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All Cars Are Welcome (Well, Almost All)

Automotive enthusiasm should be appreciated in all its forms.

You know what they say about opinions, but car enthusiasts are a passionate bunch with maybe more than their fair share. They like what they like and don’t like what they don’t. Whether it’s Ford versus Chevy or advanced technology versus the analog experience, folks will have their minds made up. On two recent occasions, I received some rather interesting perspective on the subject.

The first involves a retired doctor friend who’s well-travelled and also quite the car fan. He recently sent me a brochure from the Fangio museum (Museo Fangio), which he visited on one of his regular trips to his place of birth, Argentina. His daily driver is a Mercedes S-class but he also owns an older Mercedes CLK convertible with a V-8. A recent trip to Chicago found him in a Tesla dealership, which sparked conversations between us about autonomous driving and future technology. He’s now thinking about buying a Model 3, as he’d like to experience all the new features. I regularly receive emails with links to well-written news articles about fresh methods of thinking, and not just related to cars. While much of this doesn’t sound out of the ordinary, my doctor friend is 91 years old. He still reads medical journals and travels from his downtown condo to an office every day. On a regular basis, he hosts a wide range of people from all age groups at his office for a chat over tea. He’s maintained a focus throughout his life on staying fresh and current. The hope is to not age mentally, or to at least minimize it. And he wants to stay relevant. When I last saw him, he showed me thank you cards that were mailed to him after he shared tea with a group of nine-year-old kids. He’s an inspiration, and a hell of a nice guy.

The second experience came about in England, where I’m sitting as I write this column. In the fall of 2018, a rehabbed country pub near my mother-in-law’s home outside Stratford-upon-Avon opened under a new name, Caffeine & Machine (C&M). It’s become quite the gathering spot for car and motorcycle geeks in Britain. The food, drink, and staff are all wonderful, and there’s a massive parking lot—well, massive for little old England. On any given day, there’s an extremely wide range of, well, machinery scattered about. Weekends are particularly packed. My first visit was a touch overwhelming, if I’m honest. As I pulled in with my son in a Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR press car, we maneuvered past a Ferrari F40, a Jaguar E-Type, a slammed Ford Fiesta, a Lotus 7, several Lotus Elises, an E30 BMW 3 Series wagon with a Chevy V-8, and a bunch of motorcycles. There were employees hustling trays of food out to patrons camped out on blankets on the nearby hill. It felt like a mixture of a cars and coffee event, a traditional English pub, and a music festival (although the music was inside).

Given that the coffee and beer and automotive scenery are excellent, I’ve been using C&M as my office-away-from-the-office during my extended U.K. visit. I’m now referred to as “the Wi-Fi stealer,” and I’ve gotten to know the owner, Phil. He told me a story about a friend who recently visited C&M in his Porsche Carrera GT. As they chatted, Phil’s friend scoffed at a kid as he pulled into the parking lot in a modified Vauxhall Corsa. Phil quickly reminded his seemingly snobby friend that he drove Vauxhall Nova when he first got his driver’s license. The Corsa kid is simply a younger version of the Carrera GT guy. “I told my friend to go and talk to the Vauxhall owner,” said Phil. “Everybody is welcome here.”

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I like that attitude. I’m one of the first to take a jab at a car that I don’t like or I don’t think is good looking or nice to drive. I have strong opinions and very much lack a filter between my brain and my mouth (or keyboard). But I also work hard to stay open to new technology and new trends, and I try to spend time with folks who aren’t like me. Hanging out with people such as my 91-year-old friend and going to car events and gatherings featuring a wide range of vehicles—even vehicles you don’t usually like—is good for all of us. But I still hope I never see an “SUV coupe” at C&M in the near future. A man’s got to know his limitations.