Cars come to me to die
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.
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.