Noise, Vibration, Harshness: Toad Rules

Jamie Kitman
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Tim Marrs
Noise, Vibration, Harshness: Toad Rules

I was a law student, a stripling of twenty-six years. One chilly November afternoon, I found a small parking space outside of my apartment in Boston's Jamaica Plain, just large enough for my ancient Lotus Elan. Bringing to bear my Olympian parallel-parking skills - honed in the parking game's most fiery crucible, New York City - I fit into the tight spot with millimeters to spare. But what's with this pulsating pain? Turns out, I'd sprained my wrist.

Having injured myself parking a microlight car, I vividly remember thinking, "You will always remember this moment, as it is the day the aging process began."

Now I'm fifty, and I consider it a major triumph of physical dexterity each time I manage to clamber into or out of my Lotus Elise without aggravating some old injury, very possibly one received while previously getting into or out of a Lotus (or, speaking of Triumphs, possibly a TR4A).

Admittedly, my stellar muscle tone has been compromised of late by the act of writing a book, as grueling and thankless a task as I've ever set out to complete - and about as likely a candidate for being worth it in the end as the act of restoring an old Rover; it's a dead certainty to be less remunerative. Except, danger being my middle name, I am now restoring two old Rovers. And the other day I almost gave myself a hernia removing my shoes. I'm telling you, sixteen-hour shifts at the word processor don't help your body or your mind.

As the decades start piling up in life's rearview mirror, reminders of one's age in relation to cars pop up around every corner.

This is not altogether surprising when your preferred daily drivers date from the 1960s. You may think that you're young at heart, but the looks on the faces of those with actual young hearts say it all. They might as well be hollering, "Look at that old clown in the old car!" Time was, they'd holler, "Look at that clown!" period.

Just in case you hadn't noticed you were getting old, the AARP starts pummeling your mailbox with unsolicited offers from the day you turn forty-six. It's time to jump into another box, we're told, and start worrying about health and retirement. Face to face with time's inexorable march, one is reminded that the not-so-modern motorist has many decisions to make.

As near as I can tell, American society has approved only certain types of vehicles for its senior citizens. Except, now that I am one, I can't relate:

Expensive sports cars. They say you mustn't try to sell a young man an old man's car, but those who can afford the fastest cars typically are already on the far side of their midlife crisis. Having begun my own midlife crisis (where cars are concerned) at the age of twelve, outlined in these pages passim, I don't need a Porsche, Corvette, Ferrari, or Lamborghini. I respect them, but even an automotive freedom fighter like me has thought, "Look at that old clown in the Porsche." Ditto the big, bruising luxury coupes and over-able sedans that many older folk prefer.

H-point specials. It's a truism that the aging American population prefers riding high off the ground, with upright seating and lots of road-hugging weight to better cosset expanding midriffs, crusty old joints, and out-of-warranty musculatures. They say the optimal H-point, or hip point, for an older person's car seat is elevated, like a minivan's or a Scion xB's, but not as high as those of many SUVs, where ingress poses a risk for slipped discs and cardiac events. This right-height H-point was supposed to be a key design/sales feature of the new Taurus sedan (ne Five Hundred), except it was so unsexy that Ford forgot to advertise it.

God bless all of you up there, but I won't become a high-rider. Like old people in Miami wearing huge sunglasses that make them look like Martians, overtly orthopedic cars make me maudlin and sad.

Motorized scooters. Countless lives are bettered by the mobility these battery-powered, sit-down devices provide, yet they also appear to have made it possible for a growing number of Americans to off-load their body's ability to transport itself. Go ahead and supersize those fries: there's a machine tough enough for when you're too fat to walk anymore. Watch this space, but I'm not yet ready for my Rascal.

Old car with original equipment owner. Most of my cars' first owners have already checked their corporeal bags, but here is my comfort zone. The auto industry hates it, but to me, there's nothing cooler than a grandma still pedaling her 1974 Dodge Dart Swinger. We'll see how my Elise fares, but my wrist hurts just thinking about it.

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