I have to fess up to something: I love flawed things. It's why my girl isn't a supermodel (because I could totally date one if I wanted to), why I'm not sure what my dog is a mix of, and why I own a very old Italian car. Yet despite these "imperfections" they all make me a very happy, lucky person.
But this is a car site, so let's just focus on the Fiat. She's a cherry red, 1982 124 Sport Spider. She has about 101,000 miles, she was owned and restored by a former mechanic, and her name is Felicity. I've owned her for two years now, and in that time we've had ups, downs, and a lot of horizontal movement. But that is to be expected from owning a classic car. I knew, for the most part, what I was getting into when I bought her. There are, however, a few interesting things I could have only figured out by taking the plunge and buying a vintage car.
It Isn't Always a Headache
Going into the purchase this was the one thing that frightened me about owning an old car. I had wanted a vintage car for as long as I could remember, and I wanted an Italian car just as badly. Naturally, these two together aren't exactly a recipe for reliability, but I am still surprised at how well the little Fiat has held up over the course of two years and almost 3,000 miles.
It helps that this was once the plaything of a mechanic; he clearly kept it in good health. There isn't any rust, the engine has yet to overheat, and in all the time I've had it I only had to replace a leaky fuel line. There are some foibles, however. There have been times where it has refused to start, and then the next day will act as though nothing ever happened. The gas gauge will go from half full to empty if I hit a bump. I need to hit the dash a couple times to get the radio to work.
It May Inadvertently Become a Garage Queen
I know most car enthusiasts will see some article or classified for an old car that's carried to shows on trailers, kept away in a garage, or just simply never driven. The response is overwhelmingly, "If that were my car I would drive it all the time!" Indeed, cars should be driven as often as possible no matter how old they are, but things get a bit more complicated when you actually own an older car.
See, the car is in Wisconsin, which as it turns out, is covered in a thick layer of snow and salt for about half the year. Even the most foolhardy, steadfast, and downright stubborn gearhead wouldn't dare drive an old Italian car in that kind of weather. Even then, I live in the city now, so it really doesn't even pay to have a car; I just keep it as a luxury item. The point is that the car is kept in storage a lot more than it should be, but it at least means that I don't have to deal with this next point a lot…
Driving Is Half Fun, Half an Anxiety Attack
Look, driving the car is an absolute blast. It's light, it corners, the steering has the right amount of heft to it, and shifting gears is as rewarding as can be. The thing is, though, that because it's an old car, you become hypersensitive to other drivers around you.
"Oh god, what is this guy doing? Is he going to turn? He can see me right? I swear if that guy so much as comes within an inch of this car he will pay…he will pay, damn it!"
It might as well be the same case with anyone's prized ride, but when it's an older car you have to worry about the extra hassles that come with trying to repair it, as well as the idea of writing off your pride and joy; not to mention that you've already eschewed the entire concept of safety as a whole. Yes driving an old car is a hell of a lot of fun, but it's also a great way to send yourself into a bevy of anxiety attacks for pretty much no reason whatsoever.
It Won't Start On Fire
Italian cars, especially older Italian cars, are built with unspeakable passion; so much passion, in fact, that they might start on fire. That or it might be leaking fuel…
Anyway, mine hasn't caught on fire so far, which is pretty nice.
I Was Not Expecting To Get This Much Attention
When people see any car that isn't a Camry or an Accord, they tend to do a double take. This goes for newer, exotic cars and classic cars alike. The thing is, though, that when people see a Ferrari or Porsche they look and they get excited, and they'll usually take pictures. Such status symbols are rare and special, and they are often looked upon with smiles and enthusiasm.
Now take a relatively ordinary vintage car like mine, and people will still stop and look at you. However, it seems to me that they're looking because it's simply strange to see someone driving around in an older car. There aren't usually huge grins and camera-phones directed at you, just dull, blank stares that read, "Why the hell aren't you just driving a normal car?" It would be fine if I was expecting it, but it can be a little creepy.
That isn't to say my car doesn't get enthusiastic attention. It is always very rewarding to see people smile, or in some cases even shout to tell me they like my Fiat, but these people are generally car enthusiasts…usually older male enthusiasts. Of course, I do always appreciate it, so please stop and ask me about my car; I would love to tell you everything about it.
Horsepower Isn't The End All Above All
When I was just a couple years younger and I had just gotten my license, I was a bit of a speed freak. I got pulled over more than once for speed, and it was pretty stupid in hindsight. I'm glad that the Fiat came into my life because I found out that you really don't need a lot of horsepower to have fun; you just need a light car with a manual transmission and a capable chassis. It's much better to be able to enjoy yourself within the legal limit of speed than break the law, because then you will be having fun every moment you're driving.
Fiat Stands For "Fix It Again Tony"
Perhaps the most overwhelming thing I learned was what Fiat stands for, "Fix it again, Tony." I know this because every time I told somebody the car was a Fiat they would tell me that. It's funny because I thought Fiat always stood for "Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino," but hey, that's what a learning experience is all about, isn't it?