Being a car person isn’t a personality

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Jeff Peek

Last week’s column, “A Cynic’s Guide to Mentoring the Next Generation,” generated far more positive feedback than I expected. It seemed to resonate with a great many car enthusiasts, while upsetting just a few. Several of those who felt hurt or attacked by the article assumed that I was merely projecting my own failings as an enthusiast onto the community at large, but in reality, I’m (thankfully) guilty of only one of the myriad automotive sins outlined in my piece (more on that later).

To the delight of some and the disappointment of many, I’ve decided to follow up last week’s column with similar advice, but in a way that’s more heartfelt and less relentlessly sarcastic this time. As opposed to the previous installment of Low Class Yuppie, almost all of this advice comes from my own experiences as a lifelong car enthusiast.

Being a car person isn’t a personality. Liking cars isn’t a personality trait. You can be shy, gregarious, mischievous, straight-laced, trustworthy, shifty, quiet, or boisterous—those are all personality traits. Owning a particular type of car doesn’t determine what kind of person you are, or even what kind of car enthusiast you are. Cars are a hobby, a vocation, or even a lifestyle for many. They are not, however, a replacement for a personality. Stop pretending that liking a certain kind of car is some kind of Meyers-Briggs test for people who can afford to avoid smelling hobo urine and wino breath on the city bus, or that you can’t like a certain car because of the type of people who own them. Sure, stereotypes exist for a reason, and they might even be fun to joke about. But, as I pointed out last week, just about any car joke you can think of is hacky and annoying.

Be yourself. Stop trying so hard. Just be you. Like what you like with no sense of shame or irony. Be sincere. Unless, of course, you’re an annoying dork. Then be someone else. If you’re in your twenties, it’s probably a great time to start developing a personality and figuring out who you really are as a human being. I’ve been obsessed with cars since before I could read, and at many times in my life, I’ve probably been an annoying dork. With any luck, you’ll develop a measure of self-awareness, a necessary tool to realize that you suck and nobody likes you. Right around the time I was finishing high school, zero-tolerance anti-bullying programs took hold in schools across this once great nation of ours. As a result, we aren’t allowed to tell annoying dorks that they’re being annoying dorks anymore. You’re kind of on your own for this one. Are you surrounded by annoying dorks? If so, then you probably are one, too. Get some new friends.

Make quality friends. I’ve made some of my best friends in the car community. In fact, my very best friend in the whole entire world is a guy I met because we drive the same color Mustang. However, I’ve met many other friends who drive very different cars than I do. Car people come in all different shapes, sizes, colors, and band t-shirts, but, in general, most of us are wonderful people. This hobby is more fun with friends, even if you’re not burning fuel or swinging wrenches. Some of the best nights of my life have consisted of sitting in the garage, staring at someone else’s project car, and laughing, bench racing, and trash-talking (my personal favorite) with other people who love cars. You’ll always have good company, and, when you need help, they’ll probably have your back, too. Just make sure you return the favor when you can (or at least buy enough pizza and beer to keep everyone fed and buzzed until that greasy, broken transmission is finally on the ground).

Broaden your horizons.
Being friends with a wide range of car enthusiasts allows you to experience things you might have never thought possible. My weird automotive fetish is apparently for Ford products built between the mid-’80s and mid-’00s. You just sort of figure these things out over time. In addition, I love Porsches and Japanese cars from the ’70s to the ’90s, but I don’t have the time, space, or cash for everything I want to play with. However, thanks to the people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made, I’ve had the pleasure of driving everything from a 1914 Packard to a one-off, mid-’70s coachbuilt Italian show car based on a Honda Civic. In return, my friends have had the distinct pleasure of driving exotic machinery like the 1997 Ford Mustang V-6 automatic that I bought for $950 (nobody ever said it has to be a fair trade).

Being a car person isn’t a competition. Someone isn’t a “lesser” car enthusiast because they like popular performance cars instead of long-forgotten econoboxes. Sometimes things are popular because they are good, and sometimes things are unpopular because they kind of suck. I’m not more of a car enthusiast than you are because I get paid for my opinions about them, and you’re not more of a car enthusiast than me because you know the year/month split of when some Communist-bloc POS appliance went from a three main-bearing crank to a five main-bearing crank or whatever. With that said …

Never stop learning. There’s a lot to know, and a lot to learn when it comes to cars. It’s an expensive hobby, but, for the most part, reading is free, and you can learn all kinds of great tech info and trivia. Learning is fun, but it can also save you money later. I hate starting sentences with the phrase, “When I bought my Porsche 911,” but when I bought my Porsche 911, I had spent literally years of my life researching and finding out exactly what I wanted—because I knew I’d only have one shot at getting it right. All of my research paid off, and I now own the rapidly appreciating car of my dreams, with no regrets whatsoever (well, one: I wish I could have bought two). Also, avoid being the smartest person in your friend group if at all possible.

Don’t get in over your head. Stick to one project car at a time. I spent way too much time and money in my teens and twenties trying to acquire everything I wanted. I’ve owned everything from a right-hand-drive Toyota Celica to a Canadian-export Mustang Cobra with color-changing paint. With all that said, I think I’d be much happier if I had fewer cars, but cars that were done, rather than, for example, a half-dozen non-running cars like the 1988 Mazda RX-7 that’s been on jack stands at my parents’ house for over a decade. I want to get my racing license this year. This means I have to go to racing school. Racing school is expensive, but not too expensive. I’d be so much further ahead in my journey as a car enthusiast if I had spent that money and time a decade ago instead of buying yet another piece of rusty junk that I had “always wanted.” Worse yet, now that I’ve had some of these cars for five, eight, or ten years, I’m too emotionally attached to get rid of them (like I probably should).

Of course, these aren’t hard-and-fast rules. There are exceptions to each and every one of the points I’ve made, and I’m certain that there are plenty of annoying dorks champing at the bit to tell me as much in the comments. For one thing, there is something to be said for buying and stockpiling project cars when they’re at the bottom of their respective depreciation cycles. Both my 911 and my RX-7 have doubled in value at least twice since I purchased them, and sometimes, some deals are just too good to pass up. Regardless, I’m still certain that my parents would like to have half of their garage back. Sorry, Mom and Dad.

Cam VanDerHorst is a stand-up comedian and lifelong car enthusiast from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. He lives this way so that you don’t have to.

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