The Day His Car Became Mine

Courtesy Susan Silberberg

“If you keep it, Susan, drive it.”

In the beginning, it was his car. The second of two old Porsches. The first was a white 1967 912 with a bit of rust, acquired a year out of undergraduate school. We had known each other for a few years at that point, having met at a student convention in Lincoln, Nebraska. Me? A naive Staten Islander still living with her parents and commuting to college in Brooklyn. Him? An intense, funny, intellectual Jewish boy from New England who could build and fix anything.

Fast-forward to 1991, and we were living in Alabama, married, and still paying off student loans. The new pride and joy was a 1970 911 T in glorious Albert Blue, purchased from the original owner in Birmingham for $7000, a price that made us both gasp. I sold my car, he sold the 912 and his motorcycle, and we sucked it up and signed the note for the balance. I say “we,” but it was most definitely his car. Not that he didn’t share it, but the 911 and Ross were one. I was the extra.

1970 Porsche 911 T rear three quarter
Porsche calls the navy paint on Silberberg’s 911 Albert Blue.Courtesy Susan Silberberg

It was still a glorious car in June of 1999 as we sat at our dining room table late one evening. I was fresh out of graduate school in a new job, and our two sons were in bed.

“If you keep it, Susan, drive it.”

He died of a glioblastoma brain tumor two weeks later, 17 months after his initial diagnosis of terminal cancer. I had a 5-year-old and a 5-month-old, no nearby family, two jobs, and was exhausted. All the time.

Beyond that, it wasn’t my car. As much as I loved it, I wouldn’t have chosen it. (I’d have wanted something with air conditioning, for starters.)

1970 Porsche 911 T headlight lines
Courtesy Susan Silberberg

Yet I kept the car, a desperate attempt to hold on to as much of him as possible. It felt like guardianship—holding it in trust for my sons. Getting it through inspection that summer took three days in 100-degree heat, my infant son in a car seat in the back, visiting four different dealers and auto shops to get the parts needed and work done. I almost heard him laughing at me.

I powered through the expense and inconvenience for years: storage in winters, waiting for parts on back order, a restoration that cost twice as much as expected. And I did drive the car, even taking it to the track for driver’s ed. Things eventually got easier, with the children growing up (including a daughter from a second marriage), my career established, and more time on my hands.

1970 Porsche 911 T WV mountain bridge
Courtesy Susan Silberberg

Last spring, I pulled off the cover and spent hours fiddling with the things needed to wake the car from its winter slumber. In the past, there had always been a soccer game to get to, a lawn to mow, dinners to make, a project due. That spring morning, I settled down to the steady work and the feel of tools in my hand. When I was done, I gave the car a loving wash. I took a shower, got dressed, and put on some lipstick (I always wear lipstick when driving the blue car). I took to spectacular roads through the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont. The leaves were that bright shade of green that only lasts a moment as they unfurl from their tight buds. Every river and stream was running high, and the sky was a brilliant blue. I lost track of time and forgot to eat lunch and flirted with the men who admired my wheels. I came back late in the day with a car that was, finally, mine.


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    Great story. Sad but beautiful. And the car…I’ve never seen that color on a 911 before. Absolutely stunning.

    This is one of your best stories ever! …a life being lived to the fullest and a Porsche as a part of that fulfillment. I am becoming exhausted with so many stories/publications dwelling on the vaiue of automobiles. Follow Susan’s example; drive it and enjoy it!

    Right on, John. It’s indeed a poignant story. I’m also tired of the near-constant focus on the money part. Ross had terrific advice for Susan and we would all do well to heed it.

    Gotta admit this story brought a few tears. I appreciate how Susan kept the car, that’s exactly where it should be. With her!

    Cars are meant to be driven and enjoyed– yes, even Duesenbergs, Ferraris ⁰and one-off SSKs. Otherwise, why have em–to save for the next owner?

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