Journal: The Serial Monogamist

The Serial Monogamist

By Jonathan WC Mills
January 13, 2014

Photography by David Marvier for Petrolicious

I don’t cheat on my cars.

I have never really had the space or resources to purchase a fleet of cars. And the older I get the less inclination I actually have to do so. Even the notion of collecting is, by itself, an odd one. I never kept butterflies under glass as a child. I didn’t do comic books or baseball cards…and after all, you can only do one thing at a time. But perhaps more importantly, you only have one life.

Let’s back up a bit. If you’re an auto enthusiast you will at some point have enough money to purchase a car that you’ve always wanted. In my case, I once gave up a 1989 Suburban and some cash for a ‘76 Porsche 911. This happened in a card game (honestly). The car was fantastic, expensive, slow, ridiculous and lovely. It was the first true ‘dream car’ I owned. Though I could have had other cars while I owned the 911, I had no interest. She was a fantasy come true and I wanted to spend all my time with her.

There were the occasional pulls from other directions. A glance on a crowded road of a curved fender. The throaty purr of a V8 at the stoplight next to me, but day after day I got in my 911 and was satisfied. She was a project, a car I came to know intimately, a car whose quirks, foibles and unique elements revealed themselves slowly through the ownership experience. But more importantly she offered something more important: memories.

One of my great automotive memories came in that 911. It was a cold, dreary January in California and I wanted to take a drive up Highway 1 to San Francisco for my birthday. Given the time of the year, this was an excellent decision because the road was empty. I changed the oil, made sure my girlfriend had a wool blanket and headed north. I knew the car; knew when to shift, when to redline, when to brake—the car and I had a synergy, reared through long hours behind the wheel, as we drove up the long and sinuous road. To this day that drive remains a perfect memory, in large part due to the connection I had with the car.

Before the Porsche came a ’67 Ford Galaxie 500 that I bought off a teenage grease-monkey who assured me it was well built. He fibbed a little. It was a hot rod with a bored-out 390, straight pipes and glass packs that set off car alarms. I drove it across the country pulling my Ducati on a trailer. It lived on Manhattan’s streets during some college years and I’d stuff ten people into it for pub crawls. I once took it on a BBQ road trip through the south. It overheated constantly, the headliner was ripped, the seats were half-vinyl, half Mexican blanket. It had a lot of problems and I learned how to fix many of them, often in the dark with a flashlight and many, many curse words. She finally gave up on me one too many times and I sold her. But she left me with a basket of fantastic memories, a new set of skills and the opportunity to own another car.

A collector may not have that same set of intense experiences because, by virtue of having so many cars, they lack that deeply understood connection. A collector might focus on a certain marque, vintage or model. But these machines don’t often make lasting memories because they are not an extension of the owner. They are often simply an expensive harem: driven on occasion, loved from afar and rarely known intimately. There are exceptions to every rule and I’m certainly generalizing, but the fact remains: one car driven often is going to provide greater experience than many cars driven on occasion.

It comes down to taste of course. Do you prefer a single entree or the tasting menu? Do you crave the notion of ownership or the actual experience of it? It goes without saying I prefer monogamy. One car at a time, experienced fully. Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but I prefer more than a quick roll in the hay, I want real memories.

How about you?

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Anders Hagström
Anders Hagström(@andershagstromkonsult)
5 years ago

“If you’re an auto enthusiast you will at some point have enough money to purchase a car that you’ve always wanted.”

It would be real nice if this was true, but a lot of us just spend our lives dreaming through litterature, films and images. There are a lot of petrol heads in the world that aren’t beholden to a disposable income. This typical lack of recognition for people at the lower rungs of society sort of soured the article early on for me.

That said, I do tend to agree with the monogamy thing as I can’t imagine ever wanting to part with a car I’ve always wanted if it by some miracle ended up in my care.

Tharanga Wijayaratna
Tharanga Wijayaratna(@kuseetha)
4 years ago

“It would be real nice if this was true, but a lot of us just spend our lives dreaming through literature, films and images. There are a lot of petrol heads in the world that aren’t beholden to a disposable income.”

Totally agree with this point living in a developing country, where there are hardly any exciting cars to be bought at the used car market and the wealthy majority buy boring/popular cars based on resale values. Excitement and economy doesn’t go hand in hand.

