July 1925 - December 1970

Gus Wilson's Model Garage

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     By Martin Bunn (John L. Bellah)

POB #156 La Habra, California 90633-0156  (562) 301-4507  pfmteched@yahoo.com

It was near closing at the Model Garage when the telephone rang. “Gus, Hayden Smith. My daughter, Sally, is stranded near the turnpike entrance in my Chevy.”

Gus replied: “What seems to be the problem, Mr. Smith?”

“I dunno, Gus. She’s pretty upset. She said something about everything going cattywampus. First the engine began racing—making an awful racket, and when she tried to stop, the power brakes wouldn’t work, then she tried to shut the engine off, and the power steering quit. Please come out and tow it back to your shop. It’s a yellow ’68 Caprice.”

“Fine, we’ll be right out.”

Gus called out to his assistant, Stan Hicks. “Hey Stan, you want to take a road call?”

“Not really, Gus. Can you take it?”

“I can, but its Hayden Smith’s daughter.”

“Is it Sally?”

“That’s what the man said.”

“I’m gone. See you in the morning, Boss.”

Gus was late in opening the Model Garage the next morning as he had to pick up some parts for a scheduled engine overhaul. When he arrived at 10:00-am, Smith’s 1968 Chevrolet Caprice was on the lift with Stan examining the undercarriage.  Hayden Smith, clad in a grey suit and his daughter Sally in a flowery blouse and mini-skirt combination were watching.”

“What’s going on, Stan;” asked Gus.

“As near as I can see, Sally was accelerating while trying to enter the turnpike when the left engine mount broke, which jammed the throttle wide-open. This ripped the power brake hose from the booster. The result was a hard brake pedal, with no boost. When she shut the engine off, the power steering quit. Additionally, the fan shroud is destroyed.”

Hayden Smith interjected; “If this car is unsafe, I’ll be forced to sell it.”

“I don’t think that’s necessary, Mr. Smith.”

“Can you explain what happened, Gus?”

“Sure, you may have read about this problem, a couple of years back. It was in all the papers. Chevrolet did a recall on the problem.”

“Which is?”

“Mr. Smith, this problem is not exclusive to Chevrolet, however, other car makes can have the same problem, too.”

“And why is that?”

“On V-8 models, such as the big 396-cubic-inch engine in your sedan, the valve covers can leak over time, seeping oil down the sides of the engine. This leaked oil, combined with heat, vibration, and twisting forces can deteriorate the rubber engine mounts. When they break, often under rapid acceleration and torque loads, the engine will rise. This will jam the throttle wide open, and yank the power brake hose from the booster.”

“And the cure is?”

“Two ways you can go in this situation, Mr. Smith. Chevrolet has a recall on this—it’s really a Band-Aid. They install a cable strap which prevents the engine from rising. The engine will still rise and then go down with a bang.”

“And the other is?

“Chevrolet and the aftermarket manufacturers offer an improved engine mount which prevents the engine from rising if the mount breaks. You should also replace your fan, fan clutch, and radiator shroud, to prevent overheating at low speeds and at idle. Also, you should replace the valve cover gaskets, to keep oil from leaking down the side of the engine.”

“Gus, why should I replace the fan, if it’s still good?”

“When the fan hit the shroud, it may have bent the blades. It is never a good idea to try and straighten fan blades as they may become weak and unbalanced. Under extreme conditions a weakened fan blade can break off, causing injury and other problems.”

“Well, give it whatever it needs, Gus. This is a nice car and I want to keep it that way.”

“Should be ready about this time tomorrow morning, Mr. Smith.”

A few minutes later, a hissing 1971 Pontiac Bonneville crawled up to the service apron. Silas Barnstable, the notorious town tightwad emerged from the driver’s seat.

Gus remarked; “Who did you steal this chariot from, Silas?”

“Don’t insult me, Gus.”

“You took this in for another mortgage payment, did you?”

“Yeah, but I’ve been cheated. Find out what’s wrong with it, but don’t run me up a bill.”

“What seems to be wrong with it?”

“Well, it ain’t got no pep, makes hissing noises, and it runs hot”

“Silas, what did your neighbor kid do to it?”

“Howja know?”

“Because knowing you, you would have the neighbor kid try to fix your cars before you ever come to see me. How much do you owe him?”

“Gus, your prices are too danged high! It’s allus highway robbery, dealing with the Model Garage!”

Heading back to the office, Gus remarked over his shoulder; “Bye Silas. Get your heap out of here before I have it towed away.”

 Barnstable’s homely face reddening, Barnstable stammered. “Wait Gus, I need help on this. The kid put in spark plugs, wires, points, condenser, rebuilt carburetor and distributor.”

“And that didn’t cure the problem, eh Silas?”

“Well, it was running rough, but this problem come up after he worked on it. You gotta help me, Gus. I can’t sell it the way it is.”

Gus called out to his assistant. “Stan, bring out a long screwdriver and check the tailpipe.”

Stan re-appeared a few minutes later, holding a long screwdriver. “You’re right, Boss. Someone jammed a potato inside the tailpipe. Ya want some French-fries?”

Gus called to Silas; “Okay, Silas, start it up and we’ll see how she runs.”

The starter ground for a few seconds and the big V-8 settled into a choppy idle.

“That’s the problem I hired that fool kid to solve. Ya gotta help me!”

Gus remover the large air cleaner assembly, and looked at the ignition wiring, mentally tracing each lead. He quickly switched two leads. “Start it up, again, Silas.”

This time the Pontiac settled down to a smooth idle.

“What’s the deal, Gus?”

“Well, Silas, at a guess, I believe the previous owner, being wise to you, switched plug wires, knowing you were going to re-sell the car at a profit. Either that or your neighbor kid accidently switched plug wires when he replaced the wiring. Then, when you refused to pay your neighbor—and knowing you, having him front the money for the new parts, he jammed a potato into the exhaust pipe.

“But, but, but… I’ll sue him for vandalism.”

“No buts, Silas. You need to pay your neighbor kid for his efforts in fixing your car.”

“And what do I owe you for this?”

“A tank of gas for this.”

“Fiddle-faddle! Your gas prices are too danged high, Gus.”

“As I told you, you need to pay your neighbor kid for his time and the cost of his parts. If you don’t pay him, I’ll know about it! My charge is a tank of gasoline. Do you want regular or premium?”

“Uhh, make it regular, Gus.”


©John L. Bellah, 2022