This is a continuation thread of my "First Model T story" thread. I mentioned the above-named story in that and several folks asked me to post the story, I didn't want it to get lost in that thread
as I happen to think its darn funny (now). It doesn't involve a Model T but it is a Ford product. If this is inappropriate, please delete the thread or let me know.
Anyhow, here it goes.
Like most teenagers, I was ready for my own piece of automobile-based freedom years before I actually qualified for a driver’s license. I plotted on how to afford a new Saturn SC2 as they were just about the coolest things on the road to me (I had lost an early girlfriend when she moved to Tennessee after her dad got a job at Saturn… my psyche said they had to be great cars for that to happen). Very little of my planning actually involved getting a real job, saving money, or doing anything reasonable to procure a car; it was mostly what music I would listen to while driving.
Once I was finally of driving age, the lack of planning became a real obstacle to automotive ecstasy.. The problem, of course, was of a pecuniary nature, namely that I had little to no money with which to buy a car let alone put gas in the tank. I had a job sweeping floors at a barber shop on Saturday mornings and worked at the Latchkey program for the school district, playing basketball with kids whose parents worked late. It paid pretty well for the work but not what you would call “buy a car money”. Like so many teens before me I begged my parents to help.
“I’ll get a real job and pay you back”, I pleaded. No dice.
“I’ll be really safe, I won’t do anything dangerous I swear”. My pleas fell on deaf ears.
“I’ve got $500, can’t you at least match it if I just buy whatever you tell me I have to?”. The dam was breaking, I could feel it. I just needed one more line, the killer blow that would finally end the contest and reward me with my car.
“Aunt Janelle has her old Ford Tempo, she’ll let me have it for next to nothing”. The words just slipped out. And so it was, with that statement made in haste, without thought of consequence, that the automotive Rubicon was crossed. There was no turning away from the situation I had put myself in with those fateful words. For though I wanted a car desperately, nothing prepared me for the… thing… that would soon be mine.
The 1990 Ford Tempo, by virtue of being more than 25 years old, is now considered an “antique” by the premier collector car club in this country, the Antique Automobile Club of America, and is welcome on show fields around the country. “Antique” is usually intended as a positive adjective, a word used to indicate that the object in question is durable enough to last the test of time and is worthy of having been preserved. Neither of those statements applied to the ghastly once-white monstrosity that was registered in my name soon thereafter.
As with most of the light colored Ford products of the 90s, the white paint was peeling off in large sheets. The spots no longer covered in paint had rusted through or nearly through. The hood was especially bad; the rust holes actually whistled at speed… “speed” being a polite euphemism for what the meager 2.3-liter engine could achieve. It could just about hit 70 on the highway if you had a 15 miles-per-hour tailwind or were descending a steep enough grade. The transmission slipped like a smartphone user walking on a sidewalk covered in patches of ice. It used an astonishing amount of oil, achieving perhaps 50 miles to the quart, though it was surprisingly fuel efficient (a fact I attribute now to the rust-based weight loss). The brakes worked ok.
By all measures and in any sane person’s eyes, it was a bad car. It ran poorly and looked worse. It smelled weird because it had sat unused for a long period of time. But it was mine and, in lovestruck (read insane) teenage eyes, it was perfect. Though my love for the car burned brightly at first, ultimately it was the car itself that would burn, a fire which may or may not have been my fault (it was my fault). Until the fateful day it never left me stranded, something that could not be said of nearly any other vehicle in my history. It did earn me more than my fair share of mockery from kids at school. Only my friend Thad’s Pontiac 6000LE (which is pronounced “Ghoulie” for the uninitiated...) was uglier and everyone in the high school parking lot made sure I knew that.
I drove the car to school for about six months, through a Michigan winter with minimal heat, and into the onset of spring. It was almost as if every problem a car could have existed simultaneously and in harmony, somehow canceling each other out and making an otherwise heap of a car driveable. And driveable it was, at least until one Thursday morning in April. The car started that morning as normal but, within a mile of the house, it developed a new noise, audible over the many other noises. It was a particularly terrible rasp, usually indicative of either a grizzly bear with a sinus infection or an exhaust leak. Being a teenager and figuring that the bear population was far away from mid-Michigan this time of year, I turned up the radio and continued on.
This was a fine but ultimately temporary solution which lasted until I got about two miles from school. The rusted exhaust pipe finally let go completely and the carcass of the muffler was unceremoniously dropped to the pavement, making a loud grinding noise that even a 17 year old listening to Metallica at great volume couldn’t ignore. Late to school already, I had to try to figure out a way to at least get to the parking lot.
I assessed my options. I didn’t have a cell phone so calling for help was tricky. I didn’t have a spare exhaust pipe, clamps, or even bailing wire to hang the muffler away from the pavement. I did have a roll of duct tape, that heroic gray stuff of legend that has saved many lives and yet been the butt of so many jokes. Being young, stupid, and already late for school, I wrapped half a roll of the tape around the rusted spot in the pipe, then used the other half to tape the muffler back in place. Juvenile repair completed, I started the car. Not only did it hold the exhaust system in place, it actually quieted the car now that the exhaust was flowing through the muffler again. Wasting no time, I dropped into the seat, hammered the gas and, once the transmission stopped slipping and the wheels actually turned, I shot off down the road.
And that, my friends, is the exact moment I discovered duct tape is flammable. By the time I got to school, a choking cloud of smoke was pouring from under the car and into the passenger compartment. Actual flames, though thankfully small, were visible where the tape had once held the exhaust pipe together. It took a whole two liter bottle of Mountain Dew, my poison of choice at the time, to put it out. Kids, parents, even a teacher or two (ok, more than two) were laughing at my monumental foul up. Only one person, a girl I didn’t even know, actually stopped to offer help. Being a gentleman, I declined her assistance as I was fairly certain that duct tape smoke was poisonous. When I got back to the car at lunchtime, there was still smoke trickling from the car's rusty and now singed undercarriage. I’m damn lucky no one called the fire department to drown the car, though in retrospect, perhaps that would have been for the better.
Later that year, when I finally consigned the Tempo to its rightful fate in the junk yard and moved on to my next car (which was to be my first true automotive love affair as it turned out), it still smelled vaguely of burned sugar, plasticky adhesive, and teenage idiocy. Part of me wants to have that car back just to see if it was really as bad as I remember it. May she rust in peace, wherever she is.
Very well written. Yes I remember the Tempo. For years I used to see a beat up, 1960's vintage, red GMC pickup driving around. The owner hand painted large lettering all over it that read, "I HAVE TO DRIVE THIS BECAUSE MY NEW FORD TEMPO IS JUNK". A photo of it actually appeared on the cover of one of those books that do car quality reviews. I tried to find a photo on the net but couldn't. I understand though. Any first car is heaven to a car guy. Yes I remember driving field finds and retired taxi cabs and loving every minute of it.
Well worth the read. I am sure many of us will relate in several ways to your tale of triumph and tragedy.
Well written and reminds me of my 1974 Ford Maverick 4-door that I drove in high school. We called it the "Maverbeast" and like your Temp had more rust then steel. Never let me down and always started, 6-cyl engine with a C4 automatic. It did have reclining front seats which made date night exciting .