Blue Collar Hobby, White Collar Prices

Barrett Jackson just finished its first auction event of the year a few days ago in Scottsdale, Arizona. I always enjoy watching the live coverage of all those high dollar motors rolling across the auction block to be bid on by a sea of AARP members. Although I own a few cars myself, any Gearhead will tell you that there will always be that, “one more”, car that we just gotta have in our garage. I have a list of, “must own”, cars in my head and it seems to get longer every few months. The problem is that young Gearheads today are in a race against time when it comes to being able to purchase their vintage dream cars and I believe that the TV and greed are to blame.

There has seem to be a big demand for automotive based television in recent years. Gearheads now have their own channel, Velocity, which only shows programs about restoring cars, selling cars, finding cars, or all of the above. I remember when the only car shows on the air were Over Haulin, American Hotrod, Gears, and whatever NASCAR coverage ESPN was giving, now I can’t keep track how many other copycat shows are flooding the networks. I always find it funny how the shows tend to give cliffhangers to keep the viewer interested enough to wait through the commercials by dramatizing something like: the car being late for paint, parts not coming in on time, or the new engine not firing up on the first try. Yet when the show comes back after the commercials, everything has worked itself out and the car is finished under the most unrealistic time frames. Any body shop owner will tell you that finishing a ground up project that involves body work, paint, and assembly in one week, two weeks is technically possible…if the their employees don’t mind working overtime for free. I am surprised none of these programs have shown a car that has been put together without any brakes by accident because the mechanics have been working nonstop all week and have made mistakes due to exhaustion.

The problem with these shows is that Gearheads are not the only ones watching it, and now any John Doe with a 4-door Nova thinks he can get top dollar for his junker. It makes it a little more difficult to negotiate a price for someone who doesn’t have a trust fund or a millionaire best friend. I was at a used car lot that had a few classic cars, one of which was a 1986 Buick Grand National. The car looked great but I was told it needed work since it had been in storage for years, but only had around 35k miles. I was interested until I heard the price, $27,000! That is outrageous for a Grand National, let alone one that needs work. It was the same story with a 1965 Mustang parked next to it, looked mint but had hidden rust spots and the engine needed tuning, $28,000. I think we can all agree that there are few things more frustrating than a person who doesn’t know much about classic cars trying to get Barrett Jackson prices for a car that is simply not worth it.

The classic car market itself is starting to get too inflated in my opinion. When Ferraris start costing more than the economies of small countries then you know things are getting out of hand. I am sorry but no car is worth over 30 million dollars, I do not care of Enzo Ferrari’s ashes are hidden in the glove box along with the location of Jimmy Hoffa. Once a car’s worth starts reaching seven or eight figures at auctions it is no longer a car, it is now an investment like buying shares at a stock market. Buying the car, waiting a few years and then selling it again for a profit. I say investment because anyone that throws down 10, 20, 30 million on one car isn’t exactly going to take it for a drive down to a local car meet. No, that car will be in an air conditioned warehouse and only see daylight when it is carried on to a trailer to be transported to the next auction house.

If prices keep climbing at this rate, I will not be able to afford anything by the time my own children start asking me to buy them a project car to restore or even buy for my own collection. I understand that cars are worth so much because their rare or desired, but there needs to be a realistic price to back it up. Classic muscle cars, for example, used to be about high performance at blue collar price. A 17 year old kid working part time could go into a dealership, and with a little help on the down payment from mom and dad, could roll out in a base 1968 Plymouth Road Runner with a hot 383 V8 bolted to a torque flite 727 automatic. Classic cars live from passion and a desire to keep the history alive, it should not be turned into a business and ruined like the art or music industry. I am honestly worried about how outrageous the classic car market will be when I am an AARP member. All I can hope for is that the classic car market follows the housing market and crashes, so Joe Six Pack can afford to buy a 440 Six Pack.

Parental Rides

We were all young once, which means most of us can remember when our parents coming home in a shiny new car. There is something intoxicating about a new car, probably the fumes of new car smell, that makes teenagers want to immediately take it for a joy ride where inexperience and exuberance mix together in disastrous results. Not always, but sometimes. I know I fell prey to this phenomenon when I was 16 and kissed a telephone pole with my father’s brand new Chevrolet Silverado pick up, one month after he had purchased it. I vividly remember the accident because when I spun out and wrecked, it happened in front of a parking lot where my father was waiting for me. My father witnessed his brand new truck play Rock’em Sock’em robots with a telephone phone. I still do not know what felt worse, the impact or the fact that he did not yell or speak to me for the next two days. In case you were wondering, truck was repaired and we still own it as a work truck, only since then it has been nicknamed the Piñata since there is not one single piece of sheet metal on that poor truck that doesn’t have a work related scratch or dent.

