This maroon beauty began as a 1978 Chevy Caprice Classic in Kemper County, Mississippi, and may have had the most bizarre lifespan of any chase vehicle known.
Rich Thompson's parents bought it new, and turned the car over to him after Rich's Datsun B-210 started to flake out in 1987. It acquired clattering noises in the wheels which lasted the rest of its life. Rich never took care of the paint job; so by the end of its life span in late '94, the red was more rust than paint!
Rich took it out on several fishing trips and Southern Plains chases in the late '80s, including a few very productive lightning chases west of Norman, before selling it to Roger Edwards in late 1989. Roger took it with him to Miami, where he took it on many fishing trips and a few Florida Keys waterspout chases. It was even one of the few safe cars in which to drive through Liberty City after dark. Sometime in late '89 or early '90, a miniature "pound puppy" appeared on top of the dash, and would remain there as loyal watch dog and sentry until the bitter end. Roger even got it beneath a rotating wall cloud of one of two supercells in Dade County on 15 Jan 91 (of course, the other supercell was the one that produced a series of tornadoes!).
The car became infested with cockroaches after Roger left some old dead squid and other spilled fish bait in the trunk -- in the hot Miami sun -- for a few days. [It didn't smell too sweet either!] The problem was aggravated by ill-advised use of the trunk to carry a profusely bleeding 4-1/2 foot blacktip shark back to Miami from one of his nocturnal fishing trips down in the Keys. Did he clean the trunk afterwards? No! Combine that with the fact that one of Rich's many nicknames had been "Roach," and the Roachmobile had a name.
Somehow the Roachmobile survived South Florida, despite having been backed trunk-deep into salt water (thus corroding the trunk) during a couple of badly-aimed boat launches. Roger eventually controlled the cockroach problem by dumping boric acid powder all over the inside of the car, which almost landed the next owners in the slammer...
When Roger acquired the Meatwagon in Feb. 1992, he sold the Roachmobile back to Rich and to Dan Spaeth. Rich and Dan drove the Meatwagon from its original owner's home in Bartlesville OK to Mobile AL, and Roger brought the Roachmobile up to Mobile from Miami. They exchanged cars; then Dan and Rich headed for a one-shot Mobile-to-Norman drive. After midnight, along I-35 at Corinth TX (north of Dallas), they got pulled over.
Picture this: You're a cop. You stop a beat-up old Caprice with Dade County, FL license plates and white powder liberally sprinkled inside. The driver has a TX license (Rich), the passenger an IL license (Dan), they both claim to live in OK, no registration exists, and the people inside claimed to have exchanged it for another car (which they didn't own) in AL. Geez, that ain't suspicious? Somehow, after a cold hour out on the roadside, the cop let them go!
Rich and Dan "refurbished" the Roachmobile by removing years of accumulated debris/beach sand/trash/insecticide, scraping away the crumbled and fallen roof padding, installing deodorizers, and filling in a giant crater in the driver's seat where Roger's butt had been. They took the Roachmobile out on many chases in 1992 and '93, the most memorable of which was on 5 Jun 92. Rich decided to take a paved shortcut which quickly degraded to slippery mud, with disastrous consequences...
(Reproduced by permission from Storm Track, 30 Sep 92.)
They slid off the road into a ditch, up to the axles in mud, and unable to get out. That hosed the chase; and some locals got stuck trying to get them out. Meanwhile, Dave Hoadley and Warren Faidley drove by (very slowly), narrowly avoiding the mire themselves; the scene was later immortalized in a Storm Track "Funnel Funny" by Dave (above). After a couple hours, some more locals managed to attach a chain and pull them out.
Roachmobile out of the mud and back in business!
The litany of abuse to which the Roachmobile was subjected is almost inconceivable. The fact it stood with courage, strength and unfailing loyalty to its operators in the face of such torture...well, there is no precedent in the automotive annals of Americana! Early in the morning of 30 Jun 92, Rich Thompson, Dave Gold and Bill Gargan left Norman, headed for a desperation chase to the Nebraska Sandhills. They zoomed to Concordia, Dave driving, and all of them wondering why the Roachmobile seemed to be running so loud and rough. Why was the gas mileage so lousy all of a sudden? Why were they having to dump another quart of oil in it after topping it off in Norman? In Concordia, Rich discovered that they had been racing from Oklahoma at 70 mph -- in towing gear! When they returned to "Drive," the noise, mileage and oil loss all returned to normal. Of course, you can't completely blame Dave, for he was unaware that the indicator needle was offset by almost one level: when it was on the right side of "D," the transmission really was engaged in second gear!
Rich and Dan sold the Roachmobile to Brian Curran for $250 in October '92. bc was about to leave the Norman NWS forecast office for a job in Washington DC. Festooned with Maryland plates, it served "bc" well in the DC urban jungle and on a chase vacation in '93. The Roachmobile took bc to Ft. Worth in April 1994; his first full day back in the Southern Plains, he took it on a chase near Anthony KS, where Roger (driving the Meatwagon) happened upon him and nostalgically laid eyes on the Roachmobile for what proved to be the final time.
Late that May, Beth and I drove out to Colorado City and were about to start on a very promising chase, only to have the diaphragm bust on the fuel filter. Starting blowing oil like the Exxon Valdez. We managed to keep putting oil in it and still got a funnel west of Rising Star, TX. You just couldn't kill that sucker.
The Demise of the Roachmobile: It was a cold dreary early December afternoon in 1994. I took the Roachmobile on its final mission, that to a Popeye's Fried Chicken establishment in Euless. After consuming the fried dinosaur flesh and the red bean and rice, I gathered up my belongings and proceeded to work. The Roachmobile would not start. No power at all in the battery. I had to call work to inform them I would be late and patiently waited for my wife to get home.
The next day, I found the culprit: the solenoid had shorted out, and the ensuing drain cooked the battery. While underneath the Roachmobile, I discovered that several teeth were missing from the flywheel and the heretofore minor rear seal leak had worsened considerably.
The Roachmobile was a worthy vehicle and had served its purpose well. The costs of fixing this noble steed, however, were not justified. I then, with much grief in my heart, disconnected the battery, called a junk car service, and waited for the wrecker to take the Roachmobile across the river Styx. I used portion of the $80 I received for the Roachmobile for good beer, and I quaffed many a toast to the memory of the Roachmobile.
re: the Roachmobile. I thought I gave Rich some momentos, like the MD license plate, the pound puppy, some trim, a picture, and a canned fart from the '93 chase season.