Friday, May 19, 2006


Regretfully, I don't have photographic documentation for most of what I have to write about regarding 55 Sweetwood Drive. That period of my life spanned from age 18 to age 23 and contained quite a number of adventures. Alot of my late teens to early twenties revolved around cars. I was an auto mechanic at the time, and had a keen interest in cars, motorcycles and basically anything that was powered by an internal combustion engine. When I arrived at 55 Sweetwood Drive, I owned a 1970 Pontiac Le Mans sport. I'd purchased this Photo courtesy of Anne - Thanks! :)car for the sum of $800.00 during my senior year in high school. I loved that car, it had a faded blue paint job, some slight rust around the fenderwells and it basically looked like a beater. However, it was equipped with a 350 cubic inch engine, and a borg-warner T10 manual transmission, shifted by a factory-installed Hurst™ Shifter

The Le Mans was the first car that I put any real work into. For my 18th birthday, my girlfriend, Anne, bought me a pair of Mickey Thompson™ Aluminum valve covers. I remember installing them outside my grandmothers house and gazing down with pride into the sparse engine compartment. One of the things I loved about that Pontiac was the fact that it was so spartan. The only power accessory on the car was assisted brakes. It didn't have power steering, nor air conditioning. It was simple and uncompromising. Depressing the clutch took quite a bit of effort, and without power steering, the frail need not apply. Anne couldn't drive the car, not because she didn't know how to operate a manual transmission, but simply because she lacked the strength to control the car.

Did I tell you I loved that car?

Not being able to leave well enough alone, I installed headers (which were such a friggin pain, I ended up removing them again and replacing them with GTO dual exhaust), a Crane™ Cam, Rhodes™ lifters and an Edelbrock™ aluminum manifold. I also swapped out the cylinder heads for 400 large-valve heads and topped it off with a Carter™ AFB four bbl Carb.

I HATED that carburettor. I never did manage to get it tuned right. Getting the car started in the morning consisted of a schedule of events.

  1. Open the hood
  2. Remove the air cleaner
  3. Set the choke
  4. get in the car, turn the key
  5. (car turns over, backfires)
  6. Rush out of the car, blow out the flames
  7. Get back in the car, turn key.
  8. Car starts
  9. Modulate the throttle for a few minutes while the engine warms up
  10. Get back out of the car, install the air cleaner
  11. Shut the hood.
  12. Get back in the car, drive off.

My roomate, Scott, used my slamming hood as his alarm clock. God forbid that car start normally, he'd be late for work!

I ended up spinning a main bearing in the motor. You know, it's funny how you look at things differently when you are either older, or have money. Looking back, I'd have loved to restore that car, and a spun bearing would have given me the perfect excuse to tear down the engine and rebuild it. But back then, the expense of such an endeavor was enough for me to sell the car as a 'roller' for $100.

I needed a car. Working at a gas station, you come across cars for sale. One such car was a 1973 camaro, sans engine and transmission. The price was right - $50, and my boss' son, Craig had freshly crashed his sisters 1970 Monte Carlo. Taking the $50 I had left from the Le Mans, I bought the wrecked Monte and transplanted the motor and trans. into the Camaro.

What a piece of crap. I hated that car. It had a column shift (lame, huh?) but it was transport and it lasted through the winter. I had a favorite trick of shutting off the ignition while coasting down a hill, pumping the gas and then turning on the key. The resultant explosion was enough to lift you off the seat. oh, what fun. Once the mufflers were blown open, it really sounded lousy!

The Camaro was the car I used to spin donuts on the frat house lawn...

Another advantage of working at a gas station is access to tires. Lots of people change tires even though they have some life left. that was good for me, because I used to eat up rear tires on that Camaro like they were going out of style. a 350cid engine mated to a Turbo 350 trans in a car as light as the Camaro was a recepe for tire smoke. And, seeing as how I didn't give a rats-ass about the car, beating on it was a favorite passtime.

One day, Mr Tutty came into the gas station, selling his 1973 Caprice Classic. I immediatly bough it.

The Camaro went to Bert and Carl Richardson. they took the engine out and put it in their boat. To the best of my knowledge, it's still happly chugging along Lake George, NY. That didn't concern me, because I now had the ultimate old-man cruiser, Mr Tutty's Caprice. Yep, another beater. It was an ugly green - and the windshield was warped, so if you drove it too long, you got a headache. The car had a small-block 400 in it though, so it went like the clappers. (english expression, not associated with the geriatric light switch) I used this car to commute to Uncle Dick's when I was building speakers with him. But that's a story for another day.

I got quite a bit of use out of that car, ending up with Vinny Bolizzi putting his foot through the windshield and buying the car. He took the engine out and lord knows what happened to it, but I didn't care because I had The Blazer!

Danny Seymore delivered newspapers in the south bronx. Such a vocation doesn't require a "nice" vehicle, and he certianly didn't drive one. 1973 Chevrolet K5 Blazer. 350cid engine, 3 speed underdrive trans, 33" tires and a 4" suspension lift. I managed to get him to part with it for the princely sum of $800.

