Wealthy guy buys 50 classics, most driveable, then leaves them to rot in the woods on his property. He calls it art. You call it heresy. I say you’re both right. Here’s why.
LET’S GET ONE THING STRAIGHT
Before we begin, I’d like to get one thing straight. As a gearhead, the thought of people with money to buy machines I’ll likely never own myself, who let them sit unused, makes my skin crawl. I mean, if you’re not going to do anything with them, at least give them to others so they can be enjoyed and shared, right?
99.999% of the time, I find pictures of abandoned vehicles – in dealerships, in the woods, in Dubai – as wanton displays of irresponsibility and sloth on levels I simply cannot believe can be found among individuals so well-paid for their “contributions” to
society business. How could anyone so brazenly lazy and wasteful be worth a salary enabling the purchase of such finery? It boggles the mind.
Still, as I looked over images of classic cars left to waste away in a German forest last night, the story behind them tempered my gut reaction. The usual, frustrated outrage replaced by revelation, enlightenment, appreciation, and understanding.
THE 4 TYPES
Thinking about this a little more, I’ve decided we can categorize the people who let their vehicles rot into four categories.
1. THE RAN-WHEN-PARKED CROWD.
We tend to take our gearhead abilities for granted. Easy though it might seem to keep our machines on the road, many people are little more than a paycheck away from financial disaster. A blown headgasket, slipping clutch, or electrical gremlins can render a vehicle movable under its own power, but not necessarily driveable. This type of owner limps the ailing machine someplace out of the way, intending to fix it when the money situation improves.
Years later, when the money situation has proven it’s not going to improve, the neglected machine is put up for sale as ran when parked, it’s higher-than-it-should-be asking price belying the owner’s reluctance to sell.
2. THE GOTTA-CATCH-EM-ALL CROWD.
Collectors. I think a lot of us fall victim to this one from time to time. You love a particular make or model so much, you can’t help but scoop them up when you come across them. A step further, gearheads of more substantial means seek out finer automobiles and/or those of specific pedigrees. Think: James Dean’s “Little Bastard,” the “666” Prototype Testarossa, or the Phantom Corsair.
Generally speaking, this group loves the cars and appreciates them for their unique synergies. The machines speak to them. Each has a purpose, a reason for being in the collection, be it future restoration-slash-dream project, or part of a curated history of some sort; the machines speak to them, begging to be taken home, enjoyed, and loved.
This is something of a transitional category. If we’re not careful, we, the former, are more likely to end up in the ran-when-parked crowd, whereas the latter might find themselves in one of the most irritating groups known to gearheads (see #3).
3. THE CONSPICUOUS-CONSUMPTION CROWD.
You know the ones I’m talking about. Another name for this group might be the look-at-my-automotive-fashion-statement crowd. These people buy several high end vehicles and select which they drive based on whom they’re trying to one-up/impress (hint: everyone). To them, vehicles are fashion accessories no different than watches or shoes. When they’re not farting down the road to the mall in the 599 that will never see an Autostrada or race track, they’re riding your ass in the 6-wheel-drive G-wagen (on 26″ chrome wheels and 35-series tires) that will never see the Sahara or dirt road.
As it is with shoes, more than a couple means most simply sit around begging to be used in ways for which they were designed, maybe started once a month or moved outside for detailing (and pictures, of course). This group is more concerned with shiny things and making sure everyone else knows they’re wealthy. The machines don’t speak to them so much as for them. If I might paraphrase Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that car to say something. I do not think it says what you think it does.”
4. THE ARTIST.
Exceedingly rare (except in perhaps Black Rock City), the artist’s vehicles convey deeply meaningful messages. Case in point, the gearhead who inspired this piece your reading today. Michael Fröhlich is a classic and custom car dealer who also handles restoration. According to the article I read, he’s been doing this for a long time. He’s bought and sold Hitler’s limousine. His daily driver is a Rolls Royce damaged in a fire at a dealership. He’s made his – clearly comfortable – living through hard work, continuing education, and developing a solid network of automotive contacts. Hmmm… Sounds like a real gearhead to me.
For his 50th birthday in the year 2000, he personally sought out and purchased 50 cars manufactured the year he was born – 1950. He had them delivered, drove most of them into specific spots on his wooded property, then left them to slowly decay in the elements. Wherever this story shows up, it’s followed by a river of (often illiterate) vitriol; enthusiasts voicing their outrage at this automotive heresy. All those cars, left to rot outside, positively infuriates a lot of people. Can’t say I blame them, either! Even now, as I’m typing up something feeling so special, I feel the twinge of regret at not being able to save any of the cars pictured here today. I feel the frustration of knowing each is one more machine lost forever, and for what? Art?
As I thought about Fröhlich’s comments in the article on that strangely-named site, something clicked. I saw him as an artist. I saw what he did was neither gratuitous nor conspicuous – and I found it beautiful. Much as I hate to see such machines left to rot (especially that Jag, ungh!), I totally get it as an art installation. Each car is as old as he is. They are a reminder of life’s brevity, of faded youth, obsolescence, and decay. They are a reminder of how much our machines need regular care, attention, and exercise, just as we do. It’s a beautiful reminder of humanity and how the machines add value to our lives.
It’s a high price to pay for such a message. There will always be another POS Cadillac ready for planting along the highway somewhere in the American midwest, but considering Fröhlich was able to spend that kind of money as a birthday gift to himself and makes a living restoring and rescuing vintage cars, I suspect he’s personally saved more than any one of us will – and done a stand up job of it, in fact – can we really begrudge him investing in such a powerful message he’s chose to generously share with us? I say no. Let he who saves the many sacrifice the few at the altar of art. Better they die a testament to what we hold most dear than live forever in climate controlled, ape vanity shame.
IF YOU GET IT, YOU GET IT
Here’s a link to the rest of the pictures. Which makes you the most upset? How do you feel about the art angle?