Take every single car enthusiast trope – self-taught mechanic, owns a classic car or two, has a collection of license plates from all 50 states, chose the house he lives in for barn turned into a two-story three-car garage out back. If you were to distill all of them down into a person, you’d get Mike Harm. An all American man with the easy going amiable personality to match, Mike has been a near lifelong gearhead. His first experiences with tools and mechanics frequently involved taking apart household appliances with tools borrowed from his father’s toolbox. At the age of 16, the complexity of the appliances went up a notch as he obtained his first car – a 1960 Chevrolet Bel Air Sedan. That’s the same Bel Air pictured here.
The Chevy was obtained from his grandmother’s friend who, besides being infamous for never driving above 50 mph, was getting too old to safely drive. So Mike, who had always liked cars from that era, became $200 poorer, but one car richer. By his senior year of college, he figured he should restore the car and gathered his college buddies. They stripped the entire car down and overhauled the entire machine. Out went the old straight six, in went a 350 cubic inch V8 and a suspension replacement to boot. Off went the original blue in a makeshift sand room, and on went the early 1990s Mitsubishi Banzai Blue.
The following spring break, he ended up driving the Bel Air with those same friends on a narrow Virginia mountain road still covered from the aftermath of the blizzard of ’93. Post-graduation as a military officer (yes he was Major Harm at one point), he took his then girlfriend, now wife on dates in that car. Hannah, his daughter, had her first car ride home from the hospital in the back of the Bel Air. And as a testament to the reliability of the car, Mike drove the car thousands of miles in the Hot Rod Power Tour, a several thousand strong rolling car show that crosses the south.
It’s unfortunate current state happened a couple of years back when the aforementioned barn caught on fire. While none of the cars physically burnt, the heat and gaseous sulfuric acid ate away at both his Bel Air and his Studebaker (his other classic car). This badly damaged the paint, interiors and plastic hoses, leaving both cars non-running. Like a close friend you had a falling out with, this left Mike in a sort of weird place with his Bel Air. Fixing the car would take a ton of time, money and effort, but ditching the car would mean throwing out thirty years of memories. So, there it sat in the car port outside the fixed garage in a sort of purgatory – ready to be worked on, but not in the garage yet.
Despite the ambivalence, Mike will probably keep the car. After we pushed the Bel Air back into its purgatory parking lot, Mike stood up, hands on his hips and exhaled “It was good getting that out. I reminded me of what I need to do”. Hopefully that means that in the very near future, the Bel Air will be back on the road, building new memories not only with Mike, but with his son daughter and wife.
At the end of all this, the fact of the matter is that Mike’s car answers a big “What if” question. What if you could keep your first car? Granted this is based off of anecdotal evidence, but many people are strongly attached to their first car. This is because the first car usually comes in that transition phase between childhood and adulthood where you work your first job for pocket change, you start dating people more often, and you and your friends go to places to hang out. As a result, that first car gives you access to all these things, and as a High Schooler with plenty of time on their hands you'll go do those things. All that time spent with the car and the independence afforded by the vehicle makes it relatively easy to become attached to the car. Unfortunately that also means that when your $3000, 10+ year old, shady used car dealer special breaks down sooner rather than later, saying good bye can be tough. So what if you never had to let it go?
See more pictures here.