NEW: SIDNEY UNDERWOOD: CARS! CARS! CARS! - THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY!

(08/16/2021)
By Sidney Underwood

I never owned a Muscle Car and, yet, I certainly had my chances to buy one. As I have written before, my very first car was a 1960 Chevy Corvair Monza coupe. It was economical and got around 26 mpg. It was just what I needed at that time when I was commuting to college at Glenville in the early 1960’s. Never did it fail to start even on the coldest mornings.

That car had a pancake six cylinder air cooled engine in the rear similar to a Volkswagen Beatle .I think it was rated at 80 horsepower and had a three speed floor mounted stick shift. It would run the speed limit and never felt underpowered. If I got behind slow traffic on Hog Knob Hill, I sometimes had to shift to second gear, but most days was a able to make it to the top in high gear.

The road to Glenville, State Rt. #5, was terrible at that time and I remember rolling along at about 45 mph to keep from ruining the suspension. To say that I got passed a lot on by other commuters would be an understatement.

Bill and Dick Barnes had an old Plymouth station wagon and every day they would catch and pass me usually before we crossed the county line. Their car was paid for and mine wasn’t and I viewed the Corvair as an investment.

That was the main reason I took it easy and it says a lot about my nature. I kept that car for eight years and put 99000 miles on it. The only repairs needed were two right rear wheel bearings over that eight year period. I could always tell when they were going bad by a muted thumping sound that progressively worsened.

Bud Hathaway was the mechanic at Ted Burch Chevrolet that did the replacement work and got me back on the road. I almost forgot the time the spline shaft broke and dad towed me with his Plymouth up to Ted Burch Chevrolet to have it fixed. Again, Bud Hathaway came to my rescue.

I eventually sold the Corvair to Don Furr and bought a new 1968 Camaro coupe from Robinson Motors in Harrisville, WV. At that time I was working for the Dept. of Welfare as a social worker. I received a mileage allowance for the home visits I made. With that in mind, I ordered my Camaro Rally Sport with a Chevy Stove Bolt Six cylinder engine to hopefully make out on the gas mileage.

I remember that the Camaro averaged 25 miles per gallon and my reimbursement from work amounted to 25 cents per mile. You might say I broke even on the mileage.

There is a saying that goes something like this, “If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch." While my Camaro may have looked the part of a muscle car in its blue and black livery, it was definitely not able to run with the real muscle cars that had big V-8 engines. I think the Camaro cost me $2800.00, and that seemed like a lot of money back in the day when I was making $480.00. Per month. I was a typical underpaid state employee.

Several years passed and one day I was driving on the Richardson road in my Camaro when I happened to spot my old Corvair car sitting in a field with a FOR SALE sign on the windshield. Of course I had to stop and take a closer look. The sight of it made me sad because I had always taken care of it and kept it looking good.

Now here it was with the interior torn and filthy, the windshield cracked and there were signs that someone had attempted shoddy bodywork on the rear quarter panel. I remember I stood there for a short time and talked to that car. Among other things, I told it how much I appreciated its dependability taking me back and forth to school and the first 3 years going on bad roads up hollows working for the Welfare.

It never failed to deliver me when it was raining, snowing or the times I had to ford shallow streams to reach someone’s home. Both my parents had driven that car and I especially remember chauffeuring my Granddad Williams in it.

A man appeared and asked if I was interested in the Corvair. He said he would make me a really good deal on it. I explained that I used to own the car and now had a Camaro. When he saw that I was not going to buy, he turned and started walking back to his house.

I remember that I saw that Corvair one more time in Grantsville. This would have been several years later, probably in 1973. It was on a large flatbed truck with other sad looking cars headed to Parkersburg to some junk dealer.

For whatever reason the Camaro never really struck a chord with me. It was difficult to start and chose inopportune times to run rough. Mechanics could never understand the occasional stumbling of the engine. Consequently, I traded it away for a Ford pickup truck after three years of ownership.

Perhaps if I had bought the car with a Chevy small block 327 engine things might have been different. That Camaro eventually came to a sad end when Carl Ray Osborne wrapped it around a tree.

I have had a lot of years to think about my actions back then. What I should have done verses what I actually did. First, I should have kept the Corvair since it was still running good enough to continue to be a work car.

Although the valve covers were leaking oil after repeated coatings of Permatex, it ran just fine. It was dripping out a quart of oil every 1500 miles. I remember it was Gulf Pride Super G and Furr’s garage did the oil changes every 3000 miles.

During the 1960’s the Keith Brothers had a Chrysler Plymouth dealership in Harrisville. I’m sure there was also a Plymouth dealership in Spencer, too, although I don’t remember the name. I had grown up riding in Dad’s Plymouth cars since he had owned a 1949 and a 1953 Plymouth. Those were good cars and I simply would have been carrying on a family tradition by owning a Plymouth.

I remember that I always admired the Plymouth Roadrunner. To me it just looked right and surprisingly could be purchased for around $3200.00 in 1968... I’m day dreaming now as I describe what my Roadrunner would have looked like.

The car was based on the Belvedere body style. I would have chosen the two door coupe with posts, not the hardtop as the hardtop style was not available in the early 1968 model year. Besides, the hardtop version tended to flex.. Of course it would have a four speed manual transmission with a plain bench seat and rubber mats on the floor. I would have shelled out $750.00., extra to get the hemi 426 horse power engine.

I would have chosen plain wheels as I had no interest in fancy ones. Posi traction with the 3.55 rear end would be needed. The final option would be a push button AM radio. All this wrapped up in a bright maroon exterior .with a matte black hood, and there you have my dream car. You will notice that I did not order air-conditioning and power window lifts.

The car would look so ordinary, but it would be a real runner. I would have had to wait two months for my car to be built, but that would be no big deal.

Hopefully I would have had enough sense to not kill myself in it. Some days I just think about that car and what might have been. But it is about 53 years too late now. Just imagine a car like that for that amount of money.

Recently, I looked up the prices for restored muscle cars of the 1960’s and was shocked to learn that they go for $40,000.00 and up and this includes the Roadrunner with the beep beep horn. If I had bought one as just described and cared for it as I am capable of doing, it would have been a good investment. I will leave you with another old saying, “We are too late smart and too soon old.”