Saturday, December 5, 2015

Cars Of A Certain Age

When I was younger--much younger--I bought numerous cars in various states of poor repair and worked to make them better. Sometimes I was successful; other times I hauled a carcass to the junkyard. These endeavors were driven by two things: One, my limited cash flow as a young person and Two, my desire to return something to function and beauty.

I love machinery of all types, particularly those that were built before or around the same time as my own birth. I find equal appeal in the simplicity of a Model T as I do in the exotic machine work that created a Ferrari Berlinetta. My deep interest in things mechanical and cars in particular led me to educate myself in the skills and knowledge to repair them. In effect, I learned by doing. There have been countless snapped off bolts and botched welds as I gained my education. I have achieved a level of competency as a mechanic but am far from a competent restorer.

Through my automotive history I can claim only one actual restoration of a car. It was a haphazard, amateur accomplishment at best and admittedly never fully sorted. A good five-footer (looked great from five feet away) it brought me satisfaction. Subsequent attempts, however, generally failed. The demands of time, money and skills I still did not possess kept most of these other unique vehicles from becoming anything more than good drivers.

My appreciation and desire for older cars such as vintage Mustangs, old pickups and quirky pre-war cars remains but I have had to accept the reality that restoring them is fairly impossible. If I wish to have a vintage car I should really buy one already finished. With old cars there is always something that needs tinkering with and that aspect will satisfy my desire to use the vast number of tools I have accumulated. Gone however is the urge to fully disassemble and scatter a vehicle throughout my garage over a period of years with the rosy vision of someday making it whole again.

Collectible vehicles come in all sorts of ages, shapes and prices. Most of the ones I am drawn to cost more than I can reasonably afford for something that will see only occasional use. If I lived in a climate less detrimental to old steel perhaps I could justify driving a classic every day. Unfortunately, I live in a region known for ruining cars with road salt and humidity. Thus the appeal of modern cars that look like classics.

The retro styling trend at present seems to have run its course but not before I was able to snag my own example. Much of the automotive world criticized retro styled cars as being un-original when they came out. I welcomed them as modern takes on attractive cars in a world otherwise full of nearly identical jellybeans. Though I may not want a Dodge Challenger or VW Beetle I welcome their unique visual impact on an otherwise repetitive landscape.

Progress being what it is, the modern cars all have things we have become accustomed to: disc brakes, power steering, air conditioning and reliable electronics. No longer do we have to tolerate brakes that barely work when wet, enormous steering wheels or setting points inside a hard to reach distributor. Life with cars has become much easier if a bit less interesting.

Vintage vehicles still possess charms and character that no modern vehicle can match. I still desire to experience life with any number of old cars and motorcycles but as I become a 'man of a certain age' I find the commitment required to take care of them more daunting. A restoration may be something I take up again when retired with plenty of available time (and hopefully money) but for now the limits real life places upon me leads me to enjoy the modern equivalent of a favorite classic.

There is almost a sense of guilt for not care-taking of a true classic when I am mostly capable. I really do enjoy preserving old stuff and sharing it with others who have a similar affliction. I worry that younger generations are losing touch with these rolling pieces of history and that every retro car purchased negates a vintage model being preserved. The other thought is that perhaps the popularity of such designs will generate some interest in the old versions of the same. The only thing I can say with certainty is choosing to drive either is a step in the right direction. Life is too short to fettle it away piloting something forgettable.