On May 19, 2017, I took delivery of a new 2017 Chevrolet SS showing 9 mostly Australian miles on the odometer. Two months and sixteen States later, the same gauge registered 10,084, which is about 200 hours on the road at an average 50mph. That’s a lot of time to enjoy scenery, sit in traffic, learn the limits of the car in the twisties, or on the more remote stretches, simply let my mind wander a bit.
Paul once wrote about a trip in a 1975 Corolla that changed the direction of his life in a meaningful way. I’m not sure any single vehicle ever had that level of effect on me, but as I related to him recently, there is definitely a ‘zone’ you get in, especially on a long trip. One simply slips away from all temporal cares and enters a transcendental state where thoughts flow back and forth through time and space just as the tides incessantly flow across the shore…
When not thinking about how to solve world hunger, I sometimes meditate on how a particular car wove its way into a certain life event. At last count, there are nearly 50 vehicles I’ve either owned or that have played significant roles in my life. The ones I deeply bonded with were because of the places they carried me or events that occurred in which they played a role. On the recent six-hour drive to the CC Meetup in Dearborn, I drifted off into a reverie, remembering back to college days…
I had recently gotten my ’66 Pontiac Tempest running again with a freshly-rebuilt SBC engine swap. ‘Granny,’ whom I lived while attending Georgia Tech, had helped me install the engine out in her driveway by slowing lowering the hoist as I guided the engine in place. I was now chuckling in remembrance as I exited I-85 onto the rural State roads that led to my high school best friend’s home in South Carolina. I had already had to stop once, though, as the alternator was failing. I managed to find a service station that was just closing up, and the mechanic gave my battery a boost and suggested I replace the alternator as soon as I could. The moon was bright and the roads were clear with little traffic at 11pm, so I turned the headlights off to save what battery I had left. The warm night and gentle rumble of the engine were mesmerizing and I don’t really remember much of the rest of the trip, until it came to a jarring end when I successfully reached Billy’s house and snapped out of the trance.
Rain fell in torrents as my ’71 VW Campmobile and I slowly climbed I-40 in the Great Smoky Mountains on my way home to Charlotte from my new job in Knoxville. I commuted every weekend in the ‘Belle for about four months while we were selling our house, as Beth needed the ‘good car’ to shuttle our two young sons around, then still in car seats. I had rebuilt the engine in the van a few years prior – in the parking lot of the apartment we rented – and having stripped all the camping gear out, it was light and moved along reasonably well for a 25-year-old 50hp VW. Heavy rains seem to put me in the ‘zone’ fairly easily – you are totally engaged with driving, yet part of you is almost a disinterested observer hovering a few feet outside your head. The squawking from the CB radio was the only sound in the van beyond the hiss of rain hitting the uninsulated thin steel panel 6″ from my knees. It suddenly dawned on me that the squawking on the radio was directed at me, as the truckers were warning each other to “watch out for some #@&$* fool in a VW with no taillights,” which snapped me back to reality and a stop at the next exit to repair the fault.
“Closer – I can almost reach it!,” shouted my buddy as I nudged my ’71 Chevrolet Vega to within a foot of a friend’s mid-70s Ford Torino. We were hurtling down I-26 on our way to Spring Break at Myrtle Beach, SC as newly-minted high school graduates, and were trying to make a car-to-car transfer of a bottle of aspirin for one of our gang who had a splitting headache (too much partying the night before?). I had received the Vega as my first car the previous Autumn, and spent Christmas break swapping in a freshly-sleeved and rebuilt engine. It no longer burned a gallon of oil every two weeks, but my best friend Billy’s ’65 Mustang still ran away from me on our sprints home after school, at least until we hit the curvy part of the road. I personally put over 150,000 miles on that car before selling it after about six years, but so many milestones and rites of passages happened in it that it feels like I had it much longer. It was the singular vehicle that expanded my view of the world beyond town and school.
A number of the cars I’ve owned were kept for long periods of time, but only a few ever achieved the point where they became part of me, and I, part of them. Even my ’00 VW New Beetle, which I owned over twelve years and 220,000 miles, never really connected in this deep and meaningful way. I loved the car, had some good memories with it, and still miss it when I see it tootling around town, but as I mainly used it as a DD with few long or meaningful road trips, it simply never got under my skin the way some of my other cars did.
As I put the finishing touches on this post, my
Chev SS Commodore SSV now has around 12,500 miles on the odometer, which includes trips to see my new granddaughter (no. 2) and my Dad down South, as well as a 3,500 mile trip to the Grand Canyon with my wife. We’ve already made some good memories with it, and as it’s a car that begs to be driven, I’m finding every opportunity to oblige, just to see where it wants to take me…
I’d love to hear your car bonding (not bondo-ing) stories in the comments!