What Really Happened That Fateful Day
This car was acquired for the use of my betrothed, Nina, a genuine soccer mom with two preteen boys. Nina is a Norwegian who has driven various types of foreign cars almost exclusively throughout the years, finding most of them quite efficient but also pretty boring. So when this one-owner, mostly garaged Dart recently became available, she ran her hands all along its contours, proclaimed it to be a car with great soul, and heartily agreed it should be ours (you gotta love it).

However, her first behind-the-wheel experience in it was brief. "The brakes are horrible, and I'm not driving it until they're fixed," she said.

The shoes were checked, the brakes adjusted, the hydraulics checked out, and her verdict was the same. "The brakes are still awful, but you can drive it if you want."

And so it came to pass that, on the rain-slickened roads of California's coastal Santa Cruz Mountains, I was nearing the end of an extended, crowded, curving, steep, two-lane downhill run that required heavy brake application, even with the automatic tranny in Second gear and the brakes sizzling. Coming around a tight right-hand curve, I saw a line of stopped cars not very far ahead of me. I stomped on the brake pedal, which had virtually no effect. I was going only about 20 mph at that time, so I pulled it down into Low, hoping for the best.

Yep, running into the cars in front of me was no longer a problem. Instead, the rear tires instantly broke loose and, given the wet road; the downhill, weight-on-the-nose attitude of the car; and the sideways momentum of going around the curve the back end made a quick swing out to the left.

The good news is there were no cars coming the other way as I momentarily took up both lanes. The bad news is the curve was so sharp, I was sliding off the road and onto the embankment before I could do anything about it. More good news: The Dart slid right in between the large oak tree on the left and the telephone pole on the right and, being at a right angle to the road I didn't barrel roll down the embankment. It almost stopped after sliding along sideways in the damp dirt, and I was about to breathe a sigh of relief, but then bad news again: The tires dug in and it ever so gently tipped up onto its left side. Good news: It stayed there and didn't roll over onto its roof.

The Dart was rather precariously balanced, though, and a bunch of folks materialized seemingly out of nowhere to hold it up while I got out. Gas was slowly dripping out of the gas cap, while these folks were frantically hollering at me to get out before it exploded (too many action movies, I guess), but I was intent on finding out where my little point-and-shoot camera had ended up. After all, I knew I would tell this tale for a long time to come, and for a photojournalist not to have photos of such an event was unthinkable.

I also wanted to find my plastic film container that was filled with 93-percent nitro, courtesy of the crew of the hemi-powered, Foothill Flyer front-engine dragster. Assuming the police would probably check things out, that was one conversation this long-haired writer figured would be better to avoid. But the police, paramedics, and fire-department personnel who came along were friendly, understanding, glad no one was hurt, and just interested in pulling the car back onto its wheels and getting it out of there.