Each January my news feeds pique my interest with news from the infamous Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale classic car auction. This event has become a must see annual event for car aficionados and ‘shake your head in disbelief at the spending habits of the rich’ addicts alike. Once again the price being paid for antique cars these days is truly staggering. Don’t get me wrong, most of these cars are unquestionable works of art. Even the ugly ones are remarkable. The highlights, often extremely rare versions of classic cars or concept vehicles from days of yore, are incredible pieces of automotive history.
The Awesome Insanity of Barrett Jackson Auctions
These days, owning any of these vehicles is a game only the ultra-wealthy get to play, which is a pity. Who wouldn’t love the chance to own one of these beauties for, you know, a few thousand dollars. But at the same time, it’s kind of funny seeing these generally old, smug, white guys paying hundreds of thousands to sometimes millions of dollars for unblemished examples of the muscle cars they owned as teens that cost them only a couple hundred bucks because nobody wanted the damn things. Former executives at Chrysler must shake their heads as sample after sample of the rust-prone, gas-guzzling muscle cars that once contributed to bankrupting the entire company sell for prices in the six and seven figure range.
Another fascinating experience with this auction, if you follow it annually, is the progression of desirability in car models. As time marches forward, new buyers enter the fray and each of them are born a little later and thus fell in love with a bit younger model car. Those newer cars start getting more attention and the prices for exquisite samples start inching up in price. With the muscle cars priced into ridiculousness, it now seems as though later seventies sports cars are getting more and more valuable as the Smokey and the Bandit generation starts to flex its monetary muscle. If the Boomers can wet dream their late sixties pony cars into the stratosphere then so can we Gen Exers. Pretty soon Eighties embarrassments will be crossing the auction stage to hoots and ever-increasing cachinging of the cash register.
Bring On The Honda Preludes!
While I look forward to seeing my old ’85 and ’86 Honda Preludes getting some love on the auction floor, I must first question when the boomer generation will give proper due to the family movers of the late sixties and early seventies. We know you love your muscle cars, but what about those grand station wagons you bought to haul your growing families around in? Are they not every bit as integral to your nostalgic youth as those rust buckets you lost your virginity in?
My interest in this matter stems from the fact that my parents once owned the single greatest station wagon on planet earth. With a pair of fuzzy dice proudly hung from the rear view mirror and self-installed window curtains in the cargo area, we lovingly dubbed this masterpiece The Schmidtmobile. A 1974 Pontiac Catalina Safari, burgundy with wood grain paneling (basically wallpaper) and a beastly 454 four barrel V8, this car was a hideous piece of Detroit beauty. It also quite likely instigated global warming.
At some point in the Eighties, worn and rusting, my parents decided to freshen up the old beast with a paint and body job rather than buy a more expensive, new vehicle. The story goes that the cost to replace the wood paneling was a bit outrageous so the decision was made to paint the vehicle two toned instead. The original burgundy was still a sharp colour so that stayed, but a silvery colour was chosen to replace the wood paneling. Unfortunately, that second paint colour was either mistinted or mischosen because what ended up on the vehicle was decidedly pink! Thus, a legend was born.
Despite the goofy colour mishap, I loved this car. As a youngster I openly dreamed of entering it into a demolition derby at Sauble Speedway near where we camped every summer. Large station wagons were always dominant in demolition derbies and I figured The Schmidtmobile was a surefire winner. What made this car especially appealing for such an event was the retractable tailgate it came with. With the flick of a switch on the driver’s dash or with a key by the rear window, you could cause the window to retreat into the roof and the tailgate to retreat into the bottom of the car. This was exceptionally cool. I figured I could affix teeth to these movable parts of the car and it would then look like I was literally eating the competition. It never occurred to me that this would be a one event trick. Or maybe I was just so confident in my dominance that I assumed the car would survive multiple derbies.
The Car I Never Got To Drive
Sadly, we eventually sold The Schmidtmobile before my sixteenth birthday, presumably due to age and cost of feeding the thing gasoline, so I never did get to drive it. One can’t help but wonder what my high school social life would have been like, particularly with the ladies, had I had access to such a legendary vehicle. It might have terrified many a father to see a car with full adult length sleeping capability pull into the driveway, but I bet a few crushes of mine would have become a bit more than daydreams. A set of Cragar rims, an Alpine tape deck … Oh god! Imagine the subwoofer I could have put in the back of that bitch! Give me a moment, I’m feeling weak.
Alas, it was not meant to be. I often wonder what became of that car. For a few years after it left us I’d see it driving around Waterloo. I swear it whimpered when it passed. I wonder if Dad still has the VIN for it and I could get a sympathetic mechanic to do a search for its final known whereabouts. Maybe it’s forgotten in a barn somewhere waiting for me to seek it out once again and return it to its former glory; a restoration project for the ages. The resulting Barrett Jackson auction would bring out all the giants of car collecting.
Who am I kidding? They’d only be there to chuckle. I couldn’t sell it anyway. I’d need it to live in once my wife kicked me out for blowing our savings on such a ridiculous project. But just for a moment, imagine with me a world where I still had that beloved boat stored in a garage waiting to pass the keys to the next generation of Schmidts. In a land of gas-guzzling, tricked-out pickup trucks, my son (or daughter) would become legends themselves sitting behind the wheel of a car equal in size and earth spiting.
Odds are it would have needed another paint job by now. Oh, the possibilities. That burgundy was a sweet hue and a return to the original wood grain glory is certainly enticing, but the call of orange, though not an original factory offering, might just have been too strong for me to resist. The legendary station wagon becometh immortal.