Dukes of Howell, Part 2: Wrenching The Old Chevette Back To Life

Dukes of Howell, Part 2: Wrenching The Old Chevette Back To Life
An old Chevy Chevette. [Photo: Wikimedia Commons]

SEE ALSO: Dukes of Howell, Part 1: Living On The Edge In An Old Chevy Chevette

When you’re an empty-pocketed teenager, you fix things.  A few weeks later, my friend Brent had found a donor Chevy Chevette located a few dirt roads down, and unbelievably in worse condition than his.  Though the axle and engine mostly functioned, the clutch was toast so it needed to be towed.  Brent’s step dad had lent us his well-used, late-70’s Caprice Classic as a tow vehicle.  We wrapped an old chunk of rope to the Caprice’s oxidized rump and the other side haphazardly on the front suspension of the junkyard ready Chevette.

With me towing the lifeless little benefactor behind me, Brent thought it would be hilarious to yank the e-brake handle and simulate a water-skier’s back and forth motion behind me down the dirt road.  It worked, and I belly laughed wildly.  That is, up until the little Chevette became unhooked from the makeshift tow-rope.

It careened into a ditch, landing on two wheels and the passenger-side door.  Dangerous? Yes, but it only served to produce more guffaws from us.  We hooked the freshly side-crinkled hunka-junk back up to the Caprice with a makeshift square knot in the weathered rope, and eventually made it back to Brent’s house.

With zero surgical efforts made, we started the transplant.  The axle was easy; cinder-block jack stands, a few rusty U-bolt nuts and the exchange was complete.  The engine swap was a bit more challenging.  We had uncorked the transmission from both vehicles, generating a few choice words and bloody-knuckles in the process. We then used a 5-foot piece of wood placed across each fender, and a chain to keep the motor from falling off its mounts.  It was only then that we realized we had no means to jack the motors out and swap them.  No cherry picker.  No hoist.  Then we thought, “What would MacGyver do?”

Home base for our garage repairs — the tool cabinet. [Photo: Matt Brenner]

Quickly we devised a plan.

Being young and strong and not so elegant, we each grabbed an end of the 4×4 and lifted. Probably not with our legs either.  Thankfully the little pebble of a motor was not terribly heavy so we wrangled it out without too much drama.  Likewise, for the donor-car’s power plant.

By the time the light got dim outside; Brent’s pile made noise out of the coat-hanger hung tailpipe once again.  With no regard for the full day of work we had just put in, the first test drive was a familiar high RPM sideways-slide out of the driveway, with screaming tires, and two goofy gear-heads pretending to be Bo and Luke.

I must admit that I sometimes miss the simplicity of garage wrenching with crappy lighting, homemade tools and the overwhelming smell of kerosene from portable heaters. No Google for torque specifications, just slap it together and thrash it until the next weakest link shows itself.

That little Chevette continued to teach us invaluable lessons in roadside repairs and scavenging junkyards for parts during our most impressionable car-guy years.  Though it’s long gone, I still find myself foraging my garage for random pieces of steel, bolts and tie-straps whenever something breaks.  No doubt all because a couple of friends in auto shop learned how to keep a crappy little car on life support, while continuing their endless pursuit of motorized fun.

Now…where the hell did I put that 10mm socket?