CC Story: Passion for a Car Leads to Jail Time

I saw Wade virtually every morning, five days per week.  Wade worked at the 7-11 down the street from my house.  I stopped there for coffee and a doughnut on the way to work.  I am an early riser, and was often one of the only customers in the store that early.

We hit it off right away.  He once made a comment about my car and we quickly realized we were both car-lovers.  After that, Wade and I usually talked about cars for at least a minute or three each time I stopped in.  Over time, I got to know Wade fairly-well.  He lived alone and had no kids.  He walked to work, so I asked why he didn’t drive.  He said he lived close by, and that he was saving up for his dream car.

His dream was an old Lotus or Triumph, or any older British sports car.  I can’t remember the story, but something about being a little boy and going for a ride in one.  I teased him about needing a good mechanic before he even started looking for a British sports car.   Each morning, we talked about reliability issues, rust, Lucas electrics and lots of other issues.  He knew all the potential problems.  He was steadfast, his dream was a little sports car in British Racing Green.

One morning he told me he found an Austin-Healey he liked, but it was sold before he could line up a way to go buy it.  I started helping with the search, and even offered to drive him wherever he needed to go.  About a month later he surprised me with a picture of a 1970 MGB GT.  It was already his!  A co-worker drove him a couple towns over to look at it.  It was not running, but he bought it anyway, and rode back in the tow truck.

He showed me the pictures like a proud father.  The “GT” just meant that it had a fixed roof, otherwise it was just an MGB.  This particular one was in extremely poor condition and wasn’t even green!  It had been sitting, exposed to the elements for a long time.  The little four cylinder was not running and of course, there was rust.  It became obvious he was on a very limited budget and this was the best he could do. I was shocked, but I tried to be positive with my reaction.  But it didn’t matter, Wade was so happy, and excited about restoring it.

For more than two years he disassembled, cleaned or replaced every part.  Every nut was cleaned, every bolt was polished.  He found used parts on the internet and each payday he bought something.  When I stopped in for coffee he would update me on the progress of the night before: treating rust, sanding primer etc.  Every few weeks there was a bigger purchase: a steering wheel, a turn signal lens, new carpet.  He spent every waking minute thinking about that little car.

Wade’s life’s savings went in to this little MG.  He told me he saved two consecutive years of IRS refunds to pay for the paint work.  Of course, he chose British Racing Green.  It was obvious Wade loved his car, I‘ve never met anyone who put as much thought, time, effort, and energy into fixing up a car.  I remember his painful search for hard-to-find or expensive parts, some even came from England.  One long-awaited part had to be returned because of a mix-up, his was left, not right-hand-drive.

I got to see pictures of the engine being rebuilt in the shed behind his house.  The car was coming together very, very slowly.  Wade was a patient man.  That day would come when all his hard work would pay off.

It did after about three years.  I pulled into the convenience store parking lot early one morning and there it was. Sitting under a streetlight.  It was shining, but Wade was glowing just as brightly.  Smiling from ear to ear, he showed me around the car (no coffee got made that morning).  I was almost thirty minutes late to work.  The little green MG was parked at the 7-11 every weekday morning after that.

The events that happened about six months later are sketchy.  Here is what I know; Wade was very upset one Monday morning and told me his car was stolen at a local car show over the weekend.  He parked the car next to a Bugeye Sprite and walked around looking at all the other cars.  When he went back a couple hours later, it was gone.  Another car was parked in the spot where his MGB was.  No one remembered seeing anything unusual.  He was heartbroken.  He called the police, but the officer didn’t seem too concerned.  “Just an old car” the officer was overheard saying over the radio.

Wade seemed so depressed, but a week or so later his mood changed.  I’ll never forget what he said to me, almost in a whisper; “I found out some information about an MG chop-shop.” he said, “I’m going to go get my car back tonight.”  I wished him luck.  That it would be the last shift he would ever work at that convenience store.

The next morning when I stopped in for coffee, a different employee was at the register.  She knew nothing, but suggested the assistant manager who worked afternoons might know more.  Curiosity got the best of me.  After a couple days passed, I went in, in the afternoon.  I had seen this employee before, and she half-recognized me.  She said Wade had been arrested for battery and trespassing.  It was related to the theft of his  MG.  He attacked a man who had a disassembled green MGB GT in his garage.  It was a different car, a case of mistaken car-identity.  A weird coincidence.

I guess I was asking too many questions, because she stopped giving answers.  She asked who I was.  She became even more suspicious when I asked for Wade’s phone number.  I don’t think she believed I was a friend.  She said that if I was such a good friend I would already know his phone number and address.  I didn’t even know Wade’s last name.  I never asked him what his last name was.  His name tag said “Wade” and that was all I knew.  In the months that followed I learned that he was never going back to 7-11 because of his public arrest records.

About five years passed and I had forgotten all about everything.  Then a funny thing happened one day.  I pulled up at a traffic light at and looked over at the beat up Accord in the left turn lane.  It was Wade, sitting in the passenger seat!  I honked and waved, and he put the window down.   We exchanged pleasantries and he said he was doing okay.  Their light turned green as I asked if he ever found his MG.  He smiled and said yes.  A car in line behind us was honking.  Their car began to pull forward, he said; “The guy who I bought it from, he had an extra key!” The last thing he yelled as he turned back to me, pulling away was “That guy’s son stole it!”

In all my life I have never considered that someone selling a car would keep a key – to steal the car back later.

I don’t know anything else.  I’ve never seen Wade again.  It is unusual that I’ve never seen that little green MGB GT around town either.  I guess the lesson learned is change the ignition key when you restore a car?  Or, don’t buy a used car too close to home?