It takes all kinds.

It takes all kinds.

Cars or Art?

Ok, I’ll admit it….I can be a hater at times. It’s a gut reaction though…and sadly it really DOES stem from jealousy.I’ll get back to that though.

Television: When it comes to T.V. viewing my tastes tend to run the gamut from Ufo shows to episodes of The Family Guy. When it comes to “Reality T.V.” my tastes are limited. I can proudly say you will NEVER catch me watching the latest episode of “Keeping up with the trashy trophy wives of Jersey shore”. I don’t like TV that glorifies stupidity or insults my intelligence. So if I’m not watching a documentary or an episode of “How it’s made” I tend to watch just about any car-related program.

On a recent auto auction show I saw a Porsche 917 sell for  5 Million dollars. It was worth every penny, it was truly a historically significant car and an amazing specimen: you should look it up when you get a chance. I guess what brought out the hater in me was the sense that the person who has that kind of money to spend on a car will probably never work on it or really get a chance to drive it. It will probably just end up being stored as part of a private collection only to see the light of day during special events for the wealthy set, such as Goodwood or The Concours D’elegance and the like.

Now it seems there are a few key types of people (And economic strata) when it comes to those who have a heavy interest in cars:

  1. The very wealthy collectors who buy and sell super rare and one-off cars like a commodity.
  2. The somewhat wealthy collectors who can afford the classics they want, and tend to use and cherish them.
  3. The “Average Joe” who may have a little disposable income and enjoys working on or restoring his own relatively cheap or common model, and has a few bucks to “do it right”.
  4. Then there’s the bottom of the barrel guys: They have very little disposable income but make do with what they can while being fueled by their desire to keep their baby running, even if she isn’t perfect. Lately I seem to be a bottom of the barrel guy (Which probably explains my viewpoint).

Now I don’t begrudge people for being rich. It seems the majority of the wealthier enthusiasts are just part of the second group: They’re older men (And women too, but seemingly mostly men) who’ve been fairly successful in their life and careers and now have the disposable income to purchase the dream cars of their childhood, or a favorite car they owned in their youth.

I can’t blame them, if I had 50-100,000 dollars to spend on whatever I liked I’d be hard pressed not to buy an old Chevy Bel-air, an early 911 or 356, or even a Muscle car of some sort. Truthfully though with that money I’d probably end up trying to get my hands on an S800 or Z600 for some crazy resto-mod project. I’d still have a huge chunk of cash leftover to play with when I was done. As for those people I will admit I’m jealous of them, but at least I know they are buying something they will not only USE, but have full appreciation for, and I like that.

My “reverse snobbery” if you will, is focused at the top stratum, the purchasers of the really big ticket items who seem to view cars as simply collector items and investments.

Admittedly they do appreciate what they’re getting. I’m sure they view their purchases through romantic eyes, but I sometimes doubt most of them really “GET” what being a car nut is. I think they view those select few cars as being art. Admittedly a lot of classics could be labelled as such in a purely aesthetic sense, but ultimately they are meant to be experienced. Cars are not still life paintings, they’re 3-d movies with sight, sounds, smells and sensations. They are meant to be used and enjoyed (or even slightly feared), and until you’ve worked on and driven such a car you’re really missing out on the point .

If you simply view an amazing piece of machinery, or a historical example as just a commodity that’s to be bought and traded then stashed away somewhere for your own private enjoyment you’re doing a diservice to enthusiasts everywhere. When you drive an old car you’re not just helping it in a mechanical sense (They really DO need to be driven from time to time) and having fun showing off your baby but you’re also sharing it with others. That Sunday drive you take in your old N600, 1st gen Prelude or Civic may be just another drive to you, but it might be the moment where your “different” car  catches someone’s eye and sparks a new interest within. I often see a lot of kids looking intently at my car and I always take comfort in the fact that I may have just inspired a future shade tree mechanic.

I guess this is why I’m jealous…I sometimes wonder if the people that are most able to carry out their automotive  whims are too busy focusing on the pedigree of their trailer queens and investments to truly appreciate all the wonder and beauty they have such free access to. I am being a little unfair though; Despite my jealousy I should still give credit where credit is due and be thankful that there is a market like this that actually preserves such historically significant cars, keeping them in top condition.

If I had my way we’d have a lot more Jay Lenos in the world. I have to respect and appreciate the man because he seems to combine the best of “All strata” when it comes to being a car guy. He has the means to keep the high dollar collectible cars not only “alive” but in running order, they don’t just sit around collecting dust. He also has an appreciation for the initially less rare but equally significant models. He has a wealth of historical and mechanical knowledge about every car in his collection.  Finally, not only does he have a wide appreciation of ALL things automotive but he actively seeks to share his love and his large collection with others.

Back to the strata: Despite the great classics being perfectly preserved by the “upper crust” enthusiasts, the people in the bottom stratum are my true heroes. They’re the folks who can find beauty in the mundane, they’re the ones preserving the automotive underdogs that otherwise get ignored by the wealthier collectors. A lot of cars that seemed boring and plain during their time tend to fade away into obscurity, only to be preserved by a select and devoted few in the lower strata. Over time the mundane and commonplace models become interesting and rare by slipping through the cracks of the collector world till few examples are left. Not all old cars can be worth millions, but maybe not all old cars should be.

Ultimately I’m just glad to see that in the automotive world there’s a spot for every level of enthusiast, from the 1st Gen Civic owners to the Porsche 917 owners. When it comes to people preserving a wide swath of automotive history, I guess it takes all kinds.

Ethan – Editor