Monday, May 30, 2016

Memories, honor, and a 1969 Dodge Super Bee on Memorial Day

Danny Waters still drives the car his brother bought new. 

Never forget. Vietnam veteran honors brother, and fellow vet, by continuing to drive the 1969 Dodge Super Bee his brother left behind. 
  Tom Waters bought the yellow Super Bee in March of 1969 after serving a tour in the U.S. Marine Corps. The 22-year-old returned home to Statesboro, Georgia just long enough to fall in love with the Y2 paint, 383-equipped Mopar on the dealership lot. Tom’s payments were $111 per month. 
  A few months after buying the Super Bee, Tom drove his younger brother, Danny Waters, to Estill, South Carolina. Danny was on his way to Vietnam courtesy of the U.S. Army. The memories from that trip in Tom’s Super Bee would last a lifetime.

Danny Waters sits behind the wheel of the 1969 Dodge Super Bee bought new by brother in 1969.
Vietnam vet Danny Waters drives the 1969 Dodge Super Bee his brother bought in March of 1969.

Last ride with brother
  The trip to South Carolina in the Super Bee would be the last time the Waters brothers would see each other. Before Tom made his fifth payment on the ’69 Dodge he succumbed to leukemia.
  Danny received emergency leave from the Army to attend his brother’s funeral. The family attributes Tom’s sudden illness, and untimely death, to time spent at Camp Lejeune (evidence of contaminated water supply). 

Quarter panel of 1969 Super Bee displays Rumble Bee logo.
Dodge built less than 28,000 hardtop and coupe Super Bees in 1969.

Keeping the memories alive
  When Danny returned from active duty in Vietnam, his parents decided to continue driving Tom’s Super Bee. The car was new dependable transportation. Despite manual steering, and manual drum brakes, Danny’s mother became the primary driver of the Super Bee.
  “Insurance paid the balance owed on the car,” said Danny. “The fifth payment slip is still in the book.”
  Other family members also took turns behind the wheel, as the Mopar served duty for college commuting and daily errands.

Tom and Danny Waters’ Vietnam-era dog tags displayed on the dash of the 1969 Dodge.

Bent but not broken
  The Dodge did suffer a few dents and dings. Someone rammed into the quarter panel and the right rear corner also took a hit. Traces of a patch panel can be seen on the side behind the driver’s door. Most of the original Y2 paint remains. Some of the damaged areas have been covered with black primer. The damaged rear bumper was straightened and the Super Bee remained a one-family-owned driver.
  By the early 1990s, Danny’s mom grew weary of the difficult steering, and manual everything. The Super Bee had been sent to the shed
  “My mother handed me the keys when the Dodge had less than 80k miles,” said Danny. The odometer now shows just over 87k miles.

The 1969 Super Bee remains mostly original with 87,000 miles.

Only original once
  Dog tags for Tom and Danny can be found on the dash of the Dodge. Waters’ military uniform name patch is also on the dash. Vintage Mopar and Vietnam-era stickers can be found inside and outside of the Super Bee. A few missing interior items, such as the headliner, carpet, and door panels give the car a true hot rod appeal. Every dent, scratch, and decal has a story.

The quarter panel was patched after the Super Bee was t-boned.

Taking it to the streets
  Danny shows the car at the occasional cruise-in, which is where I caught up with him in Fultondale, Alabama. I noticed the Dodge pull in among the nearly 200 classics, and muscle cars. The cammed-up rumble of the exhaust and "Joe Dirt” vibe got my junkyard radar buzzing. 
  Some ask me when I’m going to paint it, others tell me not to,” says Danny. “What do you think?”

Danny Waters and the 1969 Dodge Super Bee provided a Memorial Day tribute to Danny’s brother Tom Waters.

My take – the story beneath the rust counts
  If you paint it, you’re covering up all those stories. Nobody else has that. Anybody can buy a new car. Your family and those stories are what make the car special. Otherwise, its new paint, just like a new car. No heart. No character. 
  Finding out the story on this 1969 Super Bee on Memorial Day weekend was a treat for me. Thanks for sharing Danny. Thank you for your service!

Jody Potter
– Junkyard Life

The original 383-V8 engine recently received an upgraded cooling system.

Rumble Bee stripe on tail of ’69 Super Bee.

Several period correct decals can be found on the Super Bee.

The Super Bee was Dodge’s “B” body, mid-sized, 2-door.

Danny Waters added bigger fuel lines and a fuel cell in the trunk of the Bee.

Twin forward-facing scoops were part of the “Ramcharger” air-induction hood.

Vietnam-era stickers adorn interior roof. Missing headliner provide a race car look.

Bench seat, with no power options – this was a standard, low-buck muscle car.

Weathered paint, dull mirrors, big V8. This Super Bee looks dangerous in a good way.

Swoopy rear glass is a sight to behold. I’ve grown to love the subtle curves and design cues that litter the 1968-1970 Mopar intermediates.

Bumper was straightened after rear end collision. Scars to the body remain under black primer.

Dodge Super Bees had a 1-inch longer wheelbase (117-inch) than Plymouth Roadrunners.

Coke bottle styling rocked the automotive landscape in 1968. In 1969, things got wilder with more scoops and stripes.
The Super Bee emblem decal package was well received but sales of the Plymouth Roadrunner dwarfed the Bees 3-to-1 in 1969.

