Each year, this issue falls in the lull just before the great Super Bowl contest that is Monterey Car Week. Each of the auction companies on the Peninsula has its lineups set. All the seven- and eight-figure, market-defining cars have been extensively promoted and the potential bidders courted.
Within a few days after you read this, we’ll all know if this year’s totals exceed the $400m of last year (I predict they will, by at least $25m), and like a horse race, which parts of the market will continue to surge and which will start to fall behind.
It’s Really All About the Cars
As we await the results, it’s a good time to reflect on why we’re involved with these old cars in the first place. If we had unlimited resources, we could buy all the cars we wanted and drive them to our heart’s content. Each day we’d pick out a different vintage machine from the garage and set off for a new destination.
But it doesn’t work that way. All of us are constantly juggling the components of the enthusiast’s equation. We strive to balance time, space, money and passion.
For me, it’s always been about the trips and the camaraderie, which started when I drove my Bugeye Sprite, when I was just 16, the nearly unimaginable 325 miles from San Francisco to spend a weekend with my girlfriend who was studying at UC Santa Barbara. And a year later, at 17, setting off for the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in my MGA (no, we didn’t make it; did you have to ask?).
When you get into a 50-year-old car to explore 600 miles of back roads, every turn becomes an adventure. Every stop for gas becomes an exploration of a filling station from a different era. Lunches in small-town burger joints are a reminder of a time before national fast-food chains and identical truck stops.
Old cars pull us away from the mundane and into a world where our sensory perceptions are heightened. We watch temperature gauges with wary eyes on uphill grades, and we are thoughtful about the stopping power of our drum brakes on long downhill gradients.
In a modern car, every morning of a road trip is identical. You get into your car, start it and drive away. You’re secure in the knowledge that the car will warn you if your tire pressures or fluid levels are low. The dash readout lets you know how soon you should be thinking about fuel, and the nav system gives you the route to get to the nearest filling station.
It’s different with our old cars. Each morning, much like grooming a horse, we perform our rituals. We start by checking the tire pressures and adjust them. Then we open our hoods and do a visual inspection. We look to see if anything has started to work itself loose due to the vibrations that are part of running at 4,000 rpm for hours.
One time, I noticed that a stud which the fan shroud bolts to was working its way through my upper radiator hose on my ’67 Alfa Duetto, and if I hadn’t wrapped some duct tape around the hose, it would have soon been penetrated, which could have left me with no water and an overheating engine in an inconvenient situation.
We crack open our radiator caps and see if there is just a little coolant evident at the top of the filler neck. And if the level is low, we make a mental note to figure out why and where we are losing the fluid.
I always pop open the brake-fluid reservoir. Especially in an old car with a single-circuit braking system, losing your brake fluid, perhaps from a leaking brake-wheel cylinder, can be a very dangerous — and even life-threatening — situation.
Finally, if you’re on a road trip, you sweep the accumulated debris of empty cups, cans, water bottles and snack wrappers out of the car and into a garbage can — which is about as close to concours preparation as I’m going to get.
With an old car, you are fully engaged in the operation of its systems and the monitoring of its drivetrain. One of the great surprises for those who are new to old cars is just how involved the cars expect you to be with them, on a daily or even hourly basis. It is this regular ritual of preparation that bonds you to your car. You care about the status of its systems, and it rewards your attention through its reliability and performance.
Will You Stay... Or Will You Go?
We’ve said goodbye to our 2001 Porsche Turbo.
I purchased the Tiptronic-equipped car in anticipation of rotator-cuff surgery — our CPA has her doubts about it qualifying as a business-related medical expense — and put several thousand delightful miles on it.
Supremely competent and comfortable, the Porsche was as happy inching along in rush-hour traffic as it was whooshing over Mount Hood on Highway 26 at triple-digit speeds. The Turbo, with its Mezger engine, is simply a masterpiece of modern road-car engineering. It’s gone to a good home with longtime ACC contributor and friend Michael Pierce. Before pulling it into his garage next to his 1967 427/435 Corvette, he had the 911 chipped so it now produces 500 horsepower. The previous 415 just weren’t enough.
We replaced it with the 2006 Lotus Elise that we had previously owned, sold and bought back. It’s a better fit in the little SCM collection that continues to focus on nimble, lightweight, high-revving cars. The garage is now filled with cars that reward the care we provide to them with a tactile pleasure on two-lane highways. We enjoy each mile more than the last. In the end, it’s all about the trips and the people, and the cars that make these adventures possible. ♦