It’s a shame that I don’t have any good pictures of this car.
I should, because it was one of the most dependable cars I have ever owned. My parents purchased this 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle station wagon in 1981, to replace their aging 1974 Chevrolet Impala wagon. By then the Chevelle already had 108,000 miles on the odometer, but still ran like a champ. It hauled them and a trailer across the United States with little more than gas and oil. I purchased it from them when I took over a very large Seattle-PI 220-paper delivery route in Edmonds WA during the summer of 1982, and put 60,000+ miles on the clock over the next year.
This was the car on which I truly learned the art of maintenance. As a daily-driven vehicle, it was important that the car work every day. None of my other cars to that point had to operate on that level, because school was two blocks away and 7-Eleven was three. Driving a 31-mile long paper route changed all that. The stop-and-go of driving from paper box to paper box made brake jobs and tire replacement a quarterly affair. The number of tune ups doubled. Things that would normally last 20,000 miles on other cars only lasted 8,000 miles on the Chevelle.
But all along the car never complained. For better or for worse, the 307 small block Chevy motor was a workhorse with enough torque to get the job done. A few things went wrong but nothing major occurred. I trashed an axle when the bearing seized. I went through a set of front brake rotors in one month; to this day I’m not sure why. One day the tailpipe dropped in the street, so I replaced the exhaust with 2 ¼” duals. The water pump went bad, but I managed to eek out another 3500 miles before replacing it. The timing chain got really sloppy at 140,000 miles so it too was replaced. By August 1983 the car had traveled over 175,000 miles without an engine rebuild. Oil consumption never changed from the time my parents purchased it – 800 miles a quart – no matter how hard or easy the car was driven.
Then came the accident.
I remember every detail like it had occurred last week. In August of 1983 I was traveling south after dark on Meridian Ave N. While going through the intersection of N 185th St and Meridian I was hit in the passenger’s front door by a pickup that had run a red light. Nobody in the early 1980s wore seat belts. The impact knocked me out of the driver’s seat. The impact spun the pickup around, which then hit the wagon a second time in the quarter panel – just ahead of the tail light. My wagon was now traveling through the intersection uncontrolled, with the steering wheel out of my reach. It ran head long into a Buick Skyhawk that was sitting in the left-hand turn lane.
When dust settled, there were three totaled vehicles in the intersection and no serious injuries. The pickup driver was not insured, which in 1983 was not as serious in Washington as it is now. Because the pickup’s driver wasn’t insured, the Skyhawk’s owner tried to come after me for the damage to his car. My insurance company laughed and gave him the bureaucratic middle finger. In the end I got $400 for my wagon from the pickup driver’s parents. The Skyhawk’s driver went after the pickup’s driver with legal action for $2500.
A month later, I retired from delivering newspapers and walked headlong into the cruel working world. Day jobs were so different from the life I had known of making my own hours, sleeping in after finishing the route, and paying no taxes (couldn’t get away with that now). For about five years I worked the kinds of jobs that convinced me that going back to school was the best idea.
Oddly, the accident that totaled my car was probably for the best.
Good or bad, that evening became an important turning point in my life. Had I left the house 1 minute later, I probably would have continued delivering papers for some time. But another life awaited me; I look back on a synchronized chain of events that has led me to my loving wife, my new relationship with God, two great kids, and a safe home in a great city. In retrospect it’s probably a blessing that my beloved car got smashed in 1983.
But I still miss the Chevelle anyway.