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The One That Got Away

unrequited: unre·quited adj. Not reciprocated or returned in kind; (w/ love) love that is not openly reciprocated or understood as such, even though reciprocation is usually deeply desired.

Today we digress a bit from our usual automotive schtick and, in honor of Valentine's Day, talk a little bit about our lost loves, specifically, the unrequited variety. Most of us have some familiarity with that sortBroken-heart--some of us more than others, sad to say--and we've suffered through the pangs of regret when it slips away. Should we have done something differently? Did we not say the right things? Should we have  moved in quickly and damn the consequences? And then there are the what-ifs: Would it have ended badly after a short romance? Would we have gone on to a lifetime filled with joy? Heck, maybe at the time our objet 'amour seemed beyond reach, either emotionally or perhaps financially.

Either way, it's that uncertainty surrounding the one that got away that tends to nag at you for a long time afterwards. They become something almost angelic, stuck up on a pedestal where we imagine everything would have worked out to our eternal happiness and joy with nary a dark cloud on the horizon to blemish the blazing sun in our own personal firmament. Yeah, we know it probably wouldn't have worked out perfectly, but with plenty of rose-colored glasses to go around, we all can sit around and wonder "What if. ..."

Mine was about 28 when I first saw her ...

I was a grad student at the time and walked to and from the university every night, and I'd seen her on each way for several weeks, a "For Sale" sign on her window: A '65-ish GT 350 in classic white with big blue stripes. I never really took a really close look under the hood or at the interior, although I checked it out some. I'd only recently become a fan of Mustangs; at the time I'd had my Mustang II for a couple of years and it was okay (it still had the original 302 in it), but I still liked the classic 1960s versions better. Truth be told, however, I hadn't ever driven or even ridden in one much at all, so even then I 1965_Ford_Shelby_Mustang_GT-350_f3q had some probably idealistic notions of what they were like, and never seriously considered buying one at all. But I knew enough about them to know what a gem that 350 was, and also that, as a poor, starving grad student, there was probably no way I could afford to buy one in that good of condition.

So I strolled by every evening, taking a good leering look at it and imagining that I could just call the number on the sign, say I'd check it out and bring over a cashier's check the next day and I'd drive away in a classic booming muscle car. Of course, I did nothing about it because it was so obvious that I couldn't afford it. The thing was probably sitting there for sale for six or seven weeks, which only added to my sense that it must be pretty pricey with no one able to afford it.

Finally it disappeared, and I figured, "Well, it was a nice thought, but out of my reach." Then a couple of weeks later I went home by a slightly different route and saw what looked like the same car being washed by a woman probably a little older than me. I walked over and we started chatting about what a nice car it was, and say, that isn't the one that was for sale a couple blocks over, is it? Yep, same car.

Then I got the story: The guy selling it was moving to Arizona and by the time the new owner inquired about it, the guy was desperate to unload it, so he sold it to her for ... *gulp* ... $3,000. This was back around 1992 or so, but that was still a good price and something I could have easily afforded. She said it really was in great condition, too, no major surprises or anything. So, probably my ideal car slipped through my grasp because I didn't even bother to ask about it. Bitter? I would say not.

(*@^$%#_%*&@$ !!

That Car Guy

The car that got away from me was a 1969 Thunderbird four-door. It was sitting on the local Chevy dealer's back lot in 1982, so at almost 14 years old it was not considered their prime used car material. They had it discounted to $495; the salesman told me that four Benjamins would take it off their hands.

The car was not perfect by any means. The driver's door trim panel had seen better days; it was sagged and torn in a couple of places. The passenger's rear quarter panel was beginning to rust through, though VD T Bird tbird org it was still repairable. The car also "dieseled," meaning it ran a few seconds after the ignition was shut off ... a not-unusual event for cars of that day that had poor gasoline.

But it had suicide doors, landau bars, and a vinyl roof; some of that vinyl opened with the rear doors. I thought hard about the car that day, then decided to think about it overnight. That's when Fate dealt her (or his?) hand.

The next day, we found out about a last-minute discount deal to Las Vegas. Round-trip air fare from Nashville and three nights in the fabulous Flamingo hotel was included for a measly $200. Another $200 out of the bank for spending money, and off we went.

I got back from Las Vegas poorer but wiser, and the Thunderbird had been sold. Needless to say, I had nothing but memories; the $400 was long gone.

