Sunday, March 5, 2017

I'll bet you wish you never sold that car! (Insert the vintage car of your choice.)

Photo source:
My own '66 was not this rough, but I'm sure many guy's first cars were.

If you are a car guy and have owned a whole lot of older cars you may have heard this statement from some well wishing person. I would say that most of these people have never purposely owned an older collector or hobby car. They may have owned an older car back in the day when it was the only thing that they could realistically afford. There wasn't anything that was especially special about that car, it was just a car.

When you have been regaling your family, friends, or co workers with some tale from your automotive crypt you probably have added a little polish to the ownership experience. It's understandable that you have forgotten some of the problems that are endemic with the ownership of an old worn out machine. Nowadays that particular model of car may have become a sought after collectible, and you wanted to lay claim to your brush with fame.

Of course you probably never thought that this car was ever going to be worth a lot of money. It wasn't worth a lot of money at the time, if it had been, you never would have been able to afford it! At this time it was just a used car. Sometimes a very well used car. Can you say Beater?

You know what that ownership experience was like. Either you had a brief enjoyable fling with an intriguing old car before the crushing reality of decrepitude descended upon you like a ton of bricks, or you bought a non running boat anchor and nursed and cursed it back to some semblance of "health".

Either way you enjoyed the car as best as you could, and truth be told, you probably did enjoy it. I know that I did. In our youthful naivete we could overlook all the problems and just appreciate the fact that we actually owned one of the "cars of our dreams."

I have owned quite a few different cars over the years and as I let one go to acquire another, I can't honestly say that I regretted moving on.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I think that a non enthusiast might form a different bond with a certain car for primarily emotional reasons. I've read a lot of articles where folks will reminisce about their first car, the car they dated their future wife in, the car they brought their kids home from the hospital in, their first car bought as Newly weds, their first new car, etc, etc, etc.  There are lots of reasons for feeling nostalgic about a car and they are all perfectly valid. We can associate a certain car with a certain period in our lives and that makes it special. Special enough to to try to regain that moment at some future time. I read quite a few stories in Car Collector magazine that were written by Thomas Murray along these lines. Usually the protagonist was trying to reconnect with a hazy romantic memory from the past, or even trying to rekindle an actual old flame in the present!

I remember a commercial where someone's adult children tried to find their Dad's old 1967 Chevy, and give it to him as a retirement present. Of course the Old Guy breaks down and cries with the first vision of the old bomb rolling in on a trailer. Maybe. I think a '67 Chevy was never anything to get too excited about even back then, and especially now- and my Dad even had a '67 Bel Air wagon at one time that I drove occasionally.

Maybe I'm just a heartless lout. If I look back in my past, what cars would I find, and what relationship did they have with my life's journey?

Many people are sentimental about their first car. I am not. Mine was a '66 Mustang coupe bought for 300.00 in 1975. 289 V8 and a four speed transmission. It's kind of surprising that the paint was totally faded after only nine years. I never really wanted this car. My Dad didn't like the idea of me buying an old Cadillac of some type so he suggested that I look for a young person's car. So I bought the Mustang but I kept my eyes open. I found a '64 Cadillac convertible on a car lot one day, and bought the car that I wanted. While I did buy another old Mustang coupe a couple of years ago, I din't buy it for nostalgia. I wanted to try my hand restoring an old Pony Car on the cheap. Turns out that it wasn't going to be cheap enough. So I sold it, and I don't miss it. Don't want another old Mustang again either. For that matter I don't find myself pining for another old Cadillac either. (Well maybe).

If there's any car that is tied to a memorable time in my life it would have to be my '77 Coupe de Ville. First of all, I bought it when I graduated from college and I had dreams of an expanding future. Second, it was actually a dream car for me. It was the peak of Cadillac evolution at this time, the best model they had ever made, in my opinion. Smaller ,tauter, more fuel efficient, but still retaining the Cadillac identity. Fuel injection was even an option at this time. Third, it was the car I was driving when I met my Wife. There were a lot of things that I liked about the car. This car was only three years old so it was in beautiful condition. It was great to drive, looked impressive, and it made me feel pretty good too.

photo source: GM advertising

But it was a product of the times. I kept the car for about five or six years and traded it in for a brand new 1984 Mercury Cougar, our first new car. A nice enough car, but I wouldn't want one of those again either.

Since I was also a rabid motorcycle fan I also had some bikes that were significant to me. My XLCR went through a lot of changes over the years and I held onto it even when I got my first Big Twin. I held onto it even after I got rid of my Electra Glide, for a total of over twenty years. My Buddy Rick, who bought a new bike every five years or so at the time, thought that it was kind of cool to have this long time "relationship" with the old Harley. Yeah, what did he know, he was riding a new Road King! I had gotten pretty tired of the old Sportster. I kept it well maintained, but the state of the art had advanced, I just didn't have the money available to move up to a newer bike. So the verdict is that it would be thumbs down on another old Sportster. (Again, maybe not!)

The biggest problem is usually how to hold onto one of your old cars. For one thing, you usually need the money to get a better car that actually runs. Lot's of times the old car isn't worth much, and you really don't have much money tied up in it. So maybe you don't really need to sell it. Then, where can you put the thing? Cars are big, do you want it taking up space in your garage or driveway? Or taking up your spot in the parking lot? Or in front of your house? I remember back when I was living at home with my folks, that someone down the street had bought an orange Jaguar XJS. I remember seeing it parked in different spots until one day it was parked at the curb, and never moved again. It sat there for a couple of years until one day, it was gone! There was even a Jaguar E type parked in a driveway about a half a mile  away. That sat there under a cover for probably ten years. (How come it's always a Jaguar, in these stories?)

Sometimes these unwanted cars end up in a sideyard, or even someone's backyard. They might stay there for a long time if your neighbors don't have a problem with that. Best of all is if you can put it in your grandma's garage or a relatives warehouse or barn. I've got a co worker who told me about his wife's Aunt and Uncle who have had a partially disassembled Model A in their garage for over forty years! (And no, they don' want to sell it to me!)

photo source:weburbanist
"Ran when parked"

Sitting around unused, partially disassembled, covered or uncovered, doesn't do the car any favors. Even sitting in covered cold storage leads to a lot of deterioration. Sometimes the mice get into it, with predictable results. Even if you keep the vermin out, you can't keep the State of California out. Unless the car was placed on non operational status, those registration fees just keep on piling up. Non completed transfer fees still have to be paid. It takes a long time for the car to "fall out of the system", no matter what those Craig's List sellers have told you. If it's out of the system the fees are computed as the last three years, with penalties, plus any uncompleted transfer fees. It can add up to quite a bit of money. Sometimes it renders the car an unsound financial venture for a future buyer. I once had to split 800.00 in past fees with the buyer of one of my old Datsun Z cars just to make the sale.

Maybe that's why we sold that old car, instead of hanging on to it!

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