- Written by webmin
I don’t know why I’ve yet to think of this, but I once suffered from a case of unintended acceleration – in my old 1971 Chevrolet Nova.
I bought the Nova in college with my dad, partly because it was such a good deal – $1,900 and not rusted out like every other pre-1990 vehicle in Ohio – partly as a fun car for the both of us. The body was straight, it had a mint interior, and its 250-cu.in. six-cylinder ran strong. It also had a three-on-the-tree, which I thought was rather unusual, but I’ve seen mention of three-on-the-tree transmissions lasting in the X-bodies through 1974. (The fuzzy dice were my attempt at being ironic; blackwalls with bowtie-stamped baby moons on 15-inch steelies didn’t require irony to be cool.)
When my daily driver started to become unreliable sometime during junior year, Dad let me use the Nova as a daily. After college, I then took it with me to Oregon, where I worked for a small-town newspaper. Oregon was the perfect place for that car: mild winters, no salt on the roads and a laid-back pace of life. So I drove it all over as I explored that new state on the weekends.
One weekend in late spring I decided to drive down to see the Redwoods and took U.S. 101 down the coast. With the Pacific on my right and a bright sun in the sky, I started down a fairly steep hill that, at the bottom, made a not-so-lazy turn left. Off the right-side guardrail at the turn was nothing but cliffs and salt water. The only traffic on 101 at that time was ascending the hill, away from a little seaside town.
Suddenly, that 250 started to race, and I found myself accelerating down the hill. I lifted my foot, but the floppy throttle pedal underneath didn’t follow. The 250 continued to rev up, and the Nova continued to accelerate toward the guardrail. The water crashing on the rocks sent up sprays of sea foam. The brakes (four-wheel drums, non-power-assist) did little to slow my approach to the turn. Rather than see myself going over the guardrail, I saw the headline to the news story about the accident.
Even though it was a lowly six, I didn’t want to risk blowing the Nova’s original engine, but I saw no other option, so I threw the transmission into neutral. Now fighting only gravity, the brakes began to apply the whoa, though I still took that turn much faster than a prudent driver of an original 30-year-old (non-antiroll-bar-equipped) car would have. The engine still raced – breathing through its tiny one-barrel carburetor, I don’t think it would have ever reached a terminal RPM – but once I cleared the turn, I still shut the engine off, finally realizing that it would have no effect on the non-power-assist steering.
Coasting to a turn-off, I popped the hood to see the throttle return spring lying limp on the intake manifold. One end of it had slipped off its post; the hook on that end of the decades-old spring had bent open just enough over the years. I slipped it back on, bent the hook closed, then headed back home, leaving the Redwoods trip for another day. The spring end came undone once again on the trip home – on a less dramatic stretch of highway – so I stopped at the parts store and bought a new spring, which remained in place until the day I sold the Nova a few years later.