(I’m still recovering and hoping to wade through the back stories I have not yet read and commented upon in the next few days. But I figured I might as well jump on this prompt while it’s still current. It’ll be short!)
More of a "boof."
It was one of those bone-chilling north Jersey nights, the kind where you start to think that summer is just a joke someone told you once. It had to be January or February of 1975, because I was driving home to Bayonne after a date with Maria. There were really not that many opportunities for driving home to Bayonne on frigid nights after dates with Maria.
It was late, well after midnight. No snow on the ground, and NJ Rt 21 nearly devoid of traffic. I was in my Dad’s 1969 Ford LTD. Four door. Brittany Blue. I was in Belleville. Or maybe it was Clifton. No matter; it was Rt. 21, and I had it to myself.
Still high on adrenaline and testosterone and sated young love, I decided I needed more adrenaline. I decided to see what the LTD could do. I floored it, made that 302 sing. Let her strut her stuff a bit, as I had. It was a night for strutting.
The test run ended at 102 mph.
At 102 mph (I have never forgotten that number) I heard a loud yet muffled noise. Not the explosive gunshot bang of a blown tire. Somewhat softer. Wetter. More of a “boof.”
The car didn’t swerve or jerk, so it clearly wasn’t a tire. But a couple of seconds post-boof, the engine died. This happened at a spot where 21 has some sharp turns, sandwiched between high concrete walls and the dark Passaic river. So it was probably Clifton. With no engine, I had no power steering or power brakes and was heading straight as the road curved, right for the concrete wall.
You can still steer a car whose power steering has died, but it takes a lot more effort than normal. The LTD handled like it had marshmallows for springs when it was running. That cold night with the engine seemingly seized up tight, I had to hunch my shoulder down and use body English and leg strength to get her to alter course.
Slowly, like the Titanic trying to avoid her hot date with the iceberg, the LTD started to come about. I got her stopped in the breakdown lane a few inches from the concrete, none the worse for wear except for a strong desire to vomit.
After spending some minutes letting the shakes die down, I turned the key. I didn’t have much hope, but the car started right up and ran fine. I gingerly drove the 20 miles back to Bayonne. I kept waiting for it to die and strand me in the Meadowlands, but I got home without any problems. I was still puzzling over the incident, still seeing the joints in that hard, looming concrete wall, when I drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, my Dad decided to check the antifreeze in the Ford. A few minutes later, he came back in, woke me up and asked me if I’d had any car troubles the night before. I decided not to mention almost splattering myself and his car all over Rt 21 (parents worry…) and just said it had made a funny noise and stumbled a bit. He said I should come out and look at it with him.
We crawled underneath and he showed me that the lower radiator hose had burst open like of those containers of dinner rolls on the commercials featuring the Pillsbury Doughboy. In a second all that precious Prestone had become a greenish-yellow stain on Rt. 21. On the way out it had hosed onto the alternator with enough force to get past the gasket, stall the engine and almost kill me.
Dad figured that it had to have happened close to home or the car would have overheated. But it had been so cold that night that I drove twenty miles in the world’s only air cooled 1969 Ford LTD.
A hyper-annuated wannabee scientist with a lovely wife and a mountain biking problem.