The Truth About Glitter

(I originally published this article in the March 1987 MSRA “Linechaser”. 20-odd years later I still think it’s valid.)

Given the recent discussion about the MSRA’s “Car of the Year” voting, I feel the need to throw in my own views on the awards our cars bring us.

Face it. The MSRA “Car of the Year” selection game, regardless of how you currently play it, should be one of “favorites” rather than “bests”. You vote for a car that you, yourself, would most like to own. Use that guideline and all this manufactured, superficial bickering goes away. But that is neither here nor there. In the end, awards are always accepted with gratitude. They’re long-cherished by those who receive them and longed-for by those who don’t.  So this is for those of us whose cars will never be nominated for MSRA “Car of the Year”. I’d like to think it might help us keep our perspective on awards.

If I asked you to describe an award-winning car, how would you go about it? Where would you start? It’s not easy to pin down.  And as you’re racking your brains trying to figure it out, do you ever think about your own car? Does your pride and joy fit that description? Think about it.  For every person who sees his/her own car as an award winner, there are twenty others who don’t. Maybe…. just maybe… they’re wrong.

Webster’s says an award is “something bestowed for performance or quality”. And every time we roll our cars out of the garage no matter where we go or what we’re doing we are, in a sense, performing.  Awards for those performances come in many forms. The shiny ones are lined up like chattel on shelves in family rooms, basements and garages all over the country. They’re great to have, like topping on ice cream. Though we want them, lots of us will never see them and our wives will never complain about having to dust them. But you don’t need that kind of hardware to own a trophy-winning car. The real awards are found elsewhere.

The huge task of building a car in itself consists of a whole string of awards. One of the best might be the feeling of accomplishment you have after who knows how long building, you twist the key and the engine fires for the first time. Even lacking fundamentals like a full body shell and interior, you slowly guide this crackling monster out of the garage and down the street under its own power. And the brakes work!  Or, how about the first time you take the driveable car to an event or cruise night and someone with a “trophy-winning” car compliments you on yours?

Big trophies are awarded by little kids who watch from passing yards, wide-eyed and waving as you roll by. Honorable mentions are given by the adults with them. Older people give themselves points for once having had a car “just like that one”… but somehow those points wind up in your column. Further seals of approval are given by youngsters who, while surveying our cars, leave nose-and-finger-shaped smudges on the windows as they attempt to peer inside. (Some of us have also found that little kids instinctively know that God and Henry Ford made running boards so that little kids could stand on them to see inside old cars!)

Truth is, we all have award-winning cars. Whatever we do with our cars has its own reward – from the thumbs-up of passers by and the appreciative eyes of people who remember the good times they had with a car like yours, to the oldsters who don’t remember the windows being so small. We’ve just helped make someone else’s day a little more fun by simply being in the right place at the right time with our hot rods. And every now and then, some of us do get a little tangible piece of glitter: a piece of shiny plastic and metal as a reward for our efforts and fun. Bravo! I’m all for it. But as far as I’m concerned, if I had to clean house right now I know which awards I could stand to give up…..   and which ones I never will.

How about you?

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