Sandy on Assignment:
What is it about cars…

April 24, 2013 Comments (2)

…that makes us smile?

By Sandy Cotterman, Motorsports Enthusiast

Technically, I wasn’t on assignment while sitting in Panera having coffee the other day, when I just happened to glance out the window to see a woman snapping a photo of the back end of my car with her iPad… all smiles. It made me smile just to watch her have so much fun. I’m pretty sure my cars are on the most photographed list of cars on the road, for whatever reason. Toll booth cameras love them. Not a day goes by when I’m either sitting at a light or stuck in traffic that I look in my rearview mirror and see someone taking a picture… all smiles.

Double the pleasure!

Double the pleasure!

When I head off to car events, my car is shiny... and knock-you-over red. The color was not my choice. The fact that I could get my dream car, a convertible (forget the make and model, because I really didn’t know much, OK anything, about cars four years ago) was what counted. All I knew was that I had always wanted a top-down two-seater car. The short version to the story is that I now have twin Jaguars, a 2000 XKR and a 2004 XK8… identical, except for the supercharging look. Don’t ask. I’m female and we have two of everything.  

The smile factor came the very first year I purchased the cars. After the British Invasion, in Stowe, Vermont, the “Brit Boys” as they are known to me (none of whom are British, but all own something British) and I were having drinks with the event organizer, Michael Gaetano. I was interested in knowing more about the “People’s Choice Awards.” I was blunt in asking, “How do I get one?” You need a gimmick to catch people’s attention, Michael encouraged… candy by the car… anything to make them stop, look, and vote for your car. That same summer I actually got to see the car belonging to the woman I met at my first Daytona 24, Miss Amy. Her car has a license plate to match her name! How cool is that, I thought. I put two and two together and came up with the smile factor for my cars, which has been a lot of fun ever since!

Seeing the Brit Boys and their cars always makes me smile.

Seeing the “Brit Boys” and their cars always makes me smile.

So what is my smile factor? I’m a Jag Girl, with license plates to prove it. I have a female mechanic who works under the cars in red stiletto heels. Getting a visual? It’s like watching Candid Camera or Funniest Home Videos, depending on where you fall in generations. At car events I get a kick out of spectators walking by the car then turning back for a double take… all smiles.  

Everyone smiles at JANE the mechanic.

Everyone smiles at JANE the mechanic.

All this got me thinking. What draws my attention to a particular car? It’s common sense that it’s gut reaction and the WOW factor. When I’m judging a Concours, it’s first impressions, along with a set of very specific criteria. I decided to go back into my photo gallery of images taken over the past three years… thousands of them… to see what caught my eye. Still not sure I nailed my own tastes, I trekked off to a Festival of Speed in St. Petersburg, then a couple of cars and coffees, and finally a few hours watching the Speed and Velocity channels to test my gut reaction.  

It’s not always the perfect Concours car that strikes us, although it may. Maybe it’s something that triggers memories; maybe it is the uniqueness of this art form, or maybe it’s just a feeling we get inside. I watch guys peering under the bonnets, salivating at engines, carburetors, and mazes of wires! Most car guys I know have memories of tinkering on a car during high school, or rebuilding an engine with their dad, or secretly drag racing with friends down straightaways.  

Xenis, Jacques Saoutchik’s 1938 Hispano-Suiza coachwork turns heads.

“Xenis”, Jacques Saoutchik’s 1938 Hispano-Suiza coachwork turns heads.

The sleek Bertone concept car caught everyone’s attention at Concorso Italiano 2012.

The sleek Bertone concept car caught everyone’s attention at Concorso Italiano 2012.

After a little research I discovered my trigger… speed. My smile comes from within when I see racecars… and racecar drivers… seriously! It comes with an adrenaline rush either imagining what it would be like to race, or just watching the cars race. It must be innate, because I’m mesmerized at tracks. I think it’s a combination, the technology of the car and the skill of the driver. My preference? I like the “stealth”’ look, although if it races, I pretty much smile! We already know Porsche 911s make my heart pitter patter. And I’m smitten with vintage race cars, even the young 50-60 year olds!

Le Mans keeps me mesmerized.

Le Mans keeps me mesmerized.

Pagani at The Quail topped off my day.

Pagani at The Quail topped off my day.

This photo always makes me smile inside. John Fitch, Lime Rock Historics, 2011.

This photo always makes me smile inside. John Fitch, Lime Rock Historics, 2011.

The curves of European classic cars also strike my fancy… a front or back end with personality. Sleek lines draw a sophisticated smile and raised eyebrow. Porsche 356s and Mercedes 300 SLs stop me in my tracks. Although I’m not a big fan of American muscle cars, probably because I lived through that era, my eyes widen at the sight of Americana when it comes to Cords, Auburns, and Duesenbergs. Seeing what’s right on a car… authenticity… gets a big nod.

Who can resist smiling at chubby cheeks on this 1946 Triumph 1800 Roadster.

Who can resist smiling at chubby cheeks on this 1946 Triumph 1800 Roadster.

Just picture this 1932 Duesenberg driving through middle America, in the day.

Just picture this 1932 Duesenberg driving through middle America, in the day.

Picture perfect! The 1962 Porsche 356 B Super Cabriolet at the St. Michael’s Concours 2012.

Picture perfect! The 1962 Porsche 356 B Super Cabriolet at the St. Michael’s Concours 2012.

At the end of the day I believe it’s the pleasure that cars give those who appreciate them, and that pleasure is in the eyes of the beholder.   

What is it about cars that makes you smile? I’d love to know!

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Comments (2)

  1. Bob Carolan:
    Apr 24, 2013 at 06:11 PM

    Last year, I met Dennise McCluggage at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum. Having recalled her writings, I asked her a question. "Is it true that you once owned a Rover named dog"? She was thrilled that I had remembered. While living on a steep hill in ski country, Dennise bought a Land Rover. There weren't a lot of choices for 4WD in those days. At the DMV she got a vanity plate. It was "DOG". The idea was to be able to tell people that she had a Rover named dog. Now that's how to elicit a smile.

  2. Keith Carlson:
    Apr 26, 2013 at 05:43 PM

    June '56 at an early Elkhart race, fell in love with the new-to-US D-type, which at day's end was driven up the lawn near the porch of the inn everyone stayed in, being so early and informal. At one point the driver set his G&T on the lid over the passenger side, needing both hands to describe something, and I decided "someday I'm going to have a D-type and put MY G&T down on the lid".
    The very good reproduction that I've run the past 13 years is as close as I'll ever get, but it was quite enjoyable to tell that story to Fitch at Lime Rock some years ago. Then, and that long-ago first time, and the other times I was lucky to chat with him, always brought a smile.
    Sandy, you looked pretty happy to be with him as well. Another great post by you, tks!


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