Yes, that would be yours truly, alongside a 1971 Grand Prix. I was two years old at the time – and had already driven said car. Twice.
Last time the CC Kids bandwagon rolled through, I decided not to hop on. My Curbside Classic contributorship had only yielded about three posts to date, so I figured it’d be best if folks got to know me a bit before delving into those models dearest to me, much less cracking open the family photo album.
But now, with some forty posts under my belt, I suppose it’s as good a time as any.
At the risk of boring you all with too much background, let me say that the automotive bug bit me early.
Despite growing up in modest surroundings, my parents always took great care to make the most of what we had. Our house may not have been huge or modern, but it was always well-kept and clean, right down to the neatly trimmed lawn and shrubbery. Things like birthday cakes and backyard toys were homemade, but that wasn’t a problem – they were great. And my father, a mechanic, always took pride in keeping the family vehicles a cut above.
Our family never bought new vehicles. We never needed to. Dear old Dad had a real knack for seeing the potential in certain older vehicles. He’d routinely turn what first appeared to be a jalopy into a gem we were proud to call our own.
There were never any six-banger sedans in our driveway… no sir! Three different Grand Prixes, a Firebird, and a Chevelle all graced our garage at one time or another. I myself came home for the first time in an orange ’73 Nova RS.
Even when the time came for more doors, we didn’t do it in the usual way.
My old man fell in love with his first Grand Prix – a ’71 with a 455, cream interior, and a slightly roughed-up body. He saw in it the same things I’d come to discover as I got older: it was sporty, yet classy; had horsepower and torque to spare; had plenty of room for a tall guy and his family to ride in comfort; and was something unique, without so much as a hint of “me too” about it.
Here’s the lead picture one more time, to bring us back around. It was shot a couple months after the bodywork was completed, and just hours after the rebuilt motor had been reinstalled.
There was no hoist in our garage back then, and no rafter strong enough to support the hefty Poncho long-block, so my old man had to get creative. He put some very large boards across two fat oak trees in the backyard, 10′ off the ground, with enough room for a car to fit between them. This became the “motor pulling tree”. Roll the car up to it, use the come-along to lift the motor out, roll the car away, back the pickup in, lower the motor, bring it into the garage. Reinstallation was pretty much the opposite.
The engine rebuild took place in the family garage, like so many before and after. Dad would work on it each evening after work, buying the needed parts a few at a time, and within a couple weeks it would be ready to go back in.
Remember when I said I’d driven the car twice by the time that picture was taken? It’s true! I remember it well… me struggling to see over the three-spoke, woodgrain-trimmed Pontiac steering wheel, aiming the car while the old man pushed it towards the “motor pulling tree”. Nothing in my life up to that point had made me prouder. Best of all, after the rebuild I would get to do it again!
That was the first of three Grand Prixes my dad would end up having throughout my childhood – a pair of ’72s would join it in the years to come. Sadly, health issues would later force Dad to sell off all three.
But that is not the end of the Thelen GP saga – not even close! The groundwork has now been laid for several future COALs, including my ’71 SJ, seen here in “barn fresh” condition several years ago.
So many stories to tell! Growing up with the cars, chasing parts and compiling “the stash”, build sheet bingo, unearthing one of our “original three” ten years later, hunting for – and finding – the perfect Prix, and all the other cars and characters I stumbled upon in the process. Where to begin…?