Cars come to me to die

Cameron Neveu

From the time a car rolls off the assembly line, it accumulates signs of aging and use—patina, in collector-car speak. The latest issue of Hagerty Drivers Club magazine, in which this article first appeared, explores the delights found in fading paint, rust, and other such imperfections. To read about everything patina online, click here. To get Hagerty Drivers Club magazine sent to your home, sign up for the club at this link.

“Cars come to me to die,” I joke. I’m allergic to polishing, buy cars to use them, and search for machines with a few blemishes or troubling history in hopes I’ll pay less to land the experience I’m after. Then I drive them.

I’ve long admired those who fastidiously detail their cars and am often embarrassed that my own cars look comparatively disheveled; I’m like the parent who sends his kid to school dressed in rags. A friend finishes a long drive with a full day of cleaning. Since his cars always look amazing, I asked him to take me through his process. When he got to the part where he removes not just the wheels but the fender liners to access the unseen areas under the body, I knew we were done. Even if I had the time, I certainly don’t have the patience. Hey, as Aristotle said: “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”

I know I don’t want a perfect car because I won’t feel bad about the inevitable nicks and scratches that come from use. The car community, however, celebrates the perfect. We see it in the high prices paid for older cars that have barely been used, the so-called wrapper cars that are close to showroom new, and the pristine restorations awarded ribbons at car shows. I admire them but then think, “Oh man, will that thing ever get driven?”

I wanted to highlight the less than perfect, which is how we decided on the theme for this issue. Patina, the word that has emerged to describe a car with warts, is itself imperfect. It feels highfalutin to me, but people know what you mean when you use it. Another term is “driver quality.” Whatever. We’re here to indulge the joy of owning—and driving—a fun used car.

1986 Mustang GT rear blur action pan
Call it “patinaed” or call it a “driver-quality” pony car, Webster’s 1986 Mustang GT has exactly the sort of cosmetic imperfections he prefers. Cameron Neveu

There’s a growing appreciation for patina cars. High-end car shows often feature unrestored machines, a trend from Europe. Other car shows, like Concours d’Lemons, emerged specifically to celebrate junkyard dogs. We’re not uncovering a trend in this issue, but rather acknowledging what’s already happening.

Our goal, as always, is to help you get more from your hobby. I also wanted to relieve myself of my guilt that I don’t keep my cars perfect. I’m sure many of you can relate. If you read these patina-related articles over the next few weeks and feel more freedom to go drive your car, then we’ve done our job. Let me know.

As usual, we relied on many generous folks to help us pull together the group of stories you’ll see over the next several weeks. About six months ago, the people at AI Design, a shop you’ll read about soon, alerted us to a trio of rally machines. The generous owner of the cars wanted us to get behind the wheel and share his love for them with you. Wow. The owner asked not to be named, but you can follow him on Instagram: @teamchampagneninjas. Then Alan Wilzig stepped up to provide a venue for driving and photography. Wilzig built a car nut’s dream on his farm in upstate New York: a private racetrack with a museum-quality garage, replete with kitchen and locker room. If there’s a heaven and I get in, I hope it’s Wilzig’s compound. We couldn’t have done the piece without their generosity. As I often say, car people are the best people.




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    Preach it, brother Larry! I like my cars to be clean on the inside, but the outside should show signs of use, because my cars ARE used. Having an imperfect car is just so much less stressful.

    Larry; we are Sympatico here. I drive my ’64 Chevelle more door everyday, when there is no snow and salt on the roads. I bought it from the Granddaughter of the original owner, as a non running vehicle. It had 85,000 miles then. I got it running and installed disc brakes and an overdrive transmission, right away. It was born with a 194 ci six and an air cooled powerglide. Later I came across a 41,000 mile original 283, from a ’67 El Camino, and installed it. The car now has 130,000 on the odometer.
    My other no salt car is a ’64 El Camino, that has a similar story. Neither looks shiny, but both are wonderful fun to drive.

    I just passed on a low-miles car partly because it was “too nice.” I knew it was going to be too frustrating to actually use the car as I’d like to and keep it looking as good as it did when I bought it.

    My goal is to take the underdog and take it to the others.

    I just was a a Concourse event and my buddy and I took our Fiero’s. Yes Fieros.

    Now we are not the normal faded out oil burner that lies dead in the driveway. We are both well tuned and very special top condition cars. What is fun is we have so little in our cars but yet these cars draw people like crazy.

    While Fieros are not a daily seen car to many it is a car that many can relate to in a positive way.

    When I bought my car new I was a celebrity, then after the bad media I was the idiot that owned one. Today it is a world of I had one, I wanted one, I wished I had one, my buddy had one and all with a positive story. It was the common mans exotic as they can relate to it.

