How to savor the past with classic cars | Peter Brock column

Photography Credit: Chris Tropea

Not a day passes in this wildly consumer-oriented market without every facet of our daily lives being hyped with some “latest” improvement that we supposedly can’t live without. Whether it’s in the field of electronics, clothing, communication, automobiles, food or travel—whatever it is that we’ve owned, used with satisfaction, or even recently acquired—it’s somehow already deemed obsolete. Really? Don’t think so.

Since our main interest here at Classic Motorsports is automobiles—specifically the pleasure of owning, driving and working on them—it’s important to take a moment to reflect upon the delight, or perhaps even the value of discontent, that a set of wheels is worth. Basic transportation may be the one segment of our lives that takes precedent over almost everything else—even where and how we live. 

But owning an interesting ride, especially an older one, is about far more than just getting from A to B and back: It’s about what happens within that loop. For many of us, our cars, even more than our homes, represent an emotional dynamic—a combination of an innate appreciation of machinery, design and history that’s not tangible or even easy to put into understandable terms. 

But those like us don’t always need words; just looking at and absorbing the wonderful hidden energy within an old car that has become more than transportation is enough to create a special bond between sets of appreciative eyes, even if it’s only a brief non-vocal moment while at a stoplight or just moving down the road. Our wheels are the image we project to others wherever they may take us. Others tend to see us superficially for what we drive, but our car friends are a different matter. Common interests are often the most important element that initially aligns our thinking and deepens our friendships.  

Basic transportation will always be important, but old cars—even those once thought of as common—are an endangered, ever-diminishing species. Think about how many new cars are produced every day, and compare that with those we lose. Thousands every day go to the scrapyard. The older they are, the fewer that remain in proportion to the total. Whether we realize it or not, it’s one reason we tend to value those examples that are still with us. 

Anything on wheels that’s survived more than 40 years is already a pretty special piece of equipment. It remains simply because someone cared. It had that intangible, hidden quality that made it special. Age seems to make that more apparent; perhaps because they’ve now become so rare, we’re more appreciative. An elderly car doesn’t even have to be considered a classic anymore to gain respect among those of us who value old iron because we can guess, with some accuracy, what it took for it to remain among us. 

 Among the ever-growing tide of shiny new vehicles, there will never again be anything like those simple old machines that now make pride of ownership such an extraordinary and fulfilling experience. Second- or third-hand beaters that might never have elicited a second glance a few decades ago have now become prime candidates for a new life with someone who probably wasn’t even alive when it rolled off the assembly line. Some arcane names, like Terraplane or DeSoto, have become even more rare simply because few of us—those who had the opportunity to acquire one when they were fairly common—had much use for what was once considered mundane transportation. Not anymore.

Pre-‘40s Fords have always been an aesthetic standard, but now any cherry four-door Plymouth, Chevy or Studebaker from the late ’30s—or even into the ‘50s—is such a rarity that it commands almost as much attention as the great classics of that period. And that’s simply because it’s still with us.

The real classics, because of the passion with which they were created, were revered and coddled as they should have been. However, basic transportation from that era was mostly considered expendable future scrap iron. Now these ancient, commonplace examples are really beginning to come into their own, newly appreciated as lost treasures of a forgotten age. Some have even become more rare than the true classics. 

The intrinsic value of these old veterans of the open road is in their simplicity. What could be easier to work on than an old flathead-six with three speeds? Simplicity is a rare commodity these days! The cost of restoration is still about the same for anything from any era, provided all the existing brightwork still exists. However, the solid minimalism of construction and finish always invites a second look. There’s nothing quite like climbing into one of these old cathedrals, closing a vaultlike door, and cruising with friends at a moderate pace. With some appropriate sounds from the matching era, it’s like life in motion encapsulated from a different time. 

As the years pass, the momentary wonder of just opening an old door, peering in on the past, absorbing the aroma, and entering into those muted colors for the pure enjoyment of experiencing that sincerity of engineering is something that only happens if the opportunity arises. Over time, those chances will only diminish because these old treasures will be put away in museums or private collections at an ever-increasing rate. Even worse, we may discover one day that someone who cared for a favorite has also quietly slipped away, and without them their treasures are at serious risk of becoming “junk.”  Without that special bond of mechanical kinship, all those associated sensations we seem to take for granted will evaporate.

  Are new cars safer, quieter, more reliable, more comfortable and environmentally superior? Certainly, but enjoying old cars isn’t about those qualities; it’s about savoring something from another era which can’t be duplicated or experienced in any other way. If one comes your way, don’t ever miss an opportunity to savor the past.

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View comments on the CMS forums
5/22/21 2:26 p.m.

Great article, so true. 

sir_mike New Reader
5/23/21 6:55 p.m.

I agree.I love driving either of my old cars but can be scary with all the SUV...which means stupid useless viehile..on the road.

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
5/24/21 5:04 p.m.

Thanks for chiming in Peter Brock. Pretty darned cool to have you on our forum. See you soon.


Torqued New Reader
5/24/21 5:07 p.m.

Thank you Peter Brock, for putting in words some of my feelings towards my old MGA, a car that I bought used in 1970, drove for 5 years, lost and then reacquired it in horrible condition more recently.  That car took my new wife and I on our honeymoon nearly 50 years ago now.  I doesn't make economic sense to invest all the work and $ to restore it, but I'm doing just that for all the reasons you described.

elvacarsdallas New Reader
6/29/22 2:19 p.m.

Thanks, I drive my 60 Elva that I bought new, just to slip back to my world.

Tomwas1 New Reader
1/29/23 10:59 p.m.

Last fall I purchased an automobile exactly like my first car at 17... When new only 5757 were produced. When I spotted it on Craigslist in Manhattan I was immediately drawn to it. Now that I have it it brings back great memories of my youth and better times... The car always gets compliments, waves, people flashing their lights at it... A very cool experience in my little time traveller.. It's a 1963 Mercury comet s22 convertible, 170ci 6  cylinder with a two speed merc o matic transmission....

frenchyd MegaDork
1/31/23 6:06 a.m.

In reply to Peter Brock :

What most people forget is the velocity even Vintage cars are capable of.  An XKE.  May be 60+ years old by now but the real joy isn't at puttering to the grocery store speeds.  It's at what these cars are fully capable of. 
     Speeds that are only safely achieved at a proper race track.  
   You don't need to go all out with rollbars and other safety gear.  HPDE can be an outlet of true joy.  With no special preparation other then ensuring the car is in safe condition.   The condition it should be in. 
  Tracks Like Elkhart Lake, Watkins Glen, Road Atlanta. Will allow the Ferrari's Corvette's Cobra's Jaguar's  to approach their potential speeds.  Safely. And at your own pace. 
      It's not a race. Leave as much margin for comfort as you wish without the risk to others, that driving on public roads at high velocity is.  
   Everyone going in the same direction. Focused on driving, with proper run off areas should the unexpected happen.  Etc.  
      Driving to the deep ends of the speedometer, tach, etc  brings joy even to us older folks. Taking such high spirited cars on public roads is worse than kissing your sister.  It's just empty. 

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