There were the predictable trailer queens — cars of yesterday that were painstakingly restored, brightly polished and towed to the event. The rat rods had a respectable showing, including an authentic rust bucket with a scantily clad rubber gal wiggling on the dash. I also enjoyed the lead sleds and T-Buckets, especially one shimmering green number that called to mind the luck o’ the Irish. There were some uncommon vehicles, such as the gorgeous yellow Mac truck, a dune buggy, and a Volkswagen Bus/camper.
Kids loved our 1968 Mercedes Unimog, which made its debut at the car show as a recent acquisition of ours. Unlike most of the vehicles there, which are strictly look and don’t touch, we were happy to help kids up into the driver’s seat of this old military vehicle to explore.
Another crowd pleaser was the 50’s Hearse covered in flat black chalkboard paint. A pail of chalk beside it invited spectators to write a message or draw art anywhere on the car.
My husband is what’s known as a car guy: someone who is passionate and knowledgeable about cars, especially older cars. He came along in the era of the muscle car, at a time where the average Joe could still work on his own car — before the computer took over, when you had to keep your car tuned and a few spare parts in the glove compartment, and car motors tended to die before 100,000 miles.
My guy is not just zealous about cars, but about anything with wheels — motorcycles, mini-bikes, go-karts, four-wheelers, etc. Like many guys, he has a favorite car brand. He’s a Mopar man all the way, shunning the Fords, Chevys, GMs and imports.
Since meeting him, I’ve been inducted into the culture although I, too, came along during the muscle car era, and where I hail from has an enormous car culture — including all manner of VWs, Corvettes, Porsches, Datsuns, low-riders and imports.
What I’ve realized in the past decade is that car guys are getting old. My husband, who is pushing 60, is generally bringing up the rear. That might not be particularly alarming except there doesn’t seem to be interest from the younger generations. This makes the car guys an endangered species.
Out of the hundreds of cars that turned out in Charles Town the first Saturday in September, we only found one kid who struck us as the next generation of car guy. He impressed us with the cool bicycle he brought to the show, made from parts he assembled to create a one-of-a-kind chrome-laden ride. He could answer every question about it, down to how many spokes were in each wheel. He rattled off the three top cars he’d like to own (all older), something weighing heavily on his mind at 15 years of age with street-legal driving just around the corner. His father beamed quietly on the sidelines from a nearby chair as he watched his son talking like a chip off the old block.
We also know one more kid, the son of a racecar mechanic, who is itching to work on old cars and make one his daily driver. He already has the skeleton of an old Mustang on the premises to start the process.
I hope there are more — kids of car guys who see the value in keeping these old hot-rods alive. Otherwise, what will happen to these wonderful cars of yesteryear? Will they end up in the landfills like our government wants? Die in the car crushers? Be placed back in barns and garages, forgotten for another hundred years?
It’s a bit of a crisis, if you ask me. Respect for and knowledge of how to nurture these jalopies will die with the car guys. Most kids today don’t have a clue about older vehicles. How they need warming up, how not to flood them or how to administer a tune-up. They likely wouldn’t know how to “roll” a window down and would be thrown by manual steering. Don’t even get me started on manual transmissions — they’d be baffled by three on a tree or four on the floor. They’d also be likely to lock the keys in the car or leave the lights on without some bell dinging to remind them. And where’s the navigation tool, you ask? It’s called an old-fashioned map, kid.
These old hoopties are national treasures, a chunk of our storied history — and so are the car guys (and gals) who love them. Maybe we need a “save the car guy” campaign.
This column appeared in The Journal on Sunday, September 11, 2016.