My First Car: A Passion Inherited from a Momma Gearhead

For the month of June, we’ve posed the question to our readers “Why did you buy your first project/street car?” because we want to showcase the stories that helped shaped the enthusiasts. Eric R. grew up around cars, and that’s mainly thanks to the influence of his mom’s passion for rally racing British sports cars. When it came time to get behind the wheel, he had some big plans of his own, and to this day, he keeps a memento of his mom’s passion for cars close!

Why did I buy my first project car?

By Eric R.

It’s odd that so many years into this hobby that it never occurred to me to seriously ask myself that question. Why?

The easiest answer I think is that growing up I was always surrounded by performance vehicles. What surprises most people I think  is that those vehicles were not my dad’s, but my mom’s. Prior to my birth she used to rally race British sports cars so throughout my youth we always had a sportscar in the family. On the mantelpiece of our fireplace were a half dozen trophies she had acquired over the years. She once told me she had to give up racing when she could no longer fit into her Bugeye Sprite while carrying me.

The first car I can recall was a Triumph Spitfire, the Bugeye having departed while I was a toddler. I can recall the classic childhood meme of sitting on your parents lap, steering wheel in hand, while they handled the rest of the details of driving and it was in the Spitfire. The Spitfire was later followed by a Fiat 124 Spider and then finally by my favorite, an Austin-Healey 3000.

The Austin-Healey I often declare was my first car, I drove it more often than my Mom did, I drove it to school, to work, through rain and snow. I was even driving it when it chucked a rod through the side of the block. I think it was at that point I was hooked on cars. Now there is of course a rather sizable disconnect between British sports cars and American Muscle.

My first car that was registered in my name was a 1970 Chevy Vega, ok still a sizeable disconnect, and it was this car that I cut my teeth on. To this day the core of my toolset is a set of tools my mom used when she rebuilt the Spitfire’s engine. We found the car at a local gas station where a friend of my mom’s worked, he had this nauseating metallic green Vega hatchback for sale, which my mom bought for me for $150.

Now this was 1977, my dream was a V8 swap, being of course the hot ticket at the time. However, I was also infected by my mom’s love of cars that handled, and despite the horrible reputation of the Vega, it was actually a decent handling car. My first steps were driving wood screws into the rubber bushings to stiffen them up (poly bushings weren’t all that common yet), cutting springs down to get a lower ride height, and buying set after set of shaved retreads because the retreads were a ton stickier than the bias ply tires I could otherwise afford as a McDonalds employee.

I ran the car at the local autocross with some success and had a great time, but the V8 swap never happened, in that respect it was a disappointment, I learned an awful lot on that car, rebuilt some things that in hindsight should have never worked but fortunately for me, did. It also was the car that I was driving when I made some friends who to this day I hang out with, wrench with, go to car shows with and generally sit around drinking beer and endlessly benchrace with.

In later years I went from that Vega, to a ’77 Olds Starfire with the odd-fire V6, to a ’82 Camaro Z28 then to a 1970 big-block Monte Carlo, a ’72 Camaro, a couple of Corvette’s and most recently my ’66 El Camino. Each had their own attraction to me, each had their own strengths.

Most importantly though it’s a tie to my mom who at just over 80 years old still enjoys a spirited drive. So if you are in Colorado and see a gray haired lady in a BMW Z4 carving up mountain roads with a wicked grin on her face, wave, that’s my mom.

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