In 2005, I "graduated" the eighth grade. Yes, I went to one of those schools where family members dressed up and endured a two hour celebration of a collection of 14-year-olds accomplishing something that they were legally obligated to accomplish in the first place. Most of my friends received their first cell phones as gifts that day. I, on the other hand, received a black onyx cross necklace. Underneath the foam in the jewelry box sat the real surprise - a Mustang key chain and a blank key.
I grew up in a neighborhood where oil changes were something performed by the dealer and the word "restoration" was only used in reference to a favorite furniture store. I'm not trying to say it's some ultra-luxe community but it still derives its name from a famous foreign golf course. You get the point - typical suburban fare where people don't spend their time under a car on jack stands in the driveway. My parents fit the bill appropriately in said neighborhood and had no combined experience wrenching on cars. Nonetheless, they embraced my affinity for car culture and bought me a 1967 Ford Mustang coupe. It hadn't run in a long time, the interior was totally shot, exterior was primer gray, and I didn't have an ounce of knowledge regarding car care. Oh well. The deal was that they would pay for the car and I would have to pay for parts, tools, and everything else I needed to get this thing drivable by the time I got my driver's license.
Working on the Mustang was one of the best experiences of my life. I could write 300 separate posts about each individual lesson I learned. To name a few:
- How to work on a car
- How not to work on a car
- How to ask for help
- The pride that comes from performing a job by one's self
- On, and on, and on.....
By the time I turned 16 I was not finished with the Mustang. In fact, I wasn't even close. Plainly put, I didn't have the money or the know how to make it roadworthy over that stretch of time. Sure, I had put in countless hours and most of the little money that I did have, but it wasn't enough. We picked up a 1996 ES300 with 140,000mi to serve as my way back and forth to school and work. It lasted two years until some woman parked the rear of her H3 in my passenger seat at a gas station. For the record, those were pretty excellent little sedans. Steering was numb. Power was meh. But the old ES300 was a trooper. And also, those headlights were ahead of their time aesthetically. When the Lexus met its demise, the Mustang still looked something like this:
After graduating high school, I moved to Argentina for a gap year and then went on to college. I was short on money, shorter on time, and the Mustang was four hours away in Cleveland, gathering dust. Unable to bear life without a car, I went down the street, exhibited an impressive lack of negotiation prowess and purchased a 2005 MINI Cooper S.
My grandpa, who has always been a role model, offered to take the Mustang and try his hand at it two years later, during my sophomore or junior year of college. I was excited by the prospect of not only seeing the Mustang continue to move along, but to share something like this with my grandpa. I'll admit to reservations. My grandpa is great with his hands and one hell of a carpenter, but I'd never seen him perform much work on cars. At the time that he took the Mustang, there were two Toyota Camrys in his garage and one non-running International Travelall. Another two years went by and not much changed. My grandpa took it to a guy who got it running really well, but it was still difficult to picture the Mustang ever making it to the road with no interior, no paint, bad tires, no glass, et cetera.
Then, unbeknownst to me, Grandpa got serious. I don't know how much money he dropped into the car, or in what time frame, exactly. I don't want to know. He was a teacher his whole life and my grandma stayed at home with four kids. Thus, they have always spent wisely and conservatively. Two weeks ago, I got a voicemail from him asking if I replaced the fuel sending unit when I replaced the fuel tank. I called him to tell him that, no, I hadn't (remember how clueless I was when I worked on this thing?). My grandma answered the phone and smugly told me to guess where she was. Um...I have no idea.
"I'm in the mustang!" Her grin was audible.
"What are you doing in the Mustang?" I asked her, afraid to get ahead of myself.
"We're driving down the road!" It was obvious she was going to make me ask for the info, piece by piece.
"What do you mean you're driving down the road? How?" I'll never forget asking this question with rising anticipation, hoping I didn't have a couple of crazy grandparents sitting on paint buckets and driving a windowless Mustang recklessly down the road.
"It's finished!" She informed me, laughing. "We're going for a drive!" I was already pacing back and forth and literally had to sit down. That was some of the most exciting news I'd ever received. Then my grandma passed the phone and my grandpa and I had a great time catching up. How the hell had he "finished" the car, failed to tell me, and just called about a stupid fuel sending unit?!
Everyone in my family refused to send a picture because my grandpa demanded that I see it in person first. Generously, everyone also opted not to drive it before I could. I wasn't slated to be back in Cleveland until Sept 11. However, I found myself working grid at Mid-Ohio on Saturday, just an hour and a half from my grandparents' house. It just so happened that my parents, sisters, and extended out-of-town family were also at my grandparents' house celebrating my grandma's birthday the same day. Win-win-win. I skipped the post-race party and headed north, barely able to contain my excitement. I showed up at my grandparents' house around 7:00 pm and surprised my family. The surprise was fun, but everyone knew why I was really there. What happened next was truly one of the best moments of my life. I can talk more about the Mustang, but it's only the trophy of a story that exists somewhat independently of the car. My parents bought it, I loved it and learned on it and bled on it, and then my grandpa did the same. Some of the most important people in my life helped me work on it or suffered through me talking about it as if they were interested. And now, here it was in front of me, proving that all of that was worth it; the car instantly cementing itself as something that will never leave my family. My grandpa says the Mustang is mine. I say it's his. It's actually ours. And that's the most important thing here. I'm appreciative of what he's done on the car. But I'm more appreciative that he's created something that we share and that we will always share.