Not of the Choke Generation? Here’s How to Get Your Vintage Vehicle Started

Here’s the deal: We should be embarrassed.  Andrew was at first and he’s convinced his mates in England aren’t going to let him live this down but I told him it’s okay.  It’s totally okay that we forgot we had a vehicle with a choke.

See, since we got our 1965 Clark Cortez two months from the day, we have been so focused on getting it started . . . and then getting the brakes functioning that we forgot we had an old relic with a choke.  We’ve been using starter spray each and every time to get our faithful beast to fire up and we honestly didn’t think much of it — I mean, we knew we wanted to tackle this issue one day, but we had so many other jobs on the list that we moved the thought to the side . . . that is until we bumped into one of my uncle’s friends at the farm.

“So have you mastered your choke yet?” he asked grinning.  This man’s name is Arthur and he was really sweet — When we pulled our Cortez into my uncle’s garage, ready to start a full day’s work, Arthur slowly moseyed over, intrigued so we invited him inside.

“You made the right move,” he said, looking around and nodding, and that’s how we first met.

“Doesn’t feel like that some days, mate,” Andy told him while wiping his sweat-covered brow, leaving a grease smudge on his forehead.

“You did.  My wife and I just bought a brand-new trailer — a pull-along, you know.  Worst financial decision ever” and here we began our conversation.  Arthur told us about all the old vehicles he’s had and how one of his favorites was an old campervan that he and his wife purchased with grand plans to renovate it . . . that is until his wife wanted to sell it.  “She said it was too much work.  We are both retired — actually I just retired today — but she said we should just enjoy it, travel.  We didn’t need to take time to fix it up at this age and I agreed.”  He paused and I was thinking over what he was saying.  Surprisingly I agreed with his wife too until he added again, “Worst financial decision ever.  You two are doing it right.  This is neat — This is really cool.”

It was around here Andrew began explaining how our decision may not have been the best — that some days, we wonder if our Cortez will be a money-pit or if it will be a dream-maker — but that, for now, we are happy with our choice.

“For example, we can’t figure out why it needs this — ” and here Andrew produced a can of starter fluid.  “We have to spray it every time to get the engine to start.”

“Huh,” Arthur said and he looked at us with as puzzling an expression as we had for our Cortez.  “So have you mastered your choke yet?  And it still won’t start without that?”

Andrew’s realization was immediate and he started to laugh.  “The choke!” he cried, turning to me.  “L, I completely forgot the choke!”

Being that I had no idea how the verb ‘choke’ could suddenly become a ‘noun,’ I just looked and blinked.  Surely he would explain himself, I thought.

And he did: An engine needs a balance of air and fuel to run.  A choke — which is an engine valve — reduces the amount of air when the engine is started and this action allows the engine to fire up.  All modern vehicles do not have chokes — They have other fancy parts that have made the choke obsolete; however, in older motors, people have to operate their chokes manually.  (And by the way, if you know when the last vehicle with a choke was made, leave us a comment — I’m interested.)

So Andrew sheepishly admits he forgot the choke because he was so focused on other Cortez jobs and what could I say?  Up until that point, I didn’t even know chokes existed in vehicles so of course it didn’t matter to me.  “It’s still embarrassing,” he said until I pointed out this: For those ready to bant — Bant away, buddy because I’m hoping the fact that we are the only person we know with a Clark Cortez . . . and we are the only person we know restoring a fifty-four-year-old motorhome — well, I’m hoping this gives us a free pass.

Anyway we had a good chat with Arthur who taught us that our choke needs to be closed when the engine is off or when the engine is cold — not when the temperature outside is cold.  So as we are talking, Andrew pulled the choke cable out all the way and — click — the engine’s carburetor snapped shut.

“That should be good,” Arthur said and all three of us held our breath as Andrew twisted the key ignition . . .

and it worked!  Our ancient behemoth fired up!  No starter fluid sprays — no can in sight — and our Cortez engine was super duper happy.  We were, too.

“Now you have to figure out how your vehicle likes it but you want to close it now,” Arthur was yelling over the healthy roar of the engine so Andy dipped back down and pushed our Cortez’s choke cable in, slowly opening the carburetor’s flap.

That’s when another amazing thing happened: Our engine grew silenter but still remained as powerful.

With the job complete, the only one we had to tackle was now how to get our choke cable to move more smoothly.  Essentially, it had seized so it was extremely hard to pull in and out.  For this, we employed WD-40 — spraying it on both ends of the choke.  Since then, this sucker has been sliding easily.IMG_2805IMG_2799IMG_2802

In the end, this is a short and sweet post about how miracles can happen.

. . . Or maybe instead I should say this is a short and sweet post to show knowledge has taken place, and with that we are hoping this information will help anyone else with a vehicle that has a choke; and for more, we just posted a new video so head on over to our YouTube channel.

