Apologies in advance for the long-windedness of this post, but the holidays have spun me into a deep dive on myself, amongst many other topics.
Here's the background: Since about 3-4 years old, I've been the kind of nerd I assume the vast majority of us on Oppo are, the vehicular kind. I spend most of my spare time either looking, talking, or researching cars that not only generally (or morally) I can't afford. My friends are car people, with which I converse (or argue with) about cars. Performance stats roll through my head. Engine and Chassis codes. Production numbers and current values. It's a sickness. My girlfriend tolerates me, but only just.
This... all I am... is the fault of my father. The man who made his life in cars. Used cars to be exact. The man who tried (and failed) 3 times to produce a successful livelihood because of a deep-seated connection to automobiles. Same guy who took his 4-year-old son to 100 mph in a Firebird on a long straight stretch of road. The very same dude who daily'd an El Camino SS and never wore seat belts. Who had friends who would reminisce about THEIR glory days. Big Blocks, Rat motors, Blowers, Police Pursuits…. These tales would swirl around in my head in my formative years and take root, exploding into full on mania the closer I edged to my own glory days ahead. We often rode around in his 1965 Mid-year Corvette, you know, the one he bought with the 302 Z/28 engine a few years ago that was too nice to let go. And so it would be, the parade of classic and modern muscle cars that graced our driveway throughout the years proved to be like so much methamphetamine to my brain in it’s state.
Now, I should pause here to mention… Not exactly father of the year material. Some of the things I experienced with my father in the early 1990’s would fall firmly into the realm of child endangerment in this day and age (and probably in that one too) alas, today I live, and no arrests were made. He wasn’t a great parent in those days, although in later years he did attempt to make amends. My Dad grew up in the farmlands of Pennsylvania, almost smack in the middle between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. I’m not looking for excusal of his behavior, more a frame of reference for the reader. We both are blessed with a rebellious streak of “I told you so” so… Oil and Water it was.
Getting back on topic:
Dad collected cars. That’s inaccurate. Dad hoarded cars. Jealously. He sold cars, but I can’t help but think that if he’d have sold some of the “collectables” he might still be in business today. He didn’t, so he’s not. Thank (insert deity here) for that. Because I get to tell you all about the story of:
The 1976 Cosworth Twin-Cam Vega. None of the following information is corroborated by anything other than a 20 minute conversation with my Father on Christmas day while we tried (failingly, per usual) to avoid 64 other people. They aren’t car people anyway.
My Dad is a fully shit mechanic. He’s unable to diagnose anything produced after about 1985 outside of basic maintenance but, he was and likely still is a fantastic artist in terms of body and fender repair. Some of this is evidenced by his first car(s), which ended up being two separate 1967 Camaro’s effectively welded together to make one functioning vehicle. He was 15 at the start of said project, in a barn, and without the help of nearly anyone else. After the car splicing was complete, Dad slathered the whole project in a Poo brown metallic, and went on his merry way as a teenager with a Camaro in Snows-Enough, PA. He had been pumping gas at a local service station for a living, and recently secured employment at the Used Car dealership across the street. Life was pretty good.
This employment change proved ruinous however, because Mr. Used Cars, his new boss, coveted FAST STUFF. Mildly successful in the area, Mr. Cars frequently returned back to his lowly employees in late-model Corvettes, pavement melting Mustangs, and other delectable period correct factory fast stuff, some of it needing body repair and some of it fresh from the auction lot to prepare for sale. Not a safe space for teen car Dad, to say the least. And so it came to be, Mr. Cars one day returned to his lot with this:
The Cosworth Twin-Cam Vega. In blue (which, Dad claims there are less than 30 of, ever) with a white interior and the GOLD WHEELS. It was a stick, it was a couple years old, and it was all over for the Poo Brown Camaro(s).
Thankfully, it wasn’t in need of any repairs and much to my grandparent’s chagrin, it was coming home to the farm as soon as humanly possible. Now, to understand his mentality. This was a car ordered by John Delorean. This was the new way to make speed and power in the malaise era. This a chassis that was nearly purpose built for racing, and this had an engine designed by those crazy bastards at Cosworth over in England, who were pretty-darn-good-at-being-crazy-bastards.
What it didn’t have, was a good starting point. At it’s roots, that’s a Vega. And for the uninitiated, the Chevrolet Vega was a not a very nice place to spend very long in.
Note: That isn't THE car. That is an image borrowed from the CVOA (www.cosworthvega.com) who run an amazing, fantastic site dedicated to these special cars. I highly recommend the site to anyone with even an inkling of a question.
