Jo Ann Jaacks: A family history of gearheads

Dad's yellow Roadster

While on a recent errand run, I ran into an unexpected traffic jam on a nearby road. A long line of vehicles parked directly behind one another were pulled to the side of the road and dozens of folks were milling about. There seemed something unusual about the grouping. A number of them were painted shiny crayon blues, reds and yellows. Then I remembered that summer is also the season for car shows, and quickly took the first side road away from the cavalcade before reaching the dreaded detour.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t always avoid car shows like the plague. I actually come from a gearhead family. The definition given by the Urban Slang dictionary is “mechanically inclined enthusiasts who as a hobby or pastime like to work on cars, performance equipment such as hot rods or race equipment.” This is my heritage.

In my hometown, my father owned the local filling station, which in those days actually repaired cars as well. He also sporadically tinkered with an ancient tractor to keep it running, and haying, and even more sporadically worked on restoring his first car — a 1936 Ford Cabriolet roadster replete with running boards and a rumble seat. I have fond memories of joining my siblings in clambering all over that snappy yellow car while it was parked for years in our garage. Every so often, my father would push it out to the driveway, fuss under the hood for a few hours, and victoriously crank it up.

I learned early on the importance of saving, and opened my first bank account when I won $500 for giving the correct answer to a puzzle in the Hartford Courant. I bought my first car when I graduated high school — a British Racing Blue Mustang Fastback. I didn’t know how to repair it; evidently I’d inherited the love-of-cars gene but not the mechanical skills to go with it. I babied my Mustang with biweekly washings and had my father change the oil with unfailing regularity. I wasn’t in the same league as my younger sister who began collecting, and restoring, vintage classic cars such as a 1957 Thunderbird, 1966 GTO (the fastest car around in its day) and many more. I don’t know if that’s a hobby or a pastime, more of a family obsession. Eventually, she completely restored my father’s beloved yellow roadster and “gave” it to him as a Father’s Day present. Her daughter also took up the baton with her first vehicle purchase — a 1985 F250 monster truck named Big Blue that she’s had for 25 years.

It was a well-known secret that one of my brothers used to compete, and just as regularly win, drag-racing on a remote country road where the contenders had paint lines at a quarter-mile. And several years later, my younger brother raced professionally with his modified VW Rabbit at the Stafford Motor Speedway.

My sister built her home on the side of a mountain — the perfect setting to scramble up the old logging roads in a sturdy Quad. I shared a Facebook video of a small vehicle climbing a tall dirt mountain in a terrifying, circuitous ascend. Jokingly, I sent her the message, “Can your Quad do that?” Her reply, “Not while I’m on it!”

My brother then posted the comment, “I could do it.” What else could I say but, “OK, borrow her Quad and I’ll shoot the video.” Now I’m searching for a steep dirt mountain.

Connecticut Media Group