"Haile's Parade Car" by Bill Semenuk

I graduated in June 1965 and promptly sought to find "real wheels" as opposed to the "loaners" my Dad had saddled me with. My "dream car" was a 1960 Dodge Polara 500 convertible - White with blue interior and every option available. I had seen one delivered to Mrs. Fletcher and it made my heart throb.

The "new" car that I could "afford" was a Coronet 440 convertible with blue interior, 225 slant six and 3 on the tree. So I promptly "ordered" it. Whether it was really ordered or not has been subject to debate over the years, as my Father was the local Dodge-Plymouth dealer. I was under "pressure" to like the new Charger, but I flat-out didn't like the styling.

One evening in August my Dad brings home a "Bright Red" Coronet 500 convertible with white vinyl buckets. My mother and Uncle decided that those "chastity seats" were just the right thing, and being under considerable pressure to "like" it - I eventually reluctantly did.

When the car arrived it was pre-announcement, and the lure of driving it prior to announcement day was too much for me. It was serial 0009 in that VIN series and came equipped with Plymouth covers since the Coronet Wheel covers had not arrived yet. I was soon to discover that the rain troughs were missing too, as evidenced by the 4 inches of water in the rear seat wells whenever it rained. I always wondered what else didn't make the build.

I added a CB, towing hitch, and an FM tuner, as Dodge did not offer one on the Coronet series. My mother insisted on seat belts in the rear OR I couldn't drive "her" Grandchildren in the back seat with the top down! The car should have been a chick magnet but in those days it was hard to compete with the TRI-power Goats. especially with a puny 318.

Later in the year I transferred to Ethiopia, and the car came with me. It arrived in the port city of Massawa on a 128 degree Fahrenheit day. Opening the window vents resulted in a hot blast like that of an open oven door. It climbed the 7500-foot mountain to Asmara effortlessly. Once there I modified it again with Fog lights so that I could negotiate the mountains in nightly fog. (Even though we were not allowed to travel after dark because of "bandits" and rebel freedom fighters.) The last modification was sheet steel over the gas tank so that I could travel "at-speed" (60 mph) on the all gravel "highways".

I took the car as far North and West as Keren, and as far south as Bahar Dar and to Tissibet (Blue Nile Falls) crossing the 10,000-foot Simien Mountains. I never bothered to install the "high altitude" jets that my dad had thoughtfully ordered for me.

One day while at work, I was "summoned" to the Provost Marshal's Office without explanation. I was introduced to the tallest Amhara I had ever seen, Grasmach Andem, the Ethiopian Minister of Transportation, who wanted to "buy" my car. It was not an option to refuse, but I could at least cover my $ 2961 costs. I believe they paid me in Ethiopian dollars, AND provided me with a pristine Land Rover until I could locate a replacement car.

Three days later the car had been painted by the local Italian Garage with 3 coats of black paint and it was used as Haile Salassie's parade car when he made his annual visit to Asmara (and the Kagnew Station Dental Clinic to work on his teeth).

When we withdrew from Asmara in 1971 I learned that "Haile's Parade Car" was replaced with a white Mercedes convertible and my red car was given to the Fire Chief of Asmara.

When Eritrea and Asmara gained their independence from Ethiopia I lost track of the car. It could have been trucked to Addis Ababa before the rebels arrived, OR, it could have become "booty" for Eritrea.

In 2006 I located an identical 1966 Coronet 500 convertible in Lance Creek Wyoming and put a muffler and master cylinder in it and showed it at the Trolley Museum show last year. I have additional "work" to do, but she is a faithful reminder of earlier days. She originated in Springfield Missouri and arrived in Casper passing through 3 owners, when a local Casper buyer found it at an auction. It then passed to a friend in Wheatland Wyoming, was sold to another colorful Wheatland resident, and then arrived at the barn of a MOPAR lover in Lance Creek Wyoming, where I fell in love with it (reluctantly again). I trucked it here and did the minimum to return it to original shape.

I am trying to find an ORIGINAL trailer hitch, which both cars had at one time in their Careers.

I have considerable documentation and would like to offer my "story" to the Friday Washington Times if perhaps you know the person who writes those articles.

William and his red Dodge Coronet in Eritrea: [1] | [2]
Haile in the back seat of the Dodge.
The 2006 version of the red Dodge convertible.