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I hate the term midlife crisis. It presupposes there's something wrong with your life that is superficially corrected by a sudden need for something extravagant, namely a fast car. What most psychoanalysts don't realize is that most things that are wrong in life can be immediately soothed or outright cured by a fast car-and the effect is more than superficial. The whole midlife crisis topic came to a head today when I had lunch with a noncar-guy coworker, who used the term to describe yours truly. You see, I recently bought an '06 Corvette to replace my daily driver Mustang GT with 150K miles. The used C6 Corvette is a great commuter car-it's fast, it's comfortable, it's reliable as a rock, it gets great gas mileage, and they're affordable relative to both new minivans and even nicely built muscle cars-but I digress.
People who aren't into cars use the term midlife crisis in reference to car guys way too often. There's a certain smugness these people get out of applying this label to a 40- or 50-something guy driving a Corvette, or even a muscle car or street rod. I've actually used the term myself, but I'm a lot more selective-I usually throw it out when I see a bald guy in a Porsche. (I pronounce it without the "e" just to piss them off.) With every year that passes, "that guy" is strangely always a little bit older than me!
The way I see it, my vehicular midlife crisis is neither midlife, nor is it a crisis. For starters, I've loved cars and Corvettes ever since I knew what they were. If it would've been possible for me to buy a Corvette when I was 5, I probably would've done so. Same at age 16, age 25, age 35, and so forth. Moreover, owning a Vette at any one of those ages would've dissolved any and all crises I had at the time. When I was in high school, one kid I knew actually had a new Corvette, and his only crisis was choosing which hottie was going to ride shotgun!
Nevertheless, I think there may be a kernel of truth to the midlife crisis of suddenly buying a hot car. The notion that it's a Corvette, a Porsche, a Harley, or a muscle car is less crucial than whether or not there is an unresolved, abiding passion that has burned for decades. We've all seen rich lawyers who buy restored muscle cars for their investment potential, movie stars who buy trendy exotics, businessmen who want credibility with peers through a highly visible purchase (think Barrett-Jackson), or a bored member of the Saudi royal family looking for something cooler than what cousin Ahmed has. All these guys would've gotten the same Pavlovian response out of buying a solid-gold, diamond-encrusted Rolex, Jimi Hendrix's Stratocaster, a Honus Wagner baseball card, or a box of Cuban pre-embargo Montecristo No. 2s. All these things might be cool, but if you're buying them on a lark, chances are there's some psychological baggage. And yes, dare I say it, if you own a Corvette, there's a chance you could be a midlife crisis poser.
As it so happens, there is a surefire way to separate the midlife crisis poser from the legit hard-core gearhead who by happenstance is of a certain age. You probably already suspect it if you're legit, but just in case, take the following quiz. If you answer "yes" to all or most of the questions below, you are the real McCoy and the insult of being branded with "midlife crisis" should roll right off you like water from a duck's back:
• Did you know the function of a camshaft by the time you were 10 years old? (i.e. the automotive equivalent of carnal knowledge)
• Does it set your teeth on edge when you watch cheesy car movies like The Fast & The Furious?
• If your wife insisted on a minivan, would it be grounds for divorce?
• Have you memorized what size wrench you need for your oil drain plug or do you have a spark plug gapping tool on your keychain?
• When you check into a hotel, do you remember your room number because it's the same as the displacement of an engine? (extra points if it's ever been a stroker)
• At the swap meet, when you see vintage car magazines, do you say to yourself, I remember reading that when it was new?
• If you were kidnapped and blindfolded, could you tell what brand of car you were in just by the sound of the starter or the door slam?
• Is your user name, password, PIN number, screen name, or security question the make, model, or year of your favorite muscle car?
• To people who don't know you that well, are you known simply as the guy with "that" car?
• At the parts store, do you get strange looks from the kid behind the counter when you try to explain that a part for an '85 Chevy truck is going on a '68 Chevelle?