Life is strange

"Hi, I'd like to buy one of your 1936 Ford spare tire covers." My phone lit up with a buzz, this was what the message read. Look, I'd have never guessed that this text would lead where it did, but life is strange. And here we are. 

A few weeks prior, I had met a guy up in the Seattle area that was handling an estate for the widow of an old car guy. What was left was all 1936 Ford, right up my alley. I bought everything there, which was one 5 Window Coupe and two truck loads of misc. parts. I kept what I wanted and was selling off what I didn't need. That's how we ended up here. 

Believe it or not, this is what started the whole thing.

So, a gentleman named Brion shows up to buy a spare tire cover from me. He's very nice, but definitely didn't seem "the type." By that, I mean he really didn't seem like a car guy to me. But, what do I know? "So, what are you working on?" I asked as we loaded his parts into the bed of his truck. His reply was short, one word, "Roadster."

Love at first sight.

Now, anyone that knows me at all knows I like '36 Fords. I like them all, every one of them. But the top of the pile for me (and most people) is a Roadster. Production was low (around 3,800 total) and there doesn't seem to be a lot that pop up for sale. When they do, they are typically gigantic-money. I almost never see projects for sale, only $60k +restored cars. So here I have a guy in front of me that is actively buying parts for one he's apparently putting together. I needed to know more. "Since you're here, do you want to check out some cars? I have a few '36 Fords if you have time." He agreed. Fish on. 

So, we look at my cars and BS for a little while. He's nice enough and does know things about 1936 Fords, but most everything else in the shop seemed to be of no interest to him. Some of these things should have been. I'm talking about Willys, '32 Fords, Model A Roadsters, race cars, etc. You know, the type of things that most of the guys that come around are really interested in knowing about. But Brion didn't seem all that interested. I'm trying to figure him out. Finally I ask:

"So, what's the deal with your Roadster? Is it something you've had for a while?" His response wasn't something I expected. It was almost physical revulsion. Most car guys are excited to talk about their projects. The mention of this Roadster seemed to make him want to strangle someone. "Yeah, I've had the stupid thing for a long time. Too long," he says. "I've been dragging it around from house to house for 30 years." I'm watching him talk about this car and I start to realize that it's a sore subject. 

This type of stuff couldn't have interested him less. I don't blame him, bunch of bullshit anyway. 

He goes on, "It was my dad's. He'd had it since the 1950's. I've had it since the 90's and I've been working on putting it back together for him since then. I'm not making much progress honestly." 

This is my Roadster a few decades ago. Sad and neglected. 

The story went on that way for a while. The short version of the whole thing was basically that I was right, he was not really a car guy. He was more of a "It's a family heirloom and I can't get rid of it because it was my dad's" kind of guy. Honestly, he fucking loathed that car. It was the cause of a lot of stress, and maybe even some kind of strain on the relationship between him and his dad. Maybe not, I'm speculating, but it did seem that way. Not exactly the most light-hearted car story I'd ever heard, but I've been a part of many similar stories over the years. There is no nice way to say some things when it's this way. In this particular case, the guy was pretty straight forward and I could tell I wouldn't offend him if I were blunt. So I just blurted it out, "Would you sell it?" 

The question seemed to make him just as sick as the topic of the Roadster itself. Somehow, as much as he seemed to dislike the car, the idea of not having it around was just as unappealing to him. "No, I couldn't sell that car, it was my dad's." I nodded in agreement and silently vowed to let it go and not push any further. But then he kept going, "I mean, not as long as my dad is still alive. When he's gone, likely so is that car." Ok, now we're getting somewhere. 

Brion had a shop start putting it together in the late 90's. First order of business: dipping the body. What came back was surprisingly nice and rust free. 

Before he left, I asked Brion if I could check in with him periodically about his Roadster. He agreed, with the Caveat that he may need to lean on me to answer some questions as he continued to work on it. We parted ways and that was that. As he pulled away, I couldn't shake the feeling that it wouldn't be the last time I'd run into him. I also had the unrelenting feeling that I would own his car. 

About a month went by and I sent Brion a text. Just a check-in, no real mention of the car. I'd text him periodically over the course of a few weeks. Eventually I asked if he would be interested in having me over to look at the Roadster, just for fun. Luckily for me, he agreed. 

Here it is a little later on at the same shop. 

About a week later I was pulling up to a normal, unassuming house in a nice neighborhood about twenty minutes from me. There was nothing to indicate to anyone that there would be a blown-apart 1936 Ford within miles, let alone here in this nice, normal neighborhood. But as I parked, the garage door began to come up, revealing the unmistakable sight of a '36 grill shell. 

The garage was what you'd expect from a normal suburban house occupied by a non-car-obsessed person. One side has shelves with boxes stacked all over them. Maybe some bicycles? Exercise equipment maybe? Honestly I don't remember, but it was just what you'd think, stuff. But in the other stall, like a shining beacon, there it was, one of the most sought-after early Ford cars in existence, and my "some day" car, a 1936 Roadster. Amazing. 

Just an ultra sought-after car in the most unassuming garage you could imagine. 

