Sometimes I think that the most un-American thing about me is my complete lack of interest in my own cars as anything other than tools for getting from here to there and hauling stuff like groceries, yard waste, new furniture, and people who for some reason can't get themselves to movies or soccer practice on their own. The most emotion I've felt towards a car is that of a distracted but benign boss whose secretary has just handed him a birthday card to sign for a good and faithful employee best known around the office for coming to work on days when he's sick. I've never loved one of my cars to the point of wanting to dress it up to take it out. Not only have I never customized one of my cars, I've never owned one that was worth the effort. The most decoration I've ever put on a car is a bumper sticker.
When I was a kid I was an avid model builder---and I'm still convinced that all those evenings and rainy Saturdays spent down in the basement inhaling airplane glue, paint thinner, and dope swiss-cheesed my brain as thororoughly as a year on the road with the Grateful Dead---but my specialties were superheroes and World War II fighter planes---particularly P-38 Lightnings. I must have bought and built about five of those. My favorite was one I painted with a white and blue belly so it was camouflaged to look like clouds and sky to the Nazi ack-ack gunners below. Every now and then I would try my hand at a sailing ship. I never could get the rigging taut. I built some cars, but I don't think I ever spent any allowance money on one for myself. People who knew I liked building models would give me kits for my birthday or Christmas and I'd paint them and put them together to show the givers I appreciated the thought. But I mostly regarded it as practice and I was always bored with the process and unimpressed by my own handiwork when I was done.
It's ironic that of the dozens of models I built the only one that survives is a car, a lime green GTO gathering dust on a bookshelf in my old room at my parents' house. I can't bring myself to throw it out and I can't make myself bring it here, because what would it do but sit on a shelf an collect dust?
Now if I still had my Johnny Unitas!
Or that P-38!
Oh, I love to look at restored vintage autombiles, but a lot of that is due simply to the nostalgia factor. For the rest, cars are just cars to me, and always have been, useful machines whose function I appreciate when they're functioning and the only time I think about mine when I'm not in one of them is when they're costing me money to keep them functioning.
Nancy Nall has the same practical attitude. These days. Once upon a time she used to take a little more romantic view. The first extended conversation we had back in our salad days in Fort Wayne was an argument over whether or not stock car racing was a sport---she said it was, I said it was an engineering demonstration with a human component---and the car she owned in those days was a sporty little blue roadster that I swear made her feel like her namesake, Nancy Drew, as she tooled around the back roads of Allen County at eighty miles an hour, solving crimes and chasing bad guys in her head, as the cornfields flew by. Then she married Alan, they bought a Volvo wagon, and she came to see cars the way she sees them now, sensibly.
Here's Nance, in a post inspired by the new Dodge Challenger, writing about a documentary about the king of car customizers, Ed "Big Daddy" Roth:
The auto industry and Big Daddy Roth were yin and yang to one another, especially as Roth grew older and crazier in his designs. Roth imagined a world where everyone’s car would be unique in the truest sense of the word, thanks to customizing and easily moldable fiberglas. In this sense he was like a couture fashion designer, who imagines the entire world wants to express itself through clothing, when in truth most people just want their bodies appropriately shielded from eyes and weather. But the extremes feed the middle, and when it works we live in a world where a car is more than a rolling transpo-box and a jacket is a statement.
Go read the rest here.