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What Does Burke Drive?

By then, the Porsche was all pieced out. And I was driving my barter, a l969 Plymouth two-door post that had gone through half a dozen life changes since it rolled off the assembly line as a Roadrunner. Its last owner obviously had been in the long-haul contraband business. The beast's undercarriage was a combination of an independent-rear-suspension unit pirated from a Viper, and subframe connectors with heavy gussets to stiffen the unibody—and let it survive a pretty good hit, too. Huge disks with four-piston calipers all around, steel-braided lines. The cavernous trunk had plenty of room, despite housing a fuel cell and the battery, but I didn't find the nitrous bottle I'd expected. Maybe that was because a 440 wedge, hogged out to 528 cubes, sat under the flat, no-info hood. I'd balked when Lymon first told me it was a crate motor, but he'd jumped all over my objections, taking it personally. Lymon's a car guy first; thieving's just his hobby.

"That motor ain't from the Mopar factory, man," he said, contempt cutting through his Appalachian twang. "Al deKay himself built this one." I knew who he meant—a legendary Brooklyn street-racer, rumored to have switched coasts. "You got yourself an MSD ignition and a brand-new EFI under there," he preached. "NASCAR radiator plus twin electric fans, oil and tranny coolers—this sucker couldn't overheat in the Lincoln Tunnel in rush hour. In July. Reliable? Brother, we're running an OEM exhaust system, H-piped, through a pair of old Caddy mufflers. Costs you a pack of ponies, but it's as quiet as a stocker with those hydraulic lifters. This piece, boy, you don't need to even know a good wrench—you want, you could fucking weld the hood shut."

It was tall-geared, running a 3.07 rear end—which Lymon proudly gushed was "full cryo" while I pretended I knew what he was talking about—and a reworked Torqueflitte off a column shifter.

Oil-pressure and water-temp gauges had been installed in the dash slot that formerly housed the pitiful little factory tach. The replacement tach, one of those old black-faced jobs, was screw-clamped to the steering column, with a slash of bright orange nail polish at the 6000 shift point.

The bucket seats had an armrest between them that you could pull up to sit three across in a pinch. What you couldn't see was the chromemoly tubing that ran from the rocker sills through the B-pillars right up under the headliner to form a rollover hoop.

The windows had a tint that looked like Windex hadn't touched the glass for years. The outside lamps of the quad headlights had been converted to xenon high-lows, like switching a cigarette lighter for a blowtorch. The inside units were actually aircraft landing lights, but you'd have to be close enough to notice the nonserrated clear glass with the telltale dot in the center to tell.

No power windows, no air conditioning. The radio was the original AM/FM. If I wanted tape or CD, I'd have to bring a portable with me when I rode.

From the outside, it looked like different things to different people. To a rodder, it would look like a restoration project—the beginning of the project, with the Roadrunner's trademark "meep-meep" horn more hope than promise. To anyone else, it looked like a typical white-trash junker, just fast enough to outrun the tow truck. Steel wheels, sixteen-inchers all around, shod in Dunlop run-flats, with dog-dish hubcaps on three of them.

Rusted-out rocker panels. A dented grille hid the cold-air ducting on either side of the radiator. Steering wheel wrapped in several layers of padded white tape. The front end was all primer, the rear the original red, since gone anemic. The left tailpipe was trimmed so that it looked like a replacement mill—probably a tired 318—was providing the power.

It looked right at home on the patch of dirt that would have been the front lawn if the house we'd rented had been in a better neighborhood.

—excerpted from Only Child by Andrew Vachss

© 2002 Andrew Vachss. All rights reserved.


Excerpted from Bruce Tierney's Mysterious Orientations column:

"Watching the Detectives ... Drive, the Sequel"

Perhaps the baddest car in detective fiction belongs to Andrew Vachss' outlaw protagonist, Burke. Burke drives a 1969 Plymouth Roadrunner that has been "breathed upon" by a legendary car tuner who specializes in street racers. No trailer queen, Burke's Roadrunner is all business, all the time: "The beast's undercarriage was a combination of an independent rear suspension unit pirated from a Viper, and subframe connectors with heavy gussets to stiffen the unibody. . ." (By now, the eyes of the non-car-savvy members of the reading public have totally glazed over, and the folks with Pennzoil 10W-30 running in their veins are just beginning to get interested.) Vachss continues: "Huge disks with four-piston calipers all around, steel braided lines . . . a 440 wedge, hogged out to 528 cubes. To a rodder, it would look like a restoration project—the beginning of the project. . . To anyone else, it looked like a typical white-trash junker, just fast enough to outrun the tow truck." I looked online for the meanest looking '69 Roadrunner I could find, preferably in Burke's favorite color of primer grey, and this was the closest I was able to turn up:

Add in rusty rocker panels, a generous allotment of NYC parking rash, and a bordering-on-illegal window tint, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what shall henceforth be known as the Burkemobile.

© 2010 Bruce Tierney. All rights reserved.