As a kid growing up on the west side of Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the 1980s and ’90s, Juan Ramirez could have easily gone down a destructive path. The gangs were dangerous, crime was rampant, and poverty held sway. Ramirez, however, lucked out in two important ways: He grew up in a two-parent household, and he developed a passion for cars at an early age. This automotive obsession may have frustrated Ramirez’s father in those days, but it likely saved the young man from the darker temptations of his surroundings.

“My dad hated our cars when we were growing up,” recalls Ramirez, who still calls Albuquerque home. “He was like, ‘All you do is spend money on cars.’ What he didn’t realize was that spending all our time and money on cars kept us out of the gangs, away from the drugs. It kept us at home or with other guys who were only into working on their cars.”

If it hadn’t been for the cars, Ramirez knows, he would have had a very different life.

Among the cars that captured the young Ramirez’s imagination was a neighbor’s black 1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible. He loved the long, low lines of that car, its sleek silhouette—the sheer presence of the machine. Appearances, however, can be deceiving, and his neighbor’s car had a tendency to break down at the nearby stoplight every time he drove past Ramirez’s house. Ramirez soon came to look forward to running out and helping the young driver get his car running again. Anything for a moment with that car. The seed had taken root.

By 2001, Ramirez was in the Air Force and stationed at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, still with 1963 Impalas on his mind. A late-night internet session led to a listing for one such car, offered for sale by a retired Air Force Master Sergeant in Florida. In pictures and via subsequent inquiries, the car seemed to check all the boxes. Ramirez wired the money and the car was waiting for him to return to the United States.

1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible
1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible

1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible

What Ramirez found when he returned will sound familiar to anyone who has ever bought a car sight-unseen online. The seller’s claims of it being “rust free” were, shall we say, exaggerated. Fake Super Sport badging adorned the body. The interior was an assortment of authentic parts, pieces from various salvage yard GMs, and whatever homemade pieces someone had seen fit to make over the years. When Ramirez pulled up the carpet, he found an entire stop sign welded into the floor of the Impala.

“After we took all the rust out that we could, I had half a car,” Ramirez says. “Talk about an overwhelming feeling. I just thought, ‘Holy smokes, what did I get into?’ It was pretty bad at the time.”

This is all hard to believe when looking at Ramirez’s Impala today. The car is immaculate, a testament to countless hours of work, Ramirez’s creativity in finding parts, and a family that strengthened its bond as they built the car together.

As he forged ahead with the car’s restoration, Ramirez elected to eschew the flashy design choices that often characterize the lowrider community. The car had a 307-cubic-inch engine when Ramirez bought it, and while he has swapped that out in favor of a 327, he nevertheless opted to keep the engine bay as original in appearance as possible. His goal: a clean, period-correct look distinguished by subtle touches that few other Impalas of the era feature, such as air conditioning and cruise control that both function as intended.

1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible

The car’s interior is similarly subdued, as is the exterior paint and body. Ramirez wanted a color that set the car apart from other Impalas of the day while still appearing as though it could have been a stock color of the time. He had spent more than a year searching, in vain, for such a color until one day while driving through Albuquerque he spotted a woman driving a brown sedan. He caught up with her at a stoplight.

“She thought I was out to get her,” Ramirez recalls with a laugh, “but all I wanted to know was what year her car was.”

As it turned out, the car was a 2015 Volkswagen Jetta and the color is Toffee Brown Metallic.

And then there’s the car’s stance. This is a lowrider, after all. Ramirez installed airbags and two compressors with a 2.5-gallon tank.

“It’s nothing special, nothing that I’m going to be able to hop,” Ramirez says, “but it’s just enough to lay and play.”

1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible
1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible

1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible
1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible

Perhaps the car’s most important feature, however, is the “Ramirez” plaque that sits above the rear seat and which is most visible when Ramirez cruises through Albuquerque on a warm spring evening with the convertible top down. The plaque speaks to the sense of tradition of the entire lowrider community but which is especially strong in this particular Impala. It is a testament to the time invested in the car by Ramirez, his brother, his wife, and his kids.

Indeed, when Ramirez is asked about the most rewarding aspect of building and owning this car, he points not to the awards it has won, the thumbs-up he gets from bystanders as he cruises past, nor the magazines in which it has appeared. Those are all fun, he concedes, but they pale in comparison to what really matters.

“My little boy is into this car,” Ramirez says. “He understands what it’s about.”

