If Cars Could Talk or
History of the J5R No3.
R Kwas originally posted 2/01 revisions on-going
Revision. 11/2015 (Added the story of Nestle and Ron's Humping Blankets and Link to: Mind-Numb Robots)
Did you ever get a really worn and grungy Nickel, take a moment to look at the year it was minted, and finding an ancient year wonder what stories it could tell of its travels if it were able to talk? In another recent demonstration of how small a world it really is, I reconnected with an Amazon, The "Jupiter V Rocket" No.3 (so named by long-time owner Bob G. - probably for the long, high speed trips it, and Rockets No.1 and 2 - one guess as to what kind of vehicles they were - had taken him on), and I came to the realization that I could account for about a quarter century of its history, about 200k miles...and a few pretty amusing memories, so I figured it might be fun for me to tell the history of this car.
Amazon chassis No. 233090 first came into our circle of acquaintances around 1977, when it was bought in Newington, Connecticut, for "not much" from ??? by Dave and Gretchen A. Currently, they are both prominent VCOA figures, driving Volvos with square sheet-metal ...pretty soon probably also front-wheel drive and cup-holders [oh the humanity!], but at that time, the plan was that after some minor attention, the round-fendered beauty be commissioned as Gretchen's first vehicle (it was an automatic, and she was to learn driving with it), joining their (445) Duett (the original mini-van) already in service. There's not much to tell about this part of its history because for unclarified reasons, the car never made it out of the garage! I do recall however gathering, wrenching (that's always more fun with friends!), and beer consuming (that too!) around it with Dave and Gretchen, in those fun (and low-responsibility) times... not to suggest that I'm not having any fun now!
Our idea of a Saturday morning party ca. '77...L to R, Carl (not Gretchen! - she's taking the pic), writer (typical pose - voicing some opinion or maybe just showing off dental work!), and Dave (looking kinda like a proud father!)...thanks D&G, for digging up the old pic...I wasn't kidding about the beer consuming...actually I believe it was Genny Creme Ales (Rochester Cool-aid) at the time...Yum!
About a year later, Bob G.'s Rocket No.2 was getting up around 250k miles, which in itself is not necessarily a problem, but the underpinnings were truly Swiss cheese at this point, the car having endured and finally succumb to a prolonged salt attack test between New England, and college in Iowa. Bob had repaired some of the floor sheet metal at one point, but after deciding it was time for a Rocket upgrade, bought it, for around "not much". Being a self-shifter type (who can blame him when the alternative is a power and fun robbing BW35 slushbox), he transplanted the engine he had built, plus manual drive train, from Rocket No.2, to Rocket No.3, outside, during what I remember must have been the coldest stretch of January 197? He tells me, he distinctly remembers temperatures in the single digits the morning of start-up. I guess wearing all those layers beats having to clean up a combination sweaty/greasy body. On the other hand, the beer may stay colder, but its darn tough to do any mechaniching (sp) with frozen hands having all the dexterity of baseball bats at the end of your arms!
Bob ran Rocket No.3 (his only), as he had those which came before it, keeping it in fine mechanical order, but definitely operating it in the "Drive it like you Hate it" [remember that old Volvo ad?] mode, while doing service in Connecticut and later the Chicago area. I swear, he spun that B20 to red line before every shift (and with the dual valve springs he installed, along with a few other ipd performance upgrades, that was undoubtedly higher than the valve float revs. on an o.e. motor), including the time during a winter cold-snap, when he - during a "spirited shift" right after start-up - and before things had warmed up a bit (and maybe become a little less brittle), snapped ALL of the teeth off second gear on the poor M40's countershaft (I still recall the sound!), the maneuver earning him the [not coveted] "Quickshift Bob Award"... (hey brother can you spare an M40).
It's a good Thing Bob can take a Joke!
It was also during this period, in an ongoing engineering effort, that Rocket No.3 received one of the first of the newer (internally solid state regulated) Delco-Remy alternator upgrades, and with it, became one of the development test beds and extended Beta site for what was further developed into the now popular SwEm kit.
Eventually, after lucking into a low mileage former Illinois state detective car at the state auction - a Chevy Caprice peel-the-tires-off-the-wheels-hey-where'd-this-Corvette-motor-come-from? - police package saying "I've never owned a V-8, but if I was going to, this would be the one", he offered the (no slouch either but no contest against the monster V8) decommissioned Volvo to me in '98 for less than "not much". As I just couldn't allow an entire Amazon spare parts collection to unceremoniously be sent to the dump, and as it sounded like the perfect reason for a fun weekend excursion, I flew out to pick up the car. Bob had assured me it was perfectly capable of making the trip back to New England, as it had many times before. The plan was to drive back together in two vehicles, and Bob would visit his folks while here. When I arrived at O'Hara, Bob picked me up in his new car...picture two clean-cut guys, cruising along the highway in a polar bear*...we looked like a couple of undercover DEA agents...people did double takes, and we didn't get passed much!
