Sunday, July 1, 2012

Coming Full Circle

The Bass Monkey workshop remains QUIET and now I know why.   

There has been a storm brewing for a while.  I could not put my finger on it; earlier this year we were busy with a kitchen remodel and spring festivals.  By the end of May Lonnie was still not in the workshop.  I did not understand or question why.  Maybe a mid life crisis, maybe he needed a break from basses, maybe there was something going on in that complex brain of his.  The first weekend in June it all came pouring out.  Just like a light switch flipping on he declared…after 17 years…it was time to make his first love a priority again.  NO!  Not another woman, his first love is his 1967 Mustang car.   

This car is his first car bought for him at age 16 by his Mom and Dad.  He began to drive it a few days after he turned 16.  The car was his daily driver in high school with the original dark green metallic paint and a black vinyl top.  By his late teens he took it off the street to drag race every weekend at the local US 30 drag strip.  Lonnie was interested in cars morning, noon and night.  When he was not working in the garage on his car, he was working overtime at his job to buy parts to make the car go faster.  
1974-1975 as a daily driver

After some success at the drag strip he cranked it up a notch with modification to the engine and frame, a new paint job of blue and silver, custom graphics and a new custom matching car trailer.  His car was the bomb!  It was smooth, fast and looked good going down the drag strip.  This car was a reflection of his craftsmanship, persistence and endless hours of labor.   And then the drag strip closed.  Just like that, no place to race.  With the paint barely dry from the second incarnation he tore it all down, AGAIN, right to the bare frame.  

1979-1980 drag strip ready with tow bar installed

This time (the third time) it was to full fill a dream from 6th grade when the teacher asked the class to write a short story about what they dreamed at night.  Lonnie’s Mom still has the hand written essay saved in a scrapbook.  In brief it tells the story that some day Lonnie wanted a fast car, with big tires, big hood scoop and a crazy bright green paint job with pink and blue pin stripes.  That is pretty exact for a 12 year old boy, but he made his dream come true.   

The begining of the dream car 

New wheels, tires and roll cage installed

The first coats of color; 1979 Fiat Kent green

At the time we met in late 1984 the car was a bare frame hanging from the garage rafters with new big tires and hours of blood, sweat and agony to go.  Meeting and dating Lonnie slowed the pace of the project but he kept at it for seven years…seven LONG years of thousand of hours spent lying on his back fussing over every small detail.  Fabricating NOS rear quarter panels for the new big tires, cutting the floor board to lower the suspension, welding in a roll cage plus all that custom body and paint work.  He did everything himself.  He has never paid a dime to have anything done to the car, it is 100% his dream car, his efforts and his 38 year love/hate relationship.  

All Ford car show the Saturday BEFORE we got married, May 9th 1992. 
Note the missing Mustang emblem in the grill.  The car was not really finished.

May 16th, 1992

Lonnie did not want to marry until his dream car was finished.  He put the final window trim on the rear glass the day of our wedding…that was cutting it a bit close.  His car along with many other cars from family and friends played an important part on our wedding day…which was actually a wedding/car show.  I come from a long line of car enthusiast in my family so this was perfectly fine by me. 

 Lonnie's Mustang, My Father's Ford, Butch's Dodge truck, Mark's Mach I, Glenn's Buick GSX, Ricky's Mustang

The now Pro-Street Mustang named “Green Horsey” was lightly used for car shows, trips around town and cruising for enjoyment.  Until that dark day in May, Memorial Day weekend 1995.  We took a break from a house project (36’x38’ brick driveway that we installed ourselves) and drove the Mustang to attend a picnic at my oldest brother’s house in Virginia, 70 miles from home.  It was a good day, evening was upon us and we were getting ready to drive home.  As we were leaving in the Mustang my brother comes running out into the quiet neighborhood street giving Lonnie the signal to light up the tires, do a smoky burn out.  Now my brother is a nerdy “Road and Track magazine” type of gear head having never worked on, or raced a car in his life.  He was begging to see some smoke and rubber.  Lonnie obliged by smoking the tires and leaving rubber on the road.  He stabbed second gear and then it happen…CLUNK…for the third time since having this car on the road he had broken the rear end.   

The 351 Cleveland engine is strong and hooks up big time to the tall, wide Mickey Thompson tires.  Lonnie knows how to shift the manual five speed Doug Nash transmission…maybe a little too well.  As we raced off in a cloud of smoke we knew something was wrong.  The panic began to set in.  We were 70 miles from home on a holiday weekend and this was before we owned a cell phone.  Lonnie with his stubborn persistence’s tried to limp the car towards home.  The clunk, clunk, clunk got louder.  Then the Mustang gave in, totally broke down, leaving us sitting along the side of the road with day light fading fast.  Neither Lonnie nor I have ever been broken down sitting on the side of the road 50 miles from home.  What do we do now?  We walked to an old fashion minimart and called a close friend from a pay phone.  Mark was generous to drive and meet us with his truck and car trailer in tow.  We are still thankful to this day for his help…but that dark day got even darker.   

The rear tires on the car are huge and the lock down straps in the trailer would not go around the rear tires.  Mark and Lonnie did the best they could to secure the car and we headed for home.  About half way home we heard a bumping sound coming from the car trailer.  We kept going (male pride and testosterone at work again).  We got closer to home and the bumping turned into a banging noise.  We pulled off the road to see what has happened and…here it is, the darkest of night before the dawn…the car was loose in the trailer and has suffered body damage on all four corners.  At that moment I don’t remember what they did but we got the car home, drug it into the garage and there it has been for 17 years and four weeks.  Lonnie was deeply distraught.  His dream car, his pride and joy, his thousands of hours of effort were mechanically broken and the body damage was done.

For years the car was covered sitting in the garage, occasionally Lonnie started the engine to keep the gas fresh and the internal parts moving.  For 17 years we put every other priority in front of that car.  We finished house projects, bicycled across the south while putting 12,000 miles on our tandem bicycle in 5 years, traveled to festivals, played bluegrass music and began to collect and restore upright basses.  Until now, when the light switched flipped on Sunday, 6/3/12 and Lonnie said “What the hell am I waiting for!”  The last four weeks he has dedicated himself to getting his childhood dream car back on the road.  I support his efforts 100%.  He has the body work finished.  The fenders and bumpers are re-painted.  The new rear end is installed and the car is sitting on all four wheels once again.  There is more work to be completed with a new drive shaft, air filters and other minor items.  Now when Lonnie goes out to the garage, you can find him leaning against the workbench just staring at the car.  A vision he has never grown tire of, after 38 years he still loves that car.

The rear end work begins

The body work and new touch up paint.  Lonnie still had the original paint from 25 years ago
For now the basses will wait while the Grease Monkey garage is in full swing instead of the Bass Monkey workshop.  When Lonnie has his dream car back on the road and that boyish grin on his face the Bass Monkey workshop will resume…full swing, totally content.

This is more information then you probably wanted to know about a boyhood dream.  I wanted to document these memories in our life while I can still remember the details and the emotion is fresh.  I admire Lonnie for his persistence, never ending patience and the passion to not lose focus on what makes us happy.  Very few of us still have our first car, mine was a 1969 Buick and not worth remembering. Getting Lonnie’s Mustang back on the road will complete a missing part of him.  A part that was there before I came into his life, before music and basses inspired a different passion for us to explore.

Life is too short…dream big.