Keep It Classic

By RJ Bruni with help from Tyler J Dyck

Born in California, my white 1976 Mercedes 450SL with a red leather interior belongs near the ocean. Although the water up north in Vancouver isn’t quite as warm and welcoming, it’s all the same to her. Her name’s Robin, after a sailor in one of my favorite books. And like her namesake, she thrives by the ocean—so that’s where my friends and I took her: Vancouver Island.

The draw of hitting the road is the unknown, and the challenges of the journey are what create the stories that we’ll tell for generations to come. There’s something about living more simply for a few days—cutting down your possessions to the bare essentials—that serves as a reminder of the value of life. Or maybe it’s embracing the challenges that come with living life liberated from routine or schedules and enjoying the freedom of a few days on the road with no firm plans and only what you can fit into the backseat. There are always opportunities for growth and learning; all you need to do is get out and be willing to listen.

I remember the day I got Robin; immediately after signing the purchase papers, I ripped up to my friend's place to show her off. I’d parked her in the driveway, and after retrieving my friend and exchanging hellos, we got in. I turned the key—but nothing happened. It wouldn’t start.

Luckily, in this case, the fix was a quick dial-in of the idle knob to get everything back up and running. Even though the issue hadn’t been a serious one, it was a reminder that an old car is never just a “plug and play” vehicle. You have to learn the car, become familiar with its quirks, and learn to understand and appreciate the craftsmanship of the generations before you.

And there is nothing easy about a few hundred miles in a forty-five-year-old car.

Like all the best road trips, it takes more time and patience when traveling by an older car. Maybe it’s because some classics aren’t the fastest cars or the inherent understanding that one needs to be delicate. But it all ends in the idea that it’s not simply about getting from point A to point B, but instead merely taking in the experience—enjoying the drive, enjoying the journey, and knowing that something will probably go wrong. After all, that’s when the fun starts—that’s when you begin to be forced out of your comfort zone where mandatory growth and learning play out. Classic cars have usually seen quite a few miles in their lifetimes, and sometimes they like to remind you that they need a little bit of special attention.

Keep it maintained. 50% off membership.

Once we reached Vancouver Island, we took our time making our way around its southern tip. To our right, tall, lush forests lined the road, and the scent of cedar persisted, bringing us back to a time when our days were filled with youthful games in backyards. To our left, small Pacific Ocean waves crashed onto rocky beaches and, in the distance, the jagged mountains of the Olympic Peninsula framed our view. To me, they acted as a reminder of the world's vastness I have yet to explore and as a warning against growing complacent in the comforts of home.

We spent our days on the beaches, driving along the winding coastal roads until the skies faded to blue-velvet night. We made camp on forested gravel paths—a new location every day. The uncertainty of where we would lay our heads the next night heightened our gratitude for the next spot, whether it came with ocean views or peaceful wooded clearings. Relationships deepened as we built a sense of community by cooking dinners over the fire and conversing about the important and trivial things, eventually toasting to another successful day on the road. The sound of steaks sizzling in a crackling fire was the soundtrack to many star-filled skies, and when all our energies were exerted, we laid our heads down inside our tent and drifted off to dreams of where the open road would take us the next day.

Often being on the road, especially in a vintage car, many lessons will be thrown at you. They may be lessons of humility, appreciation, or patience. Robin has forced me to keep my plans loose and grow comfortable with learning, and I love that. I welcome it.

Enjoy the drive. 50% off membership.

Baja Backroads: Cave Man in a Van

By J.R. Switchgrass

First / Episode 1