Shut up and drive: Embrace the wabi-sabi of your classic car.

Photography Credit: Jess Irwin

What’s that noise? Why doesn’t the heater work? Ugh, I need to fix that missing trim piece! I bet these kinds of thoughts have raced through your mind, too, when you have driven your classic car.

You’re not alone, so take comfort in that. But I got advice for you: Just shut up and drive.

Yes, I’m talking to you like that. It’s the smack across the face that you may need … and I so desperately needed.

I came to this conclusion after Christmas on the long drive back to Tennessee from New York.

I had just visited my family up north and took out the 1974 Cadillac Eldorado my mom bought new. A few months ago, we got it back running after sitting for more than a decade–I knew something could go wrong. So, we started it in the garage the Saturday before Santa showed up. This way if we needed to get it fixed, we could most likely get it done before I left later that week.

[Reviving a car after a decade-plus of dormancy]

Wonderfully, it started right up. Terribly, coolant spewed out all over the garage floor. Darn freeze plug. Easily fixable, but incredibly annoying.

We got that repaired and we’re off to drive it around town. It was the first time my wife, Jess, ever saw the car, let alone rode in it. It was a drizzly, early winter day, but we drove with the top down. Who cares? A convertible is meant to be enjoyed topless. Jess seemed to be having a blast anyway.

Then, things started to irk me. What’s that clicking noise in the dash. Let’s turn up the heat. Great, that sound went away. Why doesn’t the heat work?

Man, the old, brittle filler panels surrounding the headlights and taillights keep falling apart. I got to get that fixed. People must think this is a junker.

My smile gradually lessened as I continuously added to the to-do list. After an hour of driving, I took the Caddy back to the house and parked it in the garage. My wife let me be. I needed to chill. Jess knows my penchant for perfection. It can be a gift, especially when it comes to proofing magazines, but it’s also an incredible curse.

A friend of mine many years ago told me, “Don’t worry about the flaws of your classic car. They give it character.” (Yeah, I bet he was told that a lot when dating girls. I know, I know–that’s not the response I should have had.)

After this experience and a 10-plus-hour ride back home, I came to a conclusion after a lot of thinking.

Nothing’s perfect. Nothing lasts forever. Nothing is complete.

These tenets form the basis of the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi. There is a beauty to that. It’s evident in art forms such as ikebana, bonsai and kintsugi. That latter, kintsugi, mends broken ceramics with a metallic-colored lacquer. Actually, highlighting flaws? Crazy. I must admit, examples of kintsugi can be stunning.

Okay, let’s get back to those three tenets of wabi-sabi and cars.

Nothing’s perfect? Patina is often viewed favorably by even concours judges. Technically, it’s an imperfection, but it often looks beautiful and highlights the originality of the car. “Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty,” as the poet John Keats once wrote. Okay, maybe I’m sold on this. Maybe.

Nothing lasts forever? The sad reality of life. Parts don’t last forever. Cars don’t last forever. Heck, you and I won’t last forever. So, those filler panels are bound to shatter sometime. Even the engine will let go at some point. Nothing is not fixable, though. It’s just time–and yes, of course, money. However, remember, a hobby is just where you spend money to gain a smile. Yes, even as tight-fisted as I can be with the Benjamins, paying for gas to drive the Caddy makes me smile. Odd, come to think of it.

Nothing is complete? This is a project–most likely a lifelong one. This car, as long as it remains relatively in one piece, will remain in the family. Hitting the finish button and skipping the steps makes this project–and any other project–far less fulfilling … so I’m told. This is a tough pill to swallow when I’m extremely goal-oriented and the end becomes my sole focus. But some of my fondest memories do come from the journey rather than the end. For example, when I write an article, I often remember the interviews, photoshoots and events leading up to it far more than the written piece. The article itself can actually be a bit anticlimactic for me.

[What was the car that sparked your interest in our hobby?]

Okay, so what does this all mean?

When you’re fussing over something on your classic car, stop. Take a deep breath. Look at the car from the perspective of the five-year-old you. What would they think? Five-year-old you probably doesn’t care about whatever flaw you’re fixated on. I bet they’re excited to hop into the car and dream of one day driving it. You got that opportunity now. Enjoy it.

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Comments
spritedriver28
spritedriver28 Reader
1/10/24 11:39 a.m.

You are right on the money! Most people who have even a passing interest in cars will think it's great that you're driving the old Caddy and will neither notice or care about the million little issues. I too want to get to the finish line with a project, but need to remember that there is so much more to old cars than getting from A to B. The memories you make for yourself and others are the real payout in my opinion. I frequently tell other British car owners a little story of mine that helps me stay focused on why I do this.

Remeber the three hour drive in the Lexus last month? I don't either, but remeber when the wheel came off the Spitfire on the way to a car show six years ago? Heck yes! And the homeless guy that helped us find the lug nuts, and the fact that we still made the show and even won our class, despite the mishap? Yep! So don't worry about what isn't done, or quite right, or what someone else may think. Enjoy the car today!

 

 

dl1000
dl1000
1/10/24 11:54 a.m.

I really like this article and philospohy. Thanks for the boost.

But can I please add: No one, absolutely no one, is going to look at that car and think "junker". It's gorgeous . 

RadBarchetta
RadBarchetta New Reader
1/10/24 3:46 p.m.

There is no "finished". Only "finished for now."

gsarahs
gsarahs New Reader
1/10/24 3:55 p.m.

A major problem having a restored car is that you are afraid to park it in a parking lot. My Dad had his just painted '64 Riviera in a local mall parking lot away from any other vehicles. Someone hit it anyway, and tried to look as if he was writing a note to put on the windshield. He wasn't but fortunately a witness saw what happened and provided my Dad with the description of the offending vehicle and driver.

I feel the same with my classics. There is no way I would park my restored '65 Austin-Healey or my Jaguar E-Type Coupe in a parking lot. I already had my daily driver "Dentz Out"ed and even though I don't drive much, it already has new dents caused by others just throwing open their doors, not caring if they do damage on someone else's car.

Tom1200
Tom1200 PowerDork
1/10/24 11:43 p.m.

This is my approach to vintage racing.

Noddaz
Noddaz PowerDork
1/11/24 7:44 a.m.

Yep.

I have a two page list of things to attend to on my new to my Mitata.

Just drive

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