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The Strange Tale of the Cockroach

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Home : Scrapbook : Roamin Angel Corner Index : 1965 Dodge Dart

65 Dodge DartMy lovely wife returned from church and said, "A guy has a car I think you should look at. I don't know what he wants for it, but it's cute."

Now let's get a couple of things straight. Claudette has little or no interest in cars. She drives her little bomb (a Miata) and is happy. Secondly, even mentioning money regarding cars usually sets her off. And I can't blame her after my excesses with the Brazen Hussy (a 1940 Ford pick-up resto-rod that I spent a small fortune on). So, when she suggests that I should look at a car that is for sale – something is up and I'd better pay attention.

rusty tubThe car is a 1965 Dodge Dart convertible. It is in pitiful shape. The top is rather new, but that's the only good thing about the car. The unibody floor pan is rusted through (isn't unibody another word for a rusty bathtub?), the paint is shot, the right rear quarter panel has been badly repaired, the interior is really bad (and there is a familiar, damp odor), the driver's seat must have been used by an elephant and the seat back is in the reclining position (and there's no reclining mechanism). The engine, a Slant Six, doesn't sound too bad, but the 'Three on a Tree' doesn't work. The rims and tires are shot and the brakes are prayerful (you know – step on the brake pedal and pray that you won't hit anything).

ebay auctionsIt seems that the car was purchased on EBay from Indiana. (Has anybody ever bought a car on EBay that was decent?) The present owner has had it for several years, but the only work he's done on it is the top and an attempt to repair the shifting linkage. He needs to get rid of it because he has to build an office in his garage, thus the Dart has to go outside, plus his wife knows he won't be able to 'restore' it. In other words, he's given up!

A brief discussion with Claudette indicates she thinks it's cute and can she see herself driving a red convertible and it is a 1965 car and if she had it she would be a real member of the Roamin Angels and I know all about cars and I could fix it up and then I would have something to do and she could help and ÉClaudette wants the car!!!

A brief negotiation (and this time I was tough and drove the price down) and now I was driving a 1965 Dodge Dart home – stuck in first gear, because the 'Three on a Tree' wasn't working. After many pauses to let traffic go by and the engine cool down, I knew that the cooling system also needed work and that damned shifting linkage was going have to be repaired... soon!

Roach mobileThe first step was a much more through examination of the car. It was in my discussion with Claudette about all of the work that was needed that I told Claudette the old canard about Slant Six engines – "When the world ends only two things will be left working: Cockroaches and Slant Six engines!" Claudette perked right up and said, "That's it! We'll name it the Cockroach!" Oh man, what was I going to do?

Stupid question. I took it (in first gear) to Lanmark Auto and Lanny, Pat and I replaced and repaired floor boards (it's a convertible, remember, and rusty bathtubs eventually leak but only after making the purpose of a unibody a fiction), redid some wiring (old wiring eventually becomes plastic with a hole in the middle), fixed the gear shifting mechanism (please!), and installed disk brakes and a power booster. We removed the radiator, had it recored, replaced hoses and flushed out the cooling system. We worked on the doors and latches. We replaced the radio, speakers and installed a power antenna. We installed a Pertronix ignition (twice, sorry about that Pat and Lanny). I also decided that all the wheels had to go, so it was off to see my friends at Les Schwab. Five 15 inch chrome rims, hubcaps and blackwall radials did the trick. And then we test drove it. Hey, it's almost a real car. But that damn driver's seat had to be fixed.

So next it was up to Ron Talbott's upholstery shop and this time I could use all three gears and it wasn't over heating. It turns out that Ron did the 'almost new' top (well, it was new when Ron did it two years ago). After a short discussion of what was to be done and the selection of materials, Ron agreed that I could help in the process. It was decided that everything was to be black and the material of choice was the famous 'hide of the Nauga'. The driver's seat had to be completely rebuilt as much of it had rusted out. I'm glad to say that Ron is still my friend, but it was touch and go when I nearly ruined his sewing machine. It ain't true to his word – the job was done. It was beautiful!

Because there were no bumpers, head or taillights on the car, we put it on a trailer and towed it home. And there it sat, in a car port, for months, waiting for me to put the bright work back on. I had sent all of the stainless down to Fresno to Dave Turner to straighten, mend and polish. Two weeks later he returned everything. Boy, is he good – and reasonable. I was having difficulties finding attachment hardware for much of the bright work. Finally, months and months later, I gave up and called Lanny. Three days at Lanmark Auto and access to Lanny's amazing supply of automotive hardware, plus a couple of special machined pieces, installation of mirrors and the car was almost done. The only remaining part was the front hood trim piece.

This simple piece of aluminum was impossible to find. No one had it or made it anymore. I was able to find original, new 'Candycanes' (these are the aluminum trim pieces that surround the headlights and the bottom of the grill). Finally Claudette found a guy in Florida that was auctioning off the hood trim on EBay. For $9.99 I got a piece of crap that was nearly the right shape. Because he mailed it out a week after I had paid for it, I gave him a neutral rating on the EBay evaluation. This started what he considered to be World War III. I got three emails from him threatening me. He invited me to come to Florida and we would settle the matter 'like men'. Right! Sure! For $9.99 IÕm going to spend $400 to go to Florida and get my butt kicked. I decided to let EBay handle it. Next, he claims that I had not paid him and then EBay declares me persona non gratta. I don't believe this! Eventually, EBay restores my rating and the jerk disappears into the woodwork. But I still have that crappy hood trim. It is cracked, bent, with holes and it is corroded aluminum. And I can't find another one anywhere.

But I have resources. His name is Drake Palmer. He is a master metal fabricator, the best welder I have ever seen and best of all, he's is my buddy. Drake welds it, fills it, straightens it and polishes it. It looks pretty good. I mount it to the hood and now this Cockroach looks real good. The Cockroach is done.

Well, not really. The driver's seat is still pretty sad. Maybe bucket seats would be better. It takes 5.3 (truth) turns of the steering wheel to go lock to lock. Maybe power steering would be better. You guys know how it is – a rod is never done – right? But for now, the Cockroach rides and Claudette has her cute convertible. Hey, Jim Moser, do you think some striping with a cute little Cockroach, or two, painted somewhere could be done? Maybe you could do a Cockroach like the one in the movie Wall-E?

Story by Georpe P. ©2009

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