Journal: Am I a Car Guy?

Am I a Car Guy?

By Christer Lundem
January 16, 2015
37 comments

Photography by Christer Lundem

Many people know me as a car guy and most of the time I am fine with that. However, the truth is a lot more complicated. I am in love with the analog machine, the digital world not so much. To me, driving a modern sports car equals listening to a classic Stradivarius violin on bad PC speakers. The idea of the product is fine, but the execution is horrible.

My daily driver is an old BMW E39. It has travelled 330,000 km, but still nothing in me wants to replace it with a newer model. Why? New models aren’t built to last or be repaired. The home mechanic has no place in the new car world. We get detached from the vehicle and cars become more and more like mobile phones: Use and dispose. I am not at all interested in attending modern car shows. When a new car passes me on the street, I hardly give it a second look. But still people call me a car guy. Why?

At my local newsstand I flip through the pages of different car magazines. journalists who can muster the energy to write about handling and leaps in technology impress me. However, this is due more to journalists’ skill than the excitement created by the machines they write about. Stories about pushing the limits on the Nürburgring, chasing a new lap record on some unknown track, or raving about gadgets while driving on curvy roads in Europe leave me cold. Frankly, there must be something wrong when new Ferraris’ performance is so vast that you need a track to safely step on the throttle? When did we get so number obsessed? When did we exchange the art of driving with driving aids? Am I really still a car guy? I am not so sure.

Emotions and sensations are difficult to explain. So, let me invite you to the art of classic driving. Since you frequent these pages you probably already know the secrets. But why not refresh the reasons for our passion? Why [seriously] would people drive inferior machines? Because, in no doubt, modern stuff does it better. Even a stubborn man like myself has to admit that. So what is it all about?

As an example I will choose three different cars that only have one thing in common: Enjoyment. They are all classics, ridden with faults, but utterly irresistible. I have owned or own all three. You will have to go elsewhere for numbers; my words only deal with the experiences.

Mini

Yes, I mean the Mini before BMW got involved. It is small, bouncy, smelly, and dreadfully slow. But yet—just looking at it makes you smile. All the bits work for their living. It is healthy as a top athlete with no fat whatsoever. The instruments are so simple and pretty that even a child would understand them. Every trip in a Mini is an adventure. Driving is telepathic, when you turn the steering wheel the car bites and obeys your inputs instantly. There is no slack or waiting, it is like your brain is wired to the tires. The engine does its best to hide its small capacity: it fizzes and vibrates before you. A small drive in a Mini returns big enjoyment. And to top it all off, you get this for dirt-cheap. If you have not got a classic car by now, buy a Mini. The only thing against its favor, is the danger of a collision. This is a four-wheeled motorcycle. A Fiat 500 may be cuter, but the Mini can still work as a daily ride.

Alfa Giulia GT

Called the Bertone coupé, by its fans, squint your eyes and imagine you have a Ferrari 330 for the price of a Toyota. There is just no car that does all things in equal measure as good as the Bertone-designed coupé. As said, I have owned all of these examples of cars mentioned in the list, but this is definitely the one for me. Even people who hate Alfas admit that they look gorgeous. Then there is the engine: all-aluminium, twincam four on Weber or Dell’orto carburetors. The engine sound is pure Italian opera. And it is all so very exquisitely made.

Castings on the engine look like expensive jewellery. The interior is a restrained piece of art. The dials read Veglia in elegant fonts. And all this is yours even before you turn the key. This car does everything brilliantly: the gear change is mechanical, the pedals are nicely weighted, and the road-feel of the car is great. It is not slow even by modern standards, but paddles briskly through the gears with a hunger for revs. The design, executed by a young Giorgetto Giugiaro, is definitely Alfa’s masterpiece. I would not even worry if petrol disappeared. This thing is a work of art and can proudly be displayed in your living room. It is undervalued too, so go on and buy a Bertone—I did.

Porsche 911 (pre-73)

Some are bored of hearing the Porsche 911 praised. I understand, but Ferdinand Porsche touched something brilliant when he developed and launched the concept 901 in 1964. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what the “Neunelf” magic is all about. The fact is that the 911 is not so brilliant, and most designs on the car have serious flaws. It is more a statement about German stubbornness. As an example, the engine sits way in the back of the car, which created the handling issue that has taunted Stuttgart’s engineers for decades. But then again, this “fault” gives the car its special charm. A 911 always feels tail-heavy, but is all the better for it. The grip at the rear is immense and gives the car its peculiar character.

