It's painful to watch once high-performing veteran athletes in the last years of their careers, as they try desperately to hold on to their departing glory. We see less of their past brilliance than of their current diminished capabilities.
I thought about this while piloting my '64 Ferrari 330 America on urban freeways last week. Finally back from a winter at Guy's Interior Restoration, with a redone interior, newly-rebuilt Koni shocks and fresh clutch, it was time to exercise the 4-liter, 300-bhp engine.
Running to a conservative 6,500 rpm redline in the lower three gears produced an intoxicating cacophony of exotic Italian sounds. But once I'd merged into 75-mph mid-afternoon expressway traffic, the nightmare began.
Twenty-five years ago, when the 330 left the factory in Maranello for its pre-delivery test drive through Castelfranco, it was the king. As the most powerful 2+2 produced in Italy, if not the world, its package of acceleration, handling and braking set the standard for high-performance, four-passenger grand touring cars.
But on today's superhighways, the Ferrari is a battered veteran, surrounded by lithe, super-efficient vehicles that surpass it in nearly every way. Every time the brake lights of a Honda Accord flashed, I worried about sliding into them, my tires locked-up and smoking while their anti-lock systems effortlessly slowed them down. The instruments on the Ferrari required constant monitoring; increasing water temperature accompanied by decreasing oil pressure was just one of many concerns. Was the new voltage regulator doing its job, or was there some other problem causing the overcharging that threatened to boil the new battery?
Then there was the slight misfire that developed when I shut off the electric pump and tried to run on the mechanical one. Visions of an engine running on too-lean a mixture, resulting in holed pistons and burned valves, were enough to cause me to quickly toggle the electric pump back on again.
During the 100-mile drive, while drivers of modern cars moved blissfully along, fiddling with the electronic tuners of their Bose stereo systems or adjusting the front-seat dual climate-control systems to keep the passenger eight degrees warmer than the driver, I was completely preoccupied with automotive survival.
Times have changed, and our collectible cars are very old cars now. They don't do well in many modern settings, and using a 1949 MG-TC or a 1954 Healey 100/4 as a daily driver becomes more wishful remembrance that practical reality every year.
We do veteran athletes whose careers are ending a disfavor when we ask them to compete with fresh young talent twenty, thirty or more years their junior, just as we do our old cars a disservice when we ask them to perform mundane, tedious tasks that only a Corolla could love.
We predict that in twenty years, just as horses are only ridden in controlled areas, and are hopelessly out of place in an urban environment, vintage cars will be seen most often on designated country roads or in set-aside motor parks (like off-road motorcycles today), where their once-brilliant mechanical packages can be allowed to shine in the appropriate, vintage-friendly environment.
But that doesn't mean that we won't be enjoying our cars, fiddling with them, adjusting the points and tweaking the suspensions. We'll just be doing it the same way that a fly-fisherman ties his flies before a catch-and-release season, as a pleasurable avocation rather than a daily necessity.
Today, one of the highest and best uses of a vintage car is on a vintage rally like Brock Yates' Cannonball Classic, the New England 1000, the N.W. Classic Rally and the California Mille.
So as you cruise the classifieds or register for your bidder's paddle, in search of a fantasy-satisfying vehicle, put aside some time and some money to register for or any other of the host of events available. Give your classic car a chance to exercise its mechanical muscles on a vintage asphalt Nordic Track, and you'll begin to reap the true rewards for owning a piece of history.
WHERE'S MY PRICE GUIDE?
We're having our own Y2K excitement at SCM, even though it is only May. The combination of installing a new computer system along with a flood of new subscriptions has caused some glitches, and we apologize. If you've received an extra renewal notice, or are getting extra copies of SCM each month (sell the second one - tell everyone they're collectible!), please call us at 1-800-289-2819, 24-hrs, with your SCM ID# and describe the problem, and we'll fix it (fax 503-252-5854).
We're completely out of our current Pocket Price Guides, and are in the midst of preparing an all-new Guide, which will feature our five-star ratings for future collectibility, updates with year-to-date changes for our regular Price Guide entries as well as a special section for American muscle cars and Corvettes, plus a full-color section by our irreverent Michael Duffey, aka Mr. Kerb, on cars to keep an eye on during the coming year.
ON THE COVER
May being the month that the Mille Miglia Storica occurs, it is fitting to have a "Legend's Last Great Adventure," by Argentinian artist Alfredo de la Maria, on our cover.
Despite poor health, Italian legend Tazio Nuvolari in his Ferrari 166 Barchetta (S/N 010I) set the fastest pace from the start of the race in Brescia, and by the half-way point in Rome he had established a 30-second lead over his nearest rival, teammate Clemente Biondetti in his Barchetta (S/N 003S). However, perhaps unable to withstand the pace demanded by Nuvolari, the Ferrari suffered a mechanical failure soon after Rome and it was Biondetti who took the checkered flag.
A 24" by 27" limited edition print, on paper ($125) or canvas ($375), can be ordered now, with the original painting to be available in the near future. Contact Blackhawk Editions, (925) 736-3444, fax (925) 736-4375, email@example.com.