When does habit become vice? | Column

Like any other vice, car collecting starts innocently enough. You long for a particular car, or perhaps you just stumble across something and decide it’s yours. Interest turns to infatuation, and soon you’re fully invested in this vehicle, which somehow embodies everything you always wanted to say about yourself in this world. It manages to do what the ironic posters in your bedroom never achieved: Define the best parts of you.

It stops there for most of our readers. You always wanted that TR3 or Shelby Mustang, and after you got your kids through college and your house paid off, you finally made that dream a reality. You love your car, you take care of it, and you enjoy everything from rallies to shows with your dream come true, but you are still tangibly “okay.” Those hoarding shows on TLC have nothing to do with you.

For some of us, however, the path is different. Sure, there’s that first car, but it’s a gateway drug. Next thing you know, a buddy or someone you work with tells you where there’s another Triumph or Healey or whatever. “Why not?” you ask yourself, and one becomes two. Then you stumble across another cool “find” and decide it would be good to have, since you don’t have a two-seater or a four-seater or an open car or a closed car, and the justifications start to multiply.

It escalates from there, either by accident or by plan. Some of you actually want to own nineteen different MGAs, all in different colors, while some of you decide you have space for exactly six cars and they should all be different. Others of us, however, got there with no clear idea where we were going.

For many years I was a serially monogamous automotive lover. I bought a car, fixed it up, then sold it before I moved on to the next. I think the used-car-salesman mentality I grew up with made me love the idea of selling a car for a profit, and more to the point, for many years I had no room to store multiple cars and certainly no money to buy another unless I sold one.

At some point, however, things started to change. I’m not even really sure how it happened. Either I got lazy, or another good deal came along so quickly that I didn’t have time to sell my current car, or maybe I just ran out of time and got tired of the hassle of selling the finished cars. Whatever the reason, I started to notice a gradual…accumulation.

I guess that if I really think about it, I realize there were other factors at work. I finally decided that killing myself for a story series, then dumping the cars for no real profit, was getting old. So once I hit my 40s and realized I wasn’t going to live forever, it seemed like a good idea to keep some of my projects to play with. Sure, I justified it by saying we needed a fleet of cars to use for the magazine, since as longtime readers know, we like to have a variety of cars and use them for various stories, from event coverage to comparison tests and how-to articles. But there was more to it than that.

I think a big factor was that I started hanging around with more collectors, guys like Bill Warner and Jay Leno, and amassing a lot of cars seemed like a reasonable thing to do. Heck, in comparison, my hoarding tendencies seemed absolutely paltry. I can’t really blame it all on them, though: In my business, I am always tempted. Someone’s always sending me a picture of something cool, or knows a guy who needs to unload a classic car. Apparently, more often than not over the last 10 years, I have said yes instead of no.

It’s come to this: A lot of people, starting with my wife, have asked me just how many cars I have, and my stock answer is that a gentleman never tells. The truth is that I’m usually not really sure of the actual number.

I did have to figure it out the other day. Florida automobile registrations must be renewed on your birthday each year, and I had to make my annual pilgrimage to the tag office and get all my tags renewed.

When it was all said and done, I had to write a personal check for over $850 for 19 registered vehicles. And yeah, I can argue that one was a boat, a couple were trailers, one was my kid’s car and one was my dad’s car—but what I didn’t tell the lady at the tag office, as my file literally froze her computer system, is I have at least ten more vehicles that are parts cars, race cars or otherwise unrestored vehicles that don’t have tags yet.

Okay, so this is starting to be a problem. What began as a hobby has turned into a collection and is rapidly expanding into the symptomatic. Even though I pay a guy to help out an afternoon or two a week, I still spend all my free time keeping stuff running and have very little time to enjoy the cars that I have built. It’s gotten so bad that I’ve even contemplated yet another garage expansion project.

I’m getting to the point where I feel like the living embodiment of the expression “penny wise, pound foolish.” These are mostly cheap cars that I bought for hundreds, not thousands of dollars, but it still takes a lot of time, money and patience to keep this many cars running—especially if you’re as demanding as I am. As I enter middle age—okay, late middle age—I also very much want to enjoy some of the cars I have built, and maybe even do something other than get greasy with my spare time. I don’t know how many classic car events I’ve missed because I was too busy welding up a body or pulling an engine. Something has to give. 

I’ve tried some self-help techniques. My first idea was that, while I wouldn’t try to stop myself from collecting more cars, I wouldn’t get any more license plates. This helped some, but honestly it just made moving some of the cars a complete pain in the butt.

I can’t just do this cold turkey. I have commitments to honor, stories to finish. After that, I need to spend some time getting organized and deciding which six cars I really care about and want to keep. Okay, which 10 cars. Or hey, how about a nice, even dozen?