It also provides the most sensitive steering ever created in a car, except the undervalued Ferrari 348. But that is another story. Drive a 911 and let the steering come alive in your hands. I dare you. It will change the way you feel about sensitivity. This is a car you have to communicate with to get the best of. The feeling is tactile, strange, and addictive. You either get it or you don´t. As it seems today a lot of people get it. Values have gone crazy. This is the car to have. Then there is the design: 50 years on you still recognize the 911. No other car has this kind of unbroken design language. And it is beautiful in an engineered way. There is really only one major fault about the classic air-cooled 911. Too many people know about how good they are and keep them for years. To most of us, prices keep them from our garage and only make them come alive in our dreams. If you have the means, just buy one. No regrets guaranteed.

Go for a drive

We are lucky and special. At least one of the cars mentioned are attainable for most of us. As long there is an industry to keep our classics alive we can escape everyday life and drive epic machinery. If nobody supports them or they get illegal to drive, they’ll still look good as art. Find your passion, search your soul, the reward is great. Go for a drive and enjoy the forgotten smells of oil and petrol. These are scents of life and can luckily never be recreated digitally. Remember life is analog, so be sure to enjoy it—even if it means a breakdown or two. Happy classic motoring!

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HowndogJose DelgadilloDavid M. GoodsonPeter LukáčChristian Bouchez Recent comment authors
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Howndog
Howndog

I concur. I love driving my 69 Alfa spider, much more so than my B7 Audi A4, or the wife’s R class MB.My Audi is a 6 speed, with a 2.0 T and is okay to drive, but nothing puts a permanent ‘silly’ smile on my face like the vintage AR. Its not even close, in fact, some friends have asked me which I prefer and they are surprised or even in disbelief when I say the alfa by a mile. Funny thing is they all drive SUV’s…. BTW, you were right about buying a Bertone coupe, now they’re quite… Read more »

Jose Delgadillo
Jose Delgadillo

I think that a real car guy likes all kinds of cars, at least a little, but we have our own preferences. A modern car is for making a personal history starting Today. A vintage car is for reaching back in time to recapture a special feeling or experience from our past. It may be actual memories that we made in a specific vehicle or it might be to relive the emotions that we experienced when dreamed about owning that special, unobtainable car. A vintage car can be a way to reconnect to our own history.

David M. Goodson
David M. Goodson

You kids get off my lawn. Seriously though my daily driver is a 1967 Series 2A Series Land Rover.

Peter Lukáč
Peter Lukáč

Really great article, I will show it to all those who can’t understand, why I hate modern diesel SUV…

Christian Bouchez
Christian Bouchez

Very well said – Love your article.

Yet – I had an e39 Touring as a daily now replaced with an E30 Touring and I miss the E39.

My E30 is such a fun car to drive and to work on. I love the simplicity of the car.

Stephen Fowler
Stephen Fowler

In general, I am on the side of preferring to drive older cars. Currently we have a ’60 MGA, and a ’77 930, but there have been others, and I’ve driven a number of great classics. That said, there is fun to be had with modern sportscars, too. Most interesting to me is this divide when it comes to mechanics. I have friends that insist that you can’t work on modern cars, and modern car buddies who do their own wrenching and can’t fathom how anyone can work on something with carburetors and no OBDII system to tell them whats… Read more »

Brooks Lester
Brooks Lester

Amen, on many counts. You can still have a degree of analog fun in a modern car. The first thing I do after I start my 2011 BMW 128i is completely turn off the stability and traction control. I don’t mind having ABS remain on.

Robert Spina Jr
Robert Spina Jr

Great read! Spot on!

Collin Citrowske
Collin Citrowske

I feel everything you’re saying. I just have no feeling for new cars, and it saddens me that enjoyment is being sucked from driving. Electronics and plastics are giving way to a new era, one without the home mechanic.

Kenneth Lee
Kenneth Lee

I enjoyed this article very much. I sometimes question if I’m a car guy sometimes too. While I love to look at classic cars, I’ve always been obsessed with current cars. Having grown up in the 80s, I loved cars like the Ferrari Boxer Berlinetta, and the Countach. My uncle owned a E-Type when I was a kid, and I remember loving that car. Now that I’m older and can actually afford to get a decent car of my own, I’ve grown quite fond of modern BMWs. Most currently a 428i Gran Coupe. Something about current technology really excites me…especially… Read more »

John Guertin
John Guertin

First of all, what a fantastic website. Many kudos all around!
I am a car guy. I eat, sleep and talk cars all the time. The new ones, and the old ones, the racing ones and the trailer queens – all get my pulse going and have me pause for closer inspection.
There was a commercial on TV a while back that summed it up perfectly: “I love new things, especially when they get old”. Time is the key.

