While growing up, Arnie Goldstein didn't cry regularly over the usual little boy miseries, like scraped knees or bumps or bruises. But his father's automotive purchasing patterns would bring him to tears.
"Just like clockwork, every three years he would buy a new car," the Palatine resident said. "I'd cry when he'd trade the old model in, saying, 'Can't we keep it longer?' "
The youngster's proclivity to grow attached to the four-wheeled rides in his life may explain why, now well into adulthood, he's held on to his 1977 Pontiac Trans Am. He purchased it new in April 1977 from Dick Ludwig Pontiac in Skokie.
"I walked into the dealership with my mind made up on a black one," Goldstein said. To his relief, one was gleaming in the middle of the showroom. As he approached, he realized it just wasn't going to be the one for him.
"Handprints were all up and down the car. Everyone had touched it and black just showed them off."
Not one to enjoy habitual cleaning, Goldstein sat down with a salesman and ordered a car painted in the next best hue: Buccaneer Red. He also checked every available option, including one to forgo the radio. Tunes were important to the 20-year-old and he wanted to add his own unit to blast his favorite jams.
Another priority was power and Goldstein opted for the TA 6.6 V-8, rated at 200 horsepower. He paired it with the automatic transmission.
The car arrived six weeks later and prompted a grin-inducing road trip. It occurred less than two weeks after delivery. Goldstein's family went camping in Plymouth, Wis., but he declined the ride.
"On the spur of the moment I changed my mind. A buddy and I loaded up the TA with my tent and blasted up there to meet them."
The muscle car was driven regularly in messy Chicago weather the first several years of ownership, allowing Goldstein to ride his Honda motorcycle on sunny days. Eventually the Pontiac was relegated to nice weather only when Goldstein started buying "beater cars" for the Midwest winters.
He worked hard to preserve the TA but that changed in 1981. Goldstein purchased a condo that lacked a covered garage. The Pontiac sat outside and "rotted away." A breaking point came in the late 1990s.
Goldstein had had enough and embarked on a five-year frame-on restoration for his first automotive love. The rear quarter panels were replaced along with the left front fender and door skins. Once the bodywork was complete and ready for paint, Goldstein opted for a paint color change.
Under parking lot mercury vapor lights, the car always appeared orange. "It lost the 'pop' of the red," he said. The Pontiac enthusiast settled on a brilliant Corvette Red paint hue.
"Now, no matter what lights are on it, it always shows red!"
The interior was gutted and gone through. The original seats and door panels were salvaged and reused. Underneath, a leaky oil pan and busted heater core were addressed. To open up the exhaust, Goldstein made the switch from a single pipe to a true dual setup.
"I love the sound. You step on the gas and it just takes off."
While Goldstein's ownership has spanned decades, the happiest of motoring memories aren't in his rearview mirror.
"I honesty never thought I'd keep it this long. The best times are happening right now with it."