This is the sad story of a young man and a car, the car being the ’65 Barracuda pictured above. The photo was taken after the car had been disposed of- traded in on a 1966 Mustang GT- and was spotted parked by the roadside. Anyway, in the beginning, the young man (me), was driving a 1960 Ford Starliner with a 292 V-8 and a 3-speed Cruise-o-Matic automatic transmission. Or was it a two-speed Ford-o-Matic? Maybe brother Mando, who has a genius for learning, knowing and remembering the mechanical components of cars that have crossed his path can clear this up for us.
The 1960 STARLINER and the UNFORTUNATE INCIDENT
The Starliner, in its prime, had been quite a looker, with its white top and pale blue body, with that sweeping C-pillar and kickass style. (The picture above is not of the actual car but is a reasonable facsimile thereof.) Back in the day I had replaced its sad-looking stock wheel covers with some nice looking ’58 Ford full disk covers which had a lot more class and dignity than the stock items. The car was snazzy looking, even sexy, and served its purpose, which was to get us around town in style. But, one dark and stormy night, while speeding down a rainy street (Rio Grande Ave) after quaffing a few with some pals and while “racing” Phil Hayden (a fellow Western Electric Company installer with a Triumph TR-3) I managed to do a 360 in the Starliner and pretty much destroyed the right rear quarter panel by smashing into a parked car. I am not proud to admit that, once the car stopped and I realized that my passenger (Rick Young, also a WECo installer) and I were OK, we left the scene of the accident and drove to the nearest bar, The Pershing Inn, on Pershing Avenue in 5-Points. Once at the bar, I rethought my actions, called the police to report the accident and returned to the scene of the crime. The pertinent result of this unfortunate occurrence was that the 4-year old Starliner was basically a rolling wreck. Everything on that car was cherry except that danged (dinged?) right rear quarter panel. That and the fact that the car rolled down the street with a sort of sideways stance. So I dropped Mr. Young off at home, drove to Atascadero HQ, parked up on the lot, close to the garage wall so the body damage was out of sight, went inside and crashed (for the second time that night.) The next morning I had the duty the tell my mother, “Mom, I crashed the car.” She was relatively cool about it, no drama. By the way, I don’t recall having gotten a ticket for this accident, which was obviously my fault, and I suppose my insurance policy paid to fix that parked car, but I can not explain why I did not use that insurance coverage to fix the Ford. But the Starliner was drivable, so I continued to drive it.
UNDOING the DAMAGE
I had painted the word “Ouch” on the damaged quarter panel and went about my business. Some time later, brother Henry (aka Hank), and brother Mando’s acquaintance, Jaime Trejo, and I went to a junk yard in far East El Paso and found a ’60 Ford 2-door sedan with a good right rear quarter panel, which I bought, having erroneously assumed that the 2-door Starliner hardtop and the 2-door sedan models had identical rear quarter panels. We hauled the quarter panel home in Hank’s old Chevy pick up (it is relevant to our story that Hank’s “real” wheels were a very sweet ’64 Dodge Dart GT. It had a 273ci V-8 and a 4-speed stick and was burgundy with a black stripe in the chrome strip.) We hauled that fender to that same dirt lot where I had parked the Starliner that fateful night and I gave Mr. Trejo the go-ahead to cut the damaged panel out and weld in the replacement panel. Please note that this was a major replacement as the panel ran all the way from the back of the door opening to the rear bumper and from the base of the C-pillar to the door sill. Top to bottom, door to back. So, Mr. Trejo, who was apprenticing at a body shop on Wyoming Street, went to work and ripped off that grotesque, twisted body panel. Hank and Jaime and I then placed the replacement panel on the body and there was some good news and some bad news. The good news was that the two models had the same wheelbase and door opening (thank you Ford) so the door, wheel opening and rear matched up pretty well. But, at the base of the rear window, the pillared sedan had a longer top than the pillarless Sunliner, by about one inch, so the top ended a bit short of the new fender. Happily, this was only on that right corner as the trunk lid had not been damaged so all the rest of the car fit together OK. I am also happy to report that Trejo the Apprentice did a bang-up job of welding the car together. I can’t recall how much I paid him but, whatever it was, it was worth it. So I continued to drive the Starliner, now not quite so sexy and definitely a bit askew as it motored down the streets around El Paso. As (bad) luck would have it, the donor panel was from a cream colored car and I did not see fit to spring for a paint job, so, with the cream fender and pale blue car contrast, the body surgery was obvious to all. That Ford and I continued to cruise together until, later in ’64, I decided that it needed a paint job. So, being a bit tight, I opted to have the car painted in Juarez, Mexico and, as a further savings, I selected a black primer to be applied to the whole car! Think about it, could it really have cost less to primer a whole car than to simply paint that quarter panel in a matching blue? The possibility never entered my mind. At this juncture, I enlisted the assistance of brother Mando’s other acquaintance, one Mike (4-Speed) Chavaria, to pick up the car once it was painted. So we drove across the “free” bridge, I paid the man, drove whatever car it was I was in back and let MC bring the Starliner back to El Paso. The car looked amazingly good considering the trauma it had suffered but, sadly, it was the beginning of the end for our time together.
