Noise, Vibration Harshness: When I had twenty five cars

When I had twenty-five cars, it was a very good year.

I’m not as beautiful as I used to be, OK? Which, I sometimes think, is why I like old cars so damned much. If you take good care of them, sometimes even if you don’t, they may escape the ravages of time to look as great as they ever did and, on occasion, even better.

Now hold your powder. You’re thinking: Kitman, you commie clown, don’t kid yourself - you weren’t so beautiful to start with. Thanks for saying, but I know that. Which is one of the reasons I sometimes think I own so many old cars: if I can’t be beautiful, at least my cars can be. (Yes, yes, I know. Where’s the beauty in a 1967 Volvo 210 station wagon? Well, if you have to ask?.?.?.?)

Surely some brainy academic has written about collectors’ urges to collect, their need to surround themselves with things exquisite, winsome, historic, unique, or otherwise intriguing, for the reflected glory it shines their way. At least in our fevered minds, the glory is shining.

I ought to look up who’s studied this aberrant - I mean, fascinating - aspect of human psychology and see what they had to say. But then I’d have to put down my copy of my second-favorite magazine, England’s Practical Classics, and the scintillating feature I’m currently reading about the labor-intensive fabrication and installation of a new fiberglass fender on a badly “bodged” Daimler SP250 “Dart.” This is what I care about these days. What can I say?

Somewhere around the time I acquired my first Morris Minor pickup in 1995 (the original “sport-futility vehicle,” I called it in these pages at the time), something snapped. It was my sixth car, and I’d just become a car collector. No longer did I need a justification to purchase beyond my own internal collecting code, which is not that inscrutable, really - if it’s small, British, and bad, I’m in. Beyond that, I’m a definite maybe.

By the time I reached my forty-third birthday, my personal fleet had hit ten cars, and I wrote about it [“Escape from Walden Pond,” Automobile Magazine, April 2001]. The positive response to that piece was amazing - I can’t tell you how many people have told me over the years, “After I showed that piece to my wife/husband, she/he counted her/his blessings that I own only [insert number, 1–9] [insert car, AMC Matador to Volkswagen Microbus]! Thank you!” It’s a puzzlement to me that I never wrote a follow-up, if only as a public service to other lonely weirdos yearning to come out of - or climb into - the car collectors’ closet. It’s more crowded in there than you might think.

Last summer, my friend Jim Travers and I went to a weekly car show at Bear Mountain, in Rockland County, New York, and as we were leaving, we came across a guy with a baby blue AMC Concord, circa 1983, with a half-white-vinyl roof and fewer than 2000 miles from new. We were not shocked to discover that its strange owner slobbered disconcertingly as he described painstakingly the unremarkable story of its discovery, pursuit, and acquisition, as if it was a daring act of liberation. Short version: he saw an ad, called the guy, and offered him 100 percent of what he was asking. Nor was it surprising to learn that our middle-aged hero still lived with his mother. We didn’t know whether to sprint in the other direction (to my waiting Ford Cortina wagon) or hug him. So we did both.

Almost nine years after I first wrote about the experience of owning ten cars, I looked around and it seemed I owned twenty-five. Don’t look so shocked. I haven’t kept you abreast of all the changes to the fleet in the intervening years in this space because if I did, I’d never have time to address anything else. I also realize that only some of you care, many enthusiasts today laboring under the unfortunate misapprehension that one might as well walk if a car takes more than four seconds getting itself to 60 mph.

Suffice it to say that around here the wheels - often in need of restoration or replacement - are always in motion. The funny part is, I’m not rich, just a slightly offbeat and mildly tragic example of what happens when Americans are given too much credit. So lately, I’ve been forced to whittle that twenty-five number down to twenty-two, selling the beautiful Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 (which I told you about in January 2009) and a Land Rover Defender 110 TDi pickup when I needed some cash extra pronto. (And a big shout-out here to the boys at Boston’s Copley Motorcars, who wound up with both of them, thanks to the simple expedient of paying fair prices. Call them.) The big Austin-Healey and the Alfa Romeo GTV are history, as is the Lotus Elan.

But before you start tearing up, and in the hopes of persuading someone else’s spouse not to divorce them or place ground glass in their muesli on account of the dead Studebaker Lark sitting on a trailer in the backyard, let me just color in some pertinent facts for you.

I still own the following:

1958 Lancia Aurelia B20S; 1959 Morris Minor quarter-ton pickup; 1962 MGA 1600 Mark 2 roadster; 1963 Jaguar Mark II 3.8; 1963 Ford Lotus Cortina Mark 1; 1963 Lancia Flavia PF coupe; 1965 Alfa Romeo Guilia Super; 1966 Lancia Fulvia coupe; 1966 MG 1100; 1966 Ford Cortina 1500 Deluxe Mark 1 wagon; 1967 Triumph TR4A IRS; 1967 Volvo 122S wagon; 1967 Volvo 210 wagon; 1968 Jaguar E-type Series 1.5 coupe; 1969 Ford Lotus Cortina Mark 2; 1970 Rover 3500S; 1971 Triumph 13/60 (Herald) wagon; 1973 BMW 2002tii; 1979 Triumph Dolomite Sprint; and 1980 Rover 3500. Oh, and a 2002 Freightliner Sprinter 3500SHC and a 2005 Lotus Elise.

Yes, that’s a lot of cars. And although my net worth is distinctly negative, my view of old cars remains extremely positive. Once in a while, I meet a recovering alcoholic who wistfully tells me that he had enough to drink in his thirties to last the rest of his life. As an addict myself, I know what they mean, but I don’t feel that way. I want more cars.

So while my twenty-two cars may set a new bogey for those dipping their big toe into the collecting pool, my hero has to be Harold LeMay, who, when he died in 2000, owned some 3500 cars. I never met Harold, who must have been a right freak, but I’m sure I’d never have to explain to him why I have a rust-free 1968 International Travelall four-by-four, beloved of sportsmen, lunatic survivalists, and John Birch Society faithful, headed my way from California. It’s beautiful. End of story.

Written by: Jamie Kitman Illustration by: Tim Marrs

Where can I read Jamie's article “Escape from Walden Pond” [Automobile Magazine, April 2001]?BC

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