Although philistines may claim that the only reason some Harvard men develop a fervor for old cars is that they can't afford a new one, devotee owners stoutly maintain that the time-mellowed heaps which rest in sagging splendor on the side streets from the Yard to the river are symbols of an all but vanished era of gracious living.
Where today, for example, could one find a conveyance with the elaborate coach-work of a pre-World War I Rolls Royee? Perched high on the radiator is a charming piece of statnary, a slender, lightly dressed young female--Psyche (famed of White Rock labels, myth, and poetry), the Rolls mascot emblem.
In contrast the designs on the front of modern cars just haven't got a thing.
Then there's the matter of headlights. The modern car has a small, self-contained unit that will fit anything from a Jeep to a Cadillao 75. Among older cars class and headlight size go together. When one gets into the higher grade of vehicles the huge lenses and reflectors in their polished housing look like something borrowed from a light cruiser. No mistaking the proles for their betters, even at night.
When you get inside and start looking at details the superiority of the old car becomes apparent. Although many of the choicest specimens to be seen around the university lack a self-starter, it must be admitted that this device has its merits. However, the simplified dashboard of a modern car can only excite a feeling of contempt in the mind of a true old car fancier.
An automobile of the early 'thirties will have twice as many switches, dials, levers, and other playthings as a modern car. In addition, on the better cars the instruments have not been slicked over into a scheme of Chromium plated vulgarity. They look like instruments. They are scaled off in standard units. Their readings mean something.
The changing styles in auto body types has led to the elimination of many choice designs which are still to be found among older cars. The windshield that could be opened is still a fond hope of many, but what about such details as a special compartment to hold golf clubs, such as is found in Packards of the early thirties? The rumble seat, famed in Americana, is now vanished with the cigar store Indian, and the touring car, fabled in our native lore, has folded its side curtains and drifted off into the oblivion of the junk yard, except for a few still kept running by aficianados.
However, not all Harvard men choose their cars exclusively with the desire for fresh air in mind. The popularity of hearses is perennial, and for good reason. Custom built on the best large-car chassis, a hearse rarely piles up more than fifty or sixty thousand miles on trips to the graveyard and back before the body style becomes outmoded, and since the re-sale market is not large, a hearse in excellent condition can usually be acquired rather cheaply.
Suitably adapted to one's way of life, the rear compartment can be used for hauling around books and other impedimenta, or with the addition of camp chairs, a folding bed, and a bar, a hearse can carry the super-station wagon motif into the rolling country club stage.
Tobacco Road Set
An important minority among old car lovers can best be described as the "tobacco road set." These individuals collect Model T Fords and like vehicles which must be searched out with care in rural areas. Although it is possible that certain members of this group attempt to carry Dogpatch mores into other areas of behavior as well, the majority appear to be otherwise normal and their choice in cars can be laid to the misdirected appeal of the exotic.
In contrast, the F. Scott Fitzgerald set seem intent on perpetuating the "twenties" and their attempts to revive the raccoon coat, hip-flask, Stutz Beareat era, although interesting as social history, seem to be destined for eventual frustration due to moths and the lack of spare parts.
Closely allied to these collectors are those who prefer the more functional design of older cars to the over decorated, "streamlined" types that have become more common in later years. Those who like simple lines and no chromium plated garbage have a hard time finding a new car with a design they can admire.
Perennial on College Scene
Whatever the reasons for their choice, however, the old car enthusiasis seem a perennial part of the Harvard scene, and though styles may change, the yen goes on forever. If one comes back to Cambridge in 1971, chances are a few '51 oars will be seen creeping around the Quincy Square traffic circle and growing mellower by the houses.