Most of my friends probably don’t think of me as a car guy. I don’t have a Chevy belt buckle. I don’t have a NASCAR hat. I don’t have many of the identifying characteristics of the American Car Guy. Hell, I don’t even drive a particularly interesting car. But the thing is, I’m a car guy.
It started long before I could drive. Maybe kindergarten or first grade. It started with model cars. Specifically, a glueless
“snap together” model of a Camaro Z28 not unlike the one pictured in the lower left hand corner here:
My dad wasn’t particularly car obsessed. He had a sweet ’71 Chevelle that he sold shortly after he and my mom got married. He also had a ’53 Chevy at one point that he used to tow his boat (not considered collectible at the time, just old) but cars weren’t his thing. Cars were more the interest of my Uncle Steve. Steve had a room in his basement filled with model cars and he talked about cars and loved cars with a passion. I thought that was the coolest thing ever. Uncle Steve, for what it’s worth, is my kinda guy in many other ways as well.
Anyhow, I got this Camaro model, then my mom broke it one day by accident and she bought me a new one. The new one involved glue and paint and I botched the job pretty bad, but I enjoyed it and I started buying more model cars. I still have a half dozen kits in the basement and every few months I take one out and I paint a couple pieces and I glue a couple more and every few years I finish a model car. I have three that I’ve built in the last decade. Not exactly prolific, but I enjoy it.
When I was old enough to start thinking about cars as things to drive rather than things to build, I started reading car magazines. It was in the pages of Automobile that I first heard of the band They Might Be Giants (http://www.museumofidiots.com/john/articles/880100automobilemagazine.html). I also started drawing my own cars, learning to draw my favorite cars, collecting Hot Wheels cars, and invented a board game based on toy cars, dice, racing, and automobile collecting.
I developed a love of Formula 1 racing without ever seeing a race. I read about the races. I looked at the pictures. I loved the black and gold John Player Special Lotus cars and the Ferraris, always the Ferraris. The Testarossa. The 308. The GTO. The F40. The Mondial. It really didn’t matter what Ferrari it was, I just loved them.
I also started obsessing over anything designed by an Italian coachbuilder. Pininfarina. Bertone. Italdesign Giugiaro. Ghia. And the classic designs. The Lamborghini Miura. The DeTomaso Pantera. The Maserati Bora. The Ferrari 250 GTO.
In real life, however, I have never owned cool cars. My automotive history (only including cars I have personally owned) is as follows:
Every few years, I’ve bought a practical car. Usually a four door. It’s how I was raised from my Jehovah’s Witness background. Cars were utilitarian and generally had to be capable of carrying five adult Jehovah’s Witnesses door to door on Saturday mornings. The closest I ever came to a sports car was the ’07 Jetta. It was a 2.0 liter turbo, six speed manual transmission, 200hp, 0-60 times in the sub-7s range, red… I traded it in for my current ’09 Tiguan. Bought the Mazda for Esther. The point is, these are not Ferraris.
I still love cars. My XBox library consists of about 70% racing games. I have watched every Formula 1 race in the last 5 years. And now, finally, after all these years, I have actually bought a cool car. It’s a 1978 Fiat 124 Spider. Acquired for $300 on Craigslist.
In a perfect world, all restored to it’s former glory, it would look something like this:
But it currently looks like this:
It doesn’t run, it needs to be restored from the ground up, but it’s pretty. It’s Italian. It’s impractical.
I’ve never restored a car before. I’ve never rebuilt an engine or a transmission. I’ve never welded body panels. But I’ve now started to do all those things.
Since acquiring the Fiat, I’ve done the following:
- removed the hood, trunk, interior, exhaust, drive shaft, and lots of engine bits in preparation for pulling the engine out
- bought books on the Spider and auto restoration and read them
- bought cheap tools on Craigslist to do things to the Fiat
- bought a second Fiat Spider to be a parts donor
The way this all started (other than the lifelong car obsession) was that I heard about a book called “Build Your Own Sports Car for £250 and Race It” that takes the reader step-by-step through building a clone of a Lotus 7.
I love the Lotus 7. I’ve wanted to build a Lotus 7 for as long as I can remember. And this book seemed to make it possible, accessible, basically like making a model car but bigger. I was thinking I wanted to do this and then Esther said, “Why don’t you buy a car that needs restoration and practice on that so you can learn how to do this stuff before you try to build a car from scratch?”
That seemed like a good idea. So, I started looking on Craigslist for a sub-$500 project car. I was looking for something 1960’s-1970’s, preferably a roadster, preferably European. I found the Fiat. I’ve loved the looks of the Fiat 124 Spider since I was a kid. When it came up for $300, I bit.
I have not yet driven a Fiat Spider unless you count sitting in the 1980 Spider as it coasted backward off the trailer it arrived on and steering it into the garage. I have a list a mile long of the work that I need to do to restore the ’78. But I’m loving every minute of this. I have two big model cars to play with. Someday, one or both of them will contribute to my motoring pleasure. In the meantime, I have the XBox.