Son surprises his dad with restored Porsche
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 16, 2011 1:50 AM
Dr. Craig McFadden, right, an assistant superintendent with Wayne County Public Schools, proudly hugs his son Drew McFadden, an Air Force major now stationed in Arizona, after Drew surprised him with a rebuilt replica of the Porsche his father had more than 30 years ago.
As a father, Craig McFadden cherished the milestones of raising a child and gave little thought to getting anything in return.
He certainly never envisioned one day being the beneficiary of something that held sentimental attachment for both father and son.
"You're supposed to give stuff to your kids and they're supposed to grow up and be happy and healthy and productive," McFadden said. "If they do that, you're happy."
Before experiencing the joys of parenthood, though, McFadden, now assistant superintendent for accountability/student services with Wayne County Public Schools, had a different source of pride and joy -- a 1976 red Porsche 914.
When son Drew was born in 1978, he was driven home from the hospital in that car and for the next 10 years, it was the only vehicle he knew.
"He remembers it well. I think he was hoping I would keep it until he got his driver's license," McFadden says now.
Drew, 33, and a major in the Air Force who flies reconnaissance planes, recalls what the Porsche meant to his dad.
"All while growing up, he would always talk about that car and how that was his favorite car, how he wished he hadn't gotten rid of it," he said.
While the two men now live nearly a continent apart -- McFadden in Goldsboro, his son recently transferred from Nebraska to Tucson, Ariz. -- they visit whenever possible, often meeting in Colorado for their shared love of mountain climbing.
His son did not join him on the annual trek this year, but called to set up a visit afterwards.
"His schedule was tight so he could come in for a few days," McFadden said. "I said, 'You're driving two days for a two-day visit and driving two days back?' I thought that was a little strange but fine."
When McFadden's plane landed in Raleigh, a stream of calls came in from his wife which he now realizes were all part of a set-up that had been orchestrated by his son.
"Nancy kept calling me -- Drew was only 30 minutes behind me (on I-40) and didn't want us to accidentally run into each other," he said.
The next day, Drew suggested the couple meet him and wife, Sarah, for lunch at Wilber's Barbecue.
When McFadden drove into the parking lot, the first thing he noticed was a shiny red Porsche, very much like the one he had once owned.
"I pulled up near it. It was so similar to the one I had in 1976," he said. "I commented on what a beautiful job this guy did in restoring it."
He also observed the license plate, from Colorado, presuming it must belong to a military person.
McFadden said he didn't expect the car to still be there when they returned. But it was.
"I went up to it again and said, 'Man, the guy who did this just did a magnificent job,'" he said. "Drew reached into his pocket, pulled out (a Porsche keyring) and said, 'Would you like to try it, Dad?' I thought he was kidding because he has his own Porsche but then he told me to sit (in the car). He said, 'You gave me a car when I was 16, Dad.' ...
"It was just amazing. It's just like it was brand new, he had rebuilt the whole thing."
The amazement still hasn't worn off.
"I was in shock. Even telling it now three or four months later, it's hard to believe it actually happened," he said. "I just don't think things come that direction -- it's supposed to go parent to child, not child to parent."
But for Drew, it was a gesture that was five years in the making.
While stationed overseas in southeast Asia in 2004, the idea came to him as a possible retirement present for his father.
"I was looking for a new project to do," Drew said. "It just kind of popped in my head -- you've got a lot of time over there, thinking about what you're going to do when you get home."
"He called Nancy and she thought it would be a great idea because I had talked about getting something to tinker with once I retire," McFadden said.
Drew purchased the car in 2005 and spent the next few years working on it, from the interior to rebuilding the engine. He had assistance on the paint job, but still put his artistic skills to use, his dad said, by mixing colors to get the "brightest red he could get."
"He corresponded back and forth with Nancy and Drew kept wondering things like, is there room in your garage for it, ground clearance, things like that that they just worked on together," McFadden said.
It's hard to imagine everything that went into the effort, he noted -- not only in time and energy, but in acquiring everything needed to complete the task.
"They only made those cars from 1969 to 1976. I got one of the last ones they made so finding one, it would be difficult to begin with and then finding all the parts," he said. "That's a 37-year-old car, there's a lot of research involved.
"But he's always been very mechanically oriented and has great spatial skills."
Drew shrugged off any credit, admitting that the toughest part was keeping his father from discovering the guarded secret.
"He actually came to visit when I was living in Nebraska and I had to cover it up and stack a bunch of boxes to hide it," he said.
The drive across country, with the finished car on a flatbed trailer, gave way to another consideration, said Drew, namely "how I can finish this in the grandest style."
"Wouldn't it be great if he could see it without knowing it was his?" he mused. "It happened exactly as I would have imagined. He pulled up and saw it in the parking lot, went immediately over to the car without even talking to us.
"That was really exciting. The worst part was trying to keep my head on straight while we were eating. I was excited, but it was well worth it in the end."
Drew was actually ready to hand over the keys awhile ago, his dad now says, but kept waiting for the right moment.
"He had several cars because he likes to tinker and it was time to get rid of it, plus they were moving, and he got tired of waiting for me to retire," McFadden said with a smile.
To further throw off suspicions, Drew put Colorado plates on the car until the ruse was revealed, then switched back to the Nebraska plates so his dad could legally drive it.
So, how was that first spin?
"It took me a little bit of time to get used to the standard transmission again but what sells those cars, why I bought it originally, was how it handles," McFadden said. "Drew customized it -- it's souped up -- it's certainly more powerful than the one I had years ago."
For now, it's being kept in pristine condition by remaining in the garage.
"I take it out on pretty days and drive it," he says. "It's just a toy for me. I am looking forward to when I do retire so I can work on it, because I will probably tinker on it.
"Every time I take it out, somebody wants to look at it or ask questions. I had one guy follow me until I pulled over. He said he had an old one he was trying to work on and wanted to take a picture."
More than the nostalgic reminder of the car that once held meaning for McFadden in his own youth, though, is the "priceless" bond it has recreated between him and his now-grown son.
"He's a very talented kid," he said. "You don't expect it to come back that way, so I was blown away. I played it as perfectly as we could have -- the lengths that kid went to keep it a secret.
"I told him, 'I will take very good care of it. One day in the distant future -- hopefully the very distant future -- you can have it back.'"
Drew modestly said he was just "happy to do it for him," although certainly the fact that it all came together was a bonus.
"His reaction and thank God, it was positive, the look on his face when I handed him the keys," he said. "I have done fairly well for myself, been able to put myself in a position to do this for him.
"If it wasn't for him, for the help just being a good dad along the way, I would never have gotten where I am to do this for him. It's just really a 'thank you' to him for putting me in a position where I am today."