Aside from having a keen interest in the inner workings of the human body, which led me to become a physician, I also have an intense passion for cars. I am not your average twentysomething that lusts after the latest and the fastest exotic car you can find in "Top Gear." I go for old cars from the 1940s or 1950s.
My dream of owning and restoring an old classic car turned to reality when someone finally answered the ad I posted in the Internet: "Looking for old classic American cars from the '40s or '50s, preferably with the original engine and transmission."
The first text message I got said: "1979 Toyota Macho classic car, rare, fully loaded." I didn't know if I should laugh or cry. But after four days, I got the reassurance that someone still knew what the words "classic" and "old" meant, as far as cars were concerned. The message said: "You might be interested in a 1957 Chevy sedan."
I couldn't believe what I read and couldn't wait to see the car. The following day, I told my brother about my rare find (we share the same passion) and off we went to see it. After a minute or two of knocking at the gate, a housemaid approached us. We were led in after we told her we were the guys asking about the car.
Our jaws dropped at the sight of the huge car. It was indeed a 1957 Chevrolet sedan, a Two-Ten to be precise. It shares the same body and looks with any Chevrolet Bel-Air of that era except that it was a different model. We marveled at the car that was as huge and majestic as a ship. It had a two-tone, red and white paint, a curved roof that was almost round like a Volkswagen Beetle's, a windshield that wrapped around the corners to the A-pillars, and, of course, the unmistakable trademark tail fins accentuated by chrome trim. The '57 Chevy is an icon of the 1950s, "the undisputed star of the fabled 'Tri-Five' ('55-'56-'57) Chevy era," as "Automobile Magazine" put it.
As we continued to stare at the car, an elderly lady approached us. She introduced herself as the widow of its owner. We asked her if we could give it a closer look.
The doors opened perfectly. It was like entering a time machine that zapped us back to 1957. The windows could be rolled up and down smoothly. Everything inside was original. I closed the door and it emitted a solid thud. Unbelievable.
The hood had two chrome rocket ornaments on top and we popped it to reveal the original "stove-bolt" 235 cubic-inch (4.0L) straight-six engine. The air cleaner and radiator were original, and so with the single-barrel Rochester carburetor. Perfect.
The lady invited us inside the living room as soon as we were through inspecting the car. We asked if the price she had quoted in her message was fixed. She smiled and said it was. We didn't have the heart to haggle for a discount. After all, it was worth more than what she was asking. We sealed the deal.
Then, it was time to pull out the Chevy. The truck backed up into the driveway and lowered its bed. A heavy chain was tied to the rear axle and attached to the winch's cable. I took the wheel to steer the car into position. Full power was applied to the winch but the car wouldn't budge. Of course, I'd forgotten to shift to neutral.
I tried to get the column-shift to neutral, but the lever was stuck. I crossed my fingers and depressed the clutch and hoped it would work (a broken crankshaft was unimaginable). I heaved a sigh of relief when the car slowly inched its way out to the driveway.
The widow watched as the car was slowly winched onto the truck's bed. Her eyes filled with tears as she touched the Chevy for the last time. We've bought second-hand automobiles before but no separation between automobile and owner were as heartbreaking to witness as this one. Here we were, my brother and I, two young guys taking possession of an old automobile which would soon be our pride and joy, while there was Nana Flor, parting with their first car, a treasure trove of memories.
She handed us a Borg-Warner carburetor repair kit and a complete front suspension repair kit and requested that we take her for a ride when we were done with the restoration. We promised we would and then left.
We reached the mechanic's shop for the first stage of the restoration project: rebuilding the engine. I would have preferred to entrust the task to Uncle Ren, but since he was in the United States, I looked for another mechanic who was up to the job. I wanted someone who knew his way around American cars. With some luck, we found Mang Ed who knows these cars like the back of his hand. When he saw the Chevy, he said he was reminded of his days as a young man.
For the next couple of weeks, he pulled out and disassembled the engine and took the block and crankshaft to the machine shop for a re-bore. I scoured Binondo for pistons, connecting rod bearings, main bearings, valves, gaskets and the like. I was surprised to find out that some shops still had lots of unused spare parts for cars as old as our Chevy.
It has been almost two months since we brought the car to Mang Ed. Now the engine has been rebuilt and assembled, and we had it painted in the original Chevy blue.
My brother and I cannot wait to start the engine. For other people who drive their modern cars on a daily basis, it is as simple as turning the keys. For us, however, it is witnessing the rebirth of a 50-year-old car that had lain dormant for nearly 25 years. On the road to its resurrection, every step counts: pouring engine oil, filling the radiator with coolant, connecting the battery, turning on the ignition switch, cranking the engine as the glass filter bowl fills with fresh gasoline, and finally hearing the long 235-cubic-inch straight six engine sputter to life with a roar as the sparkplugs ignite the air-fuel mixture.
If you are the typical car guy who is thinking about buying another new modern sissy car that is worth a fortune, think again. Would you really like to drive what everyone else has? It's about time you experience restoring and driving an old car, where there's just you, the car and the open road ahead. It's about time you experience the joys of more than four cylinders and raw power without distractions, such as a dozen buttons, electronic gadgetry and hi-tech stuff. If your grandpa or dad has an old car in his garage, now is your chance to restore it and re-live history.
Jean Pierre P. Dadufalza, M.D., 27, is also a microbiologist.
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