What makes someone a car person?

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I mis-judged the Hagerty Community’s reaction to my last question, but I don’t plan on making the same mistake twice. Hope springs eternal, and some questions transcend the physical, personal, and generational boundaries we place upon them. One such question stems from the series of attributes someone must possess to be a “car person”—without bias regarding the type of car, the vehicle’s location, or any other preconceived notion we might build up around this individual.

It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, when you were born, or whether you live in a car-centric community: I reckon you have an idea of how to separate a car person from a mere motorist. Let’s stop beating around the bush and ask it: What makes someone a car person? What are your minimum requirements?

24 Hours of Lemons

Here are a few of my criteria, in no particular order:

  • Have an interest in racing/fixing/modifying cars
  • Interact with other enthusiasts without gates and ladders
  • Teach others what they learned, while actively listening to maintain relevance with the audience*
  • Driving their car for a reason beyond transportation

I think these attributes ensure someone is passionate about automobiles. I would certainly like to hang out with such a person for a few minutes at a car show. Who knows, maybe this person is worth inviting over to your shop to help and/or teach them something about cars? No matter, let’s ask that question one final time: What makes someone a car person?

*What’s that phrase about having two ears and one mouth? That also applies to car enthusiasts, as audiences are as diverse as the automobiles made in the last 50 years or so. Not every audience understands carburetors, but they absolutely understand the need to meter fuel. Or the need to find oversteer more entertaining than understeer. Ya know, the big-picture stuff that brings us all together!




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    Being a car enthusiast comes in levels and degrees. Much like collage educations.

    1# You can have your passing interest in some that admire cars in general. Not always an owner.
    2# You have those who actually own a interesting car.
    3# You own the car and participate in the hobby socially.
    4# You own a car and participate in the hobby not only socially but hands on working and restoring.
    5# You not only participate socially but physically in racing and other events with your car. You also will own other vehicles as in more than one play car or support vehicles to support you hobby.

    I have always been in the hands on groups where you restore, repair and occasionally race your vehicle.

    I recently got involved with a Corvette club. Nice people who love their cars but many are just there for the social aspect. Nothing wrong with that but most are not mechanically inclined. They go out to eat. Raise money for charity and are kind of like Shriners with larger cars. I have never been exposed to that kind of enthusiast. Yes there are some hands on guys but most are not club members and it is just a different experience. Most are older and memberships are declining like many other organizations.

    There are really 101 kinds of owners and auto fans out there but this is the basic group. All of these types have declined in the recent years and the groups are getting older. Why for many reasons. Often the cost have gotten so high many kids just have no interest. The days of a solid 65 GTO for $1500 are over and even an affordable Honda is not cheap to build.

    I had to quit the only Corvette club I ever belonged to because of all the posers. It was more of a social club than car club. Too many old guys (I’m one too) with razor cuts affecting that silver fox look with ladies wearing inappropriate clothing with cellulite on display. I’ve belonged to a Camaro club and three Mustang clubs and served as a club officer in two of them (president of one), but the Corvette crowd just put me off. Probably not one guy with grease under his nails in the place besides me. I’m on my second Corvette now, a base C6, and I prefer being a lone wolf. My first Vette was a ’69 427 coupe. I got rushed by another Corvette club with that one because they loved the car and noticed the same tendencies as the one that I actually joined and quit. Joiner’s remorse. 🙂

    You give a lot of positive hints when asking but… I almost enjoy reading the comments of the grumpy ones more than the shiny pc people. Today’s Patina comment winner paraphrased – “it’s ok for you but I prefer pretty women”; there’s a car show guy ha

    All of the reasons almost anyone can name I’ll agree with, but the real proof my wife says, is that I only know folks by their cars, their names are WAY down the list, lol.

    A car person- no matter where, what activity, event, people you are with, if you see or hear that different than normal vehicle your conversation stops and your head turns to see what car it is.

