There have been an unusual number of changes around here lately. Some of them even affect situations that have remained static for so long that I’d begun to doubt their ability to change at all. They’ve all brought with them a scent of opportunity on the wind, a feeling that now is the time to be bold and to make a grab for something that always seemed just out of reach. So that’s what I am preparing to do.
Back in my hometown, just outside of Detroit, there sits in a garage a black and gold 1979 Pontiac Trans Am Special Edition, under a cover, waiting to be called upon. It joined our family the same day I did in the snow-swept winter of 1980, but unlike me, it never lefts its nest. It hasn’t moved in seven years. In 2005, I worked up enough money and resources to have it brought back to life; as the car always ran well and looked good and needed little in the way of extensive restoration, this was fairly straightforward work. It enjoyed a couple of cruises that summer and was then put away, a fate from which it still awaits salvation.
Some of you may also remember, from the earliest days of the Oddball Update, the fabled “Knight Project” that I once undertook (and all traces of which have since been erased from this site). The idea at the time was to acquire a third-generation Firebird from the late 1980s and, slowly but surely, turn it into a replica of KITT from Knight Rider, one of my favorite childhood TV shows. I found an ’89 Formula 350 that I liked, brought it home from Ohio, did some work on it, and then gradually realized that I was in over my head. I could handle the electronics, but that was nothing compared to the bodywork and mechanicals, which I was not equipped to tackle. Work on the Knight Project gradually slowed until 2006, when the car started to really fall apart just as we were about to move to a new home and were devoid of resources to deal with automotive pet projects. It was a sign.
Back then, the home we were looking at buying had a three-car garage, and I realized that I needed to make a choice about what to put in it. The ’79 Trans Am, which needed so little but was half a world away, or the ’89 Formula 350. The choice was obvious. I had history with the ’79. It shared my birthday. It had been the vessel of so many pleasant childhood memories of weekend afternoons with my father — for it was his car then — that I will never forget. The ’89 Formula was a pipe dream, and one not likely to be fully realized. I got rid of the latter.
But the ’89 Formula wasn’t the last thing to come apart that year. The housing bubble, more pronounced in our town than in nearly any other in the U.S., burst and our plans to move fell through — as did that glorious three-car garage. We took a big hit financially, and there wasn’t money (nor space) to talk about moving the old Trans Am down from Michigan. So it continued to sit, and months turned into years.
When we moved to Texas early last year, I resolved to find a home with that three-car garage that had eluded me last time, but it was not to be. As a consolation, the home we found was perfect in nearly every other conceivable way, so I don’t feel bad. But lately, over the last few months, things have been gnawing at me, telling me that it’s about time I rescued that Bandit-car lookalike from its mothballed state and bring it down here, regardless of the lack of an ideal parking space for it.
This realization began to dawn on me when my parents announced that they had found a buyer for their vacation home in Florida, in the same town we left when we moved to Texas last year. That’s because they sought to use the sale of their vacation property as a catalyst to move permanently to a new home in Michigan. This is that thing I mentioned in the opening paragraph that I thought would never, ever change in a million years. The home in the outskirts of Detroit that I grew up in, and in which my parents still live, is the same home my dad grew up in. The house was, in fact, built by his father and was one of the first in the entire neighborhood to exist. If there is one thing that has remained constant in my life, it is that house and the fact that it is the address where my parents can always be found. That will soon be changing, after they announced to me this week that they had found a new home in neighboring Northville.
The ’79 Trans Am’s home isn’t going away. It’s currently warehoused in my grandmother’s garage, which is fine because she isn’t going anywhere. But no situation is infinitely static; this week’s landmark announcement from my parents proves that if nothing else. As it just so happens, I’m currently under contract to do some sidework for a customer that will pay me — I hope — enough money to have the old Trans Am restored to operating condition. With a bit more saving, I hope to have enough money to get it running and transport it to Texas.
Until these recent developments, I wasn’t even thinking about the old car. I was trying not to think of it, actually. It killed me every day that it was sitting there immobile, especially considering the fact that it becomes a more and more iconic piece of Americana with every passing year. But I always balked at the idea of trying to pick it up and take it home, thinking that as long as I didn’t have the garage space, or enough money to do a complete restoration of everything it needed before transport, (tires, A/C refit, POR-15 on the suspension, and so on), that I wasn’t gonna even start down that road.
Increasingly, I think that is a mistake. Waiting for conditions to be perfect before taking a leap is usually a surefire way to never take that leap at all. What is perfection, anyway? Is it even an attainable concept? The more we try to grab hold of whatever we feel perfection is, the harder we have to work, the more stress we put onto ourselves. In the automotive realm, if you ask me what perfection is, I say it’s enough climate-controlled garage space for every car you want to own, plus enough money to actually own them and keep them all in showroom condition — yet drive them regularly. You tell me, how realistic do you think that is?
Before a couple of months ago, I would have just avoided the question. Now, I think I know the answer. It’s so unrealistic that it’s absurd. I had a chance, maybe, of keeping my GTO pristine when I lived in Florida, worked at home and put maybe 1,500 miles on it a year. The GTO is now going on seven years old and just turned 20,000 miles the other day. It only recently lost the last trace of its new-car smell. It is also now starting to squeak a little. The red Pontiac arrowhead badges on its front and rear have turned slightly orange from the sun. One of the sun visors recently snapped off. (I fixed it). Shortly after that, one of the taillight assemblies fell apart. (I fixed it, too.) The goat’s finally had it’s cherry popped for sure, and is no longer “perfect”, but it is still in excellent order. More importantly, would I trade my new life in Texas and everything that has brought me, just to go back to Florida so I can coop myself up in a house 24/7/365 and say my car still looks showroom new? No I would not.
So, I reasoned, it’s the same thing with the old Trans Am. That old beauty is going to come down here, and it is going to take my GTO’s garage space. The GTO gets to park in an underground deck when I’m at work, so it’s still safe from the Texas sun. For the rest of the time, I’ll keep a cover on it, one of those all-weather ones that rejects UV. From time to time I may have to juggle cars in the driveway. But there is no doubt that every time I look in my garage and see the classic that once made me giddy whenever my dad would bring it out for one of our afternoon drives, I’ll know that it’s worth it. And even if things go wrong, it’s better that I enjoy it for what it is, then to wax poetic about what it could be while it sits in a garage a thousand miles away — or worse, while a new owner enjoys it, and I reminisce sadly about what I let go.
I adore nostalgia, and the old Trans Am is a serious dose of it. I’ve always said that I was connected to it spiritually on more than one level: not only was it the touring car that my dad and I loved to ride in back during the ’80s, but it also pulled duty as our wedding car when Apple and I were married. In addition to the fact that my dad bought it on the day I was born, my birthday is also the same day on which the Firebird first went on sale in 1967. I’ve also thought for some time that if I one day had a son of my own, I would want to share that classic car with him the way my dad shared it with me — and now my son is a reality, too. I can’t overlook all of this; it means something, to be sure, and I feel like it is now finally time to make that potential something tangible.
For now, I’ll go back to work, save as much as I can, and plan for one big payoff.