When I was a kid, I used to ride my bike to a junkyard three miles out of town, where the local Chevy dealer dumped the wrecked, worn out cars they couldn’t sell, and visit a 1948 Chevy.
It was painted black with a brush. Parts of old screen doors were riveted over rust holes and the wheels had been spray painted silver, covering half of the tires as well. It looked as if someone tried (operative word) to dress it up to sell, which never happened. Now, it had been relegated to sit forlorn under an oak tree in the back corner.
I’d sit behind the huge steering wheel, peer out the tiny windows, and dream I was driving it. Of course, in my dreams it was pristine, rather than the rusting hulk sitting in the briars on two flat tires it really was. Someday, I’m gonna have one of these, I’d tell myself.
When I was thirteen, I got up the nerve to ask the owner, Paul Geyer, or P.G. as everyone called him, about buying it. He let out a huge belly laugh and told me “Ga-home kid.”
But I kept after him, hoping someday he’d take me serious.
The day before my fifteenth birthday, I had just finished mowing a customers lawn when I noticed him standing in front of his dealership across the street. He was wearing his usual bright yellow plaid pants, shiny patent leather white shoes, bright green suit coat and white straw hat with a rainbow-colored band. He was puffing on a fat cigar, looking over some new Chevy’s that had just been delivered.
I hopped on my bike and rode over, and as I neared him, I noticed an oh-here-comes-that-damn-kid-again look on his face.
“Still interested in that ‘48, if ya figgered out how much” I said, which was one my standard lines for breaking the ice over the past couple of years.
“ Ya don’t want that heap, kid” he said.
I was shocked. It wasn’t his standard ga-home kid response, and no belly laugh either.
“What’cha need is one-a ‘dose,” he went on, taking the cigar out of his mouth long enough to point it at a gleaming brand new ‘74 Z-28 Camaro that was dark green with white stripes. “Come back when ya got money, kid, and we’ll put ya in one,” he said, turning to go back inside.
“I do have money…and I’m not interested in that! Well, I guess I am interested…it’s a nice car and all…but it’s not what I want. (Or could afford) So, just tell me…how much for the ‘48 in the boneyard.?”
“You just ain’t gonna let up on me, are ya kid?” he turned and asked.
“Ya say ya got money too?”
“How much ya got?”
I thought of the money I had stashed in my piggy bank back home. I figured I had a little over 100 bucks.
“Thirty five bucks” I sheepishly muttered. I fully expected to hear his laugh echo between the dealership and Jerry Toole’s General Store.
“I’ll be damned!” he snorted. “That’s exactly how much I figgered it was worth! Looks like ya got yer-self a car, son” he said, offering me a handshake.
I stared in disbelief and shook his hand. I had my first car! I didn’t have a license yet, no idea if it even ran, and no real income to fix it. But I finally had it.
Oh yeah, one more small detail. I still hadn’t brought it up to mom and dad.
I figured I’d tell them about my plans that night, and paced back and forth in the living room, practicing my speech over and over, and came up with answers to everything I thought they could throw at me.
A short time later, I heard a truck pulling up the hill leading to our home. When I looked out, I saw Rick Lautner, the mechanic at the dealership, backing the old Chevy wrecker into our driveway, with the ‘48 hanging off the back.
“What’cha gonna do with this pile a shit?” he asked as he lowered it down off the wrecker.
“I’m gonna fix it and it’s gonna be my first car” I replied.
“Yeah…good luck with that!” he snorted.
“Hey, it ain’t that bad.” I lied.
“Kid, you and all the money in the world ain’t gonna fix this dog turd,” he said.
Rick always was an arrogant SOB that I didn’t care for, but deep down inside, I wondered if he was right. I had never touched the inner workings of a car, I just knew I loved the looks of the older cars like this one.
“Besides, you’re just a kid…what do you know about cars? With any luck, you’ll screw it up so damn bad, it’ll never see the road.” he sneered. He climbed back in the tow truck and left.
That cemented what I thought of him, and my resolve to someday, somehow drive this car.
