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Monday, December 6, 2010

Jack's Wagon (Dec. 6, 2010)

Don’t you love when serendipity brings about a happy surprise?

Today in a parking lot I happened upon a very cool car. It was a coincidence that I was in that parking lot, one I find myself in only a few times a year. Further coincidence that this groovy car’s owner was returning to his car within the same minute I was looking for mine. Meant to be??!!!

It was a 1957 Chevrolet 210 Station Wagon. While I was taking a few photos of it, a man walked toward the car and I asked if he was the owner and did he mind that I was taking photos. Yes, and he had no problem with the photos, especially since I was already gushing over how cool it was. I noticed the white wall tires, the shiny chrome, the original yellow license plates. I liked how the rear side window curved a bit as it met the back windshield. I LOVED the pointy fins. Had I seen this very car in my neighborhood, a few miles away? I thought so and he confirmed it. It turns out I’d taken photos of this very car at a local fair, held in nearby park a year ago. We talked for a few minutes about the car and about my grandparents’ 1961 Rambler Cross Country Wagon, which shared a few design similarities. He introduced himself as Jack and he seemed happy to share his enthusiasm for his car with me. He told me that before he owned it, the car had spent twenty years in someone’s garage, and another ten in someone else’s. I appreciated the mini-lesson and the shared passion for this vintage car. He’s worked on it himself. The neighborhood where we both live is one where people cut their own grass and work on their own cars. I think this makes someone a lot more emotionally invested in a car, and maybe he was glad to talk with someone who shared some of his excitement over it.

(Let me stop a minute and ponder whether this is my first car-related blog piece. I think so. Next month marks 2 years since I created this blog, and I’ve been planning on telling you about the Rambler as well as the Isetta, one of the coolest cars EVER. Of course, life has been insanely Go-Go-Go lately so car blogging has been on the “To Do Later” list. Thoughts on cool older cars may warrant more than one blog piece so this is probably Part 1 of ?).

My interest in cars developed so slowly I can’t even pinpoint when it happened. I’m talking about older cars. New cars are fine. Reliable. Gas-efficient. But I don’t get excited about how they look. Older cars just look cool! I think my interest in cars of this era started as an extension of my excitement over 1950s and 60s design in general. Since I was a teen-ager I’ve loved mid-century signs and buildings. (More on this in future blogs.) I love these signs and buildings for how imaginative they were, far less influenced by function than by fun! Car culture was hot and cars of this era had a lot of style. In turn, businesses started using exaggerated architectural elements and huge neon signs to attract cars cruising the boulevards.

My favorite car is a 1957 Chevy Bel Air Convertible with major fins in back (painted turquoise, if possible).A year ago I didn’t have a favorite car, model or year, so it amuses me that I have developed such a specific favorite, almost overnight. I’ve never been one to rattle off specifics about engine size, 0-60 speed or engine oil preferences. Cars are so complex and I’m still under the impression that mine runs due to the efforts of a very tired hamster running in a wheel beneath the hood. So for me to become a bit of a car junkie surprised even me! But somehow, slowly, I became aware of older cars in my neighborhood. I liked how their body styles differed so much from newer cars. Occasionally I’d take photos of them, now and then looking on the Internet to guestimate their birth years.

When I was in preschool we drove my grandparents’ 1961 Rambler wagon for a while. I remember how it looked and smelled inside. The steering wheel size, slant and design seemed so different from cars in the 80s. The dashboard was different. So were the seats, tires and windows. Everything was different. I noticed all this as a child, so maybe my interest in older cars was born decades ago and lay dormant until recently. A few years ago my mom was finding a new home for the Rambler, and I took some photos of the car so I could remember it. Studying its details brought back my nostalgia for that car. In my neighborhood I started noticing more cars of that era. There were old cars in driveways, covered with plastic tarps. A neighbor has a beautifully-restored Chevy, with “Fiddie 5” on its license plate. I happened upon old car shows. I saw restored convertibles, cruising the freeways on Sunday afternoons. Suddenly, old cars were everywhere.

To meet Jack and his wagon today was a terrific surprise. I love it when people come together over a common interest. It sometimes feels like there is a lot that divides us, that self-identifying by political or other affiliations serves only to alienate people. Friendship over a car may seem silly, but the point is to connect as humans.

Oh, and did I mention that he had fuzzy dice hanging from the rear-view mirror?

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