Kelly Hayes reunited with Firebird he drove in high school

“Third time?s a charm.?
That?s what local businessman Kelly Hayes wanted to put on the personalized antique license plate he?s getting for the 1970 Firebird Formula 400 he bought in May.
?I wanted to put that on there, but there?s too many letters,? Hayes said, sitting on one of the couches at his store, Furniture Warehouse in Newton.
So, he?s decided to get a tag that says, ?MINE X3,? which is translated to MINE times three, because this is the third time Hayes has owned the car.
The first time was when he was a sophomore at Newton High School in 1975; it was his first car.
?And they only made 7,708 of them, so it?s a pretty rare car,? said Hayes, adding that there?s not many around these days.
In fact, he and his high school sweetheart and wife, Denise, went on their first date in the car, driving to a movie and out to eat in Wichita.
When Hayes dropped off Denise after the date, she opened the passenger door and clunked it on the curb. At the time, she said she was quite sorry, and he said it was no big deal, but as he pulled away, he had other thoughts. It was a big deal because he loved that car.
?(It was) his first love, you know,? Denise said. ?You never forget your first love.?
Denise did point out to her husband that if he had come around after the date and opened the door for her, that wouldn?t have happened. After that date, Hayes didn?t call Denise for another six months. They were married in October 1978, and both are 1977 graduates of NHS.
?It?s our car, but it?s his car,? Denise said.
The speedometer goes to 160 mph and the car has a 400 V8 engine, which is all original.
The first time Hayes owned the car, he had it for six to seven years, then sold it to a buddy, who had it for three to five years.
?I told him if he ever wanted to sell it, I?d buy it back,? Hayes said, which he did.
After that, he sold it to his best friend in Attica, and the car was sold to several others during the years. Hayes said when he bought the muscle car the third time, he hadn?t seen it for 21 years. The man he purchased it from in Wichita had owned it for 16 years.
Hayes said he recently found out it was for sale when his friend in Attica called him and told him he thought he had seen the car listed on Craig?s List. Hayes didn?t think it was the same car because, although it was the same color as his, it had a spoiler on the back and a black interior. But Hayes decided to call the man on Craig?s List.
During their conversation, the man asked where Hayes lived, and he said Newton. The man said the car was from Newton, so that was the first clue it might be his old car. But at that point, Hayes didn?t think it was his.
Hayes found out his friend in Attica had the car?s VIN numbers, which he gave to Hayes. Hayes again called the man who was selling the Firebird to see how close this car was to when his Firebird was produced.
The man checked, and an hour later, Hayes received a call.
?He calls and says, ?I got your car, dude,?? Hayes said. ?I said, ?You gotta be kidding me.??
He found out the man lived at 29th and Tyler in Wichita. Hayes said he had been by that house 50 times and didn?t know it was in the man?s garage.
So, Hayes and Denise went to Wichita.
?I got pretty emotional before I got there,? Hayes said. ?It was like seeing an old friend (after) 21 years.?
They struck a deal, and Hayes bought it.
When they arrived, Denise took some photos, one of which has Hayes smiling and touching the car for the first time in years.
?That?s a smile I haven?t seen in a long time,? Denise said. ?He got very emotional when he found out it was his car.?
When Hayes and Denise walked up the driveway at the man?s house, Hayes said to his wife he wondered if the ?O? in ?Pontiac? near the trunk still was loose, and it was. That was another confirmation it was his car.
?After all that time, it?s still loose,? Hayes said. ?I guess I?ll leave it loose.?
?Might as well,? Denise added.
Hayes had heard the car had been destroyed, so he was quite glad to have found it again.
?So like I said, (it was) pretty cool,? Hayes said.
When Hayes purchased the car in May, it came with the original keys, and he still had the original floor mats he kept in it. The mats have an Americana theme with ?Let?s Boogie? written in the middle of them.
?I?ve kept them all these years, and they?re back in the original car,? Hayes said.
The Newton business owner is glad to have the car back.
?It?s just the nostalgia of it?good memories,? he said. ?I don?t have any bad memories in it. It?s just?it?s unbelievable I got it.?
Hays said he would have searched for the car sooner had he known his buddy had the VIN number.
An interesting ?small-world? coincidence with the car was when Hayes learned about the car, he called his brother and said he thought he had found his car from his high school days. Then his brother told a friend of his, who called Hayes and said, ?I hear you?re going to look at a Firebird.?
That friend?s friend works with the seller?s wife and knew all about the car, as well as being the one who wrote the Craig?s List ad. That friend had earlier told Hayes he knew of a guy who was selling a Firebird.
?But I didn?t think anything of it,? Hayes said. ?I didn?t put two and two together. Who would??
After Hayes bought the car for the third time, he and his wife went on a date with him driving the car to Goessel, where they ate, and her driving back. Then they dragged Main Street in Newton.
?We get lots of thumbs up,? Hayes said.
Hayes plans to keep getting thumbs up, as he drives it in his spare time. He doesn?t plan to sell it again.
?It?s not for sale,? he said. ?I suppose my son will get it when I?m gone.?

Photos and Story by?Wendy Nugent