I always regretted not buying that Thunderbird instead of seeing The Strip. At least I would have had something for my money other than plastic tokens from Mr. Sy's Casino. But hey, the car could have had more faults; even in its condition, it would have needed hundreds of dollars of work.

But at least I would have had a four-door Thunderbird.

Cookie the Dog's Owner

My One That Got Away was a "barn find," sort of. Guess you could call it an "outside the barn" find.

I've had a thing for 1953-54 Studebaker "Loewy coupes" since I was about 12. Shortly after I got my license, I was out on one of the backroads and spotted two of them sitting in front of a barn. Loewy coupes aren't exactly the most common thing on the road, and to see two of them in one place anywhere other than a Studebaker club meet or the museum in South Bend is only slightly less likely than hitting the Powerball.

I rather brazenly drove up to the house and asked about the cars. They clearly hadn't moved in a few years, but they looked to be structurally sound. Deteriorated paint and weathered patina, but no obvious rust-through, and the interiors looked salvageable. The owner had been hanging on to them with vague ambitions of restoration, but he would be willing to part with them if I could rustle up the coin.

By the time I got home that day, I had a plan. Get one of the Studes, clean the rust off the body and get it painted ("Any car! Any color! $39.95!"), have Lenny the mechanic bring the drivetrain back to life,
roll into the high school parking lot that fall in the most distinguished ride in town.

Mom and Dad quickly put the kibosh on that. When they got done lecturing me on how much car repairs cost, and on the complexities of mechanical restoration that I did not yet appreciate, I knew that the
project was way over my head and it was not going to happen.  (And there were further complications even my parents were probably unaware of: convert to 12v or keep the 6v electricals? Restore the Stude
engine or swap in a modern smallblock? Keep the three-on-the-tree or put in a slushbox?)  Even if I had done it up, would I really want to use a car like that as a daily driver?  In the Northeast Ohio snow
belt? With all that road salt?

I never saw them again, but I hope someone restored those Studes.

Chris Hafner

I know myself well enough to only allow myself to look at cars when I have the means and opportunity to buy something--because I'm way too easily infatuated to control myself otherwise. I've also been fortunate enough to buy and own several of the cars that I've loved.

Still, there have been a few cars that have called out to me over the years. Most, I've probably been fortunate to avoid--like the non-running and windshield-less Peugeot 504 Diesel that called out to me when I was 20, and the array of cars that I passed over in favor of my Malibu Wagon, such as the VW GTI that smelled of Cool Ranch Doritos, the Merkur XR4Ti that spewed white smoke, the BMW 320i with a bird's nest under the hood, and the Saab Turbo with the broken driver's seat.

There are two that stand out from that motley crew, though. One is the 1978 Fiat X1/9 that I pondered just over a year ago. On the one hand, it was a 1978 Fiat that would inevitably have become my daily driver--and it failed to start for my test drive. On the other hand, it was impressively original and completely lovable--I can't imagine finding a nicer X1/9 for a reasonable price, and that was probably my best opportunity to own one. It was the wrong choice for my situation, and I'm happy that I chose my Audi Coupe GT, but there is a small part of me that wonders what life would have been like with that Fiat.

Also, about five years ago, I stumbled across a listing for a beautiful, beige, four-door 1976 Chevrolet Impala--one of my favorite  huge 1970s American cars of all time. It was all original, in perfect old-man condition, with fewer than 100,000 miles, and was being sold for only $1,500. At the time, we had no money, so I had to settle for the terrible (but free!) '73 Plymouth Valiant. In retrospect, the Impala would have been a much better idea.

Credits: The GT 350 is from WOT Magazine. The Thunderbird is from The Studebaker print ad came from John's Old Car & Truck Pictures.


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Happy VD...err...Valentine's Day! ;-)

I also long for a later '70s Monte Carlo that I let slip away in the early '90s as well.

Odd, I look back at those with a certain mistiness, but my trusty (and now totally bitchin') Mustang II never really blew my skirt up to any great degree, but I've kept it clean and like new for 20+ years now. I suppose that's probably similar to a lot of relationships. . . .

These got away because I never stood a chance:

Neighbor's Z31 Nissan 300ZX with gold paint and purple (cheap, black?) window tint, which I thought was cool: I hoped that it would still be available when I was old enough to drive, but it disappeared, and so did the original owner.

Seventh-gen Ford Thunderbird. Belonged to an old lady. One day it was gone, probably to a junkyard. To add insult to injury, there was broken glass, meaning that it was broken into so it could be moved. It couldn't have been stolen since its a seventh-gen T-bird in a closed neighborhood. At least I know of another one...

