“So I gave L my eBay account username and password.”
This is how Andy starts the story of what lead us here. And this story is true. It began on a Sunday.
“I imagine I’ll call my boss on Monday and say, ‘I need to ask a favor.’ He will say, ‘Sure, what?’ and I will tell him, ‘So I gave L my eBay account details — ‘” He interrupted his own thought process then, switching topics. “You know, I told a friend this at work on Wednesday and he told me straight away, ‘Dude, you fucked up.'”
Me: “But I’m not interested in buying clothes or purses or — ”
“Oh I know that. Unfortunately.” He had to add the word ‘unfortunately’ as if our current predicament did not thrill him. It did but he likes to think he’s great at pretending.
“Okay, Andrew. Keep going with your story.”
“Alright, so my boss would say, ‘Oh, why?’ and I’ll tell him, ‘Well, we kinda bought a motorhome and it’s in Utah so we need to get it’ and he will say, ‘Cool, what type of RV?’ because he’s interested in this type of thing — He has a trailer. You know, I’ve actually stayed in a caravan before — ”
“Yeah, I never have.”
“Wait, what?” He paused as if he suddenly made an enormous mistake so I felt the need to encourage him.
“The largest vehicle I’ve been in for an extended time is a minivan, and that was from Virginia to maybe Georgia. I think I could drive at the time too, though I’m not sure. I may not have actually driven at all.”
I wish I could replicate Andrew’s facial expression via my words because my sentences will not do this justice. Let’s just say he was a mixture of being baffled, terrified, and unamused. “Bloody hell, L. That’s not an ‘extended journey.’ That’s just a trip. That’s — ”
“It doesn’t matter. Continue telling me your story.” I needed to get him back on track before he had a panic attack over our decision. “So your boss would say, ‘What type of RV did you buy?’ and you will tell him what?”
“‘It’s a Clark Cortez’ and there would be a moment of silence so I would just say, ‘Google it’ and I would hear him typing and then he would say, ‘Why the fuck did you buy a fifty-something year old campervan?!’ and I would say, “So, I gave L my eBay account username and password.”
And this is how our story begins . . .
* * * * *
Andrew was at work when I was left to my own devices, spending way too many hours on the world wide web checking ads for old and neglected caravans, moving vans, motorhomes, RVs, trollies, buses, and the you-name-its of the internet. By now, page after page had accumulated in my internet browser, which was continuously checked, updated and added to then saved. This day started off no different — I was simply making my near-daily round of searches, which — by the way — I’ve been doing secretly for a long time now . . . or at least a time too long for me to admit.
Andrew knew of my interest, too . . . except he thought it was casual. Bless him, the poor guy can forget the extent of my OCD. See, since we first met, our lives have circulated around two dreams: mine, to travel the world and his, to refurbish an antique, abandoned vehicle. In the beginning stages of our friendship, this is how we bonded — He yearned to explore but lacked incentive and I was highly interested in old vehicle restorations but lacked knowledge. When we uttered our hopes aloud though, our dreams somehow welded together — more complete with the other person and, before we even realized it, that space of lacking became filled.
Anyway, just like me, Andrew never put aside his dream and it soon became mine. We would cry sorrows if others were able to purchase antique vehicles and restore them . . .
and we would find ourselves whipping the wheel to one side so that we could divert in the direction of rust; there, we would peek through scrapyard fences for campers or buses to rescue (this, I would recommend).
Other times, And and I would pull up slowly outside of someone’s house only to sneak from our cars and into yards to look at their old RVs (this, you should not do); and outside of beauties like this, we would mutter of how we would knock on that person’s door to offer them money to drive away with their vehicle.
We would whisper to one another stories of breakdowns on unnamed dirt roads and arguments inside that would send the other person into the rain; we had tales of him catching fish in streams while I cried about the fish murder but also being grateful for that night’s dinner; and we spoke of lying outside in our sleeping bags, only to fall asleep while watching the Milky Way’s slow swirl above. We imaged our pup and kitten making these travels with us — Paris’s excitement at smelling for miles the moment the door opened; and Ly’s light blue eyes dilating as the world spread in front of him. I had a narrative written that had never happened. But we saw this, tasted it, felt it — To put it mildly, we had an illness that could only be cured by buying a classic, refurbishing it, and taking it on travels with our family stuffed inside . . .
but we were too scared to act.
That is until something changed . . .
In a blog post titled Multiple Sclerosis Update, I recapped news my neurologist told me. He said my MS is progressing at a rate faster than he originally thought or hoped. When I heard that, I began again to whirl in the vicious circle where I analyze my life. In fact, I wrote a glimmer of these thoughts in that post:
I realized today I have waiting for life to happen to me: Waiting to see what happens with my MS, waiting to determine if my MS medication is working, waiting to get test results, waiting to determine if new MS meds are needed. Waiting, waiting — and the cycle will not stop. I don’t want to wait anymore. Quite frankly, I don’t know what time holds and I don’t want to risk dreams for waiting so I guess I’ll end this post being hopeful: Maybe this is the news I needed to shake me out of my own safety net. Maybe I needed to hear this to stop holding myself back. Maybe — in some warped way — MS will free me.
