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 January's Wagon of the Month 2015

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steel-and-fire



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Join date : 2013-07-08
Age : 30
Location : Staten Island, NY

PostSubject: January's Wagon of the Month 2015   Fri Jan 02, 2015 9:17 pm

"There was a guy called Charles Babbage, who invented the computer back in the 18th century. He talked about the unerring certainty of machinery. Now, the problem you have is that when you have the unerring certainty of machinery, it is a machine. When something has foibles, and won't handle properly, that gives it a particularly human quality, because it makes mistakes. And that is how you can build a relationship with a car, that other people won't get."
- Jeremy Clarkson


It’s a pleasure to be selected as January’s Wagon of the Month. I’ll be honest; I imagined doing one of these in a year or two year from now when Firefly had a little more going for her. While the wagon may be older than some and has only been with me for 3 1/2 years, it certainly holds up. It should also be noted, I'm only 26, so my history with car ownership isn't long. Anyway, let' start at the beginning.

B-body envy probably started with being a New Yorker; tons of caprice cabs and cop cars. While the 80s boxys were still around, the bubbley whales were the ones that I remember fondly. The NYPD paint scheme just stood out from anything else and screamed New York. I even have a rare 1:18th scale NYPD police car.



When I got older, the idea of owning an old cop car was exciting. Specifically, a 9C1 LT1 in navy blue with a spotlamp. High School in NYC meant commuting through mass transit, so owning a car wasn't high on priority; not to mention no real money yet to buy one. When I had to drive I would borrow the family’s fire engine red 2001 Honda CRV.



This had under 17,000 miles when we got it. Previously, I learned driving long Ford Commercial vans during summers as a plumbing assistant. I was very used to driving giant, long vehicles with only side mirrors. Getting into the CRV was stepping into a Go Kart by comparison. Still owned by the family with roughly 70,000 miles, mostly mine, and I still drive it today, but I digress. I go away to college in Ithaca. When my brother bought his first car, I got the CRV and used it for the last two years of college. Graduated in 2010, gone from one internship to another, then on a ‘semi-paid’ internship that would end late March of 2011. It’s January of that year, I’m 23, will soon have no ‘job’. My way of thinking…I have no responsibilities…no obligations…now should be the time to do a grand adventure before I lose all my freedom in a permanent position. Of course, I had no idea what (I also had no idea how I wouldn't be getting any permanent position anytime soon Lol).

I can’t remember what the inspiration was, be it from the Delorean forums or finding a random video on Youtube, but it lead me to the website “Streetsafari.net”. This was where I discovered a road rally would take place from New York City to New Orleans over the span of five days. First week of June. Dubbed the BABE RALLY (Big Apple to Big Easy), I was very eager for this to be that adventure. The catch, the car had to cost less than $500. Being a huge Top Gear fan, I jumped at the chance to do a road-trip in this fashion. The additional plus was that I had never bought and owned my own vehicle. I would be searching for my first car as well, so the hunt began eagerly for suitable wheels.

I was surprised if I could find anything considering this was after the Cash for Clunkers. A lot of good cars were toast which could have been awesome beaters. Over the course of four months I was casually searching craigslist and eBay. For the allotted price range, I was looking for old cop cars or 80s runners. Late March, all my friends who were going to be on the team backed out. I couldn’t afford the trip on my own, so I stopped car hunting. Get a random e-mail from an Englishman and a Scotsman in London asking if I needed a team because their leader left. They had the flight, hotels, but no car. We teamed up and they said “The older, less economical and more quintessentially American the better I say”.

I learned a lot about inspecting cars and test drives in that time. It was a great learning experience since I was very shy back in the day. I still wanted an LT1 Caprice or some old cop car. Passed on an 80s Ford Crown Vic, but later I realized it had a 351 and not a 302. A late model Ford Country Squire that had a burned out overdrive. And a rusted 84 Plymouth Gran Fury with a 318. But I found what I thought would be it. A 1994 Caprice LT1 9C1. It was a former DARE awareness vehicle for a little under $1000, too good to be true…and it was when I saw it in person. Hole in the driver’s side footwell, dry-rotted tires, not registered, and was puking oil on the test drive around the block (think because they didn’t measure how much oil was put in and was overflowing badly).

Morale was low until April 28th, my birthday, when I visited a kid at Philadelphia Biblical University. I had found this.





