BY AMELIA GOLDSTEIN
Canterbury School of Florida
By the time she's done, Hannah Simpson will know her first car inside and out.
Simpson, a sophomore at Canterbury School of Florida, is rebuilding a 1979 El Camino, part by part, with her dad, Lonnie Simpson, in their garage in Pinellas Park off 49th Street. In addition to the El Camino, the garage houses her father's GTO, a Porsche, two T-Birds, an Oldsmobile Starfire and a Corvette. The garage is like Simpson's second home, because her beloved car lives there.
Her father's garage is a personal place for his family's cars and really close friends. "It's small but homey," he said. "My kids have grown up here."
When she was 2, she and her parents, brother and grandmother traveled to find the El Camino. "We went to South Carolina up in an RV," Simpson said.
Their treasure "smelled like mothballs, and there were animals living in it," Simpson said. "It was disgusting." The distinctive half car/half pickup was her grandmother's dream, and she decided to take it back and fix it up.
"It was barely running," Simpson said. "There were holes in it and wasps' nests all over the car, and it smelled so bad." The family attached the El Camino to the back of the RV and towed it all the way home to Florida. "My grandma and I watched it the entire way to make sure it didn't come off," Simpson said.
Late the first night the El Camino was in Florida, Simpson, a toddler, climbed inside and pretended to drive. "Ever since, it has been my car," she said. Her grandmother gave her the car because she was so attached to it, a loving gift from a woman who passed away a little more than a year ago.
Simpson and her father have been working on the car for two years, mostly on weekends. Rebuilding the El Camino is "dad-daughter bonding time," she said. They get most of the work done over the summer.
The current project is the front suspension, and lower and upper A-arms. Simpson's father is teaching her how to maneuver around the car with labels and manuals, which she calls her "fun reads." She reads as many manuals as she can during the school year in order to prepare for the summer's work ahead.
Simpson has had plans for the Camino for years. "Everyone at school can use it for the football games. Music will be blasting and grills cooking. It'll be awesome," she said.
She hopes that awesome is ready by Jan. 15, 2015 — her 16th birthday.