That was back in March, four months ago. And I was still living the same life.
True, mentally I feel strong and lasting, that I can endure. True, I am trying to remain positive while also exercising, eating healthy, and de-stressing. And true, I am now undergoing the strongest MS treatment in the form of infusions, which should slow — if not, stop — MS activity.
But . . .
Why am I still waiting? The other truth is that MS is a chronic disabling disease and it would be naive, even foolish, to ignore my reality — which is what I have attempted to do. Here, I will tell you my biggest fear: The word ‘progressing’ means ‘more lesions’ . . . and the word ‘lesions’ mean ‘cells are killed.’ This can happen at any time and can affect any part of the body so my fear is that at any moment, in a certain spot, a lesion could leave me paralyzed.
This thought is one I try not to focus on, but admit I do sometimes wake panicked and I do sometimes cry because the honesty of MS is that every morning I wonder if my legs will move or if a day will come when I need a wheelchair. My mind can spin, frantic at this thought, because I realize — again and again — all I have not done: I have not roamed the US and breathed in as many sights as my lungs will take in. I have not lived international travel or moved to a different country. And while Andy tells me all the time, “We will get there,” (even with his best intensions) ‘there’ may not coincide with my body’s ‘there.’ Once more I realize my dreams cannot remain just dreams — They need to be goals so, simply put, I refuse to wait to achieve goals anymore. I no longer want to live in fear. I simply want to live. And this takes me back to my initial writings . . .
Andrew was at work while I made my rounds of scrolls online, searching antique vehicles when it — our vehicle — finally appeared.
Meet the Clark Cortez.
In the 1960s, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler released their new compact motorhomes. However, one wanted to be a different: Clark. In 1963, forklift manufacturer Clark decided to dabble in building and selling one of the first modern front-wheel drive motorhomes in America. This meant the Cortez was born. Unlike motorhomes before that were “big, tall, ponderous, rough-riding, crude-handling and thirsty,” the Cortez had a different chassis, therefore revolutionizing life on the road by allowing their vehicle to be more compact, efficient, and advanced. In fact, Clark liked these Cortez aspects so much that they also marketed the vehicle as an ambulance, mobile office, sales room, and NASA astronaut shuttle — which, by the way, is super interesting to know astronauts hopped in this bad boy before being launched into outer space. (Pictures of that, along with tons of other shots of the classic, are on a site called Cortez Coach.)
With a length of about nineteen feet, width of six, overall height of eleven, and weight of anywhere from 8,000 to 9,000 pounds, the Cortez is much smaller than modern RVs. In fact, it is the same length and height as many large trucks today, which means it can essentially fit into a parking space. Still, it is a beast due to its forklift background and inspiration. Analyzing the engine, it has a four-speed manual transmission, a slant six motor, and independent suspension. Oh, and the sucker has around 140 horsepower, which is actually medal-worthy for its size and time of built. On the outside, an all-steel body is noticeable, along with many large windows — both of these traits, unheard of for its time. Inside, the Cortez is often described as “roomy” and that’s due to its ability to sleep six, among other reasons.
Sadly, the end came soon for Clark. Their Cortezes had an expensive price tag and the company couldn’t keep up with the devil Winnebago, who was mass-producing vehicles for half the cost. Because of this, Clark decided to sell its motorhome rights to Kent Industries in 1970; Kent built some — that were larger — but that company gave up soon too. However, in an effort to keep the Cortez alive, twenty-six fans purchased the production line and created a new company; they continued to build, making a few, but the work proved to be too hard for them as well. Because of this, only 3,221 were produced in sixteen years — and in our year alone, there were only 394 of the 1965 Cortezes made! Overall, a little more than 1,000 are expected today on the road.
To say we were immediately smitten with this limited vehicle is an understatement. We knew the Cortez was ‘the one’ . . . which is why when it popped up on eBay — with no reserve — my heart skipped a beat and I messaged Andrew right away.
Andrew did give in after that last message and so, with his eBay username and password, I suddenly had our goals at my fingertips. Over and over I read the ad to the point of near-memorization:
“This is our 1965 Clark Cortez RV, this is a very rare and highly collectible vintage RV that has been covered and stored for many years and is in all original condition with the exception of the paint.
“This 1 owner, running Cortez has just over 10k original miles and is in outstanding condition for being over 50 years old and doesn’t even need a total restoration, you will not find another one in this condition!
