Honoring Our Past; Grounding Our Future

Many of us in the old car hobby think of ourselves as owners and enthusiasts, but we are really much more than that.

Mormon Meteor Duesenberg Speedster

photo © Copyright 2011 Ronald D. Sieber

We are custodians of national history. We are fenderside philosophers. We are culture warriors.

Let’s face it: the world is in tumult, barreling along with the new and improved at light-speed. Used to be just a few smart ones in the bunch on a much less-populated planet. They innovated and invented and somehow got their product to markets so that the rest of us could consume and enjoy and improve our lives with their can’t live without stuff.

Nowadays all that has changed.

Our planet now sports almost seven billion humans, strong and weak alike, all wanting a place in the sun and a moment of joy. And even though they are still just a small percentage of the total, many more inventors and innovators are out there. Duking it out in cyberspace, fighting for attention and recognition.

In a world of accelerating Everything, just how more new and improved can we get?

Which brings me back to my buddies at curbside.

All across America, in garages and under carports, thousands upon thousands of auto enthusiasts, men and women alike, tinker and toil with their trusted classic cars.

Some of these cars are like that convertible JoAnn took to the drive-in with her friends, where she met Rodney. Some of these cars first played that song which became a couple’s tune, still playing in their classic car after 40 years of marriage. Some of these cars were once Mom and Dad’s, now fixed up and all spiffy once again.

You see these cars on a sunny Saturday, rolling along in procession on a country road. You see these cars at a local drive-in, clustered in a corner, a crowd encircling them, admiring, asking questions. You see these cars at concours events, their owners in period costume, judges with clipboards and sport coats milling about, scrutinizing, blue ribbons and trophies and magnums of champagne chilling behind the awards table.

The people that own these cars labor long into the night to rebuild, restore, and maintain them. They do it out of passion: a love for their car, a love for what it represents. To them, this is fun. This is What It’s All About.

In a world of too much, too soon, too fast, these people and their work make us slow down and enjoy that which came before. In a world of perpetual amnesia, these old steeds challenge us to recall where we were in our lives when these particular models were rolling on our streets. In our use-and-toss world of callous indifference, these restored classics help us appreciate the power of recycling, rebuilding, renewing.

These old road warriors deserve to be honored, feted, and celebrated. Inventors created those engines, the tires, that seatbelt. Designers shaped that fender, the vinyl interior, the six-body trunk. Families sat in those things, went to the store, to church, and on family outings. A whole nation rolled through the twentieth century to now, driven by these.

So, the next time you are out and about, stop by and visit when you see a curbside group of classic cars and their owners. Whether it’s a concours at Saratoga Springs, New York, or a weekend cruise-in like the one in Tight Squeeze, Virginia, you are bound to get a fresh-air taste of cultural history. Far more enriching than any book or teacher in some dusty classroom.

Wander among the classic iron and soak up the history invested in these rolling art pieces. Ask their owners: “Where did you get this?” or “How long have you owned it?” or “Did you restore this beauty yourself?”  And the stories will pour out of their hearts and minds, as if they were just waiting for you to come up and ask them.

Enjoy the moment. Listen to their rich stories. Appreciate a piece of our cultural history. When we honor that which has passed, it reassures us about the uncertain times that lie ahead. In the world of cars, that future will indeed be exciting!

2 thoughts on “Honoring Our Past; Grounding Our Future

  1. It is difficult for me to respond to this post, because cars fill me with such powerful nostalgia. By “cars” I mean the vehicles that were driven when I was growing up and not the modern conveyances of today. The car was the symbol of American ingenuity and prosperity. I knew–almost every boy knew–the make and model of each car; so that when my mother took me to the grocery with her, I made a study of the parking lot. Thrilling was the prospect of the fall, when the new models would begin showing up. The particular car your family drove, General Motors or Ford for example, was as significant as being a Democrat or Republican. Hartleys “drove Fords” but my uncle, R.A. Hartley and my Aunt Virginia worked in Lansing making Oldsmobiles, so you knew what they drove.
    It warms the cockles of my heart to read about your restoration of these classics. Thank you very much for this post.

  2. Robert:
    Thanks for your comments on the “Honoring Our Past” post. It seems I run into so many people who say “I remember when we had this Dodge, see, and…” or “My girlfriend and I used to drive in this same year Chevy and blast the radio…”

    Cars are so interwoven into our culture, and they evoke so much nostalgia from so many people. Not a bad thing, IMHO.

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