A Water Spot, a Dentist’s Drill and a Teacher
I was volunteering at a car show and my “job” was to look after a bunch of show cars prior to the big Sunday judging. This particular car belonged to an octogenarian and it was a stunner. Like you, I have stood by, ridden in, laid under, pushed, repaired, ogled, or photographed a lot of cars and we know a special one when we see it. When that one in a hundred car stops you in your tracks it’s time to binge on the data, the stories, and the journey. It’s a weird way of owning the car without the frustration, sacrifices, or expense. This example reset my definition of the level of commitment a car owner can make.
My shift began at 7am and as usual it was myself, a few crows, and the drone of a diesel powered refrigerator humming in the distance – and suddenly the owner of a 1934 SS. Pleasantries were exchanged as we opened the 8,000 sq ft. tent that was stocked with unicorns. As we approached his car we both zeroed in on a 15” dark, wet spot on his cloth-folded top. Naturally he wasn’t pleased and I assumed that the journey to this very special car show had encountered countless snags or threats and this was the next one. Was this oil from the car above his in the transport truck? Did the freight handlers in Europe or Long Beach spill something as it went in and out of the container? Did someone forget to cover it? It’s T minus 4 days to Sunday and this may have a show stopper – literally. Closer inspection revealed that dew had dripped 30’ straight down to his and five other cars in the row. Good news it’s water – bad news it’s multiplied by 5. Nobody is in trouble but it’s a sinking feeling when 5+ cars that you virtually own and care for have been tainted. It’s ridiculous because these are the cars that have been in and out of various states of distress, survived world wars, joy rides by naïve owners, and periods of exposure to the elements.
The owner calmed down and we had a deep-breath chuckle and uttered things like “well that’s a relief” and “that could have been a lot worse” “the show will go on”, etc. Now it’s time for me to fade away and let the owner give his car a once over. A few minutes pass by and the guy walks up to me and he’s carrying a well-worn photo album. Is he going to show a photo of the perfect top he had 10 days ago vs the not perfect top we have now? Will I have to state to him or the tent owner which side is responsible? He opens the binder like when a proud mama unfurls eight wallet photos of her kids. He proceeds to put in to context what this show means to him, his family, and the SS. Some exhibitors bring two or three different cars per year. Some bring a car once in their life.
This SS is a 1934 Swallow Sidecar which was the DNA for Jaguar. The Nazi’s made SS the least desirable logo of the day hence the Jaguar change. This SS was pulled out of a barn in Waco, TX in 1990 and then shipped to Scotland in bags, boxes, and crates. Fast forward to me holding the photo album and slowly moving through memorable moments of 22 of the 78 year journey that this car has traveled. The 100’s of photos were of everything from a single bracket to a side shot of the car with what is obviously the sons of the man standing next to me. As the pages flip over the boys slowly get older, the man has a little more grey hair, and the car is inching closer to completion. The most recent photos are of the completed car now parked just 12 feet front of me, the boys who are now fathers holding their own kids, and a proud grandfather. The photos evolved in quality as they moved across the 90’s and on but the background in each of them was a space about the size of a kitchen where this car was restored by the guy standing next to me. He restored this car. Not like I “restored” the 55 with the help of many professionals or like the “restored” car that has new tires and a fresh battery. He restored this car. He painted, assembled, and his wife upholstered it.
One picture stopped me because it was of a block of billet aluminum with a dentist’s drill on top of it. He carved out the windshield bracket pictured below with the dentist drill and the remaining bracket in hand as a guide. The missing original was lost years ago and currently resides under 843 lbs. of chicken poop in a barn in Waco. I asked if he was a dentist – negative. Was he a jeweler – nope. An artist – nada. He needed a bracket that didn’t exist so he made one himself. The missing bracket was one of the snags or threats we all hit but he kept his momentum and optimism going. Isn’t that really what it’s all about?
Here is a guy that set high standards, certainly got discouraged, didn’t give up, and ultimately honored the car. This car is a mirror image of the man. It was clear that he had enough satisfaction and pride that a Sunday trophy was not his goal. He wanted to share this car – this machine that he himself brought back to life and was now invited to share. I was astonished at the process, the product, the result and my definition of commitment changed.
A few notes of interest. The Swallow Sidecar was originally a motorcycle side car manufacturer in Blackpool, England. The company evolved to making cars that ultimately became Jaguar. These early cars were hand-made, low production supercars that looked like space ships going down the road in 1934. This guy’s wife stitched and installed the interior and then for fun made a replica dress from a 1935 movie poster that this very car appeared in. In addition to the windshield bracket he also made a fully functional replica of the gas cap.