The famed movie line from the John Wayne western, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
Following in the footsteps of a legend is always a daunting task, and many times the unfortunate one who follows finds it very hard to escape the shadow of the predecessor. This has been evident many times over in the automotive world, mostly in the sport of racing.
Neither Dale Earnhardt Jr. nor Kyle Petty were ever able to surpass the mystique of their fathers, and the same can be said of certain cars themselves. The new Lamborghini Aventador is an impressive piece of automotive engineering and in the areas of performance and build quality is most likely the finest car the company has yet to produce, but try as it may it will never stun the world like the Countach of years gone by. The Countach was such an outrageous car against virtually anything of its day, that it was the equivalent of setting a rampaging shark loose in an otherwise docile aquarium.
The original 427 Shelby Cobra was a similar beast. The aluminum bodied snake was so lightening quick and raw, bare-bones powerful compared to everything in America’s showrooms, I’m sure many looked on the car as maniacal death trap. While there have been powerful two-seat roadsters since then, most notably the Dodge Viper, none has come close to the potent aura created by Carroll Shelby’s Ferrari-killer.
On a much lesser and more personal level, I have recently been experiencing something of a similar phenomenon. Regular readers of this blog have seen much mention of my last car, a 2001 Pontiac Grand Prix GT, which I owned for longer than any other car I ever bought. Six years might be normal for some people, but for me it was a record by a wide margin. The Grand Prix fulfilled a couple of car-guy dreams for me, and the first of those was the desire for another Trans Am. I shopped long and hard to replace the car I so briefly owned in my youth but found them to be less than useful vehicles for everyday driving. The GP offered all the sporting flavor of the T/A in a more accommodating package. The aftermarket was rich with performance and appearance goodies for the GP, and I set about giving the car a T/A-esque kind of look.
I had also long yearned for something close to the Batmobile (in a fantasy kind of way) and the black color of the GP lent itself well to that image. The more menacing its appearance became, the closer it crept to making that fantasy real, or at least as close as it was ever going to get in my world.
These reasons probably combined to make me keep the car as long as I did, and had it not been for unfortunate circumstances with my son’s automotive needs, I might still have the car, and most likely would be busy transforming it into some kind of hellish, barely streetable monster. The car had already reached the point where my wife preferred not to ride in it, and if I’m truthful, it was getting pretty unforgiving on my back as well, but car-guys rarely let such things impede their quest for more performance.
If we are also truthful, car-guys are creatures of ego, and as our cars are expressions of ourselves, we savor the compliments, long staring looks, and thumbs up we get from other people. All of the hours of scrubbing and polishing, the attention to detail, and the sweat to make it shine are all made worthwhile when we admire our handiwork, but even more so when others do the same. This is the essence of the cruise-in, the show n’ shine, and the weekend car show, all are part and parcel of what we do best…show off.
I find that my Sebring convertible gets many looks and compliments, but I have also noted that they are somewhat generic because an open top car always gets noticed…mostly by people who don’t own one, or those who are working and simply wish to be outside when the weather is nice. I honestly think the car could be shocking neon green and the reaction would be no different if the top is down. Any other question I get regarding the car usually revolves around why someone like me (meaning I am male) would want such a car.
I generally respond by saying, “At least it doesn’t have a dashboard flower vase like a VW Beetle.” So much for generic opinion.
The area where my ego has to adjust is with the car I purchased to replace the Grand Prix, a 2004 Pontiac Bonneville SLE. I have always loved the looks of the last generation Bonneville from the moment I laid eyes on one at the Virginia Auto Show. I admired how the people at Pontiac were bold enough to give their top-line sedan many of the same sporting treatments that were found on the smaller coupes and sports cars. Many of the same styling cues found on the legendary Firebird are present on the Bonnie, the bulging fenders, the aero skirting, the exhaust cut-outs in the rear bumper, and that wonderful cockpit-like dash surrounding the driver seat. The Bonneville is loaded with plenty of toys, so it never felt like a step down to me when I bought the car, but you’d never know it from the comments I get these days.
Oddly enough, the Bonneville seems to be just this side of invisible. Usually when one gets a new ride, people who know you ask about “the new wheels,” but not so in this case. More often than not the conversation goes something like…
“Hey, did you get a new car?”
“Yeah I did”
“Didn’t you used to have that black car?”
“Yeah I did”
“Man, that was a nice car!”
After which they turn and go their merry way. No mention or question concerning the Bonneville at all. I realize the car is painted white, but I’ve never thought of it as plain vanilla, so pedestrian, so non-descript as to not even be noticed.
My wife often referred to my Grand Prix as my “superhero costume,” so I guess if you compare Batman’s outfit with just about any other clothing, even a custom fit, three piece Armani is just another suit.
I can’t decide if it’s ironic or poetic that things have worked out this way. In the comic book world, Bruce Wayne eventually gave up his cape and cowl to Dick Grayson. My son’s favorite comic character, Green Lantern, inherited his powers when the ring was passed to him by an alien hero. So was it a kind of destiny that my son would now be the owner of my automotive “superhero costume?”
A couple of things have become certain; he is already experiencing the same effect the car had on me, with many people complimenting him about the looks. He has also taken a major step up in how well he is caring for the car, and to me, that is a welcome sight.
Is he doing it out of respect for me or because the comments are feeding his automotive ego as well? No matter the reason, I’m simply glad to see him taking a greater interest in the care and maintenance of the GP.
Watching him drive away in the GP that first time was a hard thing for me to deal with, but I took solace in how much I liked the Bonneville. It’s been about six months now since I brought Bonnie home, and I still enjoy driving her as much as I did that first day.
The GP didn’t reach its present state of modification overnight, and while I don’t have plans for any kind of grand makeover for Bonnie, I’m already underway with giving her my personal touch. Honestly, I really love the way the car looks as is, which was a large part of its initial appeal, but my goal now is to “make it my own” without spoiling that original beauty.
Maybe it was destiny that things have worked out this way, since a scant few months after I bought the car I find that I’m going to become a grandparent. So maybe getting a sporting sedan was in the cards all along, and for what I may lose in ego I think I’ll make up for it in personal satisfaction. If it turns out that my slightly modified Bonneville isn’t the attention magnet the GP used to be, then I guess I’ll just have to “print the legend.”