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A Jaguar filled with memories

WL resident Dave Adams parting ways with car that changed his life

TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - After 40-plus years and countless hours of restoration, Dave Adams is saying goodbye to his beloved Jaguar. During his senior year at Beaverton High School, back in 1971, Dave Adams was picking up lunch at a burger shop down the street when something caught his eye.

Resting unattended at a gas station was a 1953 Jaguar XK 120 convertible, though in the moment Adams knew nothing about the make or model of the car. If anything, he was “anti-car” at the time; as an aspiring artist, Adams had grown up in a family that, as he recalls, “had no automotive sensibilities whatsoever.”

Yet in this moment, as he stared at the “bizarre, intriguing beast” across the road, Adams couldn’t resist the opportunity to explore. The vehicle had been abandoned — at the time, a 1953 car wasn’t thought of as “classic,” just old — and when Adams opened the front door of the Jaguar, it marked his first step into a career that has taken him under the hoods of rare cars all around the world.

“I opened the door, and there was this intoxicating aroma of wood and wool and leather,” said Adams, who lives in West Linn. “It was unlike any American machine I’d ever seen.”

As it happened, a friend of Adams knew about another Jaguar that was up for sale, as it happened, the exact same model as the one at the gas station. With the help of loans — including $200 from a high school friend — he bought the car and began his first restoration project.

Now, 44 years after that discovery, Adams is set to part ways with the car that started it all. On Aug. 13, the Jaguar will be auctioned off in Monterey, Calif., as Adams hopes to take advantage of what he calls a “red hot” classic car market.

“It’s a business decision at this point,” Adams said. “At this point in my career, it’s not about possessing — at the end of the day, it’s an object. What’s more meaningful than just owning something are the memories associated with it and all the connections made in the process of doing it.”

And oh, are there memories.

Shortly after purchasing the Jaguar, Adams came to a sobering realization: He had no idea what he was doing.

“I didn’t have it long before I realized I was in way over my head,” he said. “I either needed way more money than I had, or I needed some skills.”

TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Adams bought the Jaguar in 1971, shortly after discovering a similar model abandoned at a gas station.

Where art school had once been a foregone conclusion, Adams opted instead to attend mechanic school at Mt. Hood Community College. At the time, he intended to return to art school later in life, while in the meantime picking up a specific trade that he could fall back on if art didn’t pan out.

“So my plan was to enroll in a mechanics course and get some trade, some skill, and in the process restore this car,” Adams said.

Yet from the start, the professor took a liking to Adams and his unusual car.

“We’re going to have two courses here,” he told Adams. “I’m going to teach all of these guys what they want, and you and I are going to have a lot of fun.”

By the time he graduated, Adams had completed the restoration of the Jaguar, and in another stroke of luck his teacher found him a job at the Leyfax auto repair shop in Portland. It was there that he learned another key lesson.

“I don’t care how long it takes you to do the job right,” his boss told him. “We want the job perfect, so it never comes back (to the shop).”

That advice stuck with Adams as he moved on to work as a car purchaser in Europe and later started his own business: Lake Oswego Restoration. Over many successful years, Adams has worked on everything from Aston Martins to Porsches, Jaguars and Morris Minors.

Though he never did return to the formal art world, Adams has come to view his work as a different kind of art.

“All of my artistic sensibilities have sort of informed what I’ve been doing all along,” he said. “I’ve never really been that great of a businessman, but the fact that I’ve been able to produce a product with curb appeal has actually been an important part of my success.”

Indeed, the exacting process of restoring a classic car is not dissimilar to that of a sculptor; a “fast” project for Adams generally lasts about two years.

“The simplest cars have 20,000 pieces to them — a more complicated car like (the Jaguar) is going to have 30,000 pieces. That’s counting every single nut, bolt, washer and gasket. It’s really satisfying to look at (the car) after all of that and remember those 30,000 pieces were all in a box,” he said.

With retirement creeping up, Adams estimates he has about six restorations left in him. Three will be from his own collection — two Jaguars and an Aston Martin — and selling the original 1953 Jaguar was, in part, a way to clear space for his other upcoming projects.

In the end, no matter who buys the car, and where it ends up, it will always carry some of Adams’ most significant memories.

“I’ve got so many memories with this car, and those aren’t for sale — the car is,” Adams said. “Junior, senior prom I drove that car. The first day I met my wife was kind of a blind date, and I picked her up in that car. We were at a car event when my wife was 9 months pregnant with our second child, her water broke and we ended up rushing to hospital in that car.

“I’m definitely sentimentally attached to it, but like I said, memories aren’t for sale. I’m keeping those.”

TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - The 1953 Jaguar was what set Adams on a path to restoring cars for a living. Restoration projects take years, as experts like Adams work to assemble tens of thousands of pieces.

TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - In preparing the Jaguar for auction, Adams had to make sure everything was perfect, down to the original owner's manual.