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The Classics Perspective - The Rodfather

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by Brian Medford  More from Author

Having a godfather is one thing, I had a "rodfather".

(The Classics Perspective is a column exclusive to AutoTrader Classics and written by our own Online Editor Brian Medford. We hope you enjoy it.)

When most of us think of a godfather we think of mafia movies. For those not familiar with the idea of a godfather, this is the person who is designated by your parents to help bring you up in your faith. I have both a godfather and a godmother, but the one I didn't expect was my "rodfather". Growing up in my dad's shop I was surrounded by cars and car guys. Some of them good influences, some of them bad, but it wasn't until our new neighbor moved in did my real car influence appear.

Van was an old school hot rodder. He bought the house next door when I was around 10 years old and I immediately noticed his garage. Van's garage was a magical place. He worked in a steel mill and his shop showed his proficiency with metal. I spent many afternoons in Van's garage or driveway. He was a tinkerer and nothing was safe. There was the new Chevy truck which he transplanted a newer engine into, going so far as combine the engine harnesses so that it didn't throw any trouble lights. It was that kind of dedication to doing it right that I admired.

It wasn't until Van brought home a '34 Ford coupe that my education began. Van had owned this car before. It was his first car he hot rodded when he was a teen. He tracked down the car in the hills of West Virginia pretty much where he had seen it last. He wanted to build the car "right" this time and now he had the time do it.

Van didn't believe in just getting it done, he believed in getting it done right. One afternoon he taught me how to pull an oil can dent using nothing more than a blow torch and a cold rag. Van worked the torch over the door panel while explaining how the metal wanted to go back into shape and we only needed to help it along. As we heated and cooled the panel he would tell me to push on the door til it popped in, then I would push it back out and we'd keep working the panel. As if by magic the door panel would gain strength until I couldn't push it in anymore. A dent which I previously would have beaten out with a hammer and dolly now looked like a factory fresh panel.

The education continued almost daily. I would come home from school and immediately run across the yard to Van's garage to see what was happening next. Piece by piece the '34 was disassembled and the parts sorted. Each piece was a learning experience and a part of hot rod history. He was always working on several projects at once. One day I came home to find a pair of '40 Ford's in his driveway, one sedan and one coupe. He only wanted the coupe but had to buy the sedan with it to make the deal. This was normal for Van and within a few weeks the sedan was sold and the coupe was in pieces. He'd go back and forth between projects making a little progress here and there on each one. Eventually I moved away from home and Van moved to be closer to his grandkids. I never saw the finished '34 or '40 Fords but I know when they are done they will be done right.

What I didn't realize until years later was Van had become more than a neighbor or cool old hot rod guy, he was a major influence in my life. I could have very well been the Dennis the Menace to his Mister Wilson, but instead he chose to mentor me in the true hot rod ways. I was eager to learn and he was a patient teacher. There was always a "why" behind everything he did. We would talk for hours about how to solve a problem, then go solve it. It wasn't always the quick or easy fix either, but it was the right solution. At the time I am sure Van never considered or planned on being a mentor, but his influence has gone far beyond what we could have imagined. At the time we were just having fun working on cars. Now I can finally see what was really happening was a tradition was being passed on, and for that I am thankful.

So here is my challenge to you: become a rodfather. If someone expresses interest in your car, ask them if they want to learn more. Invite them over to your shop to help. Tell them the whys and the hows. You never know how a simple gesture can change someone's life.

I want to make you aware of a program that has been around for a few years called Take A Kid To A Car Show. It is that simple. Just go to our Events section and find a local car show.

(Brian is avid automotive enthusiast who grew up in his father's shop and has had grease under his fingernails from an early age. He has been involved in the classic automotive industry for well over a decade. He has owned several classic cars and is currently focused on the Oldsmobile brand.)

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