Thursday, November 18, 2010

My Screamin' Demon

Exploring the Big Sur coast - Autumn 1990
 If I won the lottery, there are lots of things I'd do, but perhaps the silliest would be to hunt down a 1971 Dodge Demon and bring her home. (This is my closest match so far.) My parents conspired to purchase my first car for me, and Dad made a really great choice in this slant-six, 225 with something like 40,000 miles on it. When she showed up in my parents' driveway she was already a teenager, but she was in great shape and perfect for a kid heading to college some 800 miles away. I washed her, waxed her, tended to her every need, slept in her, slept on her, watched movies while perched on her hood and snuggled in her front seat, loaded her down, loved her and drove her some 300,000 miles before I finally traded her in - biggest mistake of my entire life. (Really, in the scope of all the mistakes a person could make I suppose this one wasn't THAT bad...but still.)

Arches National Park - winter 1988
I always loved the Demon. She got me where I wanted to go despite rough treatment - jammin' at highway speeds through summer desert in the heat of day, bouncing down dirt roads in southern Utah, climbing the Rockies, overnight runs to God knows where just because it was fun to drive with the windows down. Even when I was under the hood replacing the exhaust manifold the Screamin' Demon served me well - I met lots of new friends that weekend while working in my college dorm parking lot.

Dodge only made the Demon, its answer to the Plymouth Dart, for two years - 1971 and 1972. It was marketed as a muscle car and its 340 version was, according to some, the fastest car built in 1971. (Mine was the long-haul version, but I never tested her full speed potential.) While many of its parts would swap with the Dart series, it had a rounder feel than the box Dart and unique taillights. Dodge found itself in hot water with the conservative set due to its choice of moniker and its move to advertise with models carrying pitchforks. The cute little devil graphic on some of the emblems probably didn't help matters, either.

But at just over 300,000 miles, she was growing weak. I still blame the forced change from leaded to unleaded gas for the burnt valves, but time and hard labor wear out even the strongest survivors. I had her valves replaced months before I moved some 800 miles back toward home and had barely finished paying off the job when she began to lose power again.

"Valves," they said.

"The hell you say," I said.

The first valve job had been cheaply performed and I was too far away from the shop to do anything about it - except pay for a new job.

But I had a new job, and it required that I actually show up on time every morning (and sometimes VERY early in the morning) one town away. I felt pressured to make a decision, to ensure that I had a vehicle I could trust. I didn't consider all my options. (Due to my hours, carpooling was not among those, and due to distance neither was the limited mass transit here. But borrowing a vehicle? That might have happened - if I'd only thought to ask!) And given that the first valve job didn't do the trick, my limited knowledge had me wondering if a second try would do it.

So I traded her in...for a little, four-door sedan that I nearly could have fit in her trunk and back seat. The new car got great mileage and started without a hiccup. It was exciting. But it wasn't long before I was missing my ol' Demon.

I don't see Demons on the road very often, but Sunday, on my way through old Orcutt, I spotted her - my car. Or a car that looked a LOT like her. Of course I whipped around and followed her the half block until she pulled over in a convenience store parking lot. As the owner crawled out, I pulled up behind his car.

"Where did you GET that CAR," I hollered.

"Iversen's," he said.

"That's my CAR!"

"In 1971," he said with a smile. He is the original owner of his 1971 Dodge Demon with the 340 and four on the floor. I'm sure he wondered what the h-e-double-hockey-sticks this woman in a minivan could possibly know about his Demon. But he caught on quickly as I asked the details.

"Is it the slant-6?" was probably the first giveaway.

Turns out he would sell it, for a price. $15,000 to be exact. He knows what he has, and he's not giving it away - or trading it in.


  1. I love old cars! My 1966, 6cyl, 3 on the floor is what "introduced" my husband and I!

    Cute story. :)

  2. I can't believe you let me drive that around at 16 years old, when Tom and I came to California. I remember the Power she had. Two big lessons I remember you taught me that summer in that car... don't back up any more than necessary, and turn your wheels into the curb when you park on a hill.
    And I recall you saying just a few years ago, why doesn't any of the new cars have a fresh air vent you can open to blow cold air on your face while the heater is on, like my old Demon.
    Good ol' car.

  3. Yeah...that fresh air thing...I miss it, among other things.

    As for you taking off in it when you were 16 - that's what happens when you're a responsible, trustworthy, wonderful teen! I had all the faith in the world in you, and still do.


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