It’s never too late to own a muscle car
My friend Russ is a solid, predictable citizen: College professor, husband, father, non-profit volunteer.
But he has a sideline that is not only unpredictable but wonderful: He sells vintage cars to senior citizens.
Russ does this all by himself, and he does it for only a small profit. But the real reason he does it is, in his words, “to bring some nostalgia and some pleasure to people who remember cars the way they used to be.”
Why just senior citizens? “Because, let’s face it, they’re the ones who can spend $40,000 on a 1965 Mustang without batting too much of an eye.”
And why just vintage cars? “If you have to ask that, you’ve never driven one.”
Actually, I have driven one — more than one, in fact.
And I’m much happier in today’s models. They have seat belts. They have air bags. They get twice the gas mileage as their oldie cousins. They don’t need a major engine overhaul after 40,000 miles.
But to Russ and his customers, none of this is the point.
“My customers are usually north of 70, and when I drive that whimsical, wonderful machine into their driveways, they smile in a way that they probably haven’t smiled in a very long time.
“They aren’t thinking about safety and resale value. They are thinking about the days of yesteryear. They are thinking ‘hot diggity-dog.’”
Russ told me about one customer — a pillar of his community, a deacon in the church, a grandfather seven times over. He found Russ the way almost all of his customers do, by word of mouth.
The man wanted a 1969 Dodge Charger, a muscle car if there ever was one. Lots of horsepower. Lots of swooshy air vents on the side. Lots of vroom-vroom noises when you floored it.
Russ found him one at a car show in Dallas. The customer lived in Kansas City. If we were talking about new or even slightly used cars, Russ would simply have directed the customer to a local used car dealer.
But for Russ, half the fun is in driving the car himself. So, he flew to Dallas, took a taxi to the home of the man who owned the car, paid him for it, then set off for Kansas City.
“I cannot describe for you, Bob, what it was like to drive the 555 miles to this man’s door.
“As I sailed along the Interstate, truckers would honk at me. Teenagers would gawk. It was as if I was driving the Batmobile.”
When he finally arrived at the home of the customer, the man greeted him in a leisure suit. He had set up a speaker, and early Rolling Stones rock was pouring out of his stereo. The car was a can opener into the past.
And how much did Russ net on this sale? “Oh, about $1,000. Not enough to send my kids to college, for sure. But more than enough to give a grandpa some joy.”
Another customer used a cutout — a middleman who protected the customer’s actual identity. Again, the car that this customer wanted was in a city far from where the customer lived.
So again Russ hopped a plane — to Denver this time. Then he drove the car to California.
“This one was a 1954 Corvette. Cherry red, with a tartan interior. I got it at an auto auction for a steal — only $40,000. They usually fetch at least $50,000 if they’re in good shape. So, nice guy that I am, I charged my customer only $45,000.”
Russ didn’t know who his customer actually was. All he knew was an address near San Francisco, and an agreed-upon time and date for delivery.
In fact, during several phone calls, his customer had sounded young — maybe even teenaged young. Russ was suspicious. But the voice promised that the actual customer was 70-something.
Turned out she was 80-something.
The voice on the phone had belonged to her grandson. He had arranged the buy as an 85th birthday present for his grandmother.
The grandmother had never driven a 1954 Corvette when that model was born some 65 years earlier. Her father didn’t think it was ladylike.
But she had always wanted to give one a try, and she had kept that dream alive throughout her life. Now, at 85, in somewhat failing health, she asked her grandson if maybe, just maybe…
The grandson (and Russ) came through.
Will Russ keep up this sideline forever? “As long as I have a driver’s license, which I’m hoping is close to forever.”
And will Russ ever own a vintage car himself? “That would involve a successful bank robbery, which I’ve never contemplated, much less attempted.
“I’m afraid I’m stuck in boring Hondas for the time being.”
But some day, Russ, I have a feeling that maybe, just maybe…
Bob Levey is a national award-winning columnist.