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Heart Like a Wheel

1969 Chevrolet Camaro RS/SS Convertible owned by George Holmes

1969 Chevrolet Camaro RS/SS Convertible owned by George Holmes

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If what you dream about defines who you are, then the 40-year-old legend that describes how a young Italian once pushed a 1960 Maserati Tipo Birdcage into a stone barn will waken your soul.

The Maserati had been raced in hill climbs and perhaps the fuel pump seized or a head gasket blew. Maybe the clutch fried, or the pinion snapped, wiping out the rear end. Whatever the cause, the failure was too expensive, or the parts to repair it were out of production, and so the young man drained the gas, pulled the battery and covered the red convertible with a canvas tarp. Over time, a wall of old books, boxed plates and miscellaneous junk accumulated, thick dust blanketed the tarp and, as one year turned to 40, the Maserati was gradually forgotten.

At this point, Hollywood steps in. Music up, film speed down. Shots of stone walls, vineyards, and an ancient villa swept with bright fall leaves. The young man grew old and collapsed among his grapes. In an attempt to settle his estate, the owner’s failing widow hired a local handyman to empty the barn and haul it all to the dump.

Sweating in the golden, dusty light of late Italian afternoon, the handyman discovered the Maserati and cut a deal. “From now on,” he promised the old widow. “I work for free!”

If what you dream about indeed defines who you are, then my fantasies about ’58 Corvettes set on blocks in abandoned sheds, lost 1966 427 King Cobras and crated Chevrolet Rat motors, clearly reveal a deprived adolescence. To compensate, I enjoyed a shotgun intimacy with Ford gearboxes and, in the course of rebuilding race engines, was doused with gasoline, gear oil, scalding 10-30 and a variety of other fluids the surgeon general now warns are unfit for human exposure.

My first car was a 1948 Oldsmobile. Bright yellow with a white top and massive fenders, even now I would call it ugly. I was 15, however, and the $35 price was right. I kept it parked around the block to keep my mom from learning I was driving without a license or insurance. I quickly traded the Olds for a rare 1940 Mercury ($300) and then a 1956 Chevy BelAir ($500).

Though I’ve poked around old sheds, scoured wrecking yards and stared into garages filled with a half century of exploded differentials, fractured transmissions, frozen flathead V-8s and enough steel detritus to build a battleship, I never found a two-million-dollar Maserati Tipo. I did, however, briefly consider a career as a grave robber after hearing about a man who was buried in his 1960 Corvette. I later discovered he’d committed suicide in the Corvette then cooked for five days in the hot Texas sun before he was found. >>>

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