Saving an abandoned Dodge
Laying around one lazy Sunday, I was scrolling through my phone on Instagram, and saw a pic and post from user carsinbarns. I read it, and it was about an old time junkyard that was selling off it's old stuff, and would soon be crushing whatever didn't sell. If you're a car guy/gal, you know the feeling those stories can stir inside, especially when they're far away. However, the universe aligned itself with me - and lo and behold, this yard was about 100 miles from me. I went to the link in the bio as the post instructed, which was a Craigslist ad.
That was on December 6, 2015. I texted my son in college who is in the next town over and asked if he would like to go - and we met up early the next day, Monday, December 07, 2015. We hit the bricks and went to the yard. Bringing back memories of my youth, when junkyards would actually let you in with untethered access - the workers pointed out the area in which to walk, and said adios....have fun. It was great. In total, from other visits, I snapped roughly 800 pictures - scroll down to the next blog if interested.
There were so many cars, and not enough time for me on that particular day, so I was rushed - and hence, it was easy to miss quite a bit. Regardless, for a dilapidated car addict like myself, it was as close to Heaven that some of us can get.
But the most important part of my treasure hunt, was while on my way out, my son was ahead waiting for me where he had found a 56 Desoto, thinking I would like it. Of course I did, but (and apologies to the Desoto), there was a wink of chrome that beckoned me just two cars over. Imagine when Bugs Bunny cross dresses for Elmer Fudds' attention - that was what it felt like...."Hey Doc...mmm, is there anything I can do for you?..."
I stopped dead in my tracks, my son, thinking he had done a good deed by finding the Desoto (you did Max), I focused my eyes like an Eagle on a mouse....is that....is that a.....is that a friggen 69 Dodge Polara 4 door sedan? I hurried to the location, not sure why I thought I should hurry, but I did.
I scurried past Max like a Zombie on Red Bull, and oh sh**. There it was. I couldn't believe it. I've been searching for a 69 Polara Plain Jane sedan for over 20 years, and here it was. Funny how the universe works. The day I added carsinbarns to my instagram, little did I know the directions it would web my life in someway months later. Certainly, I would not have known of this yard sale, or been standing in front of this beauty if not for that day. Nor would you be reading this. Hey wait, IS there anyone reading this? Eh.
Long story short - I was in love with this car, and had a tough time at home later in the evening just wondering and wondering and wondering. You know what I mean....when you find some item in your life that you just *must* have - and your mind just locks in on it - clouding any good judgment you have, and solidifying any impulsive purchasing practices.
I went back to the yard on December 10, 2015 with a friend. This time I brought a buck saw for the trees around the doors, as they had literally grown like prison bars, preventing them from opening. I hacked away at it, and after all that, only one door worked, the passenger front. I opened the door - sounds of trapped pasts echoed out into the open air, escaping. Things looked grim. Time here had taken a serious toll. Floors...eh...normal to rot away, but this was bad. Really bad. And not only was the underneath bad, the whole inside was just abhorably bad - even for an eternal optimist like me. There was this strange white powdery mildew that appeared to be flourishing and looked like a human brain; I was too afraid to even poke it with a stick. The rear end of the car was hard to see underneath, and it was doubtful that any of it's unit body sub frame was even in existence. If anything - I realized at that point, that no one on this earth would want this car. Even if it was a highly optioned car, it was toast.
Inside the car, was it's license plate, expired March of 1979. I noted the inspection sticker expired in 1980 and also there was a 1980 newspaper. Can you imagine in todays world junking a car that was only 10 years old?! It's not uncommon today to see 25 year old cars that look every bit as part of the modern landscape as something brand new.
When I discovered how poor structurally the condition the car was in - it was like this sudden and troubling darkness had befallen upon me. "Well, that's it", I said aloud, leaning against the roof and giving it a knock. I was keenly aware of the silence in this auto graveyard, where cars go to die. It seemed strange that yet another death for them waited.......the spooky shadow of the car crusher and bailer loomed in the distance - beckoning them for their final curtain call. There was nothing but silence and mind chatter mixing as I looked upon it's lines, imagining all the hope I had for it fading - coming to an effective close. It would be gone and crushed in a couple of weeks. I'm sorry friend. I tried. The thoughts of driving it to the ocean one day was now like dangling candy to a kid and ripping it away as they are about to taste it - gone. Thoughts of it being parked in my garage, having a home, and at least getting some attention, vanished. Of course, part of this negativity, was thinking about what others would think if I brought this home - the usual gamut of things I would hear from people. I'm no stranger to this at all: "What are you going to do with it?" "Oh, it's ugly" "Wouldn't catch me dead in that thing" "Why do you waste your money and time on these things?" "You'll never get it going" "It's a piece of shit" - and the most uttered....."ONLY YOU MICHAEL"......AD NAUSEUM.
So - despite the judgments I would likely receive in bringing this car home, plus the fact it had a spine as strong as a 90 year old man, I threw caution to the wind. I had to at least try. I wasn't going to let it go - if it could only stay in one piece. I walked back to the main office and made my announcement. The owner, Helen Gates, instructed a worker to ride out with me and tag the car - which he did, so it wouldn't get crushed.
I'll spare you my wordsmithing and give the sad ending now. When I went back to check on how the extraction went, I felt like my family had intervened to give me doomsday news. The only thing missing from the conversation was "Mike, you need to sit down." The Polara didn't make it. The subframe was literally non-existent, and when the front of the car was lifted, the whole thing bent in nearly two at the firewall. I went out to see it, and I felt sorry for it. I had such high hopes. I'm not even going to post a pic of it like that. I'd say Rest in Peace, but I suppose it already was, until my bright idea to yank it out to save it disrupted it's slumber. I gave it a tap on the fender.
