I could almost see the Corvair’s paint fading as it baked under the July sun in the Costco parking lot. The lunar-module foil sunshield had been draped over the driver’s seat to keep it cool, because, of course, the top was down. I felt nothing but respect for the owner, even though the rust had begun to bleed through and the badges were peeling. Because it was clear he or she drove it pretty often, and daily driven classics are, to use a technical term, awesome.
But what if your car isn’t quite a classic yet? It’s an enthusiast’s car, yes, and it’s known for its performance and smart design, sure, but it’s not quite old enough to give you the same reaction as seeing a patina’d Corvair surrounded by crossovers with soulless CVTs. Can it be forgiven for having its own patina much earlier in life? Can it still command respect?
There’s plenty you can do to keep your brand new car new. Wax it often, store it in the garage, wash it weekly in the winter. But I didn’t have the luxury of factory fresh paint when I bought my ‘02 WRX, being stuck instead with a chipping Maaco-grade custom job, and the clear coat had already started to peel like my forehead in early summer.
But I can’t blame everything on the “customizers” who worked over my wagon (and painted over the sill labels and got rid of the hatch badging) in a previous life. I’ve taken it 30,000 miles since I’ve bought it, bringing it up to almost 150k, and they haven’t exactly been gentle. There was the time when I dented the fender on that stupid, tiny, invisible post sticking a foot out of the ground. And, of course, I’ll never let myself forget the night I crashed into the ditch last winter. I never found the grille.
Any daily driven car will start to show signs of wear. The plastics start to loosen and give, and suddenly the side skirts are slipping off like Christian Bale’s pants in The Machinist. You’ll scratch a wheel on a curb or catch some rock chips in the headlights or watch in futility as your tint turns purple.
And that’s fine if you daily drive a normal, boring car. But a future classic has a current following, and I often find myself a bit sheepish around other WRX and STi owners, those guys with garages and money and wives and other awesome stuff I don’t have. My “Subaru wave” hasn’t been as enthusiastic of late.
But then I remember that it’s really not up to them. It’s my car, for Fezzik’s sake, and I’ll make it pretty when I get the money. Right now, I’ll just enjoy driving it. I’ll have to shrug off the implied derision with a chuckle and a “Yeah, it’s a work in progress.” This does not mean, however, that I shouldn’t care for it. I still think there are some rules that shouldn’t be broken at this point in a future classic’s life.
I must keep it running well. Well-built engines can last forever (I’m talking past the next Avengers movie forever) if they’re attended to. This means regular oil changes, gasket work, and water pump replacement. I need to keep the tune-ups current. I need to keep the valves clean. I don’t even need to keep it looking good. I haven’t painted my intake manifold blue or anything, but I have kept my air filter clean and new. Sounds, here, are more important than looks.
I must keep my original parts. I’m glad the previous three owners of my car hung to this mantra, even though I like the generic, Ebay exhaust that came on the car much more than the stock exhaust that came in the hatch. I do plan to will my car to my firstborn, but if, some abysmal day, I have to sell it, and the buyer wants to return everything to stock, he’ll appreciate that I still have the barely-used and lame-sounding exhaust still sitting upright in the dungeonesque storage locker of my apartment building.
I must avoid and repair rust. Rust spreads like the zombie apocalypse, and I won’t be that punk kid who just let it go and watched another CRX or Ford Galaxie rot into orange streaks on the parking lot. Yes, paint work is expensive, but it’s worth having done. The future will thank me.
I must do the simple stuff. However, not every factor of keeping a car looking okay has to be expensive. Just keeping it clean goes a long way. Paint has pores, and crap gets in those pores, and then it goes to work. And since I drive on salty roads in the winter, I’m careful to wash it even more often then. I bought a sun shield to keep the Angry Yellow Face from cooking the color out of my dash. I keep the trash picked up so it smells like another stylish boulder to small woodland creatures and bugs. I try not to park under trees that weep sap all over the finish. I can treat the door seals and replace the fasteners and add a can of Sea Foam to the tank every once in a while, all on the cheap and all in the street.
This stuff should always take priority over the major aesthetics. I won’t be the guy to blow his whole car budget on plasti-dip and neglect to change the oil. It will save me some major hurt down the road.
So the answer to the question is yes, it still can command respect, even if it’s just the loving, measured respect of its threadbare owner.
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.