Improbable Dream

I love the song “The Quest,” from the musical Man of Lamancha. It’s better known as The Impossible Dream. Sung by the title character, an old man who takes upon himself the name Don Quixote de Lamancha. He also shoulders the quest to right all wrongs, lift up the downtrodden, and punish the wicked. He is considered insane the others, and that is the point of the original Spanish book written centuries ago, by Miguel Cervantes and second in popularity only to the Bible in Spain.

One of the evidences that he is crazy is that he is old. Dreams are for the young and impetuous. By that reasoning, I am certifiably loony. I had an, if not impossible, at least highly improbable dream in high school, and in a quieter form it has never left me. I dreamed of a custom car, the only one of its kind in the world. It would be built from a 1939 Mercury coup I had purchased from my brother. The little car was way cute enough in its original state to justify restoring it, but I could see crouched inside its form a sports car waiting to spring forth.

I bought a hack saw, a pair of tin snips, later a small welder and a few more tools and commenced the liberation of the car within.

With infinitely more enthusiasm than skill I cut off the top of the car making a tantalizing convertible. I found then that the top was part of what kept the bottom from buckling and squeezing in the doors so they wouldn’t open or close. I fabricated reinforcements to correct that.

I “chopped” the top as we said in those days to make the car lower and sleeker. Now the top looked good, but the body was too thick. With the trusty tin snips and hack saw I “sectioned” six inches out of the middle. It now looked low and sleek, but too long. So I shortened it by ten inches losing the small back seat which I now used for the front seat since the original front seats were too high.

Shortening it involved the serious business of cutting the frame and re-welding it. While I was down there, I “stepped” the frame a few inches to make the car hug the ground. Hug it did. Watch out for anything higher than a manhole cover. I also had a machine shop shorten the drive shaft.

The old Ford engine was too underpowered, and too high to fit under the hood, so later I replaced it with a low, rumbling Chevy V/8.

The top didn’t fit anymore, so I stretched an old Studebaker hard top to fit. I fastened on with the locking device from an old ford convertible. Other adaptations included a hydraulic brake cylinder from a Chevy truck, tail lights from a Pontiac, steering wheel from a later ford (a mistake, I see now the old one looked better) a racing shift mechanism since I had to cut off the floor mounted gear shift lever that now hit the dashboard. I shifted gears using the stubby remaining post with my foot for awhile, but this left me one foot short to work the clutch or brake and the accelerator.

The project was going wonderfully until I hit a snag. I had to put it all back together. I discovered my destruction talent far exceeded my construction skill. I found that poring over custom car magazines at the drug store every month had almost prepared me to change a windshield wiper blade, but not restore a dismembered car.

The magazines had kept the fire of my vision burning. One picture in particular. It jumped out at me like the sirens beckoned Ulysses. (See the ancient Greek story or the movie “Oh Brother Where Art Thou”)The photo was so close to the car I was trying to build. Unfortunately it was in a book not a magazine. But some chances come only once in a lifetime. I plunked down lunch money for a week and bought the book. I dog-eared that page for years staring at that car. In my dream the parts strewn around our back yard resurrected into this vision on the page. Like Ezekiel in the Bible seeing the dry bones rise up and live again.

Finally I got the pieces assembled and running enough to drive about 180 miles to Vernal Utah where I had got a job at a service station. Along the way I was pulled over by a highway patrolman. Bless my innocent soul, I could not imagine why. I wasn’t speeding. He opened our conversation. “What in h___ is this contraption?” Shortly into my explanation I sensed he didn’t really want to know.

Safety inspections had been invented a few years before, and my “car” was noticeably lacking a sticker, also the ability to get one. The patrolman was basically an understanding man who probably had a lunatic son of his own at home. When I told him how I needed the summer work for college (note the time passage. I had finished high school, a mission and some college and was still sawing, welding, bending, and figuring) he told me to get out of his sight and never appear on his highway again. I kept my promise. I came home at the end of the summer at night, assuming he was off shift by then.

Life goes on at an ever quickening pace. I could still get a lick in between books, basketball, wife seeking, and other extra curricular activities of college. Later my patient wife and inquisitive toddler sons supported my habit. But soon the spare moments got sucked up in the necessities of providing and presiding that come with husband and fatherhood.

I wisely evaluated my shortage of time, money, and skill. I disposed of my adolescent dream and went on to mature responsibilities.

Sort of.

Years later I was presenting a program in Southern California. As is my daily custom I went jogging the next morning after my show. With no better option, I was running across paved parking lots and industrial building drive ways when I happened to glance to my left. An auto body shop happened to be in my line of sight. .It’s garage door happened to be open. Inside happened to be the car, the car in the book, the vision of my teenage dreams. Quick left turn, breathless dash to the car, stammered question, where? How? What?” I blurted.”

“This is a custom car from up in Pasadena, the mechanic replied. “It was built from a Ford convertible back in the ‘40’s. Some guy had it stored for about half a century. He finally sold it, and the new owner wants us to fix it up. You like it?”

I tried to explain. No way. I pictured myself behind the wheel. I came within an eyelash of breaking into a full throated rendition of, “To dream the impossible dream, to love pure and chaste from afar…” I thought better of it and ran off again at a revived pace humming.

Back home I went to the storage/hiding place where I keep my improbable dream. I stroked her fender gently, looked with the eye of imagination at the singular sports car still stretching its wings to fly. And sang softly, “And the world will be better for this, that one man scorned and covered with scars, still strove with his last ounce of courage, to build the impossible car.”