I WRITE THIS from a viewpoint of being rather a long way down the road. I’m not talking about any old piece of bitumen, more a figurative road – the strip of hypothetical Tarmac which you take on your trip to old car nirvana.
Whatever you call your old car fixation – a hobby, interest, movement or scene – by now you should have realised that it is not a static creature. You may start drooling over retro machines from the Eighties, but I can tell you now that it won’t end there. Indeed, if you value your sanity and sense of perspective, I would advice you to run, forget all notions of old cars and to adopt a normal 2012 life instead.
No? Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
After comparing notes with mates, chums and colleagues, it is clear that whilst an appreciation of old cars is both an enjoyable and enriching part of life, it starts a craving for ‘new’ old car experiences.
When I started, old cars were from the Seventies, classic cars from the Sixties and anything else was somewhere betwixt shitter and banger. My first car, a 1969 MG Midget, was initially such a culture shock that I didn’t think I’d ever come to terms with it. Bypass the lack of goodies ’n’ gizmos though and the sense of driver enjoyment and connection which it ‘streams’ to the driver is more like a raging torrent. It is this, dear reader, which is dangerous.
As with anything which is experienced enough times, the extraordinary soon becomes ordinary and in little time, you find yourself chasing a different more intense sensory buzz. New cars are deftly placed in perspective and quickly, you lose touch with what is what. When mates rave about the latest wheeled contrivance, it won’t register because it won’t provide a big enough hit of the good stuff: feel multiplied by involvement and excitement.
Similarly, you will start looking at older cars which represent a greater driving challenge and a bigger reward with a louder bang when you master them. Seat belts will disappear, whilst dynamos, crossply tyres and then all around single-circuit drum brakes will start to make an appearance. Retro motors become yesterday’s score, classics cars just don’t do it and now, you’re chasing a vintage fix.
You might think this madness, but this really is the fate of all old car junkies who can’t resist experiencing a wide spectrum of old cars. Once I was happy tooling around in a knackered Marina, now I’ve got it bad for Thirties sports cars. The challenge of central throttle pedals, the knack of a crash gearbox – or better still, a pre-selector – cable-operated brakes, fore and aft solid axles, and suicide doors which threaten to spit you onto the road during left-hand bends.
Touch 70mph in one of these old chaps and by heavens, the rush is immense. Half the time your buttocks are airborne, everything is alive and you feel like you’re a pioneer bursting through the sound barrier. It’s intense, it’s invigorating, it’s horribly graphically habit-forming, maaaaan.
So, me barber, please heed this warning. The road to old car nirvana is a one-way street with U-turns strictly forbidden. There’s no going back to the realm of airbags, MP3 stereos, cruise control and heated steering wheels. Moderns end up being brutally spanked, just so you can sample a fraction of the good stuff – but it is never the same. Even with a speedo full of big MPH, the hit is no where near the sensation you can obtain at 50mph in a sports car bathed in pure eau de Castrol R.
Bearing this in mind, if, one day, you come across a dishevelled looking individual in a derelict shop doorway who is holding out his palm, begging for pennies and rambling on about an Edwardian chain-driven aero-engined special – please do be kind to the old bugger.