Saturday, September 3, 2016

"Yes, Virginia, there really was a BATMOBILE"

Because our Plymouth Belvedere (see my Plymouth Belvedere post) was essentially rotting, I was able to sell it to an insurance salesman who said he only wanted it for going fishing...a likely story.  He was a really nice guy, but no one at GSRI bought any insurance from him.  So OK, let's assume he needed a car for "fishing."  I let him have it for $300.

Since all my GSRI friends knew I was in the market for a replacement, the auto sales husband of one of our urban planning researchers was summoned. His name was Don. Don was truly expert on the automobile economy and when I told him that I simply needed dependable transportation, he delivered. A couple of days after our initial meeting he drove up with this awful looking black beast (1964 Mercury Montclaire) and said "No, Jerry, this is NOT a joke.  This is truly a dependable car."  He said "Here, take it for a test drive down GSRI Ave."

Now GSRI Av offered about 7500 feet of straight, low volumn pavement which had a reputation for allowing itchy racing enthusiasts late evening speed thrills.

So I agreed to test drive the Montclaire.  I opened it up, getting up to 95 MPH before coming to the end of that stretch.  That was a "WOW".  The car had power, great pickup and this little brief test was smooth sailing. Without consulting Gloria I agreed to buy it for the asking price of $450 (a great deal).  I did ask Don why it was selling so cheaply.  He simply said "...because it was so ugly no one wanted it." That satisfied me.

When I brought it home, Gloria's first reaction was "What is THAT?" I briefed her about the excellent condition the car was in and the great deal I got to which she responded "You're kidding!"  I said "No, it's in great shape".  She said "I didn't mean THAT, I meant are you kidding about having ALREADY PURCHASED IT?"  Gulp!  Ofcourse I wasn't kidding and it did no good to show her how ingeniously this car had been designed -- the rear roll-down window which enabled the under dash manual vents to draw in cool outside air and not least of which was our ability to carry lumber or ladders through that rear opening.  Again she said "You're KIDDING!" Another gulp. Footnote here: "We're still married."

With great reluctance Gloria finally settled into acceptance, but not without occasional reminders about how extremely ugly it was. Friends at GSRI referred to my Montclaire as a "Batmobile".  I kind of liked that "alias", but Gloria would only utter "You're kidding!" She reminded me that THAT vehicle was mine and she hoped not to ever be seen in it.  

Fortunately she still drove and still loved her little 1960 VW Beetle.  I'll have to admit that she was cute as can be in that little bug.  She loved it.  She especially loved being able to do a U-turn inside one lane. She could manuever that little beetle in and out of traffic like a real pro.

She did admit one time that the Montclaire served us well one weekend when we went to Lowes for some lumber.  She had to admit that the rear roll-down window came in really handy.  But she still stuck with her assessment: "But it is still ugly."

Then one evening in late 1978 an event occurred and Gloria crossed her fingers.  As president of the Capital Area Personnel Association, I was enroute to our monthly meeting and had picked up my secretary Lisa (also a member of CAPA).  Lisa lived about 4 blocks from me.  While driving down Country Club drive I was suddenly hit by a car on my right that was backing out of its driveway.  The collision pushed Lisa practically into my lap.  My right front door was severely caved in.  No one was hurt, thank God, but my beloved Montclaire was seriously damaged.

When the police arrived, it was readily established that the elderly lady who backed into me was 100% at fault.  I felt very sorry for her.  She kept saying "It was all my fault.  I thought I was putting on the brake, but instead I was putting on the gas."

Fortunately the only damage was that door.  The door posts were unharmed which turned out to be a stroke of good luck as I would learn later that my car would probably have been totalled had a door support been hit.  But nonetheless there was no way to open or close that door. That's when Gloria crossed her fingers...not in the hope of getting it fixed, but quite the contrary ... maybe this will be the beginning of the END of the Batmobile.

The dealership said they would try to find a junk yard door since the manufacturer no longer made parts for this model.  Gloria's fingers crossed even tighter.  After weeks of trying to locate a worthy junk yard replacement, the dealership said there were no junk yard copies available now and that since this model was so rare I might not ever find a replacement.  Hmmmm!  Bad news. And worse yet was the fact that my inspection sticker was soon coming due.  Gloria lit up. She assumed this meant that the Montclaire would finally be junked.  How wrong she was.

I was determined to keep my precious Montclaire and to get it fixed ... somehow.  Then one weekend on one of our oft travelled picknicking visits to St. Francisville's Oakley Plantation, my oldest child, Jerry III, said "Hey Dad! Did you see your car back there?" Jerry knew that I was hoping to find a door for my car. Of course we were in my Montclaire at that time since Gloria's VW would have been too small for such an outing.  "What do you mean 'my car back there'" I responded.  Jerry said "There was a green version of this car back at that Texaco station." I said "Really? Please remind me to stop there on our way back." Seeing a Mercury Montclaire anywhere was a rare sight.

