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How owning a car has changed

At the beginning of a typical baby boomer car ownership, you were expected to take on some sort of project, cars usually from 5 to 10 years old, being driven by the first one or two or three owners until finally for your hard-earned $50.00 you got a chance to have a car. You were about to become one of the coolest kids in the school. Little did you know.

First of all a 10-year-old 1950’s Chev, Ford or Dodge came with a terminal case of rust, secondly, the things that made it go all had a life cycle of about 5 years ago, thirdly fluids poured in the top, would usually with a few days appear on your parent's driveway or even more mysteriously disappear.

But you were cool, you had the money from your after-school job and if you did not take an auto shop at school you had a friend who did. Wow, expertise and of course access if you were good in the Auto shop.

So what could possibly go wrong with a $50.00, 10-year-old car?

Where to start?

Oil consumption

Most cars of that age carried on with a slight (if lucky ) cloud of blue smoke trailing behind. Oil of course came in several fluid consistencies, for those in the know, 30W was the lightest anyone with a newer ( less than 5 years ) would ever run, those of us with more vintage machines got to know the service department at your local Canadian Tire or even better your dad's favorite service station. Two wonderful options arose. One is 50W oil in 1-gallon cans ( the expensive option) or two, is access to the drain cans that other people's oil was in after they paid for an oil change. Usually, take as much as you want, I have to pay to have it hauled away, was the owner's answer.

We all had a 5-gallon (25-liter) can that we filled regularly with used oil that of course didn’t look too bad. A trip from Ottawa to Toronto usually consumed most of a gallon each way. Always kept a spare one or two in the trunk, right next to the spare 5-gallon gas can.


Ahhh, the mysteries of electricity, one thing you learned really quickly was not to remove a spark plug wire with your bare hand when the engine was running, to try and find which cylinder was not pulling its weight. Nope, found other ways. 50,000 volts makes your fingers go all numb, oh, and most of your arm but just for a few minutes.

Spark Plugs

Some mornings, the brand-new to your battery would turn that engine over just fine, but not a sound of running. Assuming you had remembered to put that dollar's worth of gas ( got you 3 or 4 gallons then ) it had to be an electrical issue. Now burning 1 gallon of oil to 20 gallons of gas ( Gallons, remember this is the 1950s, no liters then but just for the younger generation try 4 liters per gallon as close enough) means that something called spark plugs needed cleaning and re-gaping. Your trusty 13/16-inch spark plug socket, your ½ inch drive handle. A piece of sandpaper and a wire brush and a 30 thou feeler gauge. Climb up on the fender, feet in the engine compartment, and take 30 minutes to remove, clean, gap, and reinstall. Try starting. OK., or nope.

Points ( next part of Nope)

Points are little springy pieces of metal, with a plastic thing that rubs against a metal thing that is under the plastic cap with the wires sticking out and going to the spark plug we talked about above.

Much too complicated to understand here, but inside this piece called a distributor ( distributes sparks to the different spark plugs ) the plasticky part wears down causing the parts that have to come apart to not come apart. Ergo, no spark to make that spark plug wire so dangerous. Again just a few minutes to take the spark plug cap off the distributor and adjust the “gap” using your feeler gauge. Reassemble and try to start. The next steps were to confirm that you had a spark, remember not to grab onto a spark plug wire while someone tries to start it, just pull one off, put it next to the block and look for a spark.

Usually, your work above has created this part of life for an engine and away you went.


Sometimes you had to understand how a gallon of gasoline in the tank, made the car go forward. Ahh, the fuel system.

You paid your money to the attendant, and he or sometimes she would pump that 4 or if you were really rich 8 gallons ( Friday night ) and you were good to go. Ok, the tank is as full as you can get because the rust hole at the top meant any more would just splash out on the muffler and smell awful. Might even have been dangerous. !

So here it is Saturday noon, and you're headed out to pick up the guys, crank, crank, nothing.

Damn, the spark is good ( remember to not hold the wire, must be no gas getting in., you were now introduced to the carburetor, fuel pump, and fuel filter ( used to keep the rust from the tank from clogging the carburetor ).

First, disconnect the fuel line in front of the filter, did any come out? Yes good, no, go and spent 98 cents on a new one, try starting again, ok good to go.

Nope, ok, any smell of leaking gas, nope, locate the carburetor, usually sits up high on one side of your Chev, Ford, or Dodge six-cylinder. Take off the air cleaner and peer in, and have someone pump the gas pedal but not turn the key. Any gas squirting down the throat ( tube) of the carb. Yes, try starting again, yea good to go, Nope.

Taking a carburetor apart, be careful not to tear any of the paper gaskets holding the parts together, expensive to buy a rebuild kit for about $1.97 at CTC. (Most of a week's wages).

Remember that rust I talked about in the fuel tank and the filter that is supposed to stop it?

Well with the top of the carburetor find the little metal pointy part by the brass boxes ( you the brass boxes float in the fuel and make the pointy thing allow fuel to flow to the tube that goes into the engine to turn your $2.00 in noise and motion. Clean the rust flakes out and reassemble. Away you go.

So this story ends today with you successfully meeting the guys for an afternoon, then picking up your girl for a trip to Burger King that evening, because you are a successful cool kid who knows how to keep a 10-year-old 1950s car running.

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