I have the fever. I mean The Fever. No, I am not ill, so this is not the kind of fever most people get. The Fever I suffer from is like a seasonal allergy, but where an allergy makes you avoid things, this Fever makes you crave instead. And this Fever is much, much stronger than most other seasonal ailments. What I suffer from is Car Fever.
This has been going on since I was in my teens. In summer and winter, I am typically fine. There are outdoor things to keep me occupied in the hotter months of the year and plenty to do indoors in cold weather. But without fail, every spring and every fall, something happens inside of me to set off this almost irresistible craving for a new (or at least different) car.
At last count, I have owned 29 different cars in my lifetime. Although only a handful have been either new or nearly so, 29 cars is still 29 cars. In 40 years of car ownership, this works out to about one every year and four months. That’s a lot of turnover.
It all started innocently enough. My very first car (a 1967 Ford Galaxie convertible) provided a year and a half of happy ownership. But then I got it painted and decided that it was too nice for daily driving. So I bought another for regular road duty, a 1963 Cadillac. It was September of 1978. In March of 1979 I realized that the costs of keeping one and driving a second was killing me, so I sold them both and bought another- a 1968 Mustang. In October I fell in love with yet another (1959 Plymouth Fury) and in one of my less savvy financial moves traded straight up. It was a very nice Plymouth, if that helps. Then came spring of 1980 and, guess what? You are catching on.
Financial exigencies eventually slowed me down in my endless cycle of new love, but the almost primal urge to replace (or augment) whatever keys were in my pocket at any given time has never left me. And I am writing this because it is early October again, and I am in a misery not much less severe than nicotine withdrawal.
In my spare time, I noodle around the internet on various car sites. I have lately been in a Studebaker mood, which is not all that common among people my age (or any age, for that matter.) Why Studebakers? They were the last homegrown car company in my home State of Indiana and I just find them fascinating. Besides, they make perfect “play cars” because they are dirt-simple and mechanically robust.
There is a guy locally offering a black 1948 Commander sedan that looks really, really nice in the pictures. The problem is that the engine is stuck, so the price is low. There is a guy in Texas who has posted a video series on getting a white 1958 Commander sedan back on the road. The problem is that it is ugly and unpopular (and a little rough inside), so the price is low. So, one won’t run, and the other doesn’t look that great.
The ’48 is appealing because it was one of the most advanced cars on the market at the time. It was also a car that would have made its first owner overflow with pride at having a modern new car when his friends and neighbors were still on waiting lists and most of the competition was still selling thinly disguised prewar models.
The ’58 calls to me for the opposite reason. It was made by a company on the brink of bankruptcy that had almost no money available for a new model, and virtually every detail of the car shows it. The few people who bought them were those loyalists who wouldn’t think of buying another brand “because a Studebaker was always what Dad (or Grandpa or Uncle Clem) said was best.” This could have been the least appealing new car of 1958 which has a charm that only lovers of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree could understand.
This isn’t about hoarding or showing off. My thing is experiencing something new. Listening to the sounds, smelling the smells, and running my hands across the smooth cold chrome plated surfaces that have disappeared from our modern vehicles. It’s all about the machine and how that machine was designed to interact with us on a visual and tactile level. I love to fall into the whirlpool of stupid little details like the feel of the action of the shift lever or the sound of the starter as the engine fires to life through parts whose basic design goes back before the days of the Coolidge administration.
I have no business buying another car. I have my little red ’97 Miata (in addition to two regular cars for daily use) and who needs more than that, right? I completely agree. Besides, I only have a 2 car garage so another old car would push the Mrs.’ minivan out into the driveway. I am willing to scrape ice off of my own windshield to keep a cheap old car happy and dry in the garage, but Mrs. JPC (who is normally quite patient with me about these things) does not share that outlook. You have no doubt heard the expression “Happy Wife, Happy Life.” Her car parked outside year around would bring about that expression’s opposite.
I also have a huge list of things that need to be done in the house, in the yard, at my office and yes, with my other cars. I also have plenty of places in my life that should get that money before I spend it on another car. But knowing what I need to do or what I should do doesn’t make this Fever go away. In fact, putting on the brakes of reality only make it worse, in the way that not giving in for that oh-so-needed cigarette makes the cravings of a new ex-smoker continue worse than before. Sadly, I don’t think my priest would consider this an appropriate case for an anointing of the sick. Unless it has developed into an active Studebaker lust, in which case confession might be more appropriate.
I suppose that I could just sell the Miata. This addresses all of the above by not adding to the time or expense involved. At least until I start fiddling with a new car in my obsessive way. But then this is perfect weather for cruising with the top down, which makes the Miata hard to give up. And in any event, my Fever doesn’t make me itch to get rid of a car, just to acquire one.
I have picked up a little wisdom through the years, at least enough to realize that the cycle would start all over again next spring no matter what I do now. And isn’t knowing that you have a problem the first step in recovery?
The good news here is that it is only about cars. I have known people who go through a never-ending series of short term relationships with love interests, homes, jobs, hobbies, addictions and a number of other things, and I have at least been stable in these other areas of my life. I also realize that buying another car to fiddle around with is not going to make me 20 years old again, a time when I had few responsibilities and could justify spending way too much money and time on something in the garage.
So I suppose that there is nothing else to do but to try and stay occupied with other things until The Fever has passed. It always has run its course before, and no doubt will this time as well. Uh oh, the guy with the white ’58 just knocked $400 from his asking price. Here we go again.