Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Paradigm Shift, Part Two.

photo source: Autoweek
Okay, the previous post was kind of long and rambling, but the point was to impress you with the depth of my commitment to the Cadillac marque. There was now an evolution at work in my thinking. The move to the Riviera was in response to my acknowledgement that a silk purse cannot be made out of sow's ear. A '50s or early '60s  Caddy is never going to be a competent road car by modern standards. In their day, they were great cars. The father of an old buddy of mine bought a brand new 1956 Cadillac and drove it down to Mexico City on a family vacation, it must have been great on that trip. Forty years later standards have changed and it would probably not seem so impressive.

So the Riviera was chosen because it would be a cool old car while still having better roadability. My first Riviera was also chosen as an anti-Yuppie statement. Think back to Silicon Valley in the early 90s. Yuppies were everywhere! Bimmers, Perrie, big cell phones and MBAs, Luxury Condos, Designer clothes, etc. What could be a bigger shock to Yuppies driving down the freeway in their Bimmers, Audis,or  Volvos? How about this?

                                             photo source: carswithmuscles.com

Yes, this is about as over the top as as a "modern" American car ever got. A 1971 Buick Riviera. With a 455 V8, disc brakes, and "Accu Drive" it was surprisingly good as a road car. It was around this time that I joined the Riviera Owners Association (ROA). I had always been attracted to the 1966 Riviera. To my eyes it looked like a customized car straight from the factory. Back in 1968 when I was in seventh grade there was a real estate office on the corner near my school. One of the agents would park their '66 outside the office at the curb. The car always impressed me with the sleek clean styling, minimal chrome and the hidden headlamps. A much better design than the "in your face" '71. Much later on I would own two '66s and a '67.

Many cars have been under my stewardship over the years. A quick count brings the current total up to 32. I don't want to make a boring list, and these cars were of all different types. In other words there is not a progression to better and newer cars. My lean toward the vintage cars really began in the 1990's, after I had bought my Seville.

In 1990 I bought a new Honda Civic SI. This was a very impressive car. The handling and performance was very rewarding. The utility and economy was outstanding.

By the time I was in my Fifties I had owned a lot of different American cars. I had even owned some Japanese cars. The biggest change was when I bought my first Datsun 280Z. It was actually a 1977 280Z 2+2 5 speed. I had told my son that I would never own a small car, a sports car. I will admit that I was pretty impressed. Here was a car that was built for the fun of actually driving and maneuvering down the road. Prior to this I had  gotten my tactile driving sensations from my motorcycles. I had owned thirteen different motorcycles up to this point.

Mine was white. photo source: classic car for sale .com

The 280Z was a turning point. I later bought a 1992 Nissan 300zx. This was a modern state of the art, high performance sports car. Several years ago I bought a 1996 Mustang GT convertible and these were very affordable at this time. Compared to the muscle cars of the Sixties these cars were a revelation. Better in every way; handling, braking, economy, comfort and safety. While there have been some quicker cars in the 60's, most of these had very low gearing and their top speeds were usually limited to 110 to 120 mph. Modern cars can cruise at much higher speeds and return impressive fuel economy. So what is so good about those Sixties cars?

This is a good question.

Well, there is the styling. Many of these cars were cleanly styled. There is also a refreshing honesty in their specification. No power steering, brakes, cruise control, anti lock braking, fuel injection or air conditioning. Chassis development? Who needs four wheel disc brakes, rack and pinion steering, independent rear suspension, fuel injected alloy engines? Well, I do. How about safety? These cars are perfectly safe if you don't mind driving without air bags, shoulder harnesses, crush zones and roll over standards. I will stop short of calling these cars deathtraps, but they can only provide the meager protection their engineers were obligated to incorporate at the time. However if you want to be brutally honest, the only really cool thing is that these cars were deadly cool back in the early 1970s. All of us who attended high school in the 70's and 80's wanted to own cars like these, in fact many of us DID own cars like these. They were everywhere, they were cheap, and during the following "gas crisis" they were pretty much giving these things away. Most of us drove them, used them up, and moved on to a brighter future. The die -hards that held onto these cars were even ridiculed at the time. "Grow up", "Get rid of that mullet!" "Jeez that is sooo redneck!"

Fast forward to today. The '70's high schoolers are now in their Fifties and Sixties. Wouldn't it be nice to relive what might have been the best years of our lives by driving that Mustang or Chevelle that we wish we had. Wouldn't we have been more popular if we had been driving that Camaro instead of our Mom's clapped out station wagon?

Now if these cars were still cheap to buy than it might make sense to get one and update it. Still it basically means scrapping all the original engineering and starting over with modern components.