There wasn't a lot right with the truck. It had over a quarter million miles on it, most of them were very hard. The floorboard were rotted out, and it took Carolyn putting her foot through one on our first date to get me to weld in new ones. The frame was tweaked, and you could turn the steering wheel 45 degrees in either direction without it having the slightest effect on the direction the truck went. The body was black primer, the roof was white fiberglass. The back seat was never fastened down, and doubled as a bench in the back yard when we had company. God I was white trash. I had to carry tools and extra oil wherever I went becauase the front seal was bad. If I parked facing uphill, I'd lose less oil, so I did that whenever possible. I loved that truck, it was my first 4-wheel drive vehicle and it stuck it's thumb in the eye of all that is good. Belching oil laden smoke wherever it went, it was a menace to the environment.

250,000 miles will take it's toll on an engine, so I went about refreshing it with a new camshaft, lifters and timing chain. What a difference that made, putting a mild cam in woke up the beast (not to mention the fact that the origional cam had it's lobes practically worn off.)

Once, I launched the thing over the railroad tracks on Bellevue Ave in Montclair, and blew a chunk of pinion gear right out of the rear end. I heard a huge B A N G but thought nothing of it, that truck always made wierd noises, so I drove to work. Looking out of the window, I saw gear oil dripping out of the third-member, and upon further investigation, saw that there was a bloody-great hole in the thing. A call to the junkyard confirmed that I could have one for the princely sum of $125 but it would take a week. No worries, I removed the rear drive shaft, put it in 4-wheel drive and drove around in front wheel drive for the next week. Talk about versatility! Just as long as I never have to put another clutch in one without a trans lift, I'll be happy.
The truck was fun, but it wasn't practical for long trips, and it was expensive to operate. That's why, I bought
The Cutlass.

One day, someone rolled into the gas station in a 1973 Cutlass Supreme. It was white, with a maroon roof. He came in and asked if I knew where there was a Junkyard. I told him of the few I knew about around here, and asked him why he needed one. He told me that he wanted to scrap the Cutlass. Hold the phone! That car was in decent shape, it was a 350 4bbl with power everything, air conditioning etc. Why scrap it? Well, he told me that the transmission slipped, and he didn't want to put any money into it. Fine, I bought it from him for $100.00. $100.00 for a car with a bad trans? You say, well, the body was in excellent shape, and the engine ran like a top. I also knew that Craig (my boss' son) had recently wrecked his sister's 1974 Cutlass, and the trans in that was in excellent shape. Scott and I bought the wrecked Cutlass for $100.00 and took it to 55 Sweetwood Drive for disassembly.

Scott wanted the engine, I wanted the trans. Scotty also took the power windows and door panels. Scott had a 74 Cutlass that was in need of a power-plant transplant, so everything worked out okay. We pulled out all the parts we needed from the wreaked Cutlass, then Stephen came over with his Demo Saw and cut the car up into little pieces that fit in Vinny's pickup truck. God our neighbours must have hated us.

One quick trip to the speed shop, and $15.00 later, I had a Mr Gasket quick-shift kit for my Turbo 350 trans. I installed it and the Cutlass lived!

That car was geared for highway use. It would cruise effortlessly at 90mph all day long. One night, Rich and I made it home from Seaside to Montclair in 40 minutes. (Rich was driving, I think he actually slowed down to 70 to to through the tollbooths.) With the trans kit, it would chirp 2nd gear under heavy accelleration. I think that car was the best bang for the buck at a total cost of $165.00. Once I'd rechared the air conditioning, you had to run with the windows down at full blast it got so cold. I ended up selling the car to Buck (Ray Jr's moronic bass-playing buddy) for $800.00. Buck melded the car with a semi on rt 80, after taking it into NYC to buy drugs. He survived the incident, the Cutlass wasn't so lucky.

I Still had the Blazer, and drove that up until 1989, when I purchased my first brand new car. a 1989 Jeep Wrangler Islander. It was white, with a 6 cylinder engine and a 5-speed manual transmission. It came with a white hard-top, and I purchased a soft top from J.C. Whitney for the summer months. I was so proud of that Jeep, I washed it every week. it got stolen from outside St Lukes Church in Montclair on December 31 1990. A month later, they found my Jeep in East Orange, it had set on fire - most likely due to some moron pouring gas in the air cleaner to try to get it started. My insurance company totalled the vehicle, and I bought a 1991 Jeep Wrangler Sport. The '91 had a fuel-injected high-output 4.0 liter engine, so this was my first Fuel Injected vehicle. I kept the Soft Top from my previous Jeep, and enjoyed that car up until I met Laura.

Driving to Brian's house one day, Laura complained that "30 year old business men do not DRIVE THESE THINGS" because her hair was being blown about in the wind. Well, I never looked at myself as a business man, but I listened to her anyway and traded in the Wrangler for a 1996 Grand Cherokee Laredo. I got a good price for the Wrangler, it only had 20,000 miles on it and it was 5 years old. The Grand Cherokee was nice, but it was way more civilized than I. At least it had all wheel drive.

Fast forward 6 years and the Grand Cherokee was getting long in the tooth. We traded that in for another Grand Cherokee, this time in Overland Trim. Much nicer vehicle, better equipped with leather seats, climate control etc. I don't get to drive that much, it's Laura's car. So I went out and bought my Subaru WRX in 2004.

I got a lot of flack for buying it, because of it's manual transmission. But the way I look at it, it's my car, and I enjoy driving a stick. Laura has a very nice car, it's not like this is the only vehicle.

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