Recently, however, it was my mother’s turn to get a new car and she decided to go all out on a fully loaded 2015 Kia Optima turbo. This car has every option available and powered by a turbo charged four banger cranking out 270 of American built Korean horses. The car can be mistaken for a Mercedes as it looks more European than Korean in pearl white paint and 18 inch alloy wheels. When I drove down for the weekend to visit my parents, I also went as an excuse to drive the new edition to the family as well. The first time I drove the car I felt like I was holding the baby of a first time mother as both my parents turned into backseat drivers. Lecturing me about driving slow over speed humps and avoiding pot holes to protect the low profile tires, and to not drive so fast around corners. The following night I was invited to a social gathering with my friends and I asked if I could borrow the Kia out for the night. Much to my amazement, I was tossed the keys and I was out the door faster than you can say turbo.

How many of you remember telling your parents, “yes dad/mom I’ll be safe”, and the cutting to you doing donuts in a parking lot with all your friends squeezed in for the ride. Joy riding my mom’s cars is nothing new, I remember pushing the family minivan, a Kia Sedona, well passed the 115mph mark when I was 18. As I drove the Optima that night, I was confident I could beat my old record and went for it. Modern cars can be hovering over tarmac at 120 mph and feel like they are on rails, as was the case with this turbo Kia as it climbed up to 127mph before I backed off due to an upcoming turn on the highway. It wasn’t until the drive back home that I felt a sense of nostalgia of asking my parents to borrow the car and then pushing a car, and my luck, to its limit as most car loving teenagers are prone to do.

Youth gives us a fault sense of invincibility, which can only be dissolved the hard way. For a Gearhead, however, we may never learn because if a car has 500 horsepower, then we will use every last one of them. Our logic is, “why build a car with that much power if you’re not going to use it?” For a lot of us, our first experiences with speed or car control have often been at the expense of cars borrowed from our parents. You can almost call it a rite of passage in the developing life of a Gearhead. My parents often warn me that someday I’ll have a son of my own standing in front of me asking to borrow the keys to my car. When that day comes, the circle of cycle will be complete as I feel the same ball of stress, made up of terror and worry, sitting in the pit of my stomach as I watch my child leave the driveway in my new Camaro. The same ball of stress every parent feels when they see their children drive off.

Red and Blues in my Rear-VIew

The first time I was stopped by the police I was only 15 with a learner’s permit, and received my first traffic citation a month after getting my license at age 16. Since then I have been asked for my license and registration 31 times, so far, during my driving career. One of my New Year’s resolutions, that I always repeat, is to go a year without getting a ticket or being pulled over by any form of Johnny Law. I have been stopped for just about anything you can think of, that doesn’t include drugs or DWI, like: excessive acceleration, reckless driving, faulty taillights, illegal window tint, speeding, expired tags, failure to control vehicle, failure to stop at stop sign, or just because racing stripes count as probable cause. I have always had an almost insane amount of luck when it comes to avoiding points on my license. Out of the 31 stops, I have only been ticketed 6 times of which I’ve only had to pay once. The rest were dismissed and all others have been warnings. Here is one story of my run-in with Texas’ finest that expanded over 6 months.

It was February, 2012, when I received a warning for reckless driving by two members of the Sheriff’s department. I was driving home from school on the dirt roads near my ranch, and I was in a particularly good mood. That meant I started goofing off by power-sliding around turns like a kid who has seen too many Dukes of Hazzard reruns. As I slid sideways in a four wheel drift around the last corner that lead onto my street I spotted a white Crown Victoria that I instantly recognized as a patrol car, which was coming the opposite way. I straighten the truck out exiting the corner when suddenly the Crown Vic steered sharply to the left to block my path, I was only 500 feet from my house.

