My earliest memories are loaded with inquisitive adventures. I was one of those kids who would take everything apart to examine and explore all of the inner workings of virtually anything I could get my hands on, just to see what made it function. Occasionally, I’d manage to put everything back in some semblance of working order, as well, which had the effect of encouraging my seek-and-dismantle missions. Oh, certainly, there were misadventures, and the Frankenstein-ing of a few less than fortunate items into, well, objects whose end purpose was quizzical at best and dangerous at worst, but it fed a child’s mind, and paved a few neural pathways with some rudimentary engineering knowledge.
It’s no surprise, then, that I became fascinated with cars over time. That fascination grew from bicycles (as most of us in this car thing start out with) to nearly anything mechanical. The function of a machine is a marvel on nearly every level: From the very idea for the machine to the design to the final step of manufacturing, it’s a nearly miraculous series of events that brings such things into our lives. When you stop to consider all of the intricately connected things that need to occur to create something that works, it’s mind-boggling! Imagine, then, just what has to happen to create an automobile, with the many systems and subsystems that need to function in some sort of harmony. Consider the computers and sensors in a new vehicle (and that’s not even factoring in the cool and fun stuff like voice command and Uconnect and reconfigurable TFT displays, or variable valve timing and dual dry clutch transmissions … man, have things changed!), and the sheer number of things working together is exponential. If you look only at the surface, at the sum of the parts, a mechanical creation like the automobile becomes almost magical. But, if you scratch the surface, a whole other world opens up.
I mention this obsession of mine simply to set the stage for an even deeper fascination I have for what happens to a machine when it is no longer deemed ‘useful’: that tipping point wherein someone makes the decision to park or part with a machine that has either become less reliable or perhaps even inoperable. Having that ‘need to see what makes anything tick’ personality trait, I’m also burdened with the constant whispering of ‘We can fix that!’ in my brain: that urge to dig in and see just where the trouble might be. As a self-described automotive archaeologist, I feel this urge, this need to discover the story behind the car, the owner(s), the events that conspired to place a particular car at that specific place and time … the adventures, the trials, the memories made in and around the time that car was in the care of whomever it was in while all of these things were occurring. I’m the kind of guy who uses a mental list of the cars I’ve owned as a key to the events that occurred in my life at a particular time. It’s a way to mark a timeline, and cements that car as a part of who I am, or was to become, be it based upon a repair I learned to make on that car or even a simple memory of the exhaust note. Knowing that one or two of my past rides are being preserved and made a part of someone else’s life gets a little warm and fuzzy feeling going, and when I see an old machine brought back from the brink and being used by someone else who appreciates this particular love for mechanized mysteries, well, it’s game on for me. I want to hear the tales, listen as someone recalls the good old days, or imagine what happened during those gaps in a car’s history.
Walking the grounds at the Carlisle All-Chrysler Nationals a couple of weeks ago (as part of the Dart Road Trip Freedom Drive, which I was fortunate to be along for), I was surrounded by many examples of beautifully preserved and restored examples from the brand’s past. Spending hours looking over the survivor cars on hand (there was a great display of Mopar Survivors under a special tent, by the way, showcasing a number of very well-preserved cars), both in the show proper as well as the car corral and swap meet, I found my attention drawn back to a certain few cars that were, well, somewhat worse for wear, cosmetically. There were cars with some great age and patina, working together to create some outstanding character. Every dent, crack in the vinyl, faded stripe, or rock-chipped emblem was quietly whispering its tale. My ears were certainly tuned in and ready to hear of each incident and passing year.
Just why I was attracted to these cars was no mystery: that love for all things mechanical, with the added bonus of the story. Those missing puzzle pieces to explain why this car was left outdoors, or forgotten about, or even neglected were bouncing around in my mind. And, as an artist, the textures and patterns of the paint chips and rust and weathering were simply mesmerizing: the blemishes and dents and cracks and checks on the surface that tell part of the tale, leaving the rest just below to be discovered. On a few grand occasions, I’d spot a preserved or restored example of a car I’d just seen in weathered condition, and to compare the two raised the question:
If you were to find a complete original but weathered example of your dream car, would you leave it alone visually, opting only to repair and update the mechanicals to make it drivable, or dive in and restore it? Granted, you could have your cake and eat it, too, by working out some mechanical and safety issues and enjoying it as a time capsule, and then go for the restoration. Being of the inquisitive sort, as we explored earlier, either path might prove a challenge for me. On one hand, having an untouched piece of history would be incredible, in that I’d be afforded a vehicle to explore some mysteries, and could research and fill in the holes, all while preserving it in as-found condition. On the other hand, I could tear into it, and make some discoveries about its past as I took it back through time to as-new condition, and cater to that side of my brain that just wants to tinker with something and (hopefully) improve upon it. What would you do? Taking that a step further, what memories are you making in your currently owned Dodge (be it new, old, restored, or even a barn-fresh time capsule), and are you taking any steps to document the car for future automotive archaeologists to enjoy? And for those who are already taking some steps to do so, any tips for our readers hoping to do likewise?