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Old 04-23-2019, 04:20 PM
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New Member with a story

Hello Hot Rodders! My name is Ryan and I am from Willis, TX which is about 50 miles north of Houston.

I have been a gear head for most of my life, spent my childhood holding flashlights and fetching tools for my ol’man while he worked on the family beaters and project cars (more on that below). Spent my teenage years wrenching on and hacking up cars, sometimes out of necessity, but most of the time for my own enjoyment.

By my early twenties, I was a certified gear head and spent way more time and money than I should have on countless projects. Ranging from a fully built Jeep, to a mid-10 second pro-charged trans-am that I daily drove nearly 65 miles one-way for a couple of years.

By my late twenties, wrenching took a back seat to life. I settled down, married an amazing woman, sold the ‘toys’ and started focusing on my career and starting a family- I’ve got my first one on the way now, a baby girl, due this July.

But this is where the story begins. Buckle in, grab a snack, get comfy. It’s a doosey.

I thought my wrenching days were behind me, however, much to my delight and my sweet wife’s dread, there is now a rust bucket 1975 Firebird Formula 400 occupying our 3 car garage where my wife’s ‘crafts’ once sat. But, it’s not just any ol’ beater that I drug home on a impulse, it’s got a story- a story of dreams, regret and even a little bit of a miracle.

The car sitting in my garage was purchased in 1984 by my mother as a surprise anniversary present for my dad.

He drove by the car on his way to and from work for a few months, it was off the road in a pasture in a little town called Pinehurst. On a few occasions, he stopped by to try to convince the old man that owned it to sell it to him, but he could never negotiate a price that my father could afford. My father was trying to raise a young family on a shoestring budget, he hardly had a pot to piss in, and certainly did not have the $800 the old man wanted for the car.

One Saturday, he and my mother drove out to the old mans place so she could see the car and make another offer- to barter some work to knock the price down. But, as with before, the old man held firm and my folks made the drive home, disappointed.

But as it turned out, my mother returned a few weeks later and traded a baby sh** green 4-door 72 Nova my father did some horse trading for and $200 cash. The Nova was supposed to replace my mothers dying Malibu, but she’d rather him have the Firebird. He rarely asked for anything, worked 2 jobs nearly 80 hours a week to keep the family fed, she wanted him to have something he wanted.

That weekend, my folks drug the car home. My mom in the Malibu, pulling my dad in the Firebird with a chain, 40 miles home.

At that time, the car was brown, with a tan soft top. The old mans son had pulled the original 400 and TH-350 and swapped a 455 and TH-400 from a T/A into it. A few months before my folks got it, the 455 locked up and the car was parked in the pasture where my dad first spotted it.

I was born in 1988, by that time, my father had stripped the car entirely, rebuilt and installed a 400 from a LeMans. At some point in the early 90s he traded a 10 bolt and a powerglide for a 1974 Firebird parts car, which he scavenged for parts for the 75.

I have distinct memories from when I was about 5 or 6 of my dad doing the body work and paint on the car. He was a painter by trade, painting bathtubs and other residential and commercial surfaces, and found a odd blue/green color for the car. He spent months prepping the car, painting the underside, sub frame and any other component and firewall in heavy epoxy gloss black. Meticulously repairing the fiberglass on the hood. I remember it all clear as day.

Weekends and evenings were spent in the garage or driveway working on the ‘bird’, it was a family affair. I have so many memories from that time, it was a happy time. Unfortunately, those happy times did not last.

By the late 90’s, my mother was struggling with addiction and ultimately ended up in prison in 1998. My father was left to raise my sister and I on his own, while working 12-14 hours a day 6 days a week. Understandably, life beat him down, and even being 10-11 years old, I remember clearly, my dad just kind of stopped living. Off to work before the sun came up only to return in the evening to eat dinner, sleep and do it again.

The car became a shelf in the garage. Unfinished, never even crossing the threshold of the garage for nearly 7 years.

By 2005, my mom was clean, dad remarried and I had moved in with my mother. The new wife was tired of looking at the car and dad was never going to touch it again, so it came with me to my mothers.

Being a broke 17 year old, I could barely afford to keep gas in my junky 85 Chevy pickup, let alone even consider messing with the Firebird, so it sat in my moms garage.

In 2007, I was on my own and hard up for money, the transmission in my truck went out and I needed transportation for work, so made probably the biggest mistake of my life and sold the car. I put a ad on Craigslist for $2500 and that afternoon sold the car for $2200. Watching it turn the corner at the end of the street, I cannot begin to describe the regret I felt.

Over the next few years, with every project, the regret intensified. If only I kept the car...

So in 2013, I started searching. I did not have the vin, nor the contact info of the guy I sold it to. Every few months, I would dig thru classifieds. In 2017, I started placing ads on Craigslist and Pontiac forums, all I had was a description so it was a long shot. Near impossible odds.

January 9th of this year, I was at work in a meeting when I sent a call from a number I did not recognize to voicemail. When I glanced at the transcript of the voicemail, I saw one word - Firebird and my heart dropped. I immediately left the meeting to call the guy back.