1969 Chevy Camaro racecar junker: Welded front frame; nasty, fiberglass wide-body. Stripped interior used as junk storage. Got towed away to who-knows-where. Dumbass flat-bed driver slammed the flatbed truck on the rear roof pillars. >_<

Dodge Magnum SRT8: Clearance sale. Sounded too good to be true.

Pontiac Fiero(s): 2 of them were sitting in an abandoned dealer. The new owners of the field told me that the dealership's owner comes from time to time to pick up the cars.

1974 Dodge Charger: For sale for $3000. Looked good. Tempting.

Third-gen Honda Civic DX hatchback: Cherry, virgin, brown, one-owner, manual trans car that belonged to my beloved Chemistry teacher. Didn't know it was for sale. When I realized it, it was too late. I shudder at the things that the car might be subjected to...

Datsun 280ZX: Internet car. $3000. Went away too fast.

Eighth-gen Ford F150: The truck that belonged to my family that influenced my taste in trucks. Got sold behind my back to help with the purchase of a new Super-Duty F-series. I'm still a little raw about that one.

No matter what, I can't own a car to tinker with since there's no space around here. Still, I dream...

1969 Porsche 911T, for me. It was fully restored, except for missing one window crank handle. The guy owned a body shop, had spent 12 years on it and was sick of looking at it. He offered to trade me, straight up, for my 1987 Saab 900 Turbo Convertible. (Note: the Saab had a lot of work done to it - SPG panels & suspension, Super Inca rims, Momo steering wheel / shift knob, full VDO gage pack, 1993 motor w/1991 2.3 head & intake cam, water cooled turbo, factory Red Box, MSS recurved distributor, MSS exhaust, etc., etc., etc.)

Like an idiot, I decided I'd rather keep the convertible.

3 weeks later, my timing chain snapped. And yes, the Saab B202 engine is very emphatically an interference engine.

*grumble grumble complain*

Porsche 928 for $2500 with a seeping head gasket. He was needing money and I bought his other used vehicle for sale..... 79 CJ7 rock crawler for $1500. In hindsight, the Porsche was a lot better deal.

so many...

There was an Iso Rivolta in town which obviously the owner didn't care about, and just as I went to go make an offer someone bought it out from under me.

Another was a sweet shortbed early 1960s International pickup in great shape that sat next to a best buy for more than a year...I'd go and look at it every time I went to a friends apt. that lived nearby. I finally had saved enough cash to make a credible offer, but it was gone.

A lot of early 90's lost. In 1988 I sold my Lemans Sport convertible I had in college (graduated 86). I had loved the 1969 GTO since I was 6 years old. I sold my Jeep Cherokee in 1992 and decided to buy a 69 GTO convertible and just buy an old Accord for daily driver. I traveled all over Georgia and Tennessee with my Hemmings. All the while there was one waayyyyyyy in SW Alabama ( I was living in Atlanta) and he was asking a little over my budget at $7,800.
Couldn't find anything any good. So I finally called the guy down in SW corner of AL. He commented he couldn't get anyone to come look at the car because he lived so far away from major metros.

So he sold to an auction house for $2500. This was my one that got away. Matching numbers, Liberty Blue, white interior/top, hide-away, AC and 4 speed. Twenty years later it still hurts. I went North when I should have gone south.

Anyone know someone selling one?

1972 Chevy Caprice convertible, 454 automatic, white with a white top and red interior. It was listed in the want ads in the St. Louis paper in 1997. It looked perfect, a wonderful cruising car for summer evenings, car shows, etc, but we were scheduled to move to another state in a few weeks, the wife was very unhappy about the move, finances were tight, and I just didn't need the additional complication right then. I hope somebody is getting her ready for the summer cruising season right now.

I had a "68 Thunderbird, much like the '69, in law school when the car was twenty years old. Every other week something major required repair. It sat idle half of the time I owned it.

All of the electric system ran through the steering column. It got 8 miles to the gallon. It was the fastest car from 60 to 100 mph that I have ever owned. I loved it and wish it was in a garage somewhere for weekend driving. Alas.

