Today I have the opportunity to work on another old car. While it isn’t exactly a “classic” like an Alfa GTA or ’55 Chevy (the ‘57s are just too gaudy for me) it is very near and dear to someone’s heart, so I am taking great care with it. I am cautious when I drive it and try to let the wrenches caress the fasteners, rather than just man-handle them. In reality, the car isn’t worth much to most of the world, but after spending some time with “Nellie” I have come to a conclusion: they don’t make ‘em like they used to.
The beautiful thing about Nellie is how she is the last from a bygone era. She’s not a big German luxury barge, nor is she powered by an American small-block V8. She’s not even rear wheel drive. (the horror!) She’s just a humble baseline 1990 Honda Civic, but a completely capable car. She’s as basic as they come—a reminder of simpler times before power windows, power door locks, power steering, and power outlets became necessities to get from Point A to Point B. It makes me wonder what we’re doing wrong as consumers.
Over the years we have become lazy. We have forgotten how to drive. We’ve demanded the fastest, quietest, most coddling cocoon to wrap ourselves in. We need air conditioning. We can’t live without cup holders. Our arms ache at the thought of having to exert effort while parallel parking. The wheels beneath us cannot slip. Brakes mustn’t lock. A haunting voice will guide us to our destination (or not). Wind must be seen but not heard. And in the event of a collision (who allowed that to happen, anyway?!) we want to be surrounded by pillowy curtains on which to rest our weary heads. (never mind that those same pillows explode with such force that they will take your head clean off if they hit at the wrong angle) Read more
I enjoy getting together with a good group of motorheads. I’m not sure if it is the comradery of carburetors that draws us together or the simple fact that most of us are so passionate and opinionated about our transportation choices, that sooner or later blood will be drawn (like the pending horror of a train wreck that simply must be watched. Or the pain of Bobby Unser on television). Whatever the reason for getting together, the conversation always seems to flow without pause (and often without purpose, point, or poignancy, according to many onlookers) as we dive into the history, present day, and future of mechanized transportation.
Try as we might to come to an agreement on what makes a car “great,” the segregation inevitably happens: as the discussions continue the group breaks into smaller and smaller subcomponents, a sort of reverse-assembly line. Eventually, everyone finds themselves grouped in with one clique or another. This is not a choice that can be taken lightly, nor made at that very moment. Rather, it is the culmination of choices and attitudes that one exhibits over years of development. Some may even declare it to be genetic.
The Japanese fans quietly keep to themselves, presumably in an attempt to grasp the concept that cars might actually vary in character and personality from, say, a baseboard heater. Read more
There was a time in my life when I could identify any car being produced. Granted, it was probably during my time spent in purgatory (also known as Junior High) when I had nothing better to do with my time than peruse the stack of auto literature my brother and I had. We amassed these annals from various car shows and dealer showrooms visited on family excursions throughout the years. Our shared bedroom was akin to a small, stuffy library of all things automobile and tractor. (Although the familiar scent of library mildew was missing, it was more than made up for by the fragrant bouquet of dirty clothes strewn about on my half of the floor.) Since, in our household, the television was seen as a treat on par with a day at the zoo or eating sugared cereal, we would spend rainy days perusing the various brochures, learning as much as we could about each model. We studied horsepower and torque curves, engine displacements, transmission options, and cylinder configurations. I could spit them out ad nauseam, and it often resulted in just that.
Perhaps even more importantly, we studied the body lines and trim details of each manufacturer. Designs seemed to actually carry a purpose at that time. There was a family resemblance within a brand, and each car had its own distinct design within the clan. A Ford looked like a Ford. A Mercedes was, unmistakably, a Mercedes. A Citroen, sadly, looked only like a Citroen could. Surprisingly, my hometown had a grey-market Citroen dealership that seemed to come and go with the seasons. Upon sighting a Citroen BX Break* kneeling curbside, passers-by would often change facial expressions from curiosity, then shock, and eventually ending in a lasting grimace of disgust. This fascinated my young, impressionable mind. I knew there had to be something intrinsically wrong with a company that could produce a car so vile on the outside, yet also had the audacity to sport a one-spoked steering wheel in the interior. There was no escaping itself.
*aka “wagon” or “estate,” but if owners of early-models are ever asked, the original name seemed aptly chosen by the factory