I married a red 1969 Olds 442 convertible with a black top and black interior.
OK, I married Chris Kenney. But he came with a sweet car that I soon discovered was a lot of fun to ride around town in! He spent many summers in high school and college working over 40 hours a week, saving every penny he earned for the prize that would one day be his. In 1996, the year before we met, he finally found the perfect car in Hemmings Motor News and drove from New York to Michigan with his family to pick it up. It was his first love. That is, until I came along.
Before I met him, I knew nothing at all about cars. I couldn’t have told you the difference between a ‘57 Chevy and a 1984 Ford Escort, except for maybe one was older than the other. That might be a slight exaggeration, but suffice it to say that my car knowledge was basic, at best.
Chris never force fed car information down my throat. He would tell me little things now and then, and answer all of my questions. Gradually I began to learn that the tail fin (which I LOVE) was biggest in the late 50s, and that the muscle car was born in the 60s. I learned the difference between a coupe and a sedan. I learned to identify the graceful curves of the 1940s cars, the long lines of the full-sized 1970s cars, and the beauty of an early Corvette.
Today, if we are at a car show and someone passes by while Chris has wondered off, I can proudly tell them that the 442 began as an option package for the Cutlass, but in 1968 it became its own model. And that in our car, it stands for 400 cubic inch engine, 4 barrel carburetor, and dual exhaust.
A few summers ago, I was even able to show up a guy I know at work! We were driving down the street, and he commented about the cool T-bird we saw. “That’s not a T-bird!” I said. “That’s a 1956 Chevy Bel Air! They aren’t anything alike!” You would not believe the look on his face.
Surprisingly, this knowledge has even helped me in my job as a curator. If you have a car in a photo, and you know what era it is from, it can help you date an archival photograph! An unexpected benefit of the car hobby.
For us, going to car shows is our primary form of entertainment all summer. For 5 or 10 bucks, you can get outside for the day, view all kinds of neat rides from the past, and meet some really great people. We have joined a club, become active officers, and enjoy every minute of it. On any given day, someone somewhere is hosting a show or a cruise-in, creating classic car museums in the parking lot of Arby’s or the shopping mall.
Owning one is like nothing else you can experience. Especially a convertible. Something interesting happens when you cruise down the street with the top down, wind blowing your hair and the sun shining down on you. You feel more alive than you’ve ever felt. You can smell the wild flowers on the side of the road, and hear every cricket chirping in the field.
And you can’t imagine the attention. Sure, I love my PT Cruiser, but no one looks twice at me in the grocery store parking lot. Everyone stares at the 442. In the spring, it always feels weird to see all the people looking at us. We get lots of thumbs up, people screaming “nice car!” as we pass. Occasionally at a stop light, someone will roll down their window and say, “What year is that?” Or, “My friend had one of these babies in high school – boy was it fun!”
Which brings me to the point of this entire article. Classic cars are a piece of history, but more importantly, they are a part of YOUR history. The most popular cars to purchase are always the ones that were popular when you were a kid. Right now, muscle cars are in demand, because the people with discretionary funds to spend grew up in these cars.
As the population ages, the market changes. Ten or fifteen years ago, you could get muscle cars for a song. It was the 50s cars everyone wanted. But those are becoming more affordable, as the cost of muscle cars skyrockets.
Even though our car has been appraised for much more than Chris paid for it, we will never part with it. We took it on our honeymoon, and we have had made so many wonderful memories in it. We’ve taken it to shows near and far.
As historians, we just love to be in the middle of a field, surrounded by these wonderful artifacts, owned by people who love them just as much as we do. I once heard someone say we never really own a car. We are just their stewards as they pass through time.
Someday when we are gone, our classic cars will live on with a new generation. So I have applied my profession to my personal life. We just care for the artifacts, preserving the past for the future.
And it feels good to know that I have my own piece of history living in my garage, right now, as I write this.