Saturday, August 27, 2016
How Much Car Do You Need To Be Happy?
“Check out the Maverick,” I said as we got out of the rental car upon our arrival at the Ramada. Juxtaposed against a backdrop of the premium-priced automotive exotica that characterizes the Monterey auctions held each summer during the weeklong lead-up to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, sat this Ford Maverick with a mild rat rod-ish patina – its paint, though shiny in places, was similar in color to red oxide primer, and it had burned through on the hood. The roof was painted white, not a vinyl top, as was typical of lower line cars back in the day. The rolling stock consisted of mismatched wheels – aluminum slots in front and Torq-Thrust-style in the rear all sans center caps – with slightly oversized tires and just the right stance to carry off a subtle 1970s street look.
Most other automotive press people probably wouldn’t have noticed it in their hotel parking lots, but the three of us did – immediately. Matt Litwin, Kurt Ernst and I made this trip to Monterey in 2013 to cover the aforementioned auctions and Pebble Beach. I had just started at Hemmings two months before, working from Pennsylvania. Because the home office is in Vermont, the first time I met them was at the airport in California.
Curious, we walked up to the Maverick to get a better look. For lack of a better term, this car was cool in a sleeper sort of way. I grew up with mostly GM cars and some Mopars in the family, so I hadn’t really gotten into Fords as much. My aunt, however, owned a 1970 Maverick in bright blue. One thing that always stood out about it was, despite the fact that it was an economy car, it was proficiently styled, featuring great lines and proportions. Where many low-priced cars come across like a three-quarter effort, the Maverick looks finished, down to the last detail.
We discussed it a bit more and wondered about what engine could be in it. The next morning, by sheer happenstance, as we were preparing to leave the hotel to cover the auctions and photograph priceless Duesenbergs, Corvettes, Ferraris, Porches, GT40s, Yenko Camaros, Shelby Mustangs and the like, our attention was drawn away when Matt and Kurt noticed that the hood was up on the Maverick. Like three kids looking in a toy store window, we watched from our second story room for a few minutes as the owner did some parking-lot maintenance on his Ford. The raised hood revealed a 302-cu.in. V-8 engine – we were pleased.
That night, after we got back from the auctions and had our daily fill of incredible highline collectible cars, I thumbed through a magazine that I brought with me, which consisted of a compilation of road tests from the muscle car era. (I found it at an antique store.) Sure enough, there was a Maverick road test in it. We read it to gain some knowledge regarding the little Ford in our parking lot while the hundreds of photos from a long day’s work downloaded from our memory cards to our laptops.
The next morning, I even looked up some old Ford brochures to learn a little about model year changes. Matt checked Hemmings to see what some of the going prices were for Mavericks. Had we become obsessed with a 40-something-year-old economy car in the midst of price-is-no-object automotive auction madness? Perhaps a little bit. Maybe it was just nice to know there are still cars out there that people who don’t have six-figure incomes can buy and enjoy – us included. While some may see this car as simply a worn-out old Ford, we appreciated the fact that the owners were out enjoying it and driving it far enough to what appeared to be a Goodguys event, judging by the sticker in the windshield, to require a hotel stay.
Our awareness of the unique and relatively affordable cars around us outside the auctions didn’t stop there. When we went to Pebble Beach, it was so crowded that they were parking cars out along the road adjacent to the ocean and we had to take a shuttle to the show. Our pre-dawn three-quarter-mile walk to the shuttle stop revealed some very interesting silhouettes parked along the shoulder under the moonlit sky. When we came back later in the day, we saw some amazing cars parked on that road.
While working these auctions was a once-in-a-lifetime-type opportunity to get close to some of the rarest and most expensive cars in existence and was a lot of fun, it was balanced by the additional benefit of tripping over a few desirable cars in the periphery that are attainable.
Comparing a Maverick driver to perfectly-preserved or concours-restored brass era cars, classics, exotics, muscle cars and race cars is unfair. Generally, in looks, performance, pedigree and rarity, they win. However, regarding enjoyment from behind the wheel, depending upon how it’s equipped, and pride in ownership, which has no price tag, the little Ford may give a few of them a run for their money – or for 95 percent less money, for that matter. It all depends on your tastes and what you want out of a car.
That raises the question: How much car do you need to be happy? Is there a certain model? Performance level? Price point? Could you be just as satisfied with 318-cu.in. Barracuda as you would be with a Hemi ‘Cuda? Can a nicely built Le Mans put a smile on your face like a GTO would? Tell us what you think.
Should you wonder if the Maverick made a lasting impression, consider this. When I attended Musclepalooza XIX earlier this year, I got to see Kurt and Matt again. The second thing Kurt said to me that day was, “Hey, did you see the Maverick out on the show field?” There were more than 600 cars there and that was the first one we discussed.