    Hello. I can agree with your list of “car person ” attributes. I give a resounding H##L YES to the “tow ears one mouth” plea. I would just add that more than 50% of effort going into the car needs to come from the owner. I will not define effort, other than to say it anit measured in $$$. If you aren’t there you are a “Collector “

    I concur with the >50% effort criteria. Years ago, I was at a hot rod/street rod drive in event on Main St in a small town near by. Lots of nice looking vehicles, some still in progress, & I talked to several owners. I asked one owner about his vehicle, the history, the story behind the build, etc. When he revealed that he just buys them & drives them, I had a couple of thoughts. First must be nice to have expendable cash to do that, but second what fun is that? You’re missing out on 90% of the whole experience!

    When I was 19 I didn’t know a carburetor from a generator and I bought a car that had been campaigned as a drag racer in stock classes from a relative. I owned that car for a year and, by the time the ridiculous overbore wore a hole in a cylinder wall, I owned a good socket set and had learned to replace clutches, transmissions, rear ends, axles and have been a car guy ever since. I’m getting too old to work on them anymore, but I’ve still got a ’69 Mustang convertible, a ’95 Bronco XLT and an ’09 Victory Red Corvette and whenever my mind “idles” my head winds up in the garage. I recently dated a woman with a Chrysler Crossfire. She was nice but the Crossfire is what got my attention.

    I spent last weekend at a car show where the two guys that got me into actually working on cars were attending.

    These were the real car guys of the 60’s. They were all near 80’s now and they all attended with their cars and hot rods. They all lived a life that revolved around cars in some way.

    Some were just builders. Some racers some almost criminal pranksters. These guys made American Graffiti appear to be rank rookies.

    It was a life well led and they invited me in to hear the history. It was fun. Many I had heard the names over the years and now I got to shake their hands and meet them personally.

    In a way car enthusiast are people who live the automotive life style. As I listed above it can be in many ways and merge that list with authors.

    I’m only two years away from 80 and I still love cars and, if I were in better health, would still be working on them. I had a great career as a financial executive in Silicon Valley, but I just couldn’t stay away from cars. People that I worked with thought I was nuts because they all hired mechanics for their BMWs and I was wrenching on a ’69 Mustang Mach 1 with my son. I always found peace and relaxation under a hood or under a car. Started out street racing and drag racing when I was 19 and then went through a sports car phase. I remember seeing American Graffiti for the first time sitting in my new to me ’72 240Z in a drive-in theater with my young wife and almost crying because it reminded me of the street scene in the early 60’s Bay Area that I was part of for a few years. Friday nights cruising. Trying to pick up cute girls or a race off of a traffic light. I even had a “street rep”. I discovered that one night when a guy in another car at a stop light asked where I was from and if my car was a “stick”. I said yes it was and he said “forget it”. That was the best! He’d heard of me! My car was fairly distinctive and you could hear the cam and glass packs even at idle. That’s why he must have asked. BTW, I drag raced up until my health failed. Made some solid passes with my LS1 powered 2000 Z28 at the local drag strip where I live now. It’s in the blood.

    A definitive description will be almost impossible to define. The starter criteria address the question quite well.
    Here are a couple of thoughts:
    When you have a few minutes of quiet, your thoughts eventually focus on cars.
    You can picture the four-cycle process taking place inside an engine.
    You purposely select the best route for driving, especially if it is not the shortest path.
    When you were young, you sketched cars and race cars.
    As a kid, family members eventually just started gifting you car stuff on birthdays.
    At some point you learned differences in cars by their exhaust note or headlights at night.
    You understand that different cars have different interior smells.
    You have turned off the radio to hear the engine.
    This list will have no end.
    The comment about helping others must be repeated. During my lunch break today I was able to do this and it is one of the more satisfying aspects of being a ‘car person’.

