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Sep 1996
Kurt’s Cars – The B-52 Public Post

Have you ever been to an abandoned vehicle auction?

These events represent an amazing cross section of society; immigrants, gang bangers, suburbanites, wrecking yard buyers, and bikers all show up to find that one-of-a-kind deal. One might even call it a spectacle. If you’re a people watcher, a thousand different lessons can be learned by attending one.

In 1998 Seattle, cars were automatically impounded at traffic stops if the driver had a suspended license (this is no longer the case); so that meant the auctions included some cars that actually ran and had keys, rather than the typical rag-tag fugitive fleet of locked hoopties that lined the yard. The most disgusting one I ever saw was a 1977 Cadillac Seville that had “Bio hazard human feces” written on the windows.

Thanks, I’ll pass…

Road One Towing in Seattle still holds auctions nearly every Saturday of the year, and they auction off around 100 cars a weekend. My friend Mike and I went one Saturday in April 1998, to find something to fix up and sell. Auctions are a good spot to find the “buy-low” part of “Buy Low Sell High.” Out of 100 vehicles, there were only a couple that interested us. This 1968 GMC ¾ ton pickup was the one of them, and I was high bidder at $170.

So why the name?

The “B” was for the truck’s color (light blue) and the “52” was for its lot number at the auction. It had been abandoned in Seattle on the street (I was given all the paperwork). The bed was filled with garbage and the truck was sidelined by a blown waterpump. There was no ignition key. I had it towed home, offloaded all the garbage to my other truck, hot wired it, dumped some gas in the tank, and cranked it up. Vroom! The engine smoked and it didn’t have a tailgate, but at $170 I had a lot of leeway.

My wife came home from a weekend womens conference as we were unloading the garbage. The look on her face was somewhere between “Umm…okay?” and “You’re an idiot.”

Over the next week I replaced the waterpump, had the radiator tested, replaced the tires & two rims, replaced the ignition lock, did a tune up, and filled the tired 327 V8 with some high-tech super-goo to keep it from smoking. Scratch that…keep it from smoking a lot. One of the exhaust manifolds had a broken bolt, so the B-52 sounded like it had no exhaust at all. I drove it to Dan Fast Muffler and had them check it out.

“Yeah, both your manifolds need gaskets at the block and at the exhaust. And you’ve got that broken stud. I can have you out of here for $350.”

Fat chance. “I paid $170 for this truck,” I said. “And I’m prepared to have the stud replaced on the driver’s side exhaust manifold today.”

“Okay, I’ll swap out the stud and tighten up the rest of the exhaust for $100. Give me about an hour.”

That’s better. It sounded like a new truck after that, and the repairs they did never failed.

I then drove it nearly non-stop for the next 5 months, fixing things as cheaply as I could and leaving other things completely alone. I swapped out the broken driver’s side mirror. The turn signal wand on the steering column was broken inside, so I was not able to replace the wand. The heater controls inside the cab were frozen up. The handle assembly on the driver’s door wore out inside, but I repaired it with household hardware from Lowe’s, including metal plumber’s tape. It had no lock cylinder in the driver’s door. The brake lights didn’t work until I rebuilt the brake light switch with sandpaper and a piece of hard tin foil. After that one brake light worked; I was never able to find the short on the other side. It had an appetite for oil, and it was obvious that previous owners hadn’t treated the truck very well. I usually drove about 450 miles before it needed a quart of oil. Despite all of that, the B-52 was a very dependable rig that still had a few miles left. The stunning Mrs. Clark and I used it for Saturday morning drives to breakfast and for dump runs. It always started and it always stopped.

Someone had removed the tailgate before I bought it, hardware and all. I’m not surprised; the “GMC” stamped version of the 1968 GM truck tailgate is a unique item with classic car enthusiasts, so it probably was stolen and sold. But I needed something back there, so I fashioned one using wood, stain, and light blue paint.

My total investment in the truck was about $800, including the purchase price. In September 1998 I sold it to a construction worker for $1200. I was honest with him about the truck’s capabilities and drawbacks. He really liked it even after I described it in detail. I saw it on the road several times for a few years after that.

You know what? After writing this, I kinda miss it.

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Comments (3)

Monica Harrington - over 3 years ago

So interesting – I’ve never been to vehicle auction, but can definitely see the appeal:–)

Kurt Clark - over 3 years ago

Car auctions are kind of addictive! I don’t dare step foot in one now because I’d probably walk out of there with a Jeep for something ;)

I recall this one I attended – maybe even the same one as this post – where a couple of competitors were bidding up a late 1980s compact Chrysler product. A very mundane, square vehicle. “SOLD!” The high bidder had a look of victory all over his body, like he had won the lottery or something. He went after that mundane, square Chrysler like it was his birthright.

Jill Rinearson - over 3 years ago

This truck sounds like Danny Deck’s El Chevy in Larry McMurtry’s “All My Friends are Going to be Strangers.”