Ecker's muscle car keeps on trucking

History: The former Howard County executive bought his 1972 V-8 Chevelle convertible in the days before pollution controls and fuel consciousness. He's passed the wheel to new owners.

June 06, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Term limits and a long-shot run for governor may have ended the political career of former Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, but his 1972 pea-green Chevelle convertible isn't so easily retired.

Sporting whitewall tires, an eight-track tape player and about 250,000 Maryland miles, the well-maintained car is parked these days on the county government lot in Ellicott City by SherryRexrode.

A staffer in County Executive James N. Robey's office, Rexrode previously worked for Ecker. She and her husband, Ken, a 24-year county highways worker, beat out a handful of other bidders in April to buy the car at the annual antique car auction at the Howard County Fairgrounds.

"I always wanted a Chevelle," she said recently. "It's wonderful. I've already had several offers for it."

One was from a man who followed her into a convenience store and didn't want to take "no" for an answer, she said.

Why would anyone want a 29-year-old car with a rusting trunk and a V-8 engine that gets 12 to 15 miles a gallon?

Rexrode said it's mainly for the fun that she'll have driving it and that she and her husband will have fixing it up - including a paint job to pale yellow or burgundy.

Definitely not the original green. "I hate that color," she said.

The Rexrodes also own a cherry red 1946 Chevy Suburban, the first post-World War II sport utility vehicle. Ken Rexrode is a good mechanic, and Sherry Rexrode said she's not bad, either. "I can rebuild a carburetor," she said.

General Motors built only 4,853 Chevelle convertibles in 1972, the model's last production year. Tom Morris, president of the Maryland Chevelle Club, said it's rare to find one owned by only one person. Ecker is one of the club's 210 Maryland members, Morris said.

"It was the last real year of the muscle car," Morris said, noting that although Chevelle hardtops endured for a few more years, pollution controls and other safety devices cut down on their power.

Rexrode said her car won't be just for show. She's put 3,000 miles on it, and "I plan to get out and have fun with it," she said.

She said she felt that buying the car would also be a fond reminder of her first eight years as a government worker, and of Ecker and his wife, Peggy.

"He was really nice to me," she said. "I felt I was getting a part of them."

The bigger question might be why, after all these years, Ecker decided to get rid of the classic car.

"It was time," Rexrode said he told her.

That's about par for Ecker, a politician not noted for emoting in public.

Known for his austere budgeting skills and his taciturn, though friendly demeanor, Ecker's devotion to his car might reveal as much about him as anything he's ever said. He's not a quitter, and he hates to waste money.

He drove the big V-8 through two energy crises, and he remained so devoted to the original color that although it was once mistakenly painted a different shade of green, he had it returned to its rightful hue next time around.

It's been repainted several times, he's had the engine rebuilt, and the automatic transmission (in 1978), bought four new tops over the years, reupholstered the seats and paid for numerous rust repairs, including a new left rear quarter-panel.

"I hate to total up what I spent over the years," he said. "It was just a good car. I always had good luck for it. I really don't like to buy a new car."

These days, he said, new vehicles are a lot on money.

The Chevelle cost about $3,400 new, and Rexrode paid $3,500 at the auction - a bargain, she said.

"I can't believe it went that cheap," Morris said.

The Rexrodes go to Carlisle, Pa., the mecca for antique car restorers, to find out-of-stock items they need for the car. Ken Rexrode has replaced a few things and has a new set of boss wheels and tires waiting in the wings once the whitewalls wear out.

Ecker said the car's age led him to decide to sell the vehicle.

"I'm not mechanically inclined," he said. "I was afraid of [repair] things that might come up."

The transmission is due for replacement, he said, and there's more rust to battle, and like anything old, parts are always wearing out.

While he was county executive, Ecker gave the convertible to one of his two sons but got it back a year later.

"He figured I missed it," Ecker said.

The retired executive drives an Oldsmobile SUV now, which is fine, he said, except "you can't put the top down."

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