It’s 1973, and Al Parkes has decided it’s time.
For too long his father’s old Reo Flying Cloud has served as little but a brooding hunk of metal beside the family’s suburban home in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
He has petrol, spark plugs and enthusiasm – but it hasn’t run since before he was old enough to remember.
At this time Parkes is in his early 20s and life already has many ingredients of the American Dream.
He has ditched university for a career with McDonald’s, feet on the first rungs of a corporate ladder but heart set on owning one of the hot rod-era V8s that regularly shake the drive-through window.
His father, Don, is an engineer and there’s barely any distance between apple and tree when it comes to things mechanical.
The Reo’s straight-six coughs on its first taste of gasoline in more than two decades.
The last time it moved without the help of a tow was in the moments before Don was forced off the road into a ditch in ’53.
The front bumper was buckled and the wing bent – and with a growing family, a replacement vehicle with more seats was an easier prospect than repair.
And so the Reo sat, disturbed from its slumber only when the Parkes family moved home.
Like a stray dog it followed from garage to barn to driveway, including the one upon which it now sits rocking rhythmically to the tune of its tired starter motor.
Another cough. A longer splutter. Then it fires – filling the neighbourhood with thick white smoke, and Parkes’ head with dreams of a full restoration.
It was the beginning of a journey with the Flying Cloud that would go on to last most of a lifetime.
This Reo has been part of the Parkes family for longer than its owner – 71 years and counting – so he has lived a full spectrum of experiences with the coupe, from unexpected child’s toy to retirement plaything.
“My first memory of the car is in the family barn when I was about five years old,” he smiles. “We used to run up the fenders and leap off into bales of hay, hoping to avoid bruising from those great big chrome headlamps.”
At that time the ‘Old Brown Reo’, as it came to be known, was probably only about 20 years old, but such was the pace of car design in those days it already felt like a relic.
Living so close to Detroit, the streets were always full of the latest models and even though Parkes’ father was rarely in the market for new metal, he would frequently chop and change from used car lots.
Somehow the Reo lingered, in stasis between jalopy and classic.
“The first time we saw any value in it was in the early ’60s, when a guy walked past the house and offered my dad $1000 for it,” Parkes recalls. “I never thought to ask him why he said no; he worked six days a week and any time left was given to his hobby, flying planes.”
The car’s value – sentimental, at least – was creeping up.
Don had owned the Reo for only a few years before the accident, having traded down from a 1948 Buick with onerous finance repayments.
It had been well kept in the hands of a local doctor and perhaps he felt it too good to scrap, or that someone else would reap the benefit after an easy repair.
Either way, there was never an active decision to keep it, but equally no desire to let it go. Instead it waited for familiarity to mature into nostalgia, and for that moment in 1973 when Parkes would crank it over