Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Blue Overdose, The Prequel?

... By May of 1997, I'd finally found my van; a green 1966 Chevy Southern Bell display van. I could hardly contain my excitement. It hadn't run in a dozen years and the thought of getting it on the road was ominous. Perhaps if I found a club for these vans, I could learn. Found one. Past tense, founded one?

By summer of 1999, I was no closer to getting it on the road. The club was keeping me busy and I wasn't confident enough to tackle what I had in my mind. I knew exactly what I wanted it to look like! Blue metalflake paint job. Big M/T Indy Profile tires on slots and a plush blue interior. It was a dream a world away. I found a blue metalflake wallet. I pictured getting in the finished van with my blue metalflake wallet and being just about the coolest dude I'd ever seen.

My brother called me one day to tell me there was a van "just like yours" for sale a couple miles from my house. Obviously, I was on the way. I expected to find a VW as I thought I knew where all the Chevys were in the city; but there it sat, a '68 Chevy with Centerlines, running boards, fuzzy rear view mirror cover, and a spare tire mount on the rear door... the full JC Whitney works. $3500. The rear had been lowered, but not the front.

(On the day we met, 1999.)

Well, clearly I wasn't in the market for a $3500 van. At that time, he may as well have been asking $35,000 for it. I did offer to put it on the club website with the few bad pics I'd taken, in hopes of getting it into the hands of a club member.

It sat and sat and sat. I'd talk to him, Lawrence, now and then. He'd come off the price by early 2000 and down to $2500. In one conversation I said, "I really wish I were able to get it". To which he responded, "I'd really like you to have it". I know it was a sales pitch, but it was right over the plate. I still didn't have solid money to offer, so I offered him $50 a week, for a year. On Saturday, February 26, 2000, I handed Lawrence a $50 check and drove the van home.

The first thing I did was remove most of the more notable trappings that didn't seem to fit my vision for the van, like the JC Whitney floating compass on the dash, the spare tire rack (which had contorted the rear door), and the crown air freshener. Some of the other stuff lingered like the running boards and Centerline wheels. I loved those wheels when I was a kid, but they looked horrible on the van. They were soon replaced with the slots that remained on the van til it went to the paint shop in 2013. I also went about placing the rear axle back under the springs where it belongs. Without much in the way of experience or proper tools, I got to know the underside of the van very well in the brisk March night air. For the better part of a week, I used hacksaw blades to cut the shackle bolts that were fused to the bushings and sleeves. A good time was had by none. Finally, it sat properly again.

I drove it for ten years without a radio of any kind. In 2001, the running boards came off and the zoomies went on. Visually, the van went from cruiser to musclevan in an afternoon. The T/A tires I'd bought were still holding up nice, so the M/Ts were still in the future.

In Fall of 2001, my band was playing a show at Tipitina's in New Orleans. That's when I met Joel, who tried talking me out of the van all night. I convinced him there were others out there, so he went out and bought a bunch of first gen Fords. We became good friends over the years and often talked about the plan for the van. Joel had already become well-known as an automotive painter. His love of flake and vans were all I needed to hear. After that, I practically chased him to paint the van for a dozen years. I now know why he didn't exactly jump at the opportunity, given the shape my van was in. 

By 2006, I'd been wanting to put a V8 in the van for years, and with the 6 leaking from everywhere, I decided it was time to build. Building that engine is another blog for another time. On the day I dropped it in, I didn't have the V8 exhaust setup yet, so I had to break in the engine in the driveway with open headers in front of all the neighbors. They were all out. It was a big event. When it roared to life, I was beside myself. Going from the 6 to a powerfully built V8 was a drastic change for me. It shook the neighbors a bit too, who were concerned it would always be so loud. 

The next day, I took it to the muffler shop to have the Flowmasters mated up with the zoomies. Once they were done, they fired the van up to drive it out of the shop. I truly believed for a moment that they hadn't done anything to it yet. It sounded like a dragster. I was in love.

A short week or two later, I learned never to trust a machine shop when they say "Yep, we hot tanked the block after we honed it". The good news was that I was much faster at rebuilding an engine the second time. In a way, it was even more satisfying.

On July 2, 2007, I got a flat on one of the T/As. A few days later (while still riding on the spare) I had a blowout with another. I was stuck halfway across the longest bridge in the world without a spare. There is no shoulder on the bridge, so I had to drive a mile or so to get to the next emergency spot. At one point, the tire came off the wheel and passed me up. The slot was roasted.

(borrowed the Camaro's tires to get home.)