I consider myself very lucky to own few rare and interesting cars (and a project car) here, bought cheap due to “low resale value”. Inefficient in fuel, hard to find parts are the main contributing factors.

However, that difficult upkeep tends to make you get yourself more involved in preventive maintenance, active participation in car forums, spending lots of time reading workshop manuals and TSBs, finding alternative/compatible parts and heaps of DIY work.

In that aspect, a tiny collection helps because you can drive one when the other is being fixed. This keeps you busy during weekends, enjoying the whole experience.

Jerry Horton
Jerry Horton(@drivekulture)
8 years ago

I have to agree with BiTurbo288. Some of us love one thing. Some of us love different things for different reasons. Of course there are cars out there which will fit the moniker of all-in-one, but most cars are designed to do one thing really well. If you love floating down the freeway, you won’t get that experience from a vintage 911. Conversely, if you love taking corners at a slightly-higher-than-legal speed, you won’t get that experience from a Chrysler Imperial. Finally, if you love to do both of those things (obviously not simultaneously), how can you get those experiences from one car?

Brett Evans
Brett Evans(@evans-bt)
8 years ago

I dig the sentiment of the author. I couldn’t follow it, I like variety a little too much. I enjoyed babysitting my brother’s rat-rod Volvo for a year because when I wanted to drive “cool,” I could, and when I wanted to drive “comfy,” I could take my E34 535i/5. And now that I drive a little 4×4, I enjoy being able to camp and climb hills and tow stuff, but I find myself craving a sports car. I think I’ll always want at least two cars and a motorbike in my fleet if I can.

Brett Bratton
Brett Bratton(@manticore33)
8 years ago

I completely agree with the sentiments of the author. The use and dedication of “the one” is fantastic, challenging, and endearing. As an automotive enthusiast, it forces you to truly evaluate your vehicle and become intimate all its good merits and bad merits. Cars are always on a spectrum of civil obedient mundane transportation to race car. It is always a compromise. Trying to utilize that one car forces one to look in the mirror and truly be honest. What is good for me today, tomorrow, and next year for an automotive experience, opposed to leaving it open for debate. With the one, you’ve chosen, and there is a romance with that and appeals to my idealistic side. Now, I also agree that you can have good relationships with a multi-car fleet which I have more experience as I am multi-car fleet myself. While I will spend time every now and again thinking of a 911SC, I doubt I will switch from my 944 turbo. However, I admit a special fondness for my family car and daily driver, 2001 530i/5 speed non-sport. That car has the memories of my family and will soon be bring my third born home, which is a whole level of memories, experiences, food bits, dirt, grime, and rust the Porsche will not share. Having that tandem “dream car” and “great daily driver” is like different chapters in your life. One my wife and I relive our oneness (she shares an automotive passion) and the other it is my wife and I with the life we’ve built. And, I do not want to be without either experiences.

Marc Hirsch
Marc Hirsch(@march)
8 years ago

At some point, something in my brain says time for something different. I get the new car then lament and whine and romanticize the previous one. And then one day the new car becomes the ‘one’ and my heart belongs entirely to it.

Eddie Relvas
Eddie Relvas(@eddie124)
8 years ago

I’ve never quite been able to do the monogamy thing. I mean, out of sheer limitation I did remain true to my 127 during most of my teen years (mine since I was 13), but ever since I’ve been out in the world with cash in hand I’ve never looked back.

I agree that to have a special bond you need a small number of cars, but this allows you to have cars for most occasions. I’m slowly getting there with my fleet, and funnily, the car I’m now less close to is my 127, despite it being the one that kickstarted the whole thing. I’m truly, hopelessly in love with my 124 Spider, probably the best car I’ve ever had. But now it shares space with a vintage Ford that is a childhood dream slowly coming true, and there’s another project for the perfect family cruiser in the form of a classic station wagon (the 127 is a 3-door, small, noisy and slow, and the Spider is not ideal for long trips, let alone the Ford). So, a classic for all occasions… that’s my ideal.

