Falling Back in Love With Cars Was as Simple as Hooning Beaters With Good Friends

·6 min read
Photo credit: Illustration by Adam Hale
Photo credit: Illustration by Adam Hale

A funny thing happens over the course of a career writing about cars. You never quite fall out of love with the things, but it's hard to maintain the same enthusiasm that drew you to the job in the first place.

I imagine that's the same for any profession; Doctors become fatigued by the endless patients in faceless rooms; Mechanics spend hours at the shop without much time to wrench on their own projects; Even porn stars must hit the snooze button some mornings.

Welcome to Kinardi Line, mouthpiece of the free world’s most self-loathing auto writer. Home to questionable takes, reviews, and shitbox worship.

But then I took a vacation. Not the kind where you're checking in on Slack from the hotel toilet. A real vacation. And of course, this one had cars. The recipe was dead simple: two nights, a few good friends, a campsite next to moving water, a good bottle of rye whiskey.

And, like all the highest highs in my life, cars intertwined the story.

The first car was assembled lovingly by R&T's former editor-at-large Sam Smith. It's a roundie BMW 2002, rescued from well past death's doorstep, and wrenched to life by Sam and a group of his friends in Chicago. I stopped by Chicago once and watched Sam's pal weld in tubing where the 2002's rocker had rotted away. I remember looking through the floor pan at the man, laid on his back and chomping at a hoagie as he stitched the tubes together. That about sums up the car (to say nothing of its owner).

Zach Bowman, R&T's former senior editor, brought out his '67 Mustang. It's black now, but in the seams where body panels rub together, you can see the layers of paint laid by previous owners, colors stacked against one another like the rings of some great jawbreaker. Zach swapped the car's inline-six for a 302 cu-in. V-8, and paired it to a T-5 transmission. The car rides on cut springs, which Zach's quick to remind you, "is exactly how Carroll Shelby did it." There's even side pipes.

Photo credit: Kyle Kinard
Photo credit: Kyle Kinard

We camped in East Tennessee's hill country, within striking distance of Virginia and its roads. That meant a trip up the infamous Tail of the Dragon and the less-famous but equally joyous Cherohala Skyway. These are some of the best driving roads on earth, to say nothing of the region's scenic beauty and the warmth of its people. If you're here reading the site (which you clearly are), pen this trip onto your calendar for the early Fall.

In the shivering early mornings we made coffee from a French press and stood in down coats while the grille sizzled to life. At night we drew close to the campfire and worked hard at our hangovers and laughed at a thousand stupid jokes.

Between morning and night, we simply drove.

The two cars couldn't have felt more different. The 2002 tii, powered by a fuel-injected masterpiece from BMW's golden era, is both precise and eager. Despite looking piecemeal, the car felt whole and balanced, a manifestation of its owner's restless tendency to tinker with and perfect every detail. The Mustang was loud and loose, a clapping thundercloud of some suave ancient anger. Despite the gap in temperament, the two Sixties cars fell into a dead heat on those backroads, limited by horsepower, brakes, and tire compounds that sacrifice performance for fun. Both cars were driven at the edge of their talents and sometimes beyond. We rarely broke the posted speed limit.

Photo credit: Kyle Kinard
Photo credit: Kyle Kinard

After an hour in the Mustang, it occurred to me that modern supercars pale in comparison, so long as you're chasing fun instead of raw speed. That whole "slow car fast" mantra rings truer than ever if you ask me. Even better if your slow car has holes for floorboards and a four-digit insurance write-off, like the vehicles we shared.

Two cars for four drivers was a perfect recipe too. By virtue of splitting driving duties, I never felt fatigued, despite hundreds of miles on the road. Bouncing between the BMW and 'Stang kept the conversation flowing and fresh. We made leisurely stops for meals and often sat outside so we could soak up sunshine and relish views of the two cars.

The whole trip felt like those soaring moments at a concert when the band goes silent and the crowd is left belting out the chorus in unison. For a few days, the whole universe grinned. It was all so easy, no plan except to enjoy the cars and the company. There was not a bar of cell signal for a hundred-fifty miles and life was better for it.

Photo credit: Kyle Kinard
Photo credit: Kyle Kinard

There's not much point to this column (and if you've read any of the others, you may recognize that as a core tenet of the Kinardi Line), except to say that if you've found life numb over the past couple years, especially when it comes to your enjoying your passions, I hear you.

Covid shrunk my work into a space bound by four walls, and I didn't realize how much I needed a reset until I got one. That doesn't have to cost much or be very involved. If you can spare a weekend and fill up your gas tank a couple times (and Lord knows we're not all that lucky), it can be as simple as a rented campsite, friends, and some good backroads. Take a simple car along, something without Car Play or a 650-horsepower twin-turbo flat-six. Something with tall sidewalls and a million treadwear so you can dive full bore into hairpins and row up three gears at full attack on the way out.

We need more slow and simple these days. Since I got back from the trip, it has never felt more clear to me why I love cars, why they move me emotionally, and how capable and transportive their powers truly are.

It wasn't supercars that brought community and friendship to my life. They were always aspirational things, more of a carrot to keep my nose stuck in a textbook than anything tangible. And even when I think back on my career highs at this magazine — driving the McLaren F1 at Lime Rock, the Pagani Zonda in Tuscany, the Ferrari Superfast down I-90 — it's rarely the thrill of speed that springs to mind, but the people I shared those experiences with.

In that respect, it's not so much about which car you take along — supercar or shitbox — but the person riding shotgun.

It's my aim to remember why I love cars so much in the first place, to rekindle the fire more often, and allow that excitement back to my work. If your enthusiasm for cars has felt dulled — or your enthusiasm for anything in life — this is your permission slip to take back the joy.

It's a hell of a lot easier than you think.

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