1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible

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In 1926, a group of highway engineers met in Springfield, Missouri, with one task: Agree on a numerical moniker for the stretch of road that linked Chicago to Los Angeles via the American Southwest. They narrowed their choices to 24 options, finally settling on “66”—a pair of digits that would, once emblazoned on the black-and-white shields that dotted the road’s length, become a symbol of this country’s national restlessness.

In the ensuing years, Route 66 fueled America’s westward migration, provided the narrative thoroughfare for books such as John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, and fed the fire for an entire generation of car enthusiasts.

Some five decades after the highway got its name, Jamie Saavedra entered this world on Route 66—specifically at Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Jamie’s parents then bundled her into their Pontiac Catalina for the short ride to their family home, itself only a few blocks away from Route 66. Thus was Saavedra born into the car culture; by the age of three she would be helping her father bleed the brakes on the family car (never mind that she couldn’t reach the pedals). She is now the president of the New Mexico Council of Car Clubs, her bond to automobiles and to Route 66 having only grown stronger over time.

1967 Pontiac GTO front
1967 Pontiac GTO rear 3/4

1967 Pontiac GTO profile

Whether it was her birthplace, the hours spent in the garage with her father, or sheer natural aptitude (or, more likely, a combination of all three), Saavedra was a quick study when it came to all things mechanical. After high school, she trained as a diesel mechanic and was soon wrenching on big rigs at the local Kenworth dealership. Her heart, however, always belonged to Pontiac.

With money saved from keeping other people’s machines on the road, Saavedra was able to buy her dream car in 2012. That car, a Tyrol Blue 1967 Pontiac GTO, featuring a 400-cubic-inch engine, was originally the brainchild of one John DeLorean, who convinced the General Motors brass that a hopped-up version of the Pontiac Tempest would help the brand appeal to the 1960s youth market.

Saavedra’s 1967 example also comes equipped with a Hurst Performance dual-gate shifter (known in that quaint 1960s jargon as a “his/hers” shifter) that allowed the driver to operate the car as an automatic transmission or to manually shift through the gears.  For Saavedra, this history and these period options were part of the car’s appeal.

“Pontiacs are a just a little less common than, say, a Chevrolet or some of the other manufacturers out there,” she says. “Pontiac put a different twist on things and a big part of my inspiration was John DeLorean and his background.”

1967 Pontiac GTO 8-track
1967 Pontiac GTO grille

Jamie Saavedra in her 1967 Pontiac GTO
1967 Pontiac GTO steering wheel

Not surprisingly given her own biography, Saavedra and her GTO are now frequent travelers on “The Main Street of America.”

“You definitely get that sense of Americana when driving an old American muscle car on Route 66,” Saavedra says. “This road really changed our country and how people think about cars, and it’s pretty special to experience it in a car like this, much the same way that it would have felt 40 or 50 years ago.”

No wonder Saavedra feels so at home out here: She was born on this legendary road.

1967 Pontiac GTO rear

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Jeff Erway was already deep into his dreams of owning an Alfa Romeo by the time Cory Campbell pulled up to work one day in a 1978 Alfa Spider. By this time, Erway had spent countless online hours researching models and monitoring prices, but the sight of that little Italian roadster parked outside his office pushed him over the line: he had to have one of his own.

1972 Alfa Romeo Giuila Super 1978 Alfa Romeo Spider

Erway is the founder of La Cumbre Brewing in Albuquerque, New Mexico. When he hired Campbell as the company’s new marketing director in 2016, he had no idea that Campbell was a car guy, much less that his tastes ran toward Italian underdogs. Before long, however, the two were browsing online auctions together in search of Erway’s next car, with Campbell usually urging Erway to buy every Alfa they came across.

Erway’s ultimate purchase—a brown 1972 Alfa Romeo Giulia Super—turned up in California.  Accompanied by his then-8-year-old son, Erway flew to the West Coast and drove the car home to New Mexico, a father-son trip for the ages across the American Southwest (at the height of summer, without air conditioning) that cemented this car’s place as a member of the family.

1972 Alfa Romeo Giuila Super profile

Alfa Romeo engine
1972 Alfa Romeo Giuila Super rear

The Giulia, powered by a 1600-cc engine, seldom sits for long now that it’s in Albuquerque; whether he’s commuting to the office, running errands around town, or charging up Sandia Crest on a weekend morning, Erway takes any chance he can get to drive—and push—his Alfa.

“I didn’t buy this as an investment piece,” Erway says, “and these cars were not built to be coddled. You can tell by the way that they drive, day in and day out. You’re doing a lot of good by actually being that enthusiastic driver with them.”

