Sunday, October 7, 2007

Under the dings and rust is

A Beautiful Car Waiting to Get Out...

It was after 8PM and dark outside when Gary Chitwood delivered the Opel GT to my house. I had to ask a neighbor from across the street to help Gary push the car up my driveway and into my garage. As it was a Thursday night, when I had to turn in early for work the next day, I didn't have the time to really look my 'new' car over. But it looked pretty darned good at first glance.

Although I knew I was getting this car for free after talking to Matt, I didn't want to tell my coworkers until I actually had it sitting in my garage, for fear of somehow jinxing the whole deal. When I did tell them, they couldn't believe it. Some of the guys wanted me to give it to them! I told them no way, I'm keeping this car for as long as I'm able to drive (can you imagine me at 75 or 80 driving this little va-va-voom sports car that'll be over 50 years old then?? LOL).

I finally got my chance to inspect it thoroughly when I got home from work that afternoon, and was extremely pleased (and surprised) with what I saw. As most people know, rust is the cancer that is most feared by all car owners, especially those with classic and vintage vehicles, and nothing's sadder to see than a once-beautiful old car completely consumed by rust. Not this one! Of course, my Opel has rust, but surprisingly, not that much.

The only truly significant areas are on the rear fenders, where it's eaten through the metal, but the rest of the body is almost completely untouched, and what there is is just surface rust. The floor is amazingly solid as a rock. And yes, it's got a few dings and dents, but again, not much; the biggest dent is the right front fender, directly over the tire. I have a feeling the body is going to be the easiest part of the restoration process. The glass is all good (the passenger door doesn't seem to have the glass window). The interior, though, is a different story altogether....

Looking at the inside of the car, even a kid could tell you at a glance that the interior is shot, and I mean shot. It's not as bad as I've seen in some cars, where the springs are poking up out of the upholstery and mice and rats have set up housekeeping in there and whatnot, but it's nothing to brag about, either. The headliner is ripped and hanging in places. The carpeting's not all there, and the passenger seat is gone along with the radio. The floor console, with the parking brake (which, by the way, is still very good), gear shift and headlight lever, is not firmly in place.

And the dashboard.... it looks like a dried-up lake bed, with long cracks running all over it. The steering wheel, which is made of wood (very cool), looks good, and the driver's seat is pretty decent--but it's scary at the same time. When Gary and my neighbor were pushing the car into the garage, I had to sit in the driver's seat and steer it. Going up the driveway, the driver's seat suddenly flew backwards, making it impossible for me to reach the brake pedal. Imagine that happening just as you're approaching a red light and all of a sudden being unable to reach the brake. Scarier than a horror flick! For sure, I'm not driving this baby until it's got new seats (and seatbelts) that stay firmly in place.

One thing I found somewhat disconcerting about sitting behind the wheel of this car is the fact that I can barely see over the hood. I don't remember it being like that when I had my first Opel, but then again, that was a good 30 years ago too. The Opel is only four feet in height and the seats are low (I'm just 5'2" tall) and for the seats to be any higher than they are, the driver's head would be touching or nearly touching the roof. I think I'm gonna need a booster seat for this one, ha ha.

I don't know how it is mechanically. Matt told me that when he first got it, he drove it once around the block and that was it. I'm sure that the gas tank will need to be drained completely and fresh gas put in; maybe new spark plugs and a battery, etc., etc. I do know the brakes need work and the tires replaced. As someone on the Opel Yahoo group pointed out, you have to be able to stop before you can go! I don't know what's up with the godawful green paint that looks as if it were smeared all over the nose, but it's gonna be GONE one of these days....

Overall, this little car, in spite of the rust and dings, is a real eye-catcher. I can see it for what it was once, a beautiful, curvaceous and sexy machine.. and hopefully will be again in time. On eBay, someone had a gorgeous canary yellow Opel GT up for auction, with TONS of info about the car itself and the Opel GT history (didja know that GM bought Opel about the time WWI was starting, and that it's owned it ever since, and still does? In spite of that, the Opel GT, and other models, like the Manta and Kadett, are 100% German made cars).

In that auction listing, the seller had posted a photo of the Corvette made about that same time for comparison purposes with his car. It's clear which one has the true sex appeal :-D as the Opel's curves are graceful and sinuous like a flamingo's neck, while the Vette's are sharp and angular.

When I do get around to having this car restored, I want to keep it 100% original. When it comes to old things, like furniture and cars and so on, I'm a purist at heart. I don't like the idea of customizing or modifying something just to make it more 'modern' or whatever, because I feel it devalues the item. For a truly rare vehicle, like the 30's-era Chrysler Airflow (only three in existence, and The Tonight Show's host, Jay Leno, has one), any kind of customizing or modification is a NO-NO!

Case in point: I've learned a lot about the preservation of antiques on the "Antiques Roadshow", and a lot of people find out their treasured early American highboy or blanket chest is worth far less than it would be, had the original finish not been stripped off. A hard lesson to learn, but one that I've taken completely to heart. I saw this one Opel GT on eBay that, in my opinion, had been ruined by this HUGE spoiler welded to the back end. *puke*

The only thing I might do differently in restoring this car is having red piping accent the seats and upholstery, but that's it. I want to keep everything else original, as if the car had just rolled off the assembly line in Germany back in 1972. I'd like to have it painted fire-engine red with a black interior, which I think would look soooo sharp and eye-catching.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Those sort of things just don't happen, folks!

