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Everything from Hood Ornaments to Tail Lamps 1963 Cadillac Coupe deVilleSometimes when a man steps away from his Cadillac, he'll steal a glance back at the car in his life.

1963 Cadillac Coupe deVille
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Vol. 1, No. 1
March 9, 2002 (Updated February 7, 2011)

Buying An Old Car
by Andrew Angove

Image: MILEPOSTS Garage

Face it, you're in love. You can try to deny it if you like, but eventually you must look at yourself honestly and deal with it. You've tried to justify it as something else for years, that fascination with the chrome script on a Cadillac when you were a small kid. The excitement of watching the sequential turn signals on a 1965 Thunderbird for the first time. The intense interest in a car's engine, and exactly what all those wires did. The smell of the leather upholstery in an old car. And all that chrome! Inside and outside, everywhere you looked was a sea of shiny, glistening chrome. They don't make cars like that any more. It seems that chrome isn't safe these days, too glaring or something. Was this past interest all just idle curiosity? Probably not. It goes much deeper than that. It comes from within, and it is something you have little control over. You're an old car enthusiast.

Yes, and you are in it for life. You're infatuated with old cars. You most likely fell in love with them when they were new, and that love has never waned. Most likely, it never will. If you're too young to remember when these cars were new, it's still possible to fall for them. If fact, it can happen at any time. Usually when you least expect it, and are most likely not prepared for it. There are support groups, but they won't help you get over your love of old cars, they'll just get you in deeper. These support groups come in the form of old car auctions, shows, clubs, conventions, magazines, Web sites, Internet discussion groups, mailing lists, and a huge populace of other old car lovers. They will provide support and comfort to you, but this just makes your love grow deeper. Cars you never thought you'd be interested in become the object of your affection. Your desire for knowledge about these cars grows, and you want to know everything you possibly can about them. You want every brochure, every repair manual, every advertisement. And all this does is feed your interest. Yes, you've denied it for years but it's best to just face the facts: you're in love and you don't want to get over it!

With this realization comes the comfort that you are not alone. There are many more of us in the same condition. Our interests are as varied as the myriad of original factory colors and models; we are not restricted to just one or two models, there are thousands of options out there to hook us. This is what makes our hobby so easy to fall prey to. A person might be able to fend off their desire for years, live a good life and be relatively happy. But one day, sooner or later, it's bound to happen. And it can occur anywhere, at any time. It can be in a grocery store parking lot, at the airport, passing by on a highway, sitting in a field in the middle of nowhere, or it can pull up beside you at a stoplight on your way to work. It's the car. The dream car. The one you've always wanted.

The dream car can be almost anything: a Rangoon Red 1962 Thunderbird Sports Roadster has always set hearts a flutter, or maybe a 1970 Oldsmobile Toronado GT, or a 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham does it for you. It might even be a vintage Volkswagen Beetle or—dare I say it—a 1975 AMC Pacer! You see, that's one of the catches, one of the dangers, if you will, to this hobby: it doesn't have to be a show car or a glamour car. It doesn't have to have shiny paint and soft leather upholstery. It can be faded and rusty, dented and neglected. It might have sat for so long that a tree has grown up through the floorboard. It might have been a donor car, having bits and pieces removed from it to keep others like it on the road.

One of the side effects of this attraction is the ability to see what these old cars once were, and envision what they could be again. Not a small feat when you're standing in blowing snow up to your knees freezing to death! Looking at what little is left of a car that's been sitting abandoned for years, tossed aside by a former owner, and being able to see the beauty that once was—the beauty that could be again—is a major accomplishment! Most of your family members and a good portion of your friends may not have this ability, and they will tell you they just don't get it! You have to learn to be tolerant of them, as they are not as developed as you are at picturing in their mind how beautiful this conglomeration of steel, rubber, aluminum, and vinyl appliqué really is! And due to their lack of this ability, they are concerned about you. They don't understand the attraction, they don't understand the restoration process, nor can they comprehend the hours spent restoring the smallest detail back to its original condition.

This is where all old car enthusiasts need to exercise tolerance. We need to understand that these people in our lives are at a disadvantage, developmentally challenged if you will, so they don't get it and some of them never will. A few will develop a taste for old cars, some of them may even become collectors as well. But the large majority of them will roll their eyes when a car show is mentioned, or purse their lips when you excitedly tell them about the rare NOS part you just bought. It's like drinking scotch: you have to develop a taste for it, and some never will.