A 1966 Dodge Coronet coupe with with a 12.5 to 1 compression Hemi (looked the vin # up in the big manual gas stations used to all have (was it Chilton's?) and it said special edition, limited production. Owner got laid off from National Cash Register and was looking to sell it badly as he was unemployed. Orginally bought it from a Chrysler engineer;) Had super stock springs and two piece factory headers. Rubber mats, no carpet, cloth bench seat and matted 'package tray' in place of rear seats. Had a deal to trade my 66 Mustang GT fastback (271 hi-po) and some cash when I got back from basic training. Even managed a leave half-way through basic but desperation had gotten the best of the owner and he sold it while I was away. New owner changed the oil in it and then went took it out on very nearby 1/4 long route 40 bridge over Monogohela River. Forgot to put the drain plug back in and screwed the motor up completely.

ah, the one that got away...hmmmm, mine always were one i had, and sold in a period of insanity or need for cash, or to acquire some other sad luck story that had no particular order...
-64 caddy coupe- white with charcoal and white interior, best car without decent brakes i ever had
-68 formula s 4 speed barracuda, best car for passing cars in a row, cursed inland shifter notwithstanding
-66 olds 98 convertible, long enough to drive in two provinces at once
-78 fury x-police, the silver ghost. way before TJ Hooker made them cool (?), but what a car for late night beer runs across the border...

so many more, so little time...

Oh God, how I wish I still had my first two cars, even it hardly the sexiest beasts off the assembly line: 1) my first, a 1960 VW Bug, 38 horsepower, no seatbelts and a speedometer that topped out at 90mph...and I pegged it there many times, steep downhill of course; and 2) 1969 Plymouth Valiant custom made 340 V-8 "three on a tree." My car repair shop owning uncle brought it for my aunt on the stipulation she have enough power to get out of trouble when she had to (i.e. a riot in D.C.).

Ones that got away? Geez, I'm 56, there've been so many.

The first was a red '68 SS396 Chevelle, red with a black vinyl roof, $1200 on a car dealer's lot. This must have been in 1972. I didn't have the scratch and Dad would have to co-sign. No go, so it was back to my first car, a $25 '62 Comet 4-door.

Then, a year or so later, there was my big brother's '69 Corvette coupe with 427/390, 4-speed, and Hooker sidepipes. $1900 I couldn't raise. It was a blessing, because I'd have killed myself for sure in that thing.

Then there was the ’70 Hemi Cuda in 1974 for $2500. You wouldn’t believe how cheap all this stuff was after the First Gas Crisis. Again, no cash, so no go.

Then there were the cars that I bought, that still “got away”…

The ’67 TR4A I bought from a dealer that turned out to have real problems (for example, the engine was chained down instead of using, say, motor mounts). Hey, I was young and hence stupid. :)

The ’67 Z28 that blew up on the way home.

The ’67 SS396, yellow with black top, that blew the 4-speed out and then got worse when I put in an Ansen scattershield (badly) and promptly blew out a replacement from Liberty Gears (who were a little shop by the side of the road in those days).

The ’65 Olds Dynamic 88 4-door I sideswiped a dump truck parked on a dark roadside with one night.

The cherry ’72 Nova 4-door stripper that I let my wife drive and she turned in front of a Ford pickup. I still have the undamaged wife, thank God, but I miss that car. It was supposed to get a 427 and a full Z28 suspension package, back when this still would have been a sleeper.

The ’86 Regal T-Type that I bought near-new from a schoolteacher but had to let go during hard times.

More recently, the ’02 Vette I shouldn’t have sold, but did. The ’09 Z06 I shouldn’t have modded, but did…

With age does not necessarily come wisdom. Sigh.

Hey, ya gotta do what ya gotta do, right? :)

I had my Saturn VUE in for maintenance and wandered into the showroom, where I was stopped in my tracks by a Sky in midnight blue. I've never been a car guy, they were just transport vehicles to me. (Not that I didn't admire nice ones, I just felt no interest in spending the money to get one.)
I grabbed a salesman, and told him if I liked the test drive I'd write them a check and take it home with me. He bluntly told me they weren't giving test drives in the Skys, and walked away. I was so PO'd I just left and never looked at the car again. Now I wish I'd gone to another dealer. Although, I had no need for the car and indeed, nowhere safe to park a convertible.
Still, it was a honey.

The only one that I regret letting get away from me was a '61 Austin Healy BN-7 that I had restored to perfection and let go for 10K about 20 years ago.

My wife's dad on the other hand was awarded a 64 1/2 Mustang GT convertible for a 1965 boat racing win. She inherited the car but every time I drive it I must live with the fact that the Ford dealership who gave him the rig offered him a choice of the Mustang or a 427 Cobra. He already had a Corvette and his wife didn't drive a stick so he took the 'Stang.

