CHROME, SWEET CHROME The Barrett- Jackson car auction draws fans of American machines. From far left: A 1956 Dodge Sierra, car dealer Monte Adams and his 1948 Packard, a 1970 Chevy Nova gets a final polish, and a 1955 Chevy Bel Air on the auction block.
down and rubs them affectionately. “Oh, yeah,” he says.
European exotics and prewar classics are rare here: This is
mostly a cavalcade of homegrown muscle. So many spotless
late-’60s Camaros and Chevelles roll by that the place could
pass for a period Chevrolet plant—a reminder that these cov-
eted collectibles were once industrial appliances stamped
out by the millions. Those that survived have been invested
with powers their original drivers never dreamed of, valued
beyond reason as tokens of youth itself.
Memory and family history play strange tricks. Trawl
through the comments on vintage-car-enthusiast websites
and you’ll read, amid deeply esoteric discussions of mechan-
ical minutiae, endless variations on the Father Story: tales of
men chasing Dad’s old car, as if the family vehicle embodied
the essence of the man and turning the ignition would some-
how summon him forth. Other cars just imprint themselves
in childhood for reasons their prospective owners can’t quite
articulate. Their online comments are more elemental—
naked eruptions of need, in just one word: “Want.”
I find Derek Hunter, 40, beside his father’s 1964 Austin-
Healey 3000, a gorgeous British roadster. A framed photo
rests on the car’s grille. In it, a bride and groom smile back
from 1967: She’s in a long dress; he’s beaming beneath horn-
rims. The car has “Just Married” scrawled on its dusty flanks.
And that’s the bride herself—Derek’s mother, Marcia
Hunter Elam—sitting in the same car’s snug passenger seat.
The car was bought new in Covington, Kentucky, across
the river from Cincinnati. Derek’s father was an accountant
and a sports car buff who died when Derek was young. A
few years ago Derek pulled the car out of a barn and spent
thousands of dollars bringing it back to life. And now he and
his sister, Erika Hunter-Sedmak, are selling it. This is smart:
The values on this model have skyrocketed. “I told Derek,
‘It’s a piece of metal,’ ” says Marcia. “The memories are what
you hold on to.”
Derek confides later that this transaction is even more
emotionally fraught: His father took his own life, and
Derek has few happy memories from that time. The most
vivid is of sitting in his father’s car as it crested a hill at
speed—that moment of weightlessness, as if he were flying.
TRUJILLOPAUMIER ( 4); ILLUSTRATIONS BY ILOVE DUST
ime stalks all car guys. Rust works
its implacable corruption; rubber and
plastic crack and split; fluids go dry.
Keeping these machines on the road
demands a set of increasingly anti-
quated skills and an abiding tolerance
for breakdowns. Even the most badass
of Camaros can’t outrun fate, and nei-
ther can their drivers. Collector maga-
zines and sites are full of estate-sale listings for unfinished
projects, each a bittersweet score for a new owner.
Those fresh buyers are often themselves of AARP age.
“There aren’t that many people of my generation here,” says
Greg Keith, 31, who’s drinking beers with a coterie of ex-NFL
players in the raucous bar beneath the VIP stands. It turns
out he’s here with his father; they run car dealerships in
Vancouver, British Columbia. He’s already picked up a ’ 57
Corvette and a ’ 65 Jaguar E-Type I’d been eyeballing earlier.
Both these vehicles were built long before Keith was born,
which is typical. Collectible cars, especially American ones,
that postdate 1973 or so are rare. That’s when environmental
and safety restrictions killed off the last golden-age muscle
cars, and when American automaking in particular entered
an aesthetically challenged period that few enthusiasts wish
to revisit. Which makes some aficionados conclude that
their hobby, despite record-smashing prices and booming
interest, is stuck in neutral. “Are we (CONTINUED ON PAGE 67)