Sunday, June 10, 2007

Classic Automobiles

(1930 LaSalle)

Old cars fascinate me. I don't know why. Maybe I am just a guy. Even as a kid, I had much more interest in old cars than the current Detroit models (there were no others back then). I use to build plastic kits of old Ford Model T's and Model A's. When I was old enough to drive, a friend of mine and I decided to "restore" a 1931 Chevrolet Sedan. We found this old wreck in the junk yard out on City Limits Road. It had no wheels, no hood, no seats but it had a great chrome radiator. We paid to have a wrecker haul it down to a garage we had rented from an old man...Neither of our parents would have anything to do with having this junker in their garages. Our enthusiasm, however, outstripped our meager resources and after about a year, the man wanted his garage back. My friend and I had not so much as lifted a socket wrench. The car (can I call it that?) was just too expensive to fix. So we made another call to the wrecker company and the little '31 sedan was right back in the junk yard where it had started. And to add insult to injury, we had to pay the junk yard to take it back!

(Boattail Auburn)

You would think this would have killed all of my interest in old cars. But you would be wrong. I still answer to their siren song. Just today, I was out taking some pictures of some of our ornate buildings in St. Paul and what should I see in Rice Park but a classic car show. I was immediately hoofing it over to the park to see some real beauties from the 1920's and 30's. We're talking about Auburn, Cord, Packard, Cadillac, Buick, Lincoln and even a Rolls-Royce and Bentley for good measure. These restored machines are labors of love. You don't even want to breathe on them for fear that the owners will deck you for despoiling their babies.

It occurred to me that most of these cars came into being within 30 years of the automobile industry itself. Every one of them had a host of new innovations and the latest in automotive engineering technology. Most of the early company fallout that happens in any new industry had already happened. The hundreds of car companies that came into being at the turn of the last century had dwindled to a dozen or so. What the makers of some of the cars I saw today didn't know was that when these particular cars were made was that these companies, too, were heading for bankruptcy. Auburn, Packard, Pierce-Arrow, Studebaker...all gone. It seems like GM, Ford, and Chrysler are going the same way in this century. Toyota and Honda are rapidly becoming the new GM and Ford. To paraphrase, "What's good for Toyota, is good for America".

Anyway, this afternoon I just looked and admired and thought about the '31 Chevy that long ago returned its iron to the earth from whence it came. But in some deep quiet part of me, I harbor the fantasy that I, too, will one day have such a beautiful testament to the days of glory of the automobile. And then I got into my Chrysler Minivan and drove back home.

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