(Photos courtesy of David Goodwin) – There are times in just about everyone’s lives where they have profound moments that dictate a certain path they will take in the future. Those moments range from meeting your future spouse and falling in love, or figuring out your career direction, or any one of many possibilities that will alter your path in life. But since you are here, reading this blog, you are a gearhead. Like me, I bet cars interested you as a kid, but so did a host of other things. But again, you are here reading this, so there had to have been something to flick that switch from the casual car fan over to a total car nut. Do you remember when that happened? Do you remember the exact moment that set you down the path that you are still traveling down today? Because I do.
I grew up in a “car” family. My father was always telling me about the old days, when he used to race his ’66 Cutlass with his buddies, and about how cool muscle cars were. My dad’s was a sleeper: it was a four door Holiday Sedan, but it packed heat in the form of a high compression 330ci V8 and a Hurst-equipped four speed… and a bench seat. My mom was always telling me how dangerous (and fast) that car was, and how he had to replace the Cutlass with an automatic ’69 LeMans because of a bad knee. But by the time I was a kid in the 1980’s, all the muscle had been replaced with Broughamy sofas on wheels and workhorse trucks, so I resorted to reading issues of Hot Rod in the school library and playing with my Hot Wheels. When I was around 7 or 8, my mother befriended a nice lady at her work named Kelly. When she came to visit our house one day, she was behind the wheel of a sweet early 1970’s Pontiac Firebird Formula. She had a muscle car!
Her husband, David Goodwin, also grew up in a “car” family. He caught the bug early on, since his dad was a car guy who loved Studebakers. By the time we met David, he had a side business of doing body repairs out of his home shop. Cool cars were always outside his garage in various states of disrepair and restoration. One car that sat outside that garage caught my eye: his rare 1970 AMC Javelin Mark Donohue Edition wearing Big Bad Orange. While I had zero clue who Mark Donohue was, or what this weird car that was kind of like if a Mustang and a Camaro were merged into one machine, and I didn’t recognize it from my Hot Wheels collection at home. It was strange and awesome all at the same time. All I knew is that I never saw one before, and I wanted to learn more.
One time when we were visiting, I asked David what that cool car was that sat outside. I saw it in pictures in his house, and I saw it in a mock magazine cover hanging on the wall. He explained to me that what an AMC was, what a Javelin was, and why Mark Donohue’s name was emblazoned on that big spoiler on the back. He brought me a photo album of pictures of when he first pulled it apart for paint and some restoration work back in the late 1980’s. That proved to be the “eureka!” moment; flipping through that photo album flipped a switch in my brain. I knew I liked cars at a very young age, and even though family members maintain that I was telling people what car was in front of us at night by the light of the taillights at the age of 3, I never really took that extra step until flipping through that photo album. I had no idea that you could take them apart and put them back together, making them better than new, in your garage at home! I wanted to do that! I always thought that photo albums were reserved for pictures of family members, so this car must have been held in high esteem. And I think that interest I took in cars rekindled that fire in my dad, too. While he didn’t have the cool cars of his past anymore, his next workhorse truck ended up being a rare 1992 Ford F150 Flareside 4×4 with a 5.0 and the rare Nite package. He bought it pretty soon after that moment, and it was a cool rig with a little bit of muscle.
Mere months later, I found myself buying a go-kart in the old Want-Ad classifieds with my paper route money; my first project vehicle! While it wasn’t a car, it was something with an internal combustion engine and four wheels, and it needed work. It was so cool… it had a 5hp Tecumseh on it that was painted red, white, and blue, and it had the sweetest decal of a cheetah with a giant knife in its mouth. It was so awesome, and I wish I still had a picture of it. I used to drive around it at David and Kelly’s place because he had a giant parking lot behind the house. When the Tecumseh decided to snap its poor connecting rod after hours of abuse, David, my dad, and I tore down the engine right there at his place. I learned how it broke, and I planned out my very first engine swap: a 6hp Tecumseh Snow King being donated by my father’s friend. I was a long way out from swapping engines in cool cars, but I was getting there!
By the time I FINALLY bought my own real car when I was 16, a 1964 Buick Skylark 2-door hardtop, I started making big plans on swapping out the boring 225ci “Fireball” (and later “Dauntless”) Buick V6, David and family were packing up and moving down to Florida to live closer to David’s parents. While I never really did follow through with my plans for dropping a turbocharged 3.8 V6 and making a proto-Grand National into the car, I was finally on my own path, learning as I traveled on. I made friends with other guys that loved cars like I did, we all wrenched and learned together, and the rest is history. And I always had a soft spot for AMC’s, and I do to this day.
Ok, by now, you’re probably thinking “where’s he going with this”, right? A couple weeks ago, I’m scanning my Facebook feed and I see David posting up a story about his Javelin- yes, THAT Javelin- making it into Hot Rod Magazine! David had recently restored the car for a third time, and his efforts paid off. After he restored it the first time, the car got flooded in the Perfect Storm of 1991 and he had to take it apart all over again to get it back up and going. I remember David being so bummed and frustrated that the car flooded, and well, wouldn’t you be? After moving across the country, messing with some other projects over the years, and even becoming very active in the AMC community, he turned his attention back to the Javelin and fully restored it again. I reached out to David to congratulate him, and we began talking about the car. He recently located the original owner, who bought the 390/4-speed equipped AMC in Lansdowne, PA to do some drag racing back in 1971 as a 1970 model year leftover. It was confirmed that it was a true Mark Donohue Javelin, which meant in this case a nasty 390ci AMC V8, a four speed manual transmission, a Twin Grip rear, and that giant homoglation special rear spoiler with Mark Donohue’s autograph. It was raced primarily at Cecil County Raceway between 1971 and 1976. By the time Dave ended up with it in 1984, it was a discarded hulk of its former self. Remember, back then, these cars were just used cars, and he picked it up on the very cheap. By the time my family met David and his wife Kelly, he had already restored it once, and that photo album served as a testament to his efforts. And once I saw this article on my feed, it all came full circle for me. That mock magazine cover, the photo album full of old pictures of the car, and that feeling of intense interest in cool cars just washed over me again. I have my own “Javelin”: a 1979 Trans Am, and I bet I wouldn’t have it if it wasn’t for this car. You have to admit, that is pretty damn cool.
So I ask again, do you remember when you knew that you were going to play with cars for the rest of your life? What flipped the switch in your brain? Let us know in the comments below!