We all start off not knowing shit about something. But, if we stick to it and keep plugging away, sometimes for years, we can get better at it. Wrenching on cars is a perfect example.

I’ll use myself as an example. The following are true stories and I hope they don’t reflect on my level of intelligence now.

I was 16 years old, just moved to Hemet, California from Lockport, New York and I was about to get my drivers license. I already had a passion for classic cars and I pestered my dad to no end to find the perfect project. Well, any project. 

One day I approached dad about a car a neighbor was selling. I can’t even remember what it was, mostly because it was in boxes. The guy wanted $50 bucks for it. My dad rolled his eyes and said ‘No!”

The next attempt was a white ‘58 or ‘59 Ford Fairlane with the retractable hardtop. I thought it was so cool that a roof that big could fold into the trunk. But, the answer was “No!” again. The retractable roof didn’t work anyway and the car was bigger than our driveway.

Then, my dad gave me his 1972 AMC Gremlin which he bought in Buffalo. It had a straight six, road salt rust and stood out like a sore thumb in the Southern California desert. I needed to make it cooler. At least cool enough so I could drive it to school. Back then, customizers gave their cars great names like “Pure Hell”, “Blackjack” and “Cherry Bomb.” I ripped out the interior hoping to add a bunch of wood accents, including a wood dashboard with custom gauges. I was going to put Crager wheels and big fat tires on the back, lower it and give it a great name.  I didn’t have a plan for the rust or the motor or the name. I never put it back together and my dad sold what was left of the car and the parts for $200 bucks. 

Next, with the money I made working at Pioneer Chicken, I bought a 1972 Ford Econoline van with three on the tree, the interior was wrapped in shag carpet and had an 8-track player. I would listen to Led Zeppelin's “In Through the Out Door” as I cruised the streets of Hemet. That’s all I remember about that experience and I can’t remember what happened to the van. A lot of people have late 70’s, early 80’s amnesia. 

Next thing I remember, my dad found a 1946 Jeep Willys CJ2A sitting in a field in Calimesa, near Redlands. I bought it, took out the four banger motor, dropped in a 283 Chevy small block, painted it, converted the ammo box into a thermos and added a roll bar so I could strap my surfboards across the windshield and the roll bar. It actually looked pretty good. Until one day, I’m driving back from the beach and it breaks down along Interstate-15 near Temecula. Dad picked me up and helped tow it back home. Me, the dumbass, had put different sized rims on the back which chewed up the differential. I fixed it, sold it and bought a 1970 BMW 2002.

I didn’t mess with the Beemer too much. I loved that car just the way it was although I did have to call my dad one night when it just stopped running. I walked to a pay phone and explained that it just broke down. He showed up with a gas can, put gas in the tank and it started right up. I guess I didn’t pay enough attention to the gas gauge to realize it didn’t work very well. Mr. Dumbass strikes again!

I didn’t start to emerge from that clueless stage in life until I got married. She snapped me out of it, although the look on her face as she reads this says otherwise. I didn’t own a classic car for about 20 years while we raised two beautiful daughters. Now I’m back at it, hopefully a little wiser and definitely humbler.

Do you have any embarrassing stories where your dad or mom saved you from yourself or from the side of the road? We’d love to hear it.



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