Sam Walker reflects on his half century as a mechanic
In 1946, 15-year-old Sam Walker strolled into Meek’s Chevrolet in Orangeville and into a lifelong partnership with the car.
That day, Sam started his first mechanic’s job.
“Those days, not everybody had a mechanic’s license,” he recalls. “You could say I was an apprentice, but I wasn’t registered.”
Sam became fully licensed in 1954 and his career would span 51 years until Sam’s retirement from Orangeville Chrysler in 1995. He started with the dealership in 1984.
But his professional relationship with the car hasn’t ended. He remains with the company as Director of Historical Vehicles.
As well as being a dealership, Orangeville Chrysler is an automotive museum, of sorts.
In its Highway 9 location, you’ll see a 1958 limited edition Dodge Sweptside pickup in the showroom. Sam’s own 1950 Imperial is also on site, as is an antique Dodge Brothers roadster that dates back to 1919, when the four-door sedan was a novel new innovation for Dodge.
Compare that to the 2013 Dodge Dart R/T with its full-width tail lamps, split-crosshair grille and optional 184 hp, 2.4-litre Tigershark engine with 171 lb-ft of torque.
The automobile has evolved and so have the people who maintain them.
In the modern mechanic’s toolbox, the trusty old wrenches are electronic and augmented by such tools as depth micrometers and digital inspection videoscopes.
Today’s mechanics are among the most highly trained tradesmen out there. It’s not uncommon for them to attend upgrading courses four times a year.
“We got good guys at Orangeville Chrysler,” figures Sam. “I’d be lost trying to do a lot of what they do. They’re called technicians, now, and they deserve the term.
“In the old days, you went by engine sound and feel a lot of the time,” he continues. “Today, you start with a computer scan.”
When it comes to historic engines, Chrysler has taken a back seat to nobody.
Machined to the micron and sporting fuel injection and electronic controls, today’s engines are better than they’ve ever been.
Yet, many car buffs look back fondly on the Chrysler Slant Six and 318 engines. Their long-lasting motors allowed Dodge Diplomats and Monacos to hum past tow trucks hauling their same-year competitors to the scrap yard.
They also hearken back to an era when engines were designed to be repaired, rather than have components simply replaced.
“There were a lot of piston, ring and valve jobs back then,” Sam recalls. “We used to overhaul generators and starters. Today, we just replace them.”
Sam is as appreciative of the design and performance of late model cars as anyone, but his pride and joy is an ’82 Cordoba. He has never winter driven it and it looks as shiny as the day it rolled off the assembly line.
There are a number of vehicles – Chrysler and other makes – which Sam sees as trendsetters in their day.
The ‘51 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 was widely considered the precursor to the muscle cars of the 1960s. “Boy, could they move,” says Sam.
Then there was the ’64 Mustang, arguably the first model aimed at providing sporty, yet affordable, transportation.
Jump to the 1980s and the Chrysler K-Car, a vehicle nobody could accuse of being ostentatious.
Yet this relatively plain-looking, fuel-efficient car could be credited with saving Chrysler’s life after it needed a U.S. federal government bailout to stay afloat.
“They put (Chrysler) back in the black and paid off the government loan in record time,” Sam points out.
The K-Car was built to counter the impact of the compacts from Toyota, Honda and Nissan. Sam agrees increased competition has elevated engineering and quality control to a point where there really is not a bad car on the market.
A possible downside of this is a loss of the old automatic panache. For example – in this age of the sleek, aerodynamic chassis –stuff like hood ornaments, tailfins and dagmar bumpers have been assigned to history.
As a result, Sam feels cars may have lost their distinct character. Notable exceptions, in his book, are the new Dodge Challenger and Ford Mustang models.
“Wind testing has had a lot to do with it,” he concludes. “All companies do it, so they all end up with basically the same design.”
Written by Dan Pelton