It’s a small Galaxie
December 22, 2008
By Chantelle Lusebrink
A car reunites two families in Issaquah after 28 years
In an unlikely turn of fate, two Issaquah families have been brought together again after 28 years.
But what brought them together wasn’t a person, an event or even close friends. It was a car that reunited Virginia Lipke, her son John Drinkard and Tracy Jilek and his family — more precisely, it was a beloved burgundy 1963 1/2 Ford Galaxie 500 XL.
“It is absolutely phenomenal that he found me through the paper,” Lipke said. “I can’t believe we lived so close all this time.”
Jilek had always wanted to show how well he’d cared for the car he purchased from Allen and Virginia Lipke in 1984.
In 1994, “I drove up to the cul-de-sac in Seattle, but no one was around,” he said.
Though the Jileks and the Lipkes had originally lived in Seattle, both relocated to Issaquah in the past decade.
Unfortunately, the reunion wasn’t in time to let Allen see the car before he passed away in March.
Unwilling to let go of a promise he’d made to himself, Jilek wrote a letter to Virginia Lipke.
“A few months ago, I read about Allen in The Issaquah Press,” Jilek wrote in the letter. “I recognized the name and went out to the car and grabbed the original registrations to confirm. My heart dropped. I am so sorry for your loss. I always thought about showing you both the car again.”
They finally met at Jilek’s home, in Issaquah, in November to share their stories.
A special past
The Lipkes originally purchased the Galaxie in Bremerton in 1963.
Thinking back, Virginia Lipke said she couldn’t remember why the family purchased the car for sure, but she did remember that it was one they fell in love with.
“We both picked out the car,” she said. “It was beautiful.”
The Lipkes’ son, John Drinkard, who lives on Mercer Island and is now 62, was 18 when the car was purchased. He had the added benefit of being one of the few students at East Bremerton High School with a brand new car to use on special occasions, including his prom.
“I remember being in high school and it was real fun to have a brand new car,” he said. “It was kind of a racy car and it got a lot of attention, especially since I was a senior.”
But it wasn’t destined to be just an ordinary family car.
Soon after purchasing the vehicle, the Lipkes were on a ship, bound for Guam in 1964 with the Navy, with whom Allen worked as a commanding officer for dry dock operations — the Galaxie went with them.
“It’s strange how you get so attached to a car,” Virginia Lipke added.
Basking in the warm humidity and taking in the salt air on drives on the island were by far the family’s greatest memories, she said.
Allen, Virginia and the Galaxie returned from Guam in 1967.
When they returned, the Lipkes moved to the Shoreline area and made a more permanent home for the Galaxie until they sold it to Jilek in 1984. It had 125,000 miles on it.
“I’m real surprised he is still the owner of the car and that he’s had it for all these years, and he has gone to the trouble to take care of it the way he has,” Drinkard said, admiring how the car looks much like it did when he was young. “It seems like a pretty unique situation.”
A second life
It was March 27, 1984, and Jilek, like many 18-year-olds, was looking for a set of wheels to take him around town.
“The Piston & Rudder, now the Auto Trader, came out every Tuesday and I was looking every Tuesday, because I knew I really wanted one of those,” he said of the Galaxie, a wide grin stretching over his face.
The car was an early graduation present from his parents during his last months as a senior at West Seattle High School.
“The day it came out, I drove out to see the car,” he said. “It was raining and I skipped school to see it because I was so excited.”
Too excited to think clearly, he forgot to put any money down to hold the car, he said.
When he called Allen Lipke again at 10:30 or 11 that night, Lipke told Jilek that four or five other people had called about the car.
“I’ll never forget what he said then,” Jilek said. “He said, ‘I just told them that I’d sold it.’ And he told me that he saw something in me.”
“That was the type of man he was,” Virginia Lipke said. “Quite frankly, though, I couldn’t believe he’d sold it to such a young man. I thought he’d be racing in it and it would go to the junkyard. So, this is quite the surprise.”
Driving home from north Seattle as a car owner for the first time was something Jilek said he’d never forget.
From then on, he and the Galaxie have been inseparable. In high school and college, he washed it nearly every day. He took his date to the prom in it. And he has taken it to many local car shows.
He even took his wife, Mary, on their first date in the Galaxie.
Since then, the couple have created many memories in the car, but most memorable was the night Jilek, his wife and her sister wrote the girls’ parents a 25th wedding anniversary rap, working on it in the car until 3 a.m. outside her sorority house at the University of Washington.
“It’s just a great car,” Mary Jilek said. “There are a lot of memories in it.”
Despite all their adventures, including one to Vancouver, B.C., Tracy Jilek has only put about 60,000 miles on the car.
A secure future
Standing next to the Galaxie in the Jilek’s drive on a clear November day, the two families revisited their stories about the car that has tied them together.
Tracy Jilek excitedly showed Lipke and Drinkard how the car has remained virtually untouched.
Many car enthusiasts may have put a bigger engine into the car. Others may have painted it an exotic color or put spoilers, scoop vents or even a new stereo system in the car — but not Jilek.
Since purchasing the car, all he’s done is given it the maintenance it needs.
“I love the style of it,” he said. “I love everything about it.”
He didn’t have to work on the engine until 2000, when it needed a new one after 30 years. The transmission has never had to be rebuilt, he said.
He had a friend paint the car in 1988 with explicit instructions to keep it the same color, but his friend botched the job, he said.
Instead of burgundy, the car came back a “horrible cherry, candy-red color,” he said. “I couldn’t stand it, so I made him repaint it.”
It’s the simplicity and classic look of the car that makes it flashy, he said.
When the family takes it down to the XXX Root-Beer Drive-In, it doesn’t take long for someone to notice it and even the Jileks’ 9-year-old daughter Rachel and 3-year-old son Joey take pride in it, often asking their dad if they should tell people the car is theirs.
“Allen liked the car, but I don’t think he liked it anything like the way Tracy does,” Virginia Lipke said.
“You mean he’s not insane like him,” Mary Jilek said, laughing at her husband.
But even today, Jilek still finds reminders of Allen Lipke in the car, like the first aid kit he recently came across.
“There are smelling salts and gauze and a bunch of other things,” he said. “I just found this the other day when I was looking under the seats.”
One thing is for sure — the car won’t be going anywhere soon.
Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.