    I was at an event the other day a whole family lined up and took their photo in front of the car.

    I have worked for everything I had. I have been very blessed in many ways and while I have owned other cars and such I never gave up on my Fiero. It was crashed and I rebuilt it. It may have saved my life as it held up well. It was my first new car and it is the only one that looks like it does.

    While I may let other cars go I will not kill this car and hope to pass it on someday.

    I am generally the last owner of my cars, and I am not particularly fastidious with the detailing and polishing. I keep them mechanically sound and wash them often enough that they don’t (noticeably) degrade, but it is all about the wrenching and the driving with me – no garage queens, no car shows, just me on the road in my cars. I select from the low end for this very reason… A clone 454 C3 with rubber bumpers, the much-hated Allante, a 65 Impala that was probably closer to a parts car than a restoration candidate… all good stuff in my book

    I agree with the philosophy. Some day we will (hopefully) get to an old age and think back at either the times of driving enjoyment or the times of walking past a covered trailer queen and worrying about adding another 2.3 miles to the odometer. A friend owns an over-restored 68 Dodge Charger RT and recently told me that it is too perfect to drive, so he is looking for a slightly worn Coronet or Satellite to actually drive and enjoy.

    Perfect approach. I certainly enjoy washing and waxing my classics to shine them up as much as possible and make them look pretty, particularly before a show of some kind. But I drive them. All the time. To the store. To the gym. It’s why I own them. When I see a car go for big money because of super low mileage, I think, what is that thing for? Is it going to sit in some guy’s living room? Who wants a classic that’s value comes from NOT driving it?

    My doc says to lay off cake, it’s bad for me. However, if someone wants to give me one of the E-types featured in another article here about how unreliable they are and don’t run more than they do, I’ll gladly park it in my living room and just look at it (and happily not eat any cake while I’m doing it). Heck, I could sit in it and make vroom-vroom noises! 😎


    can we direct all the battle-damaged Nissan Altimas to you then? May they finally achieve their automotive rest.

    Larry I’m glad to see you embrace the true David Freiburger / Roadkill spirit:

    “Don’t get it right, Just get it running” 😂

    Not driving your car is like saving your girlfriend for the next guy! I own three collector cars and while I keep them very clean inside and out, I drive them all regularly and they have acquired the usual door dings, scratches and scrapes, and they know they are loved!

    I used to have muscle cars that I washed and waxed religiously. I don’t disrespect guys that do it. I see them at the car shows wiping their cars down as soon as they pull in. Been there done that. My current ride is painted suede black. Once in awhile I’ll take a bucket of clean water and wipe it down with a rag. Don’t have to worry about stone chips or scratches. I just drive it. I always find it funny at car shows people will pass by the shiny things and gravitate towards patina and cars a little rough around the edges. To each his own. I only wax my late model daily drivers now. Once a year before winter sets in. Lot less stress

    I keep it clean inside and out but I know imperfections, rock chips, etc. will happen and I don’t stress over them.

    I just bought a 2004 Crossfire, 6 speed with 3000 kms.
    I imediately bought more rims and some new all weather tires. I want to thank the original owner (RIP) for keeping it so nice for me to use.

    As a member here, it’s obvious I like cars. But I like driving cars as much as looking at them. Cars were meant to be driven. They are supposed to be static pieces of art. Part of the beauty is the sounds and smells and experience. My cars will never be perfect but they will be enjoyed … on the road, not in a climate-controlled showroom.

    I have two cars that I drive every day when it isn’t snowing. One is a ‘1964 El Camino. My buddies and I have done a lot of work on this machine, including all the bodywork and a nice paint job. When we went to paint it, we decided to paint it a version of Wimbledon White, because that’s the color the old paint had faded to. Just before we shot it, we decided to make the paint look like it was original, so it went on looking more eggshell than shiny. It gets a lot of love when driving it around!
    The other car I drive is a ’64 Chevelle 4-door that was purchased by the grandmother of the person I bought it from. It has old faded paint and some small rust. We put new floors in it, an overdrive automatic and last year I found a 283, from a ’67 El Camino with 41,000 miles on it. The old six cylinder, in the 4-door was at about 125,000 and getting tired, so we swapped in the 283. When we installed it we cleaned it a little bit, but it looks like it came originally, in that car.
    The funny thing, for me, is that 4-door, with stock steel wheels, and ’66 Chevelle hub caps gets 3-4 times the attention of the very nice El Camino. I love them both and am happy to drive either everyday when the snow is gone. Patina is just good stories to me.

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