The classic car hobby seems to be divided into two very distinct groups of people. And while this is a fairly sweeping generalization. Take a look around at the next car show and see for yourself.
We have Trailer people and the Non-Trailer people.
You can tell just by looking at the vehicles there. Trailer people have cars that are beyond perfect. The 20 miles a year sorts of cars whose only real use is a micro trip from the garage to a local show and back. And never in bad weather. The non-trailer people have cars that are not quite perfect. Still very nice looking vehicles, but not quite possessing the better than new perfection of the pampered vehicles. I’m a Non-trailer kind of person and my coach was restored to be a driver, but I do understand where the trailer folks are coming from. Some collector vehicles really are too valuable to drive. That being said, I’m not sure that any of our vintage coaches fall into that category. We aren’t talking about Million Dollar Hemi Cuda’s or Multi-Million dollar Duesenbergs. I firmly believe that when you get a vehicle that becomes that valuable, it’s no longer really a vehicle. It’s more a piece of art, or an investment. But it’s really not a car anymore as you just can’t really drive and enjoy it as it was designed to be. That being said, we drive old ambulances and hearses and limousines. These were working vehicles when they were new. They were used when they were needed. These vehicles saw rain and horrible roads, and long drives and in some cases a good deal of abuse. And while most were well cared for because they needed to be reliable and dependable, they were not really pampered showpieces when they were new.
Anyone that has restored one of these old coaches can tell you that the fit and finish on these coaches was not always the best. The paintwork was reflective of the era in which it was built, and was usually far from perfect. And at their very core, these vehicles were just transportation. Specialized transportation to be sure, but at their core they are all just working vehicles. And before folks get upset with that, please know that I say that with a great deal of love for these cars. These coaches were built to do a very specific task. Move the injured or deceased or the wealthy. (In the case of Limousines.) These vehicles were built to do a job. They often made a statement about the owner in the process, but they were built for their utility.
Fast forward to the present day. We have collectors that love and admire these vehicles, and sometimes I wonder if, as a hobby, we are not assigning too much importance to the perceived value of these vehicles. We look at low production numbers as a sign of high value, when in fact, those two items are not always directly linked. Low production numbers do not always make a vehicle valuable. It’s the “eBay effect”. if you browse eBay, you will notice that a large number of listings use the word “RARE” in the title or the description. People think that if an item is “rare” then it will bring top dollar, so almost everything is listed as being rare these days. We have somehow been led to believe that Rare=Valuable, and that is just not always the case. Sometimes rare just means that not a lot were made. The lack of perfection that our cars were built with is a tailor made excuse to get out there and drive them and enjoy them. They were not perfect when they were new, so are we really preserving them if we are restoring them to better than new and not actually driving them? How can we say that we really appreciate these cars if all we do is display them in a static setting?
I drive my collector cars. ALL of them. I don’t even own a trailer capable of holding any of my coaches. So if I want to enjoy them and share them, I have to drive them. If I want to do an event outside my home city, I drive my coach there. Shortly after finishing the new paint job on my 1960 Ambulance, we loaded all of our stuff in the back and drove 650 miles to Denver Colorado for a show. Was it a perfect trip? Absolutely not. Less than 60 miles from home, the A/C in the ambulance stopped working. So what did we do? We rolled the windows down and kept going. This trip happened in the middle of the summer and we started in Arizona. The temperature was over 100 degrees when we left. And with the windows down at 75mph on the freeway, it wasn’t as bad as everyone thought it would be. That was an interesting trip to say the least. We encountered bad road surfaces, blowing dust, torrential rain, horrible drivers, and some pretty frightening roads in general. And we also met some of the friendliest and nicest people along the way. We realized that getting there was MORE than half of the fun. Gas stops always provided an opportunity to talk to someone about the car, and what it was and what it represented and why we collected them. To see the smiles and the wonderment as we passed folks on the freeway was just amazing. It’s an experience that I think a lot of folks in our hobby are missing out on by tucking their coaches away in trailers and hiding them on the trip there.
Of course it comes at a price. You have to learn how to fix little things that go wrong out on the road. You may have to take some parts and tools with you when you travel. You may have to suffer without your leather seats and A/C and your cup-holders and your satellite radios for a few days. You have to stop worrying about everything on the car being flawless because roads are dirty places. You can’t worry about some bug splatters on the car, or some small rock chips, or even weather. You have to be ready to be an ambassador for the hobby because you will be attracting a huge amount of attention. And you have to be willing to talk to people, because you will get questions. (And you will get the same sorts of questions at every gas stop.) But in return, I can almost guarantee that you will meet amazing people along the way. You will get a new appreciation for these vehicles and their capabilities. And most of the time, you will have a hard time wiping the smile off of your face when you arrive. These things are actually fun to drive. And isn’t that why we collect them to begin with? Isn’t the enjoyment and the fun the whole reason we collect these coaches?