Campbell, for his part, came to the Alfa Romeo community after deep dives into the worlds of rotary-engined Mazdas and “turbo brick” Volvos. When he stumbled upon the Spider on Craigslist back in 2013, he wasn’t even searching for an Alfa, but something about the little brown convertible caught his attention. He drove it around the block a few times and decided to take it home with him. Since that day, the car has upended his expectations and earned a place in his heart.

1978 Alfa Romeo Spider
1972 Alfa Romeo Giuila Super and 1978 Alfa Romeo Spider

“This is my first Alfa,” Campbell says, “and what surprises me about it is the reliability, which I can’t say of the other vintage cars I’ve owned. This one’s been a champ.”

Nowadays, when Erway and Campbell can slip away from family and work, they and their Alfas can be found on the famously scenic back roads that surround Albuquerque. Both cars are powered by legendary Alfa Romeo four-cylinder engines, but as they climb toward the 10,640-foot summit of Sandia Crest, the benefits of fuel injection (as in Campbell’s Spider, with its larger 2.0-liter engine) are apparent. Even with that slight advantage, however, both Campbell and Erway will quickly admit that these are not the cars for anyone seeking a high-speed thrill ride up the mountain.

“Alfas have always punched far above their weight class when it comes to the way that they handle, which makes them feel faster than they really are,”  Erway says with a laugh. “It also helps that they sound faster than they really are.”

1978 Alfa Romeo Spider front
1978 Alfa Romeo Spider interior

Both men agree that the fun of these shared drives is not in being the fastest, but rather in experiencing together cars of a similar time and place exactly as they were meant to be enjoyed.

“It takes you back in time, especially if you’re following another Alfa of the period,” Campbell says. “When I’m up there following Jeff and his Alfa, it becomes this game of cat and mouse, but it’s less about who’s the fastest to the top and more about how much fun we’re having getting there.”

After all, both men understand that the sooner they reach their destination, the sooner the drive will end. Why hurry?

1978 Alfa Romeo Spider rear profile
1972 Alfa Romeo Giuila Super nose

1978 Alfa Romeo Spider

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At some point during their childhood, brothers JJ and Pierre Petersen discovered that they could do and experience more in life if they started sharing. They quickly applied this realization to cars: instead of each driving one car, they could pool their resources and share their automotive experiences.

That’s how the two Phoenix, Arizona, residents ended up in Washington, D.C., in the winter of 2016, the new co-owners of a sunflower yellow 1972 Chevrolet Corvette. The classic car world was new terrain for them: neither brother had owned a vintage car before this, nor were they experienced mechanics. But hey, they figured, you have to start somewhere, right? They had pooled their savings and purchased the car sight-unseen over the internet and—either because they didn’t know any better, or because the idea seemed like a fun adventure—they flew back to D.C. to drive the car home across the country.

They stopped to visit family in Kentucky as they made their way west. A cousin, admiring the Corvette’s 350-cubic-inch engine, pointed at a corner of the engine bay and remarked on a component. The Petersen brothers had no idea what he was talking about, unable to identify a radiator from a camshaft. Soon, they were being tested on other pieces of the engine. They failed to identify any of them, much to the amusement of their kinfolk.

If nothing else, their innocence augured adventure. Shortly after leaving Kentucky, the brothers encountered a snowstorm, quickly learning how to steer a large, rear-wheel-drive car through a whiteout on bald tires, as 40 cars backed up behind them.

1972 Chevrolet Corvette front
1972 Chevrolet Corvette wheel detail

1972 Chevrolet Corvette side profile

The weather wasn’t done with them yet. As they rolled through Globe, Arizona, on the home stretch of their journey, they encountered a torrential nighttime downpour. They had already learned that the headlights on this old Corvette were barely worth the power it took to illuminate them, a fact that weighed on their minds as they navigated the slick mountain roads. The windshield turned out to be less than watertight, too, forcing one brother to wipe the inside of the glass with a scarf while the other concentrated on not driving the car off a cliff.

Not surprisingly, this Corvette quickly came to represent more than mere fear of death for the Petersen brothers.

“During the road trip, all we ever did was bond further and faster regardless of the snowstorms, the hail, the rain coming through the windshield, the freezing cold, the wind blowing through the side of the door,” JJ says. “Whatever it was, we bunkered down together and kept on persevering. This car is a really nice representation of the bond that I have with my brother.”

The Corvette has also been the brothers’ gateway into a whole new world of knowledge.

“I’m actually really happy that we got it even though we didn’t know anything about it at first. It really incited the process of learning more about cars and engines,” says Pierre, who recently finished rebuilding the motor on his 1987 Ford Bronco, which now sports a 387 stroker engine.

