I love cars; I have always loved cars. I don't think in terms of stats like horsepower or torque, I think about the design, the feel, and the sound of a well-engineered car. I'm delighted with a thoughtful interior, or a breathtaking grill. Since I first saw one in 1982, my very favorite car is the Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing from the 1950's.
I first drove a car when I was about 4 years old in Montana. My job was to hold our Ford pickup steady as it crept along the fence line and my Dad threw hay to the cows on our farm. I had to strain to see between the steering wheel and the dashboard, but I loved the feeling of the cold steering wheel in my hands and I felt grown up with so much responsibility. I took my job very seriously and only bumped a fence post once or twice. I spent more time with Dad on the tractors, combines, and in trucks than at school. That's why the smell of diesel fuel still makes me feel calm and safe.
As my older brother and I started to gather a collection of Matchbox cars and Hot Wheels, my passion for cars grew. When we got a Matchbox catalog or the JCPenny Toy Book I would read it over and over and over again. The slick pages would be full of ink as we circled each car we wanted (which usually turned out to be every car on the page). Our cars were played with, not displayed at that time. They went in the dirt and snow and one got smashed by a rock. It didn't matter where we were, our guys always had cool cars.
My brother moved on to other toys so I kept all the Matchboxes for my self. My friends didn't know I had a car collection. I played with my dolls and dressed up with my friends just like all the other girls in school. But when I was alone, I set up elaborate neighborhoods and towns centered around my favorite Matchbox cars.
Only my brother knew about my favorite pastime, and he gave me one of the most thoughtful gifts: a balsa wood house with carport and lawn that he designed and built himself. It had a great modern design that would fit well in the pages of Dwell magazine. That house moved with me from one state to another, but the soft wood didn't survive our last move. I know how lucky I am to have a brother who took the time as a 13-year old to build a house just for me.
Before leaving for college, I wrapped up each of my Matchbox cars in brown butcher paper and labeled them. They went into an old white Espirit box and moved with me from Washington to Minnesota to Iowa to California. I didn't open that box until Mercedes-Benz brought back the Gullwing this year. The way I presented the box to my 10-year old son must have resembled the presentation of the crown to a young prince. He was impressed, but not nearly as much as I expected - he actually liked the Hot Wheels.
It turns out I have four Gullwings in my collection, the largest being four inches long. One day I'll get to sit in one. I'm hoping for the iconic silver with red leather interior.
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