One might wonder what the rewards are, if any, of being an old car collector. Most likely, you'll never get rich from your old cars, at least financially. They're something else you'll have to worry about, like your daughter going off to college or your son getting involved in a new business scheme that might not pan out. Old cars need lots of attention, and cost lots of money. They have to be protected and maintained. They take, take, take. Just like a new baby, old cars take your time, your money, and your affection, and offer little in return. You can only hope that someday, they'll be something you can be proud of and take comfort in. And therein lies the basis for the love of old cars.

What starts off as blind faith and determination, blossoms into a thing of joy and beauty. What was once a rusty hulk of metal has now become a shiny reminder of the good life way back when. It has become your pride and joy, much the same as it did to the original owner on its first trip home as a brand new car. Along the way, you've learned a few things. You've discovered that you can repair electrical and mechanical parts. Maybe you've become adept at welding, rebuilding small electric motors, spray painting, or rebuilding mechanical parts. You'll find better ways of assembling the cars, and wonder why the factory didn't do a better job when they built the car. You've made a lot of new friends, and you've found that there are still a lot of people who will go out of their way to help a stranger. It has restored your faith in humanity, and you cherish your new friends. Some of these contacts will become lifelong friends. It's destiny. Bound to happen. You are silly to try to fight it, as there is no escape.

Notice the man in the photo at the top of the page. He's holding on to his wife's hand, making sure she doesn't step in a hole with her high heel shoe and injure herself. Yet at the same time, he's keeping a watchful eye on his Cadillac. Will it be safe while he's gone? Will the Twilight Sentinel automatically turn off the lights like it's supposed to? And why did he leave it in the middle of the road with all the windows down?!?!

Getting involved with old cars is an involuntary thing for most of us, and as such leave little room for the conscious mind to intervene. By the time we recognize the involvement—the attraction—it's too late. Time only has a way of intensifying the desire to own an old car. Would life be easier without an old car? Probably. No worries about locating that elusive part, or making sure rust isn't taking hold somewhere in a dark cavity. Would life be more enjoyable without an old car? Most likely not. The yearning for one of your own lies waiting for the opportunity to surface. It's only a matter of time, and there's really nothing any of us can do to prevent it from happening.

The reward of owning an old car becomes obvious on that Saturday morning in the spring, when the sun is shining brightly but it's not too hot, the air is fresh, and you have errands to run. You hop out of bed early, so you can begin your day. You can hardly wait to put the key in the ignition, watch the power windows glide down silently and effortlessly, put your foot on the gas and go. This is what owning an old car is all about. You don't see another one like it all day. People you don't know smile at you, honk their horn, and give you a "thumbs up" as you pass by. This is the joy of old car ownership. You have taken a step to preserve history, and just like the baby who takes from you as an infant, but gives back in childhood and as a young adult, your old car starts to return to you what you have put into it. The pride of ownership you feel is elating. Your old car will open doors for you, as it is a magnet for all other old car enthusiasts. The friendships this creates, the camaraderie, the joy...all make the frustration of restoration a distant memory.

There is no way to adequately describe the emotional value and sense of accomplishment one derives from the old car hobby. It takes a lot of time, money, and patience. But like all good things, the reward waiting for you is certainly worth it. And don't forget the little things that happen along the way: the day the long-silent engine comes to life after years at rest; the loose connection that eluded you, but caused your taillights to light up once found. All of these things bring joy and accomplishment as well. And you'll find even in a state of disrepair, your old car will bring you pride, as deep inside you know what it will be someday.

If you've been contemplating purchasing an old car, but aren't sure if you have what it takes to restore or maintain one, just remember that all old car enthusiasts had to start somewhere. Life is fleeting, go ahead and do it. There are a thousand and one reasons why you shouldn't, and there are just as many reasons why you should. Ultimately, life is too short to wait any longer. There's a new "old" friend out there waiting for you.

Copyright © 2002 Automotive Mileposts, Inc.
If you have advice, tips, technical ability, or just know a secret or two about old cars, and you'd like to contribute, click here and tell us about it. We'll help you write it, and give you the credit for it! It's the perfect way to help out your fellow enthusiasts in the old car hobby.
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