Minuteman

Alabama Section

Kids and Cars

Kids and Cars

A woman's perspective of living with and loving a Mercedes-Benz Maniac

Authored by our own Bonnie Fancy.

Reprinted with permission from The Star Magazine. March / April 2009.


Living with a Mercedes maniac is not easy for an adult, never mind a child. When our boys were little, I would leave the garage door open so they could get their tricycles and other vehicles out of the garage. Ernie's restoration project was also in the garage. He was sure they would hit the car and ruin it, at the same time he didn't want them leaving their toys outside. It was difficult for all concerned.

However, the car served as a bonding mechanism between Father and sons as time past. Most kids are about two when they are interested in helping. I have pictures of Mark and James washing the Mercedes. James wasn't much bigger than the wheel he was washing.

It wasn't long after that that they learned about tools. If Ernie was taking apart a salvaged door for the hardware, he would have the boys start the job. He would show them which bolts he wanted removed and give them the tools to do it with. They would also get an old coffee can in which to put the nuts and bolts. The next step was to clean the nuts and bolts and other parts for re-use.

By the time they were in high school, they were able to swap out engines, change body parts and use most of the tools.

Yes, it can be nerve racking to have a couple of teenaged boys using power tools and welding torches, especially if long hair is involved, but there were only two accidents that I know of. James got something in his eye once, and learned that his regular glasses did not serve as safety glasses, something a lot of grown men don't understand. Mark discovered that a grinding wheel can also grind flesh. The damage was small, just a couple of stitches. Ernie was the one who left the body dolly on the door sill of the car while he lay on his back pounding on the car. A couple of broken teeth convinced him that Isaac Newton wasn't just whistling “ Dixie ” when he defined gravity.

Then there's fire. Ernie was cutting rust out of his first restoration project, a 1960 220SE convertible. The top was torn and ragged and provided nourishment for a spark. I entered the garage to see the car roof burning and my husband so busy with what he was doing he hadn't noticed the fire. It was quickly put out with the fire extinguisher we keep out there. It made a big impression on Mark especially, and he has been extra careful with fire ever since.

The plus side to letting the kids help is the quality time spent with their father. Further, the boys learned to respect their own vehicles more when they had put the work in on them. That isn't to say there weren't any fender benders, but it could have been a lot worse.

Another plus was that they were spending all their money on cars, not drugs or other illegal things. James' ground up restoration of a 1967 Mustang along with good grades got him into Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

We taught our kids to keep their hands in their pockets at concours and at museums and collections. If there was a food area at the event, it was the only place they could eat. The average Mercedes Maniac will develop a major case of high blood pressure when a child with a lollipop or ice-cream cone wanders among the cars. I usually had some wet wipes with me to wash off sticky fingers. It is best to keep toys, especially balls, away from the cars as well.

The Minute Man Councours event was held at the Noble and Greenough School in Dedham , Massachusetts when Mark and James were little. The show cars were parked on the cement floor that covered the hockey rink. The boys were assigned the task of putting a cardboard under each car to collect leaks. The superintendent of building and grounds was my father and he insisted on this. When some competitors told the boys to stop because their car didn't leak, the boys would reply, “Go see Grandpa.”

After Mark and James got older they would direct traffic, judge, add up score sheets and register cars.

Rallies were no problem, either. One of the Minute Man members would bring his son too. He would pile all the kids in his car and they would all do the rally together, giving the parents a real chance to compete. Even without a volunteer to take the kids, having them along was not a big problem.

If we were rally masters, the boys were invaluable. They were good at thinking up questions for quiz rallies and got very devious about it. They would also help correct the quizzes or, when they were older, man a check point along the route.

At autocrosses, they would put back the cones that were knocked over. Later on, when they were old enough they would drive their own cars, just to test their limits, as well as their mother's nerves, in a relatively safe place. The boys also enjoyed tech sessions. Some of the things they learned at tech sessions were applied to their own projects. An added benefit to their involvement was that we knew where they were and don't we all want to know where our teenagers are?

Nowadays, Mark brings his kids along, and, man, is it fun. Spencer likes to study the cars, and Emma helps him make trophies and detail his car. It's déjà vu all over again.