Cars are amazing things. Thousands of parts screwed together into a few thousand pounds of transportation for the masses. As a car guy, I do happen to know how they work, what makes them go, stop, steer and so on. But even with that knowledge, I am still impressed with the magic that happens every time I turn the key.
I went out to the garage the other day. It had been a while since I had the Marlin running and I like to fire it up regularly to keep its various gaskets and seals from drying out from lack of use. After disconnecting the trickle charger I use to keep the battery from going flat, I tighten down the battery quick-disconnect and head for the driver’s door. As I open it, the lights down in the foot wells and above the back seat light up…just like they are supposed to. Despite fully expecting that to happen, it still makes me smile when it does. Is it because I know I don’t have to limp around to the other side of the car to check the battery connections or grab a tool or is it just so cool that after almost 48 years, that little metal and plastic switch in the doorjamb still lights the lights when the door opens? Both, probably.
I sat in the seat that I had to cover with a color-matched bed sheet because the original upholstery didn’t hold up nearly as well as the doorjamb switch. I pull the door closed and it thunks shut solidly but with little effort, as it knows the way “home” so to speak. I look down at the fresh seat belts I got for my birthday last year draped across the seat…I won’t be needing them for the short drive out of the garage. I nudge the gearshift lever up just to be sure it’s still in park as it is a little loose from age, just like its owner. The replacement key I had made for it when I first got the car slides into the ignition switch easily which turns with its characteristic metallic “clink-click.” The warning lights in the right side gauge illuminate, letting me know they are still working and that the real miracle is about to happen.
With one hand on the old school cool steering wheel that was also part of last year’s birthday haul, I pump the gas pedal a couple of times to get some fuel into the engine and set the automatic choke, something new cars do without. Twisting the key one more spring-loaded notch breaks the silence and stillness of the garage. After a couple of seconds of “woo-woo-woo-woo” from the starter, the cars original engine springs to life. With only 71,000 original miles on it, the sturdy little engine runs like a much younger power plant.
After two and a half years of ownership, I am still impressed with the way this engine runs. Once warmed up, it runs with a smoothness that is hard to beat. But what makes this engine all the more amazing is that except for an oil change, I have done nothing to it since it arrived on the back of a tow truck that sunny April day. Nothing. No new spark plugs, points or condenser. No new cap, rotor or wires. No timing adjustment or carburetor rebuild. The way you are seeing it run in the video is with all the same parts it had when it sat abandon and unloved by the railroad tracks in Raritan, New Jersey. How amazing is that?
I step on the brake pedal that fought me tooth and nail before it would finally work the way it was supposed to. It finally stops the car thanks to an infusion of parts and labor. The satisfying feeling of a firm brake pedal underfoot, I pull the shifter down one notch into reverse and the transmission, a Borg Warner unit that is still trying to win me over, works just like it is supposed to and with a clunk that pushes the car back against its brakes, it is ready to send power to the rear wheels. Lifting my foot off the brake pedal allows the engine to release its nervous energy and the old car rolls out of the garage and into the cold sunny day. Condensation gurgles from the twin tailpipes I installed last year along with a woofly report from the new muffler.
I raise the hood and stare at the mechanical miracle as it sits nearly motionless, running much like it did, and doing what it has been doing, since that first week in June of 1965 when it was started for the very first time on the assembly line in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Impressive.
And after a few minutes of running like a Swiss watch, the cars only real weak point, its owner, is exposed. I get a “face palm” reminder that it was low on fuel as it calmly restores the area to silence and stillness. Even this impressive machine won’t make its magic without a splash of gas.