Skip to Main Content

Winter Beater-Ain’t No Snowdrift High Enough

By jeff mason

February 3, 2021

My Winter Beater-Ain’t No Snowdrift High Enough

I was born and grew up in Buffalo, NY. Nationally, Buffalo is famous for two things—chicken wings and snow. I have no interest in chicken parts, but I can relate to snow and how to drive in the stuff. One way is to eat vast amounts of chicken wings, throw sandbags into a trunk, and invite three to five of your largest chicken-fried friends to ride with you. Another, find what was often called “Winter Beater” and mount some chains on the rear tires.

These 100,000++ mile clunkers looked and sounded like wild animals with rust spots, strange noises, and mysterious stains in the interior—but got you to your destination. I had several of these beaters as a young man, most notably an American Motors pink and grey Rambler station wagon.

Late in 1972, as the snow started to fall, I realized that I had to gear up for the upcoming winter roads. An American beater wasn’t going to work parked next to my Ferrari Daytona. So, I went out to buy the big Ferrari a little brother to reside next to the Italian flag I had up in the garage.

Not a perfect winter beater, a 1973 Fiat 128

A Winter Beater Hot Hatch

I found what I thought to be the perfect car: a 1973 Fiat (Fix It Again Tony) 128 Coupe. This buzz bomb was one of the first so-called Hot Hatches. It had a 1290 cc SOHC transverse-mounted engine, front wheel drive, and of course, a hatch back. Because of the front wheel drive and the weight of the motor over the wheels, it was almost unstoppable in the snow – almost. For anyone who has experienced one of Buffalo’s famous winter storms, you might recall some of these words and phrases: “lake effect,” “drifts,” and, my personal favorite, “white outs.”

On numerous occasions I would experience a whiteout and blindly drive into drifts. Sometimes I would have to climb out of the side windows because the snow drifts were so high. It turned out the little Fiat was not the answer. With the Daytona, I had the ultimate road car, but I needed to find the ultimate winter-mobile. Next winter I would be ready.

Buffalo Snow Met Its Match

My 1973 Toyota Land Cruiser (aka the Green Meanie) was one of the first of its kind east of the Rocky Mountains. I replaced the stock wheels with four white Jackmans and got me some serious rock-climbing tires. To help shed some light on the situation, we mounted some large HELLA fog lamps and replaced the stock headlamps.

A winter beater 1973 Toyota Land Cruiser

“Ain’t no drift high enough, ain’t no drift that’s going to keep me away.” Suffice it to say, Buffalo snow had met its match.

The Winter Beater story was first published in Car Nation.

Robert P. Minnick is founder and CEO of the Piston Foundation. The cars in his life and the people he calls friends because of those cars inspired him to create a national fundraising platform to preserve car culture. He’d like nothing better than to know future generations can have experiences as memorable has his own.

Support skilled trade education for future auto restoration technicians.


Sign up for our monthly email with stories, updates, and volunteer opportunities.