“There are some very minor cosmetic flaws….paint is faded and a previous spot of body work to right of rear door with about 1/8 inch old bondo is cracking and will need redone (see pic). There is one spot of repairable body damage on the passenger front corner (see pic). Floors and chassis are all very clean, totally solid and free of rust. There is a vertical crack on the driver side windshield and a horizontal crack on the middle side window.
“Interior is all original and very clean, no fade or damage, it is in great condition and near perfect. There is also a dealer installed optional overhead A/C in addition to the roof unit. Doors all open and shut nice and firm, this is a very solid and cared for RV.
“Mechanically this Cortez runs and drives and the 318 engine sounds great and manual transmission shifts smooth but BEFORE driving brakes will need inspected/repaired, when Brough out of storage a few months back the brakes did NOT work and we found that it needs the wheel cylinder on the drivers side replaced and bled so for now only the emergency brake is working. Tires are brand new Firestones installed 3 months ago. Mileage of 10,388 shown is believed to be accurate and original.
“This Cortez has been stored for many years, so it wouldn’t hurt to give it a refreshing oil change, tune up, etc and the brake inspection/repair.”
Each time I got to the bottom of the ad, I knew I was tired of hesitating and missing opportunities. This felt perfectly timed and I was ready to take chances, ready to learn from possibly horrible decisions, ready to live . . .
or at least ready to live soon. In a blink, the auction price grew to $1,600 and it still had about one week left. Not only that, but the amount of watchers and bidders was increasing too, mainly in regards to two repeat bidders who appeared to be squaring off. One of those bidders even went toe-to-toe on multiple past Cortez bids but that person lost each time at the very end. It was critical I didn’t blow our cover.
So, maintaining stealth, I check eBay routinely and told Andrew every tiny update or non-update. Then Sunday arrived — the day the auction was set to close. We had blocked out the day to sit by our computers and track the Cortez’s progress.
By now the price was rising, several additional bidders were joining, and the number of watchers was reaching the hundreds. My positivity on winning this motorhome for a steal was fading . . . and that’s when fate intervened . . .
“L,” Andy said, laptop in front of him next to me. We were both tracking the Cortez separately when he had another find. “L — There’s a second Cortez on eBay right now.”
I admit, I didn’t believe him. This elusive motorhome — Two on eBay and at the same time? The thought alone was flabbergasting — This was, after all, a vehicle rarely found, never-the-less for sale.
And yet, it was true.
This one was two years newer, had more improvements, and seemed in a better condition. The only problem was the hefty price tag that pushed our budget. Still, there was no bidding war and instead, a “Buy It Now” option.
The more we talked, the more we felt we would lose the auction on the first one — After all, what were the chances we would not only win at an affordable price but also win against almost 300 watchers who were slowly making themselves known via bids? Not only this, but the realization that those who lost this auction would more than likely jump to the auction-less one was a reality — All they had to do was click “Buy It Now” at any time and just like that, two Cortezes would be off the market for us with no idea when the next would appear.
We didn’t want to lose two.
“I think we should just buy this one,” I told Andy.
“Yeah, I was thinking the same thing,” he said and after several minutes of anxiety, excitement, and hesitation, we clicked “Buy It Now” and took it off the market.
Long story short, when the seller called us, we thought it was to discuss our purchase but instead she admitted she tried to remove the ad because personal reasons prevented her from selling it.
To say Andy and I were gutted is a dramatic understatement.
We froze. We laughed. We talked rapidly. We paced. We held our breaths.
Then we focused on our next step: “Andy,” I whispered. My fingers dashing across my computer’s keys to re-open an eBay page again. “There’s still the first Clark Cortez — ‘our’ one, the one that originally stole our hearts. There’s one hour left in the auction. What do you want to do?”
“Fuck it,” he said. “Let’s do it” and so we sat stalking our Cortez like hunters. I began to research how to win auctions on eBay as the timer quick-ticked, and soon Andrew and I formed a plan: Two minutes left and he refreshed the page. Five seconds left and he entered our highest bid.
And we won — A 1965 Clark Cortez, now the first home we’ve purchased.
Even more wonderfully, the bidding price increment meant we didn’t have to pay our max price. Not only this, but we soon learned the man who owned the Cortez is so helpful and friendly, sending us as many pictures as we request, live chatting so we can see the vehicle, and telling us all about the motorhome. It is here we’ve learned surprises — like the fact that our Cortez has a near-new Dodge V-8 five-point-two liter engine. This means more speed and power compared to the original motor. Score!
So where are we right now?
Currently, we are awaiting our Cortez’s delivery. Originally, we thought we would fly to Utah to drive it back, but that was for the sale of the second one that fell through. By winning this first Cortez, we now have the luxury of waiting for it to be shipped to us from California. Its delivery is estimated to be at the end of next week. Eee!
