Celebrating Father’s Day by Being Fourteen Again

Nothing says Father’s Day like a repurposed Birthday Balloon that my kids duct-taped over. I suppose that’s the down side of having my Birthday one week before Father’s Day. My kids do get me though, as an engineer and former plumber they know I appreciate the unlimited uses duct tape has; today I get to add one more use to my list. My kids couldn’t wait this morning to share with me how I’m going to spend my special day. First I get to work on our boat to make it lake-ready because Nick has already invited a bunch of this buds to the lake with us on Tuesday. After that I’m going to Albuquerque to look at college cars for Sasha. On the one hand it’s fair for me to ask, “what about what I want to do?” On the other hand, it’s hot, dry, and there’s no hockey playoffs to watch so what the hell else am I going to do? Also, even though I declared COVID over two weeks ago, our Democratic governor still has not opened our lakes so I can’t go fishing.

For the past couple weeks I’ve been talking myself into getting a vintage car to restore. I’m not really a car guy, but thought it could be a fun project for Nick and I to work on during his last two years at home before University. I ran the spectrum, first I found a 1967 Mustang that was partway restored. It looked like a good car and the Ford Mustang is certainly “the” vintage car, but to be honest, I don’t really see myself as that guy who tools around in a Mustang. I had a corvette in the 90’s, they don’t handle well in the mountains so that car is out. I found an Audi coup that looked pretty cool, but German cars never really give that nostalgic vibe I’m looking for. Same goes for the Mercedes coupes. The thing about Mercedes is that they’re like Cadillacs; old people’s cars and I’m not old yet – just give me that one.

The car I’ve settled on is a 70’s Datsun Z because back in my fourteenth summer, I was working as a plumber’s apprentice. It was hard work in the hot humid South Dakota sun, toiling 16 hours days for $2.10 an hour and feeling like I owned the world. For reasons never made clear, the company owner didn’t want me driving one of his pickups when I was sent back to the shop for fittings but he was okay with me driving the 1974 Datsun 240Z he was storing for his out of town brother. It was a beautiful silver two-seater with black interior and had this sound system based on a new technology called cassette tapes. All I owed were 8-tracks so I was stuck listening to the weird music old people played. But that car could both haul and handle. The only ding was that on really hot days it would vapor lock, sometimes in the middle of an intersection. It was a good thing Datsun gave up carbureted engines for fuel injection a few later.

It was never clear to me if I was allowed to drive the car after work hours, but once I found out how much teenage girls like guys in sports cars I quickly evolved a philosophy that’s stayed with me the rest of my life, namely; “it’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.” On Sunday’s my buddy and I would drive that Z to the lake where we got to impress girls from neighboring towns as well.

To this day, I think the original Z’s are the best sports cars ever made. When I first moved to New Mexico, I had a 1978 280ZX, but sold it after my first winter in the mountains; a rear wheel drive sports car has no place in a high mountain New Mexico winter. Unfortunately, the guy I sold it to totaled the car on his first day while taking a curve too fast on his way down ski hill road. I always regretted selling that car, but really enjoyed the 1968 Ford Bronco I replaced it with. Now I wish I had both those classics back.

Last night I found a 1978 280ZX for sale in Albuquerque. It needs a lot of work but the bones look solid. The car still has the original engine although the engine has 200k miles on it. I’m not too worried about that, my Toyota Tundra has 250k miles – hard off-road mountain miles so Japanese engines are good for high miles. The dash and consul are cracked and faded from years in the desert sun; back then plastic technology was not so good. The interior carpet and door panels also need to be replaced along with the gauges. The car’s been garaged the last four years, which is worrisome because engines need to be exercised. The owner, who’s had the car thirty years, assures me the engine and transmission are both strong.

I think for my Father’s Day present to myself, I’ll detour once we hit Albuquerque long enough to look this Z over. And while I’m there I’m sure I’ll imagine all the fun filled hours I’ll have searching the internet for replacement parts and working late winter nights in my garage restoring it just so I can once again be a fourteen year old making plumbing parts runs in the best sports car ever made with the whole world in front of me.