Reuben was nervous about chopping up his rear bumper cover. Once it was done, it was done. He loved the cut-off look of timeless rally cars like the Lancia 037, with its gearbox hanging out like a turbine out of a Batmobile. His current gen Hyundai Genesis isn’t mid-engine like that beast of yore, but it does have an attractive straight-pipe exhaust system he wouldn’t mind showing off. And since that exhaust had required an underbody diffuser removal, the bottom section of the bumper was only catching air, acting as a parachute. Reuben, Collins (first name, not last), Jay, and I stood in Reuben’s garage while he used his Dremel and a specially-ordered plastic cutting bit to slowly carve away the offending section with dental precision. And it was a great time. It’s one of many memories with car friends that will go into the vault until I’m senile and driving something with a CVT. If you’re a gearhead, it’s better to have car friends. Here’s why, and how to find some.
Now, if you’ve been into cars since before the advent of the smartphone, you probably already have car friends. I’m talking to the younger gearheads, because members of my generation don’t always like commitment, even if it’s just a handshake, and we sometimes have trouble making new friends. There’s a wall to push through for some of us, but it’s worth the effort, because car enthusiasm sucks alone.
Cars in community, however, its a blast. First, it’s good to have people who understand you. Your mom, your popular classmates, your coworkers, they don’t understand why you want to buy a Ford Festiva, and they’re puzzled that you’d like to swap the engine for a bigger Mazda one. They don’t get the difference between a manual and an automatic, other than that you have to shift your own gears with the former. And they think rear wheel drive is always a bad idea, because sometimes it snows.
But your car friends get it. They get you. They know why you want to pan-fry yourself on the blacktop to look at cars in the dead of Hell’s summer. They share your love of individual throttle bodies and flared fenders. They think your incredibly loud exhaust isn’t annoying at all, but musical. When you have car friends, you can use five people to take a convoy of five cars five hours away, and feel five times more understood than if you’d spent the whole time in conversation with a full cargo of non-enthusiast passengers.
Plus, you can use them. You can trick them into helping you with your projects for free. And they’ll enjoy it. Feed them, beer them (if they’re of age), and you have an infinite source of free labor. You might even get to use their awesome garage space, expensive tools, and connections to experts who will give you a discount for being a friend of John Q. Now, keep in mind that this is a two-way street, but if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll enjoy helping them, too.
But how do you get started? I didn’t get into cars until my 20s, so when I started watching Top Gear and changing my own wiper blades, I only had one friend who also loved cars. Then I moved to a new city, where I knew virtually no car nuts. So here’s what I did, and what you can do:
Find car events.
This will be a bit tricky if you live in a small town, but apparently a great many of us young pups don’t. Start looking around on Facebook for a meet or a Cars and Coffee. If you can, try to find more casual events, without judges or prizes. It’s easier to make friends in a noncompetitive environment. The added bonus to all this is that you get to ogle some awesome cars and get a taste of what people in your area drive.
Go with an open mind. Don’t assume that anything that’s not your brand or style of choice is crap. Keep your eye keen for quality workmanship and be willing to praise it, even if you wouldn’t have modified your car as such. Meeting car people who are into stuff that varies from your own interest can be very educational. You don’t have to agree on every fine detail of automotive taste. In fact, you won’t. Each of us has his or her own enthusiasm fingerprint, and no two are alike. Try to find people who share some of your interests, but don’t limit yourself.
Be excellent to each other.
From here, it’s pretty simple. Just take Abraham Lincoln’s advice and be excellent to each other. Compliment his or her vehicle of choice. Strike up a conversation. After a little dialogue, introduce yourself. I’m going to suggest something radical here. Shake a hand. It’s the ancient symbol of showing someone that you don’t have a dagger in your dagger hand, and you’ll almost never meet anyone who will refuse it.
Ask, don’t tell.
This is key, and it’s always the most difficult obstacle to clear. You might ask what engine Potential McNewfriend is running in his Foxbody Mustang, and he might start telling you about the cams. You’ll feel so much temptation in that moment to direct the conversation to your own car. “Oh yeah. I want to put a cam in my old Corolla, and there’s actually a company in Iceland that makes them but they’re super expensive because they have to grind them all custom and then I have to find a tune and right now I’m just trying to keep it on the road but I did find a sweet cold air intake on Craigslist for 20 bucks, which is a good deal, and…and…wait. Where are you going?”
Let the Mr. or Ms. McNewfriend finish his or her story. Ask more stuff. You’re curious anyway. And eventually, you’ll find that new person asking about your own car, even complementing your crappy, Ebay CAI. The other really tough part about being excellent to each other is letting the new friend know when you don’t know what they’re talking about. It takes a bit of humility, but they’ll respect you for asking, even if you don’t know what a lug wrench is or how an engine works. Contrary to popular belief, car people like introducing others into the world of cars. We love explaining rotaries and mufflers and Dynamat. If you don’t recognize a car, just say so. “Woah. What is this? I’ve never seen one,” is about the nicest thing you can say about a person’s car, and it’s a great way to start a conversation.
Then, just hang out.
“You guys want to grab lunch after this?” is the perfect way to turn people you vaguely recognize from Cars and Coffee into friends. Don’t just hang out at car events. Break bread together. Go to each other’s birthday celebrations, and yes, even hang out online. Start a group chat. Send it pictures of your project or cool cars you see cruising around town, new Ken Block videos, absurd conversations. Go out to eat again. Go help them with their car projects, and invite them over to help with yours, even if they don’t know what they’re doing. Once you get to know them better, be generous loaning out your tools or selling them parts for cheap. Give them some crap. Pretend to make fun of their car choices. From my friends mentioned above, Reuben drives a Chinese car, Jay is a famous flipper and never owns a car for more than 14 minutes, Stephen is a typical German car owner, and Collins is a British man who probably served in World War I because he loves old Jaguars. It’s fun.
So get out there and make some friends who understand your desire for a Nardi wheel. You won’t regret it.
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.