It was all a part of my destiny, and yet I didn’t even know it yet. Primarily, that was because I was only about six years old and I didn’t even know what the word destiny meant. Be that as it may, my love for cars and anything mechanical came about one Christmas morning in our tiny three-bedroom apartment in Hyattsville, Md.
I spent years playing with toy cars – Matchbox was my favorite at the time because Hot Wheels hadn’t come out yet. I would spend hours in the dirt, rolling my toy cars around and playing what we called “cars”.
Toy cars were very simple and crude back then. We had Tonka trucks for the heavy stuff, and Matchbox for the small stuff. Matchbox was aptly named for the package that they came in: a “matchbox”. Not until a year later when Hot Wheels came out did we have really cool cars with metallic paint and mag wheels.
Before I got my first Hot Wheel, though, I had gotten one of those toy cars that had a tension-spring motor in it. It literally fascinated me that you could put the car down on the rug, pull it backwards and when you felt it giving some resistance you simply let go and off it went.
At six years old I was completely in awe of the mechanical marvel before me, the pure genius of a car that propelled itself and basically generated a game of ‘fetch’ that I could play all by myself. I just had to know what made that car work the way that it did, and why that mystery power was limited to toy cars and not real ones. Okay, cut me some slack here… I was only six.
Moments later, my mother began to look for me to see where I had disappeared to. She had last seen me playing with my amazing car, and off I went. When she came into the bedroom, I was sitting on the floor with my new car taken apart so I could see how that motor worked. I almost felt cheated; it was so simple, yet brilliant. It was like a tiny slinky wrapped around the axle and even at my young age it made sense. So I put my car back together and it actually worked again. And that moment of curiosity began my destiny to work on and customize cars.
Years later, after I was tired of 1:43 scale, I began to work on plastic models. Most of the kits I bought were the “2 in 1” kits that had extra engine components, like blowers or tunnel rams, and mag wheels to replace the stock steelies. I loved customizing the cars and swapping parts from other kits.
Still, it wasn’t enough so I began to raid my mother’s sewing cabinet and stealing colored thread so I could make spark plug wires. I found thin vinyl tubing at a hobby store and used that for the spark plug boots and fuel lines. Then I started painting the dashes, emblems and trim on the cars, and detailing the hell out of them. My friends and I would trade kits and parts to customize our models, and we saw this as a precursor to what we would be doing with our own cars when we bought one. I couldn’t wait to get my own real car and customize it the way I had done to my model cars.
For years I drew them all by hand, and when computer graphics came out in the mid-1990′s I fell in love with CorelDraw and began to draw cars on the computer. There are some incredible artists who draw cars with their computer programs, and I’m far from being that talented, so my own work was basic. It also takes hours upon hours to complete, and I would rather work on a real car, anyway.
Of course, working with real cars took more skill, and parts weren’t going to fit as easily as they could with a tube of plastic cement. We knew that to work on a car we needed much better tools, like duct tape, coat hanger wire and a BFH for persuasion.
My First Car
When it came time to get my first car, I bought it with my own money and although it was a real pile to most everyone else, it was my car. I bought it because one of my friends had one and it was pretty fun to drive and it was different. It was a British Racing Green 1969 Triumph GT6+, and it was all of about 2,000 pounds, four feet high and five feet wide with a two-liter inline six with dual Stromberg carbs. If you are wondering what those are, you may have to ask someone older than 35.
My next car was one that I had seen when I was stationed in Rantoul, Illinois in the USAF. It was a 1970 Dodge Coronet 500 that had a Super Bee hood on it and a deck lid spoiler. I bought the car and put an Edelbrock intake and a Holley carb on it, and drove it to Goldsboro, NC, where I spent many Friday nights doing burnouts in the parking lot at the local arcade. I actually gained a few friends who loved the car and wanted to ride in it. I was all of 19 years old and it was a fun car.
I had a few other cars here and there after I sold the Coronet. I later regretted selling it but at 21 the car was nickel-and-diming me to death because the gas pedal was usually at the floor unless the car was parked. Gas was cheap, but tires and fixing it wasn’t, so I opted for an economy car.
These days, I have three vehicles: a Pickup, a classic track car that’s been highly modified, and my favorite car is a 1965 Plymouth Belvedere II with a Polysphere 318, I’ve had the Belvedere for over 14 years. Each of my vehicles serves a purpose: I race the track car at local tracks, like Willow Springs or Chuckwalla, the truck hauls my dirt bike to the desert, and the Belvedere is my cruiser, seen at local cruise nights and hangouts in the Inland Empire area of Southern California.
We recently upgraded the Plymouth to a dual quad EZ-EFI from FAST, and published the article and installation recently. I’m thrilled with it, and it’s amazing how EZ it was to install, and how much better the car runs now. If you’ve thought about EFI on your muscle car, we have done a few installs, so check them out.
I’m doing a lot of custom work on the track car and the Belvedere, and that doesn’t include colored thread and plastic model cement this time around. It’s harder work and takes more time, but it’s much more rewarding. So if you’re young enough to be looking forward to working on your own car someday, just remember: you don’t have to go big to cut your teeth on this hobby, you just have to love cars.