Submission Thursday: Dime Edition

This is a tale of love and loss, twists and turns and even a surprise or two.  No it’s not an M.Night Shyamalan script, this is a story from one of our beloved readers, Mr_Biggles, about a man and his Datsun. 

Back in the mid-80s, when I was 16 or so and living in Calgary, I shelled out a whopping $75 for a 1971 Datsun 510.  I bought it from a friend of a friend in Saskatoon and drove it to Calgary, burnt clutch and all, fuelled by graham crackers dipped in Nutella and duMaurier Special Milds. I then drove the thing for over 10 years in varying states of disrepair. I built an L20B engine for it in shop class in high school. The old one ran fine, but the new one was bigger (Ooooh!). It was the first engine I had rebuilt from the ground up, including boring it out with a portable Van Norman Boring Bar that no one knew how to use anymore. I never even expected it to turn over and start, let alone drive back and forth across the country a number of times. The car was a little rough around the edges and not big on creature comforts, but it was easy to fix and it never really left me stranded anywhere. Of course, my definition of stranded was different back when I didn’t have kids or a real job. Back then I had no problem sleeping on the side of the road waiting for daylight so I could see to fix something myself.
At that time Calgary wasn’t using salt on the roads in winter, just a mix of sand and gravel. This kept the worst of the rust at bay but, more importantly, made for superb rally driving after a week of heavy winter and some good ice build-up on the neighbourhood streets. Mount Royal was especially good for it because of the hills and sweeping bends. The sand provided just the right amount of grip for low speed drifting and you didn’t need gobs of horsepower.
Every summer I would pack up and drive to Ontario where my family had a place on Georgian Bay. Later, when I lived and worked at a marina near the family cottage, I would drive it back out West once the marina had shut down for the winter. In the car’s “final” year I drove it from Parry Sound to Vancouver, then all the way back across to St. John’s for Christmas, then home to Ontario. It was so cold driving through Quebec that winter that I had to drive in my sleeping bag to stay warm. The car was pretty rusty and the wind came in a lot. So in winter, it would warm up nicely sitting still, but the heater couldn’t stay ahead of the drafts at highway speeds, so it would slowly cool down as you drove. The sleeping bag made it a bit of a bitch to use the clutch, but once you were moving you could shift without it and so it was fine once you were going along in 4th on the highway.

I like the paint job, there I said it!

In my early 20’s I gave it the fine paint job you see here in the pictures. I also named it the Hairy Eyeball because driving it sometimes reminded me of that really hung over feeling you get when you’re so dehydrated that it feels like there’s fur on your eyelids scratching your eyeballs, and you wonder who’s cat shit in your mouth while you were sleeping.
The first year I drove to St. John’s with the new paint job, I was stopped by the OPP crossing the top of Toronto on the 401. Really, I think they just wanted to make sure I wasn’t stoned or something. When I told the cop I was on my way to Newfoundland I think he said something like “yeah that figures”. Then he made me promise not to drive into Toronto and let me go.

That same trip, on my way home, I drove it into the ditch in a snowstorm at night somewhere out on the Rock. It ripped up some of the exhaust just past the header collector, but I was trying to make the ferry that night so didn’t want to wait for the next day to get it fixed. I hadn’t quite realized how loud a car with an open header could be until I drive it onto the enclosed deck of a car ferry. Later, in Nova Scotia I stopped to have some welding done to try to make it a bit quieter again. The punk at the shop kept staring at me, then eventually made some “interesting paint job” comments and asked if I was a real hippie.
Even though the engine was still strong, I finally got tired of trying to locate parts to keep the rest of the car going. Ontario doesn’t have the same pick your own part junkyard scene that Alberta did. Here they had long ago crushed all the cars I wanted to pick parts from. So I bought a truck one spring and coldly turned my back on the Eyeball. It lived in a boat shed for the summer at the marina where I worked because I had nowhere else to put it at the time. That fall the guy up the highway who ran a tractor-trailer shop agreed to take it away. The shed had a damp dirt floor and the rear brakes had rusted and seized up, so I had to use the marina’s forklift to get the car out. The pictures were taken while I waited for buddy to come with his flatbed.
Buddy was pretty handy with the tools and the welder. He took the engine and transmission from the Eyeball and built them into a frame he had made for a little yard tractor. He even put a hydraulic pump and scoop bucket on the front for clearing snow. And while he had geared it all down through a chain and sprocket, the 120-odd horsepower L20 could really get the thing hopping. It was pretty entertaining.

Buddy closed shop and moved away a few years later and sold the tractor to someone in Parry Sound. I was driving through town one day and saw it on the side of the road, for sale yet again. I happened to have the camera, so that would be the picture you see here. No idea where it is now. Maybe it’s still running…
I would hope it still is.  Thanks for the story Mr_Biggles!

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  1. muthalovin Avatar

    Awesome read. Thank you Mr_Biggles.

  2. dr zero Avatar

    Great story Mr Biggles. Although I was a little disappointed to find it wasn't about shooting down Huns over France in your Camel.

    1. Mr_Biggles Avatar

      And I thought my dad was the only other one who had read those!

      1. highmileage_v1 Avatar

        Outstanding read Mr_Biggles. Camels? France? Not Bart Bandy/Donald Jack by any chance?

      2. dr zero Avatar

        They were probably more of a Empire/Commonwealth kind of thing to read. Even though the concept of defeating the Germans is universal.

  3. Impalamino Avatar

    "The sleeping bag made it a bit of a bitch to use the clutch…"
    Well put.

  4. CptSevere Avatar

    Wow. What a great story about a beercan that nobody else would care about, yet alone nurse along to the bitter end. Of course, a 510 isn't really a beercan, but you know what I'm saying. I really like the tractor that it ended up being in its afterlife.

  5. Shelley Berkley Avatar

    I strayed on this blog a couple weeks back and I just cannot get enough! Please keep writing!