So stay tuned, because there’s a reckoning coming, and we always offer project cars to our readers first. In the meantime, though, don’t even bother asking, because the TR3 race car and the Sunbeam Tiger are not for sale. And my Shelby? Fuhgeddaboudit. That’s the one, the forever—for now.

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Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
6/1/15 8:08 a.m.

Tim... I know EXACTLY how you feel. While I'm not in quite as bad a situation as you, I still currently have 5 registered and insured cars, plus one untagged project car and I just sent ProDarwin a PM about his Miata. In reality, I have room for 2 cars inside.

Fortunately, classic and antique registered cars in PA have one-time registration fees. You pay $75 once and you're done unless something happens to your registration card and you need to order (pay for) a new one (I laminate them to protect them inside notoriously leaky LBC's). And classic car insurance is cheap enough that the yearly cost on three of them isn't a real concern. But the upkeep most definitely is. Somewhat in cost, but mostly in time.

While I do like my little house and it's cheap utilities and taxes, it's big downside is a lack of property on which to build a shop and additional storage. If I do end up with the Miata, then something else will have to live outside.

(edit: Oh yeah... and I think we have ourselves a canoe above...)

rconlon HalfDork
6/1/15 11:23 a.m.

Tim, perhaps you are reaching the point where promoting the hobby is beginning to take precedent over being a multi-car collector. I was a competitive athlete for many years but now have moved on as an instructor, coach and club founder. I no longer have the youth or time or interest to compete at a level that would satisfy me. I can appreciate that you are evaluating your involvement in the car hobby and that you are letting us tag along to watch where you go with it.

Jerry From LA
Jerry From LA Dork
6/1/15 12:41 p.m.

Tim, it's a little hard to keep up with what you still own and what has moved along. Make a list for us and maybe your readers can help you decide what to keep.

MarkT_TB None
6/4/15 1:55 p.m.

I hear what you are sayin' about being in over your head - but will not share this column at home I may well be in the minority, but agree 100% on the Tiger and Shelby being "keepers". Good luck, and keep us posted.

6/4/15 2:28 p.m.

OUCH!! Why do you have to get so personal??

racerdave600 SuperDork
6/4/15 3:03 p.m.

I ended up with a similar, but smaller version, of your problem a dozen or so years back. At the time I had a total of 8 car, all Italian. 3 X1/9s, 2 Alfa Spiders, 2 Alfa Sprint Veloces, 1 105 series GTV, 1 Alfetta GT and one Fiat 600. They were stashed a friend's houses in addition to mine since I didn't have enough room. At one point, only the 600 ran and I was driving it to work.

I slowly started parting ways with them. Of course I have added many cars since then, but reduced the overall number. I am now down to only one car, but not so much by choice. It's mostly due to liquidation with no refills. I've also started buying more expensive cars and that has limited the number.

My next car purchase is going to be a VERY nice 240Z or a later model Boxster. I can't decide as I want both.

mr2peak HalfDork
6/4/15 5:43 p.m.

If you can't keep up with required maintenance, you have too many cars.

Letting them sit and rot is not collecting, it's hoarding.

mattmagee New Reader
6/4/15 8:21 p.m.

19 is a lot, but I have to say you make it look functional.

I have 4 project cars and 3 project motorcycles. Precious little gets done. My 260Z has been nearly static for 7 years. My EF hatch is barely functional and the two 280SEs just sit in the driveway. I tried to unload the two Mercedes on Tom at the Mitty this year but for some odd reason he darn near ran away. How strange

bubbleman None
6/4/15 8:38 p.m.

Tim, that's too funny. I feel your pain. I have 5 collector cars (3 Italian sports car and 2 German microcars), a truck, a sport bike, and my family's 3 daily drivers to look after. Don't even mention yard maintenance equipment or spare engines! I'm really proud that I'm at the point that everything is roadworthy and decent looking, but it still isn't enough. There are plenty of other cars that I want to experience before I check out of this lifetime! However, my daughter is starting college in August, so the toys are going to have to take a back seat for several years. That will be painful, but should be worth it in the end. Meanwhile, I'm going back out to the garage. I have some new shift linkage bushings to install.

jr02518 Reader
6/5/15 11:56 a.m.

On so many levels this has been a wake up.

I am working to get my 9 year old's kart ready for his first event next weekend. The next little step in the process is building the trailer that can be pulled by the Honda Element that "Mom" will be driving to the events. That "Mom" needs to trailer the kart reflects when the kids get to drive during an event, which is always after lunch. The time my run group is on track moves from event to event, so when "Mom" is ready to go after the kids have run they can bolt.

