolts and Permatex Blacked™ the water pump back on to and smile. I'd bet $100 he never had another water pump problem. That's the Smith Quality Guarantee™!

This story popped back into my head as roughly two weeks ago I was woke from dead sleep to hear a V8 being broken in about 3AM. It was revved loud and long and there's only one man on the hill I can think of that'd have ability, balls and "I don't give a shit" attitude is Wes. I'd bet $100 it was him. There is a art to mechanics. Yes, it is technical but when you can hear every part moving, time your beast by laying your hands on the distributor - not unlike using the Force instead of the timing light - it is as close merging with a mechanical, non-biological entity that I've experienced. Including Cortana, Siri, or whatever half-assed assistants we're stuck with today.

I smile thinking that. But if it was just any dumb ass that woke me up with breaking a new camshaft in, miles and miles away with extended 5,000 rpm, uncorked exhaust revs, I wanna beat him.

Pulled off a Hail Mary Christmas mechanical miracle before? Tell me about it in the comment box!