The year was 1973 in East Granby, Connecticut when I was 15 years old. My back yard neighbor Ralph Micheller and his father Rudy would restore various projects such as a 1966 Honda Dream, a 1968 Volkswagen station wagon, and what I believe was a plum crazy Charger(can't remember the year). This particular summer Ralph had dragged home a 1971 Black on Black Dodge Challenger pistol grip shifter 426 hemi. When he purchased the car it was in decent shape, except for a spun bearing.
I was absorbed into family workshop by osmosis, showing up at their house at 7:00am when everyone was waking up, having a bit of breakfast and not leaving until I heard my mother call me for dinner. We would spend the days of that summer tearing the car apart and cataloging parts. When we pulled the engine block it was immediately sent off to the machine shop to be worked on. If I remember correctly he also sent the crank off to California to have it worked on. I can't imagine what that must have cost.
Weeks went by, the parts came back and we began putting it all back together and it was finished by the end of that summer. Was I surprised when EARLY one August morning Ralph's Challenger came rumbling up our stone driveway... I still get goosebumps when I think back on that moment, the noise, the fumes, I was in heaven. He got out of the car as I went running up to him with my eyes bulging out of my head. He told me that because I had hung with him and the project all summer that I should go with him on the maiden voyage. We took off up Spoonville Road at a mild pace. The exhaust was growling and the car had a slight prance as we began speeding up the road. The hood was doing its thing, swinging side to side. Ralph was running through the gears and I could feel myself being sucked back into the seat with every change of the pistol grip shifter. Life was good! We had just past Crows farmhouse when I looked over at Ralph only to see an odd expression on his face. In a moment, what started out as the happiest day for him and I turned into complete agony. I began looking where he was staring and there it was on gauge cluster... 0 oil pressure. Another spun bearing! It was a very slow and quiet ride as we limped back to his house.
After that day I never saw the car again. I have always wanted to look Ralph up and ask him what he did with it but we had lost touch. That summer was one of the best times I can remember growing up and probably the worst for my poor neighbor Ralph. He switched to foreign cars after that.
What an experience it was which has had a lasting impact on me down to this day. Because of that family taking in the stray neighbor kid, I was given an invaluable lesson in learning to love all things cars and to teach my children the same. The recently finished red 69 Mustang featured above is the result of that memorable summer in 1973 and the lessons I had learned.