Owning and Driving “Classic Cars”

I was chatting with an old friend about so-called “classic cars” and the definition seems to slide forward in time, as newer generations of drivers come in. The current definition seems to be “anything older than 1985”, and I can’t understand why.  Most of the stuff was bland and characterless until you go backward to about 1973; then you get into the heyday of muscle cars, luxury cars, and even the daily-drivers.

If you know me, you know I turned a wrench in the 60’s and 70’s as a mechanic in a gas station. Not a lot of what you’d call ‘heavy work’ for rebuilds or other things like that (especially diesels) but plenty of troubleshooting and auto-electric work. I was fortunate enough to be working in a small town with some moneyed gentry around, and we had a name for ourselves that we took good care of you.

I’ve worked on and driven a lot of what’s been mentioned as “classics”, and in the 60’s and 70’s we considered a “classic” something that was generally older than what was produced during and after WWII. All that other stuff was new enough to be still on the road, in one form or another.

What is it about a classic? They have a rarity to them, and not everyone can or would own one from a perspective of tolerating the lack of technology. Nowadays, somebody pulls in with something like one of these, and the first question from the uninformed is, “You got all the way here in THAT?”

In an era of “appliance-grade” cars such as a certain Japanese unit we all can easily bring to mind (I hesitate to call it a car), we are sadly lacking cars that have true personality. We have gotten used to bland, functional, but soul-less vehicles.

And so people grumble about things which used to be stuff that seldom was ever perfect on any model or version of an ordinary car and then pronounce the whole thing ‘junk’. Something you’d think was simple – like a ‘car clock’ – was seldom ever reliable.

We are seeing before us the ongoing result of a deterioration of the art and craft of driving. Nowadays, people get all wild-eyed over useless stuff like ‘”MyFordSync” doesn’t work right’.  Give me a break…

So what? Get into a Customer’s almost-new Cadillac Seville to drive it to the shop, and have the steering wheel lock on you while going around a corner. After your heart rate comes back to normal because you just missed the Lincoln parked in front of the lawyer’s office, a little thing like a high-zoot radio not working perfectly all the time seems pretty darn minor.

I’m not saying that a stupid Seville is a classic, but in a day-to-day context, there was a certain craftsmanship in driving. There was a certain level of “not-perfect” that you tolerated and compensated for. Anything more than that, you fixed as good as you could, within the means and expectations of your Customer.

Today we lack the simple annoyances like hitting a bump too hard in a ’46 Chevrolet pickup and having the lights go out. Hey, it’s still running and it’ll still get you home. Slow down to a crawl so you don’t hit anything (like the ditch) and pound on the dash (swearing optional), and the lights will probably come back on.

Consumers have demanded and gotten better quality, but it has come at a cost. The general driving public consequently has consumed enough of the numbing Kool-Aid to the point of where they take everything else – which includes both the driving experience itself; along with the need for intelligence and being connected with the vehicle – for granted. The car does it all. Thinks for you, reads your map, lulls you into numbness with tunes from your iPod.

Sadly, not everyone is a good-enough driver anymore to be able to handle driving a classic car.

A classic, with its certain element of randomness, its need for being aware of its quirks, and your need to be much more aware of the road, puts that art and craftsmanship of driving back into your life. And that’s why I wish I had my old ’65 Barracuda back, to carve up a country road. Sometimes.


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