Fuel for Adventure

I have gasoline running through my veins.

I’m not sure how it happened. My father wasn’t a car guy. I didn’t have siblings with an affinity for engines. Yet for as long as I can recall, I was drawn to anything motorized. I took apart every lawnmower my family ever owned—and luckily, put them back together again.

As a teenager, I turned my attention to my mother’s ’66 Rambler Rebel. At age 15, I blew the transmission. My father had passed two years prior, and my mother took my advice as to the next vehicle she should purchase: a 1970 Chevelle. 

I took it apart immediately—replaced the 307 cubic inch motor with a small block 400. I turned the air cleaner lid upside-down so you could hear the carburetor making noise. My mother, a dignified suburbanite and professional Town Clerk, found herself driving a hot rod.

In hindsight, I see how easily the story could have ended there. Cars might have just been a hobby for me—something to tinker with in the garage on weekends, a pursuit to sustain me through a dull work week at a sensible job.

Instead, everything changed the morning my mother looked out the window and said, “There is a very fancy car in the driveway.”

Indeed.

It was a 1968 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow drop-top. Gold metallic with beige interior. I knew the car, and I knew the man driving it. Ed Butler. Together with his brothers, he was the sole distributor of Toyotas in New England, and of Subaru in New York and New Jersey. He owned 7 retail dealerships. I’d met him only once, under amusing circumstances, and he’d offered me a job. I’d declined. And now here he was, dressed so impeccably he seemed an extension of his luxurious car, ringing the doorbell at my modest home.

“Come with me to Boston,” he said. “I need you to drop me at Logan and bring the car back to Barrington.”

I may have hesitated.

“Use the car while I’m away,” he added. “I’ll be gone about two weeks.”

And so, at age 18, having never driven outside my small Rhode Island hometown, I found myself in Boston, a Rolls Royce in my care and keeping.

The moment was as surreal as it was significant, but I doubt that registered in my young mind. As I watched Ed Butler disappear into the airport terminal and aimed the Rolls back onto the highway, I had absolutely no idea what lay on the road ahead.

The gasoline running through my veins was about to fuel an adventure.

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Mom's ill-fated '66 Rambler Rebel

Mom's ill-fated '66 Rambler Rebel

1968 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow drop top. If you show up to high school in one of these, trust me - people notice.

1968 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow drop top. If you show up to high school in one of these, trust me - people notice.