He was 14 and was already thinking about his 16th birthday and the opportunity to take his road test. Anticipating success, he was determined to be prepared with a car of his own. Was it the car any mother dreams of for her son? No, probably not. Was it the right car for mine? In retrospect, I can’t complain.
"Your Teen Has a 68 Mustang…Are You Crazy?"
I would be lying if I said I was ecstatic the day my husband pulled into the driveway with a trailer that was loaded with what was to be my son’s first car.
My son started working in a family business at a very young age. The “news” of his good work ethic spread quickly and before long he was everyone’s “helper”. He wasn’t always paid. Often he wouldn’t accept payment but when he did, he saved it. His coins turned into dollars and before long we learned the reason why. He announced at the age of 10 or 11 that he was saving for his first car! I smiled, envisioning a rugged pickup truck or a big, safe Buick similar to the one my grandparents drove. I figured I had many years before I would diligently assist him in his search for the perfect vehicle. Little did I know I didn’t have as many as I thought.
It was a Saturday and he was working outside. Suddenly he came blasting through the door and ran to the computer. I casually asked what he was doing and he responded that he had to look up the value of a car…quickly. Quick he was. Before I could say another word he was back out the front door. Later that day he told me he was buying a car and his dad was taking him to pick it up. I waited with anticipation, excited for him, and proud that he had done some research before buying anything with his hard earned money.
What I saw next, left me speechless and for anyone that knows me, that is not a common occurrence. Loaded on the trailer was a 1968 Mustang Coupe. My mind was flooded with a thousand thoughts? Wasn’t that a muscle car? Aren’t those cars dangerous? Don’t people race in cars like that? These questions were followed by: What in the world was my husband thinking? Had he completely lost his mind?
With feigned enthusiasm I took pictures, silently reminding myself that two years was a long way off.
Almost immediately“ to do” lists were made and the work on this car began. Within a month of ownership my son knew where every bolt, wire and washer was located. It was not uncommon to come downstairs in the late hours of the night to find him at the computer looking up information on how to complete a specific task or to clarify he had done it correctly.
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It seemed like it was definitely going to be the never-ending project, which suited my fancy just fine. To start, it needed a new front end, a new rear end, new floors, a new dash, new brakes, new wiring throughout, a new headliner, and in addition to any other mechanical items I’ve failed to remember to list, it needed a new interior. Oh, and did I mention he needed to either learn how to rebuild a motor or he had to buy a new one?
The first day that it was road worthy he drove it out of the garage. Up the driveway he went with a huge, well deserved smile and mismatched tires and rims! (Within a couple of years he had saved enough to buy those).
In between school, work and sporting activities he squeezed in every minute he could to work on his car and within a year he had the body of the car looking pretty promising. In time, once the mechanical aspects of the restoration were complete, the exterior was painted. It was a huge “lift” for him and of course, I went outside to snap the pictures. I wasn’t suppose to photograph the inside however, because…well…the pictures tell the reason.
The interior came in time and he actually taught himself on a brutally hot summer day how to upholster. It was one of the few times I could actually see the stress emitting from his pores!
I have some elderly gentlemen to thank for inspiring him along the way. They followed him home one afternoon, pulled into our driveway and struck up a conversation. Even though the car was far from showcase condition, one of them offered him a substantial amount of money for it. He paused and responded, “ As tempting as it is, no thank you Sir.” I was at first a little surprised by his response. The gentlemen praised the work he had done thus far and complimented him on his diligence and his commitment to “earning” his car with his own funds and his own hard work.
At some point my son ran the “numbers” for his car and based on the code, realized the original motor was a 390 big block. That became his new fixation and a couple of years ago he found one, rebuilt it himself and put it in.
In the early years I encountered some criticism and some scowls when people heard of the car my son was restoring and would be driving as a teenager. I understood where they were coming from because I knew the statistics on the safety of older model cars, especially this type of car. On the other hand, I knew that as a parent I could only try to instill common sense when he is behind the wheel. Teenagers quickly become adults that will buy and drive based on their wants, not always those of their parents.
In retrospect, as his mother, I have no regrets. He learned a great deal from this experience of buying and building his own first car. He learned how to budget and save. He researched how to accomplish tasks and how to price compare on the internet. He learned how to deal with disappointment when things didn’t go as planned and frustration when things were harder to complete than he had imagined. He learned about prioritizing his choices. He learned other skills as well. He learned how to wire, weld and of course upholster! He also spent valuable time with his Dad that he will always be able to look back on and I believe it is safe to assume that memories beyond car restoration were created.
He also quickly learned that he needed to buy a 2nd car or truck to get around most of the time because his mustang wasn’t noted for it’s gas mileage or winter driving.
Recently one evening we were talking and he told me that if we had been able to give him his car, already completely restored, than things would have been drastically different. He said he knew he would have been crazy and foolish with the car. He said when he was younger and the “urge” to be stupid crossed his mind, he quickly thought of how he had earned it, worked for it, rebuilt it and everything all of that entailed. He reminded me he had paid dearly for one dumb thing he had done…
He had been at a get-together ½ a mile from home. He had just bought his new matching tires along with the larger motor and was leaving to come home. I believe it was his senior year of high school. He was egged on to “spin them” when leaving and did just that, assuming it was harmless on a fairly deserted country road. The power of the motor along with the grip of the new tread caused the pinion shaft on the rear end to break off, spitting the drive shaft out the side, resulting in a cracked quarter panel. He came through the door that night looking absolutely sick. He had learned an important lesson the hard way. For weeks he was upset with himself for not listening to the voice in his head telling him not to do it. The required repairs cost him dearly in labor hours to both earn the funds and to fix it. It was also a huge blow to his pride. He had finally achieved what he wanted in regard to restoring the car, had started to receive a lot of compliments, and then in a matter of minutes, the body of it had a huge crack.
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BEFORE YOU EVEN THINK ABOUT HANDING YOUR TEENS THE CAR KEYS, DO EVERYONE A BIG FAVOR: CRASHPROOF THEM! Every year, six million sons and daughters will become first-time drivers....
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In summary, kids often do stupid things behind the wheel of a car intentionally or not. I am not naïve, I am sure my son may have probably done one or two things I don’t know about. I am inclined to think if that is the case, it is more likely that it was done in his pickup truck or cavalier. As a teenager my brother drove my parents brand new jeep down the railroad tracks claiming he wanted to “check out the vehicle stability”. My sister brought home the door of my mother’s station wagon, leaving the rest of the car at the intersection where she had run out of gas, opened the door and rolled back into a pole because the car wasn’t in park. My daughter was almost killed in what Consumer Reports claimed was one of the safest cars of that year, and my other daughter drove our Ford pickup truck with smoke pouring out the hood until it would no longer go forward or backward. She was trying to get it home…9 miles. My son’s car may not have the highest safety rating but he values and respects it because of what he, and he alone, had to do to call it his. He literally knows everything about it and when he has suspected something may be amiss, he has immediately discontinued driving it until he has thoroughly checked it out.
He is an adult now but I am still his mother. In honesty, I have to admit my heart still does a little leap when I hear the rumble of it pulling in or out of my driveway but then I see his confident smile and I remind myself that it is indeed his car, a car he respects and has earned the right to be proud of. Unlike his first coupe, his father and I didn’t buy it. It wasn’t just handed to him, it didn’t come easy. He knows how hard he worked to attain it and that weighs heavily on how he drives it.