The Smell of Progress

Smell of Progress

As I neared the garage, I could tell something was different before ever turning the doorknob to enter. A faint but pungent smell permeated the air; a blend of something burnt with the distinct odor of mice nests. Upon entering, my suspicions were confirmed, as a thick blue haze seemed to hug the ceiling.

Soon my son’s head popped up from behind the ’34 International pickup he was working on. “Kinda stinks in here, doesn’t it?” he commented. “I got the lower cowl half cut out before I realized I had ignited a hidden mouse nest, and then I had a heck of a time putting out the fire through the small cut left by the cutoff wheel!” In conclusion he added, “You can’t build a hot rod until you start something on fire.” With a grin, he returned to work removing the foul burnt stuff from the truck’s cowl.

They say odors can be a strong memory trigger, and this one was no exception. I recalled countless times I had encountered even slight variations of this smell. Memories of past mouse nest mishaps came rushing back; the ’72 Blazer that wouldn’t start until a thunderous backfire expelled burning acorns and mouse nests like a bazooka from the tailpipe; the pungent smell of the headliner in the ’31 DeSoto that drooped in the spring under the weight of the nesting materials of those who took residence there over the course of the winter. Not to mention all the times their hideaways were discovered in much the same way as my son had just experienced.

I couldn’t help but think of the other smells that brought back memories of so many other old car adventures and misadventures. Only days earlier I visited a local automotive customizer, the smell of body filler and paint in their shop brought back recollections of the many hours spent finishing countless cars in my own shop. Stale gasoline, burnt oil, hot electrical components, carburetor cleaner, and even a freshly waxed finish all bring back vivid memories.

As I thought about all of the smells I associate so closely with our hobby, I couldn’t help but think that no matter how foul the smell I encountered, it was always in pursuit of the passion I hold so close, and how my memories of these events will always be treasured. Perhaps my son’s parting comment was more accurate than he could have imagined, “You can’t build a hot rod until you start something on fire.” Or, perhaps it should be amended to simply, “That’s the sweet smell of progress.”

I encourage you to take your son, daughter, or friends, out to the garage, swap meet, or salvage yard and take a deep breath, as there is a memory that will be best served when it’s shared, and will undoubtedly last a lifetime.

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8 Responses to “The Smell of Progress”

  1. terry woods

    I remember the old musty smells from cars that had sat for long periods of time .

  2. dana_ford_22

    I always enjoy telling the story of revving up my ’77 Chevy truck and shooting mice out of the tailpipe like bullets!!

    • Customer Service

      Hi David,

      Mice and cars have an ongoing attraction to each other.
      The common cures I’ve seen include:
      Moth Balls (But your car will stink like moth balls)
      Irish Spring Bath Soap (Cut into large chunks and left throughout the car)
      Pure Peppermint Oil (Soaked in Cotton Balls and left in containers with holes in the lids inside of cars)
      This subject has been the subject of much discussion in the Tech Q&A section, check out what others have to say:

      Hope this helps,

      Classic Car Restoration Club Video Membership

  3. GREG

    I bought a 68 Cutlass convertible that had been stored for over 20 years. The mice had built 5 Star Hotels and the whole car reeked. Fortunately the wiring was not touched but the odour remains. I stripped the interior, kick/door panels, heater housing and lines, frame, hood/trunk lids, behind the dash etc. When it started it blew wheat and more nest parts half way to the street. The problem is, after spraying it with masking chemicals, it still has a bit of that odour.
    Does anyone have any experience with something that will get rid of the final bit of odour. Thanks for your help!!!

    • Customer Service

      Hi Greg. I too have run into the same issue in the past. basically ANY soft material will hold that smell. often the only way to rid the car of it is to remove and replace any: upholstery, padding, foam, insulation, top, vinyl, etc….

      Once I have a car completely stripped out, I scrub the bare interior well with (Bleach/,Water, or Vinegar/Water). in some cases I’ve had to resort to sealing the surfaces with paint to completely eliminate the odor.

      Okay, if that seems extreme here are a few other solutions I’ve heard over the years:

      1. Put a fan in the window of your car and blow air through it for up to a year… of course it will need to be in the garage.
      2. Cleaning with a pet odor remover called “Simple Solution” or “Natures Miracle” available at pet stores or online.
      3. placing a boiling pan of Vinegar and Cinnamon in your closed up car
      4. Many claim a ozone generator is the ticket and can be rented at many rental stores. Note: they have been known to rust interior components and electrical connections if over used. often used in homes with smoke damage.
      5. And finally if you ask enough car guys you’ll eventually hear to throw a dead skunk in the trunk and you’ll never smell mouse urine in your car again.