Shop Talk

One Last Ride

Andy Bolig - June 14, 2012 10:00 AM


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“Getting the cars out” has many meanings this time of year.

Springtime has many traditions. For some enthusiasts, it’s a time when they pull back the covers and begin a fresh year’s regimen of cleaning and caring for their cars. For others, it finally allows them to be rid of theirs. As the frost line recedes, it not only gives opportunity for fun, but also for financial gain. You see, not everyone is dead-set on continuing the heritage and history that the automobile has enjoyed over the ages. For some, moving metal is merely a means to put food on their table. 

I was reminded of this on a recent trip up and down the eastern side of our great nation where I was attending several events. You could call them swap meets more accurately than a car show, as the main reason for their existence was to offer up parts from once-complete autos and make them available for others to keep their cars alive. It was in between events, where I rubbed shoulders with thousands of enthusiasts who were searching for that special part, that I passed a couple of trucks that were also offering up sacrificial carcasses for use at another time. 

The bodies were stacked up several layers high and hoisted onto a flatbed trailer for ease of hauling. Their wheels were flat, only because the rest of the car was also. They had been hydraulically “reduced” to mere inches thick. This technique has been going on for almost as long as the auto has been around and I can remember as a kid, trying to figure out what the car originally looked like through subtle hints found on the front and rear bumpers, as they were usually still relatively intact. Taillights and marker lights carry a lot of the car’s original DNA, or at least they used to. 

I tried to hone my skills a little more as I passed this load of unfortunate riders and several things instantly came to mind. I used to marvel in the fact that no matter what happened, or how flat they tried to make these cars, the chrome would refuse to stop shimmering in the sunlight. No matter how much they cut or crunched it, and you had no way of distinguishing exactly what it once was, the chrome still performed its designed task and captured your attention. 

It didn’t take long before I noticed the lack of luster on this particular load and it caused me a moment to think about some of the changes that have occurred over the past few decades. Chrome hadn’t become valuable in itself, so we know that it wasn’t removed from these cars before processing. Well, actually it was. It was removed decades earlier, when the designers and engineers formulated a less-expensive means of capturing your eye. To save a few cents per car, they attempted to draw you into their showrooms with paint, plastic and an occasional shiny plastic emblem. It may have worked initially, but the empty faces found on this particular load serve as a testimony to the durability of chrome, and the lack of resolve found in its replacement. 

I wondered why these cars met such a fate. Surely SOMEONE could have used even their parts for some value in keeping their car alive. I found myself wondering if, like the plating that once found itself on the front and rear of any self-respecting automobile, the enthusiasm for these cars had simply been removed from the procedure. Or more accurately, they had been designed for a generation that never had it. These were simply pawns in our war for self transportation and now, their usefulness being used up, they were ready to engage in the last minutes of their engineered life cycle. 

While many of us wouldn’t disagree with our neighbor’s spring cleaning regimen including the removal of some of those “old cars” he’s been harboring in his yard all winter long, I’ve got to wonder what this shift from chromed classics to cash-for-clunkers mentality will mean for the hobby. Like I said, they have been recycling cars for almost as long as they’ve been mass producing them. I just get a little concerned when I see that for some, it has become much easier to turn them into a cube than to try and find a nut and bolt alternative for them.

I wonder if there will ever be a following for the flex-bumper equipped auto or, if like the luster that once shone brightly on earlier cars, it simply has been engineered out of the equation. Either way, I feel much happier in seeing a load of cans headed for the furnace than I do elements of our beloved hobby. I understand that there’s a cycle to an auto’s usefulness and some are shorter than others. I’m just all for making it as long as possible.