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The One That Got Away

Jeffrey Burgess

In the summer of 1987, my life was finally coming together. I had just turned 26 and my wife and I owned our own home in Dearborn. One day, my wife’s uncle handed me a brochure on the 1987 Corvette. I fell in love. I made a deal with my wife: I had to renovate the unfinished attic in our home into our master bedroom, complete with new furniture, before we had our first child. In return, I would get my dream car. It was a manual 4-speed transmission 1987 Corvette Coupe, with all the bells and whistles. The only thing I forgot to order on this Champagne colored beauty was the power locks. I waited anxiously until the delivery date in late June, and I had my brief summer fling with the car that got away.

In July, just two weeks after my dream arrived, my wife told me the wonderful news that she was pregnant with our first child. I then had the arduous task of fulfilling my promise to provide her with the bedroom we needed for our growing family. I would have to put on my thinking cap to pull that off.

On August 16, 1987 I spent 2 hours polishing and waxing the car before leaving to meet my parents for dinner in Belleville. There was a nasty storm brewing and my wife and I packed up the car so we could beat the storm without putting on the removable roof panel. We wound up leaving my parents house at 8:30 and headed back to Dearborn, about 20 minutes away. I was speeding down Interstate-94 to get the car to my garage, passing Detroit Metro Airport, and exited to Telegraph Rd (just 4 minutes from my house). When I pulled into my driveway the hot, humid air was full of a smell I will never forget. My wife and I sensed something was wrong and she ran into the house, turned on the TV and we heard the horrific news that Northwest Flight 255 had crashed at the very intersection we were at mere moments earlier. I was rushing home to beat the same storm that the pilots were trying to avoid. I have always felt very lucky because if I were driving any slower, who knows what might have happened. That day will haunt me until my last breath.

In December of 1987 I needed to sell my dream car to provide for my growing family. My brief romance with the car that got away was over. I looked at the snow on the ground and knew that the payments and insurance might hinder my ability support my family and become the father I knew I wanted to be. When the gentleman picked up the car and drove off in my 1987 Corvette, I knew I would never see it again.

On February 27, 1988 my daughter was born and my wife and I had a new bedroom and furniture as promised. Many years and two more children later, my wife found the payment book for the Corvette while going through some old financial paperwork. I saw that if I had kept the car, the final payment would have been that very week. This was only the first of many strange occurrences in the unraveling history of this car and me.

For my birthday that year, my wife put together a collage of photos of the car, telling me, “You’ll always have your ‘Vette.” It hung in my office, and every day I glanced at it and wished I could have taken my kids for a ride. I pointed out every 1987 Corvette I saw, and after a while my kids just rolled their eyes.

On August 2, 2013 I was on Craigslist Detroit to search for a car for my youngest daughter, perusing the ads to no avail. For some odd reason, I typed in “1987 Corvette” and a list popped up with about ten or so cars. As I scrolled down the list, I saw an ad that featured a Corvette that was the same champagne color as mine. I clicked the ad and it read: 1987 Corvette for sale for $9900 in Ann Arbor. The actual color is Champagne and looks gorgeous. It is in very good condition. It is all stock, includes all records, is garage kept and had never seen snow. The price includes new Falken Tires. The removable roof stores under rear glass. 4+3 Manual Transmission is a blast to drive. The interior features power windows, power driver seat and partial power passenger seat. The car has a custom Targa exhaust and sounds great. Everything works on the car and has been well maintained. Factory A/C works great. A spare jug of R-12 is included with the car for recharges along with a soft car cover for storage and soft folding top for rain protection when hard top is off. The vehicle also features an on board trickle charger. Clear Title in hand. Owner is moving out of state. I was stunned.

There was no mention of power locks in the ad. Could this could this be my car 26 years later? I emailed the seller immediately to ask if it was still available and if it had power door locks. I received an answer two days later, and when I read the email my heart hit my stomach. The reply was: Yes the car is available and no power door locks. It had to be the car that got away.

I looked up the 1987 Corvette production totals, and figured that approximately 51 cars were built in my color and transmission, about 1 car per state. Only 3% of Corvettes were made without power door locks. I went to look at the car on August 14, 2013, 26 years after I bought it. I looked through the registration paperwork and saw my family’s name. I was numb. When I test drove the car it was surreal to say the least. The current owner had kept it in pristine condition. I knew I had to buy it back.

I bought the car on August 16, 2013 and was feeling euphoric. That same day, I received a tweet from the Detroit Free Press that reminded us that it was the anniversary of the crash Northwest Flight 255. I had just repurchased the car that I bought when I was 26 years old, 26 years later, on the 26th anniversary of the plane crash that forever implanted this car into my memory.

At the age of 52, I was fortunate to be able to go to the Woodward Dream Cruise with a car that was as old as I was when I purchased it originally.

People may have had special memories, but I have been blessed with being able to share my dream with two of my three children. Ironically, my oldest daughter will have to wait until Christmas to see it, as she lives out of state. I cannot believe I got another shot with the car that got away.

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