Every week at OCW we put together stories about cars and the special relationships they have in people’s lives. Laying out a story about a son who found his dad’s Camaro after many years and owners [look to OCW’s February 22nd] it got me thinking about how cars have affected me. Up to now I have never reflected on how and when cars have influenced me into becoming a “car guy.”
Everyone’s story differs in some way, but most of us were brought up with at least one family member that nudged us along the way. Sometimes it was not as obvious as it may seem. For me, cars were always lurking in the background. My dad was never a diehard car fanatic, but I had uncles who lived nearby who seemed to either be always working on something or collecting various parts for future projects. My dad has always been a Chevy guy. So was my uncle, who owned a farm full of many automotive curiosities that intrigued me as a child. To this day my uncle still talks about his formidable hubcap collection. My other uncle, who was always working on his cars, is a died-in-wool Ford man. The brand loyalty is inconsequential; case in point, I drive MoPar these days. The brand loyalty did, however, demonstrate their passion for cars, and in some ways, helped plant the car loving seed within me.
I was not a car crazy kid, which still surprises me today. Looking back I realize most of my fond memories included a car somewhere in the mix. Even before I could recall anything I had a car nearby (see photo of me rocking the diaper with my older sister lugging me around ). It was almost as if the cars were a silent partner in my childhood. I recall playing in my uncle’s rusted-out, stripped 1938 Chevy behind his shed pretending it was my get-a-way car. I can still remember the white and red shift knob that stood out from the rest of the rusted metal in the cab. It is amazing I didn’t come down with tetanus. You have to love the simpler times of the 1970s. I also remember my other uncle’s 1968 Torino that seemed to always be ever present and constantly being worked on.
During my teen years money was scarce and my main focus was getting on the road. The longing for vintage iron was still years away. I started to get my automotive feet wet when I decided that my cheap rust trap 1981 Datsun 210 was not “cool” enough to drive around in. Believe it or not, girls weren’t into rusty heaps. Armed with buckets of “Kitty Hair” and “Bondo”, a tin snips, some paper thin sheet metal, a lot of sand paper, elbow grease and a rivet gun, I did some of the best shade tree bodywork ever. Of course, it was all wrong and would eventually rust out from beneath the paint, but with an ample hosing of some free bright yellow acrylic paint (it was old paint donated from my dad’s work buddy referred to as Corvette yellow) it looked great from a distance. I guess that obnoxiously bright Datsun set the hook in me. It wasn’t really the car necessarily, but the hands-on mechanics that I loved. Over the next few years I bought the cheapest junkers I could find to get through college. Econo rust buckets were had for a few hundred bucks and were nothing to look at but taught me volumes about automotive mechanicals; since they were always breaking down.
My interest in the classics and muscle era cars started too about this time. The age-old dilemma of caviar tastes on a fish stick budget became quite evident to me. I knew I wanted a classic car, but life was becoming busy and it would have to wait until I could afford it.
For some reason GTOs have always called to me. In particular the 1967 version with stacked vertical headlights, full size and great proportions is what does it for me. I got married and knew a family was not far behind, I kept telling myself that the car dreams would have to take a backseat to more pressing needs. That was until I saw a random GTO for sale for relatively cheap at a used car dealership. It was a ’73 and not really the GTO I longed for. While doing a bit of research on that car, one thing led to another and a whole world of automotive history opened my eyes to other cars. My research became a borderline obsession for a while. I ended up buying my 1969 Camaro a few years later and have not looked back since. When the car bug bites it bites hard!
It is funny how life seems to take care of the details. Years later and I have the opportunity to write this blog celebrating my love of cars for Old Cars Weekly. Once again those pesky old cars seem to be right by my side guiding me through life.