Apropos of Nothing: Concept Car Shopping
An Editorial by Jamie Beckett

My first car was a 1963 Ford Falcon. It was white, had two doors, plastic seat covers, a three-speed manual transmission, and a cracked exhaust manifold. When it went down the highway it made approximately the same amount of noise as a rocket being launched from the Cape.

I bought it from my roommate, Rich. He charged me $25. I was 17 years old.

Back then I was dumb enough that I didn’t realize there was paperwork involved in the sale of a vehicle. Somehow, I thought it was a simple exchange of cash from one party to another. I was wrong, of course. Which is how I woke up one morning to find my car gone. My roommate had sold it to someone else, only a few days after he’d sold it to me.

Rich is a successful stock broker now. Selling the same item repeatedly to different clients comes naturally to him. Well done, old friend. Well done, indeed.

Recently, I’ve been car shopping again. My current mode of transportation is more than a decade old, well worn, and showing signs that it might, it just might, opt for a side-of-the-road retirement package in the very near future. In an attempt to avoid a very unpleasant “Uh, oh” moment in the coming days — I’ve started looking at my new car options.

Armed with significantly more brain power, life experience, and an improved credit rating, I set off on my mission to buy. Immediately, I realized there was a problem. A big one.

I’m too old and short on time to want a practical car anymore. Forget the cost, fuel economy, automotive press reviews, or what the pros at J.D. Power think about it — I want something cool and eye-catching. I want a car so astounding it makes me look like Steve McQueen just because I’m sitting in it. I want — a concept car.

Let’s face it, nobody is going to get excited to see a bald, bearded, wide-bellied, old dude walking up to their table at the local al fresco eatery. That’s me. And yes, the truth hurts. A little bit, anyway.

Now imagine if I were to drive up in a sleek, new-fangled concept car. Something bright and colorful that glowed like one of George Lucas’ light sabers. It would be sleek and low, but with amazing wrap around windows and a moonroof that ran from the front bumper to the back. It’s revolutionary suspension system would grip the road as if it were nailed down, and the powerplant would emit exhaust fumes that smell like cotton candy.

Yeah, that’s the car I want.

I’ve seen what I’m looking for. On paper, anyway. Or as full-scale clay models on a raised platform at the big car shows. I fell in love when them when I was a wee lad.

In the 1960s the concept cars were all sharp and angular. Power and visual appeal were what it was all about. The idea was to create the illusion that a man could look upon these cars and envision himself sitting in the drivers seat. A fellow would be instantly transformed into James Bond if he could sit in that car, even if he was a plumber from New Jersey in real life.

Today concept cars are rounded and aerodynamic. They’re light and powerful, but run on clean power sources like electricity, or fuel cell technology, or compressed air. The windows are heavily tinted. Blacked out, almost. And the ergonomically perfect seating cradles the driver like a baby in his (or her) mother’s arms.

They’re perfect. Exactly what I want. What I need. What I’m searching high and low to find and take home with me as my new daily driver. There are only two problems. Just two. And they are these…

Problem one is, concept cars don’t really exist. They’re just ideas on paper, or high-res graphic representations of a designers weirdest idea, or a plastic shell with no engine. Problem two is, my wife won’t let me buy one.

I share all this with you so you’ll know, if you see me driving a mini van, or a small SUV that looks about as exciting as dry white toast; in my head, I’m piloting a sleek, modern, concept car made of plastic, chromium alloy, and my wildest dreams. I am headed out on an amazing adventure that will astound friends and fans alike. I just have to make a quick stop at Publix on the way, and maybe pick up my wife at the hairdresser. But after that…