Steamboat Springs Marsh Gooding had a firm grip on a heavenly set of wheels for the better part of 10 months. He was driving a car that most people his age, and plenty who are decades older, have only dreamed about.
"I guess I was the luckiest kid in town for a while there," he said Sunday afternoon.
Marsh's reign as the king of Steamboat's teenage sports car owners came to an abrupt end July 18 as he drove his 1975 Porsche 911 through a residential neighborhood. He theorizes that a fuel line ruptured or came loose.
"I saw the flames coming up and I felt the heat," Marsh recalled. "I pulled the emergency brake, turned off the ignition and got out of there. It's a rear engine car and when the flames really got to the engine, there was a little mushroom cloud. I had to stand there and watch it go up in flames."
Marsh, 17, who worked to earn the money for his Porsche, watched the car of his dreams, the car he intended to hang onto forever, burn until it was a black hulk.
Most of us can recall in fond detail the first car we ever bought with our own money.
I know my wife will never forget the 1960 Ford Fairlane she purchased for $200 cold cash. She hand-painted it in dramatic black and red swirls that emulated the poster art of Peter Maxx. I know I'll never forget the day I graduated from my parents' two-door Rambler sedan to a sporty Opel couple with a stick shift.
Yes, it was German, but it wasn't a Porsche.
"When you get your first car, it's your first freedom," Marsh agreed.
When he turned 16, he was grateful for the use of the 1979 Chevy Luv pickup his father and his brother had driven before him. But it wasn't the set of wheels Marsh was destined to pilot.
"It was pretty tired," he said.
Ever since he was a lad of 10, Marsh had lusted after exotic cars. I was the kind of kid who would go downtown and search for cars," Marsh recalled. "I used to read books on exotic sports cars because I wanted to see what made them tick."
Marsh recalls that when he was 14, he began to think that if he started saving his money, he might actually have a chance at purchasing his own sports car. Anytime a relative sent a check for his birthday or Christmas, the youngster put it in his Porsche fund. He began mowing lawns and went to work several days a week painting and doing odd jobs. Whenever he could, he'd pick up an odd restaurant job and wash dishes for a month. He started making better money when he landed a summer job working at Howelsen Hill's Alpine Slide.
"I never cashed a check," Marsh said. "I always just deposited it."
He began looking at used cars on trips to Denver. But most of the Porsches advertised even close to his price range were in rough shape.
"Most of them were totally junked out because everyone drives them so hard," Marsh said.
Then, in September 2002, Marsh's Mom Debbie took him to Denver to look at cars. The first one on his list sounded too good to be true.
"I was wondering why it was so cheap," he said.
Marsh was expecting a fixer upper but what he saw in the seller's driveway made his heart beat 5,000 rpm.
The 911 was red except for the removable hard shell top, which was black. Stenciled in dramatic script on the side of the car was the word "Carrera."
"It was already a hot looking car," Marsh said. The asking price was already below book value, but Marsh talked the owner down.
He had just been laid off by United Airlines and was selling everything he owned. Marsh paid the man $5,500 and the Porsche was his.
Debbie insisted that Marsh follow her car back to Steamboat, but the boy was in heaven anyway.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see people looking at him the way he used to look at people who zoomed by in a sleek Porsche.
"My Dad (Tyler) was pretty amazed when I pulled into the driveway," Marsh remembers. Marsh liked everything about the car, including the relatively Spartan interior.
"It was built for driving and nothing else," he said.
When his friends urged him to add a turbocharger to the car, he looked at them in disbelief.
He wouldn't have dreamed of altering its original condition.
His plan was to hang onto the classic old sports car forever. Marsh liked the car so much that his girlfriend was envious.
"I'd just sit there and stare at it for way too long," Marsh said. "I appreciated it so much. To think that it's gone ... "
It is difficult to persuade a 17-year-old that his dream car, recently destroyed in a fire, isn't really gone.
Yet, when you listen to Marsh talk, you know that it's true.
"The smell of an old sports car was strong in that one." Marsh said. "I don't know what it is. It's oil mixed with a bunch of old gasoline."
Twenty-five years from now, Marsh will be driving a shiny sports car on a mountain road and out of nowhere that peculiar odor will seep into his brain and it will be the autumn of 2002 all over again.
The old red Porsche will be right there with him.