1972 Chevrolet Corvette interior
1972 Chevrolet Corvette rear 3/4

1972 Chevrolet Corvette front 3/4

The Corvette’s current imperfections—including pop-up headlights that are stuck in the “up” position—have their own charms, giving the Petersens free reign to drive and use the car for a lot more than weekend outings. The Corvette is a piece of Pierre’s daily life around Phoenix, carrying him to the office and on errands. JJ, for his part, lives most of the time in Singapore but always looks forward to returning to Phoenix and the Corvette.

“One of my favorite things to do when I get back into Phoenix is go and play tennis with one of my buddies,” JJ says. “There’s something about just throwing my rackets into the passenger’s seat, climbing into the driver’s seat, rolling the windows down and just driving off for the courts to go and play. It makes the entire experience just a little bit better. It changes that commute from something that I was going to have to do to something I wanted to do.”

The typically rain-free skies of Phoenix are always an added bonus.

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In choosing a car for autocross, light, nimble, short-wheelbase cars like Mazda Miatas, BMW M3s, and Porsche Caymans perform well. On the larger end of the spectrum, you’ll find some Chevrolet Corvettes and Camaros at weekend events. You have to look pretty far down that list, however—as in, almost to the bottom—before you find “Chevrolet El Camino.”

For the uninitiated, “autocrossing” is a form of motorsports in which traffic cones are arranged around a large parking lot or airstrip to create a miniature road course. Participants, one at a time, race against the clock to see who can achieve the fastest times through these tight and technical courses.

When Arlo Karikomi first learned about autocross in 2014, though, the car had already chosen him. In his backyard sat a 1965 Chevrolet El Camino that he had owned for nearly two decades but which, by this time, had been sitting unused for several years after a head-on collision.

1965 Chevrolet EL Camino overhead
1965 Chevrolet EL Camino front quarter panel

1965 Chevrolet EL Camino driving

After making the car roadworthy again, Karikomi took it out to his first autocross event, where it performed exactly how you’d expect a rough, stock 1965 El Camino would. Slow, floppy, and with great strain. Of course, Karikomi also recognized his own inexperience as a performance driver. He and the car needed to grow together.

“As I started racing, I wanted to progress my driving with the car, so every upgrade I did little by little.” Karikomi says. “I wanted to not change too much and not know what I was doing. So, as I got better, the car got better. The car got faster while I got better at driving it.”

So, out came the stock 283-cubic-inch engine. In its place Karikomi installed a 350-cu-in powerplant, which includes an Iskendarian valve train, an Edelbrock air gap intake, and a Holley 600 Double Pumper carburetor. Karikomi’s friends at Cerakote—a ceramic coating firm known for its firearms—pitched in to craft the headers, coated brackets and pulleys, the intake manifold, and the valve covers.

1965 Chevrolet EL Camino
1965 Chevrolet EL Camino rear 3/4

The El Camino now had power but, as a driver quickly learns, grunt does little good without a proper suspension and brake setup to steer and stop. With this in mind, Karikomi dove under the car to install a full Hotchkis suspension setup, Corvette Z06 brakes, and a Turn One power steering system.

All the while, Karikomi was honing his skills as a driver. He learned early on not to compete against the lap times of the fastest competitors. After all, they were usually more experienced and came with better-prepared cars than he could hope to muster. Instead, Karikomi learned to compete against himself, always striving to be incrementally better than he had been on his previous run. He learned that “slow and smooth equals fast,” and as he slowly dialed in the El Camino to suit his needs, he crept up the leaderboard.

“The greatest compliment I get about the car,” Karikomi says, “is when I show up to a Porsche Club event and they say, ‘You’re actually racing this thing?’ When I say that I am, they’re always like, ‘Yeah, right on!’

1965 Chevrolet EL Camino engine
1965 Chevrolet EL Camino front 3/4

1965 Chevrolet EL Camino profile

“People are just appreciative that something so old, so odd, so unexpected is out there running and handling its own.”

As finely tuned as the El Camino may be underneath, the car retains its rough-and-ready appearance. The car is currently covered in yellow primer, and while Karikomi knows that he’ll need to paint it eventually, if only to deal with the rust spots, he’s reluctant to do so. The car’s sleeper appearance is by now part of its personality.

For now, Karikomi is focusing on making the El Camino—and himself as a driver—more competitive. That he’s doing so in such an unexpected, but highly personal, vehicle? That’s a victory in itself.

