Russ Phillips could hardly contain himself. The 21-year-old serviceman threaded his way down the narrow steel corridors of the USS White Plains, his face beaming.
Despite being in the middle of an ocean, Phillips had good reason to be joyous; he just ordered a new 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS. A deposit of $255.93 was all that was needed to get the paperwork processed -- and he couldn't wait to be behind the wheel.
The mean street machine would be built at General Motors' Flint, Michigan, plant and be waiting for him in January when he returned from his overseas assignment. Petty Officer Phillips knew he would enjoy the car, but he couldn't have known his rumbling, soon-to-be daily driver would light a spark in a 7-year old boy named Mark Litavsky.
Mark grew up in Wheaton and was raised by a stepfather who was best friends with Phillips. The two knew each other through the service and remained close back home in the suburbs.
"I remember going over to his house in Aurora with my dad and helping him work on the car," Mark recalls now. The gearhead trio installed headers, an intake manifold and new carburetor in the early '70s. In 1976, Russ moved to Arizona but he remained a close friend to the Litavskys. Even after Mark's dad passed, Mark kept in touch.
As the year passed, Mark's love for Chevelles deepened. "One of my high school friends had a blue with black stripes, '72 454 Chevelle," he said. "I always loved the car and began looking for one of my own."
Over the decades, Mark never could settle on the right one, always being drawn back to Russ's ride. Beginning in the early 2000s, Mark started to bug Russ to let him purchase the car. Despite the frequent asking, Russ kept saying no. Finally, in March of 2006, Russ relented, knowing Mark's longtime love for the Chevy.
Mark hadn't seen the car since it left Illinois all those decades ago. Naturally, when the transport truck arrived, it was quite emotional.
"Here was a car I hadn't seen since I was a kid," Mark said. "Getting this car back was like getting a piece of my dad's memory back, too."
The Chevelle's odometer shows just 41,000 miles and the vehicle wears its original paint. The black vinyl interior is all original and the car's factory spare has never been removed from the trunk.
Interestingly, Russ never entered his all-original Chevelle in car shows during his many years of ownership. Mark won a trophy the first time he showed the Chevy, and he promptly wrapped the award up and shipped it to his dad's best friend. "He loved the car and knew the only person who would love it more would be me."
It's touching stories like this that demonstrate how these beloved classic cars are way more than dusty relics of the past. They're vivid connections to memories. That's precisely why I awarded Mark and his Chevelle the Matt Avery's Pick at last week's kickoff Daily Herald Cruise Night. The event took place at Stratford Square Mall in Bloomingdale and featured hundreds of show cars, food vendors and family activities. It also debuted a show exclusive, the Original Owner Showcase. This feature highlights original owners, their vehicles and their motoring memories.
For more information about our monthly cruise nights at Stratford, visit events.dailyherald.com.
• Share your car's story with Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org.