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A Father, a Daughter and an Old Sports Car

Tinkering with a relationship.

By Andy Prest 17 Jun 2006 | TheTyee.ca

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Tradition, passed on.

The best Father's Day gifts often bring dads and their children together to do something that papa really loves to do. Some daughters have trouble getting excited about dad's passions. For girls short on ideas, here are a few:

Dad loves the rock and roll? Why not take him to see Elvis Costello at the Orpheum?

Pops used to play a pretty decent shortstop? Try heading to a batting cage and taking a few swings with the old man.

Dad loves tinkering with cars? Why don't you and he completely restore a classic 1970s British roadster? That may sound far-fetched, impossible even, but it's not. Erin Berk did just that. The hardest part was finding coveralls that fit.

"XXXL are simple to, but try finding the small stuff," John Berk* says while holding the extra-small 'Berk and Daughter' coveralls that he eventually tracked down. Once they had the coveralls, father and daughter got to work on a rusty old 1977 MGB and Erin found out just how special garage time can be.

The love

John Berk loves cars. "I've owned a 1968 Shelby Mustang, and a Boss 302 Mustang, and a 1960 Corvette and the list goes on and on," he says, keeping track on his fingers as he continues to name off some of the world's coolest muscle cars. "It was actually 64 cars by the time I was 28 years old. So I was a real car nut you might say." They were all restored with his own father by his side and a pair of 'Berk and Sons Bodyshop' coveralls around his shoulders.

John Berk loves his children. But when they all arrived and the score was girls 3, boys 0, he was sure his days of mechanical family bonding were over. What John didn't know was that his middle daughter would one day have a plan of her own.

"Erin had told me that before she graduated from high school she wanted a convertible so she could drive to grad in a convertible," says John. The pair shopped around for cars until Erin found an old MGB that ran alright but needed a lot of work. The price was also steep and John let Erin know she would get no help from him. To his astonishment, his quiet, reserved daughter cut a cheque for the car right then and there. Three years of odd jobs, birthday money, and cheques from grandma instantly transformed into a green MGB roadster.

"All of a sudden we owned it," John says.

"I owned it," says Erin.

"Yeah. And I was back into restoration whether I liked it or not."

Crafting a classic

John, in fact, did like being back in the restoration business. And without any experience in auto mechanics, Erin set to work under the watchful eye of her dad. She cut out rusty panelling, gutted the interior, and even tore out parts of the engine.

"She did everything," John says. "She really knows what the car is about. It's not just putting the key in the ignition and driving it." Using parts from two other wrecked MGBs, John and Erin spent every weekend for over half a year perfecting the car. They finished on time. Barely.

"We were still putting it together the day of graduation," Erin says. "Somehow we managed to get it together and I managed to get my grad dress on and hop in the car." She also managed to turn a lot of heads pulling up to grad in her own roadster.

"That was a great moment," she says. "It was very rewarding."

Getting "the look"

Despite the popularity of female race-car driver Danica Patrick, women are still much more likely to be seen posing on top of fast cars than restoring or driving them. The web site for Classic Motorsports Magazine says that its subscription base is 99 per cent male. Erin doesn't care about the stereotypes.

"I'm very hands-on," she says. "I like to get in there and build things and create things and figure out how things work."

Female car lovers like Erin may not be getting much exposure but the car she drives is. The May issue of Classic Motorsports picked the 1977 MGB as one of its six underrated classics, calling it a car you need to "put in your garage before the secret gets out." Erin doesn't argue with that.

"I miss it when I'm not driving it," she says. "Just the sound of it driving down the road and the wind in my hair. It's wonderful." Although it is not the most powerful car on the road, Erin's MG does have a roar that sends a shiver down the spine.

"It's not just a point A to point B car -- it's a point A to point B in style car. It's a statement," Erin says. Apparently people are getting the message. Erin says she gets "the look" from boys aged 12 to 65.

"It's become known as the guy magnet," John says with a sigh.

Perfect gift

So daughters, still think you don't have the time to indulge dad's passions for at least a day? Listen to this father boast about the efforts made by his daughter.

"I'm very proud of her," John says. "It was a lot of fun, because Erin really did it herself and I just helped. I really liked that. I wasn't doing something for her, I was helping her do something and understand the mechanics of an automobile."

"But at the same time I couldn't have done it without him," Erin says, looking at her father across the garage. "Everything that is in my car now is thanks to him teaching me."

Sounds like father and daughter both got exactly what they wanted.

*By request, the last name has been changed to protect privacy.

Andy Prest is a Vancouver journalist.

Related Tyee stories: Alex Waterhouse-Hayward pined for the good old days of Formula One racing (with photos); Barbara McLintock took in a play about teens and road safety; and Allison Cross wrote about her life as a climate-friendly test driver.  [Tyee]

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