Arlo Karikomi's 1965 Chevrolet EL Camino

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Seven-year-old Sean McLaine could hardly wait to show this car to his soccer coach. Sean’s dad, Keith, had driven them to the local fields that day for Sean’s practice and now stood leaning against the 1969 Mustang Mach 1 at the pitch’s edge. Sean came running up to the Mustang, dragging his coach along with him.

“You’ve gotta see this,” Sean exclaimed, as he tugged open the passenger door. Once inside, Sean began cranking the windows up and down by hand, grinning to his coach at he reveled in the novelty.

By this time in 2008, Keith McLaine had owned the Mach 1 for about four years and the car was as much a part of his son’s childhood fabric as their home and Sean’s classmates. From the time Keith first brought the Mustang home, Sean was entranced.

“It was my dad’s car, and I’d see it in the garage and I was never allowed to touch it,” Sean recalls. “It was always a little bit mysterious to me.”

Sean is now 18, a high school senior and young adult. Gone are those days when he was not allowed to touch the car. Indeed, a weekend morning is now likely to find father and son on some lonely Arizona backroad, pulling over so that Sean can slide into the driver’s seat while Keith rides shotgun for a stretch.

1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 driver name
1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1
1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 3/4 front high
1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1

1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 3/4 rear
1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1
1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 drivers steering wheel interior
1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1

“He’s a great driver and I feel really comfortable sitting in the passenger seat with him,” Keith says. “He’s one of the only people I feel comfortable driving my car.”

Keith spent his own teenage years driving a Mustang—specifically, a red 1965 coupe that also makes its home in the McLaine garage. In the early 2000s, however, his thoughts began drifting toward fastbacks from the late 1960s. At the time, his wife’s co-worker owned this Mach 1, and when that owner started thinking about selling, Keith wasted little time in making the man an offer that made him the car’s third owner.

By the time Ford introduced the Mach 1 for the 1969 model year (part of an effort to compete with the Camaro and Firebirds coming off the GM line), the Mustang had evolved into a dizzying array of available models: a ’69 customer could also choose the Boss 302, the Boss 429, the Shelby GT350, and the Shelby GT500. As if those options weren’t enough choice, no fewer than seven variations of the Ford V-8 engine were available between 1969–73.

1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 hood scoop
1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1
1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 seats
1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1

1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 3/4 front flowers
1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1

Keith’s Mach 1 originally in Candy Apple Red paint with a flat black hood and a two-barrel 351 Windsor engine. The previous owner repainted the car in its current color scheme in the 1980s, and the engine has since been rebuilt and upgraded to a four-barrel Windsor.

Yet, while Keith has personalized the car to fit his taste and lifestyle, he nevertheless strives to keep it true to period. He lowered the car via a so-called “Shelby drop” (by lowering the front control arms by about an inch from Ford’s original placement) for better handling through the Arizona mountains, though the stock drum brakes continue to demand the driver’s alertness. By far the most beneficial improvement, however, came in the form of a five-speed Tremec transmission, which Keith installed last year in place of the original three-speed FMX transmission.

“It’s a completely different car and so much more fun to drive,” Keith says, “especially on those long stretches of highway, when you know the engine is not going to explode going at highway speeds with that three-speed automatic.”

1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 taillight detail
1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1
1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 hood and scoop on road
1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1

 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 front wheel detail
1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1
1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 hand on the wheel
1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1

Finally, in a nod to the record-setting Mickey Thompson land speed cars (based on 1969 Mach 1 platform), Keith added the gold steelie wheels. The Mach 1’s paint, now plenty pockmarked from its age and use, is far from perfect, but Keith notes that several friends have threatened grave harm should he ever repaint the car.

As much as this Mustang ties Keith to his own history, however, it is more valuable as a means for enjoying the present moment with his son.

“Sean’s been in this car since he was two or three years old and he just feels comfortable in it,” Keith says. “Sometimes I’ll look over as we’re going through some twisties and he’s just be fast asleep. This car is like a second home to him.”

The significance of the car is not lost on Sean either. “This car has come to symbolize the time my dad and I spend together,” he says. “When I was little, I didn’t really recognize that but now I see what a blessing it really is.”

With every mile of Arizona backroad, the McLaine men continue to rack up the memories.

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In the years following World War II, anyone buying a Willys CJ (for “civilian Jeep”) could choose from a wide range of factory options, including a mould board plow, a spring-tooth harrow, a cultivator, a 300-amp arc welder, a hydraulic lift, and a hydro-grader and terracer. After having carried allied troops all over Europe and beyond, the Jeep became something akin to a tractor that farming families could drive to church each Sunday.

