I’m not what you would call your normal grease monkey.I prefer to keep my cuticles trimmed and fingernails red. But even so, I guess there’s still that slight alteration of DNA that causes me to inhale deeply the fumes spouting out of my 383 – and if I have to get a little grease under the fingernails, well then I guess that’s okay. Scratch that – more than “okay“, I love it!
How I Got Interested in Working On Cars
I’m lucky enough to be child #4 and the only girl. This meant that my Mom had me practicing ballet while my brothers were building model cars. When Dad brought home a 59′ Chevy Wagon to tinker with – I couldn’t help but wander out to the garage every now and then to see what he was up to. My favorite past-time while out there was twisting the ratchet around so it would make noise. Admittedly, sometimes I did get bored. Like that time I honked the horn while my Dad’s head was under the hood (sorry Dad!) But I suppose I hung around the garage enough for the gas fumes to get to my head.
It wasn’t until I’d become addicted to swing dancing in my early 20s that I began loving everything vintage, especially cars. I realized that not only were classic cars beautiful, with personalities all their own, but they also operated completely mechanically. Having always had a nack for working and creating things with my hands, having a car that offered possibilities to work on was very appealing to me. I would never have considered buying a classic car if I didn’t also want to do the work on it myself.
Finding a Car of My Own
I began by asking my Grandpa to explain to me how an engine worked and getting my Dad or Brothers to teach me how to remove a tire. For a number of years, my desire for a classic car just sat, waiting for finances and space. Sooner or later, I began searching Ebay and Craigslist for cars I liked, especially Metropolitan Nashes (my Dad was always telling me in high school that I should have one). A move from San Francisco to Los Angeles got me serious about finding a classic car. Moving to a car-laden city such as LA, transportation was a mush-have – and with only a couple thousand to spend, I reasoned I could take a chance on a classic or throw it away into a piece of junk that I would hate. So I started to seriously search…
My Dad forwarded me a listing from the Vegas paper…a Studebaker! Since a kid I’d heard of Studebakers – Dad used to own an airplane-nosed ’51 as a teen and the thought of having one of my own was quite alluring. It didn’t take much to sell me – it was love at first sight! The lines were fantastic, it had character but wasn’t over the top, compact for a mid-50s car, and with the original coral paint job…no doubt a ladies color!
My brother helped me haul Stude back to Vegas the first day I saw her. The carburetor was off and torn all apart, but the previous owner had already done some testing on the engine which appeared to be in good order. My first job was to clean up and put back together the original Carter carburetor! A near impossible task, especially for someone who knew nothing about carburetors and whose entire wrenching resume consisted of changing a tire. I ended up buying a new carburetor, but I think I was pretty close to rebuilding the original. I only had a couple of weeks in Vegas before completing my move to LA, and after a number of minor-ish adjustments the Stude still wasn’t road ready…and I had to get going to LA.
Continuing the Adventure
With the generous support of my best friend and LA roommate we shared her car for the next 1 1/2 years until Stude got up and running. It took a long-distance tow from Vegas to LA, a number of renovations to the original engine, at least a few roadside breakdowns, deciding to replace the engine with a small-block Chevy, and taking on a second job to pay for all of this. But it was all worth it – because Stude finally got on the road!
I’d found a shop not far from my office, Studebaker Parts and Service, which specialized in Studebakers. They’d done the first renovations to the original engine as well as a full drive train switch – as that was a bit over-my-head in the beginning. With the goal of having Stude done before the yearly rockabilly weekender,Viva Las Vegas, my favorite mechanic Tommy released her to me a mere 18-hours before the trip. Taking off on a drive across the desert by myself may have been slightly nerve-wracking – but it ended up being the perfect prescription for girl-to-car bonding.
From there she’s been my daily driver and you couldn’t get me to trade her for anything. She’s gotten me into (and out of) countless adventures and changed my life in ways I would never have guessed. Doors of opportunity have opened for me to travel to far-off places, build a car for SEMA, even change my career! I now do writing within the automotive industry and hope to one day start a business of my own. I continue to be a mechanic-in-the-making – and often like to wrench alongside my recently-married husband (as a mechanic himself it’s a great help to my learning) or with my car club, the Gasoline Girls.
So I’ve gotten this far…I hope my journey can help you in yours! Drop in often (or subscribe via email) to read more about the things I’m learning, the fun I’m having, and the folks I’m meetin’!
Until then…Happy Trails!
P.S. I made this little promo video for a production company (now a bit outdated) showing a good walk-around my car if you wanna look!