Editors Note: This is first in a series written by longtime XKs Unlimited customer Lois Knudsen of Nevada, who completely restored a 1964 E-Type -- by herself. But lets let Lois tell the story
I must have been about 15 years old when I was walking down the main street of the small town where I grew up. I was daydreaming as I passed the huge plate glass windows of the toy and hobby store (one of my favorite haunts). I heard this low, throaty rumble echoing off the store fronts. At the same moment my brain registered that it had never ever heard such a sound, a reflection moved along the glass windows. It was sleek and low and shaped like no other. I have no idea how long my mouth had been hanging open as I stood and stared as this beautiful creature purred by. WHAM! Thunderbolt! That was the first time I laid eyes (and ears) on an E-Type. It immediately grabbed hold of me and woke the obsessive within me.
Always trying to get a glimpse of the car and wanting to learn more about it, I more or less stalked the owner of this car. My extreme ignorance of all things automotive made it next to impossible to talk to him. I would get all tongue-tied and embarrassed knowing I wasnt using the correct lingo. He was in a rock n roll band and his crazy jealous girlfriend was certain I was just some groupie being all gooey over her boyfriend. Over the next couple of years I was able to learn that it was a 1964 E-Type and the original engine had been replaced with a 351 Cleveland. It was Opalescent Gunmetal Gray and had wire wheels when I first saw its reflection. By the time I actually met Rick, he had painted it white, blacked out the trim, swapped the motor, completely altered the interior and put custom wheels on it. But the shape, oh that beautiful shape, was still as I first saw it.
Due to unfortunate family circumstances, I was on my own at 16 and a half. I was a waitress at a Bobs Big Boy restaurant and once the rent and utilities were paid, I had zero money for groceries or entertainment. My very best friend, Mark, would bring over bags of Del Taco and model car kits. Wed sit on the floor (I had no furniture) and work on models. His kits would always be muscle cars; mine were, of course, the lovely E-Type. Working on my dream car, even if only in miniature, kept me from dwelling on the realities of my current situation.
It was October 1, 1982. I had made myself quite busy since that day in front of the toy store. I had moved away from my home town for a low-level job and I was quite focused on trying to pay my bills and keep my little 68 VW Beetle running well enough to get me to work. My focus was very narrow and there was no thought of my future beyond what was happening next weekend. It was during one of those weekends that I was stung by a bee. I am horribly allergic to bees and my throat was swelling shut and it was getting harder and harder to breathe. As clich as it sounds, my life truly did flash before my eyes. What still strikes me as odd (and even embarrassing) is that my foremost thought was, I cant die! I havent driven an E-Type yet. Shallow? Perhaps, but true. Maybe a few of you will understand. Shallow or not, the whole experience was very motivational; nothing like a little glimpse of death to give you a swift kick in the pants as to what is important to you and what youve accomplished.
It must have been around December of 1982 when I woke up from the most incredible dream. I was busy trying to get a tree branch off of the back of a dilapidated E-Type. I was having trouble because the car was on the other side of a chain link fence and I could almost reach the branch through the fence. The paint on the car was a ghastly red that had become chalky with oxidation. Somehow I got this powdery color on my hands and I remember feeling frustrated that this beautiful being had been left out in the weather. Oh well, dreams are weird that way. Well, it got a whole lot weirder! A few days later, during a dentist visit, my dentist said, You know, I saw one of those cars you like up off of Calabasas Parkway. Its in a storage yard; youll see it when you get off the freeway. The next weekend I made a bee-line to that storage yard. I almost fainted as I walked up to the chain link fence. It was the car in the dream, backed up to the fence and complete with a tree branch lying on the rear hatch. Unfortunately, it was not close enough to the fence for me to touch its chalky red paint. It was quite obvious this car was the one.
Love Letters I contacted the storage yard manager, but he did his duty in not divulging the name of the cars owner. He said that many, many people ask him about the car and if it is for sale. He said that the car was definitely not for sale. One of my co-workers happened to be dating a cop, so I pleaded with her to ask him to run the license plate. I guess he thought it was a good enough story because she came into work with a name and address scribbled on a piece of paper.
Letter # 1:
Dear Mr. Schilling,
I had a dream the other night about a red Jaguar E-Type. I know this may seem very strange to you, but I had to take a chance. The chance that you might throw it away with a laugh or the chance you will take me seriously enough to answer this letter. For you see Mr. Schilling, I am in love with that cat you have caged and can think of little else than the day youll contact me and tell me her story and her future. Sincerely, L Knudsen
A whopping three weeks went by and I felt like I had to really let this guy know what I am about. Of course, looking back at this now I am sure his response to my letter was immediate: a long whistle followed by an abrupt, Cuckoo!
