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A ride to remember

T-R photos by Anna Shearer — Vern Griggs and Kevin Jensen chat while taking a drive in the Mustang Boss 429 on Monday.

Vern Griggs has lived in Marshalltown his whole life and will turn 71 in August. He was a member of the third class to graduate from the current Marshalltown High School building, graduating in 1967.

On June 16, the doctor gave Vern three months to live. He was diagnosed with colon cancer three years ago after surviving a massive heart attack.

While Vern was in remission a year ago, his colon cancer has now spread. During the last two to five months, his health further declined.

Recently Jim Baskerville, a friend of Vern, reached out to get him back in his favorite car he’s ever owned — the Mustang Boss 429.

For Vern, cars are more than a mean of transportation. He has owned more than 160 vehicles in his life — 93 old cars and 68 new.

Vern Griggs and Kevin Jensen pose for a picture as they chat about old cars on Monday.

Vern has fixed up and sold countless cars over the years. He started in high school, fixing up a ’56 Ford as a junior in high school. It is no surprise he’s a self-professed “car nut.”

“Back before I got married in the middle ’70s, I wheeled and dealed every month,” Vern said. “Buying old cars, driving them a few months, fix them up, sell them. Not necessarily make a lot of money off them. The only thing I wish I’d done was take a picture of every one.”

He said the Mustang Boss was his favorite because it is rare.

“I bought it brand new, ordered it in January ’69,” he said. “It was a special order car. They only made 800 of them,”

Vern said the Mustang Boss cost $4,941.63 when he bought it, which was a good chunk of money at the time.

T-R photo by Anna Shearer Vern Griggs has a great time taking a ride in the Mustang Boss 429 he used to own on Monday.

He wishes he had never traded that car, as it can sell for up to $500,000 today.

Vern’s wife Erlayne added he sees the Mustang Boss as “the one that got away.”

He traded it in 1972 for a Ford LTD at Jensen Ford Lincoln Dealership. Kevin Jensen has owned it ever since the trade, when he was just 17.

Vern’s daughter Angie Eastman said he could talk about cars all day, then corrected to all month.

“I learned to do car deals through him,” Eastman said.

Vern and Erlayne also owned Harley motorcycles but sold the last one when his health got bad.

He attributes his love of cars to his father who was a mechanic with the Bus Barn. When his dad retired, Vern took over the position in 1967.

He has spent his life working on cars and other machinery, working eight years as a mechanic with the bus barn, 31 years working with machines at Fisher and 10 years at Clemons Chevrolet until three years ago.

At the Chevy garage he mostly shuttled cars and got parts, but the mechanics always asked him for help when they got old cars in.

Erlayne said he could tell you anything you’d want to know about old cars.

On Monday the special ride took place, with owner Jensen and Vern driving in the Mustang Boss for about 15 minutes.

Jensen drove fast because, as he said, “I gotta let the big dog eat.”

“This was the top of the bucket list,” Erlayne said of the ride.

They have been married 28 years after meeting on a blind date and have lived in the same house for 27 years.

When they got back from the ride, Vern was excited and full of energy, having been reunited with the car he loved.

Erlayne asked Vern if he had stopped talking once during the drive and he countered that they both talked the whole way.

As they sat in lawn chairs in the backyard, Vern and Jensen reminisced about old cars and growing up in Marshalltown.

Jensen said when he was a kid they used to go in loops on Main Street all night long in their cars.

Though Vern can no longer drive the cars he loves so much, he still has a wealth of knowledge about old cars that he is happy to share.

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Contact Anna Shearer at 641-753-6633 or ashearer@timesrepublican.com.

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