By Randy Rundle
I have often been accused of living in a time warp. And, I would have to plead guilty, but with an explanation. All of my customers are working on vehicles that are 60+ years old or older, so that’s the environment I am in every day. When you’re surrounded by antique vehicles for 10 hours a day, six days a week, that becomes your world. I tend to tune out the modern world.
I recently celebrated 25 years in business as Fifth Avenue Antique Auto Parts. (I’ve worked on antique vehicles since I was about 10 years old.) It was a time of reflection to look back at how and why I got in this business in the first place, and how things have changed in the past 25 years.
That lead to writing a book about the history of Fifth Avenue Antique Auto Parts ($20 post paid) that highlights the cars I’ve worked on, the places and events I’ve been involved in, along with some of my more “entertaining customers.”
In looking back, I realized that my typical customer had changed much like me. When I started Fifth Avenue, many of my customers were working on the cars of their youth. They had gone out and bought a 1950 Ford Club Coupe like they had in high school and were going to recreate one just like their old one.
Because most of them had grown up with the cars they are working on now, they had the mechanical ability to fix most anything on these cars. They knew how everything worked, including the good points and bad of the electrical cooling and fuel systems, but they just needed a little help making things more reliable. They really wanted to not have to work on their antique vehicle, just drive it.
Many of those customers came to me because of my involvement in the Great Race. They knew that I was the guy who could make an antique vehicle reliable enough to be driven 4,500 miles across the United States in 10 days and they “wanted a piece of that knowledge.”
When the Great Race stops for an overnight stop in a city, the cars are on display for about three hours in a downtown location. You can look at the cars up close, talk to the driver and navigators and ask all of the questions you want.
Then the teams drive to the parking lots of the motel to work on their cars and prepare for the next day’s events. As a spectator, you can follow them back to the motel parking lot and watch them prepare for the next day.
When antique vehicle owners see a car entered in the Great Race that is the same make and model as theirs, naturally they are going to look things over pretty close to see what is different with the Great Race car as compared to theirs. Thus the education process begins and it could not come from a better source. Who better to learn from than the guy who is driving his car, the same model as yours across the county, 4,500 miles in 10 days?
When that antique vehicle owner calls me the next morning, it almost always starts out like, “I was at the Great Race overnight stop in ______ and saw one of your alternators on a _____, which is the same car I have, and I talked to the car owner and he said you set up his car and that you made his car reliable…I want what he has.”
That’s how it was for the first 15 years I was in business. Then my education began. Along came another generation that didn’t grow up working on the old cars and did not have the “commonsense” knowledge that the prior generation had. They weren’t around when these antique cars were driven on a daily basis, and, as a result, they struggle. They’re more easily frustrated; not understanding the technology of the era and why the fix is not an instant fix.
One day it hit me I was in a transition phase. I still have the old, educated customers who know what they want and how things work, and “if you send me what I need I can get it installed and make it work.”
But now I was also having to educate a new generation — one that had never been around a generator charging system, had never driven a car without air conditioning or a stereo, never driven a car that overheats, never driven a car that vapor locks on a 100° day, and had never seen a plain AM radio…what the heck is that? Oh, and a manual transmission is also a new concept and the car with the manual three speed with overdrive, that was a mindblower.
Their expectations were also different. When they “work” on an antique vehicle they are sometimes not prepared for the physical effort required to perform a simple task. In some cases, spending more than an hour or two on a task is ridiculous, so I am told.
But once you explain to them how the technology of the day works and how automobiles have progressed in the last 60 years — just like computers, telephones and the rest of modern technology — they start to understand and appreciate what they have. They are amazed at how simple it is to diagnose and fix a problem, and they like the unique styling of the antique vehicles. And, there are “all of these different brands like Studebaker, Willys and Packard I have never heard of,” they say.
So I explain that it’s part of owning and driving an antique vehicle, you’ll have the pride that goes along with working on and learning how to fix your antique vehicle yourself, and you get to drive something unique.
You’ll be the envy of your neighborhood, just like when your antique vehicle was new. You can join a car club and meet people who will share their knowledge and help you enjoy your car as you get out and drive it. It goes beyond just owning an antique vehicle. The whole family gets involved, people talk to each other. You’ll have a sense of belonging.
After they give it some thought, that usually seals the deal.
Road Rally Along the Mississippi
The Great Race is an antique, vintage and collector car competitive controlled-speed endurance road rally on public highways. It is not a test of top speed. It is a test of a driver/navigator team’s ability to follow precise course instructions and the car’s (and team’s) ability to endure on a cross-country trip.
The 2013 Great Race starts in St. Paul, MN, on Saturday, June 22. From there, it will run south with overnights in Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi, towards its finish line in Mobile, AL on Sunday, June 30.
In all, the race will cover 2,100 miles, cross into 10 states in nine days, and afford numerous sights and crossings over the Mississippi River.
No matter the route, Great Race participants have, over the years, viewed some of the most amazing scenery this country has to offer, and toured some of the coolest back roads to get there.
These pre-World War II cars aren’t exactly cut out for interstate driving, so the intricate routes were designed to suit antique cars and their capabilities, in terms of speed and durability.
The competition, which was founded in 1983, contains numerous timed endurance rally stages. Vehicle entries must have been manufactured in 1969 or earlier with a competition crew of a driver and a navigator in each competing vehicle.
For more information on the Great Race visit www.greatrace.com.