Dear Mr. Schilling,
I am sorry to say I have not heard from you regarding your car. You have no idea just what that car means to me. And I am sure that I have little idea what it means to you. I do know that it cant be much, seeing as how it hasnt been paid attention to for God knows how long. I dont understand how anyone could leave such an automobile to rot in the elements.
Have a heart and let her go. I have the ability to give her back her dignity and pride, so please let me do so. I know if you were to see her as she is now you would surely comply. Even if you are not interested in seeing her off to a good home where she will be absolutely cherished, please contact me and let me know why she has been condemned to such a fate.
Again, in hindsight, it is a wonder that a restraining order wasnt issued. Double-cuckoo! But hey, I was all of 20 years old and didnt realize there were certain social protocols to be followed. Obviously I let it all hang out. And where did all this I have the ability stuff come from? Thats awful big talk from someone who didnt have 2 Nickels to rub together for capital and all of the automotive experience that can be obtained from 2 chapters of the How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive For The Complete Idiot book and a 25-piece set of Pro-Tek tools from K-Mart.
On February 25, it came: A neatly typed business-sized envelope with the return address of Mr. Schilling. I was grateful that I picked up the mail on the way home. I was certain that contents of this letter would make me cry. Either it was a no or a no and a harassment claim. Either way, I was going to be in tears.
Dear LK, I wish to extend my utmost apologies for my inconsiderate Master. He withheld your very exciting, informative letters from me for several weeks. When he finally read them to me, my heart started palpitating with anticipation and perhaps, trepidation, at the thought of being released from my wire cage.
I know you are wondering why I have been incarcerated for such a lengthy time, but before I go into that, perhaps I could give you an inkling of my earlier life. I was originally purchased by a lovely lady named Mary, who was extremely proud of my sleek lines. To look at me today you would hardly realize that I was Best of Show in a Concours dElegance in Southern California nearly 20 years ago. My original mistress even put on separate wheels to drive me to the show so as to not besmirch my pristine wire wheels. In those days, I was known to purr smoothly along the freeways and, on occasions, to snarl around twisty back country highways.
Hopefully, LK, you can convince my Master to let me attain some of my earlier glories. You mentioned that you could not understand why such a lovely lady (such as myself) could have been relegated to such miseries as I have sustained in the last few years.
I must tell you that my Master depended upon me for daily transportation. As you probably know, all us English beasties are known for our idiosyncrasies and occasional need for tinkering. Although I had a regular mechanic who attempted to keep me purring smoothly, there were a number of occasions where, in a moment of pique, upon being left out in the cold, that I could be extremely reluctant to start. This caused my Master extreme consternation on mornings when he was ready to go to work. My major problem was a starter whose gears did not mesh exactly with the flywheel. Due to a small crack in my bell housing, I even sheared the ears off the starter housing on a couple of occasions. This is the main cause, I feel, that I was sent to that Calabasas Siberia. Although I had served him faithfully for many miles, he finally became exasperated beyond belief and told me that he would never drive me again until his mechanic [fixes the starter]. He also has found (and purchased) my original 4-speed tranny and feels that I should be properly restored to my original snarling performance by re-installing this transmission in lieu of the Ford C-4 automatic that I have now. My original owner had the automatic installed because she did not like the non-synchromesh first gear and had spent many dollars to put in the automatic.
OK, LK, if you think that you can convince my Master that I should be restored to my proper station in life, as an elegant, sleek, road-hugging beauty, please give him a call at your convenience. I have been telling him for quite some time now that he should respond to your inquiry and should some way or another release me from my lonely life.
I am glad I was sitting down when I read the signature. All the strength left my body and I was left with goose bumps and butterflies. The Cat. The car had written me a letter.Oh my Lord, now what do I do?
It took me a few days to summon the courage to call the number on the letter. My bluff had been called, but it was way too late to stop now. I had to at least meet with the owners and actually touch the car. Then they would discover that I was all just one big passionate hot-air factory and that would be that.
When I arrived at the lot, they were already there tossing the tree branch aside. I put on the most matter-of-fact airs that I could and strode in like I was somebody. After quick introductions I slowly walked around the car. I noticed that it had sunk up to its belly into the soft dirt. Weeds grew thickly throughout the spokes of the still-exposed top-half of the wheels. In the 8 or 9 years that the car had been sitting in this open storage field, the sun had risen and set so many times as to actually burn through the layers of paint, creating a 6 inch-wide swath that ran from the tip of the bonnet, over the roof, and down the rear hatch. Almost every color the car had ever been was displayed in this unintentional rainbow. The window on the passenger side was rolled down about 2 inches. The Schillings worked and worked to get the doors opened to release the bonnet latches. I could see water pooled in what was left of the floor boards and the shifter of the infamous C-4 sticking out of the center console.