1989 Buick Electra Estate Wagon. 81,888 miles. Body was straight. Woodgrain was peeling. Engine and trans were good. Rusted exhaust, but not too bad. Manual pump rear bags that were shot. However, the most important for this drive down south in the summer was that the A/C worked. $500 and I had my first car. Oddly enough, it was very easy to get accustomed to it and was surprisingly maneuverable. The windows and visibility reminded me of the CRV and the size was no different than the Ford vans I drove. It was like both of those vehicles combined. One big difference was the super soft ride. I described it as driving on a cloud; floated up and down over the bumps (probably because it had no rear shocks). Course I’m a kid and knew nothing.

I christened it Firefly based off the show and the class of spaceship of the same name. It was huge and it was like piloting a giant vessel. The guys from London loved it. They couldn't stop smiling. The rally itself was smooth with nothing breaking or shorting out. Firefly performed flawlessly at an averaged 19 miles to the gallon. Since it's more about Firefly than the rally, I won't write about it too much...but here is a documentary about the trip and actually obtaining the car:





When the rally was done, I was supposed to sell or scrap the car. A bit of fun before moving on to buy something I really wanted, a replacement…I didn't do that. I got very attached to the old wagon. The roadtrip was the first real drive with it and I just loved it; much to the dismay of my Mom, Dad, and my Brother who’d pay me to push the thing off a cliff. Since then I've been just enjoying it and trying to find what’s broken. My way of thinking, everything replaced will be new and since I started with $500, it’ll be a good platform to build upon.

The rusty exhaust cracked and fell off, so I had true dual exhausts with Series 50 Flowmasters installed (I also learned what drone is when you don’t have resonators. Ugh.). Also fixed were new springs, shocks, and a swaybar making her handle well for a car it's size.








The Jasper transmission's TV Detent cable snapped and little did I know that driving with that gone is ‘not good’. I just thought, “where did my kick-down go?” as I pressed harder on the gas pedal. With the trans fried, I had the choice to scrap the car or get a new transmission. The logical choice should have been get rid of the car for the money in it. I went illogical and bought a new and uprated transmission that would handle 500HP and 500TQ. Spending the money on the exhaust was the first intent to keep it and the transmission was the ultimate dedication to turning it into what I envisioned it to be. A stealthy sleeper and tire churner.

The plan is to paint her gloss black with nicer woodgrain, build an aluminum headed Olds 455 with MPFI (it’d be hard to go from the CCC to regular carb. I like my cold starts), and add a posi 3.42. Of course it’s a big hurdle when you have a slanted driveway, no mechanical expertise, and parents saying you can’t take up the driveway for too long. Little at a time. I am eager to learn. If anything, I’m a good researcher and know how to source parts and plan the path to take. And plans change all the time. Might even use a 350 and a well tuned Quadjet instead. One definite for this New Year, third times the charm for Wagonfest. After two tries and at the last minute to be forced to cancel, I will make it to this event.



Personally, Firefly has become a good way of accomplishing things. I have returned to college to get another degree and better the resume. I make only 25K yearly, so it helps in thinking progress is being done in at least one aspect of my life. A lot of plans I had fallen through or got delayed the past couple years, but the wagon represents a bit of the old life I had. The one thing that hasn’t fallen apart. The young kid thinking everything is going to be great from here on out. Optimism, sort of speak.

Funny where life takes you. Always wanted that Caprice cop car. Instead, I end up with something older, way less powerful, more outdated, harder for parts, and looks like more like an old man’s car. And I couldn't be happier. It’s not that I love Buick Electras…I love MY Buick Electra. It has the memories. It has history. I know every little fault and scratch and dent (sometimes caused by me). Would I ever buy one again? No. I’ll get the caprice or Roadmaster Wagon. Not because my model wasn’t a good car, it's because anything else would just be a car. Mine is special because of the story and the sense of freedom around it. And my first car. That in itself is special.



Of course I lust after black 1967 Impala Sport Sedans, 1981 Deloreans, 68-69 Pontiac GTOs, a Viper GTS, and other classics. Even post 90s cars like the Toyota FRS, Mazda RX-8, or late 90s Dodge Rams. I am not tied to one specific group. I still may want to get that 94-96 Caprice to get the bug out of the system. Being on this site has made me respect and like the Roadmasters and caprice estates a lot more than before. Doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy what I have. I still get a smile when I drive. How other motorists take a further line away cause they think it’s an old man behind the wheel. Feeling the firm brake pedal cause there is no ABS.

I know this went long, but it was a blast to re-watch and look at some old nostalgia.



As an added bonus, today January 2nd, she rolled back and went over 100,000:


Last edited by steel-and-fire on Sat Jan 03, 2015 12:29 am; edited 1 time in total
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JoeT

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PostSubject: Re: January's Wagon of the Month 2015   Fri Jan 02, 2015 9:56 pm

Congrats on the LROM selection!
What a GREAT write-up!

