A couple of days ago I was pulling an all-nighter trying to memorize 14 chapters of information, which I’ll never use in life, for one of my final exams the following morning. It was around 4am when I decided to take a study break and get something to eat at a local fast food joint that was open 24/7. I was in pajamas so I used the drive thru and while I was waiting in line to pull up to the window I heard a familiar noise traveling across the cold night air, the sound of an engine being fed fuel through a carburetor. I glanced in my side mirror and saw the corner fender of what my memory recognized as a 60’s full size Pontiac. After I received my greasy bag of eatable cholesterol, I pulled into the nearest parking space so I could get out and get a better look at the mystery Pontiac that was behind me. It turned out to be a tempest blue 1968 Pontiac Catalina sedan. It was beautiful and looked like it hadn’t stopped rolling since LBJ was president. Sun baked paint on its roof, with a hint of surface rust, a front grille sprinkled with years of pebble dings, headlights shining dimly giving it the impression of a tired face, a Catalina emblem on the front fender with a missing A – it was an honest survivor.
At first glance I formed a back story of the kind of life it was having. Purple heart on the corner license plate, a Vietnam Veteran flag hanging on its rear-view mirror, and an aging old man sitting behind the wheel wearing an Army cap with his wife riding shotgun with pink rollers in here silver hair. The story ran in my head as a young soldier, coming back from Vietnam, buying his first new car as he signs on the dotted line at a Pontiac dealership during the year 1968. Bringing home his first child in that same Pontiac as the years went by. A lifetime of miles under its hood. Before the old man left, he fired up the old Catalina, and as he turned the key, the car didn’t skip a beat. With a sleepy clank and ring, the tired 400ci engine fired with the equivalent grunt of an old man getting up from a chair. They rolled out of the parking lot with the Catalina floating across the asphalt with grace. It made me forget about my insomnia for the few seconds as I watched the Pontiac leave the driveway into the darkness of night.
It always makes my day whenever I see a classic or old car riding down the road without a care in the world on the driver’s face. It’s even better when the car is a survivor or has an exhausting amount of miles on the clock. I’ve heard of a little old lady in Florida pedaling around her 1962 Mercury Comet since new and has rolled over 400,000 miles on the original drivetrain. A man who has covered over 900,000 in his Porsche 356, and a legendary gentleman who pushed his Volvo P1800 all the way to 3 million miles, while still looking factory new. Loyal Motors, honest cars that refuse to give up on their caretaker, because of good maintenance. If the owner takes care of his/her car, the car will take care of the owner. Cars aren’t much different to humans when it comes to keeping them alive. They both need constant refueling, checkups, sometimes replacement parts, and be drained of fluids sometimes, so seeing a car that has survived the life expectancy of their warranties is a true testament to regularly scheduled oil changes and maintenance.
Sometimes, however, you get cars that were built just a little bit better than the car before or after it on the assembly line. Whether that car falls in the hands of someone who doesn’t know what a dipstick is or someone who keeps the plastic covers on the seats, the car will keep on rolling until the wheels fall off. A good friend of mine has a 2001 Toyota Camry, about as vanilla of car as you can get, yet it has clocked nearly 300,000 miles! The suspension feels like that of a full size sedan from the 1970’s, it drives likes a boxer hearing the bell going off as it bobs and weaves around corners. The car refuses to give up on my buddy, even though he drives like Donald Duck behind the wheel of a rental. He has even admitted to me that he is trying to break it so he can have an excuse to buy a new car, but the car won’t die. I’ve driven it and although the car feels exhausted, the v6 can still mustered up enough grunt to get you into triple digit speeds.
I love cars with loyal engines, cars that refuse to give up no matter the abuse from the owner or father time. I can assume many of you have heard or known about a car that has rolled enough miles to lap the planet once or twice, doesn’t it just tickle the soft spot in your heart? Some people believe that age is just a number, apparently some cars believe that mileage are just numbers as well.