Friday January 4, 2013

Telly Halkias

Some years ago, Ford Motor Company held a writing contest for past and present Mustang owners to describe their favorite memory of the American icon. The prize was a trip to Los Angeles for a Ford convention and further Mustang considerations. While I didn't enter the competition, my own recollection of the classic pony car remained vivid.

At its 1964 inception the Mustang was not much more than a boring Fairlane with a sexy body. Yet its effect on popular culture followed me almost from the cradle. So after years of keeping my eyes peeled, I found a Mustang on which to take the plunge. My son Jason had just been born, and at age 26 I was feeling a tad over-the-hill.

The pristine Carolina blue two-door hardtop with a 289 V8 and 90,000 original miles had a roar under the hood like a lion signaling he was king of the jungle. As a new father on a tight budget, I justified the $5,000 outlay to my wife as a good deal and an investment in the future - something I would turn over to Jason when he earned a driver's license.

Let him drive that baby? Naturally, I came to my senses before that ever happened. But on the day I took ownership of the ‘Stang, I learned a great deal about the warm appeal of cold metal past boulevard cruising and admiring glances.

At the time I lived in Virginia, and had to drive to Richmond to pick up the car.


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I had been out of town for work, so a mechanic friend of mine known for his fussiness had driven and inspected the ride on my behalf. All I had to do was bring the money.

My friend didn't warn me. The owner of the Mustang was a man in his 40s confined to a wheelchair, the result of an earlier work accident. His wife explained that since then, she had been driving the car a few miles back and forth to work. However, with a deluxe handicap-accessible van now their principal vehicle, the Mustang had become pricey for a neighborhood beater.

As we spoke, her husband - who drove the car for two decades - had come out of the house in his motorized chair, wheeling around the Mustang one final time. He opened the door and looked inside, caressing the faux leather of his driver's seat like a lost throne. He wheeled around the front and stroked the chrome bumpers, wincing for a moment as the sun bounced off their surface.

Then he brushed the passenger's side quarter panels like a father adjusting his daughter's corsage before the big prom. Ever the nervous suitor, I moved to speak -- to make things right -- but his wife grabbed my forearm and, more like a mother than a spouse, closed her eyes and shook her head.

My Mustang's original owner then puttered himself back to the house, and his wife placed the keys in my open palm.

Over the years, I've had many offers to sell that car. They ranged from kids who wanted to get a classic on the cheap, to aficionados who knew its value. It's given me great cruising pleasure, having driven it coast-to-coast several times. I used it as my everyday vehicle when I lived in California and gas was less expensive.

But some time ago, I inactivated the Mustang's registration and now keep it in storage, unable to subject it to New England's climate any longer, and just as powerless to part ways. I've thought about donating it for charity as I've done with several of my former rides. But no decision yet.

Maybe that's because when I go into my garage now, 26 years later, I still see him there, sitting in his wheelchair with the driver's door open. He imagines a day when he was young, strong, and able to strut over to his pony car, settle in behind the wheel, and with a turn of the ignition key scare off all pretenders.

It's not much of an excuse to keep a car I no longer drive. When I find the courage to let my Mustang go, I'm hoping for overcast. That way, the sun won't blind me as I make my way around her one last time, before she leaves me for a younger man.

Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist. You may contact him at: tchalkias@aol.com