For that reason, anyone buying a Jeep tended to see them as utilitarian machines and often viewed with suspicion any feature that did not directly contribute to getting through the the day’s chores. Features like, say, power steering. That creature comfort cost $81, a princely sum back then, and given CJ buyers tended to be Spartan in outfitting their vehicles, it usually went unchecked on the spec sheet.

That explains why Cy Schmidt must put a little muscle into steering his 1967 Willys-Kaiser Jeep CJ-5. To call his CJ Spartan is to risk overstating its features. The dash has precisely two knobs—one for the choke, the other for the headlights—and a single gauge that conveys your speed, fuel level, and engine temperature. Anyone needing more information when this Jeep left the factory in Toledo should have bought a Lincoln. Vacuum hoses power the windshield wipers. Pull a little knob at the top of the windshield and, if you are going downhill, they do a passable job. If, on the other hand, you’re headed uphill, well, there can’t be much worth seeing anyway.

This simplicity extends to the Jeep’s drivetrain. If the 225 cubic-engine Buick Dauntless V-6 engine ever acts up, Cy and his son Steve have no OBD port or check engine light on which they can rely for a clue. They must simply dig in together and figure it out.

1967 Jeep CJ-5 grille
1967 Jeep CJ-5 mud splash

1967 Jeep CJ-5 seat detail
1967 Jeep CJ-5 steering wheel

“It gives us a lot of projects,” says Steve. “A lot of phone calls of, ‘Hey, I tore this apart, and I don’t think I can get it back together; I need a hand.’ You end up coming over and BS-ing for a little bit and working on something. Next thing you know, one hour turns into five.”

The suspension showed equally primitive sophistication. The rigid steel ladder frame rode on solid axles mounted on leaf springs.

“It drives like a 1967 Jeep,” says Steve. “It’s pretty rough compared to anything today, but it’s really more of an old school four-wheeler or something like today’s quads or side-by-sides. It’ll go anywhere.”

Cy bought the CJ-5 in 2004 after his Mercury Cyclone was damaged in an accident and he found himself without a vintage vehicle with which to explore the Ohio countryside around his home. This Jeep, of course, offers a completely different type of fun for the Schmidts. “Bare-bones fun,” as Steve calls it.

“You take it out in the sun, or you get caught in a rainstorm, so be it, it’s a Jeep,” says Steve. “We’ll often stop and pick up a couple of buddies when we go out. When the top’s not on, they can just hop right over the side and jump in the backseat. So there’s not much to this thing, but what’s there is fun for everyone.”

1967 Jeep CJ-5 engine
1967 Jeep CJ-5 rear 3/4

1967 Jeep CJ-5 front 3/4

While Cy and Steve also love taking the Jeep out for drives through the woods near their home in Ohio, they avoid subjecting it to the abuse Jeeps were designed to take—and often endured. The CJ-5, which is nearly all-original, now wears a coat of Ford Wimbledon White paint (a close approximation of the Jeep’s original “Glacier White” paint) and the Schmidts see no need to embark upon another paint job.

“We’ll take it out and head over to a friend’s house that has some farm land, go through the field, go up through the pastures, down some fun trails,” says Steve. “You can do all that and not beat it up too much. By the time you get home, you’ve used three gallons of gas and had 10 gallons of fun.”

Ten gallons of fun, apparently, came standard with every Jeep CJ.

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Go ahead, ask. Tyler Hauptman loves this question. Of all the possible Porsches to inspire his passion, why on earth is he so enthusiastic about the 914?

“The 914 has always been one of my favorite cars because of its mid-engine, air cooled, horizontally opposed motor,” Hauptman says with grin. “When you look at the history of Porsche, and all the cars that they’ve produced for racing, in particular—the 550 Spyder, the 904, 906, 907, 908, 910, 917—all the coolest Porsches are in that configuration. That’s why I love the 914.”

Co-developed with Volkswagen and originally intended as a replacement model for the four-cylinder Porsche 912 and VW Karmann Ghia, the 914 has spent much of its life as the much-maligned kid brother of its air-cooled older sibling, the 911. The Karmann-built body invited ridicule almost from the time it debuted and despite some respectable performance bonafides (especially by the hopped-up 914/6 models), for many years the 914 suffered insults that it was just a tarted-up Volkswagen. In recent years, however, rising prices for vintage 911s and 912s have prompted enthusiasts in search of an air-cooled experience to look with new eyes on the 914.

