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 sort--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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.