The Drivin’ News theme of “Cars we love and who we are” invites the reader into experiencing great cars and learning about the interesting people associated with them. Normally the motivation behind the “why” that inspires the great affection is taken as a given considering the desirability, beauty and provenance of the classic cars in question. However, some times the “why” leads us down an even more interesting path revealing a vehicle made beautiful by a patina of sweet memories. Such stories rooted in personal history often involve love, loss, salvation and heartwarming resolutions.
In the garage of Vinny Plotino resides an incongruous pair of treasured vintage cars with very different “whys.”
The odd couple in Vinny Plotino’s garage
Housed in an orderly and well equipped 2-bay garage both cars make a statement. For the 1970 Plymouth Superbird on the right, the “why” screams at you, for the other, a quite pedestrian and weary 1962 Ford Falcon the “why” softly asks “why?”
Indeed, screamingly obvious in its attraction, the Superbird sports a nose cone front end and outsized rear spoiler with signature “Roadrunner” graphics. Resplendent in 1970 Plymouth Blue Fire Metallic or B5 Blue (color code) as it is known throughout Mopar circles and among collectors, Vinny Plotino’s Plymouth Superbird leaves no doubt as to what inspires the love. With the original 440 cu. in. V8 fed by a single 4-barrel and delivered through a 4-speed manual trans Vinny’s Superbird delivers 375 horsepower. It reigns as an iconic presence in the pantheon of muscle cars of the golden age.
Created by Chrysler corporation purely as a means to dominate NASCAR racing for the 1969-1970 season, the Superbird with its 19-inch extended bullet nose and car wash nightmare, outsized rear wing did not move especially well out of the showroom as a retail money maker. For homologation purposes 1,920 Superbirds came from the factory for retail sale. It did, however, achieve its intended dominance by exceeding 200 mph at Talladega Superspeedway to set a NASCAR record. In NASCAR race trim, powered by a 426 Hemi V8 with a 0 – 60 mph time of 4.8 seconds and a drag coefficient of 0.28 (still an impressive level of slipperiness 50-years later) the Superbird with Richard Petty at the wheel won eight NASCAR races and finished high in others.
Right around that time as a 16-year old teenager pedaling his bike past Frey Chrysler in Bergenfield, New Jersey, young Vinny fell under the spell of the new Superbird in the showroom window. He would just stop and stare at the outrageous Roadrunner on Steroids and dream. One day Vinny knew he would own one.
History would prove Vinny right, twice. He found a B5 Blue Superbird in 1979 and grabbed it. However with the birth of his daughter Vinny’s first Superbird left to feather the nest for the expanding Plotino family. While appreciating the necessity for the move, Vinny immediately regretted it.
It would be another ten years before the second opportunity arose when Vinny could again own his dream car. In 1989 a B5 Blue Superbird appeared on his radar and shortly thereafter arrived in his driveway and with 36,000 original miles rolled into his garage. Today, 30 plus years later that B5 Blue numbers matching Superbird now with 40,000 miles, receives with great frequency the same loving gaze that first inspired the dreams of a teenage boys heart.
When asked for any stories of interest relating to the Superbird, Gina Plotino, Vinny’s wife, offered a small story that spoke volumes about relationships, priorities, love, friendship and understanding, not necessarily topics one immediately associates with iconic muscle cars. Gina recalled when Vinny faced a challenging task that involved replacing the Superbird’s exhaust system.
Gina said, “I watch him at car shows when a father and son or daughter come by his car. It is so important to him that he provides an opportunity for the father to engage with his children. Vinny really cares about others. He is such a good person. Now, I always take good care of myself and I love my nails, but, Vinny needed help with the exhaust system. I cut my nails off so we could do the job together. I love him.” They have been married 40 years.
Worthy of inspiring a softly quizzical “why”?, a fairly forlorn 1962 2-door Ford Falcon with a level of patina edging ever closer to crossing the line to perforated corrosion nobly plays the role of sidekick to the bigger than life hero Superbird.
Told with warmth and feeling, Vinny lovingly shares the story behind his deep affection for “Mrs. Olesko’s Falcon.”
