Before my time as a magazine writer and editor, I spent my days fixing people’s cars. The small shop where I worked would fix just about anything, but my specialty was the old stuff — the cars our flat-rate auto technicians avoided. For me, as a young paid-by-the-hour car kid, it was great. I felt like all the classics and hot rods were mine.

Among these cars was a restored ’52 Chevy truck that perpetually leaked oil on its owner’s driveway. There was a ’66 Rambler American with a lifter tick that its old lady owner loved and didn’t want to fix. There was a restored ’65 Corvette 327/350 convertible, in for periodic brake work and other tiny sort-it-out items. And there was a nice ’65 Malibu SS convertible, used as a daily driver and as daily inspiration by a local writer who wasn’t afraid to get it dirty.

Among all these, my favorite car was a 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 302 in orange and black. The car was dead-stock down to its Magnum 500s. It had been restored in the not-too-distant past, complete with impressive chassis detailing and a rebuilt original-spec engine. It had been a contest-giveaway car won by the manager of our neighborhood grocery store. He kept his trophy Boss pickled as an investment, bringing it out only for oil changes regardless of whether it really needed them.

This owner would drop the car off and disappear, and I’d get to work, rumbling the orange bullet into my bay and setting it up on my lift. I’d drain the clean oil just to fill it with more clean oil, lube the suspension, and check the tune-up, which always included a quick carburetor adjustment. I’d put a static-cling reminder sticker up in the corner of the windshield — new date, same mileage. Soon after, the owner would take the Boss back to his dark garage, where it would sit, hidden away and unused for another three months.

I was effectively the only one to touch that Boss, but I felt like I had a connection with it, even if I didn’t get to row those gears. I never understood why the owner didn’t allow himself to drive it much, either, but I can remember thinking that, like two parts making a whole, if you combined the owner’s limited time behind the wheel and my time under the hood, you might just be able to build one complete experience of that car.

Making it your own

The idea for this month’s carburetor tuning-based “Wrenching” column came about from a rare kid-free Saturday I had a few months back. My wife and daughter were out on an adventure, so I spent the day playing around with my Caprice — mostly adjusting my 800-cfm Edelbrock carburetor to get it working the way I wanted it to.

I was in the garage all day, playing with different combinations to get the fuel curve right, and at the end of the day I left satisfied that I’d actually accomplished something — and while the car drove better, I realized that a good part of that satisfaction I felt came from the fact that I’d spent an entire day driving and tinkering with my car. In a world of kids’ birthday parties, yard work and deadlines, that’s rare.

I’m a big believer in making the car or cars in your garage actually yours, and for me that’s more than just having a title in hand and going for a spin on a sunny day. It’s also about taking pride in work done — be it cleaning an interior, detailing paint or tuning a carburetor to run better than it did before. When the job you’re doing turns out the way it’s supposed to, you get that hit of pride. When it doesn’t — and it won’t always — consider it an educational experience at best. But either way, there’s value in that time spent playing around under the hood.

All that is part of the reason we started ACC’s “Wrenching” column in the first place. Being an American Car Collector is just as much about buying and selling as it is about setting points or adjusting a carburetor. It’s about a complete experience.

I still wish I’d had some real seat time in that orange Boss. I’m sure the owner still has it, locked away in a garage and waiting for the day it moves on to a new caretaker. I just hope that he started driving it a little here and there, and maybe figured out that part of the fun of a car like that is changing the oil yourself.

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