On Joe Garcia and Jayne Berry’s second date, Garcia decided it was time to bring the car along.
The couple cruised up to Dawsonville’s Amicalola Falls in Garcia’s 1960 Triumph TR-3A, which he has affectionately dubbed “the White Knight.” He whipped the British roadster around the winding mountain roads, though Berry was a bit oblivious to the car’s history and significance.
“I thought it was kind of novel, but it didn’t impress me like he thought,” said Berry, Garcia’s wife of five years. “I had no idea what the car was. But then I told my girlfriend who knows cars, and she said, ‘Holy cow, there are only 600 of those on the road.’”
Garcia has made that possible through decades of diligent care for the vehicle that has become intertwined with his entire adult life.
The Gainesville resident has owned and maintained his white Triumph for 50 years, during which the simple set of wheels transformed into a passion project. Garcia doesn’t treat it like a show car, instead savoring its drivability and striving to keep it on the road as long as he can.
“I’m really not a car nut at all; this was just my mode of transportation for a long time,” Garcia said. “I grew up with it. It’s something to keep me busy, and tinkering with it is fun. It helps me relax and get away from the stress at work.”
Indeed, he has done plenty of tinkering over the years — everything from repairing the engine and electrical work to routine brake jobs and cosmetic upgrades. Garcia estimated there are only a few hundred models of the car left in the U.S., and his has always had tags and been roadworthy.
“He spends a lot of time working on it, and he just loves to fix things and solve problems,” Berry said. “ … He knows every darn nut and bolt in that car.”
After 50 years of ownership, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Garcia said he paid $500 for the “bucket of bolts” in 1967, becoming the Triumph’s third owner. He was 20 years old, working ordnance in the Navy on a base in San Francisco and simply needed a reliable mode of transportation.
After finishing his service and receiving an economics degree from Stanford, the Los Angeles native spent 25 years performing contract administration and various other roles for the Santa Clara-based Kaiser Electronics, where he interned during his senior year of high school.
His passion for aircrafts, which he fostered during both his Naval and professional careers, led him to Gainesville in 1999 when he began working at L3 Technologies, an aerospace and defense company in Alpharetta.
The Triumph came along, of course, courtesy of Garcia’s new employer shipping it in a van for the nearly 2,500-mile trek to northeast Georgia.
“It’s a driver’s car, but I don’t think it could have made that trip,” Garcia said with a laugh.
He retired from L3 in 2015, and the 70-year-old joked his prized vehicle seemed to know he had much more time on his hands. A malfunction of the Triumph’s throw-out bearing, which releases the clutch, prompted an extensive rebuild in which several local businesses assisted.
Four Gainesville shops — Lester Radiator Sales and Services, Southern Auto Color, King Precision Machine and North Georgia Supply — provided replacements, refurbishments and paint jobs. North Georgia Paint & Body in Dahlonega performed painting and sanding, even extracting a wrench from the car’s left fender.
Yet Garcia estimated 90 percent of it is still original, which is what he believes lends the vehicle its “classic” aspect.
“I think what makes a car classic is in the originality,” Garcia said. “ … I could put a lot of new technology into the car, but I refuse to. I want it to be as pure as it was when it came off the lot.”
The parts that must be replaced, he said, aren’t too difficult to find despite being expensive. Still, Garcia estimated he has poured only $10,000-$12,000 into the vehicle during his 50 years with it.
Though he doesn’t keep the Triumph exclusively for shows, the Gainesville man has entered it in a handful of competitions. It most recently placed third out of eight TR-3As at the Atlanta British Motorcar Day in Roswell.
Berry recalled a show that didn’t go so well for her husband’s car. When the two were still dating, Garcia entered a competition at Berry College in Mount Berry but quickly realized he was outclassed.
“An exquisite car came by with two handlers, and the car had etchings on it of who painted it,” Berry said. “I remember Joe just gently closed his hood and said, ‘We’re out of here.’”
But that’s fine with Garcia, who instead finds joy behind the wheel of “the White Knight.” He said he’ll keep the “eclectic” vehicle, which he guessed has racked up about 250,000 miles, as long as it runs and he’s having fun with it.
The latter factor, at least, doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon.
“Once you name a car, you’re toast,” Berry said with a laugh. “I enjoy the car, and I love to see him happy about it. He has gotten to see his nephews when they were babies interested in the car, and now they have kids that are also interested in it.
“He used to drive his dad to work in that car and has had a lot of adventures in it. It has been a friend for 50 years. That’s a long relationship to have with an object.”