Damian Solorzano
Damian Solorzano(@damian)
8 years ago

Some relationships just run a natural course. Currently I’m car-free, having just sold my mk2 Celica Supra that i’d owned for the last 5 years. I’m at that point where I have time to wait and be choosy. What next? back to the Italians and an alternately character packed and infuriating experience? The Brits, with their institutional eccentricities? Germans? haven’t owned a BMW or a Porsche yet…..Yep. serial monogamist.

8 years ago

I tend to agree more by need than by sheer conviction… Funds allowing I would have a small collection (3-4), but if it happened I would probably have more money to spend on someone else wrenching skills and I would probaly loose that intimate connection.
As it is, I own a 911 for 10yrs now, and have got to know it very “intimately” as it was not a very well researched buy in the first place (I was a victim of the 911-first-drive syndrome: gotta have it !)
Some catastrophe not withstanding, I will probably “never” sell it. I get my daily driving “fix” by owning a 95′ Range Rover, which happened almost by accident.

Brandon Schelin
Brandon Schelin(@bschelin)
8 years ago

Like many of the above posters, I’m struggling with my feelings towards this piece. I say this, as I currently find myself perplexed by my own automotive conundrum. Not unlike the author, a few years ago, I too found myself – through extraordinary circumstances – the owner of a beautiful mid-year 911; a ’75 Carrera in bitter chocolate brown to be exact. For six months I drove it everyday. Drove it to work, to the track, through the canyons; Drove it in the sun, in the rain, in the fog, in the… wind? The point is, it was a daily driver in every sense.

As a result, it had become something so much more than a ‘dream’ car. I’d learned all of it’s idiosyncrasies, I’d learned how it wanted to be driven. It wasn’t just a car anymore, it was an extension of myself. But then – as they have a want to do so far north of the equator – the seasons changed and I found myself for the first time in a situation where I didn’t want to drive it. So I bit the bullet; I bought a “boring daily driver appliance”.

When the seasons again changed for the worse the following year, I got an idea. An awful idea. I got a wonderful *awful* idea. “Why not get a daily driver that is as engaging, entertaining, enthralling, and exciting as the 911?” So I sold the boring daily and set out to find my perfect ‘all-season’ daily classic. Within a few weeks I’d found the perfect candidate; a clean, lightly/tastefully modified ’83 GTI. It was perfect. Not only would it be a great year-round daily driver (or so I thought), but with parts from Wolfsburg being approximately 1/10000000000th the cost of the equivalent parts from Stuttgart, it would be the ideal platform for me to cut my teeth in restoration.

3 months and a few harrowing wintry nights – with no heat or defogger – later, I’d learned four things: 1. Upgrading brakes without appropriately replacing your proportioning valve feels more like downgrading, 2. A clean microfiber towel or a sponge should always be within arm’s reach while behind the wheel, 3. A thirty-year old sub 2000 lbs project car probably isn’t the best year-round daily driver, and 4. I absolutely loved my GTI.

That was two years ago. Today, two more cars have been added to the fleet, both boring daily types and I find myself faced with the nightmare of feeling like the 911 and GTI have become burdens. It’s unbelievably difficult to justify the costs of storing, insuring, and maintaining two cars which you seldom even see, let alone drive for almost six months out of the year.

This piece makes it all the more difficult to justify. “Why do I struggle to keep two cars, when I could so easily sell one and enjoy every minute of owning the other?” At least that’s the question I should logically be asking myself. But we’re not logical. Logical people buy Camrys and Accords with warranties and free scheduled maintenance and put their hard-earned money into sound investments and financial planning.

No, we’re not logical people. We’re hopeless romantics. We’re car people.

On that note, anybody out there know of any clean VW Type 181’s for sale?

8 years ago

I think it is a very personal thing. With the right resources and personality a mix of cars can work very well but without them it doesn’t work at all. I’ve got a good friend with a small (6 or so) collection and he drives them all and loves them all. He has a special connection with each car in his fleet, no question.

Me, I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum, truly a one-at-a-time guy (okay, two if you include the motorcycle). One classic is all I can handle from a time or money standpoint. I’ve had more — at one point I had a ’73 BMW R75/5, ’70 MGB, and a ’76 FJ40 Land Cruiser in the fleet. This only lasted a couple months, everything needed something and I was less happy about my cars then ever before. Should have been vehicular nirvana, but in the end it was more of an outer circle of hell.

