My initial intention was to write a brief history of some of the more interesting cars I have owned. What I ended up with is a collection of stories about people: the people involved with these cars and myself. I thought about changing a few names to protect the guilty but soon realized that I was the one whose good sense and sanity were often suspect. You’ll have to render the verdict.
Over the last forty-eight years, I acquired and disposed of more than seventy cars, trucks, and motor homes, and those experiences, good and bad, have generated some wisdom about how to minimize the damage to one’s bank account when dealing with what is almost always a depreciating asset. The reader will hopefully draw some useful conclusions.
Ladies who are trying to understand their husband’s devotion to certain cars and the money spent on them might find some insights to male behavior but I offer only reasons why, and I doubt that there is a long-term cure. I should add that I was never a collector who bought, restored and sold cars for profit. I bought these road, race and rally cars to drive. When I got done with them, they were definitely used cars.
The savvy auto executive might like to peruse this collection of tales and see if he or she agrees with me on what the ‘secret sauce” is. What do certain cars possess such that people get passionate about them? I believe there is a very tight relationship between styling and substance that determines a car’s perceived value by owners and would be owners.
By the time you finish this book, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what I think a car has to have to be loved and sought after, long after it has gone out of production. I wasn’t in love with all the cars herein, far from it. Most of them were fine rides, but a few were disasters. A car can own you, even when you’re mad at your self for buying it.
Have you ever had a car that, after you’ve parked it, you pause, turn around and look at it and it makes you smile? You’re glad that car is yours. You’re proud of it. You feel fortunate that you managed to acquire it. That car makes you feel good.
There are cars like that. You’ll know it when it happens to you. I used to say to myself, “I would steal that car, except for the fact that I already own it.”
This interest in cars began sixty years ago, way back in 1947. I was 8 years old, growing up in Alpena, an old lumbering town on the Lake Huron side of Michigan, about 250 miles north of Detroit.
It had been two years since the end of World War II, and the country was crazy about cars. None had been built during the war and now Ford, GM, Chrysler, Kaiser, Hudson, Willys, Nash and Packard could not build them fast enough.
Just before the new cars came out in the fall of the year, the dealers would cover their show room windows with great sheets of white paper. I would ride downtown on my bike to three dealerships; Buick, Chevrolet and Ford, situated within a few blocks of each other. Leaning my bike against a tree by the sidewalk, peering through the small cracks in the spaces between the paper sheets, seeing only a fender, part of the grill or a rear quarter panel; I wanted to be the first to see the new models. If I couldn’t see the whole car, which was usually the case, but could see enough to be able to tell it was going to be different from what they had before, oh boy! Then it was off to the other two dealers for more detective work.
After the official introductions of the new cars, I would return to see if I could have a few brochures of the new models. To me, the brochure was the car. I liked the smell of the brochures. I didn’t care much to sit in these cars, or pretend I was driving them. The shape of the car is what interested me. The grill, the hood, the sides, the colors, and the back end were what distinguished one car from another.
Beginning with that first car, a ‘53 Nash acquired for $100 in the summer of 1958, I bought more than fifty cars over the next forty-five years. Counting race cars, family cars, company cars, pickup trucks and motor homes, and excluding motorcycles and sail boats, I will admit to being “owned” by more than 70 vehicles.
The 1962 Triumph TR-3B and the first Jaguar, the 1974 XJ6L sedan, were great cars. Why did I sell them? And the 1965 Aston Martin DB-5 that I purchased for $6000, sold for $9000 and later learned that it had been sold for more than $40,000, the same Aston Martin DB-5 shown at the press conference when Ford bought Aston Martin? What could I have been thinking when I sold that?
Most of the race cars I owned were imports but the last of them was a classic muscle car, a 475 horsepower 1994 Ford Mustang Cobra hand built from a body shell purchased from Ford Motor Company for $500. Five long years later, it was the car that won the ITE Championship at the Waterford Hills race track in Clarkston, MI in my last season of competition.
These are the stories of those cars, the forty cars that owned me.
— Pat Nowak
November 1, 2006
The author's Jaguar E-Type