Automobilia Familia: Or, I Was A Brougham-Era Lot Boy

the-driver

Today’s post is by none other than my uncle, Dave Klockau. TK

In the late 1800s a sailor in the German Navy by the name of Wilhelm Johann Klockau, decided to jump ship in New York harbor and made his way to Rock Island, IL where he got a job as a blacksmith. His family trade in Germany was coach building. He later bought the carriage shop he worked at which eventually became the Klockau Garage. He was my Great Grand Daddy gear head, so we have him to thank for our family affliction.

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Your first car, your parents car, your brothers car, in short, the cars in your family all become automotive benchmarks in your life. I was born in the late ’50s -a late blooming baby boomer. Baby bloomer? So it was the early 60s and my Dad was driving your basic Buick business sedan (ED: a 1961 or ’62 Electra 225,–TK), but my Mom had a 1959 Pontiac Catalina convertible in a bright violet with white top and interior. This was the first car that really grabbed my attention-and fingers. It had doors like a bank vault, and I nearly lost a finger slammed in it once. My oldest brother Chris later inherited it when Mom got a 65 Mustang convertible from our Ford dealer neighbor. Chris, being the first of my brothers to “go gear head,” hot-rodded it up with Tri-Power and headers and it became the Purple Dragon. I know it had a magneto because when he would pull up in the driveway our TV signal would go squirrelly. All of a sudden Captain Ernie’s face would melt…

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Now I skipped over my sister Bobbie, the oldest of us four kids, I being the youngest. Before Chris got the purple dragon, they shared some mid-’50s BMW convertible; it most likely was a 503 as it had a rear seat that actually accommodated adults. I was like 4 or under so I’m kind of hazy on this. But I do remember the wind in my rug rat face with Bobbie blasting through the gears.

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Then came my brother Johnny (ED: My Dad–TK), who owned a whole stable of pony cars and euro rides…a ’65 Mustang convertible in Poppy Red with white interior–and a six–a black-over-white ’67 GTO with factory Hurst shifter and added Tri-Power, and for a very brief time (like one day) a choice Marina Blue 1968 Corvette convertible–until Dad got the insurance quote. “Take it back, Johnny!” Later on he got a brand-new Grabber Yellow 1970 Boss 302 from Bob Neal Ford. After high school graduation, he and his best friend Dan took it on a road trip out West–and had the chrome Magnum 500s and Polyglas tires stolen while sitting in a parking garage in Denver!

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Thanks to the combined influences of my Sister, The Beatles, and a neighbor with  a Triumph Spitfire, John then got into a BRG ’65 Triumph TR3. But after much repair work, swearing, and tool-throwing he gave up on the Brit car and switched to a Porsche 356 Roadster. A wise choice, and after several, he remains a Porschephile to this day. You’ve heard of the Zen book of auto repair? Well John invented the art of swearable auto repair. Try it some time; it works. Both of my brothers would try to scare their dorky little brother when riding in their cars By “getting on it.” Chris notably in either of his GTOs and later in a ’68 navy blue Mercury Cyclone 428 CobraJet and John in his GTO and Boss Mustang.

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We actually went up Watch Hill Road sideways in the GTO as Johnny smoked those Mickey Thompson 50 series tires all the way looking at me to see if I was freaking out. I was laughing hysterically like a 12 year old maniac so he gave up. You see the gear head gene is strong in our family, and I was taking notes for my future street adventures. Our friendly neighbor Ford dealer brought home an AC Cobra for my Dad, and he took my Mom for a short but screaming ride up 31st Ave. hill. The Cobra went back to the dealer…Dad finally dumped the Buick for a ’66 Connie sedan and became a solid Lincoln man for the rest of his days, with a number of Continentals and Marks.  One of his favorites–and mine–was a ’72 Lincoln Mark IV with a dark green finish and green leather interior, plus the 460 under the hood.

Before I move on, a special mention for my sister Bobbie. She was kind of the back up Matriarch in our family, as she rode herd on her little brothers and helped Mom keep us in line; especially John. She also had the gear head gene, and was fast off the line if she was driving a stick. Example: my brother’s Boss 302 was mothballed while he was a freshman in college and he asked Bobbie to take it out now and then to keep the plugs from fouling. She was pregnant with my niece Alex when we were driving the Boss to get Arby’s on 23rd Ave in Moline. Some teenage boys in a Chevelle started gunning their engine at a stoplight and Bobbie absolutely smoked them. “Don’t tell Johnny.” Yeah, right.

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Bobbie later had a beautiful 67 pale yellow Mustang GT convertible, with a stick of course. By the time I hit 12 I was seriously into cars: Big cars, slot cars, model cars, car shows, following Bruce McLaren in Can-Am and Mark Donahue in Tran-Am, and Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins in Pro-Stock. I once built the nirvana of model kits, the notorious Visible V-8. Never could get it to run though. Did anyone ever? And it was around this time that I began studying how to drive a car, especially a stick.

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I watched my brothers and sister, and future Bro-in-Law Ron like a hawk. Asking questions about the throw, the sweet spot, giving clutch and throttle, dropping the clutch, dumping the clutch, synchromesh, linkage, etc…Finally, when I was 14, my brother Chris took me up to a an empty local school parking lot with his girlfriend’s Maverick with manual everything; brakes, steering, and of course a 3 on the tree.