He had been cruising Craigslist and searched for Firebird and came across an ad I posted in October. He recognized the description and was positive he had seen the car. He worked as a parts delivery driver and spotted the car at a Camaro salvage yard in Houston a few months ago, he even tried to buy it. He confirmed the unique details, such as the 1974 front bumper and 1975 grill- having 4 front blinkers. The blue/green color. Even the black console and brown dash.

I could not believe it. I found the car. What a miracle. To top it off, it was only 20 minutes from my office. I dropped everything, and could hardly contain myself as I left the parking lot.

When I arrived, there was absolutely no doubt it was the car. There it sat. Right out front, a mere 20 feet from the road. When I saw it, I cannot describe the flood of emotion. What are the odds!?

I was not letting it get away. I bought the car, pretty much immediately.

But, as the excitement faded, reality started to set in. The last 12 years were hard on the car. It went from my garage to a boat storage by the bay, the 25 year old DIY paint job was no match for the salty air of the Gulf of Mexico, the quarters and fenders were rusted beyond repair. The original buyer traded it to the owner of the Camaro salvage yard for parts in late 2017, where it sat until I brought it home. The full interior and steering column was stolen at some point, it was completely under water during the floods of Hurricane Harvey, it was moved around with a tractor and pieces like the trim were plucked off.

As I unloaded it from the trailer and rolled it into May garage, under the watchful eye of my very angry (and very pregnant wife), I was struck by the weight of regret. If I had never sold the car, it would of never been in this kind of shape. All of my fathers hard work 15+ years of meticulous work, undone, was sickening.

But, there is hope... I have the car, and will one day get it back to its former glory, and hopefully be able to take my dad for a spin.
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  #2 (permalink)  
Old 04-23-2019, 04:37 PM
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Welcome...Cool story. When you get working on it, start a thread in the projects section with lots of pics
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Old 04-23-2019, 05:48 PM
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Yup, poncho62 is right . That's a great story. I wish you the very best with your Bird. Yes, be sure you keep us updated with photos. I really hope your Dad gets to take a cruise in the Lost and Found car of the past.


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Old 04-23-2019, 06:26 PM
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That car is in great shape by NE salt standards.

Good luck, great story and put it in a nice warm, dry place until you have the time and money to do it right!

Nothing says go and fun like an SD455.
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Old 04-23-2019, 07:27 PM
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More than a great story for me, that's one helluva story. Thanks for sharing that too man. Best of luck on the car
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Old 04-23-2019, 09:34 PM
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Thank you for the warm welcome, fellas!

I plan on starting a build thread to document some of the progress.

Over the past few weeks, I have started tearing it down to assess it. I pulled the front clip, rear glass and tore out what was left of the carpet and padding.

On the rear, the good news is that the inner quarters, wheel houses and even the trunk drop outs are in remarkably good shape. However, as expected, it will need full quarters on both sides. As with most of these cars, the rear window channel is in bad shape. There is a small rust area at the rear of the trunk as well.

The floors are in okay shape, the passenger foot well and drivers side seat pan have some rot, but should only need some small patch panels.

Up front, both genders are beyond salavage, but that’s an easy fix. Repros or even used ones are pretty easy to come by. Oddly enough, the cowl panel is pretty much gone-just rusted into thin air, but the firewall and area under and around the cowl is great. I expected the worst there.

Also, the driver side pillar has a small spot at the bottom that will need attention and the edge of the roof panel, where the driver side window meets it is rusted, but it appears to just be the skin, the roof structure is sound.

I have some experience with light body work, but nothing to this degree so it is likely I will need to find a shop to do the metal work. I have not used a welder in years, and even then, I was pretty terrible.

Addressing the rust is going to be the first bite of the elephant, but, to be honest I am not even sure where to look or what to expect money wise. My initial thought is in the $10k range, just to have a reputable shop address the known issues. But, I don’t even know if I am high or low on that number, or where to find a shop

Either way, I am not expecting to have the car completed any time soon. I’m in it for the long haul. As noted before, my first baby will be here soon, so that is priority number 1. Between the baby, wife, work and other commitments, time is going to be a critical factor.

Although I am financially secure now, I learned my lessons with projects and can not afford for the car to consume every cent of our disposable income. But with that said, I am lucky enough to have the means to slowly get the car moving.

Thanks again for the warm welcome, and I look forward to sharing the progress with you all!
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Old 04-23-2019, 10:05 PM
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You've picked a long row to hoe. Taking your Dad for a spin could very well make it worthwhile, though. Looking forward to watching.
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Old 04-26-2019, 01:34 PM
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Great story.
You said it was completely underwater ?? I would make complete disassembly of the engine a first priority. It may be salvageable now, but continue to rust while you work on the body. Disassemble, clean and grease everything to preserve it for the time you can work on it further.
Be a good idea to drain the trans and diff and fill, to the top, with clean trans fluid, yes the diff too. Trans fluid is a very good detergent and anti-rust liquid. The old Dexron III stuff, not synthetic.
The fluid is going to leak out, so drain pans should be handy, but I believe getting everything inside coated now will prevent any further deterioration.
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Old 04-26-2019, 09:36 PM
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Start a journal and we can move these posts from the Introduction Forum into it.
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