August 17, 2014

The Evolution of a Car Girl

I am a car girl. 

As a young woman, I learned a lot about basic car repair simply by owning a car that required me to practice.I grew up loving cars, probably because I never had a "nice" car of my own.

My first car was a Honda Civic Wagon. Much like the one pictured below(although admittedly mine was in much worse shape). It sported the baby blue paint and stock wheel covers.

Honda Civic Wagon

Yes, that's right. A Civic Wagon. My parents drove it, then my sisters drove it...and then I got the car.
My dad taught me to drive on the back roads of Door County WI while we were on vacation. Touchy clutch is an understatement. It would test your neck strength every time I got behind the wheel as we would jerk down the road while I tried to navigate through the gears. The transmission had a broken mount and was hanging on the gear shift, making it even more "fun" to shift. The patience my dad demonstrated was second to none. He would coach me through shifting gears as calm as could be while I was lurching the car down the road.

I drove that rust bucket of a Honda until one of my best friends rear ended me on an icy winter night. There wasn't enough solid metal to replace the back window, it would have fallen right back out! Getting hit by a Mercedes(an old tank of a Mercedes) while driving a Civic was a bit intimidating, let alone the amount of glass that ended up on the dashboard as a result. Shortly thereafter, the little Civic went to the Rawhide Boys Ranch and I had to go shopping for a new beater.

So with the help of my parents, I got a 1993 Honda Accord. Now that was a nice car by my standards! It wasn't a wagon(finally!), it was black(so much better than that blue), and aftermarket parts were readily available for me to install at my own free will if I could afford them on my $7.00/hr job. I washed the car every weekend and was thrilled when my first box of parts showed up in the mail. Clear turn signal lenses!

Honda Accord

I promptly installed sub-woofers and an alarm, upgraded the speakers and stereo and then began the repairs under the hood. If I recall correctly it had a leaky steering pump and needed some general TLC including a brake job.  I still vividly recall replacing the fuel pump main relay. As I lay awkwardly crammed under the dash I wondered how any adult man could ever wedge himself under the steering wheel far enough to make that repair. My favorite thing about that car was working on it and making it my own through every turn of the wrench.

My dad taught me how to change oil when I was little. As a 14 year old, I would go to the library and read books explaining the inner workings of a combustion engine. How many kids(girls especially) study Chilton repair manuals for fun? I loved learning to use tools, getting greasy and completing repairs myself.

When I was in high school, I elected auto shop. Twice. My shop teacher even taught us how to hot-wire a car which we promptly attempted to duplicate in the school faculty parking lot. It didn't work.

And then there were the evening cruises. My friends boyfriend had a Chevy Nova. Despite her valid trepidation about letting her daughter ride in a classic car driven by a 17 year old boy, we left the driveway, piled 4 or 5 deep in the Nova. We cruised East Washington Avenue in Madison at least twice a week. Those nights were the highlight of my week. There is something about a classic muscle car roaring down the road among the droves of newer models that makes you smile. When you're in a car that launches off the line, you relish the opportunity to stop at a red light. And when the light turns green, nothing compares to the rush you feel as raw horsepower roars away from the line and you fly past the other cars seemingly parked on the road. Safest teenage activity? Not likely. But we never got pulled over or hit anyone else, so we got lucky.

Downtown Madison Wisconsin Night

Today I find myself in the company of car lovers within my family and through my work. My dad owns a classic pickup and drives it all over Southern WI. My sister is a talented GM mechanic and has started her Facebook Page The Auto Savvy Gal to share tips and information from her perspective about tools, and maintenance of late model vehicles. Meanwhile, at home, my husband, Steve, keeps our shop up and running, concentrating strictly on the classics loved by so many people.

My story is likely not "normal" of a young woman growing up but I guess I'd rather be a little different. The skills I have today are a result of my parents, my experiences and the people I knew while growing up.

Every day working with classic cars brings something new. It's a pleasure to help our project owners make new memories in their old cars.

~Molly Gursky
car girl

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