Wayne Carini, in his own words: The importance of mentors, listening well, and—surprise—autonomous cars

Wayne Carini at the 2014 Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance

Long before Wayne Carini entered the public eye as the host of Chasing Classic Cars on Velocity, he was already an accomplished car restorer with decades of experience. He grew up working alongside his father on pre-war American classics like Packard, Ford, and Duesenberg, and his fascination with European sports cars began with a ride in a 1960 Ferrari 250 SWB when he was nine.

Carini has made a life out buying, selling, and restoring (or preserving) classic cars. Recently we spent some time with him at his home in Connecticut, chatting about cars, life, and the future of his TV show.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I grew up around my father’s family, a very big family—nine brothers and sisters—on a farm. I was always taught to work, and to work hard. I was given a lot of very good advice when I was young from people who were very successful and so, more than anything, it’s important to have mentors and to listen to those people and take their advice. Never forget the great pieces of advice that you get and always try to put it into action in your own life.

I grew up in a family where everyone was kind to each other and pleasant, but they were also business people, and they knew how to do things to become successful.

I received one piece of advice when I was 12 years old and I’ll never forget it. It came from this insurance salesman who my dad knew. He told me, “The key to life, Wayne, and the key to being successful, is to be a good person and then sell yourself. Don’t try to sell anybody anything or tell them how great it is without believing in yourself. If you believe in your product and you believe in yourself, and you express that to people, they will buy into it, too.”

I suppose my own advice would be to work hard and always listen. My dad always told me that when you go and meet people, shut your mouth and just listen to what they have to say, because you’ll learn an awful lot. But the minute you start opening your mouth and bragging about yourself, they will know when you don’t really know what you’re talking about and they’ll lose interest.

Who is your automotive guru?

Herb Chambers [CEO of the Herb Chambers Group of car dealerships in the Boston area] is one person in business, as well as in my personal life, that I run things past constantly. He and I are very close friends. He’s a super successful business person and he’s just a fantastic friend; I’ve known him since I was 10 years old.

When I run into little problems or something I don’t know, I always think of—I hate the word “expert,” so I won’t use that word—someone who has more knowledge of that subject than I do. I’ll think of the person I know whom I believe is the highest-respected person within his or her field, and then I’ll contact them for advice.

And then, of course, I’ll run everything past my wife. She’s the one person who’s the most important in my life. I don’t run car deals past her, but if I have little situations in life I certainly consult with her and get her perspective.

What have cars taught you about life?

The one thing cars have taught me is that there’s no one situation that you can’t figure out. You can figure it out—all you have to do is take your time and think about it logically. Common sense is something that’s missing in society, and I think more than anything common sense is how you go about doing most things in life. If you just think about it, everything will work out.

Cars are the same way. It’s pretty simple to get a car running: if it has gasoline, if it has spark, and if it has compression, the car’s going to run. But if you suddenly hit your head against it and say, “I can’t figure this out,” well… yes, you can. And that goes for life, too. Cars have taught me that nothing is insurmountable, that you can figure it out and take care of it.

Also, you just don’t win every time. One good thing that we show on Chasing Classic Cars is that we sometimes go to auctions and I lose money on a car or I’m not able to buy a car. We don’t show everything to be a winner, because life’s not going to be that way. You’re not going to win 100% of the time.

What do you see as the future of pre-war American cars in the collector world?

There are going to be some cars that definitely just go away. Anything that’s not really special is going to disappear.

I get emails constantly from people that are selling, for example, a 1912 Buick four-door sedan that’s rusted up to the door handles and they want to know how much it’s worth. Well, I’m sorry, but it’s really not worth anything. Those type of cars are going to go away, even if 30 years ago that same car would have been revived by somebody. The cost of repairing these cars now—because of labor rates and costs involved in restoring a car—just doesn’t make financial sense.

Our society has also educated us to be this way, not like before where you might’ve said, “I have to have this because Uncle Harold had one and I remember him taking me for an ice cream in the car and now I’ll spend whatever it takes to bring this car back to perfection.” That’s going away. Everybody thinks about it in dollars and cents these days, and the passion is maybe not as great as it once was because the minute you hear you’re winning or losing on a car you start to rethink it.

