Tuesday, 25 September 2012 12:30

The Time Machines

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Isn't it funny how you can walk into an auction and one car — out of 100 or so — immediately catches your eye?

This happened to me Friday night during Silver's Portland Fall Auction. It happened to a lot of other people as well.

Silver Auctions sets up shop in Portland's Expo Center every spring and fall, and each one seems to come at the perfect time. Silver's casual, car-guy feel strikes just the right tone after a frenetic summer that includes Monterey's mega-buck auctions.

You see lots of families. Kids were running around and scamming free stuff from the American Car Collector booth. Some younger guys had their girlfriends along, and I think one woman dragged her boyfriend to the auction. As always, you see clusters around some cars — but not others — which fascinates me.

A hot car in good condition, such as the real-deal 1968 Dodge Coronet R/T parked off in a corner (and which sold for $38,800), always attracts a crowd, but that doesn't explain why other cars turn into magnets. Some cars — and trucks — just have a look or feel we just can't resist. I suspect these magnet cars are really time machines that take us back to a special time.

"Check out the '69 Impala hard top — it's got the 427 big block," ACC Editor Jim Pickering told me when I arrived at the auction to set up the ACC booth.

I wandered over to the very clean, very straight car, which looked like it had driven though the time machine from 1970 to 2012. A big 427 squatted in the engine bay — with room to spare. The interior was perfect — nicely broken in but still in good shape. The more I looked, the better the car looked. Why?

I was eight years old when this car was built, and I remember seeing them all over the Southern California roads and highways. Chevy Impalas were the Honda Accords of the era.

The car looked huge to my 2012 eyes, but my 1969 memory told me that it came from a time when most family cars were really, really big — and most American car drivers selected cars for power and comfort, rather than gas mileage.

The car was that foamy green that was so popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The whole package just made me happy.

A big part of me wanted to get behind the wheel, light up that engine, smell some leaded-gas exhaust burbling through the tailpipes and cruise it back to 1977 or so, when I was in high school. All of us drove cars from the late 1960s, as they were dirt-cheap and easy to fix at the high school auto shop.

I wanted to ease down Topanga Canyon Boulevard with my friends — five or six of us — or drop by the Carl's Jr., where Anne, a girl with big green eyes and long, sun-streaked hair, worked at the cash register. Her smile made my heart do a slow, scary roll deep in my chest.

The car crossed the block the next day, probably at the same time I was paddling hard to catch a glassy, waist-high wave on the Oregon coast. It did not sell at the $14k high offer, but that's okay. I thought about that car off and on for most of that warm day. I thought about Anne as well, and I hoped her life turned out as sweet as mine.

Still, I need one of those time machines.

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