Wednesday, September 11, 2013

There and Back Again - An Automotive Journey

Classic cars have been in my life since I was 15. I cannot remember a time in my life when I did not own at least one old car, but most of the time it was numerous vehicles that littered my driveway in various states of repair. Classic cars rapidly became a mainstay in my life and I seemed to forever be working on a "project". I can still picture my parent's driveway the summer after I had turned twenty. This would have been at the peak of my car "collecting". They lived in an older Victorian where the garage was way in the back, so the driveway was quite long. The entire driveway was full, from front to back, with a car in the garage (a 55 Chevy if I remember right) and another one stuffed in the backyard. I probably could have started a used muscle car lot! As I started to get older and my responsibilities grew, the car collection began to shrink as my priorities shifted. Full driveways were reduced to full garages which were further reduced to single digit projects with lots of garage room.

Time went on and the cars came and went. Chevelles, GTOs, Mustangs, Impalas, Camaros, Tri-five Chevys, etc. I was never good at keeping rides, probably because I always treated them like bank accounts. Every time I got in a jam I would cash out some of my "savings" by selling a car. This became a really bad habit for me and pretty soon my garage became a revolving door for cars and trucks. It got to the point that I would literally sell or trade a vehicle just because I was bored with it. I know that doesn't sound too bad but consider this: The time frame that I would get bored was just hours after I had taken possession of the car! At the time where most people are fawning over their new ride I was already contemplating how to get rid of it and jonesing over yet another one.

 I didn't know it but the perfect storm was brewing. Take my bulimic tendency towards cars, combine it with a pay cut at work via "furloughs", sprinkle in some Great Recession (which did not "officially" end, I don't care what the media says), top it off with outrageous gas prices (only in CA) along with a side of lets raise your car, house and medical insurance and you have the perfect combination to wipe out savings accounts and car collections. I was done. I needed to survive, not drive, at least not a classic car, so I sold what I had and that was it. If you're interested in reading that story I wrote about it here.

It wasn't until I starting writing this that I realized that it had been two years since I had owned a classic car or anything that could even remotely be considered one. Heck, for one of those years I didn't even have a car I could call my own! (The Mustang is the wife's, not mine. She's just really nice and let's me drive it.) That's right, no vehicle. None. Nada. Zilch. Zippo. Two years is a heck of a long time. In dog years that would be 14 years! It was tough being in car-less prison but I survived. I think I needed that break so when I did find the next project I would better appreciate what I had. Remember that perfect storm I had mentioned earlier? Well sometimes it works both ways and just like the old saying goes, when it rains, it pours!

Do you ever wonder why things happen the way they happen? Is it fate, luck, or karma? I just happened to have a little extra money from a side job and decided to buy a "commuter car" for myself. Nothing fancy, just something to go to and from work and also be a backup car in case a family members vehicle broke down. I eagerly set out to find my new ride but was soon met with disappointment. Any decent looking cars sold before I managed to go check them out and the others that I did manage to see should have only been sold to a wrecking yard! When I finally found something decent and it got sold out from underneath me, I had just about given up. But a little flame was still burning inside of me for a classic car and it got me thinking, if I could find an older ride for the same amount of cash, why not?  Hopefully it would be one that ran and didn't come with all of it's parts in buckets. With the current state of the economy it didn't take long to locate some potential candidates and let me tell you, the classic car gods were smiling down at me because I not only got one nice car, I got two!

Even though it's a good time to by a classic car the mainstream rides are still too pricey, at least for my budget. I had 4 large which pretty much precluded me from getting any two door Chevy, Mopar, or Ford. I realized this before I started my search so I focused my efforts on non-mainstream cars like Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac. I soon discovered that Pontiacs are kind of popular and as such, also out of my range, unless I wanted to settle for a body shell or a rusting behemoth. What I really wanted was an "A-body" car but all I seemed to be finding were "B-body" rides. Now I have owned my share of full size cars, from multiple Chevy Impalas, to a Buick Electra 225 and even a Pontiac Star Chief, so I am familiar with them. I decided I was not going to be picky this time and had really lowered my expectations. During my many weeks of searching a certain B-body Oldsmobile kept popping up and I noticed the price kept going lower. I finally decided to call and make arrangements to go check it out. What I discovered was a 1967 Olds Delmont 88 with 82 thousand original miles. To make matters even sweeter it was only a 2 owner car and had every receipt and record since it was purchased new! The best part about the whole deal was that the final price was only $1000 bucks! That's right, 1G and I drove it home. Lady Luck was with me on this day for sure. Don't get the wrong impression here, the car does need a lot of work but why it hadn't sold prior to me purchasing it is beyond me.

The newest addition to the Amberlight Garage

The Olds runs and drives beautifully. With 425 cubic inches on tap, it's no slouch either. My appreciation for Oldsmobiles goes way back and this particular one reminds me of my friend Duane's grandfather's car. I rode in it just a few times but will never forget how his grandfather drove. I would watch him from the back seat and he would steer the car with just one finger as it would ooze down the street, as if it were floating on a cloud. He made it look totally effortless, like he was sitting in an easy chair flipping the TV remote. One of the first things I did when I got behind the wheel was to try and replicate the single digit steering method. I can report that it worked flawlessly as the power steering in these cars is amazing. By now you're probably wondering about the second car in this story. After all, I did mention that I had acquired two cars...

Purchase number two was a total accident. I had actually called and left a message on this particular car weeks earlier but had not received a call back. Because it was a 2 door hardtop, I assumed it had been sold. Boy was I wrong. It turned out that the owner was just really busy and had received so many inquiries about it that he gave up on returning phone calls. When I saw the ad had been re-posted with the words "must sell" in it, I decided to try again. After a few days and more then a few calls, my persistence paid off and the seller actually answered the phone! I figured my window of opportunity would be small so I was ready to leave on short notice if necessary. I turned out that he was only going to be home for an hour so if I was going to see this thing the time was now. Lady Luck smiled on me again as I discovered that the car was located less then 10 miles from my house! I grabbed my stash of cash and booked it out the door. Fifteen minutes later I was staring at a 1972 Olds Cutlass 442 hardtop. This car had been sitting for many years and looked like it, complete with a thick layer of dirt, faded paint, and flat tires. I was surprised when the seller asked me if I wanted to hear it run. After hearing the engine and checking over the entire car I just wasn't sure that I wanted to pull the trigger on this one. I think the owner noticed my hesitation because after a little bit he offered me the following deal: If I bought the car right now he would let it go for $2500! Being the cheap bastard that I am, I acted like I was mulling it over but was also keenly aware that I was in danger of overplaying my hand. As I was walking around the car I thought out loud "how am I going to get this thing home if I buy it?" and as soon as I said it the seller responded with "and I'll get it towed to your house." I only had one thing to say after that...SOLD!
My first Father and Son project car
A project for sure but I had a plan that was brewing for awhile. I had wanted to buy a Father and Son project car for years but never had the chance until now. Although my son favors Novas and Chevelles, I knew this one would be hard to resist.  How much he participates is yet to be seen but the biggest challenge now is to actually get it into the Amberlight, as it has gotten a little crowded with "stuff" over the past year or so.

So there is my latest automotive journey. To say I have been there and back again is an understatement of epic proportions. I am taking this ball and running with it. Where I'll end up I have no idea but I know one thing for sure, it will be a hell of a ride. Maybe one worth writing about!

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