Everybody has the classic car which, for some reason, speaks to their soul. Maybe it's the first car you ever saw or the first one that you could name. Sometimes it's that you're born in a city where they were made. Growing up in rural Indiana, the 1950 Studebaker was the one for me. The blunt-nosed full-sized car that could easily fit six of us with room for bags and all. My grandparents had her for forever, and growing up it was less a classic car and more a part of the family.
My grandfather loved that car. He was a quiet man, with careful hands, who never said more than he had to, and always knew what to say when it mattered. Watching how he'd gently wash and wax his Beautiful Bessie, he was the one who taught me to love cars first of all, and then he was the one to teach me how to drive. We'd have trips out to the lakes, or lazy afternoons when he'd collected me from Sunday school, out into the heartlands for the ice cream.
Bessie was the car that I learned to drive in. The car I borrowed when I was trying to get my driver's permit. Even now, that 1950 Studebaker is the sort of car I think about when it's time to upgrade my own - something big, and sturdy, and infinitely reliable.
"Cars have always been this amazing touchstone for people because they're an extension of who we are as a person."
'Essex,CT - Studebaker Golden Hawk'
Classic Cars are Classics for a Reason
To be around a car that looks like my grandfather's Studebaker was to feel nostalgic about a world that had gone away a long time before I was born. A time when people like my grandfather understood the world as much as he understood his place in it. Maybe that's the reason that people love classic cars so much - when you look at it, for a little while everything just seems to make sense.
Nostalgia, wrapped in service. That's what I think of when I think of these magnificent machines. A chance to remember what it was like, way back when. Cars have always been this amazing touchstone for people because they're an extension of who we are as a person. Some people are a pick-up truck, and others a sporty little number.
From James Bond to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, letting somebody see how you style a car, how you choose to take on the world tells the world more about you than you may ever have appreciated. What you respond to with the lines of a classic car speak more to who you are than ay personality test.
Are you a two-door sports car or a pickup truck? Do you see the world like it's a city street to be parked on, or like the wide-open highways of the mid-West? Before you ever get to the meanings of car colors, and the theories about which one is best for you, everything comes down to the shapes, and the sounds, and the way that they move.
The Studebaker Commandant
The first Studebaker most people don't even realize that they know turns up in that classic movie, Grease. The Pink Ladies and their 1948 Studebaker Commandant, show something about what these cars were intended to be. Sturdy enough that you'd feel safe with your teenager behind the wheel, and flirtatious enough that a young girl could drive it and still feel like a star.
Of course, my grandfather's car looked like it could never have been new. It wasn't glamorous or exciting, and around where we lived, everybody had one of these cars. They ran 28 miles to the gallon and never gave anybody any trouble at all. Owning these cars was like being in a club because you knew that when you turned the key in the engine that it was going to run. Sure, the color was a little faded, the decades of dust and heat had worn away at the cherry red and made it a little more sunburned, but the beating heart of the car was something that just kept on going.
When I turned 18 and it was time for me to get a car of my own, a Pink Lady of my very own was waiting for me. This one was shiny and had been restored back to her former glory. She was more peach than pink, with a gray interior and the distinctive bullet nose that made the Studebaker name. If my grandfather had had Beautiful Bessie, I now had my own Pretty Polly, and the freedom of being able to go where and when I pleased was heaven.
Can Modern Cars Live Up to the Classics?
I have to say, I don't think I've ever had the same joy of driving in more modern cars than I did in those days with Polly. These days it feels a little bit more like I'm driving just to get from A to B, rather than setting off for the joy of feeling hard road beneath me. Maybe that's something that happens as you're growing older, but I also think that the cars you drive make the difference.
To be in one of the classic cars - the Studebakers, the Fords, the Mustangs - is to be in touch with the country's history and the greatness of our manufacturing age. It's to be aware of the fact that cars were made and checked by people, and not just machines. The best days of driving connect you to the roads, which spread from north to south, and east to west, covering the country in veins and arteries that keep everything moving. It's a chance to feel like you're part of something bigger, even if only for a minute or two.
Which isn't to say that I totally miss out on the experience. When I visit my parents back in Indiana, they still have Polly, and I still have the chance to take her out. The engine turns over like she, and I, are 18 years old again, and I can't ever leave without giving her a wash and a buff up, to make sure that I head back out into the world with the wind in my hair, and remembering the gentle smell of freedom, and how it's just a little bit like turtle wax.