Veteran's first car may be his last
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Before Bob Bruzek deployed overseas in 1966, he made a smart move: he asked his boss to hold his job for his future return. After two years in the Navy Seabees, Bob came home to Chicago and initially hoped to wait a month before jumping back into the workforce.
Bob was an electrician in Union 134 and two weeks into his R&R he called in to the foreman. "He told me they had so much work and he needed me right away," Bob recalls.
Bob explained he didn't yet have a car but the foreman insisted, telling him to go ahead and buy something that very weekend, guaranteeing he'd have it paid for in six months or less.
"Hall Printing had just received contracts to print Playboy and Reader's Digest (magazines) and they needed four, color printing presses installed. Tons of overtime was available," Bob said.
Being a "Berwyn-boy," Bob cruised down Cermak Road to his closest Pontiac dealer. Pulling his mom's car over to look at the lot, he saw the car that would end up in his hands. The young man walked into the showroom, expressing his interest in the 1968 GTO outside.
A salesman brought out the keys, started it up and then looked up to Bob to begin his spiel about why he should buy the muscle machine. "I told him he didn't have to sell it," Bob said. "The car had sold it itself with the sound of the exhaust."
While in Vietnam, Bob saved the $2,000 that he put down and for the next two years, he paid $88.77 a month toward the car. His first stop after leaving the dealership was to connect with his brother.
"He had just got a '69 Charger and we went at it a few times," Bob said. "The cars weighed about the same so whoever had less gas in their car would usually win the race."
That stoplight-to-stoplight romping was rare because most days the GTO sat in the Hall's parking lot as Bob frequently worked 10 to 12 hour days.
"At the time, I never thought it would be classic and it never entered my mind to take it easy," said Bob, who now lives in Mount Prospect. "I got on it every chance I could."
He also used the Pontiac for home repair chores. "We lived in Bartlett and were getting hardwood floors in our family room. Believe it or not, a whole 12-by-12 (foot) room's worth of oak flooring fits in that trunk. The poor car! I promised I'd never do something like that to it again."
After years of use, Bob finally began a restoration in 1988, facing rusted rocker panels and floorboards from all the time driven in our Midwest slush and snow. He did a little at a time and was able to get his cruiser back in like-new condition.
"I used to get in and wish it was faster. Now I get in and get on it and it scares the daylights out of me. The car didn't change but I'm wiser now."
Bob shared his car's story at last weekend's Randhurst Village Street Fest, as part of my annual invitational Original Owner Showcase. A dozen other original owners and their vehicles were on display at the outdoor mall, making it one of the area's largest collections of its type ever assembled.
• Share your car's story with Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Original Owner Showcase
What is an "original owner?"
• An original owner is someone who purchased a vehicle (now a collectible older than 15 years) new and still retains it today. While often the initial purchase was a utilitarian decision with little thought for long-term preservation, at some point the owner makes a conscious decision to keep, cherish and go above and beyond in preserving their cruiser.