A couple of weeks ago, I was at an automotive summer camp for high school students. One of the students asked me why the Vehicle Nanny logo said “Enthusiast Since 1961.” When I explained that I was born in 1961 and my love of cars started the day I was born, she thought I was exaggerating.
Once I shared some of my reasons for that statement, she gave me ”that look.” Yes Emma, my name is Bill and I have a car problem.
It really is true. My love of cars started at a very early age and has evolved over the years. It has taken some interesting twists and turns, but the level of passion remains the same. Call it myopic or an obsession. Either way, it makes for an interesting life!
The Formative Years
During the earliest of times, I remember receiving a new Matchbox car as a reward for a doctor or dentist visit. While some kids might be promised a trip to Dairy Queen, my parents knew the fastest way to my heart was through a new car.
My doctor’s office in Livonia, Michigan was across the street from a Cunningham Drug Store. That store must have had a great Matchbox selection, because I amassed quite the collection. Some of those cars didn’t survive the years that my nephews played with them, but somehow my favorites did.
Those cars still produce great memories, so I built a square tray and encased them in layers of epoxy (the same stuff bars use to seal their bar tops). You can see them in the picture at the top of this section.
When I was around three or four years old, I got a Mattel X-15 for Christmas. It was a very heavy, sturdy, uniquely styled ride-on toy that I rode everywhere. In the 1960s, moms didn’t worry about kids getting hurt or abducted, so we got to play outside all day long. I recall riding the X-15 up and down the sidewalk with the V-RROOM noisemaker turned on.
Mattel only made that toy for one year, but it survived to this day. My parents had the vision to store it in their attic. I found it in the early 1990s and painted it for my daughter to use. It then went into my attic for another 30 years.
I just started a restoration of the X-15, but it is delayed due to supplier issues with the period-correct paint. This project will be the subject of a future article, so I’ll leave you with the following picture of the project in mid-restoration.
I eventually moved on to real vehicles, thanks to the work my dad did for Chevrolet. Dad was a development engineer for Chevrolet trucks during his 31 year career at the General Motors Proving Grounds. As a development engineer, Dad was responsible for taking the vehicles as they came out of design and making them work in the real world.
Our family got to see a lot of vehicles in different phases of development, which was a dream for me. After all, who needed Tonka trucks when the real thing was sitting in the driveway?
As I approached my teenage years, I was now tall enough to sit in the front seat of a car. This meant I was able to see how they operated and to get some great instruction from my dad. I gained tremendous respect and admiration for how a vehicle worked.
My dad was a terrific teacher, and his explanations of the various features on a car are still fresh in my mind. It set the stage for what was to come next.
Starving for Information
I could not get enough information about cars and trucks. Dad saw that, and started bringing home vehicle service manuals and dealer order guides. I would sit in my room for hours pouring through those books. It must have been pretty intense, as I remember Dad knocking on my bedroom door one evening to see what I was doing. He later admitted he thought he was going to find me with a Playboy magazine. Instead, I had the service manual open and ready for questions!
Just before the 1975 model year, my dad brought home a stack of pages from the dealer order guide. He needed to order forty new trucks (Blazers, Pickups and Suburbans) for his development fleet. With my demonstrated knowledge of how to order a vehicle, he asked me to spec out his fleet. His only direction was the number of vehicles needed for each model, and the need for a variety of engine, transmission and axle ratio combinations.
I’m proud to say that he had the most diverse fleet of 1975 trucks ever seen at the Proving Grounds. No two trucks had the same equipment or color combinations. I did this for the next two model years, until they hired someone to take over my duties.
Just prior to getting my driver’s license in 1977, Chevrolet announced the return of the Camaro Z28. That car spoke to me, and I quickly became obsessed about it. Even though my dad was in the truck group, he often traded vehicles with the passenger car guys when he was feeling sporty. This meant a good number of Z28s found their way to our driveway.
I had access to a Super8 movie camera and took many videos of these engineering cars that Dad brought home. I converted them to digital and posted it on YouTube at the link below:
In 1979, I talked my mom into partnering on a new Z28 purchase. I gave her the $1,600 I saved while working at Burger King toward the $5,800 purchase price. I was a minority partner who did the majority of driving. It was a great deal that I shared in the two articles below:
Related articles: 40 Year Obsession: A Z28 Story, 40 Year Obsession Part Two: Reunited At Last
College and Career
As I approached high school graduation, I didn’t need any career guidance from the school counselor. I knew exactly what I wanted to be: a mechanical engineer responsible for vehicle development! As such, I was off to Michigan State to study mechanical engineering.
Along the way, I worked at a Mercedes Benz dealership during my summer breaks. I filled in for vacationing employees in the service and parts departments, and also drove new cars to other dealerships to perform dealer trades. This proved to be an insightful and timely experience, as my math and physics skills forced me to pursue a major in Packaging instead of mechanical engineering. I still wanted to work for a car company, but clearly not as an engineer.
My dealership experience showed me a faster paced and more fun side of the car business. It also opened a door at General Motors in sales and service. This led to a rewarding fifteen years at Chevrolet, eleven at Saturn and six running the team responsible for the dealer adoption team of new digital marketing programs.
In each job I pursued at General Motors, I was never more than two steps removed from touching a car (like the 1986 Indy 500 Pace Car above). It was an exciting career for a guy who got his start playing with Matchbox cars!
Of course, I had a number of fun cars over the years too. Check them out HERE.
Retirement? What’s That?
But wait, there’s more!
After 32 years at GM, and a short stint at a social media company, I closed the book on corporate life. That didn’t mean I relegated myself to sitting in a recliner watching TV all day. That’s when I started Vehicle Nanny to share my experiences and help encourage younger car enthusiasts about the hobby and possible careers in automotive.
I now have the time to pursue other passions as well. This included my first full car repaint, completion of a motorcycle course (and got my motorcycle endorsement for my driver’s license) and even guest lecturing at Northwood University.
Related article: Honda CRV Color Change
All of these activities, and more, can be found on the pages of this website. Take a look around–I think there is something for everyone.
Even though Emma from the automotive summer camp didn’t get my full automotive history, I hope she sensed the passion I have for the car hobby and the auto industry. This love of cars has brought me a lifetime of enjoyment, created lifelong friendships and a rewarding career.
If you are a high school student or know one who is interested in cars, there is much to get from a love of cars. Please let me know if you have any questions below. I would love to help!