FeaturesHow We RollLife Style

How We Roll: Family Affair

By April 23, 2019 May 29th, 2019 No Comments

By Laura Samuel Meyn
Photos by Ralph Lauer

 

This 1984 Alfa Romeo Spider is a blast to drive, but it also keeps a legacy alive and helps support a very special cause.

With its round headlights, curvy body, and rubber bumper and rear spoiler that earned this Italian roadster the nickname “Ducktail,” Brayden Tompkins’ light blue 1984 Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce is a head turner. It’s also fun to drive; veloce means “fast,” and the Spider doesn’t disappoint. Tompkins loves the throaty purr of the fuel-injected 2-liter engine. But the car is, at heart, all about keeping the legacy of Brayden’s late great-grandparents alive.

Air Force aircraft mechanic Harold Tompkins and his wife, Helen, fell in love with Italian cars — Alfa Romeos and Fiats, in particular — while stationed in Europe in the late 1940s. After they returned home to Oklahoma City, Harold purchased, restored and drove a long line of such cars, seven in all, eventually selling each one to someone he knew who would cherish it as much as he did. His last would be the blue Spider, which he rebuilt when Brayden was about 8 years old.

A young Brayden with his great-grandfather, Harold Tompkins, and the Spider.

Brayden with Jeremy, his father, and Greg, his grandfather. The Spider has long been a part of their family.

Brayden remembers going on a day trip to Hallett Motor Racing Circuit near Tulsa for an Alfa Romeo event with his father Jeremy, grandfather Greg and great-grandfather Harold. The Spider was a regular at car shows and parades, even after Harold lost his beloved Helen to Alzheimer’s. Brayden and his sister loved riding along in their Cat in the Hat-style hats, throwing peanuts to people along parade routes as Harold honked a clown horn.

When Harold passed away five years ago, the Alfa Romeo went to Brayden, who had rebuilt a 1996 Pontiac Grand Am with his grandfather Greg, a Chevy mechanic. “Everyone looked at me and said it was my call on the Alfa Romeo,” he says. “They knew how much my heart was in it.”

Nearly everything is original on the Pininfarina-designed car, from the wheels to the cassette player to the wood steering wheel. A removable hard top was added when the car was imported; the soft top, still usable, is safely tucked inside. Brayden discovered an Alfa Romeo parts importer in Cleburne, which has come in handy as he has made small repairs.

Now Brayden has a copilot for date nights and car shows. He met Elizabeth through a mutual friend, who introduced them because they both have hearts for helping kids with special needs; each had participated in a high school program where they served as helpers for classmates. Their connection would extend to cars, too.

Connor with his dad’s ’65 Ford Mustang and his pilot friends Ely Maloy, left, and Brandon Harrell, who will make an appearance at Connor’s Car Show. “Connor helps others see how fun he is and helps other parents with special-needs kids to know it’s all right to be different and still be out and about and accepted,” says dad Ty. “It’s amazing to watch, and we are so proud of him.” Photo courtesy of Ty Genteman

Brayden Tompkins with Elizabeth, his wife, and a tired Connor Genteman, namesake of the annual charity car show.

When they first met, Elizabeth was working as nanny to Connor Genteman, whose namesake Connor’s Car Show benefits Down Syndrome Partnership of North Texas and Cook Children’s Medical Center each year. When she introduced young Connor to Brayden, and the two instantly hit it off, she knew she’d met her soul mate. Connor would carry an “I loved her first” sign as “best little man” at the young couple’s wedding last summer.

At this year’s May 4 show, Brayden’s grandfather Greg will show his 50th anniversary edition Corvette, and Brayden will be there with the Alfa Romeo. Brayden and Elizabeth will also be taking care of details behind the scenes as part of Connor’s “pit crew.”

THE DETAILS

Connor’s Car Show The annual event raises funds to support Down Syndrome Partnership of North Texas and Cook Children’s Medical Center. (The event raises more than $70,000 a year.) Peruse as many as 600 cars, from high-end restorations to rat rods to modern muscle cars. Free admission, silent and live auctions along with merchandise booths. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. May 4. Keller Town Hall, 1100 Bear Creek Parkway, Keller, connorscarshow.com. Parking is available at Life Church, 1075 Keller Parkway.

The history Now in its sixth year, the show is a project of the Genteman family, whose 11-year-old son Connor has Down syndrome. Connor always has loved riding in dad Ty’s restored 1965 Ford Mustang. “I’m not sure if it was the stiff suspension or the noise of the car or what, but he would instantly calm down and just enjoy the ride, looking at everything passing by,” says Ty. “And when we would gas it a little, he would get this big smile and just giggle. From then on, all I had to do is jiggle the keys and he was up saying ‘car,’ which he said long before ‘mom’ or ‘dad.’ ”