Thursday, December 23, 2010

Life with Porsches: How I became a car nut

I come by auto fanaticism naturally. My mom’s second husband was French after all. Come on…the 1960’s, a French guy that smoked Gauloise cigarettes, cooked incredible French food and looked like a French movie star? Of course he knew how to work on cars too. He seemed born to it. In 1967 he bought an Austin Healey 3000 Mk III, medium blue with a dark blue leather interior. The car was only 4 years old, but it may as well have been 100. It was broken all the time. How could this nearly new car spend so much time with its hood open, its insides being exposed? Easy…Lucas electronics. The Prince of darkness, the Earl of sitting on jack stands.
He worked on it each weekend to get it running again; it seemed to work on the weekdays and if by magic broke down on Friday evening. I remember that it required a lot of tools and parts that seemed to only come from a place very far away and it came with a lot of dirty fingernails and broken knuckles. And it required a lot of money…which we did not have much of.
But when it ran; it was like nothing else. That sound, the deep basso thunder of the inline 6-cylinder motor, that impossibly low exhaust hanging just centimeters from the ground and for me at least, those tiny buckets in the back that were supposed to be seats…with no seat belts. Ah…the 60’s.
We drove it once from St. Louis to Lexington, KY one summer so I could meet my real father. I remember sitting in the back, hanging on, looking at the speedo seeing 120 MPH on the dial. The wind rushing not so much around me, as though me. Funny, I was not even afraid of falling out. I trusted him completely.
Back home in St. Louis, he took me to a European car dealership and while he bought some parts (believe it or not), left me alone to wonder around the cars that were for sale. Oh…that magical moment, the beauty, shapes that could only be described as other worldly. I touched a Lamborghini GT350 and actually sat in it. I put my hands around the steering wheel and gear shift, but dared not move them, fearful that I might break something. I saw a bright red 275 GTB/4. A real Ferrari! Something my step-dad had only talked about. But here it was right in front of me. And nobody was looking! I slowly clicked open the door and climbed inside.
I was transported into another world; this was beyond anything I sat in before. The first thing that hit me was the smell. Then yards of leather and chrome, that huge thin rimmed steering wheel, the wood smooth to the touch, the impossibly tall chrome shifter set into the grated gear pattern, all unmistakable Ferrari. I breathed in, it smelled of hand cut leather, rubber and a faint whiff of oil; intoxicating perfume for a 7-year old. I just sat there soaking it all in. There were other great cars on the show room floor; Maserati’s, Lotus (Loti?), Jags. But what did it for me was the Lamborghini and the Ferrari. I was hooked! Smitten with the beauty of the shapes the Italian houses produced. No muscle cars for me. Oh I appreciate the brute speed, but I still lust after them funny fer’in cars.
So you see, it was all a set up after all. I would be car guy for life. I came by it naturally too. I have the tools, the dirty fingernails and broken knuckles to prove it. Oh and I have owned 9 Porsches too. But that is another story. Until next time.

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