In hot rodding parlance, 38-year-old Chris Sanders has got himself a “reacher”, a first- attempt rookie that is well on its way to becoming whole. He says that he had previously never had a “hot rod” and that his ’73 Z aspires to something greater than a limited budget could muster in 2005. He paid $500 for the original, a bona fide Z28, plus a parts car, but it wasn’t like he stumbled over a screaming deal.
The deal wasn’t screaming, it was cursing him. In fact, the car didn’t even have rear wheels when he bought it. It was trying very hard to return to the earth. “I kept jacking and jacking,” he says. “But the axle was not coming up off the ground. Finally, there was a big thump … and the axle hit the ground along with a 2-foot [section] of the framerail that came off [bringing] the leaf spring with it.” This prompted his usually mild-mannered bud, Chris Martin, to jump back and exclaim, “That’s not good.”
He’d bought a rot bucket, a really bad rot bucket. No, that doesn’t come close. Listen: “…the goal was to just get it running right so I could drive it to Martin’s house to work on it a little at a time. I noticed a weird sound coming from the rear seat during acceleration … the floorboard just behind the driver seat would lift 3 or 4 inches as the leaf spring pushed the whole thing up. We got the green light from Martin’s dad, Larry, to use his shop for disassembly.”
Chris spent money as if it was going out of style. “I ordered quarters, a floorpan, radiator core support, fenders, hood, tailpanel, doorskins, rocker panels, front and rear wheelhouses, front and rear bumpers, new trim, marker lights, taillights, headlights, door handles, and a master bolt kit.” They blew the car apart and started cutting, stripping, and welding panels back in. “I was to the point that I almost hated the car before I got done with it.” Yeah, that’s the point when you know you’re never going to let go. The car isn’t generating anything, and you’re frustrated and longing for the project to end. So you schmooze the stone and keep on grinding.
“Thanks to Martin, the guys at NastyZ28.com, and an understanding wife (Aimee), it was finally done and ready for upholstery,” Chris says. He drove it. He went cruising in it. He lived in it. Then, one day he was at a local watering hole getting ready to leave when a friend suggested that he stomp the throttle and let the clutch fly (sort of a gesture of camaraderie and good will, you see). He roasted ’em in Low gear, banged Second … and that’s when things went black. The Muncie M21, which had obviously not been prayed to in a while, decided that it had lived long enough. “There was a very loud pop and then a very loud grinding sound,” Chris says.
High gear was all Chris had left. He knew that if he stopped he’d never get the car rolling again, and he had to get it home regardless. When Aimee heard his pitiful tale and saw the look on his face after the tranny trauma, rolling a red light, and ignoring several stop signs, she suggested that Father’s Day was approaching and that he should go ahead and order that trick Tremec five-speed he’d been lusting after. One door closes; another door opens. Chris nearly teared up.
Like the rest of us, he knows that his labor will never really be finished. He sees a different ending down the road. He’s learned from experience, not from the tales of hangers-on. In the future, he’ll nod to that RideTech suspension system, four-link bars, and mini-tubs. The pedestrian tweed interior will turn into rich leather and Chris will bask in the shine of the moon.