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We Talk To The Owner of a Massive Car Hoard About Why Things Aren’t For Sale

HOT ROD logo HOT ROD 2015-06-08 Brandan Gillogly, Elana Scherr

Sometimes people hoard cars. Here's why that okay.

We Talk To The Owner of a Massive Car Hoard About Why Things Aren’t For Sale

There’s a lot of resentment against people who have our dream cars. It’s intensified if the cars appear to just be sitting around, subject to the harsh realities of time. As we rant and rage about the waste, we all love those photos of vehicles sinking back into the earth, sun faded and wrapped in vines. What’s the deal? Why do people hold on to things they don’t use, and why does it make us so mad, yet unable to look away?

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I didn’t set out to answer that question when Brandan and I stopped at a hilly property somewhere along State Route 41 in Mississippi during our Power Tour prerun this week. We stopped because we spotted a buttery yellow 1950s Mercury parked behind a white 1930s Dodge and when we got closer, we saw numerous rusting machines of various vintages in a field loosely ringed with barbed wire. As we poked around, trying to gauge at exactly which point our curiosity would become justified-shooting trespassing, a sleepy-looking man came out of the main house with a cup of coffee in his hand and a puzzled expression on his face. I explained who we were (HOT ROD Magazine), and why we had stopped (big car show coming through), and suddenly we were not suspicious characters up to no good on his property, we were fellow car nerds, and welcome to roam through the field, pet the horse, and ask about all the vehicles sitting in the weeds.

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The man’s name was Henry. He was a mechanic in his younger days, and now he and his wife run a restaurant next door to the house on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The Dodge and the Mercury are daily driven, with the new tires and greasy engine bays to prove it. He’s had the 1938 Dodge for years, it’s powered by a 1960s-era 318, but the Monterey is a fairly new baby, and his favorite of the many cars in his possession. It’s been in movies (The Help, most recently), and he’s upgraded it with air conditioning and power steering. “Used to take me and my wife both to turn it around in a parking lot,” he said, showing off the steering changes. “Now I drive it every day. Folks around here, they keep the cars under wraps, you wouldn’t ever know they had them. They say I shouldn’t drive it, that I’ll ruin it, but it’ll be ruined sitting too.”

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So what about all those sitting cars up on the hill? Well, a few, like the Model A, belong to an elderly friend. “I used to go over and start it for him every year or so. It got so he couldn’t even remember he had it, and people were stealing parts of it and his Falcons. He had me put them in the field and said, ‘Don’t you sell those till I die,’ and I promised I wouldn’t. I put them up on the hill so he can see them when he comes over. People ask to buy it all the time.”

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Henry isn’t the classic old car hoarder, claiming he’ll “fix it up one day.” He readily admits his big project days are over. “I’m too old,” he says. Will he ever sell anything? “I don’t want to sell,” he said. “I like looking at them. Sometimes I go walk around just to remember what something looks like. My wife wants to know what she should do when I die. I told her, ‘I’ll be dead, I won’t care.’”

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Now, I don’t know if it has the same effect when you don’t hear it in a soft country drawl, with the smell of clover and thunderstorm all around you and the hazy, romantic sunlight of a southern morning making all of your thoughts into Flannery O’Conner sentences, but something about that really stuck with me the rest of the drive. It’s not like we’re talking about dogs or children—something that feels pain and needs rescue from abuse. These are cars. When they move they are machines, and when they sit, sculptures. If someone gets joy out of their rusting presence, who are we to say that’s less valid than enjoying drag racing them, or daily driving them, or sitting in a lawn chair behind a perfectly restored version?

Agree? Disagree? We’re always up for discussion. Do people have the obligation to sell something if they aren’t using it?

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