(July 6, 2007. The Smiley/Mickey era begins.)

That night, I finally made the order and upgraded from radials to bias ply tires. Say what you want about them, but I've yet to have a flat on a bias tire, in 7 years. I was so ecstatic to put those Mickeys on the van for the first time. I promised I'd never run another style for the rest of my life.

That summer, I finally made it to my first Nats, the 35th. I caravanned up with Wildave and The Viewmaster. The van ran perfectly. By now, the '68 was seeing regular duty as my paint job and band equipment hauler. It was always on the road, taking the abuse and rarely complaining. All the while, I kept the plan rolling around in my head.

Rust was beginning to become an issue. Much of the corners on the front clip were gone from roof to rocker. That's when I got my first invitation to Mac's Doghouse. He had procured and prepped a front clip and was ready to slap it on the van. Sounds easy enough, so I packed up the van and headed east to Robertsdale, AL. Within five minutes of meeting him, he'd kicked the windshield out of the van, looked at me and said, "I guess we gotta do it now". That we did. In the next 36 hours, I went from scared to ecstatic. It was an amazing weekend, and the first of many with Mac and Diane. 

(new, improved, and now sporting chrome bumpers courtesy of The Viewmaster.)

I was working on a TV show in Baton Rouge in late 2011. One evening on the way home in the rain, I got rear-ended. It wasn't too bad, but anything was bad enough. The next day, the picture car guys asked to use the van in an episode of the show. Great, now you ask me? It earned a few hundred bucks and the other driver's insurance was to cover the damage to the van, which I already happened to have a patch panel hanging in the garage for. Ahh, the chance I'd been waiting for! On the morning of March 16, 2012, the van heads out on a flatbed to begin the transformation...

That summer, while discussing the plans for the van with Ryan Collins at the 40th National Truck-in, I told him that there was gonna be so much blue flake on the van, it was gonna be like a blue overdose. He stopped me and said, "That's what you have to name it, 'Blue Overdose'". And that was that. Blue Overdose.

My friend Joel had seen the van many times and knew it wasn't nearly ready for the level of paint job he'd put on it, but I nicely kept after him. The body shop experience however, was a disaster. It was a very expensive lesson. A full year and some months later, we drug the van home. In some ways, it was in worse shape than when I brought it to them. 

I'd ignored a few obvious rules which led to this. First, I did business with family. Never again. Never ever again. Secondly, I sent the van to the body shop on my good wheels and tires. At some point in the van's stay at the Garcia's Auto Body, the guys ran down my battery, charged it, and crossed the cables, which in turn roasted the wiring harness. Once they couldn't start it any longer, they used a wheel-lift tow truck to move it around. With my rear tires being too wide for the straps, they didn't secure it and bounced the van off the truck. This damaged the tail panel, bent the driver's side axle, broke my 14"x8" slot in two, cracked the welds on my zoomies, and folded the passenger side shock mount. Of course, I was never informed. Every piece of glass on the van had been sandblasted as well. 

(broke my heart, right in two.)

After discovering and getting to the bottom of the tow truck issue, I got my friend Jacques to tow the van home for me. It wasn't done, but I didn't want a single hand on it again over there. 

In August of 2013, Joel came to the house with his trailer to bring the van to his shop. I knew it still needed some bodywork, but not nearly what I expected. His body man, Eric, is a perfectionist. What I thought was going to be a week or so of touchup turned into months more of fixing problems created at Garcia's and uncovering problems that they'd hidden with primer. A total nightmare, literally. I had nightmares for months over it.

In a span of 5 agonizing months (which felt like an eternity), Joel and Eric turned those nightmares into the realization of a dream. At first, I got sent home with a few pieces to drool over, most notably the doghouse lid. I didn't sleep with it, since the bed wasn't big enough. I also got to visit between base coat and flake. It already looked amazing. On the day I got the call that the flake was done, I could barely contain myself. Joel though, is not satisfied with simple awesome. He told me he wanted to add some candy fades and stripes to the van before he cleared it. I was not so sure. We visited again so he could show me what he had in mind. What I saw was a dull blue van (from final sanding) and yellow tape all over it. I couldn't make heads or tails of it. He'd known what I was after for over a decade. All I ever wanted was big, blue, metalflaked van. In the end though, I trusted him and I'm glad I did. 

I'd dreamed of this for so long. I knew exactly what it would look like in my mind. I only hoped that I would not be let down by the reality. I wasn't. In all my dreams, the van didn't look so vivid. I can't believe this is the same van. I can't believe this is MY van. I just can't believe this.

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