I am not driving my Corvette to work on Friday. Irrespective of whether driving to work is logical when work is five blocks from your house, I do not own a Corvette. Life is unfair.
(Last Friday was Take Your Dog to Work Day. I didn’t bring our dog, a morbidly obese mostly-Chihuahua, to work. He is antisocial when he’s not begging for food.)
This comes up in part because of the third section of this week’s edition of your favorite weekly newspaper. One of my favorite summer weekend pastimes is spending time at car shows, including, last September, the Dairy Days car show. I have attended several editions of the Midwest’s largest car show, the Iola Old Car Show in northeastern Wisconsin. I remain convinced that one could, with a large enough checkbook, assemble a complete car from parts available in the Iola swap area.
I’ve liked Corvettes ever since I got over being scared of a neighbor’s Corvette, a 1970 coupe that to a six-year-old looked like it was going to bite you. I was hooked even before I got to drive a 1969 Corvette with a 435-horsepower V-8 and a four-speed manual transmission known as the “rock crusher,” but without power steering or brakes.
Few car models have been produced for more than 50 years. The Corvette started as GM’s response to the British and Italian sports cars, usually two-seat convertibles, that soldiers coming home from World War II were bringing with them. Over the years, Corvettes became stuffed with more power than their steering, brakes and handling could handle, adopted the most out-there styling perhaps in American automotive history, were nearly strangled by emissions regulations (the standard engine on the 1975 Corvette had just 165 horsepower), had killed and then brought back the convertible, and, by now, have the best combination of power and refinement for the price in the world — truly a world-class car, but not at world-class prices. This is hyperbole to say this, but I wonder if anyone really can have a bad day if it begins and ends with a Corvette drive from your home to your office.
But I’m not just interested in Corvettes. (And I’m not interested in Corvettes with automatic transmissions.) The car I drove into Grant County 25 years ago was a 1975 Chevrolet Caprice coupe. It was 18 feet 1 inch long and weighed 4,300 pounds. It got 11 mpg. Were it not for the nearly $4 cost of a gallon of gas, I’d like to have that car back. (If it’s still on this earth, it doesn’t weigh 4,300 pounds anymore, due to rust.) Cars that appear as though they should have mooring lines at the corners were the cars those of us who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s rode in and then drove, so that probably explains my affinity for the land yacht. (My grandparents simultaneously owned a 1973 Cadillac Coupe de Ville and a 1978 Lincoln Continental, each of which was bigger than the Caprice.)
I’m a fan of station wagons, which I find vastly preferable (though vastly more rare now) to minivans. The good thing about a wagon is that you can always choose to not use the space behind the rear seats; you cannot use space you do not have. Federal fuel economy regulations killed the full-size car, including the full-size wagon, though car-buyers responded by shifting from cars to pickup truck-based SUVs. (That’s an example of the Law of Unintended Consequences.)
I’m also a fan of what Wikipedia calls the “coupe utility,” which is better known in this country by the vehicle’s brand name: the Chevy El Camino, a car from the front seats forward, but with a pickup truck bed. My other grandparents owned a 1959 El Camino in what might be best called Tornado Warning Green for their second-hand store; my grandfather was considering restoring it before he died, and my grandmother ended up selling it. I’ve thought of the Caprice as an El Camino with a back seat and trunk lid.
My father owned a 1962 Chevrolet Impala convertible for a few years. I notice several convertibles in this area, despite weather you might not think was conducive to convertible ownership. There’s something about feeling the elements go not just to your side, but all around you, on a nice day or night as you drive.
Cars today are infinitely more capable than cars of even 20 years ago, thanks to computer design. However, cars look more alike than they have ever looked, thanks to computer design. That is, I think, one of the appeals of collector cars — the fact they don’t look like every other car that was on the road at the time, even if some of the designs were dubious in terms of aesthetics, particularly in instrument-panel designs. (Speedometers with thermometer-style indicators or vertically-rolling numbers come to mind.)
Many of these collector cars, particularly the more powerful cars, serve as a demonstration of what American free enterprise can do, even with federal government regulations, pressures from rising oil prices, and those nags who can’t grasp why someone might need more horsepower than the nag thinks you need.
The other obvious reason for the appeal of collector cars is that cars of your youth remind you of, well, your youth. A driver’s license represents transportation freedom. Most people remotely interested in cars remember the cars they wanted, but couldn’t afford, as young adults. Some collector cars remind us of our younger days when we had enough disposable income to put gas in the car and take out our girlfriends.
Through one of the car magazines I subscribe to, I am entered in a contest whose grand prize is a General Motors LS3 small block V-8, rated at 430 horsepower, and a Tremec six-speed manual transmission. If I win, I’ll have to get a vehicle for the engine and transmission.