I am enormously blessed to be living the dream of owning classic cars.
Like most of us, regardless of age or the economic status we grew up in (mine was modest with very little, other than the bare necessities in a 650-person small town), I have always had a love for classic cars. What causes that love is what I’m writing about today, and it is different for most people. However, there seems to be one common thread that I’ve realized the last few years.
As I take cars to car shows or have random people stop by my shop to see cars, I’m constantly amazed at the enthusiasm and interest level that people have for classics, whether they own one, want to own one or just want to admire them. I’ve always wondered what motivates hundreds and thousands of people to come to a car show in the heat, just to walk around and look at cars. It’s not an amusement park with rides; it’s not the theatre; and usually it’s not because of the great food. It’s typically for one simple reason: to look at the cars. But there’s something else, and this is what I’ve realized.
People love classics because they are not just cars. Classic cars are memories or represent memories and trigger times in our lives that we like to relive. Seeing and talking about a classic car provides a vivid trip back in time, sometimes so clear that we can see the past, smell the smells, hear the sounds and almost relive the past for a brief moment of time.
Proof of this is when people come up to me and talk to me about my cars, mostly at my shop where it’s more intimate and less time restrictive. Without fail, everyone that comes by looks around and usually lands on one particular car. After landing on that car, the story takes shape.
As a result, I have realized that cars are not just cars. They are memories or memory makers, and that is what lingers in our lives. I cannot count how many times people will wander over to a car and just stand there for a moment. I’ve seen people smile, laugh, cry and almost get lost in a moment as they stand there.
Then they start talking. It starts with “I remember...,” and then the story unfolds about how this was the car he drove when he met his wife. Or it’s the car she rode to church in when she was a kid, or the one he took vacations in to Daytona Beach. Maybe it’s the one her grandpa owned on the farm and taught her how to drive in a cow pasture. Reading this, you know exactly what I am talking about because you have the same stories of your own. Some of the stories are truly amazing, and I wish I had written them down over the years as I’ve heard them.
I have memories as well. There are way too many to write here, but I will share one.
As you know, this is the 40th anniversary of the movie “Smokey and the Bandit.” As you read on, you will understand the significance of that movie. When I was 15 years old in South Georgia going to high school, I dreamed of owning my own car — any car — to drive when I turned 16. We had no money, but my dad would save up enough to help us (my siblings and I) buy an old used car if we worked and made some money to contribute.
My first one was a 1968 Volkswagen bus with no seats, except for the driver’s seat, and more rust than metal. But I was driving, and it only cost me $300. Then one day in 1975, while I sat in the library at high school, I was reading a car magazine, and there it was!
In a small corner article about 5 inches wide was a write-up about a new car Pontiac was launching soon. It was a 1976 black Trans Am with the gold bird and accents, the first year for the color black ever. It was love at first sight.
I tore the article out of the magazine, took it home and taped it to my dresser mirror, dreaming about that car every day and night. A few months later, the car came out, and the Pontiac store in the neighboring town got one on the lot. I saw it after baseball practice one day and could not wait to get home to start begging my dad for it.
He didn’t see the need for me to own it. It took a few days of constant begging, promising and everything else to get him to go with me to the dealership. But I finally won, still never thinking he would allow me to have that car, much less knowing we could never afford it.
Anyway, to make a long story short, that’s the day my selling career got off the ground because I convinced him to put $1,000 down and co-sign with me to buy the car. Why he did it, I don’t know, but I truly think my Dad saw himself in me, loving cars like he did. We drove it off the lot for $6,000 and financed $5,000 for three years.
I made every payment and paid for gas and insurance. I had three jobs in high school to pay for that car. Now, here’s the memory part. I was NOT a cool kid in high school…quite the opposite. However, on prom night, we always went to a movie before going to the dance in the high school gym. Well, guess what movie was featured for our prom night movie? Yep...“Smokey and the Bandit!” Although the 1977 Bandit Trans Ams were not out yet, my 1976 Black TA was pretty darn close. I pulled up to the front door of that theatre and dropped off my girlfriend that night, promptly did a small burnout and for one night in my life I was cool!
I had to sell that car when I went to college, but I finally relived that dream and bought and restored another one a few years ago. When I climbed into that Trans Am for the first time after restoration, a flood of memories came over me that literally overwhelmed me. Most of you reading this have probably experienced the same thing. Before I restored that car, I was the one always walking up to owners of Trans Ams, telling THEM my story of owning one and the memories I had. I was fortunate to be able to recreate that memory for myself.
So, my point is I believe the affection, interest and sometimes addiction to classic cars is because they are not just cars. They are memories, and we all love reliving those wonderful times.
Sidney Hobbs is the owner of Classic Storage of St. Augustine.