Jerry Rose thought he was going on a hot air balloon ride.
That was the only conclusion he could muster after his family called him to the Hometown Buffet parking lot at 8:30 a.m. Friday with the promise of a Father's Day surprise.
When his eyes fell on the fully-restored, 1987 Monte Carlo SS Aerocoupe surrounded by his children and grandchildren, all thoughts of a balloon ride disappeared.
"Holy mackerel, holy mackerel," Rose repeated as he circled the car. "God, it's beautiful. How the hell did you do all of this?"
Therein lies a tale, according to his daughter Angela Rose-Lane, who struggled to hold back tears as her father climbed behind the wheel for the first time in a long time.
"It did involve hot air, and he is going for a ride," said Rose-Lane, who worked with her husband, Steve Lane, for two years restoring the car to immaculate condition.
Rose, who suffers from emphysema, was forced to sell the car when the bills began piling up. He had bought the car brand new in 1987 at Airport Chevrolet in Medford.
"When the salesman lowered it from the pedestal it sat on, I knew I had to have it," Rose said. "He told me it was the pace car in the Indy 500. I don't know if that's true, but I bought it anyway because it didn't matter."
The family still has the original paperwork from the sale.
It was tough to let it go, but Rose decided to put it on the market.
"I decided I might as well put 'Old Black' out there and see what we could get," he said.
Little did he know, his family had concocted an elaborate scheme to purchase the car in hopes of fixing it up for a triumphant return.
"It nearly killed him to get rid of it," said Jerry's wife, Kate Ross, who was not in on the secret.
The last time Rose saw the Monte Carlo, it was in sad shape. The paint was faded, a piece of the tail fin was resting in the glove compartment and various rodents had taken up residence inside.
The car split time between a storage shed and Steve Lane's Medford shop as the restoration continued.
"It stayed hidden the whole time, because we knew if we brought it home we'd get caught," Angela Rose-Lane said.
Steve and Angela cleaned, stripped and detailed the car from bumper to bumper. The stock engine was pulled to make room for a 330-horsepower Chevy 350, which Rose-Lane had pulled from her Jaguar.
Suede seats replaced the mouse-chewed originals, a shiny set of 16-inch rims were wrapped in a fresh set of low-profile Falken Ziex tires. In addition, it was fitted with a set of Corvette rotors and calipers, stainless steel Magnaflow exhaust pipes and a dash finished with red French stitching.
"There isn't a part of this car we didn't do something to," Rose-Lane said.
Angela Rose-Lane blogged about the project since the restoration began. The blog has received thousands of views from Monte Carlo enthusiasts who left words of encouragement and congratulations.
"Monte Carlo people are dedicated to their cars," she said. "The response to dad's car has been overwhelming."
The car occupies a lofty spot in Rose family lore.
Wayne Rose, who is Angela's brother, logged thousands of miles behind the wheel in his younger days. He peered inside the car for a long time without speaking, a smile lighting his face.
"There's a lot of memories here," he said. "I don't think there's a member of this family who hasn't gotten a ticket in this car."
"I haven't," said Angela's son, Ryan Rose, 13. "At least not yet."
Kate Rose gave her children credit for keeping the plot under wraps for nearly two years.
"Oh, what a tale these kids told," she said. "They wouldn't let me in on it, because they were afraid I would tell."
A huge Elvis Presley fan, Jerry Rose knows which CD he'll spin in the new stereo system during his first serious drive.
"I'm thinking 'Suspicious Minds' or something like that," he said.
The family posed for pictures around the Monte Carlo as vintage rides from across the West Coast began pouring into the Hometown Buffet parking lot in preparation for Saturday's Medford Cruise.
The cruise is open to classic cars from 1972 and older, so Rose's Monte Carlo will sit it out.
However, he was looking forward to joining Friday's Poker Run, which started at the Hometown Buffet and included a scenic tour with five visits to Southern Oregon historic bed and breakfasts. The run covers a little more than 100 miles, and Rose seemed to be looking forward to every inch of it.
"I really never thought I'd see it again," he said. "It looks like this car will be in this family forever."
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.