OLD CAR GUY

One Man’s Journey Through Time, at Speed 

(a work in progress)

Not old car guy. He never really had a thing for old cars, per se. Nor does he now.

Old car guy.

Not that he’s even that old. But old enough. “Old enough to know better.” Old enough so that it begins to become an issue. An issue that increasingly creeps into every fiber, every nuance, every presumption of who he is, what he is, what he does, what he should be and should do. How he should behave. (As if his behavior ever factored into anything.)

And the funny thing about it, the really funny and somewhat sad (as opposed to “glad”) and almost pathetic (in a non-tragic sort of way) thing about it, is that the old-enough-to-know-better thing is more in his mind than anybody else’s. At least I think so. I can’t really know what’s in anybody else’s mind, of course. But I do know what’s in his, and that’s in there. But it’s in there not because he necessarily feels it, rather because he thinks he’s supposed to be feeling it a little bit… Or that that’s the way male Homo sapiens are programmed to evolve, once having reached the dubious milestone of three-score-and-six years. Social Security age, Lambo 1for chrissakes!

But sixty’s the new forty!

Still old.

Whatever.

He’s an old guy, by most standards, at least. And he has discovered, at this semi-advanced age, something in his chemistry that wasn’t there to any great degree any number of years ago. He has become, seemingly overnight, a Car Guy. A Gear Head. Somebody whose fascination with automobiles goes far beyond the ordinary or commonplace, or even rational, if truth be told. And this is about truth, after all, if nothing else.

The truth of this matter is that he has a true passion (there’s no other word for it really) for cars that go fast. Not all cars that go fast, mind you. (And this is one of the truly peculiar things about it.) Not muscle cars, but muscular cars. Not NASCARs, but Formulaic and Indycars. Not straight-and-narrow dragsters, or cars that zzzoom monotonously (see: “monotone”) around banked ovals. But cars that zoom-zoom excitedly around the corners and hairpins of the world, and of his mind, and careen on the edge of insanity over the road courses and throughout his re-tooled imagination.

The cars of his heart–sleek, refined, and powerful–are those whose mere names evoke unbridled passion: Porsche, Ferrari, and Maserati. Lamborghini! (“A German and three Italians walk into a bar…” Actually two Germans and two Italians. No matter.) But he also lusts (a relatively minor lust here; a click or three up the scale from his passion for pizza) after the lesser-valued, in both sticker price and desirability index: the likes of Evo, STI, and even ‘Speed3. (“Wanna see my Japanese Pocket Rocket..? Wanna see it again?”)

The former are the road warriors of history and legend, while the latter are legendary in a new era, on an edgier battleground. This new breed, powerful in its own right, but neither sleek nor refined, spit in the face of conventional car wisdom. Maniacally crammed with high performance, mega-horsepower engines, they are the automotive equivalent of stuffing thirty pounds of horse manure in a ten-pound bag. But, my, oh my, do they fly! And there’s the rub: speed for the masses. If you can’t afford a Lambo (and few people can, after all), then for the price of the average family car, car guys like OCG can feed their need for speed!

Where did this affinity for cars come from? Hard to say. OCG’s father wasn’t an old car guy–unless you count Cadillacs (when fins were in; the higher the better). Pop certainly wasn’t a gear head, and in fact knew very little about the workings of cars; consequently, the son learned very little himself. But he’s loved fast, sexy cars for as far back as he can remember. Especially Porsches.

big smileThe second car he ever owned (after the bronze-and-pink ’58 Olds, for which he paid fifty bucks and which was, by some measure, the best car he ever had) was a red, ‘63 Volkswagen convertible. Shortly after he acquired it, he read an article about Paul Newman (the “Car Guy’s Car Guy” who, until his death some years back as a Very Old Car Guy, still raced competitively for the professional team which bears his name), in which the actor boasted about his own red ’63 drop-top Beatle. The only difference between his and OCG’s was that Newman’s VW had something called a “Porsche 356 Speedster” engine crammed into its butt.