This was mine until March 2016

The car pictured above is what finally changed my mind and changed my whole automotive game plan.After enjoying my '96 Mustang GT I still had the desire to roll it "old school". The desire to drive a classic ride still persisted.  If you go back to my early postings you will see that I tried to do an end run around the problem  of a high buy in price. I bought a salvage title six cylinder coupe and started a modest program of upgrading.

Compare the specification of this car to my 280Z.  Z: rack and pinion steering, Mustang: power recirculating ball ( the power ratio reduced lock to lock by two revolutions). Z: four wheel independent suspension, Mustang: A arm front with poor geometry, rear end leaf springs. Z: ventilated front disc brakes, finned alloy rear drums, Mustang: un-assisted 10 inch cast iron drums front in back, ( with the 250 cid. six, these were the same as the small block V8 models). Z: OHC fuel injected, electronic ignition, alloy head straight six motor, Mustang: cast iron straight six, single barrel carb, 250 cid. displacement (the base engine was the 200 cid six). The Z had superb ergonomics and comfort. The Mustang was uncomfortable and the controls and switches were difficult to use when belted in.

 I know this is kind of an unfair comparison. The Mustang was intended at a lower price and content point. But... This particular Mustang still cost me more than my '89 XJS convertible did. When I sold it I had around 5,000 dollars into it. It would have needed almost another 5,000 bucks just to achieve acceptable levels of equipment and performance. It just wasn't worth it to me. The ugly truth was that I really didn't like the car very much. I liked the IDEA of the car. I would bet that many contemporary owners of early "Muscle Cars" feel the same way. However, you are never going to admit to your wife that you don't like driving the  car you were pleading to own. The car that cost as much or more than a new Camaro or Mustang. So the car just sits around in the garage until the next Good Guys Event. Since I didn't have too much money tied up in mine I figured I would cut my losses.  Originally I tried to sell it at a price that would recoup my expenses. When I sold it I priced it low enough to ensure a quick sale. I still got over a thousand dollars more that I paid for my XJ6.

Once your underlying assumptions change, then your preferences will change. When your standards are changed you may find that certain things are no longer as relevant, interesting or impressive. These changes can come about due to new experiences; exposure to people of different economic levels, educational levels and different lifestyles will usually have an effect. Sometimes it will encourage you to stretch your  comfort levels to include these new possibilities. Other times it will result in an entrenchment in your thinking, causing you to "circle the wagons" and defend yourself against these new foreign concepts.

A lot of these experiences are just the result of aging. The process of aging means that you have seen more, done more, can afford more, (both in money and time) and would probably like to expand your areas of interest. "Been there, Done that. " Such a dismissive statement, but so true. Does anyone really want to be the same person that they were in high school, college, or in their independent young adulthood? This doesn't mean that we should dismiss the aspirations and adventures of the young, they are on their own path forward.

My expectations had changed. I was looking for more.


  1. Really enjoyed this one. I particularly resonate with the remark about loving the idea of a car (or anything else, really) only to find you don't love the reality of the thing, particularly as filtered through the lens of age and experience. So many impulses go into buying something like a car, particularly if it's a classic or luxury item (as opposed to buying a commute-mobile because it's a necessity). It's all that existential who am I/what's it all about stuff but I love it. It's rich. I had the great opportunity to drive so many of my dream cars and cross them off the list because "cool" was transient and, frankly, not worth it if the experience wasn't satisfying. Still, my tastes min my 20's and 30's, which were for smaller, more frame-rattling corner shavers, leave me a bit cold now. I was firmly in the power-steering-and-autoboxes-are-the-work-of-the-devil camp, so as much as I loved the looks of the XJ-S, I'd have gone for something spartan and German, particularly if it had front wheel drive and a suspension that ensured I could "really feel the road". Now, with 50 right around the next few bends and a bad back, a nice interior and a suspension designed to compromise handling with comfort doesn't seem like such a bad thing after all. I still like some "feel" in my steering but I think "feeling the road" is a bit overrated. Getting out of the car at the end of a long drive and not feeling mangled is a pretty great too. Looking forward to the next installment.

  2. I know that it's a trite expression, but sometimes the only thing worse than not getting what you really want, IS getting what you really want. If that happens just check it off the list and move on! I was talking with my wife a while back about the old car thing. I told her that I just realized that at my age, going to be sixty two, I've only got around twenty years left (if I'm lucky!) to mess around with hobby cars. If I limit it to two years per car, that means I'm down to only ten more cars! I better get a move on. Rhett,thanks for checking in.