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How to save $388.55 on repairing a 1961 Chevrolet’s windshield wipers (circa 1980-something)

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Any car repair seems wicked expensive when you get a car for three Benjamins. Take, for instance, Hemmings reader feevefeeve’s dilemma when the wipers went out on his 1961 Chevrolet Biscayne sometime in the Eighties. Spend more than the purchase price of the car on a new wiper motor? Forget it! So instead, he and his mother had two bright ideas that kept the wipers working until he sold the car years later.

As he told the story on My Hemmings:

 It was a 1961 Chevy Biscayne straight six with three-on-the-tree. My Grampa bought it the late 1960s to replace his ’49 Merky. In 1980, months after he passed on, his son, my Uncle George, sold it to me for $300. It was my senior year of college.

I called it Boris. It seemed to fit. Most of my loser-friends thought so, too. So Boris he became. Rust around every corner of both doors. Rust around the corners of the hood and trunk. His creamy sea foam green faded, sported a dull matte finish. But he ran. And ran good.

As my senior year commenced, Boris let his windshield wiper motor burn out. Local junkyards had no replacements. Plenty of Impala and Bel Air multi-speed motors, but Boris had to be unique. Biscayne’s came with a simple Hi-Lo-Off motor. Several junkyards called other junkyards. Boris and I had the whole phone system lit up. To no avail.

Next, I went to the local Chevy dealer. Yeah, they could order it. For $390! I abstained courteously, since that was nearly 25% MORE than I paid for the whole car. But since this Summer in Ohio, rain wasn’t really a problem.


As rainy Autumn weather set in, I needed Boris’s windshield to be wiped. I remember during one particular downpour pulling over to the curb to wait it out. After nearly an hour of no break in the clouds, I had a briliant idea. In the trunk (which about the same size as your typical living room), I had several boxes of “stuff.” Just things. Tools, wire, tape, rags, string, a shoe, a Frisbee(tm), and some…string!

After unspooling about 10 feet of string, I cracked open the window wing vents on both doors, poked the string out each side, and wrapped it around the tops of both wipers.

The heavy rain had given way to a steady light drizzle. So I pulled Boris back out into traffic and when the windshield needed wiping, I would gently yank on one end of the string or the other. I was a genius!

This system continued to work for months. The only downside was in a cloudburst when I couldn’t move the wipers fast enough to keep the windshield clear. But I had an answer for that too! Pick up a hitchhiker. As long as they agreed to keep wipers moving, I’d take them as far as I could.

Eventually, it was my Mom who solved the wiper motor issue. She suggested I take the broken motor to the repair shop where she had her sewing machine fixed. Thinking this was a silly waste of time, but also needing to quiet down my Mom, I took the motor in. The guy said he’d take a look at it. Two days later I got a phone call from the place. The motor was ready to pick up. When I stopped by to collect it, I shrugged my shoulders and told the guy better luck next time. He said he had fixed it, it worked fine, and that it would cost me about $1.45 parts and labor. The damn motor worked like a charm right up until I sold Boris to a friend for what I had paid for it.

Yes, I miss all the cars I had in High School, college, early adulthood, even the lemons. But the big takeaway here is: make friends with some old guy who fixes sewing machines!

Got any of your own stories about cheap fixes for old cars? Share them with us over on My Hemmings.