In the meantime, here’s our plan . . .
We’ve already begun a massive amount of research on the super popular vanlife topic. This made us aware of a problem though: There is a lack of consistent information on restoring motorhomes. People who have purchased old ones either choose to show a couple renovations . . . or they start sharing the process only to abandon it later. Because of this, we aim to track our restoration journey from start to finish. With Andrew’s knowledge on vehicle mechanics (and his patience to teach me) and my desire to track our process, we are super excited to share all nitty-gritty details with you.
Sure, we know there will be numerous frustrations and aggravations throughout — In fact, I can already hear Andy’s “Bloody hells” and outpouring of cuss words as his wrench is tossed to the ground when “our brakes are proper knackered.” But this Clark Cortez is ours and saving a unique antique vehicle was one of our two dreams.
When it arrives . . .
As far as restoring it goes, our sole focus will be on refurbishing, modernizing, and customizing our motorhome. First, we’ve already hashed out top focuses: wheel-cylinder brake problems, two window cracks, rust issues, and body-work corrections. That’s sight-unseen too so when we meet, we know our list will feel never-ending; but that’s the case with any fifty-four year old vehicle. Still, Andy is hopeful this process will take three years or less to complete; I’ve estimated five so that we aren’t strapped for cash and don’t feel rushed. That last part is a constant idea for us: Not to be rushed. This home is our opportunity to explore and live at whatever time we determine, wherever we determine. We don’t have a specific deadline and we don’t need one; there is relief in that.
And once our motorhome is ready?
We aim to accomplish our second goal: travel. Maybe it will be in the form of taking weekend trips, maybe it will be finagling multiple vacation days, and maybe it will be living life on the road for a year or more. We truly have no idea what will happen, and we like it that way. All we know is that we have plans to wander throughout America and track our travels, maintenance, and repairs. Maybe after we will end up living our grand vision of exploring other countries with our antique motorhome ferried over, and maybe we will just let life surprise us. In the end, we’re ready to let each day play out with plans unplotted.
So here’s to letting life surprise you! And here’s to learning more about one American girl, one English bloke, one pup-kit, and one rare 1965 Clark Cortez. Together, we have one soul of a seeker.
* * * * *
To learn more about what’s happening, we will have a few accounts that will track our journey differently:
First, my faithful blog — now our blog — will be the driver of our pursuits and here, every detail will be discussed. This can be found at a new SoulOfASeeker menu category named “Our 1965 Clark Cortez.” Feel free to comment too — We’d love to hear from ya!
Second, we just opened a YouTube channel called SoulOfASeeker. Here, we are super eager to record videos that will track our restoration process then travel and maintenance afterwards. We’ve posted our first video introducing us and our Cortez so head on over and subscribe!
Third, our Instagram account, which is SoulOfASeeker. This has been used more as our personal online scrapbook so it seems strange to tell of the link publicly, but we are excited to share our pictures of the restoration process and on!
Fourth, we decided to stay true to ourselves and leave our Facebook account the same, which is Culture Fuss and Us. This account has focused on our efforts to blend Andy’s British culture and my American one. Down the road, we may change the name but right now, we like that the account’s primary focus is on our experiences with other cultures — which will still be at-hand when we travel in the Cortez. Anyway, for now, our restoration process will find its home in this FB location.
Lastly, if you have any questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you! Leave us a message below or feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
* * * * *
There’s no way we would end this post without saying a few thank yous:
- My aunt and uncle, the largest thank you. They are allowing us to keep our Cortez on their land until we get it up and running. After, they have graciously said we can return to continue working in their garage. I don’t know if they realize this but they are the number one reason we are able to achieve this dream and we will strive to show them how extremely grateful we are.
- My cousin, an equally large thank you. Because of him, the garage we are working in is fully-equipped and therefore truly kickass. To say we are lucky to know someone that was a Ford master technician is a dramatic understatement.
- Our good friends Katelyn and Howard, who probably do not know how deeply they inspired us. While Andy and I have talked about refurbishing an old vehicle then traveling in it since we met, fear of the unknown has prevented us from acting. Katelyn and Howard though took the brave plunge and showed us that this is do-able and that we shouldn’t wait. Right now, they are exploring the US in their brand-new RV with their two puggle pups who are as equally sweet as they are. To see what they are up to, visit the Newstate Nomads.
- The Van Project has also helped us. Matt, Amanda, and their dog Royal have been on the road for over a year in Tezarae, their 1964 Clark Cortez. While we have yet to met this couple, we learned about them when we began researching Cortezes. Since then, we’ve said hello, and they have been incredibly nice and already answered several of our questions. They’ve even hooked us up with Cortez owners in Cortez groups! Anyway, they have great information on their website as well so if you’re curious, check out their travels too!