Tuesday, 19 June 2012 14:35

Shining Moments of Collector Car Stupidity

Written by 

Old Car Crash

For every race won or car show trophy earned, I'm sure there are a few less sparkly car moments you'd like to forget. Nobody here is immune. If you've been around cars long enough, you've done something silly or just plain stupid. From 100-mph-plus speeding tickets to accidentally starting an engine without oil, it's time to own up.

I was an auto mechanic for six years at a small local Portland, OR shop that worked on classics, and it seemed like someone was sitting in the corner at that place at least twice a week. Notable moments included a really nice first-gen Bronco that had no neutral safety switch. The tech working on it found out the hard way when cranking it over via a handheld starter switch under the hood. Somehow it had dropped into reverse, started in gear, and went up on high idle. It tore out into the parking lot sans driver and smashed into another Bronco, which thankfully kept it from heading out into traffic.

That same tech got a wake-up call when he was dabbing at a transmission leak on a clean IROC Camaro that was idling up on a hoist. He had the torque converter cover off. I'll never forget the face he made as the spinning flexplate gear snatched the rag out of his hand and sucked it into the bell housing, causing little bits of red rag to rain down all around him. I still shudder to think of what would have happened had that rag been wrapped around his fingers.

I once had a friend call me up to help out with a head gasket job in his little hot rod Datsun 510. For some reason, he couldn't get the motor to spin over after reassembly, so he called me. We checked the timing, verified that the cam was in the right place, and even spun the motor backwards to make sure it hadn't seized. We finally decided to start from scratch and pulled the head again. And what did we find? A red rag sitting on top of piston number 1, right where he had accidentally left it.

My shining moment came when I was 17. I was driving my big-block ’66 Caprice home from an afternoon at the races and saw a girl sitting at a bus stop. Naturally, this called for a little rev of my engine, which meant I had to get the transmission into neutral. Only instead of neutral I found reverse. I was doing about 30 mph at the time. The car bounced hard and stalled, but thankfully restarted about 100 yards down the road. I was so startled that I didn't even get to see if the girl looked. But the car was fine. In fact, thanks to the strength of the TH400 automatic, I raced another three seasons on that transmission with no trouble.

That trans lived until my dad borrowed my car a few years later. He sheepishly returned home with the car smoking, transmission slipping and stuck in second gear. "What did you do?" I asked. "Pegged the speedo in first" he said. The line pressure had gotten so high that it actually blew the dipstick out of the transmission, coating the engine compartment in automatic transmission fluid and making one heck of a mess. That was his shining moment.

What's yours? Add it in the comments below and we might just run it in ACC - minus your name, of course.

Jim Pickering

Jim Pickering is the Editor of American Car Collector magazine and has been the Managing Editor of Sports Car Market magazine since 2006. As proficient with Snap-On tools as he is with a keyboard, Jim began his career as a professional mechanic while still in college at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, where he earned a B.A. in Creative Writing. He can often be found at Portland International Raceway at the Late-Night Drags, behind the wheel of his 12-second big-block powered 1966 Chevrolet Caprice. He is also currently restoring a 1972 Chevrolet K10 Cheyenne Super longbed in his spare time.