MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
A person’s hands tell much about the work he or she does. For one Marine, he is happiest when his hands are covered in grease and buried in the engine of a car.
Gunnery Sgt. Tim Warren, the special reaction team commander with the Combat Center’s Provost Marshal’s Office, has possessed a deep fondness for automobiles and mechanics since he was a young boy growing up in Binghamton, N.Y.
Warren learned basic mechanics on his first car, a 1965 Chevrolet Malibu, he got when he was 16. What started out as checking oil and changing tires with his grandfather, father, uncle and stepfather turned into the beloved, complex hobby it is for Warren today.
“I learned a lot just by watching them fix cars as a kid,” Warren said about his male role models. “It seems like there was always a car that could get worked on.”
Warren said his uncle, Jim, also raced top-fuel dragsters in his youth and inspired Warren’s appreciation for hotrods.
According to Warren’s mother, Joan Diaferio, Warren needed little help after that to build, quite literally, on his inspiration.
“I remember when he was about five, he would spend hours in his Power Wheels driving up and down the street we lived on,” she said.
Diaferio added she still has a piece of artwork Warren gave her when he was ten depicted a 1930s-era car he created during Sunday school.
“I remember thinking of that picture in my head when I made that,” Warren said. “I remembered seeing it somewhere and knowing I liked it right away.”
“He’s loved cars as long as I’ve known him,” said Joe Diaferio, Warren’s stepfather of more than 25 years. “Before he was old enough to drive them, he was drawing pictures of them. It’s something you have to be born with.”
Warren said he recalls his first years getting real grease under his nails.
“I was around 17 or 18 when I started getting real junker cars,” Warren said. “I didn’t have a lot of money, so I would buy these $500 cars and fix everything from the breaks and shocks to the tires. I remember running out of gas all the time, so my friends and I would push it to the gas station and just nickel-and-dime our way along. I tried to make the best of what I had.”
Automobile mechanics hold a certain magic for Warren he claims cannot be found elsewhere.
“For me, there’s gratification in taking on the challenge of seeing how all that hard work can come together into a vision you created,” Warren said. “You’re not competing with anyone, really. It’s about self-gratification.”
Of the 15 or more cars Warren has owned, he said he was most fond of his 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air.
“I think it was because of the amount of work I put into it,” Warren said. “I ended up selling it to my uncle about five years ago when I was in [Marine Corps Recruit Depot] Parris Island [S.C.]. I knew he’d appreciate the work I did on it.”
Despite his appreciation for the hobby, Warren said he wanted to avoid being a mechanic in the Marine Corps so the pastime quality would remain preserved while he turned wrenches and bolts.
“I might have lost the enjoyment if it became my full-time job,” Warren said.
Friends and family members have long noticed Warren’s steady affection for classic cars.
“Whenever he comes home on leave, we’ll practically live in the garage,” Joe said. “We say we’ll be back in an hour, and the hour turns into four.”