The END of the STARLINER
At some point in time, a moment of lapsed clarity which has long been lost in the rubble of the past, I decided that what I needed was a new car! I was young, I was single, I was employed and had a fairly decent, good-paying job, and I was not thinking clearly. I did not really give the matter that much thought but what I recall quite clearly is that all of us (me, younger brother Mando, older brother Hank and assorted hangers-on ) really liked Hank’s ’64 Dodge Dart. It looked great, had a nice V-8, a sweet shifting 4-speed stick, a classy black naugohyde interior, was fun to drive, had nice compact dimensions. Pretty ideal car for a young man. It is here that my thought processes failed me. Not wanting to get the same car that Hank had (partly because in ’65 Chrysler Corp messed up the Dart‘s looks with silly, cheap-looking bright work and other dumb modifications) I concluded that what I wanted was a ’65 Barracuda which was a Plymouth (RIP) model based on the Valiant, a car that had the same basic underpinnings as the Dart. The major difference was that the Darts had a slightly longer wheelbase. Thus it was that the wheels (PTP) were set in motion for me to buy my first car- a brand new 1965 Barracuda!
The 1965 BARRACUDA
In the mid-60s, across Texas Street from the old Mountain States Telephone Company “Main” building was the A. B. Poe Motor Company which was the authorized Chrysler/Plymouth dealer in El Paso. It was there that a naive young man would acquire his ’65 Barracuda in January of 1965. Curiously, the Plymouth Barracuda owns a little piece of automotive history. While everyone knows that Ford Motor Company unleashed the 64&1/2 Mustang in April of 1964, thus launching the pony car era, few of us are aware that the ’64 Barracuda, the other pony car, was launched 2 weeks before the Mustang, presumably in mid-March of ’64, thus becoming the actual first “pony” car. If the Barracuda had enjoyed the same success in the marketplace as the Mustang, this genre might be known as “fish” cars, rather than “pony” cars. But, be that as it may, both the Barracuda and the Mustang were on the market in January of 1965 when I decided against buying a Mustang (because everybody had one) and opted for a Barracuda, a smaller Dodge Dart, I thought. While the specifics of the transaction are somewhat murky, that January day I visited the aforementioned A. B. Poe Motor Company, looked over its selection of Barracudas and selected a nice, clean silver model with a black interior as my choice. In a stunning move on my part, I brought along as trades not only the diminished (and black primered) ’60 Starliner but also a ’54 Dodge that younger brother Mando had abandoned in that famous dirt lot at Atascadero when he left El Paso to go do some hard time in Uncle Sam’s army, first at Ft. Polk, LA and then in the frozen mountains of Germany. The Dodge
was an actual, complete, running car, only 10 years old at that time, but almost worthless to a young guy like me. Its only real fault, other than being a fuddy-duddy 4-door sedan, was that its semi-automatic fluid drive transmission (a manual transmission that, with the ingenious use of a torque converter, could be shifted without using the clutch pedal) had a problem with the reverse gear, which could not be engaged. I’ll let brother Mando regale you with the story about how he came to be in possession of that car, but I have to wonder what the guys at A. B. Poe thought when this young fool came into their dealership insisting on trading in these two cars on a new model. I’m sure they got the better end of the bargain in every way and all I am clear about is that the purchase was financed by the telephone company credit union and its head man, who we all knew as Murph. Murph was a typical businessman of that time. He had a bad leg and walked with a pronounced limp. It is just now that I think maybe he was a Korean War veteran (America’s forgotten heroes) and that the limp was the result of a war wound. Or maybe it was due to polio and he spent the war in a barroom. I never asked, I was not much of a people person, as this narrative attests. Murph came to a sad end from a self-inflicted wound shortly after a scandal was exposed asserting that there were some questionable transactions taking place in that credit union, but that was not until much later, after Murph had financed a second new car for me. Anyhow, the Barracuda, quite pretty if you allow for the fact that it had styling that some considered “odd duck” while others preferred to describe it as “ugly duckling.” The car had that same 273ci V-8 that was in Hank’s ’64 Dart, the same 4-speed manual transmission, plus tinted glass and a radio. It came with 13″ wheels. Yes, that is as sad as it sounds. Curiously, that same Dick Young who had been in the Starliner with me the night of the crash bought his own ’65 Barracuda shortly after I acquired mine. Dick later gave the car back to Murph and the credit union and it was bought by Jack Boebinger, yet another young buck installer at WECo. That car was white with red “racing” stripes over the hood, roof and tiny rear deck (most of the back of Barracudas was glass.) I guess it was Barracuda time at WECo. At the end of this exchange, Hank and I, who had driven to the dealership in separate cars, drove back home together in my new car. I was a pretty proud Barracuda owner now.
