Kevin Shaw: Where Have All The Car Guys Gone?

I’m proud to say that all the cars I own are Mopars. My daily driver is a ’05 Dodge Ram that could benefit from a good paint and body job. I even raced it for a while, averaging high 14-second time slips. It’s reliable, quick off the line, and throaty enough to remind me it’s got a HEMI under that big hood. My wife’s ’04 Grand Cherokee is as sure-footed as a mountain goat and passes full-sized Fords down icy hills with laughable ease. And of course, there’s always my brown ’69 Charger that keeps showing up.

I believe that the children are the future. Teach them right and let them lead the way...or something like that.

But it wasn’t always Detroit steel that I piloted. For several years, I put my foot into a knock-kneed FWD hatchback that made describing myself as a “car guy” pretty difficult.

My battered little ’90 Toyota Celica served me valiantly through college and even survived the haul – barely – all the way cross country from Southern California to Florida for my first job working at a real magazine.

Embarrassed to be driving a wrong-wheel-drive import to the office staffed with the top brass of some of the most widely known muscle car magazines, I was pretty bashful pulling into the parking lot that first day. Well, that is until I saw what else was there…

Frankly, I was expecting to see rare selection of American muscle cars, hot rods and street machines much more than a selection of four-door Accords, beige Camrys, crossover SUVs, and a lone Chrysler LeBaron convertible. Only the Mustang magazine editors drove anything remotely quick, and one of those was a SVT-tuned Focus. Needless to say, I was disappointed.

The Corvette magazine editor swore that he’d never own a ‘Vette because they were “the most uneconomical car ever” and the technical editor to the dirt track magazine drove a Scion xB. Wouldn’t you think the guys who dedicate their lives to writing about these cool old cars would regularly drive them? I know for a fact that a few do, but they weren’t here. And where were all those cool project cars? Turns out, most of them belonged to the sales guys.

I once knew a girl in college whose dad drove a triple-green ’68 Dodge Charger back-and-forth to work everyday, a thirty mile round trip. Now, it was a 318 car with 3.23 gears spinning a peg leg with air conditioning that actually blew cold air, and not a warmed-over 440 and a 4-speed that was fully-caged. Even though the Charger was pretty much a dog, it still was a Dodge Charger, and that should mean something.

This could spell trouble...

The car guys I knew always drove their cars. That’s what made them car guys. Miserable gas mileage, fouled plugs and oil leaks didn’t hinder them from wearing their car guy credentials proudly. They didn’t drive them because of their spry road manners or calm, quiet ride. Just the opposite. It’s kind of like what my wife says about wearing high heels, “You don’t wear them because they’re comfortable. You wear them because you look great.”

Surprisingly enough, powerTV’s editorial staff ain’t too shabby at the whole “walking the walk” car guy thing. StangTV editor Mark Gearhart drives a near-600rwhp ’11 5.0 Mustang every day while CorvetteOnline and LSXMag editor Paul Huizenga regularly races his long-haul commuter, a six-cylinder “New Edge” Mustang that’s parked behind this office as I write. Sure, neither of these cars are my particular cup of tea, but it’s nice to know there are some other car guys around here.

Is this the face of the new American car guy? While I enjoy his show and admit that I've eaten at two restaurants he suggested, I can't help to think that there's a serious lack of ATF-stained t-shirts in this guy's wardrobe.

But being a car guy doesn’t just mean driving the piss out of your car each and every day. I know too many guys who claim the title, but tremble at the thought of leaning over a fender with a 9/16’s socket wrench.

I personally surmise that these people, for whatever reason, have arbitrarily chosen to join the rank and file of the muscle car society either for a sense of belonging to something considerably manly without having to shoot any animals or jump out of an airplane, or because of deeper psychological issues.

I’ve encountered too many classic car owners who don’t know the slightest thing about their car. It’s like years of being last pick for dodgeball wired these dudes to think that buying a clean, running ’68 Malibu warrants them entry into some rare and prestigious ilk.

Unfortunately, most of us understand that blindly jumping into a project car is a polarizing experience; either you emerge from the Crucible a dyed-in-the-wool car guy, or you’re as in-over-your-head as a hapless teenager who purposely gets pregnant to literally make somebody to love them.

Notice the lack of lawn chairs, cheap plastic food sitting on drive-in diner trays, or those creepy faceless toddler dolls.

The nice thing is that these guys are easily distinguishable by their woeful, almost intentional lack of general knowledge. Admittedly, I personally cannot readily identify pre-1955 cars as easily as I can those following, and it wouldn’t hurt for me to brush up on my general FoMoCo knowledge. But that’s something most car guys will happily admit, “I’m a Pontiac guy,” most will proclaim, “I don’t know jack about [insert any other brand of automaker]. But if you’re into Ponchos, I’m your guy.”

The Internet has managed to turn the muscle car world on its ear. Online classifieds and big dollar auctions have made owning vintage iron as simple as buying a new television. What used to require driving back roads while peering through picket fences to see what was parked in the neighbor’s side yard, now takes a couple clicks of the mouse.

Hot Rod Magazine's "Rumble Bee" is a successful project car because of how many miles have been racked up on the odometer. So far it's only ran a low 11-second pass. What do you think, does our '69 Charger "Killer Kong" have a fighting chance against this orange beast?

And as big government continues to tighten its grip around hot rodding’s collective throat, we need all the numbers we can muster. Moreover, I’m no fan of ostracizing newcomers, despite how green they may or may not be. So what are we to do?

Well, thankfully there’s some light on the horizon. The influx of new blood into this hobby has energized the aftermarket dramatically. And despite all the eBays, Craigslists, and Mecum Auctions, cool classics are still sitting up to their rockers in weeds, waiting to be found and brought back to life. Were it not true, would be out of business.

Now on another note, I’ve denounced chat room elitists before. As our community grows and gravitates online, forums have become the newest recruitment tool. Personally, I’m split 50/50 when it comes to forums. I find there’s a lot of potential that’s wasted on trading obscenities rather than anything useful, but that’s another topic for another day.

Rather, I would only ask to please remember that we were all newbs at one point or another, and we all have somebody to thank for showing us the ropes and what it takes to be a true blue car guy. I know it’s tough to do, but try to think of that mentor who when some knucklehead starts spouting off.

Light ’em up,

About the author

Kevin Shaw

Kevin Shaw is a self-proclaimed "muscle car purist," preferring solid-lifter camshafts and mechanical double-pumpers over computer-controlled fuel injection and force-feeding power-adders. If you like dirt-under-your-fingernails tech and real street driven content, this is your guy.
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