“I grew up in Bergenfield, New Jersey, says Vinny, “I was 9-years old when my friend Ron Olesko’s mother bought a 1962 Falcon.” From the day she took delivery until today, it has never left Bergen County. Ron was the only child and the car serviced all the family needs by going to church, the grocery store and taking Ron to and from school. Vinny says, It probably never took a longer ride than 20 miles.”
Since in years later Mrs. Olesko had a concern about mice getting into the car inside the garage, the Falcon stayed outside exposed to the elements from around 2002 to 2017. After Mrs. Olesko turned in her driver’s license due to poor eye sight, the Falcon sat idle for a few years. Despite Vinny’s most passionate pleas she refused to sell the car. She wanted it out in front to let potential burglars know that someone was always home. Son Ron Olesko says, “Despite my best efforts I could not persuade her that a rusty car with four flat tires would not fool anyone.”
After taking a fall Mrs. Olesko moved into a nursing home. Her first thought expressed when she moved was, “Give the car to Vinny.” When contacted by Ron, Vinny asked how much Ron’s mom wanted for the beloved Falcon. Ron said, “All she said was maybe Vinny could get it running and someday ride it in a parade.” Mrs. Olesko passed away in 2017.
Interestingly the original purchase paperwork and window sticker accompanied the car. As displayed on the window sticker, the Olesko family purchased a 2-door model with the 85 horsepower 6-cylinder engine and 2-speed Ford-O-Matic automatic transmission. Vinny says, “The only option it had was the deluxe package which gave you some chrome trim on the sides and behind the wheels and those little guys on the top of the fenders. No radio (Vinny still has the little radio opening block-off plate). No power steering. No power brakes.“ The paperwork indicates a payment of $45.99 a month for 36 months.
Transporting the Falcon to Vinny’s garage posed some major challenges. Wheels had bonded to brake drums and would not turn. Vinny finally freed up the wheels and with the help of his Cousin Frank rolled the Falcon onto Vinny’s trailer. Changing all fluids and replacing all brake lines allowed the Falcon to slowly rise like the Phoenix from its past as a dead rusted hulk. Inspired by a ,now running car, Vinny found NOS 1962 Falcon upholstery and installed it.
When Mrs. Olesko passed away Vinny drove the refurbished faded blue Falcon to the church and followed the hearse as they drove one last time past her house.
Vinny says, “I do not want to remove the rust and repaint the car. I want to retain the patina that represents the loving life of Mrs. Olesko. While some may look at it and see only rust, I see a big part of a person’s life and memories that can never be replaced.”
Son Ron Olesko is quoted as saying, “Thanks Vinny, you do fine work. My mom got her parade.”
Loved for very different reasons but with equally heartfelt affection, Vinny Plotino’s odd couple sit side by side emblematic of the very human connection bonding people, the cars they love and the emotional charge that seals that bond and expresses human values far deeper than the attraction of horsepower and chrome.
Tears falling for the Falcon story . Another rare bird .
Thank you for your thoughtful comments.
Wonderful and moving as always, Burton!
Your comments are much appreciated.
Very nice story, beautifully told.
Thank you for your kind comments.
Maybe your best story yet……. in this mad mad mad mad world, you shine a light on a human quality frequently overlooked by all the spin doctoring out there…… That most people are basically good, respectful human beings, and it just so happens that horsepower, chrome, and a childhood dream brought out these attributes in what sounds like a fine, loving family!
Thank you for your thoughtful comments.
Beautful story well told!
The Falcon belonged to my mother and over the years many people would knock and her door and ask if the car was for sale. She told them that the car was going to someone else- Vinny. She knew that he was the only person who would not only get it running, but also understood what it meant to her and would treat it with respect. When we had to move her in the nursing home and sell her home, the first thing she said was “give the car to Vinny”. In her last months, I would show her pictures that Vinny sent me of the work he was doing and she smiled and was very happy. At her funeral, Vinny brought a smile to all of my family and I know Mom was looking down and smiling as well. Vinny is one of a kind, one of the finest people I’ve ever met. He will always have a special place in our families heart.
I am pleased that you got to see the story. Vinny is a great guy.