An Odyssey in Orange County: Giant Red GMC Part 2

From: “Jonathan Summers” <*******@*>
Date: Jun 9, 2015 10:56 PM
Subject: …some you loose
To: “M*** G****” <********@****.com>

I am at some socal suburban mall just north of la

In the Honda.

The truck is in a storage place by long beach airport

turns out the motor is siezed.

So thats bad

I can take the credit here, 2 school boy mistakes

Total asshole dealing with it –

The first novels were epistolary, and just like Dracula, the story of the disappearing giant red GMC truck benefits for an epistolary approach. Contrast the above with this, from a few days earlier –

I bought the pick up – I am still mid-adventure, in that I am in a starbucks in costa mesa at the moment, waiting while it has a new towbar fitted to it so I can tow the Honda home.

So apparently it was towed, probably a DUI. It has one of those automatic breathlyzer things in it. Two full tanks of gas – it must have $100 in gas in it. New HT leads, fresh oil right on the mark. It passed smog back in November, so that makes me optimistic it will pass again. It has mudflaps with “Big Sky Montana” on them, so initially I was worried it had come from Montana, and had never been smogged – potentially a disaster since non-smog state cars/trucks often get hotrodded for more power, and if say the heads have been milled for more compression/power, there’s no way to undo that and make it smoggable.

The bloke I bought it from bought it in a tow yard auction, and because of that it has no tags. I’ve already been stopped by lapds finest, but they were foiled ( and visibly disappointed ) that I had done all the right paper work, and paid all the fines 😉

It runs very sweetly – V8 burble through two side pipes exiting in front of the rear wheels – but seems rather slow, and pulls to one side a little. Brakes seemed feeble on initial acquaitance, but today I decided they’re OK, it’s just this is a bigger truck than I am used to. Given one like it won the Cannonball run one year, I am surprised by its slowness. The tires are very old/cracked – I’ll tow the honda on a dolly, but before I move the Mercury or the Lincoln, on a 4 wheel trailer, I want proper tyres. I have been wondering if I can get away with only doing 4, not all 6.

Bc it is a big block the gas mileage will be bad – reading online 7-10 seems to be what I can expect :-/

Anyway, if a mid eighties stack headlight GMC was good enough for BA Baracus AND Colt Seevers, it should be for me, right ?

Now lets hope it gets me back up to the Bay Area OK, and I am able to securely attached the Honda to the dolly….

A vain hope, as it turned out, because just as I was getting used to the nice red velour interior, and settling down for the run back north to San Francisco, the main radiator hose blew, with the results which you can see I had time to capture for posterity. It is a shame I was not able to capture the excitement of not 1, but two tow trucks coming to remove truck and Honda from the highway.

Stranded in a grotty suburb, the truck broken, the Honda still on its dolly, it soon became clear I needed a new radiator hose and coolant. The closest autofactors was more than an hour’s walk, and this became clear to me the same time as it did for a fellow who was hanging around trying to sell me a tow dolly. I kept telling him it was a truck I needed, I already had a tow dolly, but he persisted, and offered me a lift to AutoZone. This proved to be a deeply surreal journey which felt like it might be the beginning of a Tarantino movie. He looked like Vince Neal‘s gone to seed brother, as if Vince himself hasn’t gone to seed plenty. His wife was friendly, and seemed high. Returning from AutoZone, and free of the local and his saggy Oldsmobile – truly, he only wanted to sell me his tow dolly – I installed the hose and the refilled some of the coolant.

By now, sweltering afternoon was turning into evening, and I wanted to be on the road before dark, not hanging around that neighborhood. To my relief, the truck fired up and ran fine, without over heating. I was tired, and a little euphoric as I set off for a garage to top up the radiator and check everything was tickety-boo before reconnecting the Honda and setting off once more. Pottering into a much nicer neighborhood I was pleased to see the temperature gauge steady in the middle of its range, although the truck seemed to be struggling to run properly. Eventually it juddered to a final irrevocable standstill alongside a High School Baseball practice.

The AAA tow guy – my third that day – knew the motor had seized, but spared me the brutal truth. He just dropped the truck at the garage I suggested, while I scrawled a note to the garage owner to call me in the morning. Leaving the Honda to fend for itself, kerbside on it’s u-haul dolly, I booked a motel, called a taxi, bought some beer and had take away pizza.

What I remember about the chat with the mechanic the next day was the hopelessness of the situation. He had no good suggestions, and rack my brain as I did that morning, neither did I. The motor was seized, and changing it and fitting a new one was $3500 or $4000. The truck, remember, had cost me $1000.

My two school boy errors were to re-fill the radiator partially, not completely, and to try and limp it to a garage to top off. Silly of me, and something I did because I was tired. Had I been paying attention I could have filled it with water bought at a nearby convenience store. Secondly, I believed the temperature gauge. The thing was welding itself solid, and I drove on because the gauge was in the middle. Ugh, what a foolish mistake, one I will never make again.

Stuck, and needing to return to San Francisco, I did the only reasonable thing, and began calling every public storage place within 30 miles. Thus we can explain how the truck came to be blocking the street in Long Beach. What remains to be told is how the problem solved itself.

Over the next few months I did plenty of research into motor swaps, in terms of what motor and who to have do the work with/for me. Nothing was satisfactory, and despite deep thought I could see no way to derive any value from the truck or the project. Even now, years on, I don’t have a better solution to the conundrum of what to do with it: to fit a new engine to that clapped out body was absurd. To refit a 454 is the only way to be sure of passing smog, although a 350 would have slightly less horrible fuel economy. Smog ruled a diesel conversion out. My, what a turd it was.


Perhaps 9 months after the Public Storage debacle, I was in LA and had a chance to drive down to Long Beach and visit and do a drive by on the GMC. After all, it was outside, right under the jets coming into Long Beach Airport. Maybe seeing it again would rekindle my enthusiasm for it.

But as I rolled round the lot in the rental Focus, it wasn’t where I remembered it had been parked. I lapped the yard, in case I was mistaken, still not seeing it. I did see another, similar red GMC, but not mine. I visited the office. Flustered, the weekend cover called the boss, on speaker phone:

“…he says his red GMC truck is missing from the yard….”
“….well we auctioned a red GMC at the end of January….”

To all intents and purposes, this is the end of the story. Given the egregious nature of the error – they auctioned the wrong truck to cover a different tenant’s owed storage fees – I had a very strong case for compensation, and engaged a lawyer, who recommended I file in small claims court in the location where the yard and truck were located. This process was time consuming, and while not difficult, did require some diligence. My case was significantly compromised by the need to know exactly who to proceed against. Whoever owns the storage yard hadn’t registered it properly – which is illegal – but meant that I had to guess at the name of who it was my case was against. That, and needing to be away to present the case, and I was already feeling like a character in Dickens’ Bleak House with too much time and energy wrapped up in a pernicious, greedy and probably fruitless pursuit.

Anyway, it seems I wrote the court a cheque from a long-defunct bank account, which bounced, and while I thought they would cancel my court date due to non payment – since that was what their letter had said would happen – instead they threw my case out for my not being in court on the original date. I could reapply for a new date, but decided to spare myself the hassle, and like I always wished Dickens’ characters would, gave up on the litigation and walked free from my most expensive, stressful and pointless car adventure. Short of crashing, this was my worst automotive misadventure by some margin.

PS Hotrod Magazine’s Roadkill also had an adventure around a giant red pick up truck to be used for towing. Just would like to note my adventure was first, and rather more entertaining than theirs, plus they got paid, while all I incurred was credit card debt and my wife’s suspicion I had a secret lover in Orange County 😉