When driving old cars, the old hotrods, not the flash and perfectly restored vintage cars of well-off persons, elder distinguished gentlemen from wealthy Suburbia, the joy and the particularity of the experience is not the smell of gasoline, the imperfect, wonderful patina of the paint-job flaking off, or crudely hand-painted, or rust and decay in thirteen different colors, or the way you wanted this car to look mean.
It’s not the smell of exhaust or the raw, wild sound of the engine, like a booster rocket, like the pistons about to break or bust out of the engine block, like a greasy, smudged piece of machinery that wants to go, go, go.
It’s not the vague uncertainty about the ability to brake, the lack of knowing that the wheels will definitely stay put, that the manifold won’t bust or that the carburetor will stop trying.
Neither is it the triumphant death wish of driving the country roads, soundtracked by insistent music or the roar of the engine, of not having complete control, the chosen assumption that the road will be empty which may lead you to wrap around a tree or die a bloody death. But you don’t care.
There’s a bit of the essence when you floor the speeder, moving across the borderland of safety into the territory of control loss, of praying that there won’t be any immediate sharp turns or oncoming traffic.
No, the true sense, where it hits a nerve, where you know you got your hands on the right stuff, is when the windows are down because the exhaust is leaking, and the wind rips at the hair you so carefully styled earlier in the day, and the wind floods the cabin, and all the dust on the dashboard, the small flakes of whatever you had to scrape off to get the car running on pure basics and necessities, and nevermind grounding the current for the brake lights, and the flakes get in your eyes, like dust on a windy day or like the blow of a compressor at a workshop.
You blink your eyes, vaguely discomforted, but you rev your engine and know it’s gonna be a fine day, and there’s a smell of fumes and old upholstering and the mean sweat of the machine you’re driving, and your friend in the passenger seat is grinning and so you push it into the next curve, and the next, and hope for never reaching your destination, that the road will go ever on.
This piece was inspired by riding in Leif from Sønderborg’s ’61 Cadillac on a cloudy Saturday, as well as hefty experience driving the belle Amazon stationcar on the picture.