Sunday, August 4, 2013

In the Way-Back machine: My dad's 1965 Plymouth Sport Fury

The car wasn't candy apple red. It was white, with silver on silver chrome stripping my dad painstakingly pieced together from pieces in junkyards across the LA basin. The seats, what was once called vinyl but would not be "faux leather", were candy apple red, just like the classic Mustang but instead seamed with matching read thread inside a boat of a Plymouth convertible.

The car had personality. It sat and looked at you. It didn't dare you like most muscle cars, or ask you to take a leisurely family picnic drive like you see in those old auto ads. It told you it had been around, and was good for another go if you were game. The hubcaps were original, but not high-shined. They had seen the rougher side of the road and lived to tell about it. The underside of the bumpers, too. No matter how my dad buffed them, they were never like new. And just like men lift their shirts or hitch their pants to share scars of this fall or that scrape or these stitches, when this car lifted its hood, there, clear as day, were three bullet holes. The outer skin was never penetrated, but this relic of the days when no one cared what emitted from a tailpipe had stopped bullets from hitting something more fragile than a ton of steel.

I don't know what it was before it came to live with us. It came from a used "classic" car lot, a sort of halfway house for old cars that were too far gone for someone to parade at a car show, but not quite ready for a parts yard or a car crusher. It has one previous owner who had sold it for cash and never looked back. It had been lingering for a while before my dad took it home. I imagine that if it could have, it would have been sitting on a porch, smoking a cigarette, wishing for something to do, wanting to talk to someone.

Once it came to us, my dad did his best to make it great again. He bleached and scrubbed the cloth top to near-white, but never could get the vinyl rear window better than cloudy yellow. The top mechanisms worked cleanly, but with noisy complaints. It ran perfectly, even when called upon to drag cargo behind it, but it never asked to rev to a challenge. Somehow, it lacked the heart. Later, as my dad grew more ill, it lived for longer stretches in the garage, with one if its final insults coming when it played nursery to a stray cat who decided that its front footwell was a fine place to birth a litter of kittens. I can't remember it being driven after that. I think that even if it could have moved, it wouldn't have.

But its story does not end there. My dad, sensing that this piece of 1965 history was broken-hearted by its second abandonment, set it free. He knew it needed to be needed. It became the property of a man with teenagers and perked up, finding a new purpose in escorting teenagers around football fields at homecoming events, carrying them to proms. It became a status symbol for the young, the cool uncle who let you sip his beer, the dad who didn't care if you broke curfew, the neighbor who let you polish his motorcycle when a cute girl walked by.

The last I heard, it was on its fourth incarnation, this time as a teacher, being torn apart and rebuilt and torn apart and rebuilt in a high school auto shop.

I've never quite forgiven my dad for not giving me that car when I turned 16. I wanted it so bad. We'd had it ten years by that time, and it was about that time that he sent it away. I loved it almost irrationally. I'd grown up riding in it, had even gotten to "drive it". I'd spent many hours with my raybans on, in the passenger seat with the top down, thinking I was the coolest kid ever, in this white monster with the red seats. Not because it was fast, or slick, but because there was nothing else like it. Mustangs, Chargers, El Caminos, El Dorados, cars built with attitude, those were everywhere. This was a lone creature. Not perfect, not flashy, but you just had to look.

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