Posted in Nostalgia (aka Get Off My Lawn)

ECO Mode – Nothing New

I own a Mercedes GLK350 which was due its 2nd service.  When I took it down to the MB dealership I picked up an “E” class  loaner.  Now, it took me 5 minutes just to figure out how to shift it – the “shifter” was on the column, just like the ’53 Buick that I remember in my youth (and crashed into a neighbor’s ’63 Buick – more about that later).  Anyway, I figgered out how to drive it, and took it with me to work.  Nice car, obsidian black, diesel. When I stopped at the red light though, it stalled.  Panic mode started to set in – it was full of fuel – could some idjit have filled it with gasoline by accident? Maybe it was just really quiet – no, the tach shows 0 RPM. I then tapped the accelerator and the engine fired right back up.  Whoah. Why did it do that – the transmission’s still in drive, there’s no manual clutch; by my thinking (and I have a mechanical background) the car should not have started back up again while it was in drive.  There were safety features installed over the past 40 – 50 years that were intended to keep that from happening.  But it did, and I moved down the road since the light had turned green.  I had just discovered ECO mode.

This “new” feature isn’t really.  I had it in my 1964 Chevy Corvair (  Every time I made a stop, whether it was at a stop sign, red light, or toll booth ECO mode would kick in.  I had a different name for it then. I called it a POS (piece of s**t). It didn’t idle, and nothing I could do would fix it.  My dad & I rebuilt the carburetor, even swapped it out, but there was something that was just keeping it from idling.  If I let off the gas too quickly it would die, and I would either have to “pop the clutch” to restart it, or take it out of gear, hit the brake, and then key start it after I stopped it.  This was a car that always required my right foot to be active on the gas pedal, while the left foot was dancing between clutch and brake.  Occasionally, I had to do a “3 step,” where my right heel was still on the gas, right toe was on the brake, and the left foot had the clutch down.  Those were usually “shop” times, as opposed to “driving” times, and that car probably spent 50% of its time in the shop.

It was convenient that my Dad owned an auto repair shop in Berkeley, and, also, that the Corvair was a great opportunity for me to learn the trade. I’d been working for him for a couple of years, mostly pumping gas (obviously before self-serve days), changing tires, “lube” jobs (get your head out of the gutter –, and other minor automotive functions.  I was also taking Auto Shop in high school, that is, when I went to high school, and it was looking like I’d found my trade.

The Corvair was the first car that I’d ever bought.  Cost me $125 (hunert an’ twenny five bucks), was beige in color, and it’s left front tire was flat.  On the very first day, after I replaced the tire and got a temp registration for it in El Cerrito, Todd & I decided to take the thing up Moeser Lane.  Now, Moeser Lane is one of the steeper roads that we had in the area, connected the El Cerrito area (sea level) to Arlington Blvd (in the hills 600 feet or so higher).  We probably should not have done that.  The car made it to the very top, but at that point, was barely moving in 1st gear, and never quite worked after that.

Todd, my best friend throughout jr high and high school, had also bought (inherited?) a corvair, a 1960 model, and, if I recall, it caught fire. Anyway, he never could get his to work right.  Every time he’d shift gears it seemed like they were going backwards, i.e., shifting from 1st to 2nd would cause the car to seriously buck, so he was ready to get rid of it anyway – convenient that it caught fire.  And, since I’d apparently blown the engine up on mine with the Moeser Lane stunt (told you that it never quite worked right after that), I think we bought Todd’s for a case of soda or something. My dad thought that we could take parts from both cars and make one decent ride from the scrap.  So, we had 2 corvairs in his shop, and discovered along the way, that from the outside the cars looked very similar, but were different once you peered inside.  For one thing, Todd’s transmission was a 3 speed on the floor, and the gear pattern wasn’t what he thought it was: upper left for reverse, bottom left for 1st, upper right for 2nd, and bottom right for 3rd.  No wonder the thing bucked at him when he shifted.  HE WAS SHIFTING from 2nd into 1st, then back to 2nd, then into 3rd, all the time assuming he had a 4 speed transmission (as my corvair).  We’d never even heard of a “3 on the floor.” Also, my car had a little bigger engine in it, so there wasn’t much that we could use from his to fix mine.

Time for me to learn how to rebuild an engine.  Todd’s car was scrapped.  We pulled the engine and transmission out of my car, tore everything apart, and I then spent months cleaning valves, refurbishing the cylinder head, and honing the cylinder walls. I remember lots of time spent removing old gasket material.  That stuff bonded so well to the cylinder head that it became difficult to determine whether I was trying to remove gasket or steel. My hands had turned white from solvent – I mean white – not “Caucasian.”  Finally, all the gasket material was replaced, new rings put on the pistons, and everything put back together.  My dad had done some maintenance on the transmission, and we’d both replaced the clutch/pressure plate/throw-out bearing.  Tested the engine before actually mounting it to the car – it worked!  I think we ran it for a few days off & on as a break-in period, and verified that it was leak-free as well.  Then, the time came to mount it back into the chassis, which took a lot longer to put in than take out.  Bolted everything back in place, connected all the wires, had to modify this or that, replace this or that because it was worn, little things that you only notice when you’re doing major work.

When all was said & done, it was time to take it out for a test drive.  The clutch didn’t seem to work right.  If I put it in 1st and let the clutch all the way out the car would sloooooowly start to move, and the clutch pedal felt loose.  The engine was fine.  Had plenty of get up and go – too bad the clutch had a different notion.  My dad & I had to remove the entire assembly again to see if we could figure out the problem, and I don’t recall that we ever did.  There were also other issues that crept up – the carburetor (and ECO mode) were one.  Also, I used to keep spare drive belts in the glove compartment ’cause mine ate ’em for breakfast (

I drove the car for a very short time in the condition that it was in, and then joined the Army a few months later.  My dad kept the corvair at the shop, but it kept getting pushed farther and farther into the back area until he finally had it hauled away.  Maybe it even wound up next to Todd’s old corvair, scrapped years earlier.  Nah – doubt it.

The corvair wasn’t the 1st car I owned – that was a hand-me-down ’59 Plymouth Savoy, which I tinkered with until it broke, but it was the first car that I ever bought, with my hard-earned gas station & paper route money. I’d like to say that I really miss that little car, how wonderful life was like when I owned it, and all of the wonderful nostalgic feelings that it brought back, but the fact is that it was a piece of junk that spent more time in the shop than on the road, cost me a hell of a lot more money than it was worth, and made me realize that I really wasn’t cut out to be a mechanic.

So, I guess there was a benefit to owning it.  I’d say that it “drove” me into the Army, but it couldn’t even get out of the shop for that.