From that moment on, Porsches became the car of his dreams, though he’d never driven in one and in fact had never even seen one in the flesh, and wouldn’t for several years to come. There was something almost magical about that marvelous little piece of German engineering that struck a cord deep within him. Maybe it was the psychic connection he felt between his VW/VW and Newman’s Porsche/VW, or the perceived perfect symmetry about this machine that combined the best qualities of an economy (more properly, “economical”) car with a flat-out racing machine.

There are few, if any, car manufacturers who can boast Porsche’s racing heritage, pedigree, and resume of success. Though Porsches have their detractors–conventional wisdom dictates that a mid-engine design is far preferable, in a racecar, to the 911’s rear-engine protocol—even the most vehement naysayer will grudgingly admit that somehow, someway, Porsche makes it work. And work spectacularly, at that.

(To be continued)

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4 thoughts on “OLD CAR GUY

  1. Since you are a Car Guy and with Father’s Day approaching, here’s a story involving both.
    As a young man my neighbor owned the iconic 1957 Ford Thunderbird. Starting a family and trying to establish a business made the T-Bird impractical. So, he sold it. Over the years he would occasionally wax nostalgic and tell his son about the car. He would describe the fire-engine red exterior, wide white-walled tires, finned rear fenders, port-holed removable hardtop and rolled and pleated white leather interior.

    After the son had grown up and become a very successful businessman he visited his dad one Father’s Day. “For everything you’ve done for me I wanted to give you something special,” the son said as he held out a set of keys. “Your gift is outside.” In the driveway sat a fully restored ‘57 T-Bird with fire-engine red exterior, wide white-walled tires, finned rear fenders, port-holed removable hardtop and rolled and pleated white leather interior. Did I say “a” ’57 T-Bird? No, that’s wrong. It was “the” ’57 T-Bird. The son had tracked down the very same car that his father had owned so many decades before.

    If my son ever reads this, I just want to say: “Son, did I ever tell you when I owned a 1963 Austin-Healey 3000 sports car with Healey Silver Blue exterior, navy blue leather….”

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    • Have you ever seen a show called Overhaulin’ (I think it’s on Velocity)? Your T-Bird story could have been an episode. Show’s about sons, daughters, wives, etc, getting a Dad’s or husband’s, etc. beloved old car restored–by the master himself, Chip Foose. Remember the Healy well; it was a stunner. Thanks, Joe.

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      • One more comment. While I enjoyed your piece, there was something eerily disturbing about it. My mind could not immediately grasp what it was. I have since realized that it was the repeated use of the word “old.” It even snuck into initials (OCG).

        As a wordsmith you know better than most that words have shelf lives. They come and they go. Some words are abandoned through neglect. Others are willfully banished because they have become disreputable. I believe that “old” fits the latter category. “Old” is enervating. “Old” is demeaning. “Old” has gotten old. And “old” must go.

        I suggest that your use your considerable talents for circumspection and writing to find or create a replacement for “old” – a word that is more up-beat, more vigorous and certainly younger than “old” but still connotes wisdom and gravitas. No small task I know, but please rid us of this fiend once and for all.

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  2. Wow. Interesting… “Old” is certainly old, though not nearly as old as “olde.” Perhaps the key lies in removing a letter every century or so… Could try “ol” for the next hundred years…

    It doesn’t strike me as it does you, though I can see your point. It’s just a word; worse than some, better than most. But each of the three words in the title carries more or less equal importance; I wanted that to be clear. The original title was: Old. Car. Guy., to further make this point. But I eventually abandoned it because it looked a bit too affected.

    The piece is a first-person narrative that is written in the third person. Why? I’m not sure why I did it that way, but it just felt right. Obviously I’m the OCG, though the character is only about 90% me. (I probably used third-person to insure some separation from reality.) The reality is–and I think I started this thing when I turned 60, or was just about to turn–I had developed this passion for fast cars quite late in life. And I think this is somewhat unusual.

    Anyway, Old Car Guy is kind of the name of the guy in the story. And the part of him that is me was essentially saying, “Some people would consider me old, but I certainly don’t feel that way most of the time. Especially not when I’m driving a fast car fast.” I think one of the keys to banishing “old” from the mind, if not the lexicon, lies in cultivating passion about things, or stoking the fires, if they have been burning there all along.

    …If any of that makes any sense at all. Hey! I’m old; cut me some slack!

    Best,
    AP

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