A Long Time Coming
Cars and baseball were the goalposts of my youth. Born and raised in the Motor City, I am the son of an autoworker, and every kid on my block was the same, except for the children of our neighborhood’s three dissenters, a police officer and two bread-truck drivers. Coming of age in the late 1960’s & early ‘70’s, I was enthralled with Detroit’s creations and for years marked down the calendar towards my 16th birthday when I could earn a driver’s license. On summer days my brother I would drag lawn chairs down to the main street a couple houses away and sit for hours watching cars, yelling out the cool ones as they passed by. No policeman on any beat could identify a car – year, make and model – as well as we could. Unlike today’s generic offerings in white and silver, those cars had pizzazz. They were styled with verve, and painted in myriad colors.
As much as I admired Corvettes, Mustangs and Camaros, the car that always caught my eye and made me wish was the trim, sporty import from England, the Triumph TR6. To me it had business-like lines, with just enough flair to make it stylish. The large wheels set it apart from other import sports cars, and the tires, in conjunction with the tight body, gave it a Detroit-muscle-marries-British-roadster look.
But before I could own one, life took me in other directions. College, career, marriage, and raising a family made those hot summer days watching cars on Warren Avenue seem too distant to recall.
On November 15, 2011, after nursing a sore throat for a few months, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in my pharynx. I was 52. I had spent the last 25 years working as a firefighter and raising five children with my wife. I left the doctor’s office in stunned disbelief. Looming ahead was the heart-wrenching task of telling my kids, especially my youngest sons, aged 8 and 10.
It was a hard half hour, that discussion. But to keep our spirits up, and the tears at bay, I promised that I would beat this disease and to celebrate we would buy a Triumph TR6 and restore it. Maybe it was the fact that my sons were the same age I was when I first fell for the TR6 that made me think of it. Maybe it was simply the right time. I started my treatment a few days before Christmas. Although in a new world, so-to-speak, I was hopeful; my doctors were confident and very skilled.
In March of 2012, while recovering from chemo and radiation, I went to Florida with my brother to visit my fathers. While down there, I was scouring the internet for TR6s along the route, hoping to find a car from the South, away from the rust of my home state. The finely restored models were beyond my means. I have done most of the work on my cars since I was old enough to turn a wrench, so a fixer-upper did not scare me. I ended up finding a 1976 model in St. Augustine. The body looked good, but there was some frame rust and the engine was grimy and rough sounding. I bought it anyway and had it shipped up to Michigan.
My sons were thrilled. By the time the car arrived, they knew as much about TR6s as I did. They were into it, they were ready. I put the standard amount of work into it that an old car long in disuse needed; tires, brakes, fuel pump, some welding to patch the frame and a host of other small fixes. But all along we drove it, and drove it a lot. We discovered the joy of driving a convertible, the wind and sun on our faces. The next fall, the camshaft, starved for oil despite continual checking and adding of oil, seized up in the journals and cracked the block. An engine overhaul was on the way.
It was spring of 2014 before I installed the overhauled engine. We worked many hours on the car, together. My boys are a bit older now, and they, like me decades earlier, are anxiously awaiting their magic 16th birthdays. I put 7500 miles on it between the installation of the new engine and laying it up for winter. It is my daily driver from late April until the first salt hits the roads in late November.
I continue to tinker with it. But it is a fun type of work. It is a great car and it has added joy to driving and traveling. Instead of cruising on the freeways for 3 hours to get to our cabin in Northern Michigan, I take someone along and go the country roads, top down. It is just one of the many things that make a life fun.
The doctors feel that we defeated my cancer. It was a challenging 9 months off work, confined to home, recovering. My family and friends got me through. I would sit in my chair and read, doze, and daydream back to my days of watching cars, listening to the Detroit Tigers and admiring Triumphs. It took me quite a few years to finally obtain one. But it was worth the wait.