Driven by nostalgia

Every year at this time, all attention in the county seat turns toward the automobile. Beginning with the BID’s cruise-in tonight and continuing through the weekend with the Rolling Antiquers’ show at the fairgrounds, what we usually take for granted day in and day out suddenly becomes an interest, a passion, for even the mildest of car enthusiasts.

And most of the time, I’ll readily admit, I just don’t get it. Sure, I like to drive a decent looking (and operating) vehicle, but that’s about as far as my interest goes. Perhaps if I had the expendable income to afford something which was actually luxurious, unique or collectible, it would be a different story. But as it is, I’m satisfied with having four spinning wheels.

In talking with the area’s foremost auto enthusiasts over the years here at the paper (Ray Hart comes to mind), I’ve often asked them what the big deal was. The answer I got most often seems pretty logical – nostalgia.

For Baby Boomers, I gather, owning and/or restoring vintage autos takes one back to a simpler time. “Sitting in one of those cars reminds you of your first date, the first time you were free on your own with your own set of wheels,” someone once told me. While this source’s trip down memory lane was taken in a ‘68 Porsche, mine would be in a ‘76 Ford Granada.

Which would have been really cool, had I driven it in 1976. But as I was 8 at the time, I had other things on my mind. No, my ‘76 Granada was purchased in 1989. I suppose that would make it vintage in some circles had it been lovingly preserved, but for $500 (which Mom paid, I admit) you don’t get vintage.

What I got was my very first car, and a heap load of trouble. My limited excursions in Dad’s car prior did not prepare me for what was ahead with the 13-year-old wreck. Quickly I learned that cars had maintenance issues other than “E” on the gas gauge. The Granada, or the Grenade as it was soon called by my college friends, had a particularly tough time with power steering. I must have put 15 gallons of power steering fluid in that thing over the few months I drove it, only to have it spurt out underneath from a new hole in the hose-thingy every other trip or so. And while you could still steer the car without the “power” option, I sincerely believe the captain of the Titanic had more maneuverability.

I remember one time, a few nights before graduation, when I drove us all out to this place called The Cliffs, overlooking Lake Ontario at my Oswego alma mater. Not an official state park, this was more a dirt-road college kid hang out. And hang out we did. When it was time to go home, we all piled in the Granada (I forget how many of us there were, but this roomy Ford seated about 20). My life being the string of misfortunes it was at that time, I go to turn the car around and the power steering is a no-show. Fearing as I do to this day the prospect of backing a car up for more than 10 feet, I was faced with making a three-point turn on this one-lane, one-way dirt road at 3 a.m. My three-point turn, sans power steering in a car the size of a German tank, turned into a 35-point turn. My friends have never been impressed with my skill behind the wheel, and this instance is ingrained in our personal automotive history.

After the Granada finally gave up its tenuous hold on life (I believe it now lies in eternal rest somewhere in Menard’s auto graveyard in Oxford), I embarked on a string of increasingly newer and better cars through the years, the majority of which I’ve purchased from one Fred Hilsinger, no matter where he worked at the time. But none holds a candle, or a spark plug (cars have spark plugs, don’t they?) to that very first car, with its fine faux Corinthian leather interior and hodgepodge exterior finish of Bondo, cheap green spray paint and primer.

If that’s what they mean by the nostalgia for the cars of yesteryear, then I understand the craze. I just have to wait until the ‘76 becomes vogue.

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