What does it really mean to be a car enthusiast, and how do you get there? His Stigness weighs in with this thoughtful story.
I am an auto enthusiast, but I did not grow up as an auto enthusiast, I’ve gone through small, yet numerous journeys to get where I am today. During this series, I will share in some of my journeys, and journeys I would like to take later to further myself as an auto enthusiast. But, before I get to my storytelling, let me first pose the question, what is an auto enthusiast, and how does one become one. Part I – Nature Versus Nurture – What Forms an Enthusiast?
First, I think we need to determine what an auto enthusiast is, or how to define them. Many people have different ways for defining what an enthusiast is, and it normally boils down to different criteria that defines, or doesn’t define, an auto enthusiast. While some people think an enthusiast should have some mechanical skills, or should own or have owned a certain car, I think an auto enthusiast can just simply be someone who loves cars. That doesn’t mean they have to subscribe to certain magazines, or read certain websites (Oppositelock or Jalopnik.) I also don’t think there are classes, or sects of car enthusiasts. I don’t even think there are really posers, because if you yourself believe you’re a car enthusiast, then that’s what you are; some people may not agree with you, but that’s their problems. I personally did not think of myself as an enthusiast until I bought my first car and realized how much fun driving could be, and how much I liked (good) cars. After I realized what I had been missing out on, I started working on my car to get more involved in it, I started reading all the major car magazines to learn more, I started reading Jalopnik, and only recently I was fortunate enough to discover Oppositelock and I’ve begun to enjoy writing about cars, not only reading about them.
Now that we’ve discussed (briefly) what an auto enthusiast is, or what defines them as such, we must now discuss how an auto enthusiast is born. I will use the age old question of Nature vs Nurture to help answer this question (at least for me.) To elaborate on the Nature vs Nurture, let me define each in the context that we can relate to.
Nurture: Does the fate of an enthusiast depend on the family they’re born into? Does the parent(s) need to have a passion for cars for the young child to one day join the ranks of fellow auto enthusiasts who spend too much time each day lusting after cars either they A: don’t need, or B: cars they’ll (unfortunately) never be able to afford? Or does the child not need the help of its parents to be miserable in one way or another one day? I’m of the mind that the child does not necessarily need their parents to join our ranks one day. I will use my own experiences to explain why.
I’m the youngest of five kids, and we were all raised by my mom, who did not have any help, my dad left when I was two (I’m fine by the way, my mom is awesome and I wouldn’t have wanted things to have gone differently, neither would she.) But, my grandpa (my dad’s side) was around for a short while before he moved away with my aunt and uncle. He was a mechanic who owned his own shop. I never worked on cars with him because I was much too young, but he was still there and I knew what he did. My Granddad (my mom’s side) was unfortunately not around, he passed away when my youngest sister was born, which was five years or so before I was born. This was really unfortunate, maybe for my mom more than me, because according to my mom and Grandma, I am my Granddad reincarnated. I look just like him apparently, and I get my addiction for (German) cars from him. I also get my curse of wanting the best of everything from him. He always had to have the latest and greatest cars, so much so that he imported his fair share of cars in from Germany himself, the most notable being the very first Gelandewagen from Germany into the United States. He went over to the Mercedes plant in Germany (go Granddad!) and ordered it, had shipped out to California, had it certified for road use in California, and drove it home; the very first one into the United States of America, pretty bad ass if you ask me. He was also usually one of the first people to order new Porsches, he had a crap load of Mercedes, no BMW’s except he had one of the first 2002’s in the US, he had a Ferrari (still don’t know which one, but it’s not too expensive now,) lots and lots of Volkswagens, many of which were my Mom’s until he sold them and bought her another car. He also had a Porsche 930 Turbo, a Mercedes SEL 6.9, and a Mercedes W123 Estate, all of which are pictured (observe the personalized plates), including some of my Mom’s cars he bought her. Strangely, I also got my irritation of stock cars from him. I do not like my cars to be stock; I want them to be different from anyone else’s. My Mercedes has AMG wheels, decals galore, red brake calipers, and red lug nut caps. My Golf has black wheels, blue calipers, and blue lug nut caps. Both cars also have tinted windows. My Granddad’s modifications usually consisted of stereos, wheels, and things like that. But he also re-did the interiors a lot. My mom had a Golf one time that he put Fuchs wheels on (I think) and a new interior with white and red leather. He also had a 911 he bought one time re-painted to a dark grey, and he had it done right; the car was completely stripped, everything came off; then it was sandblasted and the new color was put on. My mom made the comment one day that she thinks my Granddad would have enjoyed watching Top Gear with me, this almost made me cry, just don’t tell anyone.
So, now we move onto my mom, who has had the biggest impact on me, and I explain why I think family doesn’t necessarily doesn’t have to like cars to produce an enthusiast. While my grandpa and Granddad were car guys, my mom didn’t really focus too much on cars, she couldn’t, she was too busy raising five awesome kids. While my mom has always preferred German cars, she could never afford them as a single mom. She didn’t buy a brand new car until I was 14ish, and she didn’t buy her first German car until last year, after much prodding from me. Also, I didn’t learn all that stuff about my Granddad until a few years ago, so I can’t really credit that, I can only wonder how much genetics had to play with my condition. So, if my mom didn’t really influence me too much, what about where I grew up, Southern California.
Nature: Does the environment that a child grows up in determine their fate? I believe the environment plays a big role, but it does not define a person. I don’t think the condition that lurked beneath the surface would have been killed off right away if I had been raised in a large metro area like New York City. I think the chance of me becoming an enthusiast would have been slimmer in a place like New York, but it wouldn’t have been impossible. The fact that things like Classic Car Club exist in New York are evidence to that fact. But I do think living and growing up in a place like Ventura made it more likely that I would like cars. When you live in a place that doesn’t have great public transport or any at all, then it’s much more likely that you’ll need a car and therefore fall in love with them. I also think the culture in California, and actually everywhere west of the East Coast, pays a big role in whether an enthusiast lives or dies.
While I think those two things are very important for shaping a car enthusiast, I also think there is a third that has the chance to make or break the development of an enthusiast, and that’s the experience of owning their first car. In my case, this is what helped me to develop into the auto enthusiast I am today. If you want to know more about that, stay tuned for the next installment of Tales of an Auto Enthusiast: Part II – Tales of Mercedes Owner.
(McLain Neville, or His Stigness as he is known to the internet, was born and raised in California and has not left yet except to visit Germany on an exchange program. He is an ASE Certified Technician and former Volkswagen Factory Technician.)