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I managed to get it in gear and moving, however we weaved around that lot like one of those trick Shriner parade cars with my brother laughing hysterically, and much sweating and teeth gnashing by me…or maybe that was the gears. Yes it was quite the clutch BBQ. Amazingly his girlfriend later married him. After all, it was only a Maverick. My Brother-in-law Ron explained the whole clutch mystery the best and demonstrated on their German-made ’71 Mercury Capri with a 2.6 V-6. Red with black vinyl top and interior. Very cool car!

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And then I landed a 15 year old gear heads dream job: Lot Boy at Bob Neal Ford in Rock Island, IL in 1973 (sound familiar Paul?). I drove everything on the lot from a DeTomaso Pantera with the 351 Cleveland to a Continental Town Car to the Pintoed-up Mustang II Ghia, and everything in between. 

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Remember the Maverick Grabber? I remember prepping a special order once; White with orange striping; 302 V-8 and orange plaid interior-The Herb Tarlek Edition. I finally learned to drive a clutch on of all things, a Ford F100 pickup. Truck clutches were way more forgiving. When work was slow we used to do “road tests” with the used cars at a nearby cemetery.

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One memorable road test was a 70’s Trans-Am with a factory stick and a 455. Wow, that bird could corner! But the previous owner had inundated the interior with Brut, and I was gagging at the end of the ride. But the best job perk was TV Movie Fridays. The dealer would sponsor a weekend movie on a local TV station and do a live demo of select cars during the movie breaks. The lot boys and sales folks would drive the cars to the studio and then shuttle back to bring the next batch. All of this was done at a high rate of speed to see who could make it to the studio first. The lot boys vs. the sales folks. Okay, salesmen; it was ’73 and no sales women yet.

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One day, I remember running to a nice Mustang Mach 1 but one of the sales guys–Virgil, I think–pushed me away and threw me the keys to a sorry looking 68 Thunderbird. But it was a sleeper with a 429 4-barrel under the hood and I blew Virgil’s doors off! We got to the studio and we both had a look under the hood. Never judge a ‘Bird by its feathers…speaking of ‘Birds, my first car to drive regularly when I got my license was my Mother’s navy blue ’65 T-Bird convertible with a white leather interior and a 390 4-barrel.

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But of course, I needed my own wheels and picked out a ’71 bright blue Mustang fastback with a humble 302. Drove that car all thru high school and into freshman year of college. Only repairs were ball joints and a quirky starter cable that would work itself loose. Hauled a lot of music gear in it, and my buddy Garv left an indelible stain on the inside passenger door after some serious over-consumption of schnapps at Prom. Garv, Del and I drove that car all over Colorado on our first post-high school road trip; on limited-use mountain roads that were labeled: off road vehicles only.  We took the air cleaner off so it could breathe.

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Then when I was 19 and in my Sophomore year of college my Dad asked me how many miles were on the Mustang, and I told him around 60,000. He said it was time for a new car and to go pick something out with low miles. Of course, I found a low-mile ’74 Z-28 with the HO 350, Muncie shifter and the Borg-Warner “rock crusher” tranny. Dark blue with split-white hood stripe, black interior, plus Cragar SS mags. Now, it is well documented that by the mid 70s the Detroit muscle cars were getting de-tuned; lower compression = lower HP.

But this car would smoke the tires in all 4 gears. What’s up? I learned later the car was owned by a local drag strip guy named Andy Voss, who drove this as his “street car.” It didn’t have a cam or anything else I could ID, but it just didn’t sound “stock.”It was a lot of fun, and I buried the speedo once; also learned the hood tie down pins really are a good idea.

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However, all good fun comes to an end. I totaled it in the Summer of ’77. A Ford Country Squire station wagon with two kids on board turned in front of me against a green light on my way to my job as a zookeeper one morning. I was doing about 50 when we collided. Luckily, the kids were just scratched up, and their mother the driver was okay too. My guardian angel was on duty that morning. I had no seat belt on and would have been dead if not for the following chain of events. I was in a hurry when I left home and pulled my seat all the way forward to unload my drum set from a job the night before. I don’t know why I didn’t move my seat back after I got into my car, and that was what saved me. The top of my thick German head connected with the headliner frame above the windshield and my rubber nose caught the top of the steering wheel and bent it into the shape of a taco shell. My nose was a little numb after the collision but no other injuries. My fast-time; fun-time Camaro looked like a big blue accordion. After exchanging our insurance info and talking to the cops, I walked over to my car. The engine was still running…faithful to the end. My cassette player was also still playing and swinging by the volume knob; I think it was Stone Blue by Foghat. I killed the engine and stopped the music. So long, old friend.

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I’m sure I missed a few, but those were the cars of my life as I was growing up. In more recent times, my fun cars have included a 1986 Audi Quattro 4000 and Otto, my former ’69 Porsche 912 Targa. Along with an ’85 Subaru GL 4X4 wagon and a ’95 S-10 Blazer that refuses to die. Currently we have a bright red 2004 Audi A4 Quattro with 100,000+ miles which my lovely wife Lori will drive until it falls apart. The next generation in our family loves cars too, and we attend many car shows together. My daughter Sara and her husband Tyson will soon have their restored ’56 Beetle–I mean Type 1–on the road later this year.

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My current fun car and daily driver is an ’07 Beetle convertible, red with tan top and cream interior.  There’s nothing like dropping the top and heading out to a nearby Iowa rural road and blasting Won’t Get Fooled Again at maximum volume. My Mom would have loved it…