Cheers to figuring ours out!IMG_2480

6 thoughts

  1. Hi, You were was brought to my attention by my sister who is a member of a Cortez group on FB. I read your story and have enjoyed hearing and seeing your goals and progress. My backstory I am a daughter of a backyard mechanic born and raised in Chicago. I am proud to say the first 17 years of my life our family had been the proud owners of not 1 but 2 Cortez. During the first probably 13 of those years I saw appx. 75 % of the continental US as well as Canada and BC confined (for the traveling part) within the walls of those steel beasts and despite all the trial and tribulations, ups and downs, good and bad things that all come upon us as we have to become adults. I always have those happy times to look back on, there are times when I can;t remember where I set my keys down or that the power bill was due on the 15th but damn if I sure can close my eyes and remember the Christmas of 76 when I was 5 years old driving from Chicago to Az in the Cortez to spend the holidays with my mothers sister and family there, or the summer of 85 at a Cortez Rally in UP Michigan on Mackinaw Island where I met one of my best friends who almost 30 years later is still a BF. So needless to say I can only imagine what kind of memories you and your partner will create in your coach. Ironically you mentioned your boyfriend or Fiancee ?? (Didn’t stalk you too much see the relationship title LOL) was into restoring a vintage vehicle my father who was born in 1929 and raised for the most part by a single Polish mother ( Irish father worked the RR and was a functioning alcoholic who at the end of the week may or may not decide to bring home a check) anyway… Dad grew up during the depression, learned how to make his way early on, Older brother went into the Army (sent 99% of paycheck back home) while dad was still in HS so he started working (still graduated HS) early on. He was a dreamer for sure but one thing he could do was turn wrenches and his passion was foreign cars. Fiat and Lancia to name a few. I do not know how many cars shows and Lancia rally’s we went to growing up My point I think it is neat how there is a connection in their likes and vintage cars. Ok so what I really wanted to tell you is that my parents saved EVERYTHING !!! My sister inquired on the box of Cortez stuff that of course was still in existence in one of our sheds here. I am thinking I may have quite a few things in there that may be of use to you. From I believe an original advertisement of a new coach to some schematics on engine, electronics (not sure about brakes   ) as well as newsletters from the Illinois Cortez group and the Cortez National (yeah there was a shitload of them rolling around back in the 70’s and 80’s). I have to place my hands on the box to see what all we have but I would like to be able to share whatever we have. Please be aware I am a middle age (almost yikes weird for me to type that) Mom with a middle schooler, full time Dispatcher for a Sheriff’s office, wife of a cop, part time farmer( you know that whole adult bullshit we have to do) so pretty much a frickin soup sandwich majority the time. However I want to help you all I will make a conscious effort this week to track down that box and message you with what I find… Oh yeah and the other crazy coincidence is I recently moved to the Eastern Shore of VA after living in Portsmouth AKA (DA Hood, Ptown) VA for 25 or so years. So I am not too far away. Sorry about the mini chapter book on this post but I rather I be public then sending you a message and run the chances of you not reading it because of all the scammers and viruses that are being sent through messenger these days.

    1. Hi, Kristi! Thank you for stopping in and writing us! Your message brought a smile to my face in many ways, including the start when you said your sister brought us to your attention because my sister and I are very close and I could see us doing something similar.

      Your family and childhood sound wonderful – I was raised in a household that was different (as was my fiancé, who yes – I do refer to him as both my boyfriend and fiancé only because I think there is an element of sweetness and innocence in the word ‘boyfriend’). Our parents did not have enough money to travel so for me growing up, my family trips came from my parents saving the entire year to be able to afford a one-week beach trip to a neighboring area. We never went far out of state so I never had the ability to roam and see the world, which is why I suppose I have always been fixated on doing that.

      How amazing your family had two Cortezes too! Do they still have them and are they registered on the FB page? We found only two others listed on the East Coast and they are all the way in Florida! To say the Cortez is an incredibly vehicle is an understatement, as you know based on the memories you described. Again, your parents seem truly special to have given you the opportunity to explore so much of the US and Canada. I hope my fiancé and I will have memories that are as powerful and long-lasting.

      You are also right about Andy – He has always messed with his cars… and seems to gravitate towards ones that don’t start or need love. To name a few he’s had in England, there has been a ’93 Audi 80, ’92 Volkswagen Scirocco, ’94 Nissan 200SX S14A, and a ’87 Mk1 Golf GTI Cabriolet (the last, my personal favorite). To go back to what you shared about your family – I love how you described your father as a dreamer with a passion for cars. (Also, a ’71 Lancia Flavia 2000 Coupe – Is there a more precious car?! I asked Andy now about Lancia and he is telling me of all of the ones that either destroyed others in rallies or of Lancias that were – and I quote – “cool as shit.”)

      How amazing about your parents saved everything from their Cortezes though! We were lucky to get a good amount of original documents – We have two owner’s manuals, a Cortez National paper (You are right – I would have had no idea about that until I saw it!), and maybe one Cortez newsletter. We’d love to know more about the box that you have and feel honored you want to share this information with us!
      Also, never worry about long messages – As you can see I’m not a short-in-length writer either!

      –L

  2. no clue what a choke is but soooooo happy to see this beauty crank up!!! YAY. and that pic of you two is super sweet. Cheers to small steps toward making a dream come true!!

    1. Again, you make me smile so much! I hope we get to meet when we take to the road, friend! Thanks for stopping in xoxo

  3. Chokes would have been phased out in the 80’s when fuel injection made more of an appearance. Sorry, but I too didn’t think of it. I thought you Americans would have been more advanced than us Brits.!!! 😁

    1. haha I guess we Americans can’t take every advancement! I read that the last vehicle with a choke was actually in 2004 — A Mini Cooper. That struck me as interesting because I thought they were phased out a lot earlier, too.

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