I looked at the car with briars and tall weeds hanging off of it and listened to the tires lose air. So much for gently breaking the news to mom and dad about what I was PLANNING to buy. Two of the rotten tires had gone flat again by the time mom got home and pulled into the driveway with a bewildered look on her face.
When dad got home the shit hit the fan. Obviously, I had lost my mind. Had I thought of how I was gonna fix it? And what was I gonna use for money? Did I have any idea how hard it was to find parts for old cars? And how expensive they were?
I stammered through some half- asset, half thought out answers to each of his questions (none of which were ones I planned for) until he announced he was going up to Geyers to give HIM a piece of his mind.
I pleaded with him. I’d do anything he asked – just let me keep it. Besides, it was only thirty-five bucks, and it was my money, right? I could be spending it on a lot worse stuff than this.
It worked! (That, and the fact one of the first cars mom and dad had was a ’48 Chevy)
I subscribed to every car magazine out there and poured through how-to’s in each issue. I hung on every word Gray Baskerville wrote about iconic builders like Lil John Buttera, Pete Chapouris, Jim Jacobs, Magoo (Dick Megourac) and Barry Lobeck and studied the pictures of their latest works to learn how to do it myself.
The car was the first of many cars I’ve had, but it technically didn’t make it as my first car, as it was nowhere near drivable by the time I was sixteen. That honor fell to my dads hand me down ‘69 Camaro.
It would be four long years before I drove that ’48 under it’s own power, But it was worth every skinned knuckle, bloodied hand, shed tear, and hard-earned dollar that went into it.
Why would all that work be worth so much to me?
First off, I did it myself with no formal training. The only thing not done by me was chrome on the bumpers and the upholstery. Mom did the upholstery once I took the seat covers apart for patterns so she could make new ones, and the bumpers were done by a family friend’s son, who owned a chrome shop, for a bargain out the back door price.
Was it a showstopper? Not hardly. It still wore a coat of rattle can hot rod red primer. It had a set of used chrome reverse wheels that were slightly pitted that I bought at a swap meet for 10 bucks that looked decent enough. To those wheels, I added just the right size big’s and little’s (tires) and it had that same “stance” I’d seen in the magazines. I did the bodywork over and over until it was straight and didn’t look like a 15 year old kid did it.
But the best thing it had going for it was a nasty sounding 327 Chevy V-8 that made all the right sounds. It was a mismatch of parts that really didn’t complement each other very well, all of which I picked up for free or next to nothing, which was my budget at the time. It could barely wheeze out of its own way on takeoff, but it sounded like it was ready for The Winternationals. It had that hot rod look and sound, and that was good enough.
It also gave me the proudest moment in my life. My best friend Don and I took it to Columbus, Ohio to the NSRA Street Rod Nationals. The night before the show, we were looking at all the cars in a hotel parking lot, many of which we had seen in magazines. All of them made my car look like a pile of crap.
As we made our way through the sea of cars, I almost literally ran into none other than my personal hero, Gray Baskerville, who was standing there talking with Buttera and Chapouris. We introduced ourselves, told them we were their biggest fans, and I mentioned my car, albeit not worthy of sharing the same ground as theirs.
Gray was intrigued. “Ya mean that primered Chevy ridin’ around is yours?” he asked.
I shook my head yes, not knowing why he asked.
“Man, that car sounds bitchin’! Good job kid.”
He could have said nothing. He could have berated it for the amateurish heap it was in comparison to everything there. He could have blown us both off and went back to his conversation with two legends in the car world. He himself was one of a handful of people responsible for the evolution of hot rodding. Instead, THE absolute car guy picked out something good about my car and gave me a verbal pat on the back.
It’s first tank of gas was a glorious moment too. What’s so great about a tank of gas you ask? I got it at GEYER CHEVROLET, which offered full service. I actually paid more for the gas there, because it was full service. Why?
Because the mechanic (remember my friend Rick Lautner?) would have to drop whatever he was doing and give me polite and courteous service.
He never said a word to me while he pumped my gas, but I couldn’t resist. When I paid him for the gas I looked him straight in the eye and said “Guess I didn’t screw it up so bad, huh?”
That car started the addiction to cars I still have to this day.
The picture below is of my Chevy at the Street Rod Nationals North in Detroit, circa 1982