We were able to get the bonnet up just a few inches to reveal an odd sight. Through the old weeds and clutter, there was a generous mound of well-packed dirt sitting between the valve covers. Here and there bits of frayed spark-plug wires stuck crazily out of the dirt. Upon broader inspection it was clear that the entire engine compartment was rife with these packed dirt mounds and frayed wiring. Packrats! Mr. Schilling announced. His wife and I let out a simultaneous ugh!
After a few more passes around the car I had completely lost my composure. My palms were sweating and I was grinning like an idiot. Mr. Schilling related how many people had approached him to buy the car but that he refused to sell it because he was convinced that they would part it out. He went on to say that he really still had no intention of selling it. Well there it was, The End. This was all just a spring outing. I got to look at the car and they got to come out and see what all the fuss was. Surely, seeing the car had renewed his resolve to one day repair it. Then, out of nowhere, he said, How much is it worth to you? I was stunned when my mouth moved on its own will and gushed, A million dollars. I swear that is what I said. The Schillings did a double-take at me. Their synchronicity was almost comical. Mr. Schilling started to say something and Mrs. Schilling gave him a look. He reformulated his statement into the question, Is $2,500 OK? My head was swimming. After what seemed like an hour, I finally countered with can I make payments?
The deal was struck. I was to make payments of $200 per month. Upon making half of the purchase price, they would allow me to tow it home and the pink slip would be mine upon final payment. When that day came, the tow truck driver and I had to shovel the dirt away from the wheels and employ about 4 cans of Fix-a-Flat per tire to get them round enough to drag the car up onto a flatbed. As the winch was straining to pull the beast out of its dirt locker, Mr. Schilling thumbed at the back of the car and said, The tranny is in the back. Puzzled, I peered through the very dirty back window and saw a manual transmission resting in a nest of crushed, rotted wood that used to the spare-wheel cover. I was simultaneously appalled and delighted.
The garage at the condo I was sharing was just one step up from a storage closet. The tow-truck driver and I pushed, shoved, and wiggled the car into place. You could walk chest-front down the drivers side, but had to turn and side-step to get past the passenger side. I think I stayed up until 3 the next morning, fawning, fussing, and cleaning. So many times I just sat in the drivers seat gripping the brittle wooden-clad steering wheel. At some point, probably about 2:30 a.m., I realized that I had neglected to take any photos before I started cleaning and fussing. DANG! Oh well, I took some the next morning with my trusty Kodak 110 as it was fancy with a built in flash.
So here I was. No real skills, no real tools, no book. Doesnt get any better than that! Actually that was not completely accurate as I did have one real skill: I could take things apart like nobodys business! So I did. Most of the time I would have to work with the garage door open so as it let the light in and the fumes out as I had discovered the magic of Berrymans B12 ChemTool and aircraft paint stripper. I would occasionally catch the people in the garage directly across from mine looking on in mild curiosity. They finally came over and introduced themselves. While the wife maintained a look of mild distain, the husband was gregarious and friendly. He told me that he knew just the right person to rebuild my starter. He pointed down the line of garage doors and told me of at least two other people who were rebuilding or restoring cars.
That was the last time his wife stepped foot anywhere near my garage door, but it was the start of his almost daily visits. He would bring his friends by; theyd set up lawn chairs, drink beers, crack tasteless jokes and watch what I was doing. Clearly, they all found this very entertaining. My boyfriend, Jim, didnt think it was so keen, but declined to join them. I asked him to please come over and keep me company while I figured out how to pull out the starter motor. Not being the least bit interested in cars, Jim surprised me by accepting the invitation. I will never forget that night. He showed up in his very snug leisure suit, was bathed in cologne and had a bottle of (and I am not making this up) Lancers. Since he was clearly not dressed for the occasion, I set him up with a little stool in the back corner of the garage. As I worked I could hear him cluck his tongue and make these dramatic exhalations. When I finally surfaced with the discombobulated starter in my hands, the stool was empty. I have no idea when he left. Needless to say, it clearly wasnt a good match and we never saw each other again.
I entrusted the starter to my neighbor and busied myself with taking apart the carburetors and anything else I could get my ProTeks onto. After a week or so, I inquired about my starter. This neighbor guy made comments that boiled down to that I could probably get the starter back sooner and maybe not have to pay for it if I would, well, you know. Of course I just thought he was making a joke, so I laughed. He didnt laugh back. Man, did things get creepy!
At the end of the month I received an eviction notice. The reason stated read: For performing major restoration on an automobile. I had no savings account to secure a new apartment; nowhere to go; my cars in (what seemed at the time) a billion pieces (minus a starter). The honeymoon was clearly over.
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