Time travel without a Delorean

Until recently, I had essentially given up on explaining my obsession with automobiles. I mean, much of the population considers these giant hulks of polluting steel to be nothing more than another appliance—something to be used until it can no longer fulfil its purpose, and then discarded like a used tissue. Nobody expects to see Grandma out polishing her Maytag, so why do I and the many others like me obsess over every little detail when it comes to our vehicles?

For the most part I had little justification for it, other than that it was simply a beloved time-wasting hobby, like knitting or playing video games. However, now I’ve got some ammunition: you see, I am really a time traveller.

Just the other night I shot up a highway 427 off-ramp, in a car that’s about as 80s as it gets, right up there with David Hasselhoff and the Rubik’s Cube: a 1985 Trans Am. I dropped the windows and, much to my girlfriend’s dismay, cranked up one of my all-time favourites, “In the Air Tonight” from Phil Collins’ 1981 album Face Value. As the warm night air flowed into the car, and I looked past the red glow of the speedometer at 135 km/h, and out over the hood, adorned with a great silver bird and frog-like headlamps, I realized that for this brief moment, time had not only stopped—it had actually moved backwards. That’s right; we’d unwittingly accomplished time travel! No Delorean, no flux capacitor, and no science; but in that moment, as the Trans Am rumbled through Etobicoke, ’85 was real once again.

I am sure some students out there know what I’m talking about, but if not then maybe now you’ll feel inspired to dig out that old car your dad stuck away in the garage 15 years ago and have a little fun.

Surprisingly, owning a classic car doesn’t always have to leave you broke. Many enthusiasts opt to do the work themselves and learn along the way. As with everything else today, the Internet contains a vast amount of information that proves invaluable for aspiring car enthusiasts. No matter what type of car you’re into, you’ll find websites, forums, clubs, and parts suppliers all over the ’net. I’ve found that joining the local or online clubs, and participating in events and online forums, is one of the best ways to get information and help for a classic. Even the most inexperienced home mechanic can handle most jobs on a classic car, given a lot of patience and advice from those who have done it before.

If you’re not the type to get your hands dirty, there are plenty of shops willing to do the work for you, but be prepared to pay. Good restoration work is not cheap, and despite the large amount of shops in the GTA I have yet to find a well-rounded, affordable restoration shop. However, there are many shops that specialize in one particular area (e.g. upholstery, paint, mechanical work). Specialization allows them to do exceptional work at a reasonable price. So if you’ve got a wide range of work to be done, shop around; it’s usually best to find a different shop for each major component of the restoration. Often it’s a good idea to look at previous work a shop has done as a test of quality, and ask around to see how the community generally feels about that shop.

What I took from that highway moment was that our cars influence how we experience the world. Cars are like music, clothing, or any other expression of style; they represent a certain time and place in the world. They are a snapshot of an ever-evolving society.

As technology, environmental concerns, safety, and other issues continue to change society’s perception of cars, the way the automobile influences our view of the world will grow stronger in turn. So hang onto that 15-year-old beater—you never know when you might want to remember what 1995 felt like.

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