The car sat under a tree, wedged in between a rusted out Plymouth Valiant and a tractor-trailer that was being used as storage. It was covered in that grayish greenish brown mix of pollen and dirt that renders all of the glass opaque. It also made it hard to tell exactly what color the car was. The final top had split in several places due to the ravages of sun and rain and tree sap. The engine compartment had more acorns and leaves than the tree under which it rested. The tires were remarkably round and still held some amount of air, but were dry and cracked on the side walls. The driver’s seat was shot, and someone had cut the dash for a more modern stereo. The chrome was mysteriously pitted in random places as if to emulate some strange rash. It was a mess, and I had to have it. I mean, who would let such an icon just sit outside and deteriorate? This was a not inexpensive sportscar that was desired, acquired, and pampered at some point. Now it was just another case where eminent domain should apply (see The Theory of Eminent Domain)
I had stopped by a few weeks earlier and left a note, but no call. This time, I caught the shop owner, Steve. It was a typical case of a customer who had brought the car in for some repairs, and found that those repairs were going to be more expensive and extensive than he bargained for. The car sat. Steve vowed to contact the owner that night, and I left once again. Two days later I got a call. Yes it was for sale, but for more than it was worth. Today it would sound ridiculously cheap, but at that time, things were different. We haggled a bit, but the owner was sticking to his guns. I wondered if he had seen the car recently. No deal.
A few days later, I was about to call and up the offer, such was my craving. Before I had a chance, the owner called and accepted my initial slightly low offer. He had been to see the car and was surprised at the condition. He told me that Steve had promised to keep it inside, finish the work, etc, etc. I was at his place with the money the next day, even though it would take a few weeks to pick up the car. Then, with title in hand, I returned to the shop and took a more complete inventory. A lot of work, but doable. It even turned over with the battery from the shop, although it did not fire. I hauled it home and began the discovery process.
Three weeks and an awful lot of work, diagnostics, and a few parts were required in order to get the car running. It became a rolling restoration, although I hesitate to use the word restoration as the intent was to make it a driver. The body and interior cleaned up remarkably well, and over the years, the ailments have been mostly addressed, while delivering the gifts of wrenching and the parts hunt, and the community of like-minded madmen. The stock 2.2 litre flat six engine has been solidly reliable and has taken the car on many trips and many hundreds of miles with nothing but oil changes and tuneups along the way. It has gone around the track at LimeRock and Watkins Glen. It has toured New England in the fall with a rebuilt targa top stowed in the trunk. It has attended many a club event with two small children in the back. It has been the source of joy and laughter.
Then, more than a decade later, on the way to a breakfast this weekend, the car delivered more gifts. While I was getting gas, a woman smiled and said “That’s a lovely car” as she walked inside to get coffee. On the way out she asked what year it was and we chatted for a minute. She never stopped smiling. A few minutes later, the car flew down a lonely section of interstate at 120mph. The speedo wavered back and forth between 120 and 125 as I kept going. The car always begins to feel good above 80mph, and it sees triple digits on occasion, but it is not usually up in the 120mph area. We were only there for about a minute, but the car did not feel strained, and I had more tach to go. I was not far away from the top speed of the car when new, and this car is 43 years old. Stock points and ignition, stock Zenith carbs, stock motor, stock wheels, stock steering wheel. I never stopped smiling, and I am pleased in this Holiday season to once again receive a gift from a vehicle which keeps on giving.