Why I'm Jumpy Around Dodge Darts

You probably grew up with a guy like Radford: good natured and clever, but dangerous. I mean truly dangerous.

The Radford I knew had a machine shop in the basement and a dad with a license to dynamite stumps. You had to keep your eyes open around him. He was the sort who might--who actually would--crouch on the roof and pepper you with shot from a .410 while you were walking down his driveway.

For reasons too indelicate to state outright, Radford and his cousin from Easom Hill dropped a 426 Hemi engine into a '74 Dodge Dart. They installed air-inflatable rear shocks and wired a switch that could shut off the tail lights and brake lights. The entire car was painted flat black, like a woodstove.

Later Radford devised a pulley-compounded crossbow from some steel cable and the leaf spring off an International Harvester two-ton truck. He took the trunk lid off the Dart, put a dump-salvaged Barcalounger in the well, and bolted a toilet-bowl closet flange on the roof into which the crossbow fit. The hideous thing had to be cocked with a length of rebar. From a range of thirty feet or so it could bury an eight-inch bastard file three inches into a pine tree.

He also threaded a couple of spark plugs into his tail pipes and ran his fuel mixture so rich you could smell gas around the car. When he closed a contact on the dash and reved the engine, flames shot out the back ten feet or more. The effect was not subtle.

One afternoon Radford ate a fistful of Jimson Weed seeds. We abandoned him immediately.

He spent the rest of the night scorching around Miss Barnwell's pastures and lofting kerosene-soaked balls o' fire over the Coosa River. Come dawn the Floyd County cops had him, but by then the Dart was a smoldering husk.

Radford later joined the Navy SEALs. He was discharged within months, but not before they made him a trained killer, after which it became too dangerous even to visit.

Jorge Luis González

Last modified: July 5, 2001