The Time Machine
This car is such an interesting piece of my personal history. These past few weeks had been coming up on my 20th class reunion, and I knew it was going to take some work to get the car back on the road. So I took the opportunity to start going through everything and getting it sorted out. Throughout the process I decided to do a little cosmetic restoration as well.
If you don’t know the story on this car, it was my first car, the car I drove all through high school. In the late 90’s I plastered a deer going 55 mph. It busted the grill, knocked loose a transmission line and I got stranded. Dad had to come get the car running again so I could drive home.
The summer before college the car finally bit the dust when the transmission gave up. I got it towed back to the house and there it sat as I went off to K-State. Dad tried to sell the car, but no one wanted the old, beat up, used up, non-running heap. After a few years he decided he was either going to haul it to the scrapyard, or he was going to build it up and get it running again.
My dad is the reason this car still exists at all. From the very beginning. When we picked up the car before my freshman year of high school in 1996 it needed so much work. He agreed to help me work on it, if I paid for all the parts. It needed basically everything, but he got it road worthy again. He used old fence pipe to make a new exhaust for it. When I hit the deer, he fixed the transmission and even hand bent and welded up a new grill from scrap pipe he found laying around, that I chose to paint red to match the bowtie. And when I left for college he put a whole new drivetrain in it and gave the car a whole new life and personality.
So this car has now been a vein in our lives for almost 30 years. But what would it mean to “restore” a car like this? In my mind it wouldn’t make any sense to try to restore this car back to the way it looked when it was on the showroom. That’s a car I’d be completely unfamiliar with. We could put the gutless 305 ci engine back in it, but that wouldn’t be any fun. We could paint it a beautiful deep metallic paint, but would it even look right?
As I was bolting in the new grill and headlight bezels, tightening down the lugnuts on the classic Cragar wheels, filling in the paint chips, I stepped back and was a bit struck by an image that I hadn’t seen since I was just a cringy, insecure high school sophomore. But within seconds I already kinda missed the red grill and centerline wheels that I’d just taken off.
That car existed in that (let’s call it 2.0) form for longer than I ever knew it in the state we first bought it in 1996. So which car is more “real”? Which version deserves to be memorialized? You could easily ask a stranger which looks better and I’m sure the average Joe would pick the stock grill and chrome wheels. But I was talking to a high school friend about it and the first thing he said when he saw it was, “You saved the red grill didn’t you?” YES! Absolutely I did, for all the reasons he asked that question. In his mind, and to a great extent my own, that grill was an inseparable part of what made that car what it was.
Scars aren’t pretty, but they all have stories. Some scars come from a life saving operation. Some come from stupid choices that we are grateful to be able to tell tale of. Everything wears out, gradually losing its luster, its precision, and eventually its function. That happens to everything and everyone, whether we do anything with our time here of consequence or not. But our scars? Those are unique to us. They’re the marks left behind of our story. As permanent as we are. No one can take them, and no one can decipher them without the key you keep locked in your memory. Nothing is more unique and placed by our own choices and consequences than our scars.
But what image do you want to present to the world, or really to yourself? What do those scars represent? Shame? Regret? Pain? Do you choose to live with it and overcome it? Or do you choose to divorce yourself from it and move on separately, better than before? I’m not here to say which is right or wrong. Life isn’t about playing every hand perfectly. It’s about staying in the game, and hopefully having something left to pass to your partner if you’re lucky.
The night I hit that deer wasn’t a particularly pleasant night. But when I look at that picture above, even though it was taken 20 years after that night, I now remember my friends who drove me all the way home in the middle of the night. My Dad who spent the time to perfectly bend each and every pipe to match the contour of the car so I didn’t have to drive a jalopy. A contemporarily terrible moment, turned into a sweet memory of people who cared about me.
And so, I want to treat this car with respect. I could easily get carried away and erase everything about this car that makes it so personal. With that said, nostalgia is the art of remembering the good times in a way that is likely better than they were. And if this car isn’t rolling nostalgia, I don’t know what is. There’s balance to be found in there for sure.
My Dad asked me, “What are you going to do with the old wheels?” A question I’d already thought about and would have been surprised if he didn’t ask. As much as this car’s memory belongs to me, it belongs to him too. And my family, and the friends who grew up with it. I’m a steward of their memories as much as I am my own, and to think that my feelings about the old black car are any more valid than my Dad’s would be a bit like me thinking I’m the only hero in this story. Like I mentioned in the beginning. This car still exists today because of him. That car had those wheels on it longer than they ever had the Crager’s that I remember from high school. There’s no way that the wheels that are on it now are the “right” wheels.
Those silver centerline’s aren’t going anywhere. I told him, I’m keeping them, and I want to get some honest racing slicks on those things. He built this car to go fast, and those rims deserve to have the right tires to make it the fastest, funnest, wildest thing it can possibly be.
I get so attached to things. But it’s never the thing really. It’s the stories attached to it. How it makes me feel. The time of my life from 1996 to 2001 wasn’t perfect. But I really did enjoy it, just like every other chapter in life so far. I never want to forget it. I never want to forget who I was, or the people that made a difference then. If this car keeps me thinking about those things, then maybe I won’t.