I’ve had some rather strong relationships with cars over the years, but most of them didn’t talk to me. Even the Porsche, my partner in misspent youth and foolish behavior, was Teutonically taciturn. It did communicate from time to time, though.
The first time was early on in our relationship, the first few months. I was in the Navy, driving to “The Navy School” in Athens GA, where I was supposedly learning how to be a Supply Corps Officer. Part of the route was a left turn off a two lane highway onto a local road. It was a nice spring day, after a few pleasant little showers. It is within the realm of possibility that I was just a bit over the speed limit when I reached the turn, so I stomped smartly on the brake pedal and turned the wheel. In an act of obvious insubordination, the car kept going perfectly straight. I had been summarily demoted to passenger. In an attempt to reassert my authority, I turned the wheel a bit more to the left. No change. Just as the term “hydroplaning” began to enter my now nervous young mind, the tires squeezed out the last of the rain. As they suddenly took hold, the car turned ninety degrees left like a county fair bumper car, and I was deposited right where I needed to be on the side road.
As I was working back up through the gears, I could have sworn I heard “Dummkopf!” in an exasperated voice.
However, the car did have a sense of humor. With its VW Beetle ancestry, it had a reserve fuel tank. It held about a gallon and a half, so if the main tank ran out, you would reach up behind the dash and find the valve lever on the firewall, turn it to the right and wait for fuel to fill up the carburetors. This was long before the high tech days of electric fuel pumps and fuel injection.
The fuel pickup line was in the front of the main fuel tank. So naturally, the most likely time to drain the fuel lines was under acceleration, with all the gas washing back to the rear of the tank. Also naturally, this tended to happen when the dumbass driver pulled out in front of a massive propane tanker or a poorly maintained logging truck with faulty brakes. Just as you got in the middle of the road and floored the throttle, the engine would bog down and sputter. The only recourse was to reach down and switch tanks and proceed to frantically pump the gas pedal to get the acceleration pumps in the carbs to fill the lines. You couldn’t take the car out of gear, because then the engine would stop entirely. So with death and destruction filling the rear view mirror, and wishing that the Presbyterians had come up with a functional equivalent to a Hail Mary, you worked your feet like a demented squirrel dancing across the griddles at a Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast.
But of course, the car had everything perfectly under control, being in firm command of all the machinery. Just as the shadow of the logging truck’s ragged and rusty front bumper reached the tailpipe, the car would let all four 40mm venturis have a taste of precious hydrocarbons and Our Blessed Lady of Acceleration would not fail us.
And the car would snicker.
I swear. I could hear it.
Every damn time.
By now, some of you more mature and reasonable readers might be moved to ask, “Why didn’t you just put some gas in the thing when the gauge said you were down to a quarter tank?”
Well, after thinking about it, I have to say:
That never occurred to me.