Twins for the Twins

When the first red convertible rolled out of the building, big smiles spread over the faces of the Binkowski twins. When a second, identical car drove out, Katie’s jaw dropped and Lizzie looked stunned. The third Bird was the ultimate surprise for the two Ripon, Wisconsin, high-schoolers who had celebrated their 16th birthday just a day earlier.

Lizzie and Katie thought they had come to their grandfather’s house to pick up one car – a 1990 Pontiac Sunbird that had belonged to several family members. The car was used regularly until 2002, when it was put into storage for the day the twins turned “Sweet 16.” Their grandfather – a car collector – had promised to tune up the car, do some repairs, install a new convertible top and clean it. At least that was the original plan…

Work on the car started in August 2004. One needed part was a new headlight, but salvage yard prices for “composite” headlights were too high. A search on eBay turned up a good headlight for only $5. Also listed on eBay were other Sunbird ragtops that looked good and seemed to be priced very low.

The twins’ grandfather called his daughter. “What if I bought the twins a twin car?” he asked. After getting the nod, “Papa” started bidding on red Sunbird ragtops. Finally, he spotted a car being offered by a New Jersey man who was selling his very first eBay item. After asking a few questions via e-mail, he decided to bid and wound up buying the car – another red ‘90 convertible – for a meager $926.

The seller lived 10 miles from Papa’s sister, so he had the car delivered to her house. Then one of his hobby friends told him that Guy Morice of the Walter P. Chrysler Club was taking a car to the East Coast. Guy agreed to bring the Sunbird home from New Jersey on the return trip. By early October the Sunbird arrived in Wisconsin. It turned out to be worthy of “positive feedback” on eBay.

Papa visited the twins at their house on Thanksgiving. They were watching a show on MTV called “Pimp My Ride” that takes beat-up cars and turns them into dream machines. The girls were “pumped” about getting their own car in May. Of course, they had no idea they were each getting one.

As winter set in, the project continued. A new convertible top had already been obtained for the first car. A second top was purchased on eBay for $70. Also found in salvage yards or on the Internet were items such as 20-slot factory aluminum wheels, deck lid spoilers and brake parts. Like most collectors, Papa wanted the twins to have owner’s manuals and a factory shop manual for their cars. Luckily, the shop manual included complete instructions on how to install a convertible top. With the help of a mechanic named Vince Sauberlich, the new tops were carefully put on both cars and came out well.

Throughout the project, people from around the country got involved via the Internet. The top came from a lady in Maryland who bought it new and didn’t like the color, which was an exact match to the first top. California and Tennessee eBayers helped get special staples shipped just in time to complete the top installation on deadline. A Pontiac dealer fromNew Jersey dug up a second pair of original Sunbird mud flaps. A former Pontiac exec found a shop manual.

When the girls came to get their “car” on May 15, Papa handed them identical birthday cards with red cars on them. He even had a birthday cake with two red cars on it. Even with all of these hints, the twins had no idea there was more than one car.

Finally, it was time to go out to the car-storage building. With the twins standing off to the side, the door opened and out came the three red cars. Three? Well, Papa used to drive the first Sunbird years ago. He kind of liked the little 4-cylinder ragtop, but always wanted to try a V-6 model. While bouncing around the Internet, he came across just such a car for sale in Minnesota. As he looked at pictures of the car, he thought how much fun it would be to go on little convoys with Lizzie and Katie. So he bought it. He’ll drive it awhile and put it away. After all, he has six other grandkids who will need cars someday. Why not start early?

John “Gunner” Gunnell is the automotive books editor at Krause Publications in Iola, Wis., and former editor of Old Cars Weekly and Old Cars Price Guide.

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    Hello, I am the aforementioned Katie who received one of these hot red convertibles for her 16th birthday back in 2005. My Papa, author John Gunnell, passed just a few days ago. Is it possible to obtain copies of this article, complete with the original picture? I know my twin sister and I would like to frame one and keep these memories to show our kids and grandkids just how great their Papa was.

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