I’m a car nut – have been since I was a little girl. It’s all my Grandpa’s fault.
When I was about a year old my Grandpa bought a new car for to celebrate his and Grandma’s 25th wedding anniversary. It was a 1963 Impala Super Sport.
It’s the very first car I remember riding in.
I went almost everyplace with my Grandpa when I was young. He was pretty crazy about me and I was crazy about him as well.
While we would drive along he would play this game with me – I would point out an old car and he would tell me the make, model, and year.
I could never stump him. He knew the differences in the small bits of trim and chrome that separated a ’49 from a ’50 Chevy or what defined a Pontiac from a Buick made in the same year.
I learned about Buick portholes, Pontiac chevrons, and Caddy V-crests.
I learned which hood ornaments were on which models…
Which models had a Continental Kit…
I began to look at the details of a car as well as the sweeping lines of the whole.
My grandfather left his family farm as a young man and got his first job in town painting cars.
He knew how to care for a car’s paint and I learned to wax a car by watching him wax that Impala nearly every Sunday.
The miles we spent in that Impala – around town, around the state, all over California, and to Nebraska and back…
When I was very small I was sure the chrome jockey box in between the front seats was built just for me. Later on trips I thought the indentation of the speaker in the back seat was made as a place for me to rest my head.
In the mid 60s my grandparents opened an upholstery shop. I learned the meaning of tuck-and-roll and grew to love diamond-tufting.
Grandpa did a lot of furniture but he specialized in car and airplane upholstery. He told me once that a new convertible top would tighten right up when left up in the desert sun for a few hours…
That the details of the interior were just as important as those on the outside…
That a perfect interior was the sign of a well cared for automobile.
As I entered my teens he planned to pass that lovely Impala on to me, it was finally time for him to buy a new car.
My folks were having none of it so he reluctantly sold it for twice the price be paid for it.
I learned to drive the family sedan and the first car I ever owned was the LTD he replaced the Impala with. I bought the car from my Pop who Grandpa had passed it onto a few years earlier. It had not been cared for so well after leaving Grandpa’s driveway so my time with it was short.
Somewhere along the line I bought an old Jeep, just like one my grandparents had owned when I was a kid. Grandpa insisted on taking me out into the desert to learn to drive it off-road safely.
I went through a couple of odd cars until I was almost through college. I became obsessed with first generation Mustangs.
I found one I felt I could not live without, the owner said it was 99% restored – I guess if you didn’t count the engine or interior that he was pretty accurate. My Grandpa gave me a loan to buy it and together we restored it. His arrangement with me was that as long as I graduated from college, the restoration was his gift to me.
The real gift was much more that parts and paint. It was the time we spent each week and the satisfaction we felt as we saw it come closer and closer to a completed project.
We scoured junkyards looking for elusive parts. He bought me a buffer to keep the paint looking showroom perfect.
Every Friday for a year and a half we started a new project. Paint, chrome, AC, carburetor, upholstery – the day we had the carpet installed he sat down next to me in the passenger seat and beamed as he told me it smelled just like a new car.
It may not have been our beloved Impala, but it was a car we both loved. Each time I drove it I could see him in it.
I could see his hands in the details. One time after our drive he was concerned about a rattle. When we got home he took a screwdriver and disassembled the dash looking for the source of the noise. He did the same thing on his own car.
When the time came for me to move on to a new town in a new state I packed up that Mustang. I wept upon leaving him, but took comfort in taking a part of him with me in the car we restored together.
I kept the Mustang for several years until the snows of the Cascades made it impractical. It was Grandpa who urged me to sell it and buy something safer.
In the 90s I was restoring a 1967 Buick Riviera. Grandpa gave me some good advice and helped me solve a few technical problems. He also told me when it was time to let it go and move on.
He advised me on all matters automotive for the rest of his life. He advised me on all matters non-automotive as well. His wisdom and belief in me gave me the courage to try new things – to pursue my dreams, even if they lead me away from him.
I took these photos yesterday. I was at an annual antique car festival in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
As I saw the parking lots in our tiny Victorian village filled to overflowing with so many gorgeous old cars that had been lovingly cared for, I thought of the details that Grandpa taught me about…
I found myself identifying so many of them based just on these details.
The owners patiently listened as people like me shared our memories of cars gone by.
There’s something about an old car that brings these memories to the forefront. We all remember the cars of our childhood or the great times we had in cars with friends and loved ones.
These days I live out in the woods where a classic car is just too impractical – even as a hobby. I miss working on one like I miss my Grandpa.
When I see an old car that’s been lovingly cared for, no matter what the make or model I think of him.
But when I see an Impala, it all its splendor, I gasp and am taken back to that place where I sat in the passenger seat alongside the most noble man I ever knew…