Another story from my younger days starts in a very classic lead-in style, “I was on my way to work one afternoon…” when I had the most surreal experience. An encounter with a state trooper to be exact, but one unlike I’ve ever had before and hopefully never again, because I’ll never be that lucky twice in one lifetime.
It was a lovely spring afternoon, sunny and perfect temperature for cruising with the windows down. I was headed to work on the 4-12 evening shift, and I had the cassette player jamming in my 1976 Plymouth Road Runner.
We all have had cars that reached various stages of “completion,” but this was one of those cars that got close. After a drunk in a Cadillac was nice enough to dent up the driver’s door and quarter panel, I had the car repainted in Metallic Hemi Orange and all of its tape stripes removed. The result was a much cleaner look that showed off its flares and spoilers, as well as the Trans Am shaker hood scoop I had installed.
The factory rally wheels had been swapped for chrome five-spoke E-T rims (which were a knock off of the now legendary Cragar S/S) and wide raised white letter tires provided the traction.
The anemic factory 318-V8 had been given a boost from 340 parts, and while it still lacked the larger cam, the difference in performance had been huge. So much in fact, that the “3-Speed +overdrive” manual transmission soon succumbed to the added power, and a fair amount of my spirited driving habits. I was elated to find that the transmission housing bolt pattern was the very same as some of the more popular four-speed manuals used in other performance models. I was lucky enough to obtain a close-ratio four speed removed from a 1973 ‘Cuda from one of my former co-workers at the local Chrysler dealer, and once installed, the new transmission gave the Roadrunner a whole new attitude. While its highway cruising rpm took a significant jump, the zip it added in the lower gears made the car a joy to drive. Quick starts and tire chirping between gears became a guilty pleasure that I’m sure I dabbled in once too often.
I had also installed a set of Thrush Sidekick sidepipes, which tucked neatly between the wheel flares. These were not the “pipe wrapped in wire mesh” design, but a bold chrome vented cover over a canister muffler with a gaping exhaust port at the end. The exhaust note at idle and low speed was a melodic rumble, but wide open throttle in concert with the Carter Thermo-Quad four barrel carb sitting atop the engine was an automotive symphony that proved to be addictive. It was my daily (maybe more than daily) fix of this Mopar Music that started my troubles that fateful afternoon.
I was heading east on Rt. 10, which is a divided highway littered with truck traffic, and filled with paved crossovers where U-turns can be made. These crossovers are also a favorite roost for law enforcement, and that was a busy day as it turned out.
With the tunes still kicking, my sun glasses on, the windows down, and the breeze in my hair, I downshifted to third gear and pulled into the left lane to pass a truck.
With the four barrel carb growling and the exhaust belting out is baritone rumble, I stormed past a State Trooper sitting in one of the aforementioned crossovers. There was no doubt my full throttle blast got his attention as he immediately pulled into the left lane behind me. Knowing full well I was caught red-handed, I continued past the truck and moved into the right lane where I began to slow down. I watched in my door mirror as he closed in, and once he was alongside my rear wheel, he switched on the lights and let the siren wail.
I had anticipated this was bound to happen and subconsciously I was prepared for my next action. I made a quick downshift in to third gear, and this in concert with the brakes hauled the car down from speed and I rolled off onto the gravel shoulder of the road.
I can only assume I came to halt much sooner than the trooper expected because he made a quick diving maneuver to cut across the right lane and pull in behind me, but the bigger problem he was facing was the truck I had just passed was quickly closing the gap.
I vividly remember looking in my center rearview mirror, expecting to see the grille of his cruiser and its flashing lights looking back at me, instead, I caught a quick glimpse of the cruiser as it swept through the mirror in flurry of dust and gravel.
I quickly reached for my door handle, but hesitated as I recalled my father telling me, “Never get out of the car. Let him come to you. Just sight tight.”
I heeded those words for a moment or two, but after seeing no sign of the officer in any of my mirrors, I hopped out to see what had transpired behind me. The Plymouth Gran Fury police cruiser was planted firmly in the ditch, its driver side wheels well into the tall grass, and the trooper was pushing his door open in an upward motion as he endeavored to crawl out. Once his feet were on the ground he straightened his jacket and let the door slam shut as he cursed out loud.
I asked if he was all right and his head snapped around in surprise. He was silent for a moment and then asked me to return to my vehicle. I of course obliged and stood next to my rear bumper and waited to see what would happen next.
A call from a hand-held radio soon brought a county officer, and a conference next to his car followed. My guess would be that they were trying to get a tow truck, and that’s when I noticed the smoke and flames. It seems the hot catalytic converter had set off a small brush fire under the trooper’s car, so I headed down the roadside to inform the officers of the new wrinkle in their dilemma.
I politely tried to interrupt their conversation, and the trooper seemed irritated at first that I had approached them, but once I pointed out the steadily growing blaze his attitude quickly changed. At this point I was stunned as I watched the county officer saunter out into the traffic lane and then bend over as if to get a better vantage point to view the flames. I bit down hard on my tongue to keep from laughing out loud since all I could envision was large bulls-eye painted on his backsides, and another truck barreling through to smack him (in pure Bugs Bunny fashion) a half mile into the woods. The trooper took a much more sensible approach by retrieving his fire extinguisher from his trunk and dowsing the blaze.
The trooper then walked toward me, still holding his fire extinguisher, and an obvious look of disgust on his face. He asked to see my license, which I quickly produced, and he grumbled aloud as he looked over the information.
“My dispatcher is going to be pissed as all hell. I just got that car out of the shop after having new brakes installed back and front!”
I stood dead silent because I knew if I opened my mouth laughter would come rolling out, and then he asked if I was late for work. I’m not sure if he meant the question in a sarcastic manner, but I held my composure and replied;
“Not yet, but I will be soon.”
The slight smirk on his face was evidence that he was getting amused at the whole situation, and he handed my license back to me with these simple instructions;
“Get the hell out of here.”
I followed those instructions to the letter.
© Timmy Green – 10/5/2010