Why Some People Buy Their Dream Cars, But Never Drive Them: A Theory

Ever wondered why people buy aspirational new cars, only to let them sit for decades? I did too—until my own life taught me how it can happen.

byJames Gilboy|
QOTD photo


Everyone who's window-shopped car auction sites has seen their share of classics with glistening paints and low miles, but no apparent reason for having been treated like unicorns. Take as an example the 1972 Chevrolet Corvette C3 on Bring A Trailer right now—it's nothing all that special as Corvettes go, but it was preserved like a C2 L88, covering just 3,286 miles in 45 years. Who does this, and why? Who makes what many would consider a landmark car purchase only to drive it fewer miles each year than they walk on their two feet?

Stories of barn finds offer plenty of explanations as to how this can happen; owners can squirrel their cars away due to medical problems, turn them into never-complete projects, worry about ruining them, mistake them for investments, and so on. But I'd like to posit one more possibility, one I rarely see discussed in car culture, much less hobbyist spheres in general: The holes pastimes can fill in our social lives.

1972 Chevrolet Corvette C3, via Bring A Trailer

I bring this up having observed how many of my interests over the years have been kindled by delight in the subject itself, then sustained by the community it made me a part of. This might sound funny to those of you who don't feel like they're just passing as socially functional, but dang, a little common ground goes a long way toward forming and maintaining relationships with other people, even if they're not the types you thought you'd get along with.

At different times in my life, I've fraternized with communities surrounding everything from a nostalgic, out-of-print naval tabletop game, to airsoft—glad to see you appreciate Jon Bois too, Jarek. But as my interest in what drew me to these people faltered, so did my relationships with them. I was always more what they call a chairsofter, having played the sport two, maybe three times ever, and while my collection of styrene warships and sea monsters numbers in the hundreds, the number of games I've played with them I could count on two hands.

Pirates of the Revolution 077 Boston, James Gilboy

And this is what I think happens to some people who buy cars like the Corvette I opened with. They, like me, may have a void in their social lives they patch with their latest fixation, often at unreasonable cost. I spent hundreds as a shallow-pocketed teenager on airsoft gear, and easily more than a grand on those silly little punch-out ships. To someone with a hole in their heart, a mild interest in cars, and many thousands just lying around, a new Corvette probably sounds like just the thing to fix their problems.

But simply buying things never is, and when fleeting passion for a car—whose real role was to serve as a social conduit—flares out, it can be reflected in its odometer. It stays in the garage, getting waxed in preparation for car shows, where it lights up as a beacon signaling their desire for acknowledgment; to simply fit in for once.

Corvette row at Cars & Coffee in Lafayette, Colorado in 2019, James Gilboy

This is a scenario that can only explain a small proportion of enthusiast car owners out there, but it's one we should acknowledge before forgetting our compassion, and going all indignant Wojak on people who don't cruise, race, or rock-crawl like us. Remember, life isn't a competition to see who can cover the most miles—it's more an exercise in finding the right people to cover them with.

Got a tip or question for the author? You can reach them here: james@thedrive.com