Wednesday, November 21, 2012


“And this is the Birney time-machine conversion we did for Back to the Future,” explained Rob as he pointed to the next photo on the wall.

“That one was tough. A full, customized stainless steel body complete with gull-wing doors. It required huge gas-struts to lift those things. In the end we had to substitute fiberglass doors to make them lighter,” elaborated Bob.

Rob and Bob, the identical twin brothers of Birney Brothers Custom Trams, were giving me a tour of the wall of fame at their corporate office. Little did they know that a ‘Mr. Fusion’ device was closer to reality than they might imagine.

“And this is the Birney Pacer we did for Duane’s World.” Rob had moved on to the next photo.

“Mother hated the Pacer.”

“Mother and Father nearly got a divorce over it.”

Divorced over a Pacer? Jess would never have divorced me over a Pacer. She was more sensible. She divorced me because I neglected her.

“Father thought his design was highly advanced. Mother had other words for it.”

“We were quite young then and didn’t realize Mother knew those kinds of words.”

“She eventually destroyed all the Pacer’s plans and files.”

“We had to build the prop tram completely from old photos and memories.”

The brothers sighed in unison and moved onto the next picture.

“Is that who I think it is?” I asked squinting at an image of a leather jacketed man in the photo.

“Yeap, it’s Steve…,” started Rob.

“…McQueen,” finished Bob.

“And who’s that woman he’s laughing with.” As if I didn’t know.

“It’s Leslie.”

“Leslie Warden.”

Steve and Leslie were laughing and sharing a joke beside a jet-black 350 Boss Birney.

“We built the 350 for Bullitt. That was the tram that made our company.”

“No looking back after that.”

“Once the movie hit the theatres, orders for 350s poured in.”

Rob was getting wistful. “We built it in our original garage out in the desert. It was actually an old airplane hanger. We had a test track where the airstrip once was and it had a great view of the mountains in the distance when we had the hanger doors opened. Mr. McQueen came out and worked with us for two weeks when we were tuning up the motor and getting everything adjusted. Great guy. Very skilled.”

“How does Warden fit into all this?” I asked, barely disturbing Rob’s reverie.

“He showed up with her one morning. She worked on the motor for a couple of days. Did something to it that made it go like stink. Whatever it was she took it with her when she left. “

Now Bob was getting all dreamy-eyed. His memories were kicking in. “You remember that day we rolled the 350 out of the hanger and put her on the track and Steve took her out for the first test run?”

“Yeah. He pushed it to the limit.  I nearly had heart failure watching it.”

“What happened to the 350?” I wondered out loud.

“We heard that Mr. McQueen got it after the movie was made.”

“He said he was interested in getting a tram from us for running at Le Mans, but nothing came of it,” piped up Bob.

“You’re right! I almost forgot. That would have been great,” opined Rob.

“Yeap, it would have,” sighed Bob.

The next instalment can be found here.

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