The Equivalent of an Automotive Miracle

My very first car was a 1968 Ford Mustang my parents helped me purchase by furnishing all the cash. It was a sort of cream yellow hardtop with a black interior, powered by a straight six-cylinder engine attached to a manual three-speed transmission.

I learned to drive a manual in that car, and learned to love that car after I’d mastered its clutch. And it’s a good thing I learned to drive a stick shift, because, a few short years later and in a different car altogether (to the uninitiated, the operation of a manual transmission is baffling) I was able to teach my wife that skillset’s intricacies.

Like compression starting. While I never had to teach her that, it’s still a good thing I learned how to do it in the old Mustang.

Many years later, in 1999, I drew the duty of driving the first leg of our move from Cabo San Lucas to Lemon Cove. There were to be two drives, the second of which was to be made in a 1976 Volvo station wagon–which, again, my parents “helped” me with, and, I think, cost as much as the Mustang. But for that first drive, the vehicle of choice was our 1964 International Scout. We had bought it specifically for our time down there, and in May of that last year I set off north all alone.

Everything went like clockwork, with overnight stops in Loreto then Catavina, until, in the Sierra San Miguel just northwest of the latter, the brake pedal went flat on a mountain top. Luckily, the mountain top was flat, too, with a turnout in which I was only just able to wrestle the Scout to a stop. It turned out, though, that, in addition to having a brake fluid leak, the carburetor was leaking fuel and the engine would not start.

What to do? Hope for a compression start, naturally–and remain in second gear all the treacherous way downhill to El Rosario.

At this remove I mostly remember the old Mustang as quite a stalwart. It did not leak or burn oil and, back when I used attend college in Eureka, it easily handled the mountainous drive between there and the Bay Area. Thirty years ago the101 was not the wide highway it is today; there were stretches that were more glorified logging track than highway, and there was no searching for anywhere to pass, say, a slow truck.

It seems to me now that the old Mustang handled just about everything I threw at it–from learning how to drive it to driving it everywhere–but I’m probably reminiscing over fondly.

It did, literally, come to a grinding halt in the mountains north of Santa Cruz on Senior cut day in 1981 when the rear axle split at the differential. To be fair, I can’t remember how many people were in the car at the time–or even who, anymore–so to say it was overloaded is likely an understatement. Certainly not something that would fly today with our “click-it-or-ticket” seatbelt law.

And though it was pretty to look at, from the driver’s seat there were blind spots in the rear and the hood was a tad too long in terms of cresting a hill. It always seemed as if half the car had gone over before I myself ever got to the top.

Still, I loved that car and wish it was in the driveway today.

I remember, shortly after getting it, that it began to run hot. At first I was mystified because there was no discernible leaking or steaming off of the coolant. But as the overheating persisted, I was forced to investigate more fully. Nada.

Until one day I noticed–while the engine was running–a tiny drop of coolant ooze from the side of the block. Ruin!

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, a cracked block means the end of an engine.

Now, I don’t remember where I got this stuff, or even what it was called, but somehow I obtained a product that claimed to be able to fix such a predicament. And I don’t remember if it was my father who was skeptical while I was hopeful, or whether it was the other way around. I read the can and followed the instructions–something like: “Shake contents well and pour into radiator while engine is running.”

The instructions should also have said: “Then enjoy your car for so long as you have it.” Because that’s what I did. Whatever that stuff was–I recall it, vaguely, as metallic–it absolutely worked an automotive miracle. I never looked back.

Wouldn’t it be nice if my Republican friends could procure some kind of similar tonic for their nominee? Just imagine if, by pouring something down Donald Trump’s throat, they could cease his overheating and ooze.

It would be the equivalent of an automotive miracle.

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