1970 Dodge Dart Swinger 2/19/20

My First Car by Richard Bleil

In 1970, my father bought a brand-new car, a V-8 356 horsepower family car by Dodge, the Dart Swinger. Okay, the horsepower may be a bit off, but I seem to recall 356 horses.

It was a mild-mannered looking car, but Dodge was building muscle cars at the time so even their family cars had bite. Gas was thirty-six cents a gallon (feeling cheated?), so nobody feared filling up their tank. The national speed limit was 80 mph, and cars were geared for that. It was really kind of an amazing time for the American automobile industry.

My friend pointed out the steel tube visible in the trunk leading from the gasoline input where the nozzle went to the gas tank. He insisted that it would rupture if I were ever rear ended, and I would die in a hellish fire. I was rear ended, as it turns out, but although I was hit hard enough to snap both suspension springs and wipe out the trunk, there was no fire.

Actually, the car really protected me. I was single and alone at the time (are you shocked?) so it was just me, but while the front end looked like I hit a brick wall at about fifty miles per hour, and the rear was obliterated by the woman driving sixty as she hit me, on the inside of the cabin the only damage was one air hose that let loose under the dashboard.

Okay, I’m not a car buff. I think anybody starting this blog realizes that, frankly, I don’t know much about cars. But I really loved that car. Not to say that it didn’t have problems. When it was cold, the engine flooded incredibly easily making it very difficult to start.

One of the best features was the windshield fluid pump. Okay, stick with me here. See, in 1970, everything was simpler. Today there are computers built into cars to start and operate the motor, while back then you had to “pump” the gas a few times before trying to start the engine and if you didn’t do it correctly, like when it was cold, it was a nightmare. Today the computer controls the fuel injection and mixing fuel with the oxygen, but back then it was a mechanical carburetor that did the work. And the wiper fluid pump was mechanical, not electronic.

See, there was a rubber bulb like pump on the floor of the car near the brake. If you wanted to get the fluid on the windshield, you stepped on it. The beauty was that it was also a defensive weapon against tailgaters. See, if a car was driving too close, and if you were driving fast enough, you could step on that pump very hard and the fluid would shoot over your own windshield and hit the car behind you. It was great; no damage, just annoying just like riding my tail was annoying.

Somehow, I ended up driving my sister and her friend which, frankly, was kind of a miracle since she is older and, frankly, I was never allowed to drive. Mom must have decided that I needed the practice. So, I stopped at a red light. A car stopped behind me, and as I looked in the rear-view mirror, I saw the driver had on a satin polka dot top with a huge collar, big orange wig, heavy makeup, but red nose. She saw me and smiled big and waved at me. I didn’t smile or respond, and she looked disappointed. In a calm voice, I said, “take a look at this clown behind us.”

How often do you get a setup like that? And, yes, both of them turned around simultaneously, the driver smiled as big a smile as I’ve ever seen, and all of them had a moment.

Yes, I truly loved that car. The accident I mentioned ended up being the death of her (the “Green Machine” as my family called it), but she was built well enough to protect me completely. It had a shoulder belt, but it wasn’t built in like today. Then the lap belt, no different really than the seat belts on planes was the norm. If you had a lap belt, it was always neatly folded and stored on hooks above the door so if somebody preferred a lap belt it was there, but, honestly, you couldn’t use both of them at the same time. It was a great car for “making out”, though, because it had a bench seat in both the front and rear. Try making out in a bucket seat. It’s kind of sad and awkward, honestly.

I miss making out.

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