Later that evening on our return from Oakley Plantation, we stopped at the Texaco which was not open since it was a Sunday.  I got out and closely inspected that green Montclaire.  Jerry was right.  It was indeed a green version of my car and the good news was that it had obviously not been driven for quite some time.  I wrote a note and put it on the windshield.  Gloria asked "What did you put on the note?"  I told her that I didn't want the owner to think I was desperate, but simply said: "Interesting car.  Does it run?"  I left my office phone number.

By Wednesday of the following week, having not been called by the Texaco station, I decided to call.  The nice gentleman who answered admitted that he had not even seen the note since he seldom had occasion to look at the car.  He said that the car was "payment" for repair work he had done for another of the car's owner's other vehicles.  He then said that it had been just sitting there for nearly a year.  He then asked "Are you interested in it?" Not wanting to appear desperate, I simply said I was intrigued with that car's design.  "Any interest in selling it?" I asked.  He resolutely said "No way!"  Of course I was not happy with that answer and was quite surprised at his apparent inflexibility, but decided to bid him farewell.  While returning home Jerry asked "Why didn't you make him an offer?"  I said "He has my number.  I'll wait him out."

My "wait" bore no fruit.  So the following weekend we made another picnicking trek to St. Francisville.  On our return I pulled into the station and put another note on the windshield. This one simply said "$75" plus my office phone #.  

The next day (a Monday) and the next (Tuesday) I received no call back.  On Wednesday I was about to call him when my phone rang.  It was him, the Texaco guy.  He said "You'll give me $75 for that car?" Upon hearing me say "Yes" he proceeded to tell me about all the car's imperfections.  Though I had closely inspected the car's right front door, I simply asked "Any body damage?" He said that the trunk's lock was broken because he didn't have a key and needed to get into it. This little flaw was no problem for me.

I told him I'd bring him $75 before the end of the week.  He agreed.  In the meantime I got in touch with my friend, Jim Davis (now deceased) who ran his own body shop.  I told Jim about my need and Jim asked if I needed to keep the green car after he had installed and painted the "new" door.  He agreed to do the job in exchange for the green car.  I agreed. My insurance allowed free towing, so I had the green car towed to Jim's shop.  The tow truck's driver simply put "1964 Mercury Montclaire on the ticket" which allowed me to get reimbursed by my insuror.  I asked Jim if I could strip the green car of anything after he had completed the job and he said yes provided I didn't take the wheels or the tires.  Agreed. Jerry and I went to Jim's shop with tools and took odds and ends from the green car including a right side visor which my black Montclaire needed. I also salvaged some really nice floor mats, a better bumper jack and a heavy duty lug wrench.

After having received $450 from the insurance settlement, I found myself ahead by $375 plus the salvage items.  I felt no quilt for this gain.  After all I had to continue using the Batmobile in that condition for nearly a year and had to listen to more of Gloria's admonitions.  These little inconveniences were certainly worth something.

Gloria was not impressed with our little salvage "prizes" though she was happy that we could now replace that ratty visor.  And she never said "You're kidding." But one day after loading the VW with groceries from Krogers, she pulled into the driveway when suddenly the VW's engine compartment caught fire.  I was not at home, but she explained that she quickly asked our number 2 son, Mike, to come out and help her get the groceries out of the car.  She may lose the car, but she damn sure wasn't going to lose her groceries.  But while she got the groceries Mike got our garden hose and started spraying the engine compartment until the fire was out. But this was now the end of her precious beetle.  Gloria was broken-hearted.  In consoling her I felt as if we had lost a family member.

My mother's health was declining and Gloria made daily 3-4 hour visits to help her with her medical and personal needs.  Mom allowed Glo the use of her 1973 Buick Centurion.

In 1981 my mother passed away.  She died intestate and my brother agreed to let us keep the Centurion. But Gloria still missed her VW.  That was her baby.

One day when Gloria was about to run an errand in the Centurion she noticed a long scratch on the right side of the car.  Because our daughter, Felicia, had recently used the car, Gloria asked her about the scratch. Felicia said she didn't know about it.  Our other kids had not used the car and also didn't know about the scratch. She re-interrogated Felicia further who then paused with obvious contemplation and said with what appeared to be feigned surprise "I may have hit a bus."  To which Gloria said "YOU MAY HAVE HIT A BUS?" Felicia said she had made a left turn off of Perkins as a city bus was also turning left in the approaching on-coming lane and the bus "may have hit her during the turn." Gloria said "Well, did you stop and was the accident reported?" Felicia said "No because I wasn't sure he had hit me." Gloria told her that that was a hit and run, but Felicia reminded Gloria that she hadn't done the hitting, that it was the bus that "hit and ran."  Wonderful logic.  Anyway, the scratch, while unsightly, did not hamper the car's performance, so that issue was permanently put to rest.

