We of the Boomer generation grew up sneaking J.C. Whitney and Warshawsky catalogs onto our desks during biology lectures. Figuring out how to afford those trick, high-compression, .040-inch oversize pistons and rings for our Bug Eye Sprites was a daily topic of discussion. Tinkering with cars was our lifestyle.
There was all sorts of wonderful mechanical wizardry to decipher, including the mysteries of adjusting distributor points, gapping plugs and setting the engine timing with a static light. There was something terrifying and magical about leaning over a four-cylinder, Weber-equipped 1300 Alfa engine and revving it to 6,000 rpm while watching the strobe light search for the maximum advance mark etched on the flywheel. The wind from the fan, the sound of the Webers sucking air and the urgent sense that the engine wanted to be put to use propelling the car combined to form a powerful gearhead narcotic.
We learned to undercut generator armatures and install new brushes, to sand the points on voltage regulators and rebuild brake master cylinders. Whereas today I simply take the Ferrari or the Alfa to the shop with a long list ("just keep fixing things until you reach my Visa card limit"), in the early '60s time was more plentiful than money, and a day spent coaxing a used SU carburetor back to life was time well spent.
In general, today's children don't have the same affection for motor cars, nor should they given the era they were born into. We are the last generation of tinkerers, they are the first generation to grow up with computers being as common as toasters.
Cars today, more efficient than ever, require almost nothing from their owners and customization has taken some strange twists and turns. I confess to bemusement when confronted by slammed Rice-Burners with big exhausts and twinkling lights attached to the inside rear-view mirrors, but as a sports car fanatic, I never understood low-riders and hot rods either.
But let's jump forward a decade. The nascent power outages on the West Coast are just the precursor of challenging times ahead. Vehicle ownership and use will become more of a privilege than a right, and we predict that a combination of increased environmental concerns and a new, younger bureaucracy not nearly so attuned to cars (who will replace long-time enthusiast Dick Merritt at the DOT when he retires?) will create a situation far less friendly to our noisy, polluting old playthings.
Recall that at the turn of the last century, horses were commonplace in downtown areas. And their visible pollutants are staggering, both from a volumetric and olfactory perspective. Today, when horses are in a parade, the obligatory motorized cart manned by pooper-scooper wielding clowns are right behind.
Will it really be so different for our old cars in twenty years? California has already reneged in its rolling exemption concerning emissions requirements for vehicles more than twenty years old; in Oregon, any car built after 1974 has to pass emission requirements with no upper limit on the amount the owner may have to spend to bring one into compliance. (A call to our DMV asking about controlling the exorbitant costs of smogging a vehicle will often elicit the following sotto voce response, "Can't you register it outside the mandatory testing area?").
SCM has no philosophical problem with the tradeoffs required by an increasingly urbanized society that is trying to make wise use of diminishing resources. Few of us shoot deer for the dinner table from our bedroom windows any longer, or collect breakfast eggs from the henhouse outside the back door. In an ideal world, if we had to pay $1,000 a year as a "pollutant tax" on an old Ferrari, that money would go to subsidize creative mass transit or hybrid cars.
At this moment, there are more classic sports cars that are roadworthy than at any point in history. When automotive historians of the 22nd century look back on 2001, without doubt they will be filled with envy at our era when classic cars could simply be fired up and taken out on the road, and driven just as long and as far as the driver wanted to go.
As we baby boomers begin to enter our golden years (my invitation to join AARP arrived last month; I angrily discarded it, but only after checking to see if the New England 1000 or Monterey Historics were offering senior discounts), we are creating ever more ways to put our collector cars on the road. We have the time, we create the venues, we have the cars.
These are the good old days.
ON THE COVER
A confection made of equal parts of spring-time Italy, a Ferrari Dino and two young lovers graces our cover this month. Created by English artist Alan Fearnley, it's titled "Ciao."
The painting is one of a group of eleven Fearnley has produced called the Classic Collection, each featuring a different classic car, including a Bentley, Alfa Romeo, Jaguar XK 120 and XKE.
The paintings in the Classic Collection are not historical, but rather represent the emotional feeling from a moment in time. For "Ciao," imagine the year 1974, a young man driving his new Dino, and visiting his Juliet in Verona.
The original oil painting, created in 1996, belongs to a private collector in Italy. Lithograph prints, from an edition of 500 printed on archival paper, are available for $175. The image size is 20 x 15 inches, and the entire print measures 26 x 20 inches. This edition is nearly sold out. Contact Steve Austin's Automobilia in Beaverton, Oregon, at 800/452-8434, fax 503/643/1302, www.steveaustinsautomobilia.com.