    I had a ’69 427 Corvette coupe (it was already 35 years old when I bought it from a friend). When I’d take it out for a spin I used to sit in the garage for bit after I fired it up to just listen to that big block idle. I had (and still have) a ’69 Mustang 302 and it has a pretty aggressive cam that I installed but it still doesn’t have that big block rumble. BTW, I have electric cutouts at the collectors on my Mustang and now I sit in the garage and listen to it with the cutouts open until the exhaust gets me light headed. 🙂

    A car guy is not the same as a car enthusiast.

    All car guys (or girls) are enthusiasts, but not all enthusiasts are car guys.

    Enthusiasts like cars, the social aspects, shows. Etc.

    Being a Car Guy (or girl) is a lifestyle.

    I’m a car guy and always have been.
    Got my first car at 15, second (as in I owned 2) at age 17, third at 18, 4th at 19. By age 22 I had 5. 25 I had 6, age 30 I had 7. 7 cars, all but 1 was pre-1975.

    Every home I’ve owned is purchased based around this way of life.
    Enthusiasts don’t get it, but Car Guys do.

    There’s really no answer I can give that isn’t gatekeeping to some extent. Maybe I should frame it as “what it takes to be my kind of car person” instead: I think it takes more than an interest in cars. It takes a genuine desire for knowledge about the subject, and an interest not based on the aspect of social signaling.

    I think there are an awful lot of “car people” who are really more into status symbols than they are into cars. After all, cars are among the most visible signifiers of social and economic status in today’s world. Anyone who thinks having a certain kind of car would make them somehow cooler, anyone who is more into badges than engineering, anyone who makes a big deal about “pedigree,” anyone looking for a monetary return on investment, those are not my kind of car people. If the personal automobile were to become obsolete as a status symbol or means of storing value, those folks would move on to some other material object.

    My kind of car people aren’t necessarily know it alls. But they don’t claim a deeper knowledge than they possess. They don’t go saying one brand of vehicles is superior simply because it’s what they like. They don’t refuse to acknowledge the flaws in the cars they do like. They don’t waste time bench racing or starting pointless arguments. Instead, they appreciate cars for what they are and what they can do.

    My biggest issue with most car “clubs” is simply that they seem to be boring. When I lived in SC, I somehow hooked up with the Upstate SC Corvair Club, which to this day is my Gold Standard of what a car club ought to be like. We had monthly club meetings at a cheap family restaurant, and spent most of the time out on the parking lot with hoods up and engines revving. EVERYONE drove their Corvair to the meeting. And the people in the club were as eclectic a group as you could imagine- young and old, male and female- every one of them could turn a wrench. There was no prejudice, if your ‘Vair was 100% stock or a caged race car or anything in between, it was welcome. Conversation was lively, enthusiasm was high. Everyone was a “Car guy”.

    Contrast this to other clubs I’ve experienced, I won’t name any but it seemed like folks were just in it to meet and conduct parliamentary procedure. A waste of time. Sort of why we don’t often go to car shows anymore- I’d rather drive to an ice cream shop and spend time talking with one other guy there who coincidentally decided to take his old iron out and get some frozen treats.

    I am a car guy I like to drive them. I like to fix them. I like to buy them. I like to sell them I like to try all different cars and trucks I even watch old movies and foreign movies just to see the cars

    I’ve had everything from a ’55 street racer to a ’62 Corvair Monza to a ’64 Falcon Sprint. I’ve drag raced at the track and on the street. I’ve restored several cars and I owned a ’69 427 Vette that was so untampered with that I was more like a museum curator than a car guy. I’ve had both an LT1 and an LS1 fourth gen Camaro Z28 and run them both at the local drag strip. I have a Victory Red 1LT ’09 Corvette. I even had a sweet little Plymouth Valiant Scamp with a 318. I’ve had a Fiat 124, Datsun 240Z and a Mazda RX7. I worked for a subsidiary of Ford and had a string of Mustang and Capri executive lease cars. I’ve spent my whole life thinking about cars and owning them and, for the most part, really enjoying them. I look back now and would love to do it all again. Beside my late wife and my kids, cars have been the love of my life.

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