My dad has always had a special radar for spotting classic cars on the street and quickly shouting out the year, make and model. For my brother, sister and I, the shout outs were part of our upbringing. Still today it amazes me that he can look at a car for a split second and identify it in the next second. And he is never, ever wrong.
Dad showed us kids old black and white photographs of each car or truck he owned and told us many stories about the vehicles he fixed up and sold. And at the end of each story, he would say, “I wish I kept that one.” Mom would just shake her head and snicker as he snuck another rusty junk box into our driveway for restoration. She knew that each vehicle would eventually end up living in the one and only garage space they owned, and she sometimes dreaded it. She wished, at some point, that she would have the garage for her own car. Maybe once, she would not have to scrape ice and snow off of her windshield and enter a cold vehicle during the bitter New England mornings.
The amazing thing about my father is that when something (and I mean anything) needed repair, whether it be a car, electronic device or boiler, he could fix it with ease. He never read a manual or book as repairing, restoring and building things always came naturally to him. To me, he was Superman. I idolized him and at a young age, I wanted to learn about fixing cars, restoring old things, and fortunately I inherited his traits.
My brother played every sport on the planet and had no interest in cars. My older sister worked on a 1970 Ford Mustang with dad, but crashed it a month later and lost interest. I was a straight “A” student, not into boys, partying or trips to the mall. Instead, I was always in the garage taking mental notes as my dad worked. Or on weekends he and I would go to car shows in Connecticut and New York. I favored the smaller foreign sports cars versus the huge American boats my dad took a liking to. I remember seeing a bright yellow Triumph TR6 and I said, “That’s the car I want to own someday.” I loved the chunky tires, wooden dash and the bright smile it seemed to have on its face.
In the 1980s I was nearing age 16 and would be ready to drive soon. I said to myself, “I have money saved from working, why can’t I buy a car and restore it too?” So on the weekends dad and I read the Bargain News which was a small newspaper for selling and buying items. We also browsed the classified section of our local newspaper looking for the perfect little car in need of some loving hands. I had a keen interest in rolling up my sleeves, getting dirty and bringing a rusty heap of metal back to life, just like my dad.
For months we would call the sellers, go look at the cars, and for the most part leave discouraged by the large amount of rust and poor condition each car was in.
One day we read an ad in the local newspaper and went to look at a 1974 1/2 Triumph TR6 about 15 minutes away in the next town. The car had a few dents and was a bit rusty. The businessman who drove the car every day to work was being transferred to Texas and was asking $2,500 for the car. I saw all kinds of potential in the car, but in the end we declined and I went home feeling disappointed. I fell in love with the car but did not think it was worth that much money in the condition it was in.
Dad and I continued our search but two weeks later I got a call back from the same businessman saying that he had to leave town quickly and was desperate to sell the car. He asked me what I would pay for it and I came back with the sum of $1,000. The gentleman counter offered and I paid $1,500 for the Triumph. The deal was done and at that moment I was a happy teenager, eager to start the restoration. Now the work and fun would begin.
As dad was finishing the restoration of his 1937 Ford from the bottom up, I dreamed in Porsche Red and waited patiently to begin the transformation of my Triumph. I continued with my High School studies, got into college, and spent summer vacations at home working on my bundle of rusted joy. There were no spring breaks to Cancun with the girls or summers abroad. I spent my summers with various tools, paint remover, an electric sander and Rustoleum. But the best part of those summers was spending time with my father and learning a unique craft. I spent two meticulous hours just taping the trim around the front windshield before we spray-painted the car Porsche (Guards) red—such a bright and sunny color in contrast to the dismal brown color that the factory used.
Unfortunately, sometimes the nasty old man who lived next door interrupted our car restoration weekends. He complained constantly about the noise of power tools. But that didn’t stop us. One time poor dad was confronted by the crabby man on the property line. With a set of screwdrivers in hand (which he was using at the time) the two exchanged somewhat cruel words. This scared me as I heard the angry words fly across the yard. Luckily no homicides occurred and we continued to work every weekend, with or without his complaints or useless phone calls to the local police department on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
It took four summers for me to finally finish the restoration of my TR6 with my father. I was so proud to present my Triumph to the world, and I will always cherish the memories of spending quality time with my dad.
I am now 40-something and I still own and drive my Triumph. I absolutely adore the car as it is part of our family, and I plan to keep it forever. Only a car lover could understand this somewhat bizarre connection to a hunk of metal on wheels.
There is nothing like cruising the streets on a warm summer day with the top down and hearing the sound of the dual exhaust pipes as you shift gears. And, after 30-plus years owning the car of my dreams, my dad still fix helps fix it when something breaks and needs repair. He is always there for me and my car, and I love him so much for that.
By Tami Biase