We asked our staff and contributors about their own road trip experiences and gathered some of their favorite memories from the road…and maybe a few they’d just as soon forget about. Today’s entry is from our contributor, Barry Kluczyk.
By Barry Kluczyk
Through the years, I’ve developed a habit of finding cars out west — particularly the northwest. Generally, I fly out there to pick them up and drive them back to my Detroit-area home. I’ve done it plenty of times with varying degrees of success.
But for every trouble-free road trip, there have been those that challenged my wisdom, roadside mechanical acumen, and sanity. That was perhaps no truer than with a Ford Pinto Cruising Wagon I drove back from Seattle more than a decade ago.
Yes, it was a Pinto Cruising Wagon — that factory-custom model with the porthole rear windows. I’d ask you to look past that choice (and my fetish for disco-era Fords), but the whole misadventure was centered on that quirky (my euphemism for ‘crappy’) car.
First off, I hadn’t gotten 50 miles out of Seattle before the first real mountain grade put the Pinto’s 2300 four-banger to the test. It wasn’t up to the challenge. The engine must have broken a piston ring on that grade, because when I made my first pit stop about an hour into the drive, I popped the hood for a cursory inspection and oil-level check, and discovered the entire engine and bottom of the hood were drenched in oil.
The oil cap had blown off under pressure, and there was barely a drop left in the crankcase. I bought a new oil cap and a few quarts of oil and hit the road again. About 100 miles later, I discovered the same scenario, with the oil cap nowhere to be found. At that stop, I bought a whole case of oil and a couple more oil caps.
To be fair to the Cruising Wagon, it ran fine and cool as long as I kept up with the constant oil fills every few miles. I poured about 35 quarts into it to get to Detroit. Oh, and it took me almost two days on the road before I figured out the speedo was off by about 15 mph, meaning I was doing 50 mph instead of 65. That didn’t help matters, either.
Advice: If you’re driving an unfamiliar car, keep your driving to the daylight hours. A breakdown in the dark exponentially amplifies the trouble.