It was naked. The body had been acid-dipped and it was perfect, zero rust and straight as an arrow. I couldn't believe how nice of a car it really was. Now, as beautiful as it was, this thing had gotten a little confused somewhere along the way. To Brion's credit, he had put a lot of money and effort into making it a car again, but there were a lot of conflicting themes going on, and no shortage of 90's and early 2000's street rod relics bolted to every corner of this otherwise magnificent car. On the one hand, a nice Flathead motor with Sharp heads on it. On the other hand, digital gauges, tilt column and a fiberglass dash. On one hand, a big dropped axle and reverse eye spring. On the other, power disc brakes and four of the ugliest fiberglass fenders you could ever hope to not find.. I'm looking this thing over and all I want to do is shove it outside, speed home to get my trailer, load it up and rescue it. Like ASAP. 

But, this visit was not about buying the car, it was about looking at it for the sake of seeing it. And what I saw was an absolutely perfect 1936 Roadster body that just had a bunch of bullshit attached to it. The moment I laid eyes on it, I knew one day I would be unbolting it all and plopping that absolutely rust-free body onto an equally nice chassis I had been hoarding for just such an occasion and starting over. Now wasn't the time though. I would have to be patient. 

What a feeling getting this thing on the trailer. 

Fast forward a few more months. Brion and I had stayed in contact and along the way he started to get a little more comfortable with the idea of parting with the car. At first there was talk about maybe trading for something that was already running and driving. Then, slowly, the option of just selling the car outright began to make more sense for him. It felt to me like once the conversation had started, Brion became progressively more at ease with the idea of selling it and just being done with it all together. Up to then, I don't think he had ever truly considered that as being an option. After a few conversations with his father, the two decided that maybe after all these years it was time to let someone else have a shot at completing the car and putting it back on the road. It turned out, unbelievably, that it was looking like that person was going to be me. 

This was the first time this car had been outside in years. It sat so low in the front that it scraped the pavement coming out of the driveway. I like them low, but the stance is going to have to be reversed. Ass-down and skirts..

It wouldn't be a snap decision though. No fewer than 68 years had passed with this car in the family's possession. And parting with it wouldn't be as simple as just flipping a switch. It was a slow process, one that I had to navigate carefully. I wanted the car. But I also knew that it was going to be a difficult decision for it's owners to part with it. I was more than ok with going at their pace, and I absolutely would not be pushy about it. I'm a firm believer in the whole "if it's meant to be" thing. And I knew from the start that I would own the car eventually, I just had that feeling. Brion reassured me early on that I was probably correct: "Look, I won't sell it to anyone but you. If we don't end up making a deal on it some time, it will sit there in that garage until I die. Maybe I'll just will the fuckin' thing to you. I'm not going to live forever." Funny. 

Don't worry, he didn't die!

One day out of the blue, I figured I'd touch base with Brion. I sent him a text and to my surprise, his reply had a different tone: He was ready to let the Roadster go.  A few days later I found myself standing in his garage once again. This time though, I had come armed with an offer. Brion had his number, I had mine, and we were a little ways apart. I explained my position, that I wouldn't be using most of the things on the car. He explained his, that this was the number that made sense for him to part with it. And it had little to do with the value of the car itself. His number was actually very fair though and we agreed to go back to our respective corners and think it over. By the time I made it home though, I'd thought enough about it. I had to have the car. The next day I shot him one more text with a simple question: Would he meet me in the middle of our two numbers? His response: "I will draft up a bill of sale this afternoon. You can take the car as early as tomorrow." SHIT.

Literally can't wait to throw these fenders into the nearest poorly-guarded construction site dumpster. 

I didn't sleep very well that night of course, but I made it through. The next day I waited for Brion's text, which came slightly earlier than he'd indicated the day before. Luckily my trailer was already hooked up (of course) and I blasted out the door without so much as a "see ya later" to my (very understanding) wife, who knew this was coming and had already written the day off as a loss I'm sure. 

She's in good company now.

Once at Brion's I was met with a mountain of boxes of spare parts he had collected that all went with the car. I loaded the Roadster on the trailer, strapped it down and then started loading the parts into the bed of my truck. I shook Brion's hand, thanked him for the 100th time for selling me his car and went to leave. Then I noticed there was still one last thing left to load, it sat there leaned against the trailer: It was the spare tire cover I had sold Brion 6 months earlier, the part that started the whole thing. I thought about that for a second, kind of shook my head, put it in my truck, jumped in and hit the road. Life is strange..

 

This is how a proper 1936 Roadster should look. And this is where mine will be headed.. 

 

 

 

5 comments

Bret Davis

Great story and awesome car. Funny how things like this play out. Look forward to seeing the progress.

Manuel Miranda

That is a beautiful car. And you are right. That’s the only way a 36 Roadster should look. Wish I could afford one. I found a couple of five windows in rough condition 12k for the both. Too much work for this seventy year old.

Kevin Burton

Congrats on a great car Jake. Always love the stories, and you do a great job of tellin’ em. Looking forward to watching the build!

Mark Drumm

Nice story, lovely car. 💯

Billy Phillips

Love the story and I’m super pumped for you. I hope I can tell a similar story one day about the ‘33 roadster I found. That’s my dream car that I want.

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