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Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
8/16/20 8:34 p.m.

I bought my first car at the age of 12. Or, well, my parents bought my first car for me, since I didn't have the $200 that the seller wanted. Now, 15 years later, I just mailed a check to that seller's widow to buy it back. I figured I'd start this thread to chronicle the story from start to finish, with the goal of ending up with my car back in my own garage. 

But let's back up a bit. That first car was this 1973 Triumph Spitfire, shown here as purchased, lovingly stored under a tarp in a friend of a family friend's backyard. Oddly enough it had also been the seller's first car, but life had gotten in the way and necessitated its sale. My dad knew an opportunity when he saw one, so he snapped it up knowing it would be the perfect next step from my go-kart. 

We covered the project in the early issues of Classic Motorsports, and a few of the stories are still online as low-res Spitfire project car updates to this day, so I won't recreate everything here. Instead, here's the Cliff's Notes version of the following years, told through some truly embarrassing photos of everybody from more than a decade ago.

I'm pretty sure this photo was taken the day the Spitfire arrived in the driveway, and would have been the first time I'd ever seen the car in person.

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
8/16/20 8:38 p.m.

With the Spitfire home, I learned how to resurrect an old British car from decades under a tarp. With the help of my dad and almost everybody else from the office, we spent a few months getting it running and driving.

Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UberDork
8/16/20 8:39 p.m.

Awesome! Looking forward to more.

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
8/16/20 8:41 p.m.

Finally, after learning firsthand how nasty, broken, and neglected a British car can be, we got it running and driving. At this point I was somewhere around 13 years old, so all I could do was go for rides in the Spitfire. Still, I was ecstatic. After an entire life where every single person played with cars 24/7, I finally had one of my own.

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
8/16/20 8:45 p.m.

The car was running, but I couldn't drive it. So I kept working on it, supported, encouraged and taught every step of the way by my dad and the rest of the staff. Even freelancer Carl Heideman lent his expertise for a tuning session during a trip down from Michigan. 

 

Of course, not all of my effort was positive.... In hindsight, it was pretty stupid to put a modern stereo in the Spitfire, but cut me some slack–I was 14!

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
8/16/20 8:48 p.m.

Then, finally, I turned 15 and got my learner's permit. I could drive the Spitfire! Here's tech editor Per setting some baseline laps during a day he was kind enough to chaperone me to the test track:

Track time led to a desire to go faster, of course, so then we started throwing go-fast parts at the car. Or, well, I guess they're really "go-less-slow" parts, since this was a horrible old British car with 50 horsepower. 

 

I'd have to go back and re-read the stories to be sure, but I think we made something like 70 horsepower at the wheels by the time we were done. Not bad for a 1500 Spitfire with a stock engine!

Mr_Asa
Mr_Asa Dork
8/16/20 8:54 p.m.

I love "First Car" stories.  Glad you were able to get her back.

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
8/16/20 8:58 p.m.

Then I turned 16, and could finally drive the Spitfire on my own. And like any newly-minted driver, I did! The Spitfire became my primary form of transportation, even though I'd already bought and sorted my "real" car, an E30 BMW. For a year I drove the Spitfire almost every day. It parked in the high school parking lot, drove me to my first job, and carried five people when it needed to, since none of my friends had managed to buy cars yet. My time with the Spitfire came to a close as the Vintage Triumph Register's national convention visited Jekyll Island in 2010. That's only a few hours from home, so I drove the Spitfire up and joined my father and grandparents for a weekend of Triumph activities. 

Here's my grandmother about to nearly have a heart attack at the VTR autocross:

And here's the whole family with their trophies (I won the LeMans start competition, mostly due to my young knees):

I finished the weekend by driving the Spitfire straight from Jekyll Island to high school at 80+ mph the entire way, arriving just in time to be fashionably late for fourth period (worth it). 

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
8/16/20 9:09 p.m.

At this point, my time with the Spitfire was coming to a close. At the end of the day it was just a ratty Spitfire, and I didn't have the time or money to fund more than one project at once. I'm not sure if my dad called the seller or the seller called my dad, but we all agreed on the next step: We'd finish the car to the original owner's spec, then he would buy it back. I'd have time and money to finish my E30 the way I wanted to, and he'd get his first car back. Everybody wins. Well, except 17-year-old me, who quickly found himself drilling spot welds and sanding bondo in order to make the Spitfire as close to perfect as possible.

Yeah, seriously: We sold the car because I didn't have the time or money to finish it, but the buyer made us a deal we couldn't refuse. 

I'll have to dig deeper for the photos of the finished car, so just picture a Spitfire nice enough to easily win a local concours. It wasn't perfect and it had its defects, but that's what left on a trailer to Virginia a few months later, and I waved goodbye to my first car. 

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
8/16/20 9:16 p.m.

For years I thought this was the end of the story, until my dad got a call from a widow a few weeks ago. "My recently deceased husband bought a Spitfire from you 10 years ago, and I know you had first right of refusal if it ever went back up for sale, so do you want to buy it back?" 

