I faced the reality a long time ago that I am, technically speaking, one of the have-nots. That might sound strange coming from someone living and working his dream job, but in terms of monetary compensation, editors of car magazines don't make a ton of dough. There is, however, a huge psychic pay that comes with the job—one that I wouldn't trade for anything. Mine is a more-than-adequate existence, for which I am thankful. The reason I bring this up is that I get a front-row seat to all kinds of rifts within the hobby. Most of them are Ford-versus-Chevy or drag-versus-handling kind of beefs. The one, however, that really gets my blood boiling is the homebuilt-versus-pro-built feud.
Homebuilt versus pro is almost always cast in terms of negative attributes for the guy with a pro-built car and positives for the DIY guy. Walk any car show and you'll hear a few people mumbling under their breath about checkbook cars. I am obviously a fan of homebuilt cars—or you wouldn't be staring at this month's Readers' Projects issue. It takes a lot of desire and perseverance to build your own rod, and I would argue that this spirit is at the heart of what it means to be an American. Where we are as a nation is almost entirely the result of ingenuity, curiosity, hard work, and obstinance. Thus homebuilt cars are worthy of our admiration for all kinds of reasons. It's the negativity on the other side that bothers me.
The sense I get from listening to the complaints about "checkbook" cars is that detractors rarely have anything against the cars or the craftsmanship itself. And when pressed, that's exactly what they'll say. "Sweet car, nice design, but…" It's the check writers who are clearly in the crosshairs—the "haves." It's as if the act of having money (or in some cases, not having money, but making a huge sacrifice) is an unconscionable sin. Is the fact that someone paid a talented team of craftsmen and supported a little corner of the industry some kind of character flaw?
Some guys even fall back on the argument that DIY guys are "smarter" or "more clever" than someone who chose to farm it out. Good luck trying to prove that. Look, I totally get that there are rich and poor (and a bunch in between), and that some people might feel cheated—or even victimized—that they don't have hundreds of thousands of spare bucks in the bank. I too get frustrated that there's a huge disparity in wealth; the fact that there are approximately 6.1 million Americans with liquid assets over $1 million (not including home equity) is an absolutely stunning factoid, and by now you know I ain't in this club. Notwithstanding, it doesn't begin to tell the real story.
Is the fact that someone paid a talented team of craftsmen and supported a little corner of the industry some kind of character ...
In my position, I have the opportunity to talk with a lot of hot rodders, rich and the not rich. There is one thing that we all have in common: We are all hands-on people with a can-do attitude. How this happens to manifest itself in everyday life is a bit different for all of us, but as a whole, we are an independent, hard-working, self-reliant group. We are hot rodders. Think about it—hot rods began because people weren't satisfied with the status quo.
And while it's true that you'll find some wealthy people walking around a big car show, just think about how very different they are as a subset of all wealthy people. You will find very few investment bankers, hedge fund managers, high-powered lawyers, Internet start-up prodigies, real estate moguls, third-world dictators, chairmen of the board, drug lords, stockbrokers, or Saudi royal family members. The guys writing the big checks for the influential, groundbreaking cars are mostly guys who made their bones in brick-and-mortar businesses that make real stuff. They build homes. They pave roads. They cart your garbage. They manufacture goods. Some have scars on their body from years of hard work and sacrifice. They're guys like us who made it, and we should be happy for them, not critical of their success, cussing their cars under our breath.
Yet much of the wealth in this country is not earned or deserved. If you're looking to point a finger, there are real villains out there, and they aren't at the car show. This typical Enron-type suit is on a 100-foot yacht somewhere in the French Riviera taking a conference call to the board of directors while knocking back $500-a-bottle scotch and smoking Cohiba Grand Reservas. When he takes surface transportation, he sits in the back seat and has a bodyguard drive him—he's not walking a Goodguys show in a Hawaiian shirt, sipping on Tennessee moonshine. My theory is, if anything, Mr. Made-Off-With-My-Money is the one calling in the high bid at Barrett-Jackson. He can't be bothered to be there in person, for one because he's not actually a car guy, and two, he can't risk slumming it with the rest of us.
But back to my point: Complaining about a guy who can afford to buy his dream car is lame for a bunch of BS reasons. It doesn't recognize the hard work and excellent craftsmanship that goes into these cars, it doesn't acknowledge the evolution and growth of the hobby, and it shortchanges the skilled jobs it creates. But most of all, it's pure petty jealousy that radiates from someone with a "victim" mentality. If you absolutely must cry in your beer, all I ask is that you harness that energy, focus it into a game plan, and build a badass hot rod we can feature in PHR. Beat that rich guy at his own thing and build a better car on the cheap. In this country, the cream always rises to the top, so man up. That's what being an American hot rodder is all about!