Fast forward to today and I have one car (’59 Bugeye Sprite) and a newer bike (Moto Guzzi V7) plus the boring daily driver appliance. That’s about right for me, though I’d swap the appliance for something more interesting if I could. Given my time and resources this is a the right mix for me. The bike gives me something to play with while the Bugeye is under restoration. Once the Bugeye is done I expect many years of driving pleasure from it.

In my dreamer’s mind I’d love a second (or third) exciting car, but I know myself well enough to know that I barely have time for what’s already in front of me. I even built my little shop intentionally smaller so it’s really only good for one car. Romantic dreaming about different cars is all well and good, but for me it’s a recipe for unhappiness.

Ronald Malosh
Ronald Malosh(@lrm)
8 years ago

I fully agree with the authors point…But I am a collector by nature and would have at least a dozen classic cars if I had the money and space. I suppose that I am fortunate in that I do not because I would surely miss out on the “connection” that I am cultivating with my 1973 Plymouth Duster. Mere acquisitions would not be as fulfilling as the experience of owning, driving and upgrading an imperfect classic car. We are more fortunate when we do not get everything we want…It is still nice to dream. 😉

8 years ago

I’d challenge the notion that owning a fleet of cars precludes you from developing a deep connection with each car.

Under my ownership at the moment is an Alfa 156 that I’ve daily driven for 4 years now. It was the first car of any sort of excitement that I’ve owned, and I miss driving it whenever I’m in something else. It’s not only exciting, but it’s capable and reliable (don’t laugh…). It’s never let me down, nor has it failed to put a smile on my face when I push the loud pedal.

I also have a Jaguar XJ40 that I rescued from my uncle’s field when I was 19. I bought it for £60 and trailered it to my house. Only one of the 4 doors opened (with a piece of string tied to the locking mechanism and fed through the window seal), the gearbox slipped, the headlining had sagged, there were a couple of rust bubbles, the power steering bled all of its fluid out in 30 seconds and it wouldn’t start.

I cleaned up an earth and she fired straight up, I ghetto-fixed the headlining with drawing pins (a stop-gap measure until I could afford to reapholster), I fixed the power steering, I sorted the creeping rust, I fixed the stuck doors and I was just coming to the closing stages of swapping in a manual gearbox when a tree fell on her.

Utterly gut-wrenching. I still don’t really know what to do with it, and that happened on Christmas eve.

The same fate befell my little X1/9, which I accidentally bought for £330 (off-hand low-ball bids on eBay are dangerous things). Again as a non-runner, but with a reasonably solid body. We tinkered with it for abut a week trying to get it started, and it was wonderful when it finally fired up. Really nice rumbly sound. Very surprising from a dinky little 1.5l. I pulled off the massive US-spec bumpers (20kg between them!), and started the piecemeal work to get it roadworthy again. Such a cool little retro car, but alas no more.

All of this is consecutive, and ongoing alongside my major project, a Spitfire 6 build/restoration, that I cannot wait to finish (and submit to the Petrolicious readers rides thing 🙂 ).

Each of these cars has become a part of me, by dint of the work I’ve put into them and just by the very fact that they were mine. My cars.

Each is precious to me, and no less so for having others alongside them.

8 years ago
Reply to  BiTurbo228

God damnit, I meant concurrent not consecutive. That’s the whole crux of the argument :S

Ben Lamboeuf
Ben Lamboeuf(@ducbeak)
8 years ago

No question, I share you opinions, here. I find the experiences you get from owning a very special car (special to you, that is) to be worth more than presiding over a collection of shiny boat anchors.
I owned a 68 Camaro convertible for 23 years, and have owned a 67 Mustang for 18 years and counting. I was hoping some day to get to a 911 and a Challenger/Barracuda, but the Mustang still have to give me more good times… Thanks for sharing your story.

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange(@365daytonafan)
8 years ago

I’m struggling to decide if I agree with this thought or not. On the one hand I’m also a monogamist when it comes to old cars having had mine for the last 10 years (and it was in the family 29 years before that), but funds, space allowing I would love to build a small collection of cars.
I guess if the collection is not too big, say 4- 6 cars it is perfectly possible to have the relationship you describe with all if the cars. I know my Dad manages too with his collection but then as he is semi retired he has more time to spend tinkering with them than I do.