Elana ScherrCar and Driver
From the June 2020 issue of Car and Driver.
I need an icebreaker. Not the Russian Arktika-class variant, not that I don’t want a 75,000-hp ship capable of busting through 16 feet of solid ice, but where would I put it? My neighbors already look askance at the oil stains in my driveway. Also, I don’t think I could get away with nuclear reactors.
I need the other kind of icebreaker, the one for parties where you have to talk to strangers but nobody’s drunk yet. Well, some of you might be, but for those who aren’t, I’m going to lean on the experts in long-distance communication.
I was launched the same year NASA sent the Voyager spacecraft in search of extraterrestrial life, so let’s look to them for tips on making new friends. Voyager’s goal was to map the outer regions and then leave our solar system, carrying a “Hello from the children of planet Earth” into the vastness of space. Voyager‘s recorded message included animal sounds, photographs, and greetings in 55 different languages. Since my grasp of whale song is rusty, I’ll attempt initial contact in our shared language of cars owned, cars driven, and cars much desired.
My first car was a Chevrolet Impala. It was gold, it was missing an axle, and I found it in the sandbox at the park. My mom drove a ’68 Impala, at that point already an outlier amid 1980s station wagons and brand-new minivans, and I was delighted to find a miniature version. “This car is important enough to be recreated,” it said to me. “Cars can be important.”
Despite my early interest in car collecting, I didn’t get a license or a real car until my senior year of college, when I had to buy the latter to practice for the former. I ended up with a 1973 Plymouth Duster, and my roommate used to have to move it for me on street-cleaning days, since I was still working on my parallel-parking skills. When your first car is an old car, you learn some wrenching as well as safe following distances, so I found myself collecting a small tool kit along with my learner’s permit.
There are only two ways to go with a classic car. You either grow weary of pegged temp gauges and monthly mechanic visits or you find satisfaction in learning bolt sizes and tool names and fall in love with the community you find at car shows and racetracks and among early-morning canyon adventurers. I worked for several years in shops, both car and motorcycle, and started to expand my interests from classic muscle cars to classic cars in general. And then to any combination of wheels, engine, motor, rubber band, and peroxide rocket. If it moves, I probably like it.
I wasn’t the worst with a wrench, but my tendency to nap under a car during oil changes meant flat-rate mechanic work was a poor long-term career choice. If only there were a job that combined my desire to learn how things work and my mediocre talent for doing those things myself and that would allow me to share the delightful stories of people who build and race and design and create the cars we love. We’ll come back to that.
The Duster was followed by a Challenger, then a better Challenger, then a truck, then an Opel GT, and most recently, an ’81 Pontiac Trans Am. “What is your normal car?” people often ask at this point. Uh, yeah, I don’t have one. Between my husband and me, we have a dozen vehicles; of them, only two are fuel injected, and those are 30-year-old diesels.
Lest you think us Luddites—only he is—I’m a big fan of A/C and Apple CarPlay and I get my tech fix driving and reviewing cars for publications like this one. Remember that desire I had for a job where I could celebrate people’s engineering skills and get paid to do things like sleep on a Viper wing? Turns out there is one with exactly that description, and sometimes, if you work at it, it turns into a C/D column where you can try to explain how you got here and what you plan to do now that you’ve arrived. I come in peace, everybody. I want to tell you about a world of wonders, technological marvels, great moments in history, and the people and places along the way. For now, I’ll take a page out of NASA’s book and simply say, “Hello. Hi. Hey. Greetings.”
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