A May-December romance: Young boy meets old car
A college graduate named Marty Crabill had just moved to town with a 1931 Ford roadster and a 1934 Ford roadster. The '34 had a 265-cubic-inch Chevrolet V-8 with dual quad carburetors.
"He took me to the drag strip," Beck says. "I was totally taken by this guy."
Beck recalls a casual question from Crabill that had far-from-casual consequences.
"He asked me, 'If you had your pick of any car, what would you take?'
"I said the 1932 Ford roadster.
" 'But you can't find them,' he said."
In the late 1950s, 1932 Fords were scarce in Michigan, home of salted roads and moist, rust-friendly winters. Beck, a car guy already, would have loved a '32 Ford for his high school years. But it wasn't to be.
It was not until after graduation that he finally acquired his first '32. On a trip to Texas in 1963, he bought a coupe. Two years later, he found another '32, rusting under a tree north of Lansing.
He bought his third '32 in the same year, 1965, for what his friends considered an outrageous price: $350. Today, the $350 price tag causes Paul to chuckle. Now, 1932 Fords are so prized that collectors will pay $5,000 and up for an original in restorable condition.
By the early 1960s, cars had become Paul's main hobby and livelihood. At age 19, he worked in an Oldsmobile plant in Lansing, hefting 98-pound axle housings on the assembly line. "At the end of an eight- or nine-hour shift I was so tired I couldn't walk to my car," he says.
But he couldn't quit. He had fallen in love with and purchased a white Chevrolet Corvette. "I kept the job. I had to pay for it."
He eventually learned auto body repair, which led to a career on the faculty at Lansing Community College. He teaches a new generation of youngsters the art of shaping and painting sheet metal.
He continued owning, racing and working on many cars in his spare time. The barn and yard at his farm are full of old vehicles in various states of rust or restoration.
After a divorce in the mid-1980s, he threw himself into his most creative project yet. He decided to restore a '32 Ford roadster that would be "period-correct" to 1958.
He didn't want a beautifully painted car with a modern engine. He wanted what he would have created back in 1958 if he had had the chance.
The project required about a year's worth of Paul's spare time. Paul and his son, Matthew, installed a 1939 Mercury transmission and rear end - "very typical of 1958." He left it drab and a bit rusty. Kids in the 1950s often neglected fancy paint jobs; they cared more about speed than perfect looks.
When Matthew started his senior year in high school, it was ready.
Paul finally had his '32 roadster - but for his son, not himself.
You can reach Charles Child at firstname.lastname@example.org.