Call me a gearhead, an automotive enthusiast or a car nut, I will cop to it all.

Uncle Jim started it.

A mechanic since his teenage years, he finished his career here in Thomaston at Mike Cramer Volkswagen. In the era of the V.W. Rabbit, he was given all the air-cooled Beatles to work on. He rebuilt their engines. I asked him about break-in periods on his rebuilt engines (usually cars are kept under a certain speed for a few hundred miles to ease break-in on new parts).

He looked at me like I had three heads. “I take them out and drive them hard. If it is going to break, I want it to happen when I am driving.”

When I go to car shows I spend more time with the “survivors” – unrestored vehicles, essentially unchanged, unmodified, warts and all. These cars have a story that may be untold. That leaves me to imagine the rest.

Sometimes the owner is there and knows the story, and that is ok too. I am glad they get driven.

I have had a few survivor cars myself. My first was in college. I acquired a 1967 Plymouth Fury 3 for a dollar. It came with a name. It was known as The Governor.

It also came with a blown rear end.

I laid on my back in the parking lot of my dorm and pulled both rear axles and replaced the differential myself. It was quite a victory to take my friends for rides in the big white cruiser with all the options.

My second survivor was a 1967 Dodge Coronet four-door sedan. It had a white roof and the rest was a nice maroon. It came with a huge dent in the roof.

The Coronet had been in a garage when an engine hoist fell over and dented the roof. This car was basically bulletproof the whole time I had it. It was powerful enough to pull a 5-ton box truck up the hill in Spruce Head Village and back to the island bridge. I drove the Coronet while I was fixing up a 1967 Chevrolet that was hit by a drunk driver. I sold it for about what I paid for it.

My final survivor was what I call a noble wreck. It was a 1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme two-door post coupe. It had come from Florida to Boothbay Harbor. There it had been in an accident that had bashed up the front end.

There was also a big dent in the driver side door unrelated to the crash. I was able to buy it for $300 and got a friend to drive me to Boothbay Harbor and follow me back to Rockland. The car drove fine and made it all the way home with not an issue.

I replaced the radiator, front fenders, hood and front bumper. The parts came from a sporty 442 Oldsmobile. The car was white, and the front end was now a rusty red. Three spray cans of “Appliance White” made the whole thing more or less the same color. A classmate of mine, Paul Cole, installed a cassette stereo with four speakers and I was on the road again. I was awarded a Maine state inspection sticker for my efforts.

The Cutlass had a powerful rocket V-8 engine with a four-barrel carb. A high point for me was a road trip to a Patriots game in Foxboro with the Davis brothers, Jim and Steve. We passed our share of cars on the way down and back, including a Datsun 240 Z whose passengers were pointing and laughing at my ancient Olds. Once I opened the four-barrel, the laughing was over.

We also backed a Boston taxi off going into the Sumner Tunnel. When push came to shove, the cabby wanted no part of swapping paint with a junkyard survivor with refrigerator paint on the fenders.

Then there was the time I asked a girl out for a date. When I showed up with the Cutlass, she looked at the huge dent in the door and refused to ride in it. We ended up going in her car. There was no second date.

I ended up selling it to my next-door neighbor, who welded a trailer hitch on back and used it to pull his wood splitter. He sold it a couple years later.

Legend has it the Cutlass ended up in a junkyard on Vinalhaven. I would love to have that car back and fix it up again. One thing I would not change, though.

I would leave the big dent in the door.

Glenn Billington is a lifelong resident of Rockland and has worked for The Courier-Gazette and The Free Press since 1989.

The Oldsmobile on Talbot Avenue. Photo by Glenn Billington