Monday, June 09, 2008

In praise of car collectors

When I'm wearing my egghead hat, I often get pretty snarky about America's love affair with the automobile, especially when watching highways and developers encroach on my favorite places outback. However, I learned a lesson or two in the 70s when I was lucky enough to travel into Eastern Europe during the Soviet hegemony. People I met in Prague and Budapest and Warsaw treasured their small vehicles -- as a form of freedom.

And, deep down inside, I think that is what we Americans also love about the car. It frees one from the confines of fixed routes and schedules and crowds. Another form of freedom: at one time, it was possible for the home or farm mechanic to take his machine apart and put it back together again, in better shape than when it came from the factory. One reason, perhaps, why our engineers were both pragmatic and talented; they got good practice as youngsters on Gasoline Alley. I fear that today's modern computer-controlled ride defeats this informal training, which we will regret.

And so I applaud the collectors of our automotive past. They appreciate an important piece of our history in a hands-on fashion. Perhaps the only places left where folk still understand the internal combustion engine are private garages here and there, the Car Talk boys on NPR -- and Cuba, where the 60s collectible car remains all that is available.


pb said...

I just adore antique autos, although I must admit that some aren't even as old as I.


Granny J said...

pb -- Agreed! What truly fascinates me is that I am old enough to have travelled in a really wide variety of vehicles, including the rumble seat of a Star going across the Arizona-California desert at night (the only time to travel that stretch when I was very young.) In midsummer, it was so cold that my bro and I nearly froze, or at least that's what we thought.

Lucy said...

Hmm, I think we all have something of that ambivalence, I do enjoy the private space of the car, and the freedom. You've done well though, not driving, it certainly hasn't stopped you seeing the world.

(Hope all's well with you, saw your comment over at Judith's. Sending love and best wishes...)

Avus said...

I agree - we grew up learning about how things worked almost by osmosis. Watching the "old guys" and experimenting ourselves.
I am convinced that my knack and appreciation of mechanical stuff comes from the large Meccano construction kit I played with for hours as a boy. (No Playstations and computer games then to stultify the mind.)

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