By Sam Longo AME A&P
For most Aircraft Mechanics, getting to work continues to be a mundane routine reality. Over the years, however, being a diehard gear-head often made my Hangar commute slightly more enjoyable. The destinations remained the same but the diversity of vehicles always seemed to enhance the journey.
When Nordair in Montreal hired me in 1975, it was time to buy a car. In a last minute flurry of activity I received the insurance money from my recently demolished 1971 Honda 750 (that’s another story!) and hastily purchased a 1969 Mustang Mach 1. It was the day before my departure and despite the cars good looks and 351 cubic inch V8 it proved to be a rather poor choice. On that first run to Montreal its fuel and oil consumption were tied for first place. It soon became clear that beneath the gleaming chrome and shiny paint was just another clapped out, well abused, muscle car. That winter I recall walking to work a lot! Fortunately I had an apartment on Dorval Ave. so it wasn’t far to “snowshoe” to the Nordair hangar.
In the spring of 1976, after returning from Frobisher Bay, I purchased a beautiful, low mileage, 1974 MGB. The Mustang at this point had a rebuilt engine and still proved to be a clanking, cantankerous beast, so I sold it. Two weeks later it threw a rod. I felt bad and gave the new owner most of his money back and told him to keep the damn car. I never wanted to see it again.
Fortunately the MGB proved to be a real gem. With optional electric overdrive, it was a joy to drive. On one memorable trip, after working all night followed by an equally busy morning in Dorval, I headed to Toronto. I was tired but figured if I kept the roof down the windblast would help to keep me awake. I suddenly awoke at the wheel with the sound of gravel under the wheels. The electric overdrive was doing a fine job and the speedometer was reading 95 MPH. I was gently fishtailing on the soft shoulder of the 401. I cautiously nudged the car back on to the asphalt and the subsequent adrenalin rush kept me wide-awake for the balance of my journey.
When I started work at DeHavilland I still had the MGB. Its two small six-volt batteries buried behind the seats was the cars one “Achilles heel”. To remedy this issue I extended the cables into the trunk connecting them to a very large 12-volt battery. I took great delight in the cold dead of winter, boosting stranded Chevy’s and Fords from the “boot” of my British sports car!
The MG was sold to purchase my current Honda CB750, which still resides in my garage. I then purchased a 1969 Semi-Automatic VW Beetle as a winter beater for $300. I always wore a full snowsuit and carried an ice scraper while driving in winter due to its rotted out heater channels, but it never let me down. I was constantly getting pulled over by the cops due to its different colored fenders, so on a hot sunny day I painted it with a gallon of gloss-black Tremclad using a quality brush. It looked great, and after three years of faithful service I sold it for $295 to a fellow mechanic at Air Canada.
Air Canada’s improved paychecks finally allowed me the luxury of another sports car, so I purchased a 1973 Datsun 240Z. I installed fiberglass fenders, an Ansa exhaust and had it painted Ferrari red. It was a terrific car despite its ongoing corrosion issues. Before its fall from grace I also installed stainless steel floor panels, severely testing my somewhat rusty sheet-metal skills.
Next came a pristine 1979 Ford Mustang, “Cobra Edition”. In contrast to my earlier bad luck, this Pony Car proved to be a reliable steed so long as it never saw snow. I subsequently sold it to a good friend to finance a 1985 Lotus Super Seven replica. The Super Seven was a Canadian built hybrid with a Toyota 1600 Twin Cam engine, utilizing twin Solex carburetors and a 5-speed transmission. The little Seven was a blast to drive but could only be used in perfect weather, so once again I went shopping for a winter beater. A succession of mid seventies Honda Civics got me through the next three winters. They were all cheap, rusty and reliable, with the added luxury of working heat.
The Lotus was eventually sold to the foreman of Air Canada’s Engine Overhaul shop in Montreal. On a sunny dry November day I bundled up and after a very long cold ride parked it in his immaculate garage. I was still shivering after flying home to Toronto on a company pass.
All of these cars were good fun and trigger great memories of my days working in the industry. As for that original Mustang, I got a call long after I sold it from the RCMP. Apparently it was involved in some kind of bank robbery. I sure hope it wasn’t their only getaway car because it rarely got me to work! I guess its true what they say about men and boys. The only real difference is the price of their toys. Fortunately, growing old may be mandatory, but growing up is still optional.