I knew I was in trouble, but I still chuckled at the idea of getting stopped so close to my house. I lowered the windows and cut the engine as two husky police officers approached me. Once they saw that I was just a dumb kid with a smile on his face their demeanor changed as they asked me what the heck I was doing. Now, in those days the truck had worn out tires so I only had to go 30 mph to throttle out and get the truck sideways, so I argued that I technically was not speeding. They took me for a smart-ass, and they asked me to step out of the vehicle so they could search my truck for reasons they never fully explained. I had nothing to hide so I didn’t make a fuss and I stood with one officer as the other searched all over my truck. I chewed the fat with the cop, talking about car control and how the road they were on was a private road and that I was surprised they were patrolling this section in the first place – just being a wise-ass. The street where the family ranch is located is actually a private road so they really had no right being there, and they probably figured that out when they decided to only give me a warning. I received a second warning for having an expired inspection sticker as well. It wasn’t until I got back in my truck that I remembered that I had a switchblade in the glove box, I was amazed the officer did find see it.

The rest of the week came and went, and it wasn’t until I was leaving for work one afternoon that I spotted another white patrol car on my street. I gave a friendly wave as I passed it and muscle memory made my glance in the rear-view mirror to notice the car quickly turn around with its red and blues on. It was the same two cops from the previous week! They rolled up on me because I still had not gotten my inspection sticker renewed. I told them that work and school was keeping me from going to get it taken care of. However, the real reason was because I knew my truck wouldn’t pass inspection. I got my second, and finale, warning from them and they went on their way, but not before almost T-boning my neighbor’s Mercedes Benz because they did not look to see if a car was coming up behind them. It gave me a good laugh at the sight of my neighbor giving them a not so friendly gesture as she drove by.

Getting away two times with this inspection sticker gave me a cocky attitude. I decided to see, in true young and dumb fashion, how long I could go before getting popped for it. It took 6 months until a state trooper, who must have had the eyes of a hawk, spotted the sticker from three lanes away on the highway. Now I had one month before my date with the judge to get the truck street legal to pass inspection. Having friends in the local car community comes in handy in these types of situations, I had a good friend who knew a guy that ran a body shop certified for state vehicle inspection. I’m sure I’m not the only Gearhead here who has been given the, “friend of a friend”, treatment when getting their hotrods to past inspection. Cash under the table later, the truck was sporting a glossy new inspection sticker on its windshield, but there was still a chance I would pay a fine when it came time for court.

For all my younger readers, take it from me, first impressions are vital in the eyes of the legal system. When it came time for me to appear before the judge, I wore my Sunday best in a suit and tie. Looking sharp as I waited on the bench for my name to be called out, I looked around and could see I wasn’t the only teen there holding a Department of Public Safety pink slip. I was, however, the only one who bothered to dress up for the occasion because all the other kids were dressed to go to the food court. Finally I heard my name and walked to the front to stare up at the judge, feeling like a cartoon at the gate of heaven looking up at Saint Peter and his big book. He asked why I it had taken me 6 months to get the vehicle inspected, and I told my violin strummed tale of a struggling college student who was working part time and simply forgot to it get taken care of. Next he asked if the truck was legal now, which I answered yes, then he asked where the new sticker was. Later on I realized that he wanted a photo of the vehicle showcasing the new sticker, but I didn’t know, so I answered, “Umm, on the windshield of my truck where it is supposed to be?” I probably sounded like a smart-ass again, but the judge just looked me up and down and told me to get out. “What just happened?” I thought to myself as I existed the courtroom and walked to the cashier office to ask what fines I would have to pay. Turns out the judge had dismissed the ticket and I was free to go, and free of charge.

Whenever I talk about my driving record people usually respond with, “Wow, you must really hate cops now.” Given that 2014 dealt with a lot of tension between police and the public, I felt I would end this article with my opinion on Law Enforcement. I love cops, there was even a time when I considered joining Texas Highway Patrol, and they are just doing their job. The bottom line is that working in law enforcement is one of the hardest career paths out there. Hours are a pain, it is a thankless job most of the time, mind numbingly boring 98% of time except for the sudden 2% that turns into hell on earth, you have to see horrific things on a daily bases that could depress the most optimistic of souls, and the paycheck is not nearly enough as the burden you take home. Gearheads and police have a love hate relationship, but Gearheads sometimes forget that cops can be gearheads too. As for my opinion on what happened in 2014 between the police and public, all I can say is that every stereotype is born out of a truth and that a few rotten apples cannot spoil a whole batch.