Todd Cox
Todd Cox

New = Bookstore Old = Established library Some new bookstores are nice, comfortable, beautiful and you can use computerized systems and eager staff to make getting what you want effortless. A new bookstore isn’t an old established library, even though the mission remains the same. There is a delicious and comfortable smell in an old library that a new bookstore can never have. An old library is sometimes confusing, and often confounding. It is often dim and everything moves at a slower but often more charming pace. Time spent in an old library is an experience where a new bookstore… Read more »

Mark David Bell
Mark David Bell

What a wonderful article! Very nicely written. I, too, am an analog guy trapped in a digital world but that is also a function of my age (56). Being a Car Guy means different things to everyone and that’s fine. There was a time when I had to have the newest cars as well and I hold no ill will towards those who enjoy the newer ones. God bless ’em I say. Those of us old codgers as happy stuck in our time warp – and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Lucas R
Lucas R

I get it, visceral vs. artificial, and SO agree with it… Even the ugliest of cars makes you smile when you look at it if, when you jump in it and go for a drive, makes you feel as a part of it, connected, emotional about it. That´s why we all see guys praising anything from a 2CV to a 288GTO: it´s how you feel about it. And older cars definitely make you feel more than newer ones… MPG? Come on: check a Mini´s MPG! PLEASE DO! And you alwaysget there with a smile on your face! Kudos, Christer!

Marc
Marc

@ Frank Anigbo-
Well said. And I do have to agree that you had two very “old school” new cars in the sense of being true modern ‘seat of your pants’ basic sports cars – the Cayman and M Roadster are remarkable in that they do not attempt to have much luxury, make the right noises, look and handle great. IMHO.

Frank Anigbo
Frank Anigbo

You know, I had largely forgotten about the M Roadster until now — because I’ve had too many cars, but what a hairy machine it was. I would say it the modern embodiment of much of what I love about powerful cars from the ’60s — brutal in performance and unforgiving of stupidity. I loved it.

Frank Anigbo
Frank Anigbo

I think it’s safe to say that anyone who frequents this site is a card-carrying car person. I know I am, particularly in regards to older cars. I like a few of the new ones but I still have a long list of old cars to own before I die so the thought of spending my limited resources on a newer car is often hard to stomach. Yet, back in 2006 when Porsche came out with the Cayman S, I rushed off and bought one — my first ever new car. I enjoyed the Cayman S for a year and… Read more »

Emanuel Costa
Emanuel Costa

Well, some guys already said what I am about to write, but I would like to reinforce. First, the dispute between old and new is something that probably as existed a long time ago. even the first cars got hate and opposition by horse and carriage users… The new cars today (not all of them of course, like a Ford Fiesta or a VW Polo) will inevitably be the classics of tomorrow. Maybe our sons and grandsons will trash a new Mercedes, remembering the ‘old SL 500 I drove in 2006’…. its natural And a person can love classics and… Read more »

Michael Anderson
Michael Anderson

Twice last fall I drove from SoCal to NE Arizona. Once in a 2014 BWM 3something, and once in a 1968 Datsun roadster. The ride in the BMW was faster, smoother, more comfortable, and utterly unremarkable except for the speeding ticket my dad got near the border. The drive in the Datsun was cold as I rolled out of the garage, then blazingly 105* hot across the desert, cool past the river, flat out across the hot farmland, quickly cooling as I climbed to the mountains around Prescott, a scene of wonder as I found myself rolling across the cliff… Read more »

Derek Entesano
Derek Entesano

Nice read and great pics. Each to their own might be a good way to sign off articles on this website. I don’t mind reading conflicting opinions in the comments either as long as it stays friendly 🙂 As for the 911 being most recognizable I think that may be because they kept the same body design basically for eons!

Don Iafrate
Don Iafrate

I really enjoyed this article. It is not to say that new cars do not have their place-or that everything we feel about our passion has to be verified with logic and numbers. I drive a new car as a DD but it doesn’t inspire me to stay up at night planning my next project (how the heck am I going to get that exhaust out from over the axle?…) – or find a great driving road. My classic car does… Older cars just make it easier for guys like me to get their hands dirty and enjoy the hobby.… Read more »

Gregory J. Liebau
Gregory J. Liebau

“Stories about pushing the limits on the Nürburgring, chasing a new lap record on some unknown track, or raving about gadgets while driving on curvy roads in Europe leave me cold.”

Would any of the classic automobiles you love even be in existence if the same motivation to create new and better technology wasn’t driving the original designers of yesteryear? Ever heard of classic automobile racing, and trickle down technology, etc, etc? You’re taking a very narrow perspective into account in this “article,” that waxes poetic about nostalgia but lacks in rational commentary.

