Plenty of Hemmings readers can proudly claim they have children and grandchildren who are “car nuts.”
In my case, being a car nut runs deep and goes back to my grandfather, Charles Van Orden. He bought a Buick in 1905 when the car company was only two years old. Dad, another Charles Van Orden, followed in his footsteps with Ford Model Ts when he started driving in 1923. My car-nut days began with a Mercury, a 1951 two-door model I purchased in 1960 and painted black to resemble James Dean’s ride in Rebel Without a Cause.
Not everyone is a car nut…you either have it or you don’t. You have it if you enjoy tinkering with engines or building hot rods using your imagination and hands. The infection is deep if you know every make and model on the road, or easily identify subtle styling differences, upgrades, and nuances.
You’re an extreme car nut if your spouse or significant other repeatedly screams, “You don’t love me as much as your car!” Or even worse, “You look at your car more than you do me.” Followed by, “Here’s a pillow… go sleep with your car!”
I immediately knew my grandson Jake, now 19 and a Marine lance corporal, was a car nut when he, his father, John Reed, and I spent a sweltering spring day at the enormous Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth a decade ago.
We walked around the parking lot for hours with thousands of gearheads who, like us, tried valiantly, tongues hanging and sweat dripping, to examine the individual style and beauty of 2,500 rods, muscle cars, classics, vintage vehicles, street machines, customs, and trucks of all descriptions.
Wearing an old duffer’s hat that resembled the one worn by his great-great-grandfather when he sat in his 1905 Buick, Jake exhibited tireless energy and enthusiasm. His questions about everything automotive severely tested my knowledge and limited intelligence.
“Did your Mercury look like this one, Grandpa?” he asked, pointing at a black custom with fender skirts and dual exhausts. “What’s the difference between a flathead and overhead-valve engine?” “What was the first car to have fins?” “When did Chrysler begin making hemis?”
I saw the show through his eyes… and it was an incredible experience. This young man really “sees” the world around him, I said to myself. Fortunately, I accompanied him to several car shows over the years. To stoke his love of cars, I gave him dozens of hot-rod photos I had taken at car shows, as well as miniature classic-car models. His knowledge grew exponentially when his father bought him a subscription to Hemmings Motor News.
Jake’s love of cars started at age 3, according to his father.
“He helped me work on my mother’s 1975 Mercury Monarch,” he said. “She bought it new and it was rare because it was thought to be the only Monarch manufactured in California at that time with the 302-cubic-inch V-8 and two-barrel carburetor.
“At some point I inherited the car and brought it to Arkansas,” he added. “Over the years, Jake worked on the Monarch and enjoyed it so much it only seemed right to turn it over to him.”
All through his childhood and teen years, Jake and John frequently took in hot-rod and classic-car shows in Little Rock and across Arkansas. Then one day when they stopped at a car show in the little town of Petit Jean, something magic happened.
“Jake immediately spotted a 1965 Cadillac ambulance for sale,” said John. “What got his attention was the ‘Go Hogs’ letters written in white paint on the side. It once had been a University of Arkansas fraternity car that saw plenty of partying and football games.”
“The ambulance was a mess, but its 429-cubic-inch V-8 fired right up and it ran fine,” said John. He and Jake spent countless hours cleaning the interior, which had the original stretcher. Plenty of sanding and priming the exterior, as well as removing the “Go Hogs” letters, resulted in a good looking and unusual classic. Custom chrome wheels sparkled in the sunshine.
About the same time, another unique car — a 1975 Plymouth Scamp — entered Jake’s life. Built from 1971 to 1976, the Scamp was similar to, but had a different decal, than the Plymouth Valiant and Duster, as well as the Dodge Demon, Dart, and Swinger. It also may have had the smallest production run. Jake’s Scamp has the 225-cubic-inch “Slant Six” and a three-speed automatic transmission.
“Jake worked hard one summer hanging sheetrock and painting a neighbor’s workshop,” said John. “The neighbor was so grateful he awarded Jake the Scamp after the project was finished.”
Since then, Jake and his dad have replaced many engine parts and prepped the body for painting. Jake’s future plans for the car include possibly installing a 340-cubic-inch V-8 and painting the body orange and black.
A graduation surprise
Jake isn’t the only grandchild who can lay claim to the title “car nut.”
Granddaughters Cassie, 28, and Lindsey, 25, also share that honor. They displayed great interest in hot rods and classics starting at an early age. Of course, their grandfather stoked their passion for cars by taking them to hot-rod shows and talking cars with them at every opportunity.
One sweet ’75 Merc
Jake made restoring three cars — the Caddy, Scamp, and Mercury — simultaneously look easy, despite having to balance his hobby while doing homework and keeping grades up. When it finally came time for his high school graduation, he selected the Mercury to transport him and his buddies to the rehearsal and ceremony.
Although he didn’t have time to paint the Mercury, he added new engine parts and trim to make it run well and look respectable. Right before the ceremony, four young men, hair slicked back and dressed in tuxedos, drove with Jake to the rehearsal.
Murphy’s Law was at work, unfortunately. Their plans were interrupted when the Mercury broke down and left them stranded at roadside.
It was embarrassing, but they held thumbs high and hitched a ride to the rehearsal. The car was unceremoniously towed home later that evening.
I see myself in Jake. There are many similarities between us. We’re about the same size and some say we look alike. All I know is that I’m grateful he’s a car nut… and my grandson.