Feature Story

CHOOSING A HOBBY CAR

by Bob Hagin

January 30, 1998

"Everyone needs a hobby," is an oft-quoted adage that centers around the fact that all of us need an avocation that takes us away from the everyday humdrum things that drive us up the wall.

And being that, like it or not, we Americans are all part of an automotive subculture, it makes sense that many of us select that venue to fulfill our Hobby Quotient.

When last we perused the world of suitable weekend hobby cars (as opposed to investment vehicles), we examined such high-profile categories as American Muscle Cars, Veterans, Kit Cars, and several others. But if you're still looking for that just-right project to while away many evening and weekend hours dismantling, refurbishing and polishing, here are another half-dozen vehicle types that may interest you:

BRITISH SPORTS CAR - By classic British definition, a traditional sports car is a two-seater, dual-purpose vehicle that is built to be raced on the weekends, but is parenthetically street-legal and can be used as normal transportation during the week. The mechanical emphasis was on performance rather than comfort and the marketing strategy was that they were impractical but fun to drive. This type of car was sold by the thousands in this country in the '50s, '60s and '70s and there are still hundreds of MG's, Singers, Triumphs, and Austin-Healeys squirreled away in backyards and garages around the county, waiting for someone to rescue and restore them. For example, last week our local classified section listed a tired but complete '61 Sunbeam Alpine for $900. There are plenty of shops and specialty parts stores listed in the back pages of British Car magazine that can supply relatively inexpensive parts (you can even buy an entire repro body for a '60s-vintage MGB, for instance) and they're relatively easy to work on.

ODD-BALLS - There's no hard and fast definition of an "odd-ball," but you'll know one if you see one. Some of them are so unusual that you're not sure whether it was designed and built to be a serious means of transportation or as a joke. Most were imports brought to the U.S. from cash-hungry Europe after World War II and were best described as "minimal." The Amphicar is an example. It was a combination automobile and boat, and didn't do a very good job as either. The BMW Isetta 600 was shaped like an egg, its one door was in front and its two passengers sat atop its single cylinder engine. The Citroen 2CV looked like a mobile corrugated tool shed on wheels. Some were so small that they only had room for a single person (the driver) and had no room at all for luggage or packages. The Fiat Topolino (little mouse) was aptly named and its Multipla mini-minivan looked like it was motoring backwards. The Messerschmitt seated two in tandem and resembled the cockpit of a light plane sans wings, propeller, and tail. These vehicles are fun to own and are usually in great demand at parades and community functions.

RETIRED RACER - Old race cars are hot items, especially so if there is some sort of authenticating documentation available to support their history. The older the better and they don't even need to have been winners. There's lots of old racers stuck away in the garages of aging former drivers who can't bring themselves to dispose of their old "friends." Since this is the 50th anniversary of the National Association of Stock Car Racing, those veterans of oval track events that have survived are now very desirable and collectible. And it's not necessary that the owner drive in vintage car races, although this segment of wheel-to-wheel competition is experiencing a meteoric rise in participation. Most auto shows and concours' d'elegance have special classes for retired race cars.

VINTAGE SPORT/UTILITY VEHICLES - Before there were fancy SUVs like the new Lexus LX 470 and the Lincoln Navigator, there were four-wheel- drive vehicles that were not as spartan as the military-style Jeep but were a long way from being comfortable passenger cars. The Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser 4X4 showed up in Toyota showrooms in 1965 and has turned into something of a cult car. My son Matt is in the throws of an FJ40 restoration and has discovered that there is a vast network of owners of these vintage rock crushers. The same is true of the International Scout (the true progenitor of the genre), the brawny Ford Bronco of the mid-'60s and the Chevrolet/GMC Blazer clones. And these specialized "hobby" vehicles have a secondary attribute in that they provide access to other hobby sites like remote camping spots and out-of-the-way fishing holes.

VINTAGE JAPANESE - Japanese auto makers got a late start in coming into the U.S. market and their first steps were tentative. Because of this, early examples of Japanese sedans, sports cars and pickups are pretty rare, which makes them all the more desirable as a hobby car. You won't find very many Datsun PL 310 sedans, Toyopet Crowns or Subaru 360 coupes in your suburban mall parking lots. I also understand that vintage Japanese vehicles are rare in Japan because of the national proclivity for scrapping vehicles that show their age. If you happened to luck into a vintage Japanese pickup to restore, you'll have the double advantage of having an interesting weekend cruiser and show car plus a vehicle that you can use for garden shop runs.

Hobby vehicles don't have to be totally unique or expensive to provide lots of enjoyment to their owners and families but they do require some sacrifices. From the moment they enter the family circle, the family garage will never see the faithful family transportation machine again.

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