Onward: Dad’s 2nd car was his first love, even way back then. He washed it every few days. He dodged potholes and kept it out of the salt when the weather went bad. He tried, bless him, to make it a little quicker by cheating the timing a bit. But most of all, he looked at it. He looked at it when it was parked close, checked on it up the street, it was the love story of the decade there in Small Town, PA in the 70’s. They had some scrapes, they had some laughs… until….
As it is fairly practiced around this time of year, Dad fired up the blue devil one morning out in the shed then returned to the house to get ready for school. He’d done this about a thousand times by this point and nothing seemed amiss. After expending a full can of Hair Net (It’s MY artistic freedom), he returned to the garage to find the car off, ignition still in the run position. “That’s odd” says he, and cranks again. A sputter, a Rev, an awful clatter, and that was it. The Cossie would start no more. Didn’t even try. Promising to get to the bottom of this, Dad headed off to school. It wasn’t the first time they’d had some bumps in their relationship, no big deal.
Later: The hood was up (backwards) and the news was in. Timing chain. Non-standard Engine. Non-standard part. Local garages avoided my father like a Leper as soon as he mentioned the big C(osworth). Not their kind of motor, too fancy. Too British. And so, without the knowledge to do it himself or the avenue to have it done, into the shed she went in all the blue glory she could muster, gold wheels and all. Horse blankets on top. Buckets around it to catch the roof leaks. He’d get back to her when he could, he said. But he didn’t. My Mother came along. Way too quickly then so did I. Had to get a place. Had to get some money together. Time to be a man.
The year is 1993. I’m 7. Dad is older, by a long shot. So is Mom, barefoot and pregnant with my kid sister. Dad has finally put away enough money to buy his own home, right down the road from the shed where that beautiful blue broken car still sat all covered up in ratty old blankets. House with a garage. Big one. Room enough for the Corvette, and the Elky, even a long bay for his rollback for his used car business. He’d made it, and at least for now, he was the new-and-improved Mr. Used Cars. So we all saddled up and started the long process of digging. Digging out nearly three decades worth of miscellaneous farm junk that had accumulated directly in front of the Cosworth, which now sat on 4 flat tires on dirty gold wheels, had I can only assume generations upon generations of mice living in it, and whose beautiful blue paint had given way to rust in some of the more prone areas. Of course, the timing chain still lay across the valve covers, right where he’d left it as a young man so long ago.
But we had a rollback and some serious motivation. This was my first time. I’m in it, I’m helping with a car. Not just any car, man. This is my dad’s 2nd EVER. I’m basically partner in the business, dude, trust me. No amount of Nintendo could compare to this. I’m going to skin up the knees on my school jeans if it’s the last fucking thing I do, promise. Uncle John is here too, he’s the coolest guy I’ve ever seen, ever.
Finally, the reunion occurs. Back at home with his first love, his second car. I was nearly drooling at the possibilities. And for all intents, it started with a bang. Whole interior out on the floor. Seats to the upholstery shop, tires pumped up enough to roll the car. Lots of white plastic dye. Scrubbed carpets… the works. After we got the interior back into the car, still not running I would sit in it and shift the gear selector through the pattern. I’m a racecar driver, up through the gears, screaming engine noises. Turn coming up in my mind, clutch in, back down through the gears. I haven’t physically moved an inch but if you ask me, the Daytona 500 is over and I am victorious.
But it never ran.
Fast forward to Christmas Day 2022: The Vega remains in it’s spot in the big garage. Dad retired around COVID, cars cost too much he says. He’s getting older. Hell so am I. Almost retired from the Army. Got a girl, got a house, got a dog. Pretty close to the old man. He looks down, “We should try pulling that Vega out and getting it going” he says, for the 50th time in nearly as many years. I shrug, “Actually going to finish it this time?” I ask. We’re going to the classic car museum a town or two over this week. Gotta use the tickets. Big Corvette display now until March. “Probably not” says he. I laughed. “Probably not” I repeated.
Fast forward to 1 hour ago. The realization dawns. He couldn’t just outright ask me, he would never. We’re a tough love kind of family, always have been. Dad wants to pull out the old blue Vega. Rare, vintage, the first love of his life. Time is ticking, and he knows it. Pop died this year. Alzheimer’s. And maybe… if we can breathe a little life into her…. They can spend their golden years together, as opposed to the glory years from before. It’s not the fastest car he owns still, or nicest by a long shot. But it’s more than that.
And that’s how I can repay him for this craziness with the cars my whole life. By giving him an old friend back, because I think deep down that’s what each of us would want. To spend some time with something we love, while we can.