The St. Patrick’s Day parade in Delray Beach, Florida, was started in the 1960s by a pub owner who decided it was time to have a little fun. He created an impromptu autocade by stopping traffic as he wandered through downtown. Today the parade is significantly larger and more official, but the spirit of random amusement is still alive.
There is no better example of this than Billy (I’ll omit his last name to protect his innocence,) who kept a vehicle just to run in this parade.
It was a 1978 Gremlin X. The car may have been semi-prestigious in AMC circles considering it was the Gremlin’s last production year, but this one had already seen better days. “It was a ‘Push-it-in, Pull-it-in, Drag-it-in’ special,” said Billy when he discovered the car in 1997. “I saw it sitting behind the dealership, the salesman felt bad charging me for it because it didn’t run: blown head gasket, no brakes, no floor boards and tons of rust. We agreed upon $250 tax, tag, title and towed to my mechanic in Delray.”
Billy got the Gremlin running (barely). He used a friend’s auto body shop to patch up the bodywork, the interior was treated to some leftover leopard print fabric, and the car received a fresh coat of lime green paint. “I put a chrome strip on the bottom of the door that read ‘LIME GREEN LOVE MACHINE’.” A parade legend was born.
The rust could not be contained, and within a few years the Gremlin was once again in a very bad way. The solution was 24 tubes of liquid nails and some green shag carpeting. The fuzzy Gremlin was rechristened the “Shaggin’ Waggin” and once again hit the parade route.
The carpeting also had a positive effect of becoming the first bit on insulation the Gremlin had in years. “The carpet stopped a lot of the odd noises,” Billy recalled.
From this point on Billy would give the car a new theme each year and pile in as many friends into the Gremlin who would dress the part. The Gremlin would be altered and resprayed to match the motif. Every new year Billy elected to paint over the shag carpeting considering it was now integral to the bodywork.
Other themes included Dukes of Hazzard, Hooters restaurant, Starsky & Hutch, Michael Jackson w/children (no kids were utilized or harmed in this incident), and Talladega Nights.
The Gremlin was always in a state of near self-destruction. “Every parade we added two cans of stop leak to the radiator, the muffler broke in half and the exhaust leaked into the car slow and steadily,” remembered Billy. “Cracked windshield, the rubber fuel lines corroded and were leaking directly onto the engine block.”
By 2008 the car was sadder than ever. It was a miracle the rust had not buckled the Gremlin into two halves. The painted over carpet was so thick that the doors could barely open. It was now even hard for anyone to find motivation to work on it for one last parade.
Billy had a simple solution. A hit of black paint and some red Christmas lights, and Kitt from Knight Rider was born.
Just in case those in the parade could not make the Firebird-Gremlin connection, Billy wrote “Don’t hassle the Hoff” along the doors as well as pasted a few of The Hoff’s more embarrassing press photos on the Gremlin’s large rear c-pillar.
The final piece of Kitt came in the form of two twelve-inch speakers mounted on the roof. These were connected to an amplifier/CD player home unit that was likely pulled from someone’s living room earlier that day. Billy had made a CD of the Knight Rider theme song, but unfortunately no one could figure out where the repeat button was on the player (remember this is St. Patrick’s Day.)
So that’s how I got to be one of the Gremlin’s last riders. My job was to hit the play button after each time the single-track CD finished. A small task that still fills me with Guinness-fueled pride when I think about it.
The Gremlin Kitt (or “Gremitt” as I called it) was a delight to the crowds as it slowly rolled through downtown Delray Beach. It was also a constant annoyance to the three floats in front of us who had to endure two hours of the same two-minute theme song — the DJ could not realize how loud it actually was due to green beer and a mild exhaust leak.
The Gremlin didn’t live through that March. “I finally put my bike in the back and drove it to the junk yard,” said Billy. “It stalled every left turn and I coasted into the lot. I gave them the title, keys and the car for $400.”
Billy pedaled himself home, and an era was ended.
This Saturday will be my first Delray St. Patrick’s Day since the last ride of the Gremlin. Amelia Island and/or the Geneva Motor Show has gotten in the way, and so I haven’t had to think about the Gremlin in a while. I know Billy will be there. He’s now a family man, and we’re all a little older. So this year we’ll be off on the sidelines, but we’ll find some way to pay tribute to the best damn float that ever leaked fuel on that parade.