Science shows that cutting miles traveled by personal automobile is far more effective at reducing carbon than improving gas mileage. A car entirely unsuitable for daily transportation does just that. Cruising in a hot rod on occasional spirited jaunts is like savoring a real chocolate-chip cookie instead of gorging on a box of low-fats. A little bit won't hurt you. And it's good for the soul.
Giving up wheels as daily transportation may seem daunting, but kicking the habit is simple, at least in the city, where access to buses, subways, cabs, and bike paths make car ownership a sign of supreme laziness. On Saturdays, I ride my Trek 2.5 miles to Whole Foods and ferry groceries home in a large hiking backpack. Canned food and other heavy items go on the bottom. Tomatoes and peaches go on top. When it rains or snows, I take the bus.
If this sounds like a hassle, consider my friends with cars—their parking tickets, wheel boots, smashed windows, broken mirrors, and stolen goods. City driving is expensive, frustrating, and dirty. Yet even the most progressive Americans continue to pay the car tax for wheels they do not love.
In Risky Business, Tom Cruise's character comes of age with the help of a beautiful prostitute and a stunning car. For this rural preteen, the shark-nosed Porsche 928 that winds up in Lake Michigan was nearly as exotic as Rebecca De Mornay. And just as far out of reach. In 1983, a base model Porsche 928 cost nearly $40,000, the price of a nice house in my town.
A quarter-century later, however, many former dream cars, the Porsche 928 included, have dropped to the price of a good used minivan. Superb 928s now go for $10,000. A decent example costs half that. When something breaks, however, the fix will be expensive, if you can find a mechanic who remembers how to work on something so old. The struggle to keep a sports car as a daily driver has put many owners smack in the seat of a Hyundai. Classic cars are playthings, not transportation.
Some guys have both. They commute in air-conditioned cocoons with automatic transmissions and keep weekend convertibles under covers in the garage. Most of us, however, have to choose. And most of us make the wrong choice. When my Porsche fails, I'll rip it apart and fix it. If it sits immobile for a year, I'll get to work the way I always do—by train.
After two and a half years, my hot rod account holds $15,000. I should probably throw the money down on the S&P 500 or pay off my student loans. Instead, I've test-driven vintage Porsches across the mid-Atlantic, spent hours on the phone with owners as far away as Washington state, and missed sleep while trolling the Internet for "the one."
Sprinting away from the city in the 1966, vent window cracked, it's decision time. The car is the perfect Porsche for the $16,000 the owner is asking. But that's cheap for the model, and for good reason. A paint blister above the right rear fender exposes bad bodywork. Rust is bubbling up below the doors. Worse yet, the owner doesn't know how many miles are on the rebuilt engine.
It's a beautiful—but deeply flawed—version of my dream car. I pull the car into a subdivision, park, and take the passenger seat. The owner gives me a ride back to the subway. The hot rod fund continues to grow.