My Car Quest

September 21, 2020

Fiction: The Car in the Barn

by Wallace Wyss –

He was told by his Uncle Val to go to the old farm and check it out. His uncle, down in San Francisco, would buy properties all over the State, especially from heirs who had neglected them, say city folks who didn’t know what to do with an old farm.

Now Brad didn’t really like leaving the city, where he had his foreign car shop, car projects and tools, and parts arriving every day and whatnot, but in his family it was understood that you did what Uncle Val said, if you wanted to stay named in his will, right?

The farmhouse was a two bedroom and the heat was, can you believe it—a damn wood burning stove. He stayed one night but was kept awake because each time the fire went out he had to go out in the living room and shove in a bunch more logs.

The only thing interesting in the house was a fine art print of a logging operation, he’d have to check it out see if the artist became famous so maybe it’d be worth something. Oh, and a rifle, a lever action carbine like he’d seen in the Western movies. He’d have a gun shop check it out see if it was still shootable.

Now out in the barn was something interesting. It was an old custom car. He recognized it as a Lincoln Zephyr though it had been heavily customized. And lots of car magazines, the magazines wrapped in plastic but still moldy and smelly. Titles like CAR CRAFT, Custom Car, Rod & Custom, Hot Rod, and on an on. All from the the mid ‘50s. Now he himself was into exotic sports cars, like Alfas, Ferraris, stuff like that, even though his present budget only extended to cover one Ferrari–a 308GT4, a V8 powered mid engine Ferrari from the ‘70s, a model sort of shunned by the Ferrari community because of its doorstop side profile, courtesy of Carrozzeria Bertone.

Lincoln Zephyr

Once he got into cleaning out the barn, he uncovered the Lincoln. He was a kid in the ‘70s but didn’t remember ever seeing anything like this. It had curves, like some of the foreign cars he’d worked on.

He had to go back to the city and receive all his packages and check his messages but then he came back out to the farm. It was spring now and he looked forward to being able to drive that old wreck into the little village on the coast, a tourist trap but deservedly so because the inhabitants had kept the town looking like it had 100 years ago. No Burger Kings. No In-and-Outs. No McDonalds.

It took him a month to get the old Linc running. He’d used Marvel mystery oil to unstick the rings and a new battery, and replaced all the spark plugs, the oil and hoses. He ordered everything off Amazon, so he wouldn’t have to find the local shops.

He thought about painting it. Now the old dude who had lived there, he had never finished the car. It as in a flat red primer. After awhile he thought, y’know it looks good in primer. Maybe deciding to keep it that way pushed him into the “rat rod” category but what the hey, he’d never drive it to a Ferrari club meeting. Maybe he’d buy a black leather jacket with lots of zippers like Marlon Brando wore in that movie The Wild Ones, learn to smoke a cigarette dangling at a precarious angle and buy one of those semi-officer style visored caps.

He already had a tattoo or two, jeans and “wife beater” T-s and dungarees with a chain to anchor his wallet. He began reading the old magazines more and more and had to admit he had had an epiphany of sorts. Whereas at one time he thought there was no metal bender better than Scaglietti, doing Ferraris and no better car designer than Scaglioni, with the BAT Alfa prototypes, now he was beginning to think the American hot rod builders had gotten short shrift guys like Cushenberry, Barris, Jeffries.

He was kind of digging these simple old engines and wiring. Hell, at the shop the other day a customer had brought in a Ferrari SF90 to show it off and he was shocked when the steering wheel was chock full of lit up buttons and the dashboard had a damn video screen. It was time he got out of car repair because he didn’t like the way things were going—to electronics, every damn car.

The first day he drove the Linc, he marveled at the radio. He believed it was a tube radio, before they had transistors. It only played ‘50s songs. He wondered, if a tube blew, where would he find another? He hammered on the dash but it was stuck on one station and the station only played oldies, even oldies commercials. If he heard one more playing of Only You by the Platters, he’d take a sledgehammer to it.

The first drive he didn’t even get to town. Two tires blew simultaneously and then he realized the tires were ancient, aged, cracked. Couldn’t take even 50 mph. He had the car towed back to the barn.

He dug further and miraculously found four tires, the right size, wrapped up almost hermetically. They would do.

It had been two months now. He felt guilty. He knew his uncle was waiting for a report on what the house needed so he could flip it, and then buy another property with a view of the sea. This one was too far inland, hell five or six miles, nothing but trees all around.

He finally finished mounting the tires, with much sweat and strain, and one bruised thumb the result and started her up again. The same damn radio station. He went down the dirt roads which led in a maze through the forest and got into town.

It really was ‘50s. He hadn’t noticed that before, how much the townspeople worked on it. He went into a burger joint and laughed. Not only did they have the polished tile floor and everything stainless steel or formica but the prices were laughably cheap—25 cents for a burger. Ten cents for a coke. He figured, “what the hell, it’s some kind o promotion” and went for it. The girl behind the counter, in a short miniskirt, peered at his coins oddly but took them.

He sat down and listened to the jukebox. Yeah an old Wurlitzer. And of course all the tunes were ‘40s, or ‘50s every damn one of them. He found one he liked “Learnin’ the Blues” by Frank Sinatra and put in the quarter.

He saw a discarded newspaper on another table and swiped it. It said something about James Dean, and an accident. He smiled. OK the joke was on him, the restaurant not only had vintage prices but vintage newspapers.

He went outside, carrying a cuppa java and lit up a cig, balancing on his lower lip the way Dean did in the Fifties. They must be filming a movie, he thought, the whole town has nothing on the street but ‘40s and ‘50s cars. But nothing like his of course. He had found the old bills in the car put there by the former owner. His had work by George Barris, and Gene Winfield. And striping by Dean Jeffries. And sponge rubber dice, and a shackled stance, low over the back tires.

He took out his cell phone. He had to tell Jerry about this back in LA. But the phone didn’t work. He stopped at a newsstand. Again the ‘50s papers. Again the headlines.

He stopped a lady going by with a 10 year old kid. “What’s the date today?” he asked her. She looked at him suspiciously. “Why September 30, 1955,” she said.

He stopped cold. Sure he liked Fifties cars and Fifties clothes and Fifties music but…

Wallace Wyss

 
 
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is a fine artist specializing in portraits of classic cars. He can be reached regarding commissions at mendoart7@gmail.com

 
 
 
 
 

Comments

  1. Walter Eisenstark says

    Ever been to WASHINGTON, CA.? Last time there, a few years ago, it was still the 60’s. If there was a barber in town he couldn’t make a living, no one got a hair cut. One road in same road out. Caution if you follow your GPS, you may wind up on a one lane dirt road suitable only for off road vehicles.

  2. wallace wyss says

    I don’t want to give away the location just yet but James Dean starred in a feature filmed there…though that might have been set in an earlier pre-car era, I did an earlier srory on MCQ that shows a car going down the main street

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