Today's tale reminds us that classic automobiles sometimes resemble pet pythons - they can provide years of unabated joy right until the second they up and decide to kill you. Here's "Scoutch" with his story:
Balmy summer afternoon, driving home through Union Square, Somerville, Mass. I'm in my 1961 International Scout. This vehicle had a host of dangerous mechanical quirks. Some of its quirks were the result of wear and tear, and some were designed into the truck.
On this particular afternoon I pulled away from a stop sign and headed down a small hill towards one of those overcrowded, incomprehensible intersections that are the trademark of Boston driving, complete with Dunkin' Donuts. As I shifted into the ever capricious second gear I felt the rear end drop and heard a loud bang followed by a can't-be-good-news grinding noise. This was the right rear wheel falling off. Falling off, rolling a few feet further, then spinning round and round in place like a coin, or a tired old hound who wants nothing more than to lie down, and finally coming to rest, gasping, it's guts exposed to heaven, an exhausted castaway washed up on some forsaken beach.
Not your typical loose-lug-nut kind of falling off, but the kind where the castle nut spins off in spite of the cotter pin you later swear you replaced with a new one, and the wheel takes the blessed brake drum with it.
Two features of the Scout should be noted here; first, it was a two wheel drive, no positive traction; second, it had a single circuit braking system.
I was now sailing down the hill at a pace just above "briskly walking," trying out the control systems of my newly modified truck (or trike, as it were). First there was the brake pedal: straight to the floor, open hydraulic circuit. Next, the parking brake: no dice, rear drum's off, brake shoes technically doing their job, but now dragging on the ground. Let's try downshifting: yep, I can downshift, but with no wheel on the end of the axle I'm just driving my spider gears ape-shit.
Just so my survivors would know I did everything I could, I shut the engine off; completing the trifecta of disabled pedals on my floorboard.
God damn it, I've still got steerage! I resolved to lash myself to the steering wheel and go down with the ship. With the engine cut the only sound was the low groan of the brake backing plate on the pavement, the dragging anchor plowing a furrow down the hill. There was the inexorably approaching intersection and me, reminiscing about Arlo Guthrie's "Significance of the Pickle," sitting back to think a while about how to scrub off some speed.
There was, I knew, that insane son of a bitch right at the end of the road, on the right, with his inexcusable collection of decrepit Peugeot 505s. How much of an insurance claim could there be if I just stacked into one of them? Rusty bodywork, crumple zones, nice cushion, right?
Or that telephone pole! Yeah, that's it… no, no there's a fucking red Corvette parked there today, of all days. Fucking hate Corvette drivers. No way am I going into the Dunkin' Donuts parking lot, or the intersection. Surely someone will be hospitalized.
As a deus-ex-machina, a street I had never seen before, in the three thousand times I'd driven through there, appeared on the left and I swung hard to port and drifted to a stop behind a Korean restaurant. As I walked around to inspect the damage, the nice Korean man came over and explained, in an accent unique to Koreans who learn English in Somerville, "You can't pahk heah!"
We might have gone for the Peugeots. The French are great at embracing invading internationals.
Garage of Horror is a recurring feature where we share your automotive nightmares. Some are mild, some are wild, but all are moments - some funny, some painful, some outlandish - that you'd rather not repeat. Have your own Garage of Horror story? Email it here with the subject line "Garage of Horror."
Image credit: Wisconsin Historical Society