I'm looking forward to reading more about your adventures with Firefly...and whatever you add to your collection in the future!
JoeT
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Big Wagon Guy

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PostSubject: Great Write up   Sat Jan 03, 2015 9:01 pm

Enjoyed the story. I had the identical car in Black with Tan interior. Loved that car and miss it to this day. A 455 would certainly turn it into a torque monster...and with your new transmission you should even get decent mileage. (I have that same combo in a 75 LeSabre Rag Top).

Good luck with your studies, and I hope your able to keep your 1st car for a very long time.
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Wagoninabox

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PostSubject: Re: January's Wagon of the Month 2015   Sat Jan 03, 2015 10:21 pm

Great backstory.
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stewzer55

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PostSubject: Re: January's Wagon of the Month 2015   Sun Jan 04, 2015 4:23 pm

Great story. We're about the same age and its really amazing to me how different our lives have been, where I have spent most of my life its nearly impossible to get by without access to a car. In rural areas, Ohio for me, nearly everyone gets access to a car or their first car when they get their license.
But in high school I lived in a small city and just close enough to school to walk, I didn't get my first car until I was in college.
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Sprocket

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PostSubject: Re: January's Wagon of the Month 2015   Mon Jan 05, 2015 12:41 pm

Great and well written story. Can't wait to get home from work to watch the videos...

I still miss my first vehicle but at the time to let it go, it was the right thing (was in college, it got hit and I didn't have the money to fix, so moved on to a supposedly 'better' car (in my parent's eyes).
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steel-and-fire



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PostSubject: Re: January's Wagon of the Month 2015   Mon Jan 05, 2015 2:58 pm

Wagoninabox wrote:
Great backstory.
Thanks for the kind words.

JoeT wrote:
I'm looking forward to reading more about your adventures with Firefly...and whatever you add to your collection in the future!
JoeT

Thanks Joe. I'm just as eager to watch your Caballero get spruced up and running.


Big Wagon Guy wrote:
A 455 would certainly turn it into a torque monster...and with your new transmission you should even get decent mileage. (I have that same combo in a 75 LeSabre Rag Top)... I hope your able to keep your 1st car for a very long time.

I hope so too. If I am going to have crappy mileage in general, I figured might as well have the power that goes with it. 19-20 mpg with the CCC and a "modest" 307...on a good day...if I could get those same numbers with a mild 455 it'd be great. I press the pedal to the floor just to get up and going. What kind of mileage does your LeSabre get? Mid to high teens?


stewzer55 wrote:
Great story.  We're about the same age and its really amazing to me how different our lives have been, where I have spent most of my life its nearly impossible to get by without access to a car.  In rural areas, Ohio for me, nearly everyone gets access to a car or their first car when they get their license.
But in high school I lived in a small city and just close enough to school to walk, I didn't get my first car until I was in college.

I had a friend who moved to Ohio for a bit, and pretty much told me the nearest town/city was 30-40 minutes from him so I get what you mean. Strangely, you don't even need to be in a rural area for that. When I was working in Burbank, CA for three months, you needed a car to go anywhere. No real mass transit and certain streets wouldn't allow you to cross if you were walking. Ithaca, NY was more friendly if you didn't have wheels.


Sprocket wrote:
Great and well written story.  Can't wait to get home from work to watch the videos...
Enjoy them. It was a task taking a week's worth of footage and condensing it into about an hour video.
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phantom 309

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PostSubject: Re: January's Wagon of the Month 2015   Mon Jan 05, 2015 8:33 pm


I have a 468 olds motor with an set of low rise dual quad carbs,
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uxwbill

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PostSubject: Re: January's Wagon of the Month 2015   Tue Jan 06, 2015 12:28 am

Such an awesome story! Loved reading the whole thing! Nice to hear that your first wagon is still with you! It looks great for its age. I remember when those were much more common than they are now.
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81X11

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PostSubject: Re: January's Wagon of the Month 2015   Tue Jan 06, 2015 10:17 am

Great write-up. Enjoyed it all and look forward to following along with your updates. Since we had an '86 Electra Estate your car brings back fond memories for me. And of course I have a soft spot for white-over-maroon wagons!

Keep her on the road!

-Mike
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scoffman

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PostSubject: Re: January's Wagon of the Month 2015   Wed Jan 07, 2015 11:53 am

Awesome story. I enjoyed the read and images. Now I have to go back and watch the videos.
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