Tyler Shipman’s Fiero

RIP Tyler. 02/14/2010. You will be missed.


by Kathryn Hawkins.

The Tyler Project: Fiero Enthusiasts Rebuild Car for Teen with Cancer

After Tyler Shipman was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he had one last wish: to drive the old Fiero that he had purchased for $150. A group of strangers from all over the country made it happen.

Ever since he was a little boy, Minnesota teen Tyler Shipman has been obsessed with cars—in particular, the Pontiac Fiero, a sleek racecar that stopped being manufactured three years before Tyler was even born.

Tyler got his first Fiero before he could even drive, at age 15. By the time he started his senior year of high school in August, he had just bought his third: a model from 1986 that he had bought for a mere $150. The car was nowhere near driving condition yet, but Tyler had planned to slowly restore it over the coming months, taking pleasure in the work of bringing the sports car back to its shining glory.

Tyler didn’t realize that instead of spending his days working in the garage, he would spend them in a hospital. Not long after his 18th birthday, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, synovial sarcoma. He endured months of chemotherapy and radiation with no luck, leaving his body weak and frail.

Finally, the doctor told him, “‘You can either die from this cancer in the hospital with every treatment under the sun, or you can go home and try to enjoy what time you have left,’” Minnesota’s Kare11 reported.

So, in October, Tyler returned home, knowing that he would only have months left to live. To keep himself from thinking about the inevitable, he decided to focus on the car—and started wondering if anyone might be able to help him fix it up and take it for a spin.

“Hey guys I’m a total Fiero-head,” he wrote on a Fiero-focused message board. “I have an ‘86 Fiero GT that I have been slowly fixing up and well, now here I sit at the hospital with cancer and they can’t treat it.”

Another forum member, Andrew Weigel, soon wrote back, pledging “I’ll do what I can.” Soon, two dozen strangers joined that pledge, and one weekend in November, they traveled from all over the U.S. to show up at Tyler’s doorstep, ready to fix up his Fiero. Equipped with $4,000 in donated car parts, the group of Fiero enthusiasts worked tirelessly for more than 24 hours to restore Tyler’s car. They were done by Sunday morning, and Tyler couldn’t wait to take it out for a spin.

Only Weigel, the man who organized the entire effort, wasn’t able to join the crowd that day—but he had a good reason. As a sergeant with the National Guard, he was stationed in Iraq, and was only able to communicate with the others through message boards and email.

Despite the demands of his job, when Weigel read Tyler’s note, he felt compelled to help. “When I asked him how old he was and I found out he was 18, I had to do something, it was a calling,” he said. Weigel has a son around Tyler’s age at home, and is the proud owner of five Fieros.

Though he wasn’t able to provide hands-on labor, Weigel watched via webcam as the group of Fiero fans unveiled the finished car for Tyler and his family, along with more than 200 friends and neighbors who had gathered around the house.

Tyler had only planned to ride in the car, with his father taking the steering wheel. But he was so excited by the prospect of driving the Fiero that he managed to work up the strength to take the wheel. The crowds parted to let the jubilant young man pull the shining car out onto the road. For the first time in months, Tyler was doing exactly what he wanted to do—and he would enjoy every second of it.

“There’s no words to describe what it means,” said Tyler’s mother, Daneele Shipman. “When I saw him get in the car…” she said tearfully, “I’m speechless I guess. I don’t know.”

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