Ispent a LOT of my teenage hours nose-down between the pages of one hot-rod magazine or another.

I read them cover to cover. Over time, I eventually grew weary of reading what seemed like the same feature article intro over and over.

I’m sure you know the one — guy reluctantly parks old car for decades to build family/house/life, but finally gets around to car of his dreams.

The only sorrier story was guy reluctantly sells old car to build family/house/life. Honestly, it all sounded pretty pathetic to me. Just get out there and work on your car, right? Once you’re a boring ol’ adult, what else do you have to do?

Well, as the long-deceased mathematician E.T. Bell once said, “Time makes fools of us all.”

Wife, kids, house, job …

As a gainfully employed homeowner, husband, and father of two ballistic missiles wearing dinosaur undies, I’ve never been busier or more exhausted in my life.

For the better part of five years now, I’ve been building bunk beds, restoring wood floors and cleaning tiny hineys instead of turning wrenches and getting sideways.

Five years gone — just like that.

Life is a blur these days and I sometimes have difficulty finding time to brush my teeth, much less collect my thoughts. My cup is overflowing right now, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that something has been missing.

The new me

I’ve recently come to terms with the fact that my personal identity — the one where I put food on the table punching a clock body-working and painting cars that cost more than most people’s homes, the one where my only mode of transportation was a big-block ’69 Chevelle, and the one where everything I owned fit in the back of that old car — has, well, evolved. Adapt or die, right?

I’ve fought tooth and nail over the years to hold onto my Chevelle, but ol’ Bubba (as the car has come to be called) has been sitting on that back burner for longer than I can admit.

So here I am, facing my own preconceived notions of how my life might play out — and the judgments I blindly levied against others.

Teenage Me would be sorely disappointed with Minivan Owner Me, but Teenage Me could be a real idiot. The idea of allowing my pride and joy to waste away in a garage for decades on end was once absolutely beyond my realm of comprehension.

Little did I know that the source of my pride and joy would so quickly and completely move from the garage to the toy-riddled bedroom next to mine.

Hello, Bubba

A few months ago, my wife asked what it would take to get the Chevelle back on the road in a state that was a bit more family friendly. Knowing full well that this was the opportunity I had been waiting for, I rattled off a list of parts that I had been cataloging for just this occasion, and, more importantly, a rough hourly estimate.

You see, my car fits in my garage about as snugly as a new pair of boots in a shoebox. There’s room for the car or me, but not both. That means I need daylight hours on rain-free evenings and weekends to make any real progress. We worked out a plan, and I embarked on project “Bubba Needs a New Pair of Shoes.”

What I thought would be a quick couple of weekends worth of work — complete suspension, steering and brake overhaul — has eaten up my entire summer, and that’s with no cosmetic or paint changes of any kind.

Every bolt I turned had to introduce me to at least three of his buddies that needed a little this or that, and most refused to play nice. I couldn’t help but feel like Bubba was acting just a touch resentful for all those years of neglect. As is our history, though, we eventually made up and got on with it.

Now that the car is finally all back together and moves under its own power again, I’ve had a few moments to reflect on just how much work this undertaking has really been. I traded a lot of time with my wife and kids for bloody knuckles and marginally satisfactory progress.

I had to rearrange work commitments to borrow Editor Pickering’s trailer and tote ol’ Bubs to the muffler shop, and I spent way more money than I initially budgeted (although no one was really surprised by that one).

I now have several family-time makeup weekends ahead of me, but holy smokes, am I fired up about that old car in a way that surprises me.

You see, about 10 years ago, I began daydreaming of tearing Bubba all apart and starting over, from bolt one. After years of eating and sleeping high-end custom builds with bottomless budgets and full-time progress, I somehow began to convince myself that I would soon have time, space, and budget to make a complete rebuild a reality.

Turns out Teenage Me wasn’t the only idiot.

If this latest little adventure has taught me anything, it’s the value of being honest with myself about where I am in my life. For example, I know full well that if I were to start disassembling my Chevelle right now, today, it would be 20 years before Bubba was to see the light of day again. This is an inarguable fact. But I’m okay with that now. Really, I am.

So what does any of my woe-is-me rambling have to do with classic-car auctions?

Well, I’ve hit the point where the “Built, not Bought” argument is lost on me.

What works for right now?

Can I do the work on my old car? Yes. Do I have the time, money, space or energy? No, I do not. Does any of that mean I don’t still live and breathe old cars the way I once did? Let’s not be silly.

I’m sure the sun will rise on a morning where are all those factors will line up for me once again, but it’s going to be awhile. So what now?

Well, I spend a lot of time perusing auction results for cars a lot like my own — cars that are on the opposite end of the spectrum from the one-of-ones and the trailer queens.

I want a vehicle that I can use and enjoy now, but I’m not willing to empty my account for a top-tier example, either. I’m looking at cars and trucks with a lot of meat on the bone, those that are 70% or 80% of what I envision they could be with just a few long weekends of effort. If your life looks anything remotely as chaotic as my own, maybe you should, too.

For every show pony that crosses the block, there are 20 trusty steeds that could use a good bath, some exercise, and some tender loving care. I don’t have any time for paint and bodywork right now, but I can manage a few mechanical tweaks here and there.

As such, I look for cars that were built well with quality components — but are out of date or out of style. Can you look past an ugly, ill-fitting set of wheels and a wonky stance? How about a tired drivetrain or worn interior? I’m continually amazed at the number of potential buyers who can’t.

Look for simple fixes that you can manage one at a time, and be realistic with yourself about what you can afford to spend in dollars and hours— and what you expect in return.

We all have dreams of the perfect car, but the perfect car often requires tremendous financial and personal commitment. Today, I can afford neither. Instead, I’m shopping for the perfect car for right now. And you?

Comments are closed.