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Greg's List: The Real Need for Gauges
By Greg Warner

Classic Car Articles by Greg Warner The first generation Pontiac Firebird was produced from 1967 to 1969 in both 2-door coupe and convertible models all with front engine and rear-wheel drive configuration. This new vehicle offering from Pontiac, shared the new General Motors "F-Body" chassis with, it's also new for 1967, sibling, the Chevrolet Camaro. . . . to be continued!

Late breaking news . . . I must interrupt this week’s vehicular story to tell you another, related, yet non-related vehicular story. Due to technical difficulty and circumstances beyond my control, I was unable to finish my normal weekly story and decided instead, to share a true story which occurred last night, on a trip to visit my 81-year old Mother's for this holiday weekend.

OK, so we (my sister, her boyfriend and I) hop on a flight from Chicago's, O'Hare International Airport heading for Orlando International Airport departing at 6:10 p.m. (CST) and arriving in Orlando at 9:53 p.m. (EST). Already a long day behind us, we arrive on time and are picked up at the airport in Orlando by one of my Mom's good friends, who is a retired executive and one-time cab driver (after his retirement from Pfizer he, being a restless soul and bored with retirement, thought it would be fun to be a cab driver at Orlando Intl. Airport, which did not last long, as it turns out was a miserable job). In fact, his car of choice was (note this word "was" for future reference) a monstrous older, retired airport "limo" (1995 Lincoln Town Car, in very nice original condition inside and out, despite the nearly 200K on the odometer and the pastel mint green with darker green, period correct, "puffy" vinyl roof), which he has always used to pick any of us up from the airport whenever we came to visit.

We load our carry-on and laptop bags, etc. into the massive trunk and jump-in for the one and a half hour cruise to Inverness, FL. As we hit the turnpike, he rolls up all the windows and attempts to switch-on the air-conditioner (as you know it is always hot and muggy in good old Florida!). Well, apparently something was wrong and it would not engage, so he rolled the windows back down. We were actually all fine with that after the long, and still lingering, Chicago winter, we left back in Chi-Town; as a matter of fact we were welcoming the warm fresh air and the breeze. We were all too tired to worry about that anyhow. As we are travelling at about 70 to 80 mph clip, and already some 50 miles into our 75 mile trip, of course out in the middle of a pitch-black, no-man's land, the car starts shaking and shuddering violently, spewing smoke from under the hood so thick that you had to put your head out the window to see where you were going. He loses all power (steering, brakes, etc) and manages to pull the vehicle safely off the right side of the Turnpike. We get out to investigate the problem and I am fearing the worst due to the way in which the car had acted. We pop the hood and of course it is so hot that steam is pouring out like that of one of those nuke plants you see off in the distance. An angry, groaning, retching, smelly, wet, hot mess that you could not even get close to, in fear that something was about to explode! We decided to look around the side of the road for water, and something to carry it in, as there was nothing in the car to use and we needed to let it cool down anyway. At this point, it is now near 11:00 p.m.

Luckily, we find some containers after walking nearly a mile in each direction, as it seems they keep the highways in Florida very tidy (someone told me they still use chain-gangs for this, very clever, I think). As we were in search of containers and then a somewhat suitable liquid to put in those containers, we ran across one of these "Highway Safety" call boxes, which is rather an interesting thing, as it is basically a phone' inside of a small metal box on a pole (evidently one every mile along the route) without any light (so you might be able to read any directions that may be included in said small box) or instructions, but just a button to push and no means to speak with anyone who might be able to help you out, or even to let you know that help was, in fact, on its way. I thought maybe the thoughtful people who came up with these potentially life-saving devices were possibly playing a cruel joke on stranded motorists and giving a false sense of hope in that maybe someone would come to save them from being eaten alive by vicious swarms of killer mosquitoes or worse yet, dare I say, a hungry Florida ALLIGATOR (and I don't mean the ones running around wild, wearing the blue and orange jerseys)!

