Is the fun in reliving memories or creating new ones?
Andy Bolig - March 22, 2012 10:00 AM
Keith proudly poses with his Polara.
Keith’s car still has the 440 and 727 package although it’s been tidied up quite a bit by Keith and his friends.
The interior received a similar treatment the following winter. The bench seat gave way to a pair of buckets and console slid in between them.
The standard-issue gauges are augmented by the console-mounted tachometer. The floor shifter now dictates the mode in the 727 TorqueFlite transmission.
“Once Keith got the car home, he began driving it to some shows and getting acquainted with the car.”
Think quick: where were you on St. Patrick’s Day, 1969? Keith Siebert knows. His memory is crystal clear.
He found himself sitting on the hill at Monroeville Dodge with his father, as the older Siebert purchased a one-year old 1968 Polara four-door. Whether because of the memory of spending time with his dad, or simply because he loved the lines of their new car, Keith recalls that he always loved that ’68 Polara.
The love wasn’t felt quite as deeply by his father, and after a few years, he traded the C-body in on another vehicle. Keith wanted to buy it from his dad, but his father needed it for a trade on his next car. Keith then went and borrowed $500 from his grandfather and went back to the dealership and purchased the car. Keith continued to drive the car to well over the 100,000-mile marker and finally, the time had come. The car was laid to rest at the hands of the crusher. Many cars have come and gone and filled the void left by the passing of the Polara, but they couldn’t fill that spot in Keith’s heart that he’d always felt for that special car.
All the memories that began on that hillside dealership came back to the forefront of his mind when a good friend, John Ferdinando, asked him one simple question, “What’s your favorite car?” Of course, it didn’t take long for Keith to answer and tell John about everything, from the hillside dealership with his dad to the final goodbye.
Seeing Keith’s passion for his Polara, John began scouring the largest market for used cars that he could find: the Internet. Since there were only 1,210 Dodge Polaras built in 1968, Keith wasn’t overly optimistic that his friend John would be lucky enough to find one for sale, but John wasn’t giving up easily. Through some extensive searching, John located a ’68 Polara convertible way up in the frozen tundra called Wisconsin, a fairly good distance away from Keith’s home in Pennsylvania.
Keith thought about purchasing the car for weeks, debating whether or not to drive all the way up to see the car. He kept looking at the pictures and talking to the gentleman who owned the car, trying to decide if it was the right thing to do. Finally, the memories of the past and the potential for new ones were too much to bear, and Keith decided to go see the car. His friend John and another friend had agreed to use their truck and enclosed trailer to make the trip. Keith had decided to make the trip, but the decision to buy the car was still unanswered.
Keith was looking for anything to help him make up his mind during the trip, and one event almost threw it all down the drain. At one of the gas stops, John put his wallet on the toolbox of the truck. It wasn’t until several more hours of highway driving that John noticed his wallet didn’t make it back into the cab of the truck with everyone else. Frantically, they got on the phone and called the Ohio Turnpike Commission, hoping that they could help them locate the lost billfold. Miraculously, they DID find it and what had the potential of rendering Keith Polara-less, actually contributed to the overall story’s happy ending.
After driving all night, the trio of truck-ridden enthusiasts found themselves sitting outside the car’s current owner’s house, way too early to go knocking on any doors. Since the night before was filled with driving, coffee and energy drinks (but no sleep), they decided to grab a few hours of shut-eye before viewing the car in the sunlight.
Keith haggled out a deal that satisfied both he and the car’s current owner, but that didn’t fully satisfy the current owner’s wife. After all of the dealing was done, she had the trio stay at the house until the bank opened so that she could run down and confirm that Keith’s cash payment “wasn’t counterfeit.” Of course, everything worked out, and Keith and company found themselves headed back east, driving all night with their newest memory-maker in tow. Keith estimates the total drive time to be about 24 hours.
Once Keith got the car home, he began driving it to some shows and getting acquainted with the car. There turned out to be a few things that he wanted to fix, so that first winter, he focused on a short to-do list on the Polara. They began by totally re-doing the engine compartment with the goal of making it look original. Also, the chrome was treated to a new coat of shine and while you might think that sounds easy, the fact that pieces aren’t easily located means that if a part got damaged, finding a new one was very time-consuming. Keith reports that sometimes, months would go by without any forward progress.
The car was again ready for the show season the following spring with more brightwork and an underhood area that would be the envy of any Mopar enthusiast. As Keith drove the car throughout the next show season, he still saw some areas that he wanted to address inside the cockpit of the car. As the leaves began to change color, Keith and his company of car nuts began loosening bolts and screws, tearing into the interior of his beloved Polara. The interior carpeting was replaced, as well as the door panels and dash pad. John convinced Keith that what his Polara really needed was a set of bucket seats and a console to replace the stodgy bench seat that the car originally had. Much like the initial purchase, Keith contemplated it for some time before being happily pushed over the edge by John’s prodding.
With the interior completed, Keith now had his Polara exactly the way he wanted it. Sure, it wasn’t just like the four-door version that his dad (and he) owned so many years before, but in all actuality, this is probably more like the car he wished he had back then. Just like his previous Polara, Keith enjoys driving it each and every weekend for joyrides and shows throughout the area. He gets a lot of comments about the rarity and condition of the car from folks that he meets. Some of them even give him awards, like the third place award that he won at the 2011 Carlisle All-Chrysler Nationals event.
As this maintenance worker from Donora, Pennsylvania, nears retirement, he plans on having many more years enjoying the drive in his Dodge. Some nights, he might find himself driving along a secluded highway with the top down, remembering a time when his father and he spent some time on a hill so long ago.
Or perhaps, he’ll come home one day to share with his wife Cathy, how his prized Polara caught the eye of a young enthusiast. That’s the funny thing about memories; it doesn’t matter whether they’re aged and embellished, recent or contemporary, the fact that you’re making them seems to be enough. It is for Keith Siebert.