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The Internet of Things has all but provided a digital DNA link to everything…all of it. I couldn’t do my day job or my side hustle of appraising old cars without mobile instant access to huge amounts of data. I take this magic for granted and struggle to remember clearly what it was like in the analog days. When I dig for a detail on a car and that search lands me in a chat room that hasn’t been updated in 6 years I’m instantly brought back. In 1971 I spent most Saturdays nested in the “Cars, Trucks, Military, and Machinery” section of the B. Dalton Booksellers in Valley Fair. This is the same Valley Fair, now Westfield, that had VCT flooring and required you to drive from Macy’s past The Burger Pit to The Emporium. These were the Schwinn Stingray, rotary phone, stores closed on Sundays, muscle cars at every stoplight days.
Like a sequestered Monk I scanned and absorbed the hardbound coffee table books like Henry’s Lady, Chilton’s 1970 American Auto Repair Manual, Chevrolet USA #1 – The Illustrated History of Chevrolet Passenger Cars from 1946 – 1959, “How to Rebuild a Small Block Chevy”, etc. My life would be different if the extra credit questions on the history final read “What year was the first Chevrolet 4 door hardtop sedan? What engine and transmission options were available for this exact model and was the oil filter a standard feature or an option on this car?” Extra Bonus – What model year were seat belts standard and what year did the US Government require automakers to put them in every vehicle? Please feel free to use the back of this page to elaborate. How about an essay question on an English paper that read “Describe to the nun that is glaring at you right now what impact the overhead valve engine has had on society and then draw a histogram of the key engine milestones since 1889 that support your answer.” Extra credit: What is the firing order of a small block Chevrolet? And for a guaranteed A in this course identify 25 defunct car companies that were purchased or absorbed by the Big 3 American car manufacturers in alphabetical order and add a sketch of their original logo. Picture the scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie imagines his teacher writing a giant red A on his test and then breaks out in dance. I’m Ralphie.
We consumed what was in front of us and it never included Alfa Romeo, Jaguar, Rolls Royce, Ferrari, because these were mythical 1 in a 1,000 cars in those days. If the motor wasn’t popping through the hood and the car didn’t have ladder bars we didn’t notice. Stopping by Joe Kerley Lincoln Mercury to see the new and exotic 1971 De Tomaso Pantera was as close to Italian cars as we could get. It’s ironic providence that one day a cute, temperamental, occasionally unreliable, shipped without a manual, Italian would catch my eye and hold my attention. If I had perhaps studied the history of Enzo Ferrari from a driver for FIAT to the eternal Lord of Italian Cars I might have been better prepared.
Wouldn’t it be fun to time travel back to the Alfa Romeo production floor in 1966 and ask why the damn serial numbers on the motors are not also stamped into the body of the car. Bepe! Gino!, I’m from the future and I have a question? Wouldn’t it be easy and quite simple to stamp 5 digits into the firewall before it’s assembled? Hmm? Que? The response would be Beppe pausing in silence, a glance at Gino and he says “stronzo, non ti preoccupare con i dettagli e ottenere una vita”
A distant bell rings and another school day is in the books.