Sometimes you’re a Caretaker

OVER THE YEARS I’ve had too many cars to count. Notice I didn’t say, “I’ve owned too many cars to count.” The reason for this is that I feel like I own certain cars, while with others I’m merely the caretaker. It might not sound like a big difference, but it is to me.

There are cars that are so original and untouched that I want to keep them that way. I don’t want to add the miles and risk fragile paint and drying rubber or upholstery. These become more than objects to drive and are really cars I’m maintaining for future generations. With these cars, I’m much more of a caretaker than an owner. My original-paint, original-tires Hudson Italia is one of those cars. It’s just too good to risk damage and wear.

I just bought a 1954 Studebaker Commander Starliner coupe with 7,300 miles. I’ll put it away and conserve it as the caretaker. I don’t even want to buff it out; it looks good the way it is. It’s in such great shape because the original owner wouldn’t let anyone in the car unless they took their shoes off and put on sweatshirts to cover all zippers and snaps. I guess the original owner was pretty much a caretaker, too.

There’s no question that I’ll use the Allard J2X I just bought. It’s in great shape, but because it’s been restored there’s no reason not to drive it. I can always restore it again, and I’ll really own it. My Bentley 3-Litre is the same way. It’s a great car, and we really use it.

With some cars, it’s hard to make up my mind. I bought my 1957 Ford station wagon because I loved the color and originality, and I thought it would make a really cool quasi-hot rod. I want to lower it two inches because it would look great. But because it is so original, I can’t bring myself to do it. It’s just too good to mess with.

If you really and truly own a car, you can do with it what you will. But it’s different with cars that are pretty much untouched. More often than not, original cars are caretaker cars. As a caretaker, you have certain obligations. You have to maintain them so that they are ready for the next generation.

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