I celebrated a birthday recently, which was marked in part by an obligatory journey to the local DMV to get my license renewed. The good news was that I weigh nearly 30 pounds less than I did eight years ago when I last renewed, thanks to my daily before-dawn five-mile run. The bad news is that I'm still eight years older.
Having recently moved, I asked the clerk to update my address. He poked a few keys, then looked up quizzically and asked, "How big a garage do you have?" "Just two cars," I replied. "Then where do you keep all these?"
It turned out that the state's records showed 23 cars registered in my name, reaching back to 1989. Most I had sold out of state and never bothered to report as gone.
As he began to delete each old record, I felt like I had suddenly been transported to a kind of reunion. Only instead of being surrounded by family and friends from long ago, it was all my old cars gathered around me again.
23 SETS OF MEMORIES
Each record had its own set of memories attached. First was a 1991 Lotus Elan with a 2001 registration date. I liked that car a lot. Yellow over black, I bought it by accident at a Silver Auction here in Portland, when I missed out on a salvage-title 308 GT4. It ran well, although I never did figure out why there were six .22-caliber bullets rattling around in the ashtray. I think I paid around $14,000 and sold it for about the same some months later, to an SCMer in the South. He reported that once he replaced the four bent wheels the car was just dandy. I always thought the steering wheel had a little shimmy.
Then the clerk pulled up the 1964 Ferrari, our much-loved 330 America 2+2. One of only 50 built, I still think it's the best of all four-place Ferraris, with its clean, crisp 250 GTE lines and the 300-horsepower motor from the 330 GT. We paid $22,000 to pull it out of a barn in Montana, then learned how staggeringly expensive it is to bring a somnambulant 12-cylinder engine back to life. After spending another $25,000 doing the brakes, front seats and a carb overhaul ("Wow, so much for so little," was the reaction of my more seasoned Ferrari friends), we sold it for around $35,000, to a Midwest SCMer. When the time is right, I'll own another, but fully restored this time.
A 1959 Lotus Elite was next. I'd completely forgotten about this one, white with a black leather interior, dual-carbureted, RHD, with wire wheels. I bought it at one of "Fairly Honest" Bob LeFlufy's auctions in Vancouver, BC, and had it trucked home. I didn't get nearly enough seat time before it went to an SCMer in Saarbrucken, Germany. I think I paid around $23,000 and sold it for about $28,000, which didn't even come close to evening out the Ferrari.
My heart ached again when "1958 Alfa Coupe" popped up. A red, 101-series, 1300-cc Sprint Veloce, I bought the car from a broker in San Francisco in 1989. It still wore its original paint, polished nearly through in places, and its original interior, seams separated but not ripped. Every single piece of trim was on the car, and it didn't have a speck of rust.
I drove the car on a couple of Alfa tours and had a terrific time. I hit a home run and sold it for $12,000, as I'd only spent $9,000 to buy it. I'd pay double that for the same car today.
I wanted to prove to our Porsche market guru Jim Schrager that I could find my own 911, which led to the 1968 911L we deleted next. Silver with black leather, it had a persistent stumble, either from carburetion or ignition. Then, the chain tensioners collapsed at the end of the Northwest Classic Rally. I fixed them, but decided to send the car home to Germany, again to my friend in Saarbrucken. This one cost me around $6,500, and brought $8,000.
I had no problem calling up memories of the 1963 Austin-Healey BJ7. Red with cream and painted wires, I bought it to drive to the 50th Anniversary Healey convention in Lake Tahoe a couple of years back. SCMer Doug Hartman and I joined a caravan from the Pacific Northwest and had a glorious time on the 500-mile drive through the mountains. It was my first extended time behind the wheel of a Big Healey, and the combination of copious torque and overdrive made the hours at 70 mph a delight. I sold the car on eBay, to a retired judge from Las Vegas who came up with a friend and drove the car home. I think we paid around $14,500 for it and got $17,500, which means we more or less broke even after repairs.
The list went on, including the 1960 Fiat Abarth 850 TC clone, a 900-cc Ducati Darmah, a few Honda dirt bikes, a couple of Jaguars, a Lotus Europa Twin Cam and Elan S2, some MGAs and Bs and a few more Alfas, mostly 105-series Duettos, 1600 GTVs and Berlinas. And that doesn't include the cars that passed through my hands that had been previously purged from DMV records.
The last car the clerk pulled up was Kermit, my 1984 Ferrari Mondial Cabriolet. It earned its nickname from its light metallic green over tan color scheme (think celery with peanut butter). I loved the sound it made, and my daughter Alexandra and her friends still talk about riding in the back seat on winding country roads, their arms held high in the air as they thrilled to the sound and the speed of this roller coaster from Maranello. I paid $34,500 for the car, and sold it for somewhere in the low twenties to a subscriber in California, who just consigned it to Fantasy Junction to be sold again.
These cars are now purged from my DMV records, but not from my memories. We have long maintained that old cars are just an excuse for people with gasoline in their blood to get together and have a good time. The things we experience when we take our old cars out for a drive become shared memories, and help create the sorts of social bonds that define our collector car culture. Here's to the many years, many cars, many trips, and many new and old friends that lie ahead, as we continue to move through this SCM world full of cranky mechanical beasts and thoughtful, helpful enthusiasts.