IMPROVING the BARRACUDA
It was not long after its acquisition that I was induced to “improve” my new car. First, I ordered a new set of rear wheels, which were stock steel 14″ wheels bought at the parts department at A. B. Poe. These were soon installed on the rear axle of my car with a pair of used tires, I’m sure. Next, I installed a 4-barrel carburator, an improvement suggested by assorted Atascadero devotees. This might not have been a brilliant move as the exhaust side of the equation remained those stock, twisted cast iron exhaust manifolds MoPar had been forced to use in these bodies in order to maneuver around the steering box. There was now a lot of gas going in, but how was it getting out? The final intentional modification was to torque the torsion bars (corporate-wide MoPar front suspension in lieu of coil springs or McPherson struts, which might not yet have been invented by Mr. McPherson) to raise the front end. This supposedly gave the car a racy look. That is pretty much how I drove around in this car for the next year. During its first 6 months someone, quite possibly me, had to do a panic stop , probably on Yandell Avenue, maybe while headed home. After that little incident, the brakes were never quite the same again. It seems that those little 13″ wheel appropriate Valiant brake drums (Detroit was just at this time discovering that European cars had been using disk brakes for some time) had warped under the stress of one hard stop. As a result, all stops now included an irritating shuddering caused by the front brake shoes grabbing on those warped brake drums. Sad to say that, in spite of all the improvements and making allowances for the grabby brakes, the Barracuda was never quite as satisfactory a car as that Dart that inspired its acquisition.
The END of the LINE
So, where does this narrative logically lead? In this saga, the Barracuda transmorgrifies from a young man’s desirable first new car into a car that just didn’t quite satisfy. Two memories of time in this car stick with me. One is taking a very, very pretty young girl (Yolanda, who was to become my wife) to the Red Rooster, a genuine drive-in hamburger place, just like in those movies about the 60s. The Red Rooster and the Oasis (on Mesa Avenue) were the two most popular places for cruising, back in the day. At that Red Rooster, sitting in the Barracuda, Yolanda and I each enjoyed a soda. As we sat there, a guy in the car next to us looked the Barracuda over and said, in a stage whisper, “I wonder what they’re going to do to improve those cars next year?” Maybe I was showing too much pride of ownership. On another occasion, I was at a birthday party at a friend’s house when Yolanda showed up with my friend’s brother. Yolanda and I managed to slip out together and I took her over to the car and showed her how the rear seats folded down and provided vast cargo space. I might even have kissed Yolanda as she sat on my lap in that very comfy front bucket seat that night. But slowly the thought crept into my mind that it would be neat to be rid of this vehicle and get something else instead. This idea took hold but at first there was no specific option selected. Yet the desire for change remained strong. Finally, in January of 1966, a visit to the Ford dealer near the airport resulted in a test drive of a fastback (2+2) V-8 Mustang. I remember sitting in the back seat of that car while brothers Hank and Mando sat up front as we test drove the car. This memory then melds into a recollection of visiting El Paso Ford on Montana Avenue and testing out a ’66 Mustang GT 4-speed coupe. It was black over red (interior) with the requisite stripes just above the door sills and double red lined tires. (In the picture below the car has after market slotted chromed reversed wheels with spinners and triple red stripe tires, quite an eye-catching combination.)
A deal was struck with El Paso’s volume dealer for a trade of the Barracuda for this Mustang coupe. It was to be financed by the same Telco credit union run by our friend Murph. The initial loan request was rejected by the CU but after an advance of $200 (to grease the skids?), Murph OK’d the loan and I said good-bye to my first new car and became the proud owner of a very, very nice new Mustang. It was a heck of a sweet car whose only misfortune was that I was to be its owner. The Barracuda vanished only to be spotted around El Paso a time or two in the ensuing years. It gave the impression that its new owner appreciated the car and it continued to look nice and well cared for. It was at one of these sitings that the accompanying picture was taken. As to the blue/black Starliner, that car too showed up back on the streets of El Paso, on Montana Avenue, of all places, eerily close to Noble Street, the home of the Atascadero Speed Emporium. I had to assume that its new owner was a GI from Ft. Bliss and that the car was well cared for and appreciated by said individual.
The OTHER 66 MUSTANG GT
In a slightly curious twist, Hank (Henry) liked the Mustang GT so much that he ended up trading in his 64 Dart on a 66 Mustang GT that was identical to my car in body style, color and options. Here is a picture of that jewel.
That is brother Mando standing in front of Hank’s car. Behind the Mustang is Hank’s early 60s Chevy pickup with the revolutionary duo-articulated steering front wheels.