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The Code

Off Camber

James Tate
Apr 1, 2007
0704_sccp_01_z+owning_modified_cars+james Photo 1/1   |   The Code

I don't think there is any industry that gets as bad a rap as ours. When was the last time you took your car in for a service and did not wonder if something was sabotaged? Or maybe you were overcharged? What about if some unnecessary work was done? I suppose this dubious reputation might be justifiable-the ethics of certain people and companies have made the automotive industry notorious for rip-offs and scams.

But having seen as much of the car world as I have, I can tell you there's something else we have in perhaps more force than any other hobby or sport. The first time it became clear to me, I think I was 16, in a supermarket parking lot in Virginia. A brand new 1994 Porsche 911 Turbo 3.6 sat basking in the sun. It was red, with a black interior, and it still had temporary tags where license plates would soon be.

I must have been visibly awestruck as I circled the car. The factory widebody had fenders that dripped off the flanks like wet paint. At the time, there wasn't a cooler car you could walk into the showroom and buy-for me, at least. When the owner rushed out, I was sure he thought I was going to steal it, so I started to walk away. I was shocked when he asked me if I'd like to sit behind the wheel for a few seconds.

It doesn't matter who you are, what you look like, or what your intentions are, car people react to your appreciation like you're a starving kid and they have the sandwich. You see it at car shows, on track days, even during the fiercest of competitions. Despite our amazing competitiveness as car owners, there exists something in our genes that is designed to propagate the love of things automotive. We know we have great machines and we're eager to share them. Not because we like to brag or show off, but because we seem to be programmed to help out the next guy.

Maybe you're a liar, a thief, a criminal. You may have cut off someone in traffic on the way to the race. Perhaps you were a jerk to your significant other before you left for work, or didn't give that homeless guy a buck when you bought your morning coffee. When it's time to talk cars, a switch flips and none of that crap matters.

The most striking spot to witness this rare humanity in an increasingly dog-eat-dog world is motorsport. Even in the most cut-throat of rivalries, everything changes when something serious-really serious-happens. Game faces are off and it's time to get this guy help-as one team serving the bigger picture. When a hush falls over the crowd, teams and rescue personnel band together to deal with challenging situations.

Or how about at a car show and you see something you like? Owners and builders are happy to show their creations, taking hours out of their day to explain every individual aspect of their pride and joy. Can you picture that happening with any other subject, in any other place? I've been to hundreds and hundreds of car shows and dozens of track days. Only once in my life was I blown off by an arrogant Noble M12 owner with stupid-looking shoes. Screw that guy. He doesn't get the code.

Owning a modified car means that the same duty has been bestowed upon us to heed that code. For the most part, it comes naturally when that switch is flipped, but sometimes we have to remind ourselves of the day the tables were turned, and of the first time we were lent a hand. For me, that day was in a parking lot in Virginia in 1994.

James Tate
Associate Senior Editor

By James Tate
57 Articles

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