So we bought the car, stuffed our backpacks behind the drivers seat, filled it up with petrol, and parked it outside our YMCA, at the top of big, steep downtown parking lot. Only then did we notice that there was a hole in the top of the exhaust silencer immediately under the fuel tank, and that the escaping heat had made the petrol expand so much that it was now running out of the filler, down on to the hot exhaust, and away under the neighbouring cars. Only then did the symbolism hit me, along with of visions of newspaper headlines like "Terrorist Macintosh users try to raze Seattle". Followed perhaps by "Mostly successful". But amazingly the fuel didn't ignite, so my rapidly conceived plans for hiking over the border to Canada wearing a false beard weren't needed. Instead we downed some beers and decided that we would at least get the exhaust fixed before moving on.
We put the car into Midas Mufflers the next morning and were surprised at how long they took to swap the back box. When we checked out their work we found putty plastered all over the place, and it looked like they'd fluffed the join and tried to fix it up rather badly. But we only needed it to hold for a few weeks, so we said nothing and drove away. Finally we hit the freeway and cruised down the beautiful Pacific coast to Lincoln City Oregan, kite town USA. Despite being an energy-crisis era car, it still guzzled gas, so we had to fill up with petrol again. Derek wanted some nibbles, so while he was in the kiosk I checked out the car after its first long run. Imagine my surprise, horror, and disbelief when I looked under the car and saw a jet of fuel spurting out of the tank directly on to the new exhaust that had just travelled 200 miles at rather high speed. I could even hear it hissing, and we were parked in a gas station with several thousand gallons more petrol below us. Even if our car was destined to rise again after the inevitable inferno, we weren't, so I ran into the kiosk to tell Derek and the owner that they might like to take a stroll with me to the end of the street. Quite soon. Or words to that effect. The owner considered this, and suggested that I move the car. Quite soon. So I offered him the keys, but quite soon we were all standing across the street considering new newspaper headlines, and piecing together what had happened, which was most likely that the Midas guys had slipped with a screwdriver and stuck it through the fuel tank, which they then tried to repair with a putty that didn't tolerate heat. But amazingly the Firebird again refused to ignite, apparently determined to meet its destiny in Phoenix.
Big Red continued to entertain us throughout our trip, insisting on having us strip down the distributer on icy mornings, losing her brakes at the Grand Canyon (where else ?), and best of all losing her fuel pump at 70mph in the fast lane of I17. But there was no great conflagration in Phoenix, just a cheque from Midas Mufflers to pay for the new fuel tank, and one from the insurance company returning our premium because the clerk had forgotten to use her address, and so the policy was cancelled on a technicality. So we weren't even insured during our serial arson spree. We sold the car for $1000, and having slept in a tent and lived mostly on rice and raisins, the holiday pretty much paid for itself.
But Big Red had one last surprise up her sleeve. Early the next morning we got
a call from her new owner saying that half way home to Tucson all her electrical
systems had mysteriously failed, and did we have any advice for him.
We didn't, but sent him back $100 to cover his towing fees.
So in the end she decided to go out not with a bang but a wimper. Thank you Big Red.
© Mark Harris 2006