We pushed the button anyhow, but did not have much faith in it or what would happen after we did push it. So, we carried on with our quest for the liquid that might save us and hoped maybe a nice Florida Highway Patrol vehicle might cruise by and rescue us! Nope, no such luck! About an hour goes by and the motor has stopped hissing and whining. Our search mission had produced several small containers and we filled them with the most foul smelling and disgusting swamp sludge we were able to find and attempted to fill the empty coolant reservoir with the almost liquid sludge. OK, start’er up . . . you know that sound when the starter drive mechanism attempts to engage the flywheel and it just goes KUNK, kind of like when someone runs smack into a closed glass door and is stopped dead in their tracks? Yeah, that motor was not about to turn no matter if we had attached a 10 foot leverage bar to the crank and had a 700 lb. Sumo wrestler standing on it! That motor had a catastrophic melt-down and the old girl was belly-up! We decided at that point to push it further off the shoulder and into the grassy area aside the road and head for the next exit, which according to the sign was approximately 1.5 miles down the road. As we pushed it backwards, we noticed a huge puddle of liquid on the ground, it was not anti-freeze (which had probably evacuated itself miles back) but hot oil! This confirmed the "KUNK" noise was for sure a blown motor (and no idiot lights ever appeared as a warning, which is why to this day, I say gauges are still the best!) and probably a connecting rod through the block!

We also decide to take our bags and belongings with us because the car would certainly need to be towed, and most likely, straight to its final resting place in bone yard "heaven" (note: the "was" from above). There we were, the four of us, like a pack of vagabonds trudging down the highway without a clue where we were going (oh, side note: the driver did not have AAA or any such service, and we all called our carriers and they would not help because the vehicle in question was not listed on our policies!) By this time we had forgotten about the "button pushing" event and had trudged about a mile up the roadside, we stopped for a rest and leaned on the guardrail. When we looked back at where the car was, we noticed some revolving yellow lights! Well, either the button was magically working, or as one of our insurance carriers had offered, to send a tow-truck to the area our "smart-phone" was tracked by them on GPS! Isn't modern technology wonderful (sometimes, I have a love-hate relationship with it, or it's overuse and replacement of human interaction, never mind, this could carry-on into a whole other conversation!)! We decide to wait where we are as our "driver" walks back to his vehicle and the yellow lights. By now it was around midnight and we were all exhausted from the day and added, unexpected adventure and felt really bad about his vehicular loss and pile of now, molten metal. The big flatbed tow vehicle finally approaches us and we throw our bags into the crew-cab, jump in and the very helpful driver, drops us off at the "Okahumpka" Travel Plaza (yes, that is really the name, I am sure it has some ties to an Indigenous, Native American Indian Tribe) so that we may call a cab. He explains the intricacies, bureaucracy and time-lag for responding. He, the tow truck driver, tells us that by the time he received the "Button Box" distress-call, he was at our vehicle within 17 minutes (he is responsible for 39 miles of the Turnpike on both North and Southbound lanes). Before he gets the call, it goes through a series of automated routes before they decide who should respond and yet they have no idea what is wrong or who, if anyone, really needs help. Sometimes people press the button and then are gone by the time help arrives or sometimes they just press it as a prank! Not the best or most efficient tool to help someone who may have had a real "medical" emergency!

We made it to the Okahumpka Travel Plaza (insert your own "name-descriptive" joke here) got a snack and the tow truck driver provided us with a couple cab companies that service this remote area at this late time and we contacted one of them and were picked up in about an hour and were at my Mom's around 2:00 a.m.! Oh, and the cab driver took so long because in his haste, he drove off from his last stop and had left his cell phone and two-way phone and notepad on the top of his cab when he headed down the highway, and by the time he realized it he had travelled about three miles and had to go back and forth in the dark looking for his lost "tools" of the trade. He was lucky enough to find them, all in pieces scattered about the four-lane road, but none had been smashed by a run-over. He was able to find all the pieces and put them all back together, very lucky!

Wow, what a day, night and quite a trip! Anyhow, we are all fine, now laughing and joking about it and a learning experience was had by all. Drive safe, get gauges and have a great holiday weekend! See you all next week! Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed this experience as much as we did!

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