There are often times when I have to drive our customer’s cars to and from other shops – body shop, carburetor shop, detailer, etc. Most of the cars that are coming or going to these places are old. I just returned from picking up a customers 1973 Nova. The drive was short and with each and every mile my life flashed before my eyes as well as what I was going to tell her when I crashed into someone pulling out in front of me. This car has 4 wheel drum brakes with no power assist.
It’s cold and raining out this morning and who knows when the car was last started. I put in the key and turned it over. It didn’t stay running and I realized that I had to use a manual choke. In doing so it started immediately.
The first thing I noticed was the narrow, large steering wheel, the second was the seat belt. I didn’t notice the seat belt so much as couldn’t find it and had to drive the entire way with the buzzer and light flashing on the dash. When you step on the gas this car wants to go (it has a 5.7L V8) but this is not a fine handling car and, once again, the brakes were a little scary.
In 1973 I knew a few people who had these cars. They were considered a pretty good, economical car at the time. I get into these cars of the past now and I wonder how any of us survived. The thought of thousands of cars on the road with a lot of power and bad brakes gives me pause. Bill often talks about his childhood trips to the Cape where parents and seven children piled into a nine passenger wagon with drum brakes and bias ply tires and drove at 70 mph down the new highway towing a boat. Wow. That’s all that we knew. Makes me wonder what kind of engineers they had in the 70’s though.
I think we all look at many things of our childhoods with nostalgia – with the idea that the older things were better. I have a waffle iron from the 40’s that is without a doubt the best waffle iron I have ever used but I’m not really risking my life when I use it (well, maybe I’m risking some sort of electrical injury or burning down my house). Cars are different. We take them out on the road and trust that everyone is driving the best they can, undistracted, courteous.
I know when I got into that car all I could think was that its owner should not be driving it and wondered how she has survived driving it this long (she bought it new). You see, she is in her mid to late 80’s. She owns 3 cars, this one and two 1967 Volvo 122s. She can barely see over the steering wheel in any of them. The Volvos are standard shift cars. Whenever I have to drive one of them I feel like one of the Weasleys taking a joy ride in a Ford Anglia in “The Chamber of Secrets”. I feel that way every. single. time. I drive those cars – magical and scary, out of control.
Our Volvo/Nova owner has never driven a car newer than one built in 1973. She doesn’t know there are cars that are easier to drive. If I pick her up in my car in the heat of summer I can only put down the window because she can’t abide a/c. I have to put them down for her because there isn’t a crank on the door.
For her there is nothing nostalgic about the cars that she drives, they are what they are. When I get into them it gives me a reality check on how far the technology has come and the comforts we enjoy in the cars that have been built in the past 20 years. There’s a world of difference. It also helps me to place what I come from and how far I’ve travelled. It is truly amazing.