There is a love/hate relationship that many people have with their cars. On the one hand, they enable us to do so much by taking us almost anywhere we want to go and on the other, they enable us to do so little by draining our bank accounts with every trip to the service department. Even worse for those of us who drive a classic or soon-to-be classic car because they are much harder to maintain and every trip to the service department (even for things as simple as an oil change) are huge bills. Then, when its the not-so-simple things and you a big quote for work that NEEDS to be done to your car, its always a tough decision. Do I sink the money into it, in the hopes that it will keep it in good running order for a while or do I look at something newer?
I currently drive a 1987 Mercedes 420 SEL, a.k.a The Grey Lady who was my first car. She is the older woman in my life who esquires me about town and makes me seem like a profoundly mature connoisseur, which couldn't really be farther from the truth. Her and I have been together for about 10 years now and I am at a point in my relationship with her where I love her dearly, though this wasn't always the case.
You see, I inherited The Grey Lady from my British Step-father, Graham Bond. Yes, his name is actually Bond and he is just about as stereotypical of a Brit as one can possibly be. Well educated, well spoken, bad teeth and a worse sense of humor. But truth be told has a heart the size of an elephants and he is the best thing that has ever happened to me, my mother and my sister. At any rate, The Grey Lady was his first 'Ive Made It' car and he loved her. Hence why he was unable to part with her as she became too old to continue to be his daily driver. In order to justify keeping her, he told my mother that she would be my first car.
To set the tone for this story, it was 2003 and the movie "The Fast and Furious" had turned every teenager, including myself, into a Honda Civic and Mazda RX7 loving idiot. And, given my lack of street cred at the time (which, being a white, middle class preppy kid who attends boarding school and enjoys sailing, was a complete mystery to me) I was somewhat disappointed to receive a 20 year old car that couldn't be fitted with a ground kit, obnoxiously loud exhaust or a huge racing wing.
Needless to say, The Grey Lady and I have bonded over the years and now I couldn't imagine my life without her. In fact, we are very similar in many ways; we both are temperamental, require premium fuel, perform very poorly in bad weather or in the morning and even worse when its both and we were both born in 1987. And although we were born in the same year and have many similarities, in car years, she is much older than I am and we have both aged quite differently.
The beautiful older woman in my life recently went for a physical and lets just say if she were a real person she would a be a slightly overweight, smoker and heavy drinker with high cholesterol, high blood pressure and currently at serious risk of becoming a diabetic. In other words, she is much like the rest of middle-aged, middle-class in America right now. But hey, shes an old German woman, does the description above really surprise you? Und given her condiztion, zis means eet ees now time to sign ova all of your perzonal pozzetions und oraganz if you want ze treatment. To translate my poorly typed German accent, the medication for her check up is going to run me nearly $6,000. To make matters worse, there are also a number of cosmetic issues that need attention, to the tune of an estimated $4,000. So the question now becomes; to restore or not to restore?
Being a somewhat recently graduated college student, money to me is like crack to a crack head. I sell my soul daily to get some and once I've gotten some its gone before I know it, then I wonder where it all went. For those of you who aren't getting my analogies, that was a long winded way of saying I cant really afford the necessary work, at least not all at once. Thus, I found myself at a cross roads. On the one hand I can save and give The Grey Lady her much needed face lift, tummy tuck and organ transplants, or I can take a loan and discard the woman who in many ways has had a hand in shaping who I am today.
So I started eying up the market and seeing what else was out there. To my surprise there were some great finds that I wouldn't be completely embarrassed to drive. At the top of that list were the Volkswagen Passat CC, an Audi A4, a Mini Cooper S and a Lexus IS. But after some serious soul searching and a brief evaluation of my credit score, which went over like a prostitutes STD test, I sought advice from what many car enthusiasts would agree is the worst place in the world, my girlfriend. Her response was "But that car is you and you are that car. Your both classy, a little bit rough around the edges, always in need of a little work but something that never fails to make an impression. Your going to give that up to drive a Volkswagen? You're better off spending the money on her because if you get rid of her, you will regret it."
First I had to dig through her statement to try and understand how the comparison she had just made was a compliment and then, after getting over the initial shock of her being quite possibly the coolest and most supportive girlfriend on the planet, I realized that she was right. This car IS me, because we have been through so much together. We have been so many places, and experienced so many things together. Her front seat has formed a groove to the shape of my firm buttocks, which makes her mind-bendingly comfortable to drive and I am the only one who truly "gets" her transmission. Moreover, she is my first car. A symbol of freedom that allowed me to escape the clutches of my parents and go just about an where I wanted (provided it was in the greater Fairfield area). And with that I realized her tremendous value which could not be measured by Kelly Blue Book. Getting rid of her for something else would be like trading in my sister. Yes, while I may consider it, I could never actually do it because she helped me grow up, fit in and I simply love her too much.
Thus, to answer the question poised in the title of this post, I shall restore. Because a car is more than just 4 wheels and a motor. A car is something that moves us, physically and emotionally. It is something that most people make a connection with and has more worth than we realize on a daily basis because of all it has enabled us to do, see and experience. And more than any other car I will own, she is my first car has a special place in my heart.
I have uploaded below this post picture of The Grey Lady in her current condition. This will be the last picture taken of her until she has had her numerous surgeries. The next time you see her, she will be like Heidi Klum, a really attractive but older eastern European woman who you happily show off to all your friends if she was yours. Departing on this journey will not be easy, nor will it be cheap but it will be worth it. For the Grey Lady is my first love and one I plan on cherishing for the rest of my life.