Best one I ever heard was a friend who happened by a Riverside, Ca. car lot in 1970 to find two 1966 Cobra Daytona Coupe's priced at 7,500 bucks each. Flush from a trip to New Mexico where he was in the business of buying and selling Native American turquoise jewelry, he instead bought a '56 Jag drop head. Sounds far fetched but he swears it's true.

The one that got away from me was a 1970 Olds 442 convertable, White with gold striping and the W-30 package. The dealer wanted $3500 for it, and was willing to give me $1500 in trade for my 77 Chrysler Lebaron (this was in 1986). I had just enough money saved that I could have swung it, but my dad was out of work at the time and was counting on me buying a second car so he could have one to use while I was on duty with the Navy. So I settled on a 67 El Camino instead. It wasn't a bad set of wheels, but I still regret not buying that Olds!

February, 1988. Out of college less than a year, and working a government job. Not much money to spend, but was on the lookout for an early 60s convertible, preferably a Mustang.

Saw an ad for a 58 convertible Impala. I hadn't ever seen one, I knew about the 57, and I liked the early 60s Impalas. I went to see it.

Owner seemed older (probably all of 55) had the car in a nice storage barn out back. Front end sheet metal was off the car (but was there), no engine or transmission, cowl and frame was painted and looked brand new. No interior, no top (but had the frame). Everything else was there and looked good.


I passed it up. I wanted something I could drive right away.

I've kicked myself for the past 20 years. You never see these cars out on the road. Never.

1984 Dodge Daytona. Don't remember if it was turbo or not (probably not). It still looked great, dents or dings, interior was in really good shape, fair mileage on the clock, and I always had liked the look of those Daytonas. This would have been my first car. The guy wanted $2000 firm, and for the condition it was in, that was a pretty good deal. But Dad didn't like people who wouldn't haggle. So instead of just paying him, we ended up going down the street and getting a 1980 Ford Mustang for $1600 (because THAT guy came down on the price). Funny how life works was less car for not much less money, but I still loved it and ended up becoming a Mustang man rather than a Mopar man.

The 1991 BMW 535i. Black with tan leather, 5-speed manual transmission, and the sport suspension. $6400 in the mid 2000s. Around 120k miles. Looked stunning sitting on its original BBS basketweave alloys.

The seller told me he sold it to the first person who took a look at it.

Now I have a newer 3-series, but I still want that perfect black 90's 535i.

I've owned a string of them I wish I could have warehoused, starting with my first, a 1960 Impala convertible. I'll just list them from here: 1966 Galaxie 500 7 Liter, 1955 Chevy 150, 1966 Nova SS, 1978 Harley XLCR, 1970 Chevelle SS396, 1979 Porsche 930, 1985 Ford LTD II 5.0 (four-door Mustang GT), 1952 Cadillac Series 75 Limo, Checker Marathon, others I am sure I have forgotten. Misses include a 1970 Mustang Boss 302 that I failed to pull the trigger on and a real dry sump Cobra that I really couldn't afford, even though it was only $8 grand (1972). sigh.

A '56 or '57 Continental Mk 11. They were only made for two or three years. They originally went for around $10,000.00 and were brought out a bad time. Into the early '60's, the prices fell dramatically, and there were a number available. I mentioned that I was interested, and several, including my family said, "Why, you dont need a car." Unfortuantely, I listened. I stlll think they are neat lookers. Hindsight is always 20/20

Back in the (very) early 90's I was moving back to Boston from Bellingham WA and had the chance to buy George (as in son of Freeman) Dyson's old Volvo DL wagon to drive home in.

I was a Dodge Dart fan and saw one in a used car lot in my (very low) price range with a 3spd shifter on the floor. Too cool! I bought it and drove it home but have regretted it always, as I later became a big fan of the DL's and owned several, finding out too late that they are very reliable and nowhere nearly so hard or expensive to fix as I was fearing when looking over George's ride. At the time all I could think was (Father's voice) "Those foreign cars cost a FORTUNE to fix!" : )

George Dyson is a very interesting and exceptionally talented person, still building (so far as I know) his high-tech, hand-stitched aircraft aluminum baidarkas over there in Bellingham. That Volvo would have been a much more comfortable ride than the Dart turned out to be and a more charming one at that.

I still like to think that once it wore out, I could have donated it to MIT!

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