A Girl Named Susybelle

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Susybelle really was a classy girl, this black four door 1940 Ford. When I was introduced to her, she’d already had plastic surgery having been fitted out with a supercharger. She was a souped-up kid.


This girl was lucky to be owned by Stanley. You see, he loved to drive. Give him any excuse and off he’d go, on errands, off to dinner, on trips to the desert and the mountains, anywhere so long as he and Susybelle could drive there. Distance wasn’t a consideration. Just to be driving was all that seemed important.


Unfortunately World War II escalated and gasoline was rationed. Since Stanley was an employee of Douglas Aircraft Company he received extra coupons for gas because he was essential to the war effort. So he was able to drive to work and back, but that’s all. The long drives that he loved were out of the question now. The answer to this problem was alternative fuel. After doing some research, he decided to invest in a system that used butane for fuel. This required the installation of a thirty-gallon, high-pressure tank in the trunk of the car and the addition of an extra carburetor as well as an extra foot throttle. So now Susybelle had two fuel tanks, the original gas tank to be filled only with the coupon gasoline for business and the new butane tank for pleasure trips.


After these changes, driving Susybelle became rather challenging. To start her going the original foot throttle was used because there was more immediate power from gasoline, remembering all the time you’re using rationed gasoline. Then when Susybelle got up to speed you switched to the butane foot throttle. Butane is a very smooth running fuel, soft to the touch but slow on the pickup.


At first butane was easy to find. We could just drive to downtown Los Angeles and get all the fuel we wanted. Now there was no stopping our driving. We could go anywhere. There were ski trips to Mammoth and Lake Tahoe, weekend trips to the desert and beaches, visits to Mexico—all this when we were at war and driving was limited.


Eventually, however, butane was rationed in Los Angeles. Without any government coupons for it, we had to drive farther away to “fill ‘er up.” Our nearest available butane stop now was in Bishop, California. This was about a five-hour drive from our home in Santa Monica, but that didn’t matter. With a 30-gallon butane tank and getting over forty miles to the gallon, we could afford to drive to Bishop which was right on the way to some of our favorite ski areas: Mammoth Mountain and Lake Tahoe. When butane eventually became rationed in Bishop we even drove to Ensenada, Mexico, for a fill up.


Susybelle enjoyed all this driving. She stood up well under the changes to her original styling. Because of the extra carburetor and the super charger, a hole had to be made in her hood for the air filter which now sat on top, causing a few curious stares from passing motorists and cops. But she ran well. Butane being a softer running fuel, you could feel the ease with which she gobbled up the miles.


There was one more change made to our girl. Another tank was added and placed on the floor of the back seat. This tank was to be used for any flammable fuel we could find. These fuels included distillate, paint thinner, and cleaning fluid. Another battery was also added and was strapped to a small stool on the passenger side of the front seat. All told, Susybelle was outfitted now to go anywhere. And she did.


On our honeymoon, in November 1944, we drove from Los Angeles to Yosemite, then to Mount Hood, Oregon, continuing on to Sun Valley, Idaho, and next to Alta, Utah, skiing at all these resorts. At the end of the week, on our way back home, Susybelle developed a small problem. Her tires were getting smooth. Since tires were also rationed at that time, we had to search through a junk yard in a small town for the right-sized tires. They were soon located, installed and we were on our way home after a whirlwind trip, locating fuel stops all along the way.


Susybelle had been on a really grand tour. She was a great romantic car to take on our honeymoon since with all of her paraphernalia she could only conformably hold two people.


She stayed around for the rest of the war, running on gasoline, butane, distillate, paint thinner, and cleaning fluid. We continued to drive anywhere we wanted. But in 1946, after the war ended and new cars were available, she was replaced with another Ford, a more normal car. Susybelle was used as a turn-in after the supercharger and extra tanks, extra foot throttle, and carburetor were removed. I know she had over 100,000 miles on the odometer by then and was ready for retirement. She really was a grand old lady.

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