Worn paint identifies the high contact areas of the hardtop Bee.

Ramcharger air-induction hood was a new option on the ’69 Super Bee.

The animated Super Bee emblems are chrome-plated diecast medallions.

Dodge’s 383-V8 engine delivered 335-hp at 5,200 RPM when new.

Trim tag identifies all the Mopar goodies on this ’69 Super Bee.

Styling elements from the Dodge Charger melded with the Coronet-based Super Bees of ’68-70 vintage.

Steelies and dog dish hub caps up front, straight steel wheels out back.

48 years worth of memories. I’d say this Super Bee has been worth every penny.

Know an interesting car collector or about a junkyard that we need to visit? Tips for our projects? 
Send emails to Jody Potter at


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Project 1972 Olds Vista Cruiser - Part I: Going green with a 455 engine transplant

A 455 engine should fill the needs where the 200k mile original 350 left off.

Junkyard Life goes green! Actually, we really didn’t. What is the opposite of green? Yes, that is probably more like what we are. The conservationists that advocate using fewer natural resources should probably stop reading here (not really). Getting back to the “green” thing, we are actually putting a larger, thus, less fuel-friendly, and way more cubic inch behemoth under the hood of my 1972 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser wagon. Bigger is better!
  My wagon is our adventure mobile. It’s a super fun car that is a testament of functional practicality. The original 350 Olds motor has 197K on the clock, however, it has a wobbly balancer (oxymoron?), among other issues. 

The only thing green about this car, our 72 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser Wagon, is the color itself. Oldsmobile called it “Sequoia Green Metallic.”*

Why remove an engine that runs?
Let me explain. The Olds 350 is running well overall, but it has a few things against it. Such as:

  • A low to mid RPM miss that I cannot seem to correct. 
  • A flywheel that is missing a few teeth and occasionally upon turning the key, you are rewarded with a resounding screech.
  • The front main seal seems to be leaking.
  • It already has had three (3) oil pumps since it has been in my possession.

  • It also has the aforementioned unbalanced balancer, either that or it is a poorly named part. 

  • Nearly 200k miles on the original Olds 350 engine.

The tag will hide the intentions of the sinister 455 engine.
The "World’s Greatest Mom" tag doesn’t reveal the Vista Cruiser’s evil 455 engine plan.

Wanted: Torque. Usable torque
  This is, as you know a station wagon. It will be used to haul things (such as us) and tow things (such as, heaven knows what!). Succumbing to peer pressure from Junkyard Life Nerds, I opted to not build the 350. (Hiss. Boo.) I’m dropping in a larger power plant. Those same nerds tried to talk me into buying parts for the 455 engine that I didn’t even own, yet.
  I found an aluminum Edelbrock intake for a 455 Olds, in Moultrie, Georgia at the huge swap meet. Then, all the advice, of these Junkyard Life Hot Rod junkies that I work with, began to clutter my head.
  “Get out of my head, you galoots! I already have a plan.”

The intake was purchased before the 455 engine. Planning perfection.
Swap meet find! Aluminum intake for an Olds 455.

Evil plan
  With a 455 engine, I could achieve the torque numbers that I want (400 ft-lbs at around 2200 RPM), and then some. A roller cam will cost the same as a flat tappet and I won’t have to go to any weird extremes with compression ratios and vacuum issues.
  Okay, sold. I will buy the 455 intake. Only problem is I don’t have a 455. 

  I bought an intake for a motor I don’t own? Yes, I’m afraid I did.

Divine engine intervention
  So, today I took delivery of my 455 Olds power plant! What do we have? Well, it is a 1973 455 Olds engine with an added H.E.I. distributor and basic yawn-fest heads. That is really okay, because my new Evil Plan is to go 100% through this motor and make it really, really, cook.
  Now I must locate some decent manifolds, or toy with the idea of headers, and just go with quieter mufflers. I will also put on new tires and install some new weather stripping and other goodies that I have picked up for the Vista Cruiser along the way. At the top of that “to do” list are adding parts for a functional air conditioner.

The 1972 Olds Vista Cruiser will be the new home for the Olds 455 engine.
1973 Olds 455 cubic inch engine ready for overhaul and transplant into the big green machine.

Why, why, why?
  I want a dependable car with usable torque for pulling trailers, a camper, a cargo full of luggage, and all my friends – even after a heavy lunch. So, wish me luck, and pity my wallet, because this 455 motor isn’t coming home. It is going right to the machine shop!
  Ouch, and I haven’t even pulled the other one yet!

>>  Follow along as I (Ron) turn this Vista wagon into the ultimate suburban traveling fun vehicle. We can do this. We have the technology.**

Ron Kidd
— Junkyard Life

Ron Kidd rides in his wagon with the windoews down and radio turned up.
Ron Kidd behind the wheel of his beloved ’72 Vista Cruiser. Tunes up, windows down. On the road to a good time.
Photo credit: Deidra Quick Trammell

Editor’s Notes:
* There has to be an irony - in that the color of this car being named after the natural beauty of the Sequoia National Forest.
** When Ron uses the word “technology,” he really doesn’t mean it.