But we as a family have figured out how to make it a weekend event. The 1987 Pace Arrow,with a fresh 454, pulls my just purchased 2005 Aluma trailer that this coming event will carry my 1995 Miata.

As a serial BMW owner: 1975 2002, building to DP, 1982 E21 running in H Stock, 1987 E30 NASA GTS2 and a 1994 M Tech 325is. All are OBD I or older, I have drawn the line and I will not cross it.

As I see it I am taking care of the exercise thing (stuff does not load it's self for the events), drinking less ( the motorhome does the drinking for me, remember at less than 6 miles to gallon gas is a cooling agent) and in California the DMV renewal fee's for older cars is at least $90 a year plus insurance plus...

And I have sold one thing recently. My long serving Carson 18' wood deck car hauler, even I do not need three trailers. Any more.

gjz30075 Reader
6/5/15 6:55 p.m.
Tim Suddard wrote: And my Shelby? Fuhgeddaboudit. That’s the one, the forever—for now.

Well, I thought I was going to help. Guess not

aussiesmg MegaDork
6/20/15 1:53 p.m.

In my case it appears that the cure was a depreciated Super Car, since buying the 996 Turbo my collection has reduced by 8, which leaves just 17 left

aussiesmg MegaDork
6/20/15 2:03 p.m.

In my case it appears that the cure was a depreciated Super Car, since buying the 996 Turbo my collection has reduced by 8, which leaves just 17 left

darkbuddha HalfDork
4/5/19 12:01 p.m.

Clearly you're not alone in this... there are SO many of us (though the relative scale of our vice may vary).  I wish I could be happy with one or two cars, but passion, opportunity, aspiration, and enthusiasm combine and conspire to make me want more.  I have limited myself A LOT, mainly to a few "keepers", but I'm at the age where I stand to inherit the bulk of my father's "vice" too, which would add a solid 6 or 7 to my 5 or 6, and that doesn't include the 5 we put in a barn in 1988.  I'm not sure there's a point in saying that some hard decisions will need to be made, and that there will be a lot of rationalizing involved to accommodate the inevitable senses of sentimentality, guilt, obligation, and denial that lead to keeping cars that I would be better off letting go of, but I hope being conscious of it will help bring a bit of reason to what I'm sure will be an unavoidably emotional affair.

But the biggest issue for me (and my father) is that our monetary and time budgets limit us to our cars being in perpetual project mode, and the weight that adds to the wear on one's psyche adds to the conundrum and stress of it all all the more.  But what would life be without hopes and dreams, plans and schemes, toil and trouble?  I'd rather have at it than not.  Good luck to all of us.

moggiedog New Reader
4/5/19 1:31 p.m.

This piece is really just the tip of the iceburg, Tim. Having downsized from the 240,000 sq ft  space I had when we met to 11,000sq ft in the Taylors Mill for 6 years, I now "borrow" a couple of thousand feet in a chicken coop because my residence does not even have a garage.  I'm down to two R5 Renaults (one a race car) that don't run, my rusty NSU Spyder race car, two running Miatas, an F250, and a fork lift.  Oh yeah, I still have my Auto Red Bug (owned for 64 years).  My disease is becoming manageable, sorta but the ultimate end is getting closer. 19 cars, mere childs play. You have room for several more, just ask Jay Leno....

abba511 New Reader
4/11/19 2:28 p.m.

Every point you've made is so dead on.

I've used nearly evey one of those justifications for buying another car

sometimes not even getting the new purchase home before stopping to buy another.

Thanks, Tim for a great article and some super mags.

rdstr New Reader
6/17/22 11:32 a.m.

$850 for registrations is one thing, what about insurance?

Nred New Reader
6/17/22 3:22 p.m.

Went to the dictonary

noun: habit; plural noun: habits

  1. 1.

    a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.

noun: vice

  1. immoral or wicked behavior

You've got a habit until you sell the Shelby.

When you sell the Shelby, you've either kicked the habit, or you've crossed the line to vice when you use the proceeds to buy more cars.

ktisdale New Reader
6/17/22 4:55 p.m.

That is what a 2 car garage and an understanding wife are good for: A car must leave before another car can park there!

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
6/23/22 10:17 a.m.

In reply to ktisdale :

Smart way to live. Me... not so smart.

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
6/23/22 10:18 a.m.

In reply to Nred :

I would sell the Shelby to get a Cobra and that's about the only way it owuld leave.

Nred New Reader
6/24/22 4:58 p.m.


There's a loophole here in my interpretation of the definition; keep the Shelby and park a Cobra next to it. You won't have kicked the habit, but haven't crossed into vice? 

OK, that's a tretch. Just trying to help,...

Nred New Reader
6/24/22 4:59 p.m.

Sorry, typo. "Stretch."

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