When you wish upon a car …

Ann Macari Healey
Ann Macari Healey
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The elfin 1970 Saab sits in front of the house — unmoving, somewhat frail-looking — like an aging body worn down by time and circumstance. Patches of rust spot the beige paint; dents bend the chrome bumper; a milky film clouds the windows, shielding the torn upholstery inside.

Much to his wife’s dismay, Larry Beetham towed it home almost six months ago, from a barn where it had rested for more than 20 years.

“We just don’t have the space,” she told him. “We have a two-car garage and now four cars and a motorcycle.”

And then, something remarkable happened. Call it luck, fate, maybe divine intervention.

Larry’s not sure.

All he knows is the little car given to him for free turned out to be a priceless gift — a road trip back to his childhood and his dad, who died six years ago. Along the way, he rediscovered the depth of a father’s commitment to his family.

“It was a connection, not a destiny,” Larry says of the car. “But by some design it came to me.”

The story begins in the mid-1960s when James Beetham and his two sons — Larry was about 6 then — saw their first Saabs at the Denver car show. It was, almost, love at first sight. By the end of 1966, James owned a Saab franchise in Greeley.

“I spent my childhood riding around in these little Saabs,” Larry, now 53, remembers.

Developed by airplane engineers, the Swedish cars became known for aerodynamic shapes and innovative differences — ignitions on the floor, electric window locks in the middle console — and their devoted fans. To this day, Saab owners are unwavering in loyalty and passion.

At 19, Larry bought his first, a 1973 bright yellow Saab, from his father. He bought his second, a red 1977 Saab, in 1982. In 1988, he married Ann, the daughter of a Midwest auto mechanic who understood and appreciated cars and could recite models of just about any car that passed.

“That’s one of the things that drew me to Ann,” Larry says. “I thought, `OK, she might put up with some of my stuff.’”

Ann was driving an Acura. With no space or money for car registrations and licenses, they sold the Saabs and bought a Jeep. Two sons came. A series of cars, including a van, came and went from the driveway. A Saab, a 1998 green 9000, didn’t re-enter Larry’s life again until 2004. By 2008, the non-Saabs had been replaced by two more Saabs, one black, the other a flirty red convertible.

The year Larry bought the green Saab he also joined the Rocky Mountain Saab Club. Last summer, one member, moving from Evergreen for health reasons, wanted homes for three old Saabs stored in his barn.

Two other members made their choices first; Larry took the one left, a Savannah beige 96 that had been towed into the barn in 1988 as a parts car.

Larry inspected it closely. A little rust. Solid floorboards under the soiled carpet. Door panels in good condition. Weatherstrip around the doors in good condition. Headliner in excellent condition.

Although the engine didn’t run, Larry declared it “a solid car,” trailered it behind his green Saab and pulled into his brother’s car wash in Golden to spray out the pine needles in the fender and the gray dust and spiderwebs blanketing the engine.

Then he parked it outside his Littleton home. Ann suggested Larry name the car Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes, which also happened to be his dad’s favorite saint.

“That’s it, Dad!” son Kyle, 16, agreed enthusiastically. “We’re gonna name it Jude!”

And here, the story takes its twist.

The previous owner never retitled the car when he bought it in 1988 and the address of the original owner was a J.F. and A. Garcia of Greeley. “What are the odds your dad sold him the car?” a Saab club member asked Larry.

One August weekend, when Larry was helping his mother around her Greeley home, down in the basement he rummaged through his dad’s old, steel work desk — still packed with files. As he flipped through a stack of envelope-sized slips, he noticed a sales transaction that read “June 13, 1970, Saab, Garcia.”

He opened a drawer and a white card “jumped out” and fell on the floor. “It wanted me to find it,” Larry recalls.

It was a Saab owner identification card, which contained the serial number of a demo car received by Larry’s dad on Jan. 22, 1970. The serial number matched the Saab number on the title of the car parked outside Larry’s home.

Larry started laughing: “I’ve got a car that my dad actually sold and, not just that he sold, but that he had.”

That day, poignant memories rose from the papers, mingling amid the excitement of discovery, to remind Larry about the challenges his dad faced trying to support a family of eight children while running a business.

“He would come home when I was a kid and he didn’t know how he was going to make it work.” Larry’s voice thickens and falters as he remembers. “He would pray to St. Jude. St. Jude would look over him and get him through.”

And “sometimes,” Larry says, a smile brightening his face, “he would come in with a roll of bills and say, `Let’s take a test drive and go to Johnson’s Corner for dinner.’”

His father, who died at 90, was 60 years old when he gave up the Saab franchise. “It was hard when he sold the dealership,” Larry says.

The discussion about the coincidence of the Saab, St. Jude and Larry’s dad continues.

“One of my sisters said `Dad’s guiding that from heaven,’” Larry says.

“I don’t think certain things happen by chance,” Ann says. “I think there’s more a spiritual connection with certain things.”

Larry’s still not sure.

But one thing is certain. “If it was designed that way,” Ann says, “it’s Larry’s obligation to bring it back to its original condition.”

He’s working on it. Parts are on the way. He will soon move the car from the cold curb into the warmth of the garage where he can tinker when time allows.

With help from a friend, he started the engine last summer. His son turned the key. Neighbors watched. Larry documented the event on video.

“It has life,” he said happily as the car blew a cloud of accumulated exhaust. “It’s not a hopeless cause.”

And that, for the time being, is the end of the story.

Luck. Fate. Divine intervention?

You decide.

Ann Macari Healey’s column about people, places and issues of everyday life appears every other week. She can be reached at ahealey@ourcoloradonews.com or 303-566-4110.