Noise Vibration and Harshness

Time Makes Cars Classic and People Old

We won’t live forever, but a Pinto might

People and cars. Although it’s wrong—logically, scientifically, morally, you name it—I often conflate the two.

Because cars are like people. You want to count on them. But often you can’t. You might love them both, but it’s not like either of them is never more trouble than they’re worth.

The care and feeding of cars and people is ongoing and expensive. But the car has the advantage of being a machine. A person is like a machine, only cleverer and much more complicated, totally amazing yet somewhat imperfect, and sometimes much harder or even impossible to fix. Needless to say, we humans come with no warranty, and there’s no money back if we go wrong. Quite the contrary.

People and cars both get old. And old cars can be like old people. They break down, and as time goes on they break down more and more. They are no longer in step with the fashion. They sag at the edges. They have a tendency to make bad noises unexpectedly and generally smell worse than they once did.

On the other hand, when they fail, people fail for keeps. But if you’re resourceful enough and so inclined, you can fix old cars forever so they never die. Not only will they outlast you, you can even fix it so your old cars perform better now than they did when they were young. And that’s a place no amount of Cialis or cod liver oil will take you.

Now to be fair, give modern medicine time. You don’t have to squint too hard to see the reality of 170-year-old humans out there on the horizon, the wealthy probably first among them. But as of today, you get old, you die, even if you’re rich.

A rich man’s vehicle, however? That need never die. And neither must a poor man’s machine ever perish, if somebody chooses to give it life. We might not ourselves witness the majestic wonder of a 170-year-old Pinto parading under its own power down Outer Space Boulevard, but there could well be future generations that will.

Whatever an automobile’s age, pedigree, or caste, all it takes on a potential savior’s part to preserve it for eternity is an ability to diagnose the problems, however numerous, varied, or obscure. It also takes a willingness to locate or re-create any needed parts, however thankless or impossible a task that might be. Plus there are the extraordinary amounts of time and interest it will take not just to do the job but to also develop the experience and acumen to do something relevant with the pieces you’ve collected, enabling a proper remedy. Time to spare and lots and lots of money with which to pay others to do all this for you will also help.

When it comes to prolonging life, money is great for cars and people. Although ideally you’d still want to have some ability to eval-uate the quality of the work you’ve paid for, requiring again some sense of what the work actually entails and what the fixed car ought to look and feel like. By contrast, after an operation, your body tells you pretty quickly whether or not it’s better.

When they fail, people fail for keeps. But if you’re resourceful enough and so inclined, you can fix cars forever so they never die.

This DIY repair option constitutes one of the many differences in the operational cycles of people and cars. Most folks, even those who happily tear down their own cars to the smallest washers and screws, won’t even attempt tackling the simplest jobs the same way at home when they’re truly personal. By which I mean when the subject is no longer GM A-bodies but their own bodies. You know those thrifty and handy types who like to take everything apart, label it, figure out how it works, and then put it all back together? Things would be different if they practiced surgery out in the garage the way they fix cars—knocking off an appendix with a few buddies, a case of beer, maybe a blunt or two, and a mobile Ted Williams-signature-model operating theater from Sears, Roebuck & Co. But they don’t.

The seemingly gratuitous Sears reference is not without somber purpose. Sniffle along with me now, lovers of classic cars and classic people. Bow your head and add your voice to those wishing godspeed and the best in afterlife service for Sears, that once great supplier of tools, parts, and automotive lifestyle equipment, lying splayed at death’s door as I write. When I was a young motorist, I always headed to Sears for tools and 6-volt batteries (an MG took two.) But things have changed. Let us pray the once great establishment (now owned by Kmart) may rest in peace when it ascends to the heavens. Or better yet, rest in pieces forged of vanadium steel, like one of its fine Craftsman wrench sets from bygone days when Sears seemed as enduring an institution as the government and your local bank, when lifetime guarantees really appeared to mean something beyond marketing lip service.

These days, any automobile 25 years of age or older is eligible for “classic car” insurance—meaning dramatically lower rates for the customer at the price of use restrictions (no driving to work, for example) and annual mileage limits. As a serial old car owner, I’m all for these policies. They make owning and driving old cars a lot more affordable.

Ironically, people who insure these cars are also typically required to be more than 25 years old—by which time in life few people are accurately described as classic. That is an honor we typically reserve for those who’ve lived for 40, 50, 60 years or more, people who coincidentally are also the most likely classic owners. Yet while all old cars are deemed “classic” for insurance purposes so owners can pay less, all old people are deemed old by insurers and must always pay more.

This points to the fact that mortality rates fall for cars as they grow old, while the likelihood of human mortality certainly increases with advancing age. Once a vehicle makes it to 25 years of age, it is more likely to make it to 50 than it was making it to 25 in the first place. Once it’s made 75 trips around the sun, it’s almost surely going to make it to 100, by which time its eternal life is all but guaranteed. They might not be worth a ton, but who junks a Model T anymore?

And so it is that aging is a simple and remediable fact for a car—more gloom than doom. If you or your successors in this mortal coil have the time, you’ve got the car. But when it comes to people, death remains inevitable, and it’s a matter of great existential sadness. If we love them enough, cars—and the memories they evoke—stick around. People go away and don’t come back. Maybe that’s part of the classic car’s allure.

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