In separate occasions in one week, I had the pleasure of meeting two people with two very different approaches to vintage-vehicle ownership.
Time spent with them reinforced my suspicion that there are plenty of reasons people sink time, money and heartache into cars and trucks that, through luck or love, have managed to remain on the road for decades.
Indeed, Brady Doyle and Darlene Steeves are at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of what they want from their 50-year-old vehicles.
Doyle’s love affair with his rare 1956 Oldsmobile Holiday 98 blossomed more than four decades ago when he forked out $400 for the then 12-year-old top-of-the-line Oldsmobile. The two-door hardtop coupe was loaded with options such as power seats, windows, antenna and even a Wonderbar radio, precursor to the seek-scan feature found on most car radios today.
Doyle drove the Holiday 98 for years while he played lead guitar for a rock band called Clark Street Reunion. They eventually morphed into a country music band that was comprised of four lads who road-tripped the country with visions of glory and grandeur.
After a few years, Doyle grounded the car in a series of storage locations, from friends driveways and backyards and eventually at his home on the East Coast where he settled into marriage, a family and a career in the hardware business. But the passion for his Oldsmobile never waned and these days, with retirement, comes a renewed restoration effort.
“There’s plenty to do but I’ve rebuilt the 394-cubic-inch V-8 and gathered lots of spare parts,” Doyle said. “The brakes are finished, too, and I have most of the chrome except one rear quarter strip.” Doyle’s eyes light up when he talks “the restoration” and his plan to do much of it himself.
As I checked out the Olds I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed at the obstacles in front of Doyle’s dream, but soon realized his love affair with the car is probably deeper than someone who just went out and bought a beautifully restored Metropolitan Nash, Desoto Firedome or Duesenberg SSJ Speedster.
The other end of the vintage-vehicle ownership spectrum is Darlene Steeves who bought her immaculately restored 1955 Chevy Stepside pickup ready to roll. Nothing to do but drive and enjoy it.
“She is my baby, I’ve had her 2½ years and every time I get behind the wheel I’m a kid again with a new toy. The feeling never changes.”
Steeves’ enthusiasm is infectious.
The truck is almost all original including the six-cylinder 235-cubic-inch engine. It has standard steering and brakes and no power options other than the radio antenna and seats that are obviously not original-equipment items.
Darlene purchased the pretty pick-up from the second owner who bought it in Houston 10 years ago. The deal included many trophies that are on display in Steeves’ “shrine,” which is a tidy double garage she traded her 2004 Chevy Silverado snow-plow truck for.
But Steeves, who has owned about 10 special cars and trucks over the years, plans on selling her 1955 Chevy pickup and see what restored gem will stoke her fever for yet another vintage car or truck. Although she loves her truck, she plays the field, unlike Doyle who has owned his Holiday 98 Oldsmobile for 41 years.
So why do seemingly normal folks fork out money, heart and time buying, maintaining and insuring 50-year-old vehicles when they could just buy a new VW Golf, Mazda 3 or Chevy Malibu? After all, new cars are more fuel efficient, environmentally correct and have something called a warranty.
I considered my personal ongoing restoration saga, a 1965 Ford F-100 pick-up I bought in Bandera, Texas, 15 years ago. When I added up the money the project ingested and confessed to my wife that I could have almost bought a new truck with the cost, she responded, “Well, anyone can do that!”
It’s easy for folks to rationalize buying old cars and trucks though. Their Auntie Doris might have had one, they learned to drive on one or perhaps it’s the same model as their first car, rife with memories of mobile teenage shenanigans.
In some cases the purchase could be a prudent investment but more likely it’s the result of a fit of vehicular infatuation the buyer is convinced will somehow make him or her a better, more complete, person.
Having been through the restoration process once, I would purchase my next vintage rig fully restored. Like Darlene Steeves I don’t have the time, expertise or patience to spend another dozen years rebuilding a clone of the truck that was the core of my mobility during high school.
Thankfully there will always be people like Brady Doyle whose long-term love affair with an iconic 50-year-old Oldsmobile is as much about refurbishing as it is driving.
Either way is fine, though, because whether folks choose to drive vintage vehicles that they bought, ready to go, or they have the tenacity, patience and vision to take on a restoration themselves, they are ensuring another piece of automotive history will hang on for a while yet.
Garry Sowerby, author of “Sowerby’s Road: Adventures of a Driven Mind,” is a four-time Guinness World Record holder for long-distance driving. His exploits, good, bad and just plain harrowing, are the subject of World Odyssey, produced in conjunction with Wheelbase Media. You can send Garry a note online at www.wheelbase.ws/media using the contact link. Wheelbase Media is a worldwide provider of automotive news and features stories.