*(trucker lingo for white unmarked constabulary vehicle...get outta the car boy!)
Nestle and Ron's Humping Blankets When I visited Bob in Chicago, I was introduced to his pets...a chocolate Labrador Retriever named Nestle, and his kitty, Steve. For my stay, I was offered sleeping quarters in Bob's spare bedroom...a simple mattress on the floor (it was after all a spare bedroom, and those arrangements are perfectly adequate for bachelors), including my very own Humping Blanket (Bob's term for Nestle's most luxurious and intimate snuggling partner...besides Bob himself I'm guessing!). That evening, the low mattress position put me within the patrolling range of the standing four-legger...in the middle of the night, I awoke after sensing a presence, to the hot breath from Nestle's dog nose...I guess he had been checking out the visitor...after my initial mini-shock, I petted him..."nice doggie", friendly as he was, and we returned to our respective Humping Blankets....
No, I'm not being pulled over...its Rocket No. 3 and Polar Bear awaiting departure clearance in Chicago.
Rocket No. 3 had been parked about a year when I arrived for a weekend of visiting, hamfesting (amateur radio flea marketing), (legal) firearms inspecting and discharging, cigar smoking, more of that beer drinking , the option of occasionally making bodily noises without having to say "excuse me" and finally prep'ing the car for a non-stop (well OK, necessary-stops-only) low level "flight", in convoy, with him in the interceptor (now equipped with an antenna for amateur radio duty, but still completing the smoky bear look perfectly), back to Hartford. The car was "preflighted", which essentially consisted of removing a decade's worth of accumulated random trunk and floor ballast (which hadn't fallen out on its own), checking lighting and topping fluid levels and air pressures, installing comm. equipment, a couple of pieces of 3/4' plywood over gaping holes in the floor, and (illegal) registration plates (see: Mind-Numb Robots). We were ready for the Sunday AM launch.
The flight back was brisk, without breakdowns, but also interesting...the relatively new exhaust system "Glasspack, and a straight pipe", worked well enough, but around Indiana, the ancient header developed a huge leak which, considering the steady highway revs and audible drone, was truly unbearable. Luckily, I happened to have purchased a David-Clark high noise (helicopter style) headset at the hamfest, and knowing their excellent outside noise reduction characteristics, started wearing those to help attenuate the caucophony (see below to help the reader picture this! "10-4 good buddy...talking to the mother-ship or RAF Headquarters?").
"This is long-range bomber Rocket No.3 calling bomber command, come-in bomber command."
Also, the oil control rings had apparently frozen up during the extended downtime, so the engine ran quite strong, but smokelessly(!) consumed about two quarts of engine oil for each tank full of fuel. This wasn't a problem (ignorance is bliss!) except for after a couple of hours on the road, I noticed, while at speed on the interstate, the oil pressure hovering at less than 20PSI(!!). The two quarts required to bring the oil level back to normal operating level were immediately added from the on-board stores, and we were under way again with normal oil pressure. We monitored the oil level closely and topped up at subsequent fuelstops...and naturally, I removed the David-Clarks before I rolled into toll booths enroute and profusely apologized to each toll operator for the racket the car was making...then again, they probably felt sorry for me, after seeing the Connecticut registration, knowing that I would be enduring that racket for hundreds of miles more.
Just keeping up - honest! Note: Speedo - a bit generous due to automatic diff./manual speedo gear mismatch, but we were moving right along - also, oil pressure is back up, and multi band amateur radio comm. equipment is keeping us in touch with each other (also Finland).
During one of those necessary (fuel) stops in western Pennsylvania, were the big-rigs motor right along, at around 90mph - not that the police interceptor or Rocket No.3 had any difficulty keeping up, ("breaker 19, is that a polar bear with Columbo in his draft that just roared by me?"), we ran into Del M. driving a beautiful red ('66) Amazon...a pleasant surprise, considering how unusual they are getting nowadays. We had been underway for about 500 loud miles already, so I remember being a bit wound up at that point (I don't think he saw me wearing the D-Cs though..."honey, I think I had a close encounter tonight"). Link to old guestbook
Del meets Ron, Tomato meets Rocket No.3
We rolled into Connecticut and finally home in the wee hours of Monday morning, after our 950 mile mini-cannonball run and I parked the car in the driveway. After my ears and brain stopped ringing, I had second thoughts about parting the car out, and sending the remaining carcass to the crusher, considering how well it ran on the return trip. I just couldn't bring myself to do it, so in the driveway it remained snuggled up to Snow Weasel.
