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Cars may change, but enthusiasm remains

Andy Bolig - July 19, 2012 10:00 AM

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Isn’t it ironic? As I jaunt to and fro all over this great country attending events, I couldn’t resist thinking about the varied types of cars and enthusiasts that are represented on any given weekend.

As I sit in this Delta Airlines-owned tin sausage headed to the all-American festival called the Indy 500, we just finished wrapping up the story on Clayton Paddison’s Model T Ford. You could say that these two entities represent total opposite ends of the spectrum. But, you would be wrong. The only things separating them are a few decades. Sure, their speedometers (if they both HAD one) might look totally different and the equipment that comprises them might look nothing alike, but the one thing that makes them kin would be what you would find in the driver’s seat.

That same enthusiastic spirit that compels today’s race car drivers to push the envelope a little further than the other guy is the same driving force that led men, years ago, to strip down their rides and see how fast they could go. They burned up the board tracks, dove around dirt ovals and stretched their legs on the long, flat straights of Bonneville, Muroc and El Mirage.

We marvel at today’s cars with all of their electronics and gizmos and turn a nostalgic eye to those whom we deem “less technologically advanced”, crude even. We actually deny such cars (and their drivers) some very well-deserved credit when we do that. You see, we would do well to remember that THESE cars were the high tech rides of their day. They were the fast ones and many a fire for speed was fueled deep within a young boy’s heart by seeing them tear up the tracks and straights at their now-nostalgic speeds. The wail of four cylinders at WOT was just as hypnotic back then as any V-8 is today.

The hourglass has flowed on and these cars have held staunchly to those endearing characteristics that made them so glorious, even if the glory has moved on to faster, shinier and more aerodynamic cars. It’s not just happening on racetracks either. Just look around at how the cars we drive today vary from what we drove just a decade or two ago. If you’re up for a challenge, try and count how many cars you pass on your daily commute that still use a carburetor. You might have a hard time filling up one hand with the number.

While we can all appreciate the thrill of at least four barrels trying desperately to feed a family of hungry cylinders below, if we’re honest, we’ll admit that the benefits of today’s fuel injection has been good for auto-dom. Just look through some of the option boxes of your local dealer to see how far we’ve come. The fact that they can offer such street-beasts with A/C, cruise and power anything is amazing compared to what we had in the “muscle car heyday”. It’s almost as much of a stretch as an Indy car to a Model T.

Looking back is fun, it gives us a reference point, a stepping stone on which we can move forward. It’s also easy; forging the future is much more difficult. We can instantly cover centuries by studying the past but you can only build the future one day at a time. Looking back, we know the outcome; we’re simply trying to find out how they got there. Going forward, neither the path nor the result is sure. We find out at the same time as everyone else.

That’s what brings us to ask questions like what will power tomorrow’s cars? Will they still be receptive to enthusiasts’ prodding to make them go faster? Who will win the race on Sunday? Some questions will not be answered any time soon while others are approaching, albeit at the pace of those almost prehistoric autos of yesterday. As for who wins the Indy, check with me on the return flight home.

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