When you get to be as old as I am, the loss of old friends becomes an unwelcomed inevitability that we simply have to face. Illness and accident can cut short a promising life without rhyme or reason leaving us aghast at the unfairness. But not all friends are human or animal, some are mechanical.
In the fall of 1963 my new friend 824P78741 rolled off the Pontiac assembly line in Pontiac, Michigan, all shined up and frisky, oozing that “new car smell”, and eager to meet the world. It was put on a truck and hauled to Uniontown, PA as one of many new 1964 models intended to lure buyers into the dealer showrooms with their irresistible appeal. Sporting a huge (for the time) V-8 engine, four speed transmission, bucket seats, and the very important but optional AM radio, 824P78741 was a young man’s dream. In January of 1964 began the union of man and machine that would define both for many years to come. The guttural roar of tuned exhaust pipes coupled with clouds of black tire smoke were frequently the result of teenaged adrenalin and testosterone in charge of lots of horsepower. Our bond would see us traveling from the Canadian border and Midwestern US to Southern Mexico and back again.
Life has a way of replacing adventure with the mundane and so it would come to pass. 824P78741 gradually settled down to become student transportation and, a few years thereafter, a daily driver between work and home.
Just as life takes a toll on people, years of wear take a toll upon machinery. The miles piled up and up, along the way suffering traffic accidents and the ravages of rain, snow and road salt. When combined, they reduced that which had been glamorous and enviable into a beat up, rusting, 15 year old car which, although mechanically sound, could no longer resist the rain that poured freely into the trunk and rear seat through gaping holes that no local mechanic seemed to have the skills to repair. Despite several repair attempts, it eventually became obvious that 824P78741 was no longer road worthy. Thus began a 27 year period of exile during which 824P78741 sat collecting dust as a catch all, in a garage out of the weather.
We all make emotional decisions in life. Logic and common sense would clearly dictate that it was time for 824P78741 to be hauled off to the scrap yard to be dismantled with useable parts recycled and the carcass shredded and melted down to become a fresh new car or some other utilitarian product. Somehow emotions kick in and that bond between man and machine will simply not go away. This was my old friend with whom I had been through good and bad. My old friend who had garnered me so much attention when shiny and new. The friend who had hauled me and my human friends to exciting adventures. The friend that started when I begged it to and dug in on icy turns. The same friend who dutifully hauled me back and forth to college and then to work. The one who sat outside in the rain and snow while I was indoors and warm. Now old, worn, and rusted, would it really be fair to send 824P78741 off to be butchered and annihilated? The head say yes but the heart says no. Damned useless heart anyway.
824P78741 was 42 years old when it met Murphy in Dover, Ohio. It creaked and squeaked as it drifted down off the tilt bed truck, disgorging an unwelcomed cargo of mice all over Murphy’s parking lot. Rusted, reeking of mold, and non-functional, it had to be among the greatest challenges that Murphy had ever undertaken. During the next year and a half, the Sorcerer Murphy found, prepared, then installed replacement parts from all over the country. As a consequence of his magic, Murphy also guaranteed that any thoughts I may have had of ever owning a beach front condo were a flight of my imagination.
From the ashes arose the fiery Phoenix, restored to its original glory and beyond. 824P78741 was now silver with a mirror-like shine, new chrome wheels, wide tires, refinished chrome, improved brakes, and an engine that rumbled with renewed power. My friend was back, but now better looking, more powerful, and vastly improved.
The relationship began all over again, albeit at a much more sedate level. Driving was done with extreme care and limited to travel to and from car shows and exhibition events. Tire spinning was rare and done in a controlled manner. Full power bursts were limited to on ramps and only when necessary. In short, 824P78741 had become a crown jewel and was treated accordingly.
For years I had harbored a dream. As I had aged, so had the high school classmates who had been as much a part of my youth as was 824P78741. We had already lost several, but many of those who remained were committed to attend our 50th class reunion. My dream was to gather as many of them as possible for a photograph with 824P78741. One of the highlights of my life was a sunny Saturday in October of 2014 when I was able to get the majority of my classmates together for what I call “The class of 1964”. That event would prove to be the last public appearance for 824P78741.
In 2015, Mrs. Randall and I relocated to South Carolina, but my friend 824P78741 did not make the journey. The passing years force a man to consider his own mortality and the consequences of his death. As far as 824P78741 and I were concerned, instead of two reasonably contemporary buddies enjoying life and adventures together, I found myself as a 68 year old man with an 8 year old pristine friend. If I were suddenly to assume room temperature, what would become of my friend? The burden of what to do with 824P78741 would fall upon Mrs. Randall or perhaps upon offspring of Randall, none of whom were deserving of such punishment nor were they qualified to manage 824P78741. Life had indeed pushed me into a corner and handed me a bucket of crap. After several months of agonizing internal debate, the gut-wrenching but necessary choice was made.
There’s an old saying that, “If you love something, set it free.” The reality is that I had created something that is a beautiful piece of history deserving to live on well after I am gone. To accomplish that, it is necessary that 824P78741 be passed on to someone else who will treat it with the care and respect that it is due. After several unsuccessful months of attempting to find someone who met those requirements, I had 824P78741 shipped to Greensboro, North Carolina to the Greensboro Classic Car Auction. On March 4, 2016, 824P78741 quietly slipped away from me and into the ownership of Southern Motors of Clarkston, Michigan. The guys from Southern Motors are car people who will treat 824P78741 with respect and that, after all, was about as much as I could do. One of the great ironies is that Clarkson is less than ten miles from Pontiac, Michigan where 824P78741 was created.
It hurt me to let my friend go, but it was the right thing to do. We had 52 years together but the reality is that 824P78741 will continue to be a beautiful piece of automotive art long after I am dead and forgotten. So long my old friend, may the years and the miles be kind to you.