5 Things An Old Car Can Teach You About Life
It's been an interesting winter. Thanks to a 1960s Lotus, I'm now a little wiser. Maybe.
Every old car is a used car. I have never bought a vehicle that didn't need something within the first 100 miles, no matter how much I've aimed for the opposite. Life cannot be planned. 'Nuff said.
In the 15 years since I turned 16, I've owned upwards of 30 cars. Most of them were not nice. None were new when I bought them. I have, as a result, spent a lot of time fixing old iron, usually in preparation for some event -- a car show, a race, a hill climb, something.
Some of these cars made the events they were scheduled for. Most did not. The thought process usually went like this:
Like that time the Elan's exhaust fell off on the way to a dinner reservation, which made my wife and me stop a terrible and long-brewing argument because we could no longer hear each other over the noise. When we got to the restaurant everything WAS HAPPY AND LOUD AND THE OPEN-PIPED LOTUS SOUNDED LIKE A RACE CAR AND I DIDN'T EVEN REMEMBER WHAT THE **** WE WERE ARGUING ABOUT AND ALSO I WAS KIND OF DEAF.
Old cars, built largely free of regulation and safety concerns, were cheap, thin and fragile in a hundred ways that modern cars are not. They were also incredibly dangerous; the Lotus, which weighs around 1,600 pounds, would kill me in a relatively minor collision. And yet the cars from the fastest and most dangerous part of this era -- say, 1948 to 1968 or so -- are arguably some of the most appealing machines ever built.
There is only one conclusion: Risk is appealing. Eliminate it, and you might as well be dead (or driving a new Toyota Venza).
Did I mention how I want to die in a Plymouth 440-6-Pack Road Runner? Did I also mention that I'd be perfectly happy if it was the car itself that killed me?
Above: Yes, it's as small as it looks. (OK, that's a lie. It's actually smaller.)
Lesson 5: Everything in life is a trade-off. The prettiest flowers are almost always the most delicate.
With one or two exceptions (hello, Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing), sturdy cars are not pretty, at least not in the traditional sense. And pretty cars are not sturdy. This also applies somewhat to art, the human form and that whole bit above about automotive safety. (I could make another Toyota Venza joke, but that's just shooting fish in a barrel.) Everything worth having comes at a price.
For the record, I find the Elan pretty. Also for the record, given how it's built, I'm surprised it doesn't collapse in a stiff breeze. Make of that what you will.
Thus endeth the lesson. On a related note, I'm trying to get the Lotus back together for a hill-climb race in southwestern Wisconsin in the beginning of May. Wish me luck. If I don't make it, it doesn't really matter. (See #2, above.)
Sam Smith is a journalist, a southerner, and a reformed Alfa Romeo mechanic who spends most of his time mooning over ancient racing cars and small-batch bourbon. A multiple International Automotive Media award-winner, he has written for Automobile Magazine, Car and Driver, and Esquire, among other publications. He once drove 4,000 miles in a weekend for a hamburger and has only been threatened by the German police twice.
Did I mention how I want to die in a Plymouth 440-6-Pack Road Runner?Just makes one wonder... when you see the driver shifting and pulling away... at one time American manufacturers made real cars that were fun to drive... how could it ever happen that they took away all the fun with paddle shifters and automatic transmissions? As a former Pontiac GTO driver, I know first hand that a V8 + a manual transmission is a match made in heaven...
Beautiful Elan! I have had my S3 SS since 1979, longer than my wife by 6 weeks.
Join us on LotusElan.net. There you will find many fellow sufferers to query for advice or comiserate over leaky water pumps or cracked donuts.
BTW, Jay Leno has two.
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