About a year and a half later, I made contact with Ron B., located also in Connecticut. Ron, possibly also the owner of somewhat of an Amazon-farm himself (they tend to gravitate into bunches), was ready to pay major bucks to ipd for a new Weber downdraft kit. Once we established contact, I offered the Weber kit Bob had installed on Rocket No.3 to him...he accepted and bought the used kit for "not much" - including its entire Sweden steel support structure! Rocket No.3 was at this point also comprehensively aerated and rough, but except for the sheet metal missing due to rust, fairly complete - see Save this Car from the Crusher pix. When he came to pick it up, I fruitlessly tried to start the engine for him to show it running, but the fuel at that point probably had less octane than (diet) Italian dressing. After a nice visit by Ron and his lovely and gracious wife Kate (you meet the nicest people through vintage Volvos), they flat-bedded the carb and it's support structure to it's new home, as a matter of fact, the Homespun Farm B&B, where, presumably hidden somewhere on the "back 40" of the farm, the assembly was initially also intended to become an organ donor.
Save this Car from the Crusher pix ca, 1998
[Its not pretty, but its all there...and I know the carb (and the rest of the support structure for that matter) works great!]
But the story continues...apparently upon seeing the car, Ron's high-school age son, Ron Jr. [Correction - Make that: Rondo, see Guestbook, scroll down to his entry of 3/7/2001] recognized the possibilities of having an Amazon of his own, in addition to the idea of driving something different and wicked-cool (I can identify with that), so he decided to restore (and then some) the car yet again! I understand the car has had its aeration holes repaired, has lost its door and trunk handles for that clean look ala custom '49 Merc, has gained among other things, a fresh engine, and a stereo system whose volume can be measured on the Richter scale...in Beijing. Beyond that, although he was fully authorized under international convention as the new owner, and certainly after a restoration's worth of skinned knuckles, to rename it, he has allowed the car to retain the Rocket name in deference to its history. I can't wait to see it when complete, I'll undoubtedly hear it coming, and at least he'll be listening to music instead of a droning header...but who knows depending on what music, I may need those David-Clarks AGAIN! Loud is OK, but I might have to ask him to play some (relatively) "old-fart" music when he comes to visit. See also: Rondo's pages on the project. He also advises, that the clutch hydraulics finally needed rework...that makes about ten years and about 100k miles since the last time they were touched...try to do that using Girling LMA fluid! Maybe I can still sell him on a SwEm slave cylinder piston o'ring upgrade.
Pictures after latest restoration ca. 2001
I can't wait for Bob's comments when he sees it...a V-8 is great, but I bet he'll be a little jealous and maybe even get some of those fond memories you get of an old girlfriend (a good one that got away, not the one that took the stereo when she split).
I guess it is true...old Amazons never die, they just get faster (and louder)!
Finally, some Questions:
Is it possible for a car to have a guardian angel?
Are old Volvos causing us to have too much fun?
Could a Laxus owner ever know what I'm talking about?
Are there too many Rons in this story to keep track of?
Is there a rule that states electric cars have to be ugly enough to make one retch? [...doesn't actually apply to this story, but I've noticed this for a while now and just needed to get it off my chest.]
source: Car and Driver, April 2000
Related Story (which had to wait for Statues of Limitation to run out before being added).
LINK to: Mind-Numb Robots
External material sources are attributed. Otherwise, this article is Copyright © 2001-2015. Ronald Kwas. The term Volvo is used for reference only. I have no affiliation with this company other than to try to keep is products working for me, help other enthusiasts do the same, and also present my highly opinionated results of the use of its' products here. The information presented comes from my own experience and carefully considered opinion, and can be used (or not!), or ridiculed and laughed at, at the readers discretion. As with any recipe, your results may vary, and you are, and will always be, in charge of your own knuckles!
You are welcome to use the information here in good health, and for your own non-commercial purposes, but if you reprint or otherwise republish this article, you must give credit to the author or link back to the SwEm site as the source. If you don’t, you’re just a lazy, scum sucking plagiarist, and the Boston Globe wants you! As always, if you can supply corrections, or additional objective information or experience, I will always consider it, and consider working it into the next revision of this article...along with likely the odd metaphor and probably wise-a** comment.