The automotive enthusiast comes in many forms, but all have one thing in common. Whatever facet of motorsport it happens to be, there is a passion that burns inside of us, a symbiotic bond between man and machine. For some it’s all about power and speed, the thrill of racing, or the quest to conquer terrain yet untouched by wheels. For some it’s about collecting the rare and handcrafted work of automotive art, while others are driven to create and bring the drawings and ideas into three dimensional realities. All of these talents and skills not only write the history of automobiles, but push the boundaries of innovation and inspire others to make ideas part of our everyday lives.
On a much more basic, work-a-day level, our cars are some of the largest investments we ever make of our hard-earned dollars. While some regard them as just another appliance, others form an emotional attachment, and when the day finally comes that the last mile has been run, we often bid a sad goodbye as if we lost a pet or friend. The cars we form this bond with tend to creep under our skin, slowly winning us over with the things they do well and the journeys we share.
This is a very different emotional experience than the one we have when we fall head-over-heels for a car we see and simply must have. Those cases tend to be short-lived, fiery relationships that burn out when we realize how woefully impractical, troublesome, or expensive said diva can be. I’ve owned several such seductive machines, and I’ve found an analogy often used for boats to be quite applicable; “The two best days are the day your buy it, and the day you sell it.”
One might equate such an experience to the significant other in your past that you dearly loved but simply could not stay with and preserve your own sanity. This is where the collector with means has a distinct advantage, by turning such wheeled divas into garage queens who shine brightly for short time, work their magic, and are quietly put away until another shot of intensity is required. Great stuff if you can afford it, but it still doesn’t grasp the kind of long term connection I’m driving at.
Jay Leno has a 1955 Buick Roadmaster that has been meticulously restored and updated with all the modern improvements, and while it’s not the most valuable car in his collection by dollar standards, it’s a car he will never part company with. This was the first car he bought when he came to Southern California, and for a struggling young man it served as transportation and often as a bed when times were tight. He dated his wife in this car, and once his career took off it became neglected for some years, but when the time came to let it go it was simply impossible because of what it meant personally.
I’ve owned over thirty cars in my fifty-plus years, but there have been a scant few I will never forget, especially the ones I wept over when they went away. I fell in love with the Dodge Intrepid from the first time I saw one at the Auto Show. Few sedans possess a sleek, sporty appearance but the first gen LH car had the goods. I managed to buy one in 1996 but financial troubles sent it shortly on its way, but I knew I must own one again at some point. Under more meager recovery circumstances, I found a used 1995 model with 90k on the clock, and while I was happy to get the car at the time, I never thought it would become such a piece of me in the years to come. I put over 100k miles on that car as it turned into the most reliable horse I ever owned. When the time came I passed it down to my son who put almost another 100k under the wheels before it finally rumbled for the last time. We stood shoulder to shoulder, my son and I, as we paid final respects to the steed that served us both so well for so long.
I have since searched for another machine to win me over in such fashion, and while some grown dear to my heart, there has yet to be another of its kind. While I’ve often thought of restoring an older Intrepid, that seemed both expensive and futile, so I forged ever ahead, looking for a worthy descendant.
A couple of weeks back, my vivacious young granddaughter climbed into her booster seat in the back of my 2005 Dodge Magnum R/T. I’ve always thought the Magnum was the coolest wagon ever to hit the street since the Chevy Nomad so it seemed a fitting “Grandpa ride.” Since the car came into my stable it has been often referred to as “Maggie, Maggie the Bee, or more recently, Maggie the Bruiser.” The latter name as a result of a parking lot crunch that claimed a headlight housing but left only a scuff on the front bumper. The car looked as if it had a black eye but blew it off like Ronda Rousey fells opponents in the octagon. Maggie’s Hemi also has a thirst for 89 octane, but thankfully present day fuel prices have made that a livable downside.
My granddaughter readily embraced calling the car Maggie, but the other day she proclaimed it to be “Maggie the 21st.” Neither I nor her parents have any clue where that came from but it was entertaining at the moment. Over the next few days my curiosity got the better of me and I counted the cars I’d owned in chronological order, and what played out before my eyes was almost spooky. Car number 21 was the 1995 Dodge Intrepid.
Fate? Coincidence? From the mouths of babes? Anyone’s guess.
The point is I bought the Magnum more for its utility and daily driver abilities than any kind of heated passion. Having something roomy and reliable so I could garage my convertible for the winter was a big priority, and the aforementioned wagon cool factor, which I’d take over a SUV anyday. I also have never been thrilled with a silver car, but when your shopping used and on a budget, trade-offs have to be made.
Now that my Chrysler 200 “Roadrunner” has been put to roost for the winter months, my time with Maggie has been more frequent. I also loaned the car to my daughter for a few days not long ago while I repaired her car. It was interesting to see the change in her attitude toward Maggie after living with her that short time. At first she hated the car as too large and ugly, but when she turned over the keys it was, “You know, Maggie isn’t so bad after all…and she sounds mean.”
Daddy and daughter recently made the trip to Virginia International Raceway for the Laps for Charity event, and Maggie surprised me with how well she hauled her bulk around the track, yet on the ride there and back, she is a comfortable, capable highway cruiser. A week or so previous, my wife and I took a day trip to the Blue Ridge for a fall foliage tour, and Maggie gobbled up the curvy mountain roads while her Hemi power barely broke a sweat. Sixty-five mph seems to be her happy spot, rolling with little effort and delivering her best possible fuel mileage. Granted, she can just as easily play cruise missile at seventy-five-plus, but her appetite gets hefty at those speeds.
In the end it’s been kind of amazing how one little blurb from an adorable four-year old can taint your perception. Have I unwittingly stumbled on the successor I’ve searched for? Despite her exterior color and penchant for munching fuel, Maggie seems to be ever-so-slowly creeping under my skin, winning me over by inches with all the things she does well. I wouldn’t call the relationship cemented at this point, but if she keeps proving herself in the years to come, well, anything can happen.
Who knows, maybe this will be the car I pass down to my daughter instead of my son, and possibly could be the same shared experience of coming to love something we didn’t expect to happen. Even more interesting will be seeing if the fondness between grand-daughter and grandpa car grows along with us. Time will tell all, and maybe someday I’ll be writing another blog post, wistfully remembering “Maggie the 21st.”