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Wife Destroys New Car

Updated on June 13, 2011

I went to visit my sister in South Carolina many years ago and bought a new 1974 red, Ford Pinto Hatchback with a luggage rack on top. It was my pride and joy even if there had been recalls due to a fuel tank problem.

I left there and went to Arkansas to visit my grandparents. (See that hilarious story at: I had orders to go overseas to Okinawa, Japan so I had to leave it with them for the next 13 months until I returned.

By that time, I had also married a woman from that country. I nicknamed her “Tommie” since most Americans found it difficult to pronounce her Japanese name. Little did I know my beautiful car had just received a death sentence.

I was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in 1978, and my wife and I decided to move to California where I had a newspaper reporter position waiting for me. And this is where my troubles began.

Tommie was a strong willed person. OK, so she always thought she was right! This included being the only qualified person to properly pack a car. I had already packed everything we owned into our compact 4 cylinder, vehicle, including our two cats. Next, I went inside to take a last minute look around to see if we had forgotten anything. Finding nothing, I went back outside.

To my surprise, Tommie was unpacking the car, and putting most of the load on the top luggage rack. This would never do! I tried explaining the aerodynamics of wind resistance and its’ effect on a small 4 cylinder engine. It would never make the trip up the steep mountains we would be encountering. Apparently, “the lights were on, but nobody was home”. She would not listen or believe what I said was true. Hey, you can’t make stuff like that up!

I took it down, she put it back up…repeatedly. She wanted a little more comfort room in the car and that’s all there was to it. Finally, I surrendered. It was useless to argue further, because…she was always right.

So, we headed west and did real fine over the flat lands. I monitored the temperature gauge continuously. Then we began the steep climb up the Arizona mountain range heading to Flagstaff. The temperature gauge needle began climbing. About three quarters of the way up the car began slowing down and I couldn’t get any more power.

Finally, we crested the steep incline and a sigh of relief escaped my lips. But it was short lived. As soon as the car began coasting down, a plume of white smoke puffed out of the tail pipe and the engine shut down. Steam began billowing out from under the hood as we picked up speed on the decline.

We coasted to a dead stop at the bottom of the mountain, just inside the Winslow city limit…six hundred miles from our destination. The car wouldn’t start. I turned slowly to face my wife, who was now sheepishly occupying herself with anything but having to look at me. I was doing a slow burn with a short fuse.

I could’ve said, “I told you so!” And I did. She rebutted with, “It’s your fault. You put too much stuff on top”! Of course I did. No sense in denying it because she was always right. I wondered what kind of divorce laws they had in California.

Our cordial conversation was abruptly interrupted by a swarthy mechanic who had ambled over from a service station across the highway. Talk about luck! “You guys having problems?”, the mechanic asked. In my present mood I was tempted to respond sarcastically with something like, “YOU THINK”? But I decided I wasn’t in any position to antagonize any possible source of assistance.

It was at this point the mechanic spied my USMC sticker on my rear window. “Semper Fi Mac” he smiled. I was in the presence of another former Marine. We were in luck! The brotherhood of Marines, former or otherwise, is well known.

I explained the situation, nodding furtively in my wife’s’ direction, as the story unfolded. The former Marine gave me a sympathetic, knowing glance, being married himself. He told us not to worry, things would be okay. Then he went to get his private truck to tow us.

It seems he owned a garage himself and was only helping out a friend at the gas station. He pulled us to his garage and began inspecting the damage. As expected the diagnosis was a cracked engine block. Our new friend changed the oil and antifreeze, did a few minor adjustments and filled our gas tank. Free of charge!! I made a mental note to get more USMC decals.

The engine fired up and the mechanic gave me one last piece of advice. “Don’t shut the engine off until you get to where you’re going. It might not crank again. I promised I wouldn’t and waved goodbye as we continued our journey.

We made it to Ventura, CA, our objective and rented a motel room. Fortunately, the car did restart the next morning. However, it would overheat after 6 miles of driving. A local garage suggested I shoot the thing and put it out of it’s’ misery.

I drove it like that for the next 6 months until I could afford another without a luggage rack on top.


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