Road to Recovery: ‘Sweetest LeMon’ restoration a two-way street for stroke victim
It began as a classic car restoration, but in the end it wasn’t just Dale and Mindy Kindelberger’s 1970 Subaru that was fully restored; it was Dale himself.
Shortly after the Kindelbergers began working on their 360 Deluxe Coupe four years ago, Dale suffered a stroke – on his birthday, of all days. The occlusion left him paralyzed on his right side, unable to speak and angry at the world. Looking for a way to regain what he had lost, Dale turned to the little Subaru.
“Having a stroke is like being trapped in a cocoon, unable to move or speak,” said the Lake Havasu City, Ariz., resident as auto enthusiasts at the Tour of LeMons gathered around the popular 360. “Working on the car forced me to use my fine motor skills on my right side and also forced me to use my brain so I could curse and scream.”
After seven long months, plenty of sweat and a lot of grunting and groaning, both the Subaru and its caretaker were completely restored. At Mindy’s urging, Dale painted the car yellow, fashioned it to look like a miniature taxi cab and named it “Lemon Drop.” There were plenty of breakdowns along the way, resulting in way too many “Can you pick me up?” telephone calls, but Dale did his best to “work out all the bugs – to a point.”
“All the bugs will never be worked out because it’s a Subaru 360,” he said, only half joking. “They tell me that’s all part of the fun – working on the car. If that’s the case, then I’m having way too much fun. But Mindy really enjoys driving it, and I enjoy the attention she gets around town. Everybody in Lake Havasu knows the car. And now it’s become a little bigger with all this attention.”
The road to “all this attention” began when Hagerty announced it was searching for “America’s Sweetest LeMon.” The contest offered owners of oddball, forgotten or just plain awful cars an opportunity to lead the Tour of LeMons, a poor man’s alternative to the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Considering the Kindelbergers already owned an oddball car named “Lemon Drop,” they saw it as a match made in heaven.
“We got into the top 10 and we were thrilled to death, so we started marketing it,” Mindy said. “We posted it on Facebook, sent emails and printed 4,000 fliers that 70 local businesses passed out. We had a pizza place in town putting it on every pizza box that left the store. I work at an auto dealership, Bradley Chevrolet, and my boss took out a half-page ad in the newspaper asking the town to vote for us. And we also got votes from the 360 Drivers Club, which we’re members of.”
The marketing campaign worked, as the Subaru was a landslide winner. “We thought it was the sweetest lemon and, officially, it turned out to be,” Mindy said.
The micro car has a snowmobile-like 356 cc engine that generates only 25 hp. But it makes up for its lack of power by scoring big at the gas pump, averaging about 38 miles per gallon.
“I drive it four miles back and forth to work – 10 minutes to get down the hill and 20 minutes to get back up,” Mindy said. “It tops out about 60 mph – downhill with a tail wind on a good day. But it’s a scary 60.”
The little Subaru is sometimes mistaken for a real taxi cab, but Dale hasn’t gotten any takers at “$5 a pound.” Mindy said people often wave as she drives past, and she is asked about the car at practically every stop – “Most people just want to take a picture.” The reaction at Pebble Beach was no different.
“This little car is the antithesis of Pebble Beach, but it seems to get as much attention as the million-dollar cars,” Dale said. “We’ve had people with fabulous cars take pictures of our car while we’re taking pictures of theirs. Whether it’s a Porsche, Lamborghini, Ferrari, DuPont or whatever – it’s still an automobile … there’s an engine and tires and wheels and nuts and bolts. I think it’s enlightening that a billionaire and a guy with a $500 car can find common ground.”