Tuesday, December 6, 2011


  It definitely looks best at a distance. Out of focus photography and bad lighting are other clever trade secrets.
    "An empty tin can." "The presence of a lost sock." "The abandoned refrigerator of all cars." That’s what they said. And I savored every presumptuous chill shot. This was the point of the exercise: A daily driver that I could live with, while blending in with thousands of other faceless drones on city streets and freeways. Don’t confuse this with a ‘sleeper’ – those CIA-like masters of subterfuge that drop the hammer to gobsmack opponents with shock and awe. The Bi Polar Bear doesn’t have to shock anyone to earn its keep. I’m happy with a raised eyebrow. Just get me to work on time and push me back in the seat on demand. The key is how it weeds out the pretenders. You either get it or you don’t. It started as a ’64 Chevy pickup. That was my driver, until it ejected the rods coming home from work one day. I traded the truck carcass for a ’78 Pinto wagon being used to shuttle logs (on its top) at the saw mill where I worked. When I found this ’80 Malibu wagon rotting on the back row of a used car lot, I traded the Pinto for it and limped it home, broken timing chain and all. I built a quickie drivetrain for it, went through the chassis and haven’t turned it off since. That was in1997.  
    Then I wrote America’s Coolest Station Wagons and began feeling guilty for the 15 years of neglect I’d rewarded the car with for its loyal service. Since then, I’ve slowly been taking baby steps to instill some semblance of respectability in the Bi Polar Bear. I’m approaching this project like I did ‘em in high school: A peanutbutter & jelly budget, swap meet bolt-ons, driveway labor and hand tools. The goal is a modicum of street/strip cred (14s?) while keeping maintenance to a minimum. Meanwhile, I’m gleefully revisiting my adolescence by going crude with parts replacement and redecorating. Like my neighbors weren’t already nervous enough.
    It came to me with black 14" steelies and bald whitewalls. Now there’s 15 X 6" fronts with 185-70s and 15 X 8 rears with 275-60s. The epic roof rack was first item to go. I drilled the hydraulic mounts and tucked the bumpers in. There were also ½" thick tow tabs up front – until I torched ‘em off. Glued-on factory insignias filled a small trash can. This is dirt bag customizing with same result as the brand name shops: Less is more.
    Original tailgate was apparently used for batting practice. I traded a wagon book (and a day’s labor) for this one. Still haven’t found a decent rear bumper, but at least this one got tucked in. Also torched off 26 miles of stick-weld, holding trailer hitch on (was always nervous towing with this car anyway). Side marker lights are next to go. This is exotic (rusty) Canadian version, with "Unleaded Fuel Only" gas door decal lettered in French.

The 98 HP weakling 287 was gone 24 hours after I signed the title. My best friend gave me a nice 4-bolt main 350 block. I had it bored .030" over and align honed, added M/T hypereutectic pistons and a mild hydraulic cam. I had an old set of heads I’d hogged out for my hot rod, scored a factory aluminum intake and topped it with a mystery Q-jet found in a buddy’s shop when he moved into it. Bought cheapo headers and turbo mufflers off the shelf – Bonneville has not been kind to them. TH350 is stock (for now) and drives spindly 3.08 geared 7 ¼" 10-bolt rear. A 4.11 9" Ford assembly lurks in the wings. I’ll box the control arms and whack the coils (again) before installing it.

Soon after getting the wagon, I had to rebuild the rearend and upgraded to extra-hardened Yukon axles. This is how the Bear got its name. Before the axles, it was known as Bob (long story). My apologies to any bi-polar individuals (human or polar bears) named Bob who find this offensive.

The entire interior was done in luxurious plastic, which was faded and brittle when I got the car. Over time, it crumbled away and this fall I finally cleaned out the last crumbs. Future plans call for welding up some holes in floor, lightweight short-back seats, aluminum dash (with actual gauges) and deletion of dead weight E-brake, radio, A/C ducting and wiring. Column shift will probably stay. I’ll keep this one too slow for rollcage requirement – too much weight! Final finish will feature my trademark Swiss Cheesing.

It’s been a pack mule from day one. I’ve slept in here a lot, too. Original tailgate saw enough workbench duty that it fell off one night in drag pits – we threw it in here and rebuilt it. This weekend I hauled home the world’s crustiest 9" Ford rearend with the BPB. Try that with your new "crossover".

No action shots yet, but I did bring the camera while running errands the other day. I hope to have some track shots and results in the spring. Hopefully, I'll have the rebellious text and upsidedown photos figured out by then. My apologies. This program has a mind of its own...