1977 Honda Civic fuel pump with homemade bracket
When carrying a full set of tools, duct tape, jumper cables and jugs of water wasn’t enough preparedness
Thirty years ago, some things about driving beater hoopties were fantastic — say, picking up a ’67 Pontiac GTO for $113, for example — but the fact remains that cars of the 1960-1980 period (which is what you could get cheap during my early driving years) were hideously unreliable by the standards of the current century. Even such allegedly bulletproof machines as the Chrysler A-body with Slant-6 engine, Mercedes-Benz W126 with OM617 diesel engine or third-gen Toyota Corolla would be considered flaky by today’s standards, particularly when you factor in the weak batteries and blowout-prone tires of the old days. On top of that, the lack of cellphones meant that, in most cases, you were on your own if something broke. That meant that your 200-buck, 20-year-old daily driver needed to be equipped with a lot of worst-case-scenario equipment. One such item that I considered indispensable back then was the spare electric fuel pump.
Murilee Martin’s 1968 Mercury Cyclone
When I went off to college, a seven-hour drive from my hometown, I drove a 50-footer 1968 Mercury Cyclone fastback. It was a pretty typical 16-year-old’s cheap Detroit car back then, very simple with its leaf-spring rear suspension, pushrod V8 engine (a 351W swap instead of the factory 302) and automatic transmission. Like all such cars back then, it suffered from regular mechanical and electrical ailments, almost always stuff that could be fixed in an hour or two … provided you had tools and parts handy. For some reason, my Cyclone suffered a couple of mechanical fuel-pump failures, one time stranding me in a rough neighborhood in Long Beach, and so I decided that I would buy some cheap insurance at my local wrecking yard.
1980 Honda Civic in California junkyard
Carbureted cars run much lower fuel pressure than fuel-injected ones, so I needed a fuel-pump donor with the unusual combination of a carburetor and an easily accessible electric fuel pump (most carbureted cars back then ran mechanical pumps, and most of those with electric pumps had them mounted in hard-to-reach locations). After some poking around, I found that early Honda Civics had such pumps.
1980 Honda Civic rear seat
In the first- (and, I’m pretty sure, second-) generation Civic, you get at the electric fuel pump by pulling out the back seat and unscrewing a small metal panel under the seat. Since you’re not under the car, you won’t get a shower of varnishy stale gas spraying in your face, which is a big plus in the junkyard.
Honda Civic fuel pump with homemade bracket
I found a piece of scrap sheetmetal, fabricated a crude bracket with a couple of mounting holes and I had an extra fuel pump to ride in the trunk in case the latest replacement mechanical pump crapped out (because I had this pump on hand, the Cyclone never had another mechanical pump fail). However, when I moved from the Cyclone to a 1973 MGB-GT daily-driver, this spare pump saved me from the janky pumps made by the Prince of Darkness at least twice (and if it had fit in the MG’s stock electric pump location, I’d have made the Honda pump a permanent modification).
1965 Chevrolet Impala trunk full-o-tools
My daily driver after the MGB-GT was a 1965 Chevrolet Impala sedan, and the Honda fuel pump with its homemade bracket lived in its trunk for many years. I had some problems with icky stuff in the fuel system clogging the factory steel lines, so at one point I ran 20 feet of rubber fuel line all the way from the tank to the Honda pump bolted to the firewall and drove the car that way until I could sort out the problem (don’t try this at home, kids). After I got rid of the Impala, I kept the fuel pump on hand for a while. Cars newer than about 1990, however, don’t break down so much, and so I’ve gotten out of the habit of carrying many tools and parts in my vehicles. I think my emergency Honda pump ended up in the Toyota 20R-swapped Austin-Healey Sprite project, so it may be pumping gas to this day.