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Wild Bill gets his wish: a ride in a muscle car

Bill Morey, 87, is all smiles Sunday after a ride in a 1970 Pontiac LeMans Sport with Dawn Kucek. He once owned a 1967 LeMans.

JOSEPH GARNETT JR. | Times

Bill Morey, 87, is all smiles Sunday after a ride in a 1970 Pontiac LeMans Sport with Dawn Kucek. He once owned a 1967 LeMans.

PALM HARBOR — When the bright red muscle car rumbled up, Bill Morey's eyes twinkled.

He had waited weeks for the chance to ride shotgun in such a car. The throaty sound of the 1970 Pontiac LeMans arriving outside his assisted living facility got his attention.

"Listen at that," Morey said Sunday morning with a smile.

Nearly deafened by the roar of artillery fire in World War II, and more recently laid up by a blood clot that initially paralyzed him, Morey, 87, had a wish come true Sunday, thanks to an enterprising counselor and a willing volunteer.

It was his wish to drive a muscle car himself. But when he was hoisted from his wheelchair to be a passenger in the car that met him at the Accordia Woods Assisted Living Facility, he was in his element nonetheless.

His room at the facility is nicknamed "Wild Bill's Garage." Models of classic cars line the shelves. When he's in the room, he's either watching car shows on television or looking through his car books.

Morey's fascination with cars began when he was child in Milwaukee. His first was a 1949 Ford sedan that cost $750. He had a 1955 Ford station wagon. Then a Chevrolet Corvair. And there was his 1967 bronze LeMans with a black convertible top.

"We didn't have real toys when we were kids because we were Depression-era children," Morey said before his car ride, with the book American Car Sporters Guide 1920-1980 in his lap.

"The car was the focal point of all your activities back then."

• • •

Angel Reale, a Suncoast Hospice counselor, had heard Morey talking about his love of cars while she was visiting there. She took it upon herself to find one.

She sent out e-mails. One of those who responded offered a lead on a 1970 LeMans.

Morey wanted that one — it reminded him of the car he once owned.

Dawn Kucek, 31, of Dunedin bought the LeMans when she was 17 and has worked to restore it ever since. Her mom is a Suncoast Hospice nurse and told her of the request.

"I was so excited that someone wanted to ride," Kucek said.

Sunday morning, Morey went for that ride down Curlew Road through Dunedin and to the entrance of Honeymoon Island State Park.

All the way, he asked about the tires and the suspension, the black-leather seats and the black carpeting on the dash.

The last time Morey drove a car it was an Infiniti G35 in December 2008.

Now, Morey has to settle for riding in cars. And Sunday, it was a ride he couldn't wait to take.

"Let's get on with it," he said. "It's been a while since I've been out."

• • •

Like his four brothers, Morey served in WWII. He fought in the battles for Anzio and Monte Cassino in Italy. With a combat infantry unit, the blasts from all the artillery took his hearing.

Awarded the Bronze Star, Morey was declared 80 percent disabled by the Veterans Administration.

He has worn hearing aids much of his adult life. But in the last couple of months, he has been able to hear "in stereo" for the first time in years because of cochlear implants.

"He's really had to teach himself how to hear again," his daughter, Nancy Mag, said. "A year ago, he would not have been able to have a conversation with you."

In 1980, Morey retired as a sales manager with Weyenberg Shoe Manufacturing Co. in Milwaukee. And in 2000, he and his wife, Doris, retired from a publication they owned called the National Ad Search.

About nine years ago, Morey and Doris were visiting Mag in Palm Harbor. Doris became ill. The two, married for 54 years, never left this area. Doris died in 2006.

In July, Morey had a blood clot in his back. An emergency operation was needed.

"It was one of those things where the nurses stopped looking you in your eyes," Mag recalled. "It wasn't good. But dad's a fighter. He keeps fighting back."

Contact Demorris A. Lee at dalee@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4174.

Wild Bill gets his wish: a ride in a muscle car 12/12/10 [Last modified: Monday, December 13, 2010 3:12pm]
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