Over the years I have had many car projects.  Starting at 15 years old I built a dune buggy mostly from a 1965 VW Bug.  I say mostly since the pan (frame) was from a 1958 VW Bug.  The ’58 pan was handed down to me by my brother who had received it from a friend.  So, this dune buggy project was started several years before I got involved.  My brother had cut out 18 inches from the middle where the rear seat would have been.   It sat in two pieces for a couple of years before I took over the project.  The first thing I did was to buy a 1965 VW Bug.  I had to get my Dad to sign the papers for that Bug since I was too young.  I immediately took the body off that Bug so I could transfer the engine and transmission over to the project pan.  Before I could move those over, I had welded a tube frame under the ’58 pan to strengthen it.  I had help from my Dad and brothers when we were welding the tube frame.  Once I got the running gear installed, I got most everything working that was needed to drive the dune buggy.  This project was a huge learning time for me.  I learned how to weld, how to get an electrical system working, how to get brakes working, along with all the mechanical aspects of a car.

I remember clearly driving that dune buggy in our driveway, back and forth with our dog Eva in the passenger seat, testing everything from brakes to how the engine ran.  Since the upper tube frame had yet to be built, the steering column was temporarily supported on a piece of 2 x 4 wood block with a U clamp holding the column in place and the seats out of the ’65 Bug, the car was ready for a test drive.  Since the buggy was not street legal, we waited until nighttime before taking it for a quick drive on the local streets.  We also had no lights working yet.  We drove it to our church where there was some wooded property to test drive on.  I recall vividly as we drove in the dark thinking, “…. I wonder if this is what it was like to drive behind enemy lines during the war?”  Not sure why I thought that, however.  Once we got to the wooded property, my brothers, Dad and I took turns driving around the trees making our own off-road path.  It is a wonder that we did not hit any of those trees.  I remember as we drove back home thinking how fulfilling it was to bring this project to life and now, we were driving it.  It still had a long ways to go before being finished however.

Fast forward a few years to my 1968 Camaro.  I had sold the dune buggy, brought and sold a 1966 Chevelle SS (which was a junky car before I bought it) and now was on to building the ’68 Camaro.  I had bought the Camaro for $200 knowing it needed a lot of work, but I was so excited with all the potential this car had.  First thing I did was to tear down the small block to install a bigger cam, aluminum intake with a Holley 4 barrel.  I tore out the stock exhaust system and added headers and Hush Thrush mufflers with the pipes exiting just in front of the rear wheels on each side.  I also installed traction bars on the rear axle.  The best of mid 1970’s hot rod technology I added to the car.  After each addition and modification, I took the test drive to see what new abilities this Camaro could perform.  During this time my brothers and I owned and operated a body and mechanic shop where we did all our own work as well as customers work. We had a lot of business but since we focused more on our own cars, we only stayed in business for two years.  After we had to close the shop, I had to do all my work under the car port at our house. 

My older brother had a 396 with 427 big valve heads, 12:1 compression and monster cam that he had pulled from his ’66 Chevelle SS.  He gave me the big block. We did a lot of trading and giving back then.  I don’t recall what he put in the Chevelle, but I think it was a small block, then he sold that car.  I had to do some modifications to get that Big Block to fit in the ’68 Camaro like fabricating the engine mounts on the frame to get the block to sit lower.  When the Camaro was ready for the test drive with the Big Block, I asked my brother if he wanted to do the honors.  He got behind the steering wheel and I got in on the passenger side.  He took it slow at first to get a feel for the extra weight on the front end, but by the second block he was ready to rock and roll.  We pulled onto a street where he stopped, brought the RPMs up and dumped the clutch.  We took off like a banshee and I was trying to hold onto my seat (we did not wear seatbelts then; those were for sissies) and was laughing as he banged through the four gears and the car was going sideways trying to hold traction.  I remember looking over at my brother and seeing the smile on his face.  These were the good ole days…. 

A few years later, I had just got back home from backpacking around Europe, our small town was flooded from a tropical storm.  My Dad settled with insurance and hired my brothers and me to repair the house.  With the money I earned I bought a 1977 Monte Carlo which had been flooded.  I got a great deal for a car that was only two years old and very little mileage.  I was about to leave town to go to college and I needed a good car I could trust.  The water level in the Monte did not reach the dash so the only things affected were the seats and carpeting.  I stripped out the interior, took the seats apart to make sure they were dry and clean.  I tossed the carpet.  I went through the engine and transmission to make sure there were no flood damage.  It was time to go for a test drive.  With the seats still out and no carpeting, I put a 5-gallon bucket upside down where I could sit to go for a test drive.  I had never really appreciated seats that were bolted down until this drive.  There were a couple of times when the bucket flipped over during a turn.  I was laughing and happy that the car was running so well.  It was not the hot rod I was used to driving but it was ready to take on the role of my ‘college car’.  It had rally wheels and the fattest tires I could put on an 8-inch-wide rims.  It may not have been fast, but it looked good.

Looking back over the many years, I have taken a lot of test drives after major projects on the cars I have owned.  The best part is hearing an engine come to life after being taken down to almost nothing but the bare block.  I have several car projects I am working on now and I look forward to hearing them come to life at first start up.   Those first Test Drive are going to be great!