1974 Porsche 914 3/4 front driving
1974 Porsche 914
1974 Porsche 914 door tool belt
1974 Porsche 914

1974 Porsche 914 steering wheel
1974 Porsche 914
1974 Porsche 914 3/4 rear driving
1974 Porsche 914

Hauptman, for his part, was flogging 914s on California’s rural canyon roads long before anyone else thought they were worth a moment’s thought. He bought his first one, a 1973 model, for $1200 two decades ago and proceeded to teach himself how to drive a stick shift on the roads of Malibu. From there, he found a quiet stretch of twisty road and set about learning the intricacies of vehicle dynamics.

“I just went through one corner, over and over again, until I got it right,” Hauptman recalls. “From there I learned heel-toeing, matching the revs, and how to treat the car mechanically.”

Any given weekend is still likely to find Hauptman pushing a 914 through the Malibu canyons. Now, though, the car is a little green 1974 model with big fender flares framing the rear wheels, a remnant of the car’s time as a Porsche Owners Club race car back in the 1980s. Hauptman stumbled across the car 2014, rough and haggard from its many track days, in Arizona. An engineer by trade, he has worked tirelessly to upgrade the car’s mechanics, even as he has kept it as raw and unrefined as ever—just as he prefers it.

1974 Porsche 914 3/4 front mountain background
1974 Porsche 914

“Everywhere I go, I bring the ruckus,” he says. “The car is loud, it’s obnoxious, it pops, it makes people startled and unsettled. But at the same time has a pretty lovely charm, being green and so low to the ground. Everybody loves the car.”

Once was the time when finding anyone who loved a Porsche 914 was a tall order. Times, however, have changed, and public opinion might finally be catching up with what Hauptman has known about these plucky little cars all along.

1974 Porsche 914 fixing on the ground
1974 Porsche 914
1974 Porsche 914 rear driving mountain
1974 Porsche 914

1974 Porsche 914 sunset
1974 Porsche 914

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For most people, cars exist merely as a means of conveyance, something to be given no more mind than, say, a dishwasher until it breaks. For the enlightened however, automobiles are a hobby, even a passion. A fortunate few, like Dan Walters, turn their lifelong love into their livelihood.

His love affair started in 1950. Walters was just eight years old when his father brought him to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. The hook was set. He bought his first car, a 1931 Ford Model A, for $110 at 13, having spent four weeks delivering newspapers to earn the money.

“A driver’s license, when I got one in the mid-1950s, was a rite of passage. An escape,” says Walters, sitting in an armchair in his living room in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “When my friends were all 18–25, we raced one another on the streets, and drag strips, too. Then I discovered [SCCA] road racing, where you could really drive like a lunatic. Although the state deemed it fit to take my license a number of times, I just made my own rules.”

He knew early on he’d earn his living in the car business. Over the years he worked at a gas station, a garage, and a Ford dealership and its attached collision shop, before owning his own body shop in Ann Arbor. Along the way Walters earned a solid reputation as a road racer, shade tree mechanic, and amateur restorer.

why i drive mercury hood detail
why i drive bolts and nuts

why i drive mercury 3/4 front

“Cars have been good to me. My income has been commensurate with the brainiacs in school, and I don’t feel frustrated that I wasn’t one of them, even though many became my friends. I have no formal training, and the phrase ‘self-taught’ sounds awfully pretentious, but I guess that’s what I am. I know how to fix things, how to do lots of stuff with cars. I learned it by reading a lot of books.”

At 76, Walters has long since quit spending his days working. But he doesn’t like the word “retired.” He keeps busy doing things like restoring a 1906 Ford Model N for the enthusiasts at the Early Ford Registry. Well-worn tools and archaic machines fill his garage, which is littered here and there with metal shavings cast off by his lathes and anvils.

Past the garage, Walters shepherds us to a building he calls the museum. As he pulls the door open and flicks on the lights, the name makes sense. Automotive ephemera, from vintage posters and signs to a plaque from his road racing days, line the walls. Just inside the door sits a row of historic motorcycles, including vintage Harley-Davidsons and Indians that wouldn’t look out of place in a real museum.

“I like bikes because they don’t take up much space,” Walters says. “Every nut and bolt is visible, which means you can access everything, but if you’re restoring it there’s nowhere to hide. And when you ride a bike like that, it makes the juices flow. Get going fast and you just feel cool. As long as you survive—they’re dangerous, of course.”

why i drive model t
why i drive red model t

model t engine detail why i drive
why i drive tool box

Classic cars fill the rest of the space. A Lincoln Continental from the ‘40s. A 1963 Ford Falcon. A 1906 REO, and a Ford Model A. Walters loves old cars, especially pre-war ones, because tinkering on them and driving them requires a kind of focus that tells you not only what the car is doing, but what it will do. “Sounds corny,” he says, “but that’s what lets you become one with the machine.”

