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The Car That Almost Killed My Family

Travelling down the mountain, it wasn't just the lack of steering that caught my father off guard, it was that fact that we had no brakes.

I have yet to understand by my father purchased a 1985 Chrysler Towne & Country wood-paneled station wagon. Maybe it had something to do with his love of vintage woodies and his desire to have modern conveniences. My father had a lot of cool cars, but this was not one of them. It was so totally uncool that it started my disdain for all Chrysler products. (I’ll let new RAM trucks slide). To this day I will not own a Chrysler product.

On at least two occasions, this POS tried to end my family but putting us in insanely scary situations.

I must first explain the problem. The car would just shut off while driving. All of it. No ignition, no lights, no hydraulics, no nothing. It would go dead. And I mean dead. On more than one occasion my father or mother would be turning left in an intersection when it would die. We’d be staring at head-on traffic with no way to move. I recall getting out a push a few times thinking we were going to get run over by oncoming traffic. Sometimes the car would turn back on after cycling the ignition key but other times we just had to sit for a while and let the car regain consciousness. Now that I think about it, I remember being embarrassed as the car died in the intersection of Taft and Tustin Ave in Orange while 20+ students walk home one afternoon. There’s my mother and I just sitting in a ridiculously fake woody smack dab in the middle of the intersection while cars drive by honking. I think the car eventually started again but not before we considered pushing it to the curb. And, there was no calling AAA because there were no cell phones.

Another time it was my entire family was stuffed into the car; mother, father, brother, and grandparents and we just approaching Arrowbear for a picknick/sightseeing trip. Those familiar with the 330 highway know it’s a windy mountain road with precarious cliffs. You can see where I’m going with this. On the way down the hill, after I’d been stung by dozens of wasps while eating my PB&J, my father got very serious around an outside turn. At first, I thought he was faking it, as he often did to get a rise out of my grandmother, but I quickly realized he wasn’t joking. The car had shut off and the power steering was forcing him to manhandle the wheel. I don’t think I’d ever seen my father actually frightened prior to that. But it wasn’t just the lack of steering that caught him off guard, it was the brakes. The brakes had also lost power. At least we weren’t barreling down a mountain road at dusk. Oh, wait.

I recall that we were incredibly lucky that he found a turnout within a few hundred yards and we were able to stop just shy of the embankment. I recall him cursing up a storm at Chrysler… as if he’d just been sodomized by Lee Iacocca.

One final time… My father and I were headed to his office near John Wayne airport. We were on the elevated transition from the 55 to southbound 73. The frickin car shut off right at the apex and we thought we were going to barrell over the guard rail and plunge to our deaths one hundred feet below. Thankfully, again, he muscled it to safety at the bottom of the ramp.

Now, later on my father would allow me to borrow the car to run errands and get this, rip out the stereo and replace it with a massive 1,000-watt suburban assault system. A JVC two-knob cassette player fed three amps which powered the upgraded door speakers and removable sub-box with twin 12 W4-40 Pyle Driver subwoofers. It started my career as a car audio installer. I later turned my parents’ garage into a full-blown install bay. But that’s a story for another day.

After 20+ visits to various dealers, my father was able to force Chrysler to buy back what was clearly a lemon and a dangerous one at that.

Good riddance.



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