A few months later Felicia called us with the news that she had accidently backed into a landscape planter when leaving a night class she was taking at LSU.  Crap! So Gloria and I went to her rescue and sure enough there was the Centurion with its rear wheels stuck in a landscape planter.  "Felicia, how the hell do you manage to accomplish this?" To which she tearfully replied "I was just backing out of this parking slot and wound up in this planter." After calling a tow service from a pay phone and getting the car pulled free, Gloria cut her no slack and insisted on driving the car herself.  We were in my Montclaire.  I waited until they were clear of the parking lot, but as Gloria proceeded to the lot's exit, boom, she also went into a planter. Another call to the tow.  Felicia didn't say a word and Gloria turned crimson with embarrasment. Nothing more was said about Felicia's driving.

In 1988 I took full retirement from GSRI and was allowed, as part of the retirement settlement, to assume ownership of one of GSRI's fleet cars, a 1978 Pontiac Bonnaville along with a computer and several nice pieces of office furnishings.

Since I now had another "less ugly" car, it was now time to find one for Gloria.  While the Centurion was dependable and comfortable, Gloria really wanted something smaller and more maneuverable much like the VW had been.  

Then in 1988 we found this 1986 Honda Accord.  She fell in love with it.  We bought it and Gloria's distaste for and resentment of having to be seen in or anywhere near the Batmobile quickly dissapated.  I could now relax since she had a very satisfactory replacement of her beloved VW Beetle.

Since I now had the Pontiac I gave the Montclaire to  Felicia.

And so now we swerve into another Batmobile saga.

One afternoon I get a call from Felicia.  "Daddy, can you come help me out?" "How do you mean 'come help you out'"? "I just had an accident."  After establishing that no one was injured I went to the scene of the accident.  Upon arriving I saw this police officer surveying the collision and while scratching his head he said "This car (meaning the Montclaire) just ran into the rear of this car (a brand new Chrysler New Yorker) and this car (the Montclaire) has no damage at all, but this one (the New Yorker) is probably going to be totalled." I proudly directed his attention to the Montclaire's front bumper which was about 200 pounds of heavy chrome steel. 

 The rear of the New Yorker was a combination of plastic and what appeared to be particle board. Hmmm!  The officeer  became a believer.

A few weeks later, upon seeing a scratch on the Merc's front bumper, I asked Felicia about it.  She said she was driving down Woodside Dr to the house when this US Postal Service vehicle suddenly backed out of a driveway and hung itself up on the front of the Merc.  I had a flash-back to "YOU MAY HAVE HIT A BUS?"  So I asked "Did you report it?" She said "Oh no, it was just a scratch.  I didn't want to get the poor guy in trouble with the postal service." Felicia has always had a generous heart. All I could think of was how very fortunate the bus driver and the postal worker were.

Upon the turn of the century in 2003 my precious Pontiac B
onneville  was slowly becoming a disappointing replacement of the Batmobile as the Bonneville 's decorative detailing strips on both sides of the vehicle began to peal and hang loosely.  The car's finish began to discolor and fade, the driver door could not be opened from the outside and Gloria once again began with her "you've got to be kidding" chastisements.

But then to her great relief one night she returned from the Baton Rouge Little Theater where she was and had been the production manager for several years.  She came to the bedroom and asked "where's your car?" To which I responded "What do you mean?" She said "it's not in the driveway" I went outside and my Bonnaville was gone.  When I looked behind the hedges, she said "What are you doing?" Realising that my search was useless and that it could not possibly be "behind the hedges" I said "It's got to be out here someplace." She said "Why would you think it might be behind the hedges?" I felt stupid, but I was certainly not amused.  Upon spotting some broken glass under the spot where the car's driver door had been, I called the police to report my stolen car.

The next day I was visited by a very nice policeman who said that my car had been found.  It had been abandoned at the end of Yazoo St. near I-10.  He said it appeared to have been taken by a "joy rider."  He showed me the wiring harness saying this damage will probably result in your car being totalled.  The car had not been locked, but because the driver's door would not open from the outside, the thief broke the window to gain access.  Had he tried one of the other three doors he would not have had to break that window. His action just further confirmed that street criminals are dumb asses.

The officer was able to start the car for me, then he followed me to my car repair shop (Nolan Boudreaux) on N. Leo drive.  I thanked the nice officer and Nolan said "Jerry, it will cost more to repair than the car is worth."  This statement confirmed the officer's earlier presumption.

My insuror, State Farm, gave me a choice: I could keep that car and they would write me a check for $1100 or they could take the car and write me a check for $1300.  I settled for the latter.

I was able to to use that settlement as a downpayment on my current 2001 Saturn.

While the Saturn can certainly yield a worthy sequel to this Batmobile saga I think I will refrain from that temptation for the time being.

After all isn't enough enough?   But I do thank you, the reader, for getting this far.  And if you are truly starved for more automobile stories then I suggest you link to these:

Hit or Miss (1955 - 56)

It was not a good day

The Plymouth Belvedere

The Caprice and Dog Patch USA