When to strive for something less than perfection

This Side Up


Steve looked at me with a smile and said, “With the windows out of it, this is really the time to decide whether to do the body work.”

I saw his point. The car had pretty much been stripped of its interior and now, with holes in place of the windows, it would be easy to wheel it into the paint shop and take it a step further.

Besides, after Steve’s crew at Frank’s Auto Top on Elmwood Avenue had finished with the interior, the drab paint would be put to shame. Actually, the paint has held up fairly well. It’s chipped in a couple of places on the doors and spider cracks run through the body. Filler was used to smooth out unintended encounters more than 25 years ago. In one spot, it’s blistering like a poison ivy rash.

With a fresh coat of paint and a refurbished interior, the car would probably look better than the day I paid $2,000 for it in 1966. It had me intrigued.

“Well, I can have someone who’s into restoration take a look at it before we go any further,” Steve suggested.

That made sense.

I looked around the garage. My car was among the older ones, but by no stretch the oldest. A gleaming black Chrysler from the early 1940s looked like it just came off the showroom floor. I examined the classic. It looked perfect. What was it doing here?

“It needs a few little things,” said Steve, not going into detail.

I thought about the car’s owner, who spotted the imperfection and “had to have” it fixed and wouldn’t be happy until it was done.

Perfection has never been the case with cars I’ve owned. First, and foremost, they’ve been transportation, not machines that somehow are transformed into beings, although I’ll admit cars do have character that say a lot about their owners.

My first car was a 1950 Mercury. I bought it for $150 and, after putting on a couple of thousand miles, sold it for a $100 loss. The next vehicle served me well until a college friend plowed it into a line of parked cars. That Hudson Jet cost me $225.

Over the years, there have been scores of other cars. Most had previous owners and none of them cost too much.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Porche, and when I found a 1962 red 356 coupe at a Rambler dealer, I was smitten. Similar models were selling for about $3,000 then, and the Rambler dealer, who had apparently taken the Porsche in trade – as incredible as that sounds – couldn’t move it. I borrowed $2,000 and she was mine.

The car has seen a lot. For many years, she was my principal transportation. I bought her before I met my wife and “She” was my ride on our first date. We drove her to the airport when we left on our honeymoon and, when the kids arrived, they fit perfectly into the tiny rear seat. The odometer died at some point, but my guess is she has 350,000 to 400,000 miles on her.

Of course, she started to show her age. For a long time I parked her on hills because there was no guarantee the starter would work. The engine finally gave up and the car became a permanent fixture in my garage, and later at Dublin Motorcars, where Jim Byrne tackled the job of finding a used engine to rebuild, between doing his other jobs. There was a point where it seemed she would never get back on the road, but Jim came through and she came back to life last November.

The seats were redone some years ago, but the rest of the car’s interior hadn’t been touched in all these years. Several people recommended Frank’s Auto Top, so I brought the Porsche around for Steve to take a look. That was more than a month ago. Work has progressed, between everything else Steve’s crew is working on. Then a couple of weeks ago, I stopped in to find the windows were out. It did seem like the right time to address the paint.

“I’ll give him a call. He’s just across the street,” Steve said of the man who does restoration.

In five minutes, the man was examining the paint carefully.

“This panel was replaced; you can see where it was welded in,” he said, pointing to two interior plates. He looked at the bumpers, which, even to my untrained eye, are not properly aligned. They would have to come off. Pitted chrome, from door handles to hubcaps, would need to be addressed. One thing would lead to the next … and the next, in the search for perfection. The car would need to be sandblasted and then finished with a blast of walnut shells for polishing before painting.

And the cost? Well, that could range from $25,000 to $40,000 … maybe more. Topping it off, all of this could take at least a year.

“What do you want to do with the car?” he asked.

It was the right question.

I thought of the Chrysler. Perfection can be a burden. Even if I was prepared to spend so much, the answer became obvious. I want to drive her, not be owned by her.

Besides, finding a hill to park on was challenging and fun.

I don’t expect I’ll need to do that again but driving in a less than perfect Porsche brings back great memories. Besides, like everything in life, there’s always something on it that needs to be fixed, as there very well should be.


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