Guest post contributed by Brian W. Maki, IT Consultant & Author
There are thousands of stories out there about man’s intimate relationship with gasoline engines and classic cars. You can find them in numerous bookstores, magazines, and even online. Each story is as unique as the vehicles themselves; each story is worth sharing with other like-minded car collectors. The main ingredient is one person’s passion for owning, operating, maintaining, and preserving a classic automobile. It takes a special and thoughtful person to put that much money and effort into a metal box on wheels. Over time, these classic automobiles wave their magic spell upon you, and then they slowly become the main focal point of good memories and good times with family & friends.
Like that of our green 1971 Chevelle Malibu; I can remember the first time I saw it. It was sitting in a lonely car lot for over 4 months. That happy face always gleamed right at me each day as I drove by, and I wondered what it would be like to drive it.
One Friday afternoon, I pulled off the highway and decided to test that theory. The salesman handed me the key (even offering to let me keep it for the weekend) and off I went into the setting sun of a Friday night. The clock read 4:45pm. Then trouble struck. The car wouldn’t shift into third gear. All I could think of was thousands of dollars to replace the transmission. I didn’t have the money for that repair. I almost turned around and went back. Instinctively, I turned the car around and headed to the south side of town. And there, I found, at exactly 4:55pm, without a minute to spare, a transmission shop with an old man sitting by himself. “Nice ride. Is it yours?” he inquired. “No, not really. I’m thinking of buying it. I think it has a transmission problem. Can you take it for a ride?” I asked. “Sure,” and he grabbed the keys and was gone. Not more than five minutes later, he arrived back, and jumped out of the car with a smile on his face. He then offered me the best advice of my life: “Son,” as he handed me the keys, “you better buy this car.” I was taken off-guard by his comment. I mean, in reality, I had only been driving the Chevelle for 15 minutes. And everything looked negative. “How can you be so sure?” I asked him. “Easy,” he said, “I can fix it for $50 dollars. It’s a simple fix. That’s why nobody wants it.” Fifty dollars. Easy fix. Old man’s advice. How could I go wrong?
But I couldn’t buy it yet. I needed more money for the purchase. Over the weekend, I asked my girlfriend, Laurie, who I had only dated for a short time, if she wanted to invest in this classic car. And to my surprise, she agreed to split the difference. That Monday, May 2004, our 1971 Chevelle was sitting in the driveway.
It wasn’t easy from the start. I mean, owning a classic car came with a ton of responsibilities. Oil changes. Cold storage. Break downs. Maintenance costs. External threats. Weather. Rain. Snow. Salt. Normal wear and tear. Driving it every week. Fluid flushes. Charging batteries. Putting it on blocks. Waxing. Even the thought of someone stealing it never left your mind. Over time, you got use to the routines, the caretaking, and the attention to detail. It was almost second nature to me after 17 years of ownership.
It needs to be stated here that this car is a true survivor after 50 years. Yes, one for the record books. Think of all the world’s junkyards full of burned out, rusted, crushed, and neglected cars. In fact, more than 12 million vehicles are recycled every year in America. Yet, this one Chevelle (of 249,000 Malibu’s manufactured in 1971) is still running and operating like it rolled off the car lot just yesterday. The steering column, dashboard, AM/FM radio, floorboards, bench seat, 350 engine, and green metallic color take you back to a simpler time, a time when songs such as “Riders on the Storm,” Won’t Be Fooled Again,” and “Maggie May” filled the radio waves. Classic cars such as this one, tell stories without words, yet the memories project a real feeling of nostalgia and excitement into the air each spring when one goes cruising down the highway.
Not only is this car a survivor, but its story is amazing to say the least. After being manufactured and purchased in California in 1970 (with a little help of some paperwork left in the dash compartment), the first owner’s name is stated as a Ms. Black, who owned it for three years. Afterward, through starts and stops, it made its way across the United States over the next 47 years to places like Texas, Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, and finally Michigan. Due to its low mileage (less than 61,000 at our time of purchase in 2004) and having most of its original parts, this car has been sitting in garages, car storage barns, and personal residences for nearly three-quarters of its life—even side-stepping a huge car storage fire, where 30 other classic cars were burned beyond recognition, because the prior owner made a decision to store it at his home that year. In fact, this car has been sitting idle, like a rare piece of art, waiting to be shown to the public. I guess that is where I come in. I get the honor and privilege to exhibit, promote, and project an era long since gone in automobile history. When someone sees this car, they see a piece of “living” history. The rumbling sounds, the strength, the design, and the power are showcasing the excitement of that era—all as I drive past a young boy who waves at me and takes a second look. Even he knows something’s unique about that era. No words are said. Only respect. Deep respect. For an era long since forgotten.
Each spring when I remove the cover, drop her down, put in the battery, and turn the key, the sound of the engine echoes from the garage like a heartbeat. Vroom. Vroom. That excitement never fails me. The exhaust pipes bellow out a clean fume. As I pull out on to the roadway for the annual ride, looking through the window, I gently shift her into gear and head down the road, heading anywhere really, because I know it’s been worth all the time and effort, all the sweat and preparation, to keep a classic car on the road. The ’71 Chevelle lives on. Now that, my like-minded-car-collecting friend, is just one story of thousands out there about the true love between man and machine. One that shall never end.