First Words — 02 February 2018
What drives us to collect old cars? Check the rearview

By Mark Gauert

City & Shore PRIME Magazine

I remember what Jay Leno said – just before the Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance a few years ago – about the car he’d never sell.

“My ’55 Buick because I’ve had it since 1972,” he said. “I met my wife in it and, you know, we used to date in it.”

If fire, mudslide or any other calamity threatened his Big Dog Garage in Burbank – housing his famous collection – the ’55 Buick was one of the three cars he’d rescue first. (The others were a 1925 Doble Steam Car – once owned by Howard Hughes – and a 1994 F1 McLaren, which he has called “probably the greatest car of the 20th Century.”)

I remember what Dan Johnson said about the car he’d never forget, just before the Concours too.

Johnson had family stories about a Peerless, his great uncle’s car. About how the whole family would pile into that long-extinct brand – more land cruiser than car – and roll the highways like heads of state. It sat seven, but because it was built in 1929 – long before anyone was concerned, you know, about air bags, padded dashboards or extended seat belts – it probably could have squeezed in an entire extended family. (And possibly a school field trip).

The family Peerless was long gone – just a happy memory from Johnson’s childhood – but, years later, after his retirement to Fort Lauderdale, he located a wreck of a remnant in West Virginia and set about restoring it to the way his family would have recognized it.

“My Peerless is going to be as perfect as anybody could make it,’’ Johnson said, as it sat up on blocks in a garage in Dania Beach. He was determined to make the family car run again – and to drive it himself onto the greens of the Concours d’Elegance at the Boca Raton Resort & Club.

“I’m not a demonstrative man,” he said, “but that moment driving it to the show, it’s going to be a cool moment, it really is.”

Johnson teared up seeing the final restoration of the car he remembered from his childhood. And, more than a cool moment, it won Best in Class in competition that year.

Listening to Dan Johnson and Jay Leno, I understand the attraction of our old cars – and why we’ll see so many driving, pushing and pulling their restored treasures onto the greens again this year, Feb. 23-25.

I remember my first car, too – a spark yellow Mazda RX-7. I got it not long after the first Star Wars came out (well, technically, Episode IV), and I bombed around my hometown in New Mexico like I was flying the Millennium Falcon. I remember having a blast in that car – and I eventually took it with me to my first job in South Florida.

I remember trading it in for a Havana brown RX-7, and taking my fiancée on a road trip back to meet my parents. Then there was the red RX-7 we had after that, when we were young marrieds.

Then the Honda when we needed room for a car seat. Then the Oldsmobile for a second car seat. And then the Nissan we eventually gave to our oldest son, who drove it off to school out West.

All those cars are gone now, but I remember them.

And all the moving memories.

So I can understand why people would want to preserve them. Make them shine again. Seal them under paste wax, so they’ll never change.

Family stories on four wheels, turning back the odometers of our lives.

- mgauert@cityandshore.com

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