No central planning committee exists to tell us what we can do with our old cars. No automotive deity handed down commandments like “thou shalt not modify.” We don’t even have the Force ghost of John Z. DeLorean to pop up at crucial moments in the garage to give us advice on our old Packards and Pontiacs.
So why do I constantly hear people chanting the refrain that they’re merely the caretaker of an old car for its next owner, as if they’re humbly answering a call from a higher authority to do so? Or as if they’re not the actual owner of the car in question?
I mean, if somebody’s actually a caretaker for a vehicle left in the public trust - i.e., in a museum’s collection - or if that person is performing a caretaking/restoration/preservation service for the owner, that’s one thing. Somebody in particular or society in general has charged that person with guarding the condition of that vehicle and maintaining it for either a definite or indefinite amount of time, either for the edification of the vehicle’s owner or the education of future generations.
But for the rest of us, the decisions we make regarding the cars we own fall entirely on our shoulders. Why some people feel they need to act as if that’s not the case, I don’t know. Do they think it adds legitimacy to their decisions? Do they think they owe something to the cars themselves? Do they think they owe something to future owners of those vehicles?
Let’s tackle those in reverse order. If the vehicle in question is a one-of-one or the last of its kind, then perhaps for the historical record it’s best to preserve it in some form. And if that’s the case, perhaps the best place for the vehicle is a museum or a trust rather than private ownership. Otherwise, do we think that, 200 years from now, anybody but one or two academics or historians will care about the intricacies of a 1948 Chevrolet sedan? Do we nowadays have a preponderance of historians who need to study a large sample of horse-drawn wagons built in 19th century Ohio River Valley towns?
As for owing some preferred treatment to the cars themselves, that presupposes that cars are more than just things, objects that we possess. Cars do not have souls. Even with the coming of autonomous cars, they do not exhibit consciousness. They do not have the agency to decide or even provide input on their own fates. Acting as if they do, as if we humans are beholden to them, implies that we do not or should not have that agency ourselves. Insert your favorite Skynet reference here.
As for adding legitimacy, that would suggest that any decision to preserve/restore/modify/drive/race/ignore/form an emotional attachment with/part out/cut up/burn down/drive off a cliff/Tuff Truck/give away/sell/keep any vehicle that we own is illegitimate, which it’s not. Agreed, there’s a lot of peer pressure from other car enthusiasts to do certain things with our vehicles. Some people just don’t show up at cruise-ins or cars and coffee events anymore because they feel that doing so opens them up to silent judging and incessant nitpicking over the condition of their vehicles. It’s annoying as hell because the only person who has the right idea about what should happen to a vehicle - a piece of property - is the person whose name is on the title.
I do have my suspicions that certain people who make the caretaker claim do so to distance themselves from their ownership of a car purely for investment purposes - viewing that car as a source of funds rather than a source of fun. If that’s the case, fine, I’d just prefer they be transparent about their intentions.
Some might accuse me of being too Vulcan here, too rational, or of seeking to drain away some of the magic we’ve infused into old cars. I’ll counter that I’d prefer we be clear and honest about why we do what we do when it comes to old cars and that examining (and accepting) our actual reasons for owning and appreciating these objects does not dampen our enthusiasm for them - instead, it allows us to derive greater enjoyment and fewer regrets from the time we spend with old cars and trucks. It ought to be just a hobby after all, right?
You are more than just the caretaker of your old car. You are the only one who has a say over the fate of your old car. And there are no wrong answers. Go have fun.