Automobiles in their original configuration have to be the ultimate time machine. Encapsulated in a package of steel, chrome, and iron, or in some cases, steel, brass, and wood, is the dream of an innovator, a promising future that is now the past, the hopes and dreams of an aspiring worker, the fantasies of a young man with a freshly minted drivers license, and an old man with visions of youth dancing in his head.
J. Walter Christie and his front wheel drive racer, 1906.
Street rods and hot rods can, and often do, manifest an artistic and creative flair as well as tremendous mechanical aptitude. However, more often than not, with a transplanted Chevrolet heart, they are little more than glittering, garishly painted monuments to conformity with the soul of a brick. In either case they represent the flip side of the coin, a time machine designed by the imaginative folks from Walt Disney Studios that will only transport you to an illusion.
With an original vintage vehicle, even a simple act such as changing the oil becomes an intimate encounter with the technology, the people, and the society of the period in which it was manufactured. To pilot that vehicle along a road or highway designed before the unleashing of the age of mediocrity, before it was possible to drive coast to coast with no fear of being contaminated with new ideas, experiences, or sensations, is an immersion into a lost world.
The marvel that is the interstate highway system, the modern vehicles that insulate us from the cold, the heat, the sounds, and the smells, and street rods that emulate them, have made the destination more important than the journey. Travel is now little more than a white bread sandwich with no crust, no meat, no lettuce, no tomato, no mustard, no ketchup, and no mayonnaise.
On the narrow, twisted course of a two lane highway, where each stop is an opportunity for new adventure, even a sexless econobox or ’57 Chevy built to the most exacting standards of conformity can become as thrilling and as exciting as a roller coaster at Coney Island. With a vintage vehicle each mile on this old road and each stop along the way is another opportunity to step into the past and another opportunity to see what has been lost and what has been gained with our progress.
It is the hunger for an illusion of time travel and an immersion into the past that have given rise to a new era on Route 66. On this narrow ribbon of asphalt the past, the present, and the future have collided, illusion and reality have been blended seamlessly, and cartoons overlap the reality.
International travelers follow its course in search of America and Americans follow its course in search of their soul. They come together under the neon as brothers and sisters on a quest but only those who dare follow its path behind the wheel of a vehicle that rolled from the factory while the asphalt was still fresh can share that journey with the ghosts of the past.
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