Cars are more than nuts and bolts. Because of their ability to evoke memories (See Car Memories and How to Write About Them), cars are a powerful tool for writers. They’re a setting in and of themselves. That’s probably why fiction writers think carefully before they go into details about their characters’ vehicles.
Here in the environs of the Motor City, kids cut their teeth on cars. Cars aren’t the backdrops for stories. They are the stories.
Though I’ve lived here over twenty years, I’m not a child of Detroit. As a teen, I looked upon cars as a mode of transportation. That’s something that separates me from my teens, who were somehow able to recognize car models before they knew the alphabet.
Ironically, my sister, who only strays north of the Mason Dixon line for stints of a week or less, was the car girl. She had a 1972 Sprint edition Mustang. Next to her “all girl band” appropriately named “Liberation,” that car was the love of her life. She can still rattle off “squareback, not a fastback….351 Cleveland engine, bored carb” and other things that just go in my left ear and out my right ear without any meaningful contact with my cerebral cortex.
Her ‘Stang served her well in attracting the opposite sex. She and her future ex-husband souped it up with high performance parts. Of course, the only performing that was done was cruising through Sparkle City, aka Spartanburg, South Carolina. To my mind at the time (okay, still), those parts only served to make the car loud. The roar (too loud for a purr) caused people to take notice. Fellow car lovers would ogle and wonder what was under the hood. Of course, they checked her out too. She’d be lying if she claimed she didn’t enjoy the attention.
However, car stories aren’t just for auto enthusiasts. Ask anyone from a first world country and they’ll have some. Despite the fact that I can’t remember the model year for my first car, I love thinking back to my adventures in it. It was a hand-me-down Dodge Coronet 440 that lacked almost everything but get-up-and-go; interior door handle, radio dial, working speedometer and parking brake. The rear view mirror fell off if I braked too hard. I’d have to guess at how fast I was going and how much gas I had. If it was raining I’d only turn the engine off if I wanted to stay somewhere for a while, because the distributor cap would get wet and the car would refuse to start. But I loved it.
Each August in metro Detroit, classic car owners get to drive down Memory Lane, or at least Woodward Avenue, during the Woodward Dream Cruise. A million plus spectators line sidewalks with lawn chairs to watch the cars stream by. Yeah, it’s about the cars. But riding shot-gun is their connection with the past–their car stories. As cars creep by, so do the ghosts of friendships, love, heartbreak, and adventures.
And, if a kid is handy, folks remember aloud. As it should be.