History looks 20/20 when it is fading in the rearview mirror. I should know, I have looked there occasionally and yep…if looks perfect as it fades in the distance.
In 1976 I was offered the chance to move to Milano Italy. My Mom and her third husband moved to Italy on assignment for the company he worked for and they said I should come over and finish out my high school career at the American School of Milan. Problem was, I decided to stay with my Dad in Kentucky. Turns out I had a great time in my junior and senior years in Lexington, but in that haze of 20/20 revisionist history, I think the years in Milano would have been better. Reason I stayed? I had a car, a girl friend and had a lot going on at school. Still if I could do it over again, I would have learned to speak Italian earlier.
So my dad in his massive generosity gave me $500 dollars for my first car. I looked for weeks in the Lexington Harold Tribune scanning the car ads for something cool. But $500 and something cool were an oxymoron, at least in Lexington. There were no Fiat’s, Alfa’s Healey’s, MG’s, Triumph’s, or Renault’s for $500. Hell, there was not even a decent VW Beetle for $500. I came to the slow realization that being a “fer’in” car guy in Lexington KY in the mid-70’s was not going to yield any positive results. So I had to set my sights lower in the automotive pecking order.
I looked at a ’67 Camaro, problem was both rear quarter panels were nonexistent, they had rusted away. I asked why, and the owner actually told me that they had been hauling some rock salt around in the trunk and some of it must have leaked out. Must have leaked out!? That is sort of like saying the deTomaso Pantara kind of leaked fuel. Crap, you didn’t get near one of those things with a lit match.
I looked at a ’68 Chrysler Imperial; this gargantuan four-door was owned by a little old lady that only drove it to church on sunny Sundays. Really. It had about 15,000 miles and looked brand new. Man, I wanted to buy that car. But my Step-Mom, not known for her automotive mojo, said no. I needed something sportier she said. All I know is that back seat was HUGE. You could do stuff back there, fun stuff! Hmmm…sporty car - smaller back seat, ginormous Chrysler - huge back seat…maybe she had some evil plan to keep me in the front seat. Anyway we passed on it.
Then I went to look at a ’65 Mustang, a light green coupe with a green vinyl interior. It had the 289 cu in V-8 and rare for the ’65 model, a factory 4-speed (instead of the normal 3-speed or automatic). Problem was, the owner would not take a penny less than $550. I hauled my Dad out to look at it and let him drive it. He begrudgingly let me have the extra $50. I had a car! Of course I had no job or way to pay for gas, insurance, ETC, but I had a car. And even though the back seat was small, it did hold two people…
It served me well my junior and senior years. But it had a couple of features that I discovered (and would come in very handy later). Like the hidden panel at the leading edge of the console. To the untrained eye, it was just a large metal plate that abutted the instrument console. But a push at the top, the panel tilted upwards to reveal a huge secret compartment that could hold…well, it could hold a lot….of stuff…
Still, we had a few adventures during our two years together. After school I would head out on the back-roads and take them down by the Kentucky River. And maybe if I had a little extra time, I would drive the car further away from Lexington. And as the miles piled on, we dropped back decades in time as we flowed deeper and deeper into the country; old farms hiding stills out back, barns with faded advertising on the sides pushing Marathon Ethyl gas and old cigarette brands that have thankfully long faded from view. I would push it until the Lexington AM stations started to merge into back-country stations advertising local feed stores, Bucks Bait Shop and Garage and Gran Pa’s miracle cold remedy and elixir and realized that maybe I had pushed too far. Better to turn around and beat a path back to my back door, arriving just in time for dinner and a hundred questions as to where I had been.
Yeah, history looks a perfect 20/20 in the rearview; a cloudy spring day, the highway slick with rain and the spray coming off the back of the car. Dark green shadows hiding narrow curves, blasted from the gray rock of the hills hugging the river. I learned how to drive on those narrow ribbons of roads and they are still there…calling me back. Except now I would rather take them on a perfect summer afternoon in my Cayman S, the sound of the flat-six blasting its angry engine note off those old rocks. I hope they remember me; I have been there before.
Until next time.