September 2, 2014
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A real time machine
This Side Up

I now know why old guys like old cars. Well, maybe gals like them, too.

I’ve written about my old car – a 1962 356 Porsche coupe – in prior columns. I bought it in 1966 from a Rambler dealer who was relieved to get it off his lot for $2,000. For those who are too young to remember Ramblers, they were family cars that were built to be practical and surely lacked the sex appeal of a cherry red Porsche. My car stood out like a beauty queen at a lumberjack reunion.

She had my heart and she became a primary mode of transportation for at least 15 years. She racked up the miles – perhaps 350,000 – and went through two major rebuilds. Porsches of that era were renowned for rust and my car was hardly the exception. Holes appeared in the floorboards and in the wheel wells. She was a breezy summer ride and a winter Frigidaire. But she kept going and going, although various components, such as the starter, finally gave up. Push starts or free rolling jump starts, backward or forward, were the norm before she went off to Dublin Motorcar on West Shore Road for an extended stay, resulting in an entirely rebuilt engine. Jim Byrne at Dublin found another engine and went through it meticulously, as mine, in his words, was no better than a “piece of junk.”

With the car back and running, it wasn’t too long before I considered redoing the interior.

Carol had difficulty with this new obsession and, I have to admit, I too, was baffled by the urge to get behind the wheel of a car that I once recklessly drove over the hilly and curvy roads of Connecticut, imagining I was on the track at Lime Rock.

In fact, I did race her. On more than one occasion I had a chance to reflect on my performance while stopped on the roadside with the lights of a police cruiser flashing in the rear view mirror. Usually, I was the one who got stopped, not my friend John Kernochan, who drove a Mini Cooper S that had the speed of a demon. One night, on a familiar stretch of less-traveled back road, I led John through the twists and turns with his Mini just inches from my bumper. I figured, when we got to the straightaway, I might have a chance of holding him off, if I drove down the middle of the road. John must have read my mind. In the final curve before the straightaway, he passed me. I glanced at him as he did and saw his grin in the glow of the dashboard lights. In seconds, his taillights were disappearing dots. I wasn’t going to catch him. Quickly, I doused my headlights and hit the accelerator. John slowed, perhaps wondering whether I had made the last turn. It was too late when I shot past him, with a grin on my face.

The Porsche is in no shape for such shenanigans now. She couldn’t take the heavy braking, and I doubt she could still power through tight curves with the rear wheels smoking. But then, while reliving such an experience would be heart-pounding, there’s something else that’s rejuvenating about old cars, which I discovered on Route 95, heading down to Saunderstown to show off the interior after a month-long respite at Frank’s Auto Top in Providence. My son Ted and his wife and their twin daughters were expecting me. The back seats of a 356 are kid-sized and I was sure Sydney and Alex would love them.

I was doing a respectable 60 miles per hour on 95 when a black Toyota pulled up alongside and matched my speed. The Porsche seemed to be behaving, so I gave here a nudge to 65. The Toyota did the same. I was beginning to wonder if the Porsche had some of her old stuff. If I floored her, would she quickly hit 85? Would I be grinning after this game? I was giving it serious consideration when I looked over, expecting to see the driver gripping the wheel with the familiar defiant “try me” look.

Instead, I was looking into the delighted face of a boy, no older than 10. The man behind the wheel was wearing a smile, not a grin. The boy held a cell phone to the window and snapped pictures. I waved and gave him a thumbs-up.

Exhilarated, I arrived at Ted’s house.

There was more to come.

Ted’s friend, Dave, couldn’t believe what he was looking at. “Incredible, amazing,” he kept saying over and over.

I gave him the Rambler dealer story. I iced it when I told him to hop in and took him for a spin down Shermantown Road. There are a few good curves, but nothing quite like the back roads of Greenwich.

Then it was the girls’ turn. Ted’s wife Erica joined them. Just as I suspected, Sydney and Alex fit snuggly in the jump seats.

“Where’s the seat belts?” they chimed.

“There are none,” I explained.

The twins were ready for adventure, although Erica was somewhat wary. The spin went smoothly, even though the whine of the engine drowned out any conversation.

When we got back, we all went through contortions to get out. That’s the way sports cars are built.

I caught Alex staring at the door.

“What’s that, Peppy?” she asked, pointing to the window crank. She looked incredulous when I showed her how it worked.

I smiled. I like this machine that sends me back in time and I’m sure that’s why other people like old cars, too.


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