Car enthusiasts are indeed a strange breed; we prefer driving a stick shift when 94% of the U.S population drive automatics. We like big, powerful engines that guzzle fuel while the rest of the world is desperately trying to cut fossil fuel to save our planet. Another strange trait of gearheads that normal people don’t understand is our love for old cars. My friends still don’t understand why I traded in my relatively new Toyota hatchback for a 1996 Mazda Miata that’s already broken down twice since I bought it last July, and they will probably never understand. Anyone that is not a car person simply can’t comprehend why there is a cult following behind a thirty year-old Toyota Corolla AE86, or why most enthusiasts say they would rather own a R33 generation Nissan Skyline GT-R from 1998 rather than a current R35 generation GT-R. Why would anyone want an old car over a new one when old cars are less safe, and a new one is more efficient, more reliable and comes with an aux cord? Nevertheless, the enthusiast community’s allegiance to old cars seems unbreakable. But before you declare us weird, old-fashioned dinosaurs, allow me to explain why we love old cars.
For car enthusiasts, the most important thing about cars is not just speed (contrary to the popular belief,) it’s about the purity of the driving experience. We want our engines to wake up when we push the gas pedal and sing into our ears while wafting us forward to the horizon. We want that connection between man and machine; we want to read the pavement through the steering wheel and feel the car pivot through corners with agility and vigor. When all of those sensations come together, the car feels alive—it feels like the car is an extension of yourself. It is an absolutely magical feeling.
But modern cars simply can’t deliver this sensation or excitement, because the driver’s inputs are now dictated by sensors and software, controlling every aspect of driving. You might say that’s not a bad thing since they can do neat things like adjusting your speed to maintain safe a following distance with the car ahead, or parallel park for you (yes that’s a real thing, and yes, it’s about as great as it sounds,) and you’re right, it isn’t, but enthusiasts can’t help but to feel that their connection with their car has been interfered or even robbed from them completely. Older vehicles don’t have that. They don’t have to be approved by an electronic brain before it does what you want it to. You and your hands and feet have complete control of the car. It feels organic, it feels analog, it feels human and it feels fantastic.
An old car is—as anyone who owns and drives an old car will tell you—a relationship; it has ups and downs. They would work fine one moment and then go wrong the next moment, and when it happens it’s a pain. As I mentioned before, my Mazda Miata broke down twice in a span of last 10 months, and there was a lot of frustration and anger. But when everything started to work out and the car had the time to find its groove, it became something really special to me. It wasn’t just a transportation or a tool anymore, but a companion. It’s like a relationship with a dog; yes, it will destroy your furniture, disintegrate your shoes and pee on your floor, but that doesn’t make your dog any less special to you.
Don’t get me wrong. I think new cars are brilliant, and the enthusiast community thinks the same way. All the technology that is put in cars today allows them to be cleaner, safer and easier to drive. All of us should appreciate the fact that we’re less likely to be instantly killed in an event of a crash. It’s just that for us enthusiasts, we like to have complete control over our machines; if we wanted the computer to do the driving for us, we’d be playing on our Xbox. Sure, all those computer gizmos might be convenient, but when we feel that uninterrupted physical and emotional bond between our cars, when we feel like we earned our drive—like a cold drink after a hard day’s work—we can’t help but think to ourselves, they really don’t make them like they used to.