Earlier this week, I had written about a ’57 Chevrolet Bel Air, one of the most celebrated combinations of year, make and model in American automotive history. That particular example, however, wasn’t a hardtop. It wasn’t even a coupe. It was an example of the ritziest four-door wagon that Chevrolet offered that year. In the condition the featured car was in, it would hardly be considered collectible or even a candidate for restoration.
All the same, it had me asking myself the following questions: What if that car hadn’t been terminally rusty and had merely seen a lot of miles? Being in a relatively unpopular body style among collectors, would it have been acceptable when I had spotted it in 2012 as a daily driver if it had still been in decent condition, or should it have been garaged just as soon as possible for a future restoration?
This called to my mind another sighting, just one month prior to the one referenced above, of a ’72 Chevelle hardtop coupe spotted in a parking lot of a strip mall. I still hit secondhand stores every once in a while, and I was on such a mission with two friends on a Spring Saturday in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I had never been to this particular shop, but my thought process was that with Ann Arbor being a college town, with a wide range in the age of its residents, and also brimming with artsy eclecticism, I might score some better-than-average finds.
I was hoping that an older professor who had been my age back in the ’70s might have cleared out his closet and left some goodies on the rack for my shopping pleasure. I was the last one getting out of my friend’s minivan when I saw this Chevelle pull up. You all go ahead… I’ll see you inside. Just go. I waited until the driver disappeared into one of the storefronts before I got out of the van and snapped a few shots.
This generation of Chevy A-Body, especially in this particular configuration, a hardtop coupe, has always been popular for as long as I’ve been alive. I had wanted one at one point, as did many of my classmates. In contrast to the four-door station wagon body style of the ’57 Bel Air, this exact Chevelle (in great condition) would be many a Chevy fan’s dream. The paint was shiny, it sounded great, and aside from its disconcertingly missing “teeth” and bent hood up front, it looked to be in otherwise great shape. The presence of the surface rust at the leading edge of the hood where the paint had flaked off seemed to indicate this damage had been there for at least a little while.
This got me thinking. In the event that I had owned both this Chevelle and another, newer car that I had used as my daily driver, and if my financial situation had changed for some reason where I was able to afford just one car, would I have sold my prized Chevelle for a tidy profit and kept my three-year-old Malibu (this is Michigan, after all, where loyalty to GM products still largely exists), or would I have sold the Malibu and turned my Chevelle into my daily driver? Would it also have affected my decision if the Chevelle had some sentimental value, say, having previously belonged to a relative who had let me help wrench on it?
Of course, all of these questions are hypothetical, as I didn’t actually speak with the owner (nor have I ever “wrenched”). The sad truth is that my own fear, and my fear of the consequences of others’ fear, will sometimes prevent me from initiating certain interactions. Context is everything, though, and I have a pretty decent sense that if this car hadn’t been parked at a strip-mall, and perhaps instead in a different kind of place where my apparent enthusiasm about this car might have been more welcomed, I would have had no problem with using some of the fact-finding skills I’ve honed over the years, to good effect. Regardless, I hope that this footnote to my piece from earlier this week has reiterated the wonderful, inclusive motto of Curbside Classic: that every car has a story, even if we can’t guess at much of it with any degree of accuracy.
Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Saturday, March 24, 2012.