I had thumbed through a particular issue of Autotrader so many times the ink had long since disappeared, leaving the paper translucent. Although the issue had cost me only a dollar, I carried it like a Gutenberg Bible.
Page 43 featured a 1975 BMW 2002, Fjord Silver with Alpina wheels. The owner lived in Newport Beach, right on the water, in a home worth several million. He wanted $4,500, a fair price given the car's pristine condition. Given my finances, it might as well have been $450,000. I had a few hundred in my checking account and a few hundred more in assorted small bills stuffed in my sock drawer, earnings from a bartending gig I snagged using a fake ID. Twenty-year-old college students usually don't have a lot of financial clout. I certainly didn't.
I lived in a rat hole with five other guys. The washing machine had long since broken down and was repurposed into a keg receptacle. Fill it with ice and we had cold beer for two weeks straight. I went home to do laundry, actually to have my mom do my laundry, which she did gladly.
Mom must have found that tatty Autotrader in my laundry bag. I'd pretty much given up on the car and I certainly couldn't ask a single mother of three for the cash. I told myself there would be other great cars but didn't really believe it.
Though I've owned more than 14 cars over the last 30 years, only a few left a genuinely lasting impression.
Leaving the next morning, I grabbed my stuff and headed out. That damn Autotrader was tucked in my laundry, taunting me. I would throw it out when I got home. As I put my clothes away (I actually just tossed them in a corner) the Autotrader fell out. Inside it was an envelope containing a $4,500 cashier's check made out to some guy in Newport Beach. I stared at it for a while, unable at first to connect the dots. The little note from Mom helped: All it said was, "Go get your car."
How my mother managed this is still a great mystery. Every now and then I'll ask her. She just smiles and deftly changes the subject. My wife says it's something called "super mom powers." That would explain a lot. In any case, that BMW went on to be one of the "great ones," a car that left an indelible imprint on my automotive experience.
It's been said we are allowed three great loves during our lifetime. I'm beginning to think that applies to cars as well. Though I've owned more than 14 over the last 30 years, only a few left a genuinely lasting impression. These are the ones that cause an involuntary smile and make you say something like: "Oh yeah, that (fi ll in the blank) was a great car," to no one in particular.
I'd like to squeeze in one more before my time on the pavement is over. In what I'm hoping is a serendipitous situation, this "great one" lives next door to me.
Just over the hedge rests my neighbor's Alfa Romeo GTV 2000, which he keeps under a ripped parachute. This car is freaking beautiful: dark metallic blue, dual headlamps, center-mounted Ansa exhaust, mag wheels, Nardi wood steering wheel. He caught me spying on it the other day. I pretended I was checking the mortar between the bricks. The week before he had caught me securing its cover. I was afraid the sun might crack its pristine dashboard. I made like I was looking for Steve, our transgender cat.
A few nights ago, I left a box of P21S car care stuff just behind it-wax, wheel cleaner, and carpet shampoo. I needed to make it look like the stuff was his and had simply been misplaced. I also stashed a case of Redline synthetic oil in his garage. If he challenges me, I'll just blame the kids or something.
I have yet to ask if he'd consider selling the Alfa because I'm afraid he'd say no, effectively killing the fantasy. As it stands, the mere possibility it may be mine is very exciting.
I need to call my mother. She always knows what to do.