The car bug bit me at a young age.
I was 15 years old living in St. Louis Missouri. My first car was a 1951 Plymouth two door that my uncle sold to me for $5, with the understanding that I would fix it up. I worked on it day and night, putting my resources into the engine the interior, and finally due to lack of funds I gave it my own paint job. Now don't laugh, but I painted that car with a brush and household paint roller and it actually didn’t look all that bad. But that didn't matter; what was important was that I had a 1951 Plymouth of my very own.
After high school my family moved to California. My beautiful ’51 Plymouth was left behind in Missouri with my uncle and aunt.
In 1965 I was 19 years old and had just gotten out on my own. I was working in the construction trade with two cousins who were bricklayers. I would mix the cement and haul it up the ladders where they were building fireplaces. It was extremely hard work for a young man, but I loved it. The money was extremely good for the time — $5.50 an hour.
Of course it wasn’t full time, just when they worked, but with this kind of money I was sitting on top of the world. I thought I was on my way to being a millionaire. Being 19 years old I loved cars. I didn’t have a car but I thought that with my newfound wealth I could more than afford to buy one, so I went shopping. We were living in Santa Barbara, Calif., at the time and I went to the local Ford dealer. I had heard that a Ford was just released and I wanted to see it. The salesman walked me over to a car he called the Mustang. I was surprised by how small it was. I knew my friends would be the ones putting their loose change into my gas tank if I would haul them around in my new car, and when I saw the size of a backseat I knew there was no way my friends (with their gas money) would fit.
I went up the street to the Pontiac dealer. I walked in and the first car I saw was a GTO convertible on the showroom floor. I looked at the size of the backseat; I looked at the engine. I looked over that car for an hour and a half. I talked to the salesman and told him I would be back, then I went home and talked my mother into cosigning for this car and very secure $5.50/hour 19-year-old construction entrepreneur. We went to the dealership and sat down with the salesman, and of course I had to order a convertible with a four-speed, 389 three twos and a special Tiger Gold paint job. It took a few weeks to arrive from the factory but what a thrill when it showed up!
Gasoline was round 35 cents a gallon and my friends gladly would chip in to ride around in my beautiful new ride. We would cruise up and down State Street in Santa Barbara, smiling at the young ladies.
I joined a local car club called the Channel City Competition Team, (CCC). There was another GTO as well as guys with Chevy 409s, Chevelles and all manner of muscle cars. We would drive a few miles north of Santa Barbara on the weekend then turn around facing south, where we had highway 101 marked off for a quarter-mile. We would choose opponents and late at night, from 12:00 a.m. to 1 a.m., we would ease out onto the deserted highway and drop the clutch for a quarter-mile. What fun we had! Life was good.
During this time I met a girl and after about a year of dating we decided to get married. She was a great girl but she didn't think that my 1-year-old GTO convertible was a good family car. She also thought that the car was a gas guzzler, even though I tried to explain to her about the three twos and progressive linkage. Being young and newly married, I gave in and traded in my beautiful car for an Opel Cadet. I started thinking about it and I ran back to the car lot and told the guy that I wanted my car back. He said, “Sorry, son, it's been sold.”
For the next 46 years I searched high and low for that car. The VIN number was not on the paperwork. I tried to call the dealership but they were out of business. I wrote letters to Pontiac, Pontiac car clubs and untold other organizations. I didn't know if the car had been restored or it had become a transistor radio somewhere in Japan. I would not give up; I searched and searched. Then, finally, in 2012 I found a 1965 GTO convertible on the East Coast that seemed right. I compared items, parts that I had previously chrome plated and other items. The paint was different and it sported a few new modifications, but I would have recognized my old car anywhere.
My old friend finally came home!