When I graduated from high school, my parents and I realized that I would need a set of wheels to drive back and forth to my classes at Johnson County Community College, so in the summer of '77, we started shopping for a car. One day my dad, who had an uncanny knack for picking out good, reliable used cars, looked up from the classifieds section and asked me, "How would you like to go look at an Opel GT for sale?"

My reaction was, "UGH! An Opel GT? What the heck is that? I don't think I want one!" I'd never seen one, and it sounded like an ugly, pedestrian sort of vehicle, not unlike a Yugo. We went to see the car anyway. The moment I saw it sitting in the seller's driveway, however, I was immediately begging my dad to buy it. He did.

For the better part of a year, I drove that dark metallic green two-seater everywhere. I loved it for its sporty, curvaceous lines and cool, funky headlights that popped up in a clockwise motion with the pull of a lever on the floor console, near the four-speed manual stick. I had always thought that this little car, often called a 'baby Corvette' was far better looking than the Corvette of that period, a car with a sharp, angular lines. My beautiful '71 Opel GT came to a tragic end one day, a story I will tell later on.

Fast forward thirty years, to 2007. For over fourteen years, I was content to drive my 1990 Honda Civic Si hatchback, yet another car my dad had helped me find, and one that I love driving and one that, I am sure, will be a classic and collectible vehicle one day. As a matter of fact, I've had several people approach me asking to buy it, to which I politely but firmly said no.

For some strange reason, I started having a hankering for a classic car and began browsing the listings on Craigslist and eBay Motors, feeling a little bit sick whenever I came across something I wanted but knew I couldn't have because of financial constraints. I think this hankering started because I miss my mom (who died very suddenly and unexpectedly last year), and thinking about her caused me to think about the two 70's-era VW Beetle convertibles of hers that I grew up with and how much fun they were to ride in.

She was the one who taught me how to drive my '71 Opel (actually, my cousin Deana tried, with little success, to teach me using one of the Beetles). That Opel was all the incentive I needed to learn and master the stick shift tranny, and I did it in record time ;-)

Anyway, not long after I started browsing eBay Motors and Craigslist, I posted a 'wanted' message for an Opel GT on one of eBay's affiliate sites, I didn't really have much hope that someone would respond, so I promptly forgot all about it... until just over a week ago, when I got an email, sent through Kijiji, from a Matthew C. in Colorado Springs. He said he had a '72 Opel GT in decent condition sitting in his garage, and had not had the time to restore it, what with all the deployments to Iraq he'd been on. Excited, I immediately sent a reply saying that I was definitely interested in the car.

A few days passed. I had not yet gotten a reply back from Matt, so I looked up his phone number on and found it, then made the call. He was at home. I asked him for further details about the car. So far, good. I then asked him what he was looking to get out of it pricewise. I nearly fell out of my chair when he told me it was mine if I could pick it up. In other words, he was giving me the Opel FREE. I was totally stunned. How often does someone do that with a classic and collectible car?? Especially a sports car. I frequently browse the automotive listings on Craigslist and people want $400-500 for totally rusted out hulks that are missing vital parts like the engine/transmission, etc. According to Matt, this Opel was pretty much a complete car; he'd driven it around the block once when he first acquired it back in '02, but then put it away in the garage, where it sat for five years.

I told him I would accept the car and make arrangements to have it picked up and transported to Kansas. I should mention that I was getting this car totally sight unseen, as Matt had not emailed any photos of it-- for all I know, I could be getting a completely rust-eaten and worthless piece of metal. I immediately listed the car on uShip, and waited for shipping service providers to make a bid on the shipment. If you're not familiar with uShip, it's a great website that connects you, eBay-style, with shipping service providers from all over, many of whom specialize in transporting vehicles and furniture; others move animals, including livestock, and even houses. Bids are received via email and you decide, based on the provider's feedback rating and types of services offered (such as enclosed trailers with tie-downs, insurance, etc.) whose bid you will accept.

Once a match is made, then you pay a small deposit via PayPal or credit card and then uShip gives you the provider's contact info so you can make the arrangements. After the item is delivered, then both parties leave feedback for each other, just like eBay. You can even list current eBay auctions on uShip, even if not the high bidder, and solicit bids. If you don't win the auction, then the shipment is canceled--but if you do win, then you have a number of providers lined up to take your item to you. It's an awesome site and I've used it once before when I won a 1965 Lambretta Cento scooter on eBay in Indiana and needed someone to pick it up and deliver it to me. That went very smoothly, which gave me the confidence to list a much larger item for shipment--the Opel GT.

I found a provider almost right away who said that he was going to be passing through Colorado Springs and would be loading my car into an enclosed trailer with tie downs. And his bid was for a reasonable price, and he had 100% positive feedback. Perfect. I accepted his bid and made the arrangements. He picked my Opel up the very next day and delivered it the next evening, on Thursday, September 27th, just five days after Matt C. first emailed me through I now had my second Opel GT sitting in my garage, patiently waiting for some TLC....