As a lifelong Michigan resident and a current resident of one of the most historically important automobile cities in the United States you might expect me to be quite knowledgeable on automobiles. Couple that with the fact that my dad, Uncle Ron and Uncle Jim worked at the Saginaw Steering Division of GM (later turned Delphi) after high school, with the latter retiring from there after 37 years. If that weren’t a good enough reason to be an automobile enthusiast, my grandfather treated his red Cadillac like a 6th child and I grew up with “Home Improvement” as my favorite show. Unfortunately, I must admit that for reasons unbeknownst to me, I never really gained interest in cars as a youth.
Growing up many of my friends were self-proclaimed ‘car nerds’ and everywhere I have ever lived has had some role in the automotive industry and thus seems to have a permanent automotive aura surrounding it. If blame must be placed somewhere then my parents are probably most deserving. Being a child of the 90’s my sister and I were driven around by my mom in a purple mini-van and then later a white mini-van when automatic doors came out. My dad’s mode of transportation was a golf cart as we lived on the golf course for which he operated. In my eyes my childhood was as good as it could get; I played golf everyday during the summer and my mom being a teacher at my school kept me out of trouble when I had to go back to school.
My first real brush with classic American cars was when I went out to visit family in the Los Angeles area. My Aunt Marilyn is a travel agent in the area and she would fly each niece and nephew to LA, by ourselves, to visit when we turned 10 years old. When I was there we did the normal tourist things like Knott’s Berry Farm, Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach, Griffith Observatory, SD Zoo, LA Angel’s baseball, and much more. However, my most memorable day may have been the day we had no plans. My aunt got called into work in morning so my Uncle Joe and I stayed at home without any agenda. I stayed in my room and played video games (10 years old, 1990’s, enough said!) and Uncle Joe took advantage of the perfect Southern California weather to do ‘yard work’. After an hour or so I heard him talking to neighbors and curiosity got the best of me so and I went outside. In the driveway accompanying the three admirers was a freshly waxed olive green 1955 Chevy 210 Del Ray Coupe and a black 1930 Ford Model A with rumble seat. I was in shock because in the week I had been there I had not seen inside the garage and just assumed it was the place where storage junk went to be eaten by mice, as had been the case at my house. His 1955 Bel Air had been the family car when Uncle Joe was growing up and then became his first car when he turned 16. It ended up sitting in storage from 1975 until 1999 when it undertook a year long, $20,000 restoration which included seat belts and air conditioning for those hot LA summers. I had arrived just as the restoration was finishing. It was the type of car that you felt nervous to ride in for fear of leaving smudges with your fingerprints or the car that you ask if shoes are aloud inside before entering. Once buffed into a Hollywood quality shine we were able to take a ride around the town. Had my expectations for a first car had certainly been elevated! The Del Ray was beyond great, but the Ford Model A was something that I had never seen before, in person or anywhere else, and to this day I haven’t seen another. Seeing my fascination with the Model A we decided to take it out to the local ice cream shop that night after dinner and being a two seat car I was overjoyed when I learned that I had to be the one to sit in the rumble seat. The drive over was about as you might expect, lots of honks, staring, and the occasional drive-by yeller. At the ice cream shop the attention didn’t stop, there was a big enough crowd and enough flashes from cameras that many passer-bys may have thought that Marilyn Monroe had been resurrected and come to enjoy an ice cream sundae. The real fun, however, started on the ride back. Taking a play from the more modern ford clunker , the car wouldn’t start. After several turns from the crank starter at the front of the car we gave it another shot, still nothing. It wasn’t until those turns of the crank were paired with a push start from some nice Californians that we finally had success. Needless to say that after my experience in California I gained an appreciation for classic Americans cars and the hobby of restoring those beautiful pieces of Americana. I haven’t had many experiences with classic cars since, but the few I have had reiterated lessons that I learned in L.A and lessons that probably apply to classic car lovers everywhere. First, washing and waxing cars is nowhere as fun as riding in them. Secondly, don’t even bother asking to drive, it is a waste of breathe. Lastly, nobody has ever not enjoyed classic cars; seriously when was the last time you have seen a car enthusiast frown in a classic car? In closing, I fully look forward to being able to start a car project of my own one day. My 1996 Ford Taurus is a logical start, but I am not sure that the poster child for ‘cash-for-clunkers’ will ever be held in as high esteem or historical significance as the classics I encountered in California.