Dear Mr. Ford; I thought I'd let you know that I sure like your Ford cars. I use them on all my jobs because they sure have plenty
of pickup and they don't break down. You can use this in an ad if you want to.
The above letter was recently found in the decades-old files of the Ford Motor Company by a researcher doing a study on the company. There is no record of any reply from Henry, but it is a safe bet that the old man appreciated hearing from John, since Dillinger, at the time, was a widely publicized Ford fan, and notably successful at that. Unfortunately, Ford never ran the ad, which no doubt hurt Dillinger's feelings since he occasionally used Hudson,s thereafter. But when I heard of the Dillinger letter, a spectacular moment in the Used Car world came back to me in all its pungency. Stony Island Avenue on the South Side of Chicago was a kind of Vatican for used car buyers and dealers - one lot after the other, cheek-by-jowl, the sharks waited in the sunshine for the minnows to come out into the deep water to play.
It was on just such a lot one Saturday that Schwartz, one of my buddies, made his fateful decision. We had been haunting Stony Island every Saturday morning for the past three months, ever since Schwartz got a job at the piano factory and figured he could switch from his Elgin bike to a Stony Island hulk. Any used car cuckoo can tell you that there are three or four types on every lot; the front line late-model Creampuff variety, the second-rank five- or six year-old utility car, the hopeless bad news monsters that are palmed off onto lady school teachers and the like, and finally, way in the back of the lot, the odd, exotic, hard-to-get-rid-of giant.
Schwartz had spotted a very large four-door Packard lurking at the rear of Crazy Hal's Festival Of Used Car Bargains. It was muscular and very very black, with no extras except a heater. Had we thought about it that would have been odd, but the frenzy was upon us and the frenzy is what clouds your mind. Crazy Hal, his chromium incisors flashing in the sun, strolled casually up to our little panting group of me, Schwartz, Flick and Bruner.
"I see you boys spotted the Packard. They don't build 'em like that no more."
Schwartz, as the buyer, naturally did the talking: "How's she run?" His voice was unnaturally high. Beads of sweat stood out on his nose. He was doing everything wrong.
"Kid, I doubt whether there's a car on the lot runs anywhere near as good." Crazy Hal gave the left rear tire a casual kick, a kick that somehow expressed confidence and total honesty. It was a kick that said 'You can trust me.' Schwartz bit like a smallmouth bass hitting a plug in June.
"Boy, it sure looks great! How much you askin'?" He slid behind the steering wheel and jiggled the gearshift knob.
"Look, kid, are you serious? I ain't got no time to mess with screwing around. If you're serious I can give you a real buy on this here Packard."
"Yeah, I'm serious! I sure am serious! I'm serious!" Schwartz blurted, his tongue practically lolling in anxiety.
"This Packard's worth at least seven bills. You can have her for three-and-a-quarter. I want to get 'er off the lot. And anyway, I like your looks."
Later events gave us a hint as to why he wanted to get it off the lot, but at the time his remark didn't sound so sinister. So the deal was done. Five minutes later Schwartz had divested himself of his entire life's savings, temporary plates were bolted on and we wheeled the enormous Packard out of Crazy Hal's in ecstasy.
The next week was spent in a joint communal orgy of driving around in the Packard and pouring gas in her rear end. It was through that Packard that I gained my first experience in gas-siphoning, striking like The Phantom at night with a gallon cider jar and a rubber hose to keep that damn Packard running. I siphoned so much gas that I got to the point where I could distinguish between Firebird and Fire Chief just by the taste. But it was a great car. Until that fateful Saturday afternoon.
Schwartz had - had the car about a month. The summer. was almost over and we decided to spend the Saturday afternoon really cleaning her up, Simoniz and all. Schwartz had pulled the car into the driveway of his house and all of us - me, Schwartz, Flick and Bruner - swarmed over her like manic ants. While Flick and Bruner rubbed away with the Simoniz cleaner, Schwartz and I pulled the upholstery out of the car, the front and back seats. We went to work scrubbing the seats down with upholstery cleaner. It was an idyllic afternoon. The birds sang, the sun shone. Like the Seven Dwarfs we whistled at our work, unknowingly, innocently approaching the end.
"Hey, help me pull the back cushion outa the car," Schwartz hollered. I struggled along with Schwartz to get the upright back of the back seat out of the Packard. It was clamped in like in an iron vise. We struggled around for about 15 minutes until I got one corner loose. "Hey, Schwartz, get one of them tire irons and pry your end loose," I hollered, grimy sweat pouring down my face as I fought with the seat.
"Okay," he grunted, darting around to the trunk. He came back and began to pry. Without warning, the seat back gave way with a hollow THONK. It toppled down on us, showering dust. It gave me a crack on the back of my head that rattled the fillings in my molars.
"Gee, Schwartz, watch it!'' I yelled, "my lip Is bleeding." I could taste the salty blood in my mouth. Packard seats are not light. I was hauling the cushion out my side when suddenly I heard Schwartz yell "HEY! HEY, GUYS, LOOK AT THIS! HEY!" There was something in his voice that made me drop the cushion. Quick.
Schwartz was peering into the cavern where the seat back had been, his mouth hanging open, his eyes popping. Bruner, who came trotting up with a pail of water, took one look and yelped "HOLY GOD!" as well he might.
Held by brackets to the metal rear firewall was the wickedest, most lethal-looking sawed off shotgun this side of a Warner Brothers gangster movie. In addition, there was a rifle, two pistols and something that looked like a flame thrower. We milled around, stunned, for a couple of seconds and at that moment Schwartz's father came out of the garage, looked into the Packard and almost passed out right there.
"I gotta call the cops," he muttered and rushed in to the phone.
Four minutes later three squad cars and a police tow truck arrived. Schwartz's beautiful Packard was towed away into oblivion, probably to be used as Exhibit A. After a barrage of questions from a couple of lieutenants, we were left with a few rags and a half-can of Simoniz.
We never heard whose getaway car it had been. Schwartz lost his car, never got a dime, and Crazy Hal closed his doors on Stony Island forever.