I don't need more cars. Heck, I already have another Spitfire. But most car nuts never get this opportunity, and I wasn't about to pass it up. I made a few calls and convinced a buddy to drive over to Richmond, VA and inspect the car. What I saw on his Facetime call was nothing short of amazing–it seemed like the car hadn't been driven more than a few miles over those 10 years. Sure, it had a few new scratches, and the carburetors and fuel tank were sitting on the floor next to it, but otherwise it seemed completely untouched. I made a deal, mailed a check, and marked a date on the calendar: Nicole and I are going up to get the Spitfire this weekend. Of course, British cars always come in pairs, and I also bought the parts car, a hard top, and "assorted spare parts" that are piled around the garage. Honestly, I have no idea what I actually bought, but the car's original owner and his widow have always been good people, so I'm hoping it's fairly easy to get back on the road. 

For now this is where the story stops. Wish us luck, place your bets, and I'll update this thread once I see the car with my own eyes. 

Dusterbd13-michael (Forum Supporter)
Dusterbd13-michael (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
8/16/20 9:34 p.m.

If you need anything near Charlotte NC,  let me know! 

Datsun310Guy
Datsun310Guy MegaDork
8/16/20 9:44 p.m.

Great story.  Subscribed.  

I remember my buddy at 15 years of age working his dad to let him buy a beater truck that he would work on so when he turned 16 he'd have a ride ready to go.  

His dad was a smart man and knew the first night he was out we'd be driving around with no DL's being underage.  He was spot on cause we would've gone out driving. 

Hasbro (Forum Supporter)
Hasbro (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
8/16/20 9:52 p.m.

That's awesome, I remember that build. Back when you were "Tommy" .

Appleseed
Appleseed MegaDork
8/16/20 9:58 p.m.

Tommy, you dork.

Snowdoggie
Snowdoggie HalfDork
8/16/20 10:04 p.m.

I had a Spitfire once. Now I want another one. devil

Teh E36 M3
Teh E36 M3 SuperDork
8/16/20 10:25 p.m.

We got my first car when I was 12 too... a 69 MG Midget. I kept it until I was 38, 2013. I cried the day the kid bought it. I put it on CL after yet another frustrating day with it. He didn't even bargain with my price- I pointed out every flaw, every terrible thing with it, and he couldn't be dissuaded. So there is an Air Force dude (27 at the time) with my car- 4age 20v blacktop engine, miata independent rear and front spindles... my heart, soul, and gallons of blood in that car. I deleted his contact information just to avoid any temptation. I think about it every day, and I know if it every crosses my path again, I'll probably buy it back.

 

It is what it is, as they say. Even though I know it was never as good as my memory of it.

Patrick (Forum Supporter)
Patrick (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
8/17/20 7:08 a.m.

This is so cool.  Don't let it go again, there are very few times in life where you get a do-over with your first anything.  As someone who's on year 28 with their first car - dad gave me my 54 chevy when i was 12 - you're a lucky man Tom.  It's been the only constant in my life. 

Appleseed
Appleseed MegaDork
8/17/20 9:32 a.m.

People ask me when I'm going to sell the Murdercycle. Never. It's my first bike and I'll spend the rest of my life trying to get it back.

mazdeuce - Seth
mazdeuce - Seth Mod Squad
8/17/20 9:52 a.m.

From the pictures above it appears that Tom has gotten older, but Tim is refusing to age. 

Robbie (Forum Supporter)
Robbie (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
8/17/20 10:03 a.m.

I'm wondering if Tom has ever had a different haircut for his whole life.

ebelements
ebelements Reader
8/17/20 10:18 a.m.

Absolutely love this and can't wait to see where it goes!

My first car story was only slightly similar—when I was 15 my family helped me procure an '86 Civic Si, a ten year old car at the time. I worked on it with what little knowledge I(or my friends) had at the time... but once I had my license it went in for it's final checkup with the family mechanic. It was deemed "too rusty" and sold off. Knowing what I know now, our family mechanic just didn't like "foreign cars" and if he had the option, he'd steer us away from them.  

I have a rule to never re-purchase another model of a car I've owned. Keeps me out of trouble, and allows for a broader automotive experience. That said, the urge is still present—which is why I'm now recreating my automotive history, but at 1:24 scale. So that Si? It's being faithfully recreated down to the mismatched color fender, faded paint, and rust. 

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
8/17/20 10:18 a.m.

In reply to Robbie (Forum Supporter) :

My quarantine buzzcut is a little different, but no, there's only so much you can do with this hair.

racerdave600
racerdave600 UltraDork
8/17/20 11:25 a.m.

Congrats Tom, not many of us get the opportunity.  I'd love to have my first car back.  Not my first car, but my 3rd I bought when I was 19 was a TR4A, I would dearly love to have that one.  

Woody
Woody GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
8/17/20 11:42 a.m.

In reply to Tom Suddard :

Doing this to us on Monday is just mean. 

The country is shut down. Nobody is doing anything. Back the truck up to the trailer this afternoon and start driving north..

keithedwards
keithedwards Reader
8/17/20 1:26 p.m.

My first car was a 1967 TR4A that I bought in 1973, when I was 19. Owned it 40+ years. I had 1/2 ownership of a $100 Spitfire in 1975. Flat-towed it home behind my TR4A, rebuilt the engine, did some body work, interior work, and painted the car BRG. Fun to drive, though the gearing gave you the false impression that it was much quicker than it really was. I like to contact previous owners of my cars, sometimes offering to sell the car back to them (especially my more interesting cars). I still keep up with the current owners of 3 of my old cars.

Congrats on getting your old Triumph back, Tom!

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