‘Red Cloud’ has an under-the-weather day

I slip the transmission into third and continue accelerating up an entry ramp onto Ontario’s Queen Elizabeth Way, one of the busiest highways in Canada.

I’m taking it easy, as anyone probably would, heading out in a car that has been in storage for eight months. When the vehicle is a third of a century old AND with a half-million kilometres on the odometer, a decent level of faith and luck is involved, too.

There’s always a degree of nervousness in instances like this, but my 1980 Volvo DL wagon, a.k.a. Red Cloud, has never quit on the highway since I picked it up at Halifax’s Volvo assembly plant in June 1980, then driving it around the world in record time.

Halfway up the ramp is precisely when the engine stumbles, then power loss. Push the clutch in. Floor the accelerator. The tachometer climbs to a paltry 4,000 rpm. There is an eighteen-wheeler right on my rear bumper and its air horn is deafening.

The engine catches, the tachometer climbs and the old Volvo accelerates to 100 km/h nicely. I blow the malfunction off to putting the choke in too soon, or possibly just an ache from sitting out behind a Volvo dealer under a tree all winter.

I’m en route to a new storage facility for Red Cloud, a relic that has in the past three decades holed up in places ranging from a farmer’s field in Scotland to the Museum of Industry in Nova Scotia, to the prestigious Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles and plenty of garages, warehouses and driveways in-between.

There are 45 kilometres of QEW to drive between Hamilton and Toronto, and with the electronic overdrive switch acting up, I’m hesitant to engage it and keep the speed at 95 km/h.

Nervousness has morphed into relaxation when it happens again. Power loss. Sputtering. Red Cloud is going down. Fortunately I’m approaching an off-ramp and manage to roll off the congested QEW into the driveway of a construction company beside a railroad track. Red Cloud rolls to a stop, gives one last pathetic gasp and dies.

Depressed, I call CAA for a tow truck. I’ve never had this car towed. I lift the hood and survey the simple layout of the single carbureted 4-cylinder engine and focus on the in-line barrel fuel filter. There are no tools on board but I find a dime in the ashtray. I manage to loosen the screw at one end of the filter with it and drain the fuel from the carburetor side.

The car starts, stalls, then restarts and seems to run fine. Water in the fuel, I suspect.

What to do? Cancel the tow truck and get back in high-speed traffic on the highway and wait for the pesky gremlin to bring Red Cloud down again? Pride wins over practicality and I pull back onto the highway for the longest 45 kilometres I’ve ever driven.

Chugging along in the slow lane, I think about other breakdowns I’ve experienced. Considering I’ve driven about seven million kilometres, there have been very few situations where a vehicle has broken to the point of not being able to get it going again.

There was that 1969 Boss 302 Mustang I wanted to trade my ’67 GT Fastback for. I was on the just-opened Trans-Canada Moncton bypass, with the salesman in the passenger seat, winding it out in third gear when a sonic boom occurred under the car. The clutch pedal fell to the floor and when we coasted to a stop and lifted the hood, there were pieces of the bell housing on top of the air cleaner. Not good. I kept the 390 GT.

And sure, we had to stop after that nasty ambush in Kenya in 1984 to change a tire that had been shot. We were soon on our way but it was an anxious run to the police compound 200 kilometres away. Another bullet had gone through the expansion tank on the cooling system and I wasn’t sure if that would affect the cooling. It didn’t, but it was a nerved-up four hours anticipating the engine temperature gauge to creep into the red zone.

I’m just wrapping up reliving those episodes when my exit ramp comes into view. I pull Red Cloud into Meadowvale Autocentre where my longtime friend, Paul Solomons, eyes Red Cloud with a loving smile.

When Red Cloud had completed its around-the-world record drive in 1980, Paul had come to its rescue with a chattel mortgage to keep the vehicle out of the hands of nervous bankers. Now he’s offering the old Volvo temporary refuge while I look for a more permanent home.

“Red Cloud looks like it needs a refresh,“ Paul offers, pulling at some tree branches ensnared in the roof rack. “How was the drive from Hamilton?”

Follow Garry on Twitter.com/DrivenMind99

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