But with any tragedy and pain, comes growth. Perhaps there is a lesson in all this. I continued to walk around the yard and snap pictures of everything I could for a couple of hours. On my way out, I glanced again at the Dodge, and thought I'd take the couple of extra steps to take a picture of a decrepit looking Nash Metropolitan at the edge of the field, just for the sake of it in the event someone else would be interested. When I got to it, I noticed what appeared to be even more cars within the trees - cars that I would have completely missed my first day. Indeed if not for the Polara pulling me in that direction, I wouldn't have been there on day one, and likely not now. But after looking at so many cars, and fighting trees, bushes, prickers etc., I didn't think it worth it to bother. I figured it would just be more smashed or rotted hulks of vehicles I wouldn't really have an interest in. I tried to get an idea what was there, and I wasn't seeing lines that I felt engaged enough to want to fight to get to. But still. What if? Screw it - I climbed over the Nash, then another half disintegrated Nash, over a Corvair, then over a totaled 68 Barracuda and found myself literally in the confines of a secret garden. Instead of flowers, I was surrounded by trees and old cars - not a soul could see me if they tried. It was a welcome break from pricker bushes, trees and jagged rust. I could hear two guys walking by, looking at cars to buy, reciting years, engine sizes etc. They had not a clue about this enchanted area, that didn't look like it had been touched in 20 years - and right at the entrance to this 3 row deep secret garden, was a black 64 Dodge 880.
Ohhhhhhh. And like a new puppy soothes pain from loss, I thought whoa....it's solid. And wow, the doors were actually closed. The hood was shut, not open like a gaping open mouth that fools never seem to shut at junkyards. The glass was all intact, and there appeared to be space between the undercarriage (unit body on these....risky) and ground. Okay, so the back bumper was wedged into an open trunk - but it still looked good. I opened the door - heyyyy, not bad, we have dry carpet. I slammed my foot onto the floor....THUD. It was still there. I open and closed the doors, Ka Chunk. I opened the trunk - and hey hey hey....it's still got a trunk floor. I opened up the hood and son of a gun, either a 361 or a 383....and every piece is there - and it was clean, and looked well maintained. I hand turned the fan/crank - andddddd.....crap - motor is stuck. Oh well - a couple of weeks and some Marvel Mystery oil down the cylinders- no problem. I liked it. And black too......yessss. Here are some pics:
Soooooo..........in death, comes life. The passing of the Polara, brings life to this 880. An elusive ghost car - hidden away for the last 30 years. Hidden in this fortress in the middle of an old time salvage yard, and now found (remember...this yard has not been open to the public like this for over 25 years). Ghost car? Not anymore, it's my Spirit car. Soon, it shall feel the bite of wind over it's hood, high atop a trailer on it's way home - the sound of tires rolling by at much higher speeds. Likewise, it shall once again hear the sounds of life. Of lawnmowers in the summer. Of motorcycles accelerating off in the distance. Of the pitter patter of rain and snow on the garage roof that covers it. Of a vacuum to clean it's interior. Of children playing in the neighborhood. And perhaps one day, the lapping of the beach sand by lunar pulled waves. Life. Oh! The possibilities are endless.
What did I do?
On December 16, 2015, I received a call from Mrs. Gates, the owner of Gates Auto Salvage, who informed me the Dodge had been exhumed from it's slumbering grave, and appeared to have fared well. She said it was actually a pretty solid car, and I could pick it up when it worked for me.
On December 18, 2015, I traveled to the junkyard to see how things went. When I got there, I went into the office to square things up - and told her I was the black Dodge guy. "Oh yes, the Dodge 880". I asked her if she was going to miss it (kiddingly), to which she shook her head back and forth and repeating "No no no no no no". Ha! Just the answer I was looking for - thus solidifying my weird notion that I should only acquire relics that nobody wants. She then gave me my receipt:
Aaron entered from another room and told me the car came out no problem - that he lifted it up into the air and the undercarriage was 'rock solid'. It was cold on this day, and spitting a wee bit of snow - the type that melts when it hits the ground, and I meandered my way out the vintage car section. I couldn't fit it at first, and went to where it had been parked these last 30 years.
Typical of me, I worried about the fate of the cars that to be moved in order to move the Dodge. I walked out into a clearing to the left of the photo above, and there she was.
Love. Things looked very manageable. Okay, so to the person with no vision, I realize they will instantly clue in on the wee bits of rust/rot in the usual places an old Chrysler suffers from. On this car, the worst portion of the car, besides the smushed right fender, is the under rockers and the right rear quarter - as well as rear bumper brackets. But whatever! I did notice that loading it would be a challenge, as the tie rods were busted - the left side of the car is turning right, and the right side of the car is turning left. But whatever! I couldn't care less! Whoop dee doo. Here are some pics:
So - for the first time in nearly 30 years, this 1964 Dodge 880 Custom felt movement. For the first time in nearly 30 years, it has a new 'owner' - a buddy....a home....a garage! Did you notice those bad boy dual exhaust tips? Mm Hmm. I suspect this thing is going to be a firecracker. I've got the 'pink slip' - this top of the line for 64 road bomb is all mine. I already feel powerful. Next phase, is going to be the incredible pain of getting this thing onto a trailer. Aaron Gates stated they would help get it on.
So.......To Be Continued.....