I’ve noticed lately, with the keen eye of an astute observer who couldn’t miss it if he tried, that there has been an abundance of heavy metal on the streets these days.
I don’t mean “heavy metal” in the sense of the incomprehensible distorted guitar music of hair-and-leather bands with names like The Black Plague, The Ugly Trolls or the Lost Souls of Torture. I mean “heavy metal” literally — as in big old cars and trucks made out of lots and lots of shiny (and heavy) metal.
Collector cars are a refreshing reminder that vehicles used to contain impressive materials like “chrome” instead of plastic and boasted design features that, unlike today, made it possible to tell different makes and models apart.
These venerable old roadboats had things you never see anymore: A bench seat in the front, headlight high-beam footswitch on the floor by the clutch, three on the tree, and those little triangular side vent windows.
I mean, seriously, when was the last time you drove a three on the tree?
And speaking of driving, you don’t steer these massive iron marvels, you aim them.
These big machines drift down the street, bobbing and weaving like a ship at sea, the fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror swaying back and forth in time to the hip music blaring from the dash radio. And when it comes to manning a steering wheel the size of a hoola hoop, piloting such a rig takes a true car nut with special old car skills. It’s more about feel than technique.
This is why these cars are so often associated with old time rock ’n’ roll — it’s what they do when they are rumbling down the road, and it’s what you do when you’re driving them.
And not only are old cars sneaking out from under tarps from backyards everywhere to appear on the streets, if we take it up a notch into the realm of unreality, the collector car craze is all over the boob tube too. They are becoming almost as prevalent as combat cooking shows and wife-swapping bachelor little people octuplet reality shows.
There are programs on TV — perhaps you’ve seen them as you were channel surfing on account of they appear to be on several hundred channels day and night — there are shows where seemingly average people find it completely normal to bid $70,000 or $80,000 on vehicles my mom wouldn’t drive back when I was a kid.
True, these vehicles have been restored within an inch of their lives, and they must be valuable on account of they are pushed out into the spotlights by people wearing white gloves.
They have 57 polished layers of perfect paint, and the engine is so pristine and shiny that you need sunglasses to look at it, and the tires are so spotless and untouched it’s obvious that this car has never been driven more than five metres since its immaculate restoration.
In fact, in most cases, I suspect the buyer, after departing with a normal person’s yearly wage or more, will be the proud owner of a gleaming work of art that will likely never be driven for more than a tense and tentative foray around the block.
To be hurried back into its garage-shrine where there is virtually no possibility of being so much as touched by a raindrop, dust spec or heaven forbid, a parking lot door scratch.
It’s no longer a car, really, it’s now a sculpture.
And that’s sort of sad, I think. There’s nothing quite like a proud old vehicle rolling down the street. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just being there is enough.
And the cool thing? Whenever you see one of these iconic cars coming toward you, whether they are perfectly restored show-and-shines or rattle-trap rust-buckets, you’ll always notice something: the driver and passengers are always smiling. Grins as big as the fins on a ’59 Cadillac.
So when I see one rockin’ and rollin’ down the street, I give the driver a thumbs-up. Because he’s not just transporting himself from A to B . . . he’s Driving with a capital D.
And like life should be, for drivers of old collector cars it’s all about the journey, not the destination.
Besides, at that particular moment those Drivers may be experiencing and enjoying life a little more than I am, and all I can say is good for them. To those Drivers and their beloved roadboats: what was it they used to say back when many of those cool restored metal marvels were brand new?
Oh yeah: “Keep on truckin’!”
Harley Hay is a local filmmaker and freelance writer.