Those that serve in the military sacrifice quite a bit to keep our country, and the people that live in it, safe. From big things like life and limb, down to the smaller things we often don’t consider– like their connection to the people and possessions back home- those in the military risk an awful lot. But there are other things they give up too. Things like their treasured automobiles.
So, what do military folks do with their cars when they move from place to place, protecting our land and borders? Two Marines answer that question for us and give us much to think about. These men are our everyday heroes; the ones that do the job without expectations of thanks or praise.
Despite their near-superhero status, they think about what’s happening with their radical rides back home just like anyone else who’s had to spend time away from their belongings. They need answers when it comes to things like car shipping, classic car auctions and making repairs.
And just like Marines are known to do, these guys have figured out a system.
Active Marine Todd Fujimoto definitely has the need for an air-tight car shipping system, or an enclosed auto transport. Todd is the proud owner of two classic cars and one luxury automobile. He’s away from his treasured cars far more than he would like, and his worry for the well-being of his vehicles is only quelled by the fact that he has left them in the capable hands of his fiancée Carlene Oehler and fellow Marine Dan Lewis.
So, is the attraction to cars a typical trait for most Marines? Fujimoto explains. “I’ve been a Marine my entire adult life,” he says. “I would say that many of the Marines that I’ve come across over the last 23 years are car enthusiasts. They may not have their own classic, but they do appreciate them.”
One of Fujimoto’s vehicles is a 1966 Chevy C-10, otherwise known as “The Beast.” Many people have names for their cars. Usually, the name represents the car’s “personality,” and it is by that notion that Fujimoto names his cars.
“[The Beast] had no exhaust on one side of the manifold, only the left side drums were working, so when you braked, she would dive hard left. There was no power steering either. [When trying to get the car home] I had a buddy follow me from the West Bank to Uptown, New Orleans– about 10 miles. We both needed a beer after getting her parked in my garage. This is when she got her name.”
The old-school beauty was spotted on a beautiful street in Uptown, New Orleans, replete with well-manicured lawns and flower beds. It gleamed under the afternoon sunlight drawing passers-by in for a closer look. So much so that Fujimoto had to place a sign on the dash that read, “This beloved truck is not for sale, nor is it abandoned in this legal parking space. Thank you for your admiration and/or concern.”
“I parked [The Beast] where she is so that [my fiancée] can keep an eye on her,” said Fujimoto. “I make it back to NOLA about once a month and almost always find a note under the wiper from an admirer asking if she was for sale. I even had the city mark the windows as a potentially abandoned vehicle one time. Hence the note.”
You’re probably wondering how he’s kept his long-distance love affair going strong for so long. How does he maintain his automotive masterpieces? That’s where retired Marine Dan Lewis offers his helpful expertise. Fujimoto’s Mustang Mach 1 waits patiently for its owner to return in Lewis’ garage, among other classic cars that he keeps in storage.
“I’ve had Todd’s car since about 2008. When Todd’s in town, if time permits, he works on his car and I help. I also work on his car some while he’s not here. It gives me something to do and I enjoy seeing the project as she slowly comes to life,” said Lewis.
Lewis has become a veritable “car-sitter,” providing safe and secure storage of not only Fujimoto’s Mach 1, but of his own cars and that of others as well. In his Temecula, CA garage (about 40 miles north of San Diego) he’s housing and restoring classics like a 1967 Firebird 400 convertible.
“At the present time I have seven old vehicles there. 1970 is the newest model,” Lewis explains. “I’ve got a 1970 Mustang coupe, 1970 Coronet 500 convertible, 1968 SS RS Camaro, 1964 Corvair and a 1954 five-window Chevy pickup.”
The classics, like the ones mentioned here, don’t get around the country on their own. They’re bought, sold and appreciated at auctions all around the country. Lewis transports his vehicles himself. But others, like Fujimoto, would need to use the services of auto shipping companies like Montway Auto Transport. Montway gives veterans peace of mind when shipping their cars around the country and has delivered military auto transport for years. Vets know that when they ship their car with Montway, it will get from point A to point B safely and on schedule.
Obviously there are perks to having a classic car. Parts are easier to acquire and owners tout the fact that their street credibility skyrockets when driving a classic. “Cruise the streets in some old school steel and people are honking, waving or giving thumbs up left and right,” says Fujimoto. But most of all, there’s the benefit of holding on to a piece of history.
“Not only is it keeping history alive for the next generation to see something that most people would have sent to the crusher or the old rusty bone yard come back to life, it is also very exciting. To look at someone’s face as the project they’ve worked so hard on rumbles back to life, it’s just an awesome feeling,” said Lewis.
What would you do with your classic car if you had to be away for an extended amount of time? Have you had to make arrangements before? Share with us in the comments section below!
Janean L. Watkins found her niche in writing and photography as a student at Northeastern Illinois University. During her time there, she created .:Seeds:., an award winning literary arts journal. As Editor in Chief of Independent newspaper, she led the university newspaper to win awards from both the Illinois College Press Association and Associated College Press.
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