A website I trust for generally well-written news and information relating to the auto industry, which I’ll not name, semi-regularly runs a series wherein a couple staffers field reader questions regarding vehicle purchases. Many of the these seem to revolve around older, sometimes eccentric situations, and I’ve always enjoyed the responses. These guys are down-to-earth and realistic, if not immune to their own automotive prejudices. (Aren’t we all?)
After one or both of these guys share their opinions, they turn the discussion over to the active community of readers, whom they refer to as “the best and the brightest.” Truly, the active audience on this site is among the more informed and literate you’ll find in the social-autosphere online, but this isn’t to say they aren’t without the kind of grating flaws which reinforce a decision to “not bother with that anymore.”
In November, I was thinking about my next daily driver purchase (before I decided on importing a Delica in 2015). As a longtime Mitsubishi fan – with all kinds of Mitsubishi spare parts left over in my garage and nearly two decades of fun, Mitsubishi project ideas to chose from swirling through my mind – my next-car thoughts tend to orbit three red diamonds. Part of committing to one machine for a decade or more is being certain I’ve ruled out the other obvious options. I shared my inquiry with the editor
Introducing myself as a seasoned Mitsubishi guy unafraid of rebuilding engines, gearboxes, ECUs, wire harnesses, even unibody section replacement, I asked for some ideas with the following constraints:
- cheap – laughably cheap – like less-than-$3,000 cheap
- economical – 30mpg highway
- fun to drive
- decent aftermarket support
- room for 6’1” driver & toddler car seat
Realizing these constraints are a bit of a unicorn, my hope for the article wasn’t so much a laundry list of magical models which met all my constraints, but a solid brainstorming session for models which met some with a healthy discussion on where compromise would come into play. I even mentioned an openness to the reliability vs. character issue to suggest a willingness to consider older, more eccentric options – I’m willing to put in frequent wrench time to keep something interesting on the road.
The gist I got from the guys who published my challenge and shared their thoughts was somewhat to be expected. A reminder I might be asking for too much, and a suggestion to consider applying my mechanical skills to flipping a few auction cars to up the budget for something a little easier to live with. Sound advice, and something I’ve considered for a while, if not incorporating the auction angle.
In an effort to demonstrate intellectual superiority, however, most of the 100+ comments following the piece were all about how Mitsubishi sucks, how none of their cars last 200,000 miles, that nobody’s ever seen a Mitsubishi last even 100,000 miles, and the usual “You can trust me. I used to be a DSMer and they’re all unreliable pieces of shit” commentary, with added bonus: at least a couple guys who had friends with DSMs that were always broke down. Oh yeah, and crankwalk. I’m almost surprised nobody mentioned paint or sunroof issues.
Clearly, if “the best and brightest” actually read the whole thing, most of them completely missed the point. I’ve gone back through and re-read my submission over and over again. In essence, I said, “I’m a Mitsubishi guy who has had a largely rewarding and enjoyable experience for 18 years, but since I want to keep my next daily driver project a good long time, I want to explore other options.” Instead of suggestions, I mostly got sarcasm and disregard.
Two or three people spoke up in support of my skills and Mitsubishi, and fortunately, half a dozen or so readers offered some very interesting suggestions – a good half of which I’d never even considered. To them – and, if reading this, they know who they are – my sincerest thanks. Those suggestions, however, are not the point of this rant-slash-editorial.
One of the tenets of GBXM|united is that the things we have in common as
automotive enthusiasts gearheads are what empowers us to realize the potential in our differences. You’ll notice “automotive enthusiasts” is crossed out, there. Until now, I’ve been using these two labels almost completely interchangeably, but this experience demonstrates there is a very real difference between the two.
First, automotive enthusiast. What’s an enthusiast? An enthusiast is someone with a lively interest in discussing automotive topics. Now, what’s a gearhead? A gearhead can be someone extremely interested in and knowledgeable of automotive hardware and application, but it can also be someone with precision machined rocks for brains. Ironically, both can dabble in quasi-religious devotion to a perspective, and both can certainly fall prey to backfire effect.
Back to my original letter-to-the-editor, if you will. Despite having the utmost respect for several staffers at that site, and still very much considering them a trusted source of legitimate automotive journalism (of which there is precious little these days, I might add), and despite the widely accepted digital media growth strategy of actively commenting on blogs related to one’s industry and writing guest posts, I have to say I don’t see myself doing much more than maybe skimming the titles of the 100+ posts they publish per week. From my RSS reader. Once or twice a week. If Reddit is slow.
Shame, as the small handful of people I know over there are first rate and I hate to miss anything they write – even if it is eloquently sharing a list of new features on a model I couldn’t give two shits about (or a guitar). Still, the conclusion I’ve made is that news sites like those are for automotive enthusiasts – people interested in typically new vehicles, and sharing their opinions of same.
Enthusiasts are interested in horsepower figures, Nurburgring times, features and options, brand cachet. (Ugh.) Maybe they change their own oil, two-bucket hand-wash their vehicles, or have a cuppa at the local Cars and Coffee on Saturdays.
I am not an automotive enthusiast. I am a gearhead. I don’t want to spend all my spare time and money fixing a beat-ass, derelict hooptie any more than the next guy, but unlike the enthusiast, I believe it’s possible to find ridiculously cheap machines which mean something to us and therefore deserve such efforts. I believe that just because cow-eyed operators with no business calling themselves drivers didn’t care for their machines doesn’t mean we can’t. And I believe enthusiast, blog commenting sycophants who consider my challenge the pursuit of rainbow-barfing unicorns and waste no time in calling me annoying aren’t gearheads like us.
Any car will last a million miles if loved and properly maintained. That includes fun-to-drive, 30mpg, sub-$3,000 econoboxes with back seats and aftermarket support. That’s what being a gearhead is all about; finding that one special machine truly representing the freedom of the automobile – and reveling in the joy of being capable of doing whatever it takes to keep it on the road.
ILLEGITIMUS NON CARBORUNDUM
Let no man be another’s who can be his own. Don’t let the bastards grind you down. The future for gearheads is better and brighter than the best and brightest enthusiasts can imagine.