Marc
Marc

Well, I understand the new vs old. Huge differences. The smell of the old vs the smell of the new ( horsehair seats, leather, mildew, gas, etc..) The ability to feel via the seat of your pants or not. The sound! Cmon! BMW now artificially pumps in engine noise now via stereo! Just the visceral experience alone regardless of performance is lost on new cars. It’s hard to place a date when we stopped being able to tear apart a car, the dashboard in particular, with just a screwdriver. The cars of the future will likely be printed on a… Read more »

Mez
Mez

The subject matter and the eloquence of Christer’s prose have been overshadowed for me by the fact that I own an E39 540i, am in the process of acquiring a 1971 911T (in silver moreover), and may shortly also own a 1984 Austin Mini. Very eery.

You are a person of exquisite taste, Christer.

Claus Ph Resberg
Claus Ph Resberg

Great reading, great pictures and great cars! It`s all about the feeling. As simple as that.

JB21
JB21

I, er, really don’t care if the car is old or new. I think plenty of so-called classic cars are pure rubbish (rubbish back then, and over-priced rubbish now, too), and there are plenty of new cars that give me that special sensation. One things though…many classics are fast becoming irrelevant to me, due to the hyper inflated price tags attached to them, so I tend to enjoy them here.

Antony Ingram
Antony Ingram

I consider myself a car guy too, though my tastes are more… omnivorous, I suppose. I do love classics – and given the choice of something to drive down my favourite road, they would win every time. The Mini is a perfect example. I hired one a few months back and enjoyed every minute, and ended the experience wishing modern city cars had some of its brio. However, I also think modern cars are great. They certainly don’t have the same character (though being kind, the good ones do have a different [i]sort[/i] of character) and when push comes to… Read more »

Nar
Nar

The Mini is awesome. I grew up around VW’s (Bugs, type 2’s, type3’s loved the fastback) and Minis. I always thought i would end up driving one of those but when it came time to get my own car the closest i could get to the feel of a Mini was A CRX Si (gen 2). It feels like the perfect halfway point between a Mini and an Insight. Go kart handling and hybrid efficiency. Everything you need and nothing you don’t. Smiles per gallon kinda car. One thing, how awesome is that digital Insight cluster? 🙂

Martin James
Martin James

Well now . As a response rather than a critique allow me to add in my two cents on the subject ; #1 Along with the majority of new cars not holding any real interest for me , as well as the hyper inflated My ___ is Bigger than Yours Performance [ and when it comes to new Ferrari’s since the 456 specifically … F1 ‘ Ring Bling ‘ wanna be’s that are in fact barely drivable on public roads ] I’m in total agreement #2 Having said that though …. a new car is now my daily driver …… Read more »

Kevin Lynch
Kevin Lynch

I am still digesting Martin’s comments, well delivered in lovely prose, many of which I agree with, such as: “everyone seems to have a need to place everything into a tiny little very square box of their own design in order to justify their actions”, which truly disgusts me – just do what suits you, and get on with it; or that you can’t be a “Car Guy” without owning a classic – also a silly notion. That said, I did get a twinge of reverse “tiny little very square boxing” by the language about those of us who still… Read more »

Gregory J. Liebau
Gregory J. Liebau

Martin, I think that it’s a pity that your insightful and well-structured post, which contains a lot of very relevant concerns directly related to the original article, in the end turned sour… Otherwise, you make some spot on observations. I am an American in my mid-20s, and to date all of my daily drivers have predated 1997, going back to 1972. I have enjoyed the reliable cars more simply because I am not a mechanic – that’s my father’s forte – but I also love the smell of aged leather, the simplicity of dated engineering, and I get a measure… Read more »

Todd Cox
Todd Cox

TJMartin, please, for the love of all that is holy, ask yourself these question before posting again:

Is it necessary, is it kind, is it helpful and true?

I love Petroliciuos. I generally really enjoy commentary by all these users, save one (and it is surprisingly reliable).

Todd Cox
Todd Cox

TJMartin, please, for the love of all that is holy, ask yourself these question before posting again:

Is it necessary, is it kind, is it helpful and true?

I love Petroliciuos. I generally really enjoy commentary by all these users, save one (and it is surprisingly reliable).

Jim Valcarcel
Jim Valcarcel

Mr. Martin, in a world filled with so much hurt and pain and human suffering don’t you ever get tired of being so hurtful, painful, and full of trying to inflict human suffering? The only thing I can think of is to pity you as you must be a very unhappy person in this already fragile world.

William Sisti
William Sisti

As an owner of 73 Mini that last photo make me realize just how crap my suspension is and i need to replace the rubber cones.

Bjorn
Bjorn

Flott historie! Grate story, and it is true in all aspect.

B