This is the sort of thing I more usually do in my other, non-fiction, existence, and indeed did do not too long ago when I commented about how much we can infer about the inward state of people from their outward appearance… if they’re dressed like freaks who can’t get hep to the times.
If I were a very superstitious person, I’m make a connection between that post and a recent terrifying manifestation in my driveway. It is “terrifying manifestation” which makes this post grist for the mill of this particular blog, of course, since that’s what I’m all about over here. Anyway, imagine my alarm at suddenly discovering this:
You will have to continue imagining my alarm, though, as I’m the one who put it there. Another stage of the downsizing of my parents is the banishing of this beauty from the garage in which it has been avoiding the notice of the Norns since about 1994. It was bought about seven years before that, from the original owner, who did very little driving with it herself. Actually… I should have said “the original owner’s widow”. It’s one of those deals.
It is, undeniably, an elegant object from what some would call a more civilized age. I got to drive it from the shop where it was rendered capable of locomotion after its decades on blocks (the original (!) tires were replaced last spring) to my house, where it was slightly better off on my driveway than parked on a curb while my brother made room in his garage. I had driven it a few times before its long dormancy, so this was a return to my salad days.
As the plate indicates, it’s a 1961 model, making it a half-decade older than me, and almost a half-century older than the vehicle I currently get about in. This little plate inside the engine compartment gives an excellent feeling for the state of the world at the time of its creation:
The interior is as plush as you could like too. It still smells of leather conditioners that haven’t been used on the upholstery since it came into the family. It is comfy, and the ride is smooth.
It scares the living crap out of me. It disillusions me, in fact, on the subject of vintage cars and their purported charms. It’s not just the entire lack of seatbelts, although the sensation of drifting along the seat when passing through a mild curve is disconcerting enough. I am, after my years of writing with vintage pens and cooking in vintage pots and wearing clothes that are at least reminiscent of vintage fashions, used to the idea of stewardship. The stuff I have is mine for but the current moment, to be handed on to future generations in as functional a state as I can manage (socks excluded– there’s some ephemera in every life).
Driving this car, with its manual choke and its stupid/clever transmission, with a cutting-edge-in-1961 vacuum-operated clutch that engages when you take hold of the gear selector, requires all four limbs and both tails. The steering is not powered, of course, and neither are the brakes. The former is only an issue at low speeds, but the latter is a big one. We are used to linear rewards for braking effort in our modern cars, with the amount of deceleration linked to the amount of pressure on the pedal. In this car, most of the brake’s travel is merely to get the tail-lights to warn people that you’re about to do something. Actual braking only begins as your foot nearly gets to the floor, and then there’s about five millimeters of travel between sort of slowing and just about locked. While working the transmission and keeping the choke happy so you don’t stall.
Stewardship. I don’t want to get into an accident in a new car. In one this old, with 18,850 miles on the odometer, it would feel like a war crime. Every moment of driving is like carrying a baby while walking on stilts through the wreckage of a roller-skate factory. I can’t imagine having it as a constant companion. I’m very glad that it’s in its new enclosure, and I’m sort of delighted that my father is entertaining a couple of offers he’s had on it. We’re not the right care-takers for it. That return to the salad days I mentioned came with a realization; I wasn’t scared driving this thing in the late 1980s because I was a kid out in daddy’s car, or at least not entirely. I was appropriately terrified by a terrifying activity.
I’m frankly amazed at how many people encumber themselves with old cars like this. I’m even more amazed that humanity as a whole got through to the point where cars were so accommodating that people could entertain the notion of texting behind the wheel– deeply stupid, selfish people, of course, but there’s no way you could do anything but drive a car like this and there’s still a huge window of disastrous possibility available. An end to civilization through pile-up seems as narrowly avoided as the nuclear exchange that didn’t quite top off the Cuban Missile Crisis when this car was only a year old. I may choose to adopt some aspects of the past into my life, but in automotives I’ll stick to the now.
I love you, old car, but I can’t stand to be with you.