Crippen the Car Guy

I am and have always have been a car guy.  We’re different than ordinary hominids. Cars mean something different to us. It has nothing to do with transportation. It’s all about style in transportation.  But the car scene is changing.

When I was a kid in the 50s and early 60s, every single year brought forth a radical new design in cars. We waited breathlessly for September roll around to see the differences between the Chevys, Fords and Chrysler products. When anyone purchased one, they arrived at church three hours early so the primo parking spots could be had. Ooh-ing and Ahh-ing.

I lived and breathed cars. I read about all the “Sports cars” of the world. I memorized the Road & Track article detailing the brand new Jaguar XKE, nothing like it anywhere. I was as far away from me as Nepal.  Naturally I was on my father to get something uber-cool and he finally did just that. A 1959 Chrysler Windsor “hardtop” (no bar between the front and back side windows). Prior to that he hadn’t done too badly with a canary yellow ’56 Mercury hardtop with a big V-8 in it. But the Chrysler had a big time 325 horsepower V-8 and a four-barrel carb.  It was violet over creme and it was hot. Push button auto transmission. Tires would squeal.

“It’s got a Lincoln motor and it’s really souped up,
that Model-A body makes it look like a pup.
It’s got eight cylinders and uses ’em all,
got overdrive that just won’t stall.

With a four-barrel carb and a dual exhaust,
with 4-11 gears you can really get lost.
Got safety tubes but I ain’t scared,
the brakes are good, tires fair”.

Hot Rod Lincoln (1955)

I was just turning 16 and naturally I never got near the driver’s seat of this car. My ride was a 1940 Turtleback Ford with the 85 hp flathead V-8 he got from the next door neighbor Doug May’s Auto Sales. Doug was a cigar smoking super car salesman that supplied my dad with junkers for me. When one died (pretty frequently), another took its place, none ever more than $50.00.

I lusted after that Chrysler with a vengeance. And ultimately found my chance with it. One night he decided to go somewhere with my mother and they went in someone else’s car as a double date. I knew where the keys were hid, so as soon as they left, I took off in the car, picked up a couple of other great pretenders and strutted around town for couple of hours.  Ultimately to end up on then what was the new Interstate 94, which was unfinished and all entry blocked off. We got around an entry point and had the whole brand new highway to ourselves.  We wanted to “see what the car would do”, and we did just that, no seat belts on a highway that could have fallen away at any point. I was disappointed. the thing only maxed out at 115 miles per hour. We’re lucky to be live through it. I never told my dad this story.

Down the line, my dad got more interested in smaller and more economical. He sold the Chrysler and purchased one of the first Volkswagens in town, 1961. 40 horsepower. But it had dual exhausts so I was pretty happy. I was however lobbying for sports cars and finally after much wheedling, I got him to purchase a used 1961 red MGA, with wire wheels.  It was, as Crippens are famous for, an impulse buy and it turned out to have a bum engine, so in 1962 he traded it for a new MG Midget, classy grey with red leather. I was in heaven. I folded myself into it and drove it everywhere and I wasn’t too interested in highway safety issues, ignored every local, State or Federal speed limits and generally drive it like I stole it. I ended up racing Class F production at Sports Car Club of America events, rode there, popped in a roll bar, taped up the headlights and run what I brung. My racing career included a few impromptu street events as well. Again, I’m lucky to be alive.

“Well, the last thing I remember, Doc, I started to swerve
And then I saw the Jag slide into the curve
I know I’ll never forget that horrible sight
I guess I found out for myself that everyone was right
Won’t come back from Dead Man’s Curve”

Dead Man’s Curve (1964)

I was hooked on “sports cars” for life.

Cut to my adulthood and the only thing changed is my ability to afford more exotic rides. I’ve gone through them all, Porsche, Ferrari, Audi TT and I loved them all. I kept my 1980 Porsche for mainly sentimental value but now I am closer to retirement than I have ever been, my kids are gone, my house is paid for and I’ve been lucky and frugal, my debts are virtually nonexistent.  The Porsche’s time came and went. Now it’s time to move on.  And again, remember that a car for a car guy has nothing to do with transportation. I have a car for that. It’s about a totally self indulgent toy, and there aren’t many of those on four wheels around anymore.

Back in the day, Porsche was a real kick in the butt sports car, quick, responsive and drive-able. You could change your own oil and spark plugs. You felt the car and the road. Now Porsche is a Cadillac on a short wheel base. A luxury sedan that kind of looks like the original. Insulated from the slightest discomfort, and it’s expensive way out of proportion to the real value, like a Rolex watch.  Ferrari is a thinly veiled race car that’s so expensive to buy and maintain that the only people that can afford them are those least likely to appreciate the driveability. Many of the rest of them are just expensive toys, shadows of their original selves.

It’s tempting to get into collecting and maintaining “vintage” sports cars, but I got burned on that in the 90s. My dad purchased a 1963 Porsche 356 B coupe, got tired of putting money into it and gave it to me. I thought there really wasn’t much more it needed as my did did a lot. Engine re-build, lots of body and interior work. I found out rudely that there really is no limit to how much money that can be spent on the bottomless vintage vehicle pit. It was one thing after another and it wen on and on. Finally one day the brakes just went out and I had to use the parking brake to get home. I sold it and the guy that bought it continued to pour money into it until he finally old it. Whoever has it today is still putting money into it, I’m sure.

In perfect world I would be driving a restored 1962 Corvette, the original love of my life. You can get a restored one for about $40,000 now and then start putting money into it.

“And all the Jag could see were my six tail lights
He passed me at Doheny then I started to swerve
But I pulled her out and there we were
At Dead Man’s Curve”

Jan & Dean, 1964)

So now I’m socially and financially secure, debt free, a solid amount of money in the bank and all my other responsibilities are secured. I’m looking for a totally self-indulgent toy car that brings back the “car guy” joys of my youth. A drivers car that requires no defense of utility, but won’t be an open ended money pit, will be relatively safe and will retain some functionality and value. A car to drive, and not be driven by.

It will probably be a Lotus.

The Lotus brand was originated in England by Colin Chapman from Formula One technology in the late 50. Lotus figured prominently in Formua one and were driven by world class drivers Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt and Mario Andretti (in 1978). My next door neighbor in college had a 19690 Lotus Elite and I got a ride in ti once. Had a 105 HP double overhead cam thinly veiled race engine pulling about 160 pounds and when he got on it, I turned white as a sheet. I never forgot that ride.

“Wound it up to a hundred an’ ten,
twisted the speedometer cable off the end
My foot was glued like lead to the floor,
said that’s all there is an’ there ain’t no more.”

Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen (1955)

Now the Lotus Elise, originating in 1996 and evolving to it’s current iteration, is a “real” sports car that’s relatively affordable as they go.  It looks like what it is……a no nonsense sports car in the vintage mode, but with safety features and reliability. Everything on it has a purpose. Hard to get in and out, straight-leg sitting position, cramped cockpit quarters, Spartan creature comforts………but when you get on the gas, you assume an evil grin and your passenger turns white as a sheet.

“I can see myself tearing up the road
Faster than any other boy has ever gone
And my skin is raw but my soul is ripe
And no one’s gonna stop me now
I gotta make my escape………
Like a bat out of Hell
I’ll be gone when the morning comes”

Meat Loaf (1977)

And so it goes.

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