But I do think that young people will still collect cars. And I tell people this all the time: It’s like when you’re in high school and you’re sneaking a beer once in awhile, then you go to college and you go to keggers, and then maybe you start drinking Jack Daniels, and then maybe when you get into your 40s and 50s you start drinking fine wine. The fine wine is the classic cars and brass cars. Maybe you like Toyotas and Subarus now, which is fantastic. At least you like cars, and then as life goes on you find out that there are other, better things in life, like a Duesenberg or a Packard.

I think it’ll all take care of itself, but what’s happened is that families now are so busy that they don’t get much time together. A car show is the perfect place to have that, but you have to get the father or the mother or the uncle or the grandfather to get the the kids away from the computer and take them there.

Kids also aren’t learning how to drive manual transmissions these days. What’s going to happen when your grandfather leaves you, say, a Duesenberg and you say, “What do I want with that? I can’t even drive it because I don’t know how to drive a standard shift car and I don’t even want to drive a standard shift car.” That’s going to become a real issue. I’m actually part of the driving experience program we have with Hagerty that teaches kids how to drive standard shift cars. It’s like riding a bicycle—once you learn it, you never forget it. Of course, a lot of kids don’t ride bicycles anymore either.

How do you feel about the impending arrival of autonomous cars?

Autonomous cars are going to have a great place in society in certain zip codes around the country. I think it will work in large population areas, such as Los Angeles, when you’re going to work and you’re sitting in traffic for two hours. It could be a great thing because you could sit there and get some work done or write emails. But to do that in other areas where you enjoy driving, I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon.

The one place where I think it’s really going to work well is for handicapped people. For them to be able to have a car and to able, in a wheelchair, to get in a car and go down to the library or out to dinner without help, or without the additional controls on a car that we have today, will be so good for handicapped folks who want to be more mobile. It’ll bring a new perspective to their lives, and that’s something to be excited about.

I also think that we [car lovers] may have an autonomous car in our garage that takes us to work, but when we want to go out and go to dinner, when we want to go to the beach, we’re not going to take that car. We’re going to take the roadster or the classic car or the sports car.

Give us the update on Chasing Classic Cars. What keeps you going after all these years?

We’re in season nine now. About five years ago we started doing 26 episodes a year—which is double the number of a normal TV series—and we’re now up 170 or 172 episodes, I think. It’s a huge workload, especially since I’ve got so many other irons in the fire.

We’re basically doing an episode every two weeks, but we don’t really look at it that way because we’re constantly on the road filming multiple episodes at the same time. We can be in one location, such as Amelia Island or Pebble Beach, wrapping up four or five episodes that we’ve been working on during the year—showing a car, auctioning three or four cars or whatever it may be, and that takes you to the end of those episodes.

There’s a lot of air travel and a lot of hotels in addition to the appearances and the car shows that I need to attend. Somehow, though, we keep going and it’s all fun. When it’s not fun any more, I guess we’ll stop.

We have an unbelievable crew. We normally have three people on the road. If we go to a big event like Amelia or Pebble Beach, there’ll be four or maybe even five people if we hire another B-cameraman. Normally though, (director) Jim Astrausky and (producer) Hannah Lintner run the cameras very well.

We do have to be together a lot but we’re not with each other 24 hours a day. For example, we don’t sit next to each other on airplanes, and sometimes when I go to cities or towns I’ll go out to dinner with friends in that area rather than with the crew. So far, it seems to work pretty well.

More than anything though, I just enjoy the adventure that we’re on, the excitement of going and meeting people, of seeing these cars and finding them. People tell me all the time, especially at car shows, “You’ve got the best job in the world!”

Well, of course, they don’t know the whole story behind what we do, that occasionally things are unpleasant, but it is a pretty cool job to be able to go around the country, talking to people and hearing their stories, and finding cars. Every day is just like Christmas; every day is exciting. And if you can have a good time 70% of the time you’re working, then that’s pretty good odds.

Right now we’re planning on going back to finish the London to Brighton rally, which seemed to be an episode that everybody really loved, and I think they loved it because they saw me going through so much pain with the car breaking down every 10 minutes. Normally on TV you root for the guy through the whole show, and you just know he’s going to make it … and then we didn’t make it. The car broke down and we were five miles from the finish line and just couldn’t do it. The car blew a head gasket and it wasn’t going any farther. But we’re going back, and we’re buying another car, and we’re going to finish that rally.