Walters is especially fond of his 1950 Mercury Coupe, a car he loves for its timeless style. He remembers flying to Minnesota to buy the car in 1974, back when a ‘50 Mercury was another used car. “I drove it right home to Michigan—totally uneventful,” he says. “Even now, for a 70-year-old car, it’s very comfortable and doesn’t surprise me. I don’t drive it much around the city because of the non-power steering and need to shift constantly, but for longer drives I enjoy it. These flathead Ford V-8s are kind of fun. Pretty tough. Once you’re past their handful of idiosyncrasies, the engines are very reliable.”

Walters has owned a handful of ‘50s Mercurys, but this one’s a keeper. It’s been with him this long, he figures, and he sees no reason to change now. He’s happy with where he is and what he’s got. That’s not to say he won’t try something new. Just the other day, he got to talking with a flight instructor at the airport where he buys aviation gas. The conversation got him thinking that maybe he’d get his pilot’s license. Even at 76, his passion for anything with an engine burns brightly.

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Watching Brian Blain slide the old 1911 National around a dirt corner, it’s hard to believe that were was a time—back before he received “the trunk”—when he didn’t even know that these cars existed. Since then his life has never been the same.

As Hagerty’s Aaron Robinson first shared in October 2018, Blain found himself in possession of an old steamer trunk that belonged to family friend Harry Sprague, who passed away in the 1970s. Blain—already an avid motorcycle and car racer at the time—opened the trunk to find a treasure trove of racing memorabilia, including an old jersey that read “National.” That Sprague had made no mention of this trunk’s contents while he was alive made the trunk all the more intriguing.

classic driving suit
vintage race cars

classic race cars

Blain, the subject of our latest Why I Drive video, soon learned that National was an Indianapolis-based car company that made automobiles from 1900–1926, including cars that raced in the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911 and which won the second Indy 500. He was surprised to find that Sprague himself raced a National to victory (and to $1000 in prize money) in a Visalia, California, race in 1912. One can only speculate as to why Sprague never saw fit to mention this around the dinner table. The more Blain learned, the more obsessed he became.

Fast forward to present day: the Blain Motorsports Foundation now centers its efforts on finding, preserving, and restoring these pre-World War I race cars. Only about 20 Nationals are known to survive; seven of them are here at Blain’s shop in California’s Central Valley. Among these cars is a 1911 National that raced at that first Indy 500. It features a 450-cubic-inch engine that makes 100 horsepower at 2000 rpm.

“Anything beyond that,” Blain notes, dryly, “and big pieces of metal have a tendency to fly out of the engine.”

driving a vintage race car
driving a vintage race car

vintage race car in the fog
group of classic race cars

In the next stall sits a 1916 National. Powered by a 303-cu-in six-cylinder engine, it produces horsepower numbers comparable to those of its National stablemate. And next to that National is a 1912 Packard, believed to be the oldest Packard race car in existence. Its 420-cu-in four-cylinder engine—adorned with leather belts and brass galore—is limited to about 1800 rpm.

On any given morning, a visitor to the Blain garage will find Brian and his band of local volunteers suiting up in period-correct racing suits (with names like National and Packard and Simplex splashed across the back) for an impromptu “race” through the local pecan and walnut groves. Preparing themselves for the inevitable shower of mud and rocks and debris, the crew dons leather helmets, goggles, and gloves. Within minutes of going through the start-up procedure (itself no small feat with these cars), the men are sliding the cars through the dirt and executing passes as they dodge low-hanging branches. For this hour, they are racing through time, back to the earliest days of motorsports.

These cars, however, are difficult to drive, constantly in need of maintenance, and completely at odds with the modern world. You have to double-clutch every gear shift, if you don’t retard the spark you could break your arm trying to start the engine, and some days just end with a tow truck and there’s no avoiding it. So why go to all the trouble?

group of 1910's race cars
vintage car broken down

Group of vintage race cars

“We’ve saved a piece of history that might have gotten lost, and at the same time, we had fun doing it,” Blain says. “We got to restore a cool car, we get to drive them, we get to race them, we get to wave at the bleachers full of people as we go by, and it makes us feel like we’re heroes for a day.”

For Blain, a race car that simply sits in a museum is an affront to all he holds dear. The only thing worse, he insists, would be if the car had never existed at all. These cars were meant to race and that’s just what he intends to keep doing with them.

Brian Blain

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