Two years ago on April 8, 2020 my father passed away. Besides being my father, since 1991 when I returned home from the Navy, he was my best friend. My Satori, my sudden awakening, happened May 31, 2019 when my dog of 14 years passed away. Her passing caused me to explore the fragility of life and the limited time we have to achieve our dreams. While my dogs death got me thinking about mortality, it was my father’s death that really got me moving. Within 5 months of his death I had rented my 1,000 Square foot shop and the car arrived from Los Angeles exactly one day before the first anniversary of his death.
Many days I sit in my shop, virtually always alone, and can imagine him sitting in the car next to me, coffee in hand, busting my chops, pushing me along. He would have not been able to contain himself with all the carpentry work I had to do, the painting, the plumbing, the electrical work to get the shop functional. He was a bull of a man in his prime and no one ever sent him a memo that his prime had ended. He literally worked himself until he couldn’t work anymore.
I think about my father, who lived a life in full and left this earth with his proverbial tank on empty. I also think about those who never found their own Satori, died prematurely, died depressed, unhappy and unfulfilled. I was living in Orlando, Florida in March 1985 when when of the most talented musicians of his generation hung himself just a few miles from where I lived. While his death was by suicide that night, he had been drinking himself to death for years. Incredible talent, beloved by millions, but dead in a shitty hotel room. I wish he could have found his sudden awakening, his Satori, and found what made him want to live, but life doesn’t work like that. My father ingrained in me a spirit for life, and his love was always present when I did good or when I screwed up. That musician was Richard Manual of The Band, and may he rest in peace.
Anyways, the shop contains Dad’s spirit, his memory, and that’s all that really matters.
The car looked like this at the sellers website. I knew it was in rough shape, I only asked one question, was the rear suspension mounting points all intact? I didn’t want to have to mount this car to a fixture table and try to correct its geometry. They sent me enough pictures to show the rear suspension and the thicker gage stuff below the belt line was in good shape and that was that.
Why an Alfa? It’s not any special love of the marque, it was a practical decision. I am building a modified historic rally car, one that will pass Scrutineering (safety inspection and period correctness proctology exam), so I wanted period correct goodies like four wheel disc brakes, mechanical fuel injection, and a strong unibody with good sight lines. The 1974 Alfa Romeo GTV 2000 checked all those boxes. The other thing I wanted was a complete car, unmolested by a previous restoration, one devoid of collision damage. This car checked those boxes as well. It’s biggest issue: rust. It has sat, to the best of my research, since the mid 80’s, primarily outdoors. The rust below the body line I expected. The sill plate rust I expected. The body panel rust I expected. The A Pillars and the Cowl and the windshield frame, didn’t expect as bad as it is. That’s ok, it will all be dealt with in time.
Time. Not an enemy, just a reality. My full time job is pretty hectic, very demanding, and high stakes. I’ve worked for the same company for a very long time, I’ve done well for them and for myself, and my secret sauce isn’t complicated: work harder than everyone else. That said, I make time. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish a few hours here, 30 mins there. The Japanese have a word for constant progress forward, Kaizen. I practice Kaizen, improving efficiency while in the shop, always moving the project forward. Lets jump one year ahead from that previous picture.
It’s a form of therapy to work on this project. It can seem overwhelming, where to start, what do to next. That’s where the term Capstone came from. This project is the culmination of a lifetime of collecting skills, both hand skills and mental skills. Be it my knowledge of mechanical technology, tool usage, metal fabrication, electrical, project management, and my skill of learning new skills from reading and watching (thank you YouTube and US Navy), all of those things go into where I am at 55 years old and how I take my craft to the next level. The introvert in me likes to work alone. It’s not that I don’t like the company of others, I just find the silence golden. Well, not really silence. Music fills the shop when I am there, soundtracking the work. It could be the music of my youth, New Order and Echo and the Bunnymen, or it can be my great leap backwards into the 1960’s, Dylan, The Band, Jefferson Airplane or David Crosby. The music + the mental challenges is the best blood pressure control I know.
The project is at a key milestone. The engine and transmission will be coming out soon. Nothing is holding the engine in the car right now except gravity. I have to disconnect the drive shaft from the transmission, readjust the cars height, getting the rear high and the front low, and with the use of a crane I just purchased, pull the engine and transmission as one piece. Once that happens Phase 1 will be almost over, disassembly.
Phase 2 will wait for a few upgrades to the shop: I’ll be installing 220V air compressor, an air supply system, and a few 220 V plugs for a larger welder. My Miller 120V welder is perfect for sheetmetal, but I’ll need more amps and heat for welding braces and the sill plate repairs.
Once the shop is upgraded, by mid summer, Phase 2 will begin, structural work. It will start with the car still on four wheels, but once braced properly, the car will go on a rotisserie, which will allow me to spin the car into different angles to make the welding work more ergonomic while also improving the quality of the work (not sure about you, but laying on my back on concrete welding in tight spots, no thanks).
Phase 2 and 3 will take place concurrently. Phase 2 is about getting the car rust free and strong again. Phase 3 is design: What will this car look like, what components, what modifications. I refuse to put artificial deadlines on any of the work. I have a rough idea of when I’d like the car to be done, but adding more stress to my life is not helpful. It will be done when it’s done.
I haven’t taken the time to write an update lately. I made the decision that if in my limited time I had the choice to type or the choice to wrench, I would wrench, but I will get back to my monthly updates, more for myself than anything else. I get jazzed seeing the progress, seeing the vision unfold.
Find your own Satori my friends! To get a feel for what I listen to in the shop, go no further than the brilliance of Richard Manuel and The Band.