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Vol. 4, No. 6
Do old cars have personalities? Are some of them grumpier than others? Do they respond to threats? My own 1969 Thunderbird was dangerously close to being scrapped when I purchased it in 2001. It hadn't been driven for over 16 years, and had been stored inside during that time. It had been wrecked, its wiring harnesses had been cut up, and it was in a rather advanced state of deterioration when I found it. In fact, the first time I saw it I wasn't interested in it because it looked so bad, and I didn't feel I had the time, energy, or money to restore it.
But I couldn't stop thinking about it, and none of the other cars I looked at interested me as much. It did have a factory power sunroof, which was a very rare option in 1969, and that made it a bit more worthy of a restoration than a similar car without the sunroof would have been.
A friend who has restored many cars over the years came to visit a few months after I looked at my car (and decided against it). He knew that I had been looking for a 1969 Thunderbird. I had located one over on the west side of town just before I found my sunroof car, and this first one did run, but it had been taken apart some and I wasn't in love with the color combination. My friend suggested we go look at this car again, and we did. He knows cars pretty well, almost has an instinct about them, and he took a pretty good look at it. He said he didn't think it was a great car, and that I could do better. He said he wanted to see the other one with the sunroof, which was located a couple of hours away, so the seller was contacted to see if he still had it, and he did. Plans were made to go see it the following day.
The sunroof car was located in Fort Smith, Arkansas, in the Ozarks which are very scenic during the fall season, so we took the drive, and almost as if it were meant to be, there was the car—still sitting there next to the house—waiting like an old friend would wait for me to return. It just needed someone to love it again. After looking at it, my friend thought it would be a good car to restore, even though to me it looked much worse than the other one. At any rate, something inside me told me this truly was the one, so against my better judgement I listened to my heart and I bought it right then and there.
It's taken a lot longer than I imagined to get to the point I'm at right now with it, and that's still far away from the ultimate goal of a total restoration. But it does run great now, almost everything works as it did when new, and the car is presentable although it looks a bit aged due to an inexpensive paint job and a vinyl roof that still needs to be replaced. My friend was right, this was a good car to restore. It will of course cost much more than it's worth, but I'm not in it to make a profit, I'm in it for the love of a 1969 Thunderbird.
My car does seem to have a personality, and I think there's a reason for that. Old cars were designed by men and women who poured their hearts and souls into their work for many years, and eventually experienced the pride of seeing what they envisioned in their minds transferred to paper, then to clay, then to reality in metal. It's not too difficult to see how some of the designers personalities might make it through to the finished product. These designers were creative people, they were passionate about their work, and I wonder if some of that passion remains through the years in the finished product.
Since my car was a special order car, it would not exist were it not for the woman who ordered it new. I heard from people who knew her that she always enjoyed her cars, and I sometimes wonder if I might have a co-pilot riding along with me when I'm driving the car. I truly believe my car was somehow destined to be mine. It was for sale for almost a year, and the seller refused to sell it if he felt like the buyer might intend to part it out, or pull the 429 engine and C6 transmission from it for another project. Also, I've been able to find rare NOS parts for it that I'd never seen before, nor have I found them for sale again since. All of which leads me to believe that this car was destined to cross paths with me at some point and become mine.
There have been times when my car has been totally uncooperative with me. Despite throwing new parts at it, spending hours researching what the problem could be, asking others for their opinion, and spending hour after hour working on it, the car would just refuse to do what it was supposed to do. It's almost as if it were fighting me, wishing to go to the old car graveyard instead of returning to its more youthful days. At one point, I threatened to throw a lit match into the gas tank I was so angry, and I said it out loud, as if the car could hear me. And you know what? The issue that had caused me so much grief, time, and frustration suddenly was resolved. The answer came to me almost as if by magic. It was at that point I realized my car and I were in this journey together, and I came to the realization that if not for me, this car might not even exist today. Of course I would never destroy something that means so much to me, but this example shows my level of frustration with the car at times.
So drive your old cars. Enjoy them. Love them. Realize this is a journey you are taking together. Your work on your old car will likely outlive you. This is part of your legacy. Even if your old car isn't perfect, and even if it seems to be uncooperative with you, realize that with every admiring glance your car receives, you're honoring the people who created your car. The many people who imagined them, sculpted them into clay, and assembled them at the factory. Those people live on through their work, which serves as proof they existed and loved cars. Like an old friend, the time spent with your car creates memories (both good and bad) that we can cherish forever.
Copyright © 2008 Automotive Mileposts, Inc.
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