If This Barracuda Could Talk

Tim Cotton

Tim Cotton | Sep 19, 2016

Some of the tasks we are assigned as police officers are not all that pleasurable. I don’t need to go into details but you can imagine or refer to any one of the too many cop shows that play on television 24 hours a day.

"The most realistic police program that I can recall was Adam-12."(By Source, Fair use.)

The most realistic police program that I can recall was Adam-12. Believe what you would like to about the alleged non-stop excitement of police work, the reality is that it is boring much of the time, hilarious now and then, and horrifying on occasion.

The cool thing about the job is that you never know when one of those three things is going to take place. The not-so-cool thing is that you never know when one of those three things is going to take place.

Car show duty: Sometimes boring, sometimes hilarious. But horrifying is usually restricted to what happens when you get home and look at the scale, following a spree at the fried dough vendor. (Tim Cotton Photo) 

A couple weekends ago I was given an opportunity to work at a yearly car show that our visitors' bureau puts on each fall.

We are in a full-time hiring frenzy at my department and, like other police agencies across the nation, we are having some issues finding folks who want to become police officers. When I came on the job there would be several sessions of testing in order to allow all of the applicants an opportunity to start in the process. In the present day we are lucky to have five good applicants during the process and that quickly becomes two really good prospects.

Everyone looks more hire-able when viewed through the windshield of a '68 Barracuda. (Tim Cotton Photo)

We decided to place a couple of clean cruisers at the center of the car show and post a “now-hiring” sign on the side of the black and white Ford Explorer. Maybe a car builder, hot rod enthusiast, or fan of all that is gear-driven would see us, talk to us, and consider becoming employed with our agency. In the end, if we found no takers on the job, we could still look at cars.

Thankfully, I was allowed to roam around the show for a few minutes and I decided to find an interesting story to share with the Car Talk audience. I went directly to the rat-rod section as I had heard and seen a very interesting Chevy Impala enter the display area. It appeared that the bearded and well-inked individuals inhabiting the bench seat would love to have a uniformed cop wander around their perfectly patinaed salute to 1960.

I like to break the ice with car enthusiasts with lines like, “Where is your inspection sticker?” (Note: this is not true.) I like to look at cars but many times the uniform is just not conducive to collegial colloquies. Thankfully, the Impala’s pilot was happy to see me. Alan Adams told me the story about placing the Impala’s body directly on top of a 1993 Chevrolet Caprice police chassis--LT1 motor and cop suspension included. I knew the car and I had something in common. Possibly I sensed the lingering scent of spilled coffee, or maybe the remainder of a cruller crumb.

Adams would have made a great cop. He went another direction but was all about law and order, and the judicious application of power from large displacement engines.

Law & Order: Displacement Engines Unit

I could tell Adams had done his share of time in the backseat of more than one police cruiser, not counting the carcass of this one. He had no interest in applying either. I asked.

He would have definitely been the neighbor’s kid that found a way to keep the garage lights on well past midnight and you would have had to call his dad, more than once, to ask him to get his kid to stop pounding on the suspension parts with the ball-peen after 2 A.M. The steel on steel sounds from Alan’s garage would only be rivaled by his selection of music distortedly spewing from mismatched, wood grained speakers. Skynyrd and Nugent had a place in his cassette deck. Probably still do.

He pointed out a black Yenko Chevelle that he had recently painted for a customer. It was beautiful. While Adams does fine work, he was most pleased with original surface rust on his personal Chevy. Alan showed me the side pipes that he had hand crafted out of a set of pickup truck running boards. He made sure to mention to me his first ever attempt at redoing an upholstered interior. He and his wife had done up the Impala with fabric remnants that they had picked up at one of our local salvage stores. I was impressed. Adams and his sidekick headed off to find something deep fried from a food wagon on site. I grabbed his business card.

Fabric remnants never looked so good. (Tim Cotton PHoto)

When I find my perfectly patinaed pickup, I am going to see Al about an interior, maybe a front suspension from a Crown Vic that he could masterfully meld to the existing frame. Al had already done a few. I would need help from a hands-on American. I love this country.

It was then that I found the Canadians.

These Canadians travel in style. (Tim Cotton Photo)

Canadians are typically cordial, kind, and very polite. The Crowes were all that and more. Since my name is self-evident on all my shirts, I rarely have to introduce myself. Big yellow letters make anonymity a forgotten pleasure. I had seen the red 1968 Plymouth Barracuda on my way to the land of the Adams family but I had made a note to myself to come back to peruse the Plymouth. It was worth the wait.

In 1968, James and Betty Crowe had been married for a couple of years. Betty said that while they had no money, they were happy. Starting a new life together in Canada is exactly like starting a new life together in the lower 48. Rent and food, a little for the piggy bank and fuel for the 1961 Chevrolet made the paychecks disappear as quickly as Betty’s smile did when James told her that he had ordered a brand-new Plymouth Barracuda.

Betty has almost forgiven Jim for blowing their savings on this car back in '68. (Tim Cotton Photo)

When Betty told me that part of the story, her lifelong pipe-fitter husband’s smile momentarily faded as she shot him a sideward glance that had been finely honed over the course of the last 48 years. Betty is a pretty woman who loves her husband. She made it clear to me that the six-week wait for the car’s inevitable delivery might have included a little couch time for Jim. Jim appeared to me like he had weathered the storm quite well. He watched the red Barracuda almost as much as he watched Betty. He had love in his eyes no matter which direction he was gazing.

Their 1961 Bel-Air was sold for $740.00 but that did not come close to the $3, 200.00 sticker price on the now New Brunswick-bound ‘Cuda. I did not dig into the details on how they moved past the initial stages of unhappiness and anger that the car brought into their home. It was obvious that they had settled that issue years and years ago.

The memories made in a car cannot all be collected by an inquisitive cop at an autumn car show, so I asked what was the best thing that ever happened inside the Barracuda. They both smiled and pointed out that we had not known each other long enough to share all the stories, but that the memories that were made on road trips with their sons were warm and unforgettable.  

Jim showed me the two-inch wide indentation in the vinyl padding of the passenger side dashboard. He said their son Michael’s teeth made that mark during a quick and unexpected stop in the early 1970s. On cold days when the interior warms up slowly, the contraction and expansion of the black dash pad makes the impression much more visible--a reminder of the fact that the 1968 Barracuda did not come with seat belts. Michael James Crowe recovered nicely.

Kid bites Barracuda... Isn't it usually the other way around? (Tim Cotton Photo)

After my brief tour of the car, Betty took my arm again and told me that they had two sons but that one was in heaven. She whispered to me that the car holds memories made by the whole family but now recalled only by three of them. Her son, Steven, passed away in January of 1999.

I have a lot of years in meeting and talking to people. This has taught me when to ask more questions and when to just stand silently; this occasion clearly called for the latter.

Jim and Betty drove the car to Hamilton, Ontario, for their 50th anniversary. It drives as well as it did when they drove it home from Ontario to New Brunswick 48 years ago. Jim let it slip that he also has a 1969 Barracuda. A 383 with a four speed. He likes the ’68 far better, especially for road trips with Betty.

The engine will get you places, but it's up to you to remember what you did there. (Tim Cotton Photo)

The memories that a car brings to us are not always pleasant. Surprise, anger, pain, laughter, and sadness, those feelings have place in there too. Misty eyes can reside quite well with a smile or outright laughter. Betty is proof of my theory.

Betty is tough, Jim is a pipe-fitter, Michael lives nearby and Steven resides in heaven. This Barracuda will always be in their garage, holding the memories.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One