Anyways, I said yes to the skating and our gang piled into a friend's '88 Dodge Omni and we headed out for a night of slippery, ankle-twisting, tailbone-fracturing fun at the Zion ice rink to goof off and maybe pick up girls from another town that didn't know what idiots we were. Now I should mention that this friend drove a Dodge Omni with the 2.2 fuel-injected four cylinder, and it was equipped with a 5 speed manual transmission. While this particular little hatchback probably left the Belvidere factory pumping out a wimpy 93 horsepower, it was overhauled after a spun rod bearing sidelined it. This friend and his resourceful family of gearheads rebuilt the motor and bored out to 2.5 liters. It also had some minor tweaks that helped it pick up a few stray ponies along the way. The Omni was then in great shape to serve as a 'first car'. A 16 year-old guy with a lead foot and a cheap black hatchback was a dangerous combination, especially with a carload of testosterone-filled cohorts egging him on to "do a burnout". For being a lightweight, this little thing would scoot! And yes, it would blow the tires off the car every time you dumped the clutch. The asbestosy smell was standard!
The ice skating night started out innocent enough. The Omni arrived, full of flannel clad teens with bad attitudes. We all laughed and joked while listening to loud rock music and fogged up the windows on the way to the rink. Plenty of snow and ice covered the road before we left and eventually the voyage turned into a white-out blizzard. The little front wheel drive Omni would slip and slide over the powder falling on top of the slush that was already on top of the two lane highway. A quick upshift and a lift of the throttle would correct it. Then it would break traction again. Sometimes on purpose to demonstrate "how much power this car has" and other times just because of the road conditions. This repeated for some time, all the while the lights of the oncoming traffic became less frequent. The occasional sideways slide was usually accompanied by a few curse words and laughter. It was getting nasty out there, but we were invincible in our tiny Dodge.
Should we turn back and go home?
Wouldn't the ice rink be closed?
Are we gonna die?
We plugged along, and eventually slid into the parking lot of the surprisingly un-crowded ice rink. Apparently we were the only ones stupid enough to want to go ice skating in the middle of a blizzard. The rink was open, and we did go and goof off for a while by ourselves.
"There's no chicks."
Depressed with our prospects, we all piled back into the Mopar and decided to take the opportunity afforded by a large, empty, snow-covered parking lot and a compact car with a working emergency brake to perform a string of endless stunts.
Most of these involved some form of a donut and/or 180 slide. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the popular reverse donut, this being a front wheel drive car and all. I think that was the first time I'd ever seen that done. While sitting in the back seat with two other chuckleheads, our evening concluded with a simple reverse donut that lasted approximately 5 minutes. This obviously felt like hours. We went around and around and around...I almost puked from car sickness after looking at the lamp posts in the parking lot whizzing past in rhythmic succession. We finally came to a stop, and just sat there for a minute trying not to lose our cookies from the nausea and acrid smell of a smokey clutch. I don't remember anything else about that night, other than we made it home in one piece and so did the little Omni.
Being 16 was wonderful. You could pretend that your sub-100 horsepower compact car losing traction in the snow was a 1,000 horsepower fire-breathing, pavement-shredding burnout machine. Its still fun to pretend that every once in a while even as an adult, am I right?
For the rest of my life, I'll always think of two things when I see a Dodge Omni...
1. Donuts in a snow-covered parking lot.
2. The smell of a burned clutch.
Strange memories to have triggered in the parking deck on the way to work.
For those of you who may want to learn about the European origins of the Omni / Horizon platform and Chrysler's successful attempt at beating the import hatchback craze of the late 70's, I recommend a few minutes at the ALLPAR website. They've got a nice little writeup on it. The C2 platform, along with the K-car, helped keep Chrysler from going belly up well before they almost went belly up a few short years