Monday, January 3, 2011

Cars and the Man Who Loves Them

That would be me.

I love cars.  I don't love Ferraris because I'm a contrarian investor.  I do love Lamborghinis because Ferrucio Lamborghini, himself a contrarian of the first order, was dissatisfied with the transmission in his Ferrari, took his complaint to Old Man Ferrari and was told to go back to building tractors.  That didn't sit well with Ferrucio, who got a little mad, broke out the wrenches and built the Miura.  The rest, as they say, is history.

No, not Ferraris.  And I like Lamborghinis for the same reason I like cats - they have their own attitude.  If it meshes with yours, good for you.  If not, that's too bad.  But as sports cars go, that's about as exotic as I like it.  To find what I like motoring-wise, we'll have to turn back the clock.

I especially like cars from my birth year: 1967.  That opens up a huge field of excellent European runabouts, Triumphs, MGs, almost the end of the excellent Volvo Amazon or the beginning of the run of the sturdy, staid Volvo 140.  On the American side, there's any number of fascinating cars to dig into.  Ford's Mustang was only three years old, the Falcon was about seven years old and on its third generation.  Crazy stuff, planned obsolescence.  By 1967, the Falcon wasn't interesting anymore.  Too bad, in its first generation the Falcon could do 30mpg.  Fifty years later and we're fighting to get back to that level.  If that's progress, is it any surprise I like the older cars?

But I love trucks even more than cars.  Sports cars are nice, but I love trucks.  I'm not a fast driving kind of guy, 45mph is a very pleasant pace, perfect for cruising with the windows down and the radio on, the engine still quiet enough you can talk over it comfortably, no white knuckles or vibrating drivelines.

Trucks are tools.  Cars are tools too but too often they become a tool like a ballpoint pen - almost a throwaway item, contemptible in its familiarity.  The Corolla, Toyota's bread-and-butter model, exemplifies this condition.  They have their fans, but Corollas don't generate the kind of polarizing attention that, for instance, the Camry does.  For some reason, the Camry attracts attention as being the physical embodiment of the color beige.  The Corolla?  It's so unremarkable, nobody even bothers to hate it.  It's like sand on the beach, everywhere but beneath notice - you just walk on it and go on.

But a truck might be a very real part of your livelihood.  If you're a handyman, it's nothing short of a giant toolbox.  You keep your home warm by hauling firewood in it.  It's a campsite, pitch a tent over the bed and there you are.  Guys don't lose any Man Points driving a truck, even if it's a compact pickup.  And women win Country Girl points driving one.  You won't see anybody picking up any points of any kind behind the wheel of, for instance, a PT Cruiser.  How that thing got classified a Light Truck is beyond me.

Not an SUV, that awful substitute for the minivan.  At least the minivan is completely up-front about its mission: moving people or cargo on a budget.  There's nothing wrong with that and to be completely honest, I actually liked my minivan right up to the point it puked up its own brains during a road trip.  Being stranded 200 miles from home really stinks.  But that's a story for a different time.

No, what really grabs me is a truck.  A truck.  Again, not a sport ute, so many SUVs are nothing more than tall wagons, marketed as such, used as such, and not much more capable, especially the crossovers.  I don't hate them, but I don't like them either.  When I see a vehicle stranded in the snow, it's almost invariably an SUV, driven by somebody who didn't know what they had, and didn't know what they were doing.

Don't get me wrong - there's good ones out there to be had.  I drive a Subaru Forester and it's pretty good.  But I'm not fooled for a moment.  If I needed to go way far afield, I'd take something else.  In snow it's good, if I had to go off-road, I'd park it and lace up my boots.  There's better tools than a Forester for getting far afield.

Like an International Scout.  A Jeep CJ or YJ.  A Ford Bronco from 1974 or earlier.  These are trucks I can love.  They're not fast, not sporty, but they speak to the part of me that likes having the ability to do things and go places lesser vehicles just don't go.  A Scout is what you fire up to go and tow your Forester out of a ditch; the Bronco is what you drive to go fetch the Scout - if it really, really needs it.  If you're going where the roads don't, these things are like tractors: slow, grippy, sturdy.  And speaking of tractors, the old Jeep could even be fitted with a three-point hitch and a power takeoff.  That's right, you can farm with your Jeep.  Seriously, really farm - drop that rascal into 4LO, and off you go.  None of these are really comfortable rides in-town on smooth roads.  They're noisy, thirsty, crude.  That's why I like slowing down.  The noise is less and a lower frequency.  Slower speeds almost invariably yield better fuel mileage.  Crude...well, crude doesn't know a speed.  But it's okay, you get a thumbs-up driving one of these old dinosaurs.  And why not?  Old cars, old trucks are cool.

At the end of it all, that's why I love old trucks.  They're cool.  Hopefully, someday, I'll be old enough to be cool, too.

When I get there, I'll be driving a truck.

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