After giving away my first car – a ’74 Javelin – last year, an American Motors sized hole has existed in the fabric of my being. In a separate but to-be-related path, I had also purchased a TKO-500 transmission for an Aussie XE Falcon ute project a couple of months ago from a buddy in Indiana. The problem was that the trans was 800 miles away without a great way to get it home. The idea was this: since it’s going to be substantial monies to palletize and ship the trans, why not find a beater to buy, drive home, and sell immediately for a net-zero? Enter random craigslist AMC Concord as transmission transportation and return travel from a business trip for myself, two buddies, and zero tools.
There were a few options that fit my criteria of running/driving 1950-1991 vehicles for under $1,500 in Southeastern Indiana; a very rusty Turbodiesel Lincoln Mark VII, a ’65 Comet, a Sedan de Ville, the list goes on. The Concord looked promising as it was enthusiastically touted to have zero rust through capslock typeface. For better or for worse, it had been off the road for quite some time (later determined to be two decades) and was sold from an elderly person’s estate. After seeing photos from underneath a hoist, it was a risk well worth taking and a deal was negotiated over the phone, leaving a little left over from the $1,500 asking price for extra gas and roadside disaster money.
After getting to Indianapolis, my buddy Mikko and I headed about an hour East to go seal the deal after finishing our work duties. Since it was essentially untouched since 1996, there were nice surprises like a package shelf full of eight tracks and state fair tickets from 1984. Not nice surprises like rotten tires and a fuel system that has aged like fine scotch were certainly concerns. The interior was intact (aside from the headliner being in the trunk) but smelled like a retirement home and the car was totally filthy. The, however, big concerns like mechanical operation, body rust, and vinyl top all checked out OK in person. Immediately setting out, I got a feeling of deep remorse coming over me. That all vanished as the temp gauge stabilized, I popped in a Boston 8-track, and I sank into the warm velour seats.
Just before heading out, Jon, Hunter, and I did a quick once over to check fluids – all opaque, tires – all chunking and leaking, and take inventory of everything in the car that could break. In the rush to hit the road, I left my entire tool bag in one of the company vehicles so we were flying on luck alone for at least the next two hours. Just before departure, a large sticker was placed on the bumper declaring “I Love Meth” which was an excellent complement to the expired tags.
First stop was out to my buddy Stauffer’s place to pick up the real reason for this whole ordeal, the TKO-500 transmission. We were able to just barely cram it in the trunk along with the clutch, flywheel, and hydraulics but the leafs that were already sagging at tare weight were now really hating life. Now the folded up headliner had nowhere to go but next to the rear seat passenger on top of our luggage.
Now on the road, three dudes smoking novelty Black&Mild’s packed into an unregistered, severely oxidized, and sagging American Motors product that was vibration limited to 60mph with a 1982 license plate and an “I Love Meth” bumper sticker was starting to draw attention. Nevertheless, the car kept chugging along at about 1,500rpm while bouncing off of the rear bump stops.
As miles went by, the bent right-front wheel and bulbous tire was starting to take a toll on some of the steering bits. The idler arm was finally growing tired of the constant thumping and got really, really loose and started a rhythmic death wobble at 25-55mph. This shimmy would then go away from 55-65 and then reappear with renewed vengeance at 65+mph. Consumption of fluids was minimal with 23mpg averaged, 2 quarts of oil used, maybe a teaspoon of puked coolant through the mountains, and a little bit of ATF dumped on the ground.
We left Indy at around 3PM and finally arrived in Charleston at 4AM. Aside from me toppling over a can of mustard sardines on the driver’s side floorboard and Hunter resting his face on the fiberglass headliner, there were no disasters. In the couple of weeks I’ve had the car now, it’s benefited from a cut-and-polish, re-covering of the headliner, a new idler arm, rear helper springs for a bitchin’ 80’s stance, and some whitewalls on newly found 60’s Crestline Mark II mags. The tale of that Father/Son craigslist adventure while home for Christmas is another story entirely. The initial intent was to get the car back, clean it, and sell it immediately but that’s since changed after finding out it’s the nicest car I own. If you’ve got something with working A/C and an 8-Track, why not hang on to it for a bit?
Got a good road trip story? Post it below or email us here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Matt, a self-proclaimed bottom-feeder of the classic car market, spends half of his time buying cars, half of his time retrieving them, and the remaining third on keeping them on the road.