Mice had chewed through wires in the electrical system and the tires were almost rotten, but when Jim Thomas sat behind the wheel of that 1964 Plymouth Sport Fury, he was 16 years old with four on the floor and muscle under the hood.
He was taken back to a time when he was a high school football player who was proud of his letterman's jacket and his hot ride.
Thomas bought that car for $750. He had saved $400 from a summer job at Six Flags Over Georgia, and his father picked up the difference.
When he got to the University of Georgia, underclassmen couldn't have cars on campus and his family needed help with his tuition. So in 1971, his father sold that cherished red Plymouth.
That was his first car and his first love, and he never forgot it. It left a hole in his heart that he could never fill.
He became a television sportscaster and a news anchor on stations big and small from here to Los Angeles.
He is an actor with a growing number of credits.
He has a beautiful wife who grew up in the car business, and to Melissa a car is a car.
Not to him. He started spending time on Internet sites designed for classic car collectors, and his eyes were always drawn to 1964 Plymouths.
Last year he saw one on eBay that was identical to his old car -- and it was in Dawson, Ga. By the time he reacted, it was gone.
Recently it reappeared. The first buyer got cold feet, he learned.
Thomas went to Dawson, and it was like going back in time.
"I had to have it," he said, "even if I had to take a third job."
After 51 years, he is again the owner of a 1964 Plymouth Sport Fury. It isn't street worthy yet, but he had to drive it around the block just one time.
"There was a flood of memories," he said. "It was like my Dad was sitting next to me."
It's in his garage now. Sometimes he goes out just to sit in it.
Unlikely as it sounds, there are moments that he believes it might be the car he owned as a teenager.
"I can't believe fate has brought it back to me after all these years."