Classic Cars, Jack Kerouac, and 3D Printing

It probably wasn’t the best idea but I had recently reread Kerouac’s On the Road and was a bit taken with it. I was working as a bar tender at the time and mentioned the idea to one of my regulars, who I’ll call Blenn. He was a forty something divorcee life, health and annuities salesman who seemed like he didn’t quite know what to do with himself besides spending his time at the bar drinking Punishers, quadruple Jack and Cokes, chasing women, and reliving the ‘glory days’. Although he was one of my favorite regulars I should have known better than to go on a road trip with him as he had a running tab that always had several hundred dollars on it.

“What’s that Josh Dog?”(He used dog ironically and constantly played on his unhip forty something insurance salesman persona which made him hip)

“Oh I bought a 1965 show condition Karmann Ghia down in Texas. I’m flying down next week to pick it up and drive it back. My buddy Ronnie was supposed to go with me but he sold me down the river for a woman.” 

“Woahh. Woah I am a great copilot! I am in man! I need to get out of town for a minute, feel the wind in preverbal wind in the old thinning hair.”

“Um Yeah I guess so.”

Blenn insisted that we didn’t need to take the train to the airport, that his friend would be more than happy to give us a ride. Blenn’s friend pulled up in a rusted out Mazda pickup and I squeezed into the small cab between Blenn and his friend, who looked like some kind of Norse Horseman on crack. The sinking feeling I had when I saw the Mazada and the Norse Horseman increased tenfold when the Norse Horseman and Blenn began passing a marijuana pipe back and forth. I am not opposed to marijuana, in fact I think marijuana should be legal but I’m not into smoking and asked them to roll down the windows to which the Norse Horseman took great offense.

“What!? Are you some sort of narc? Blenn is this guy a narc or what? I’ll pull over and let him out right now I swear to Christ! I don’t do the narc thing bro. Hit the pipe.”

Blenn was able to talk the NHM down but I felt queasy, both from the cab full of marijuana smoke and the bad vibes the NHM was giving out. We arrived out the airport and Blenn made a bee-line for the airport bar. He concocted fake identities for us to use at the bar. We were employed by a rich oil sheik who had recently developed a penchant for classic cars and were hunting down a Shelby Cobra for him. “Ah couldn’t we just be ourselves, Blenn?”

 “No no this will be way more fun.”

We sat there for several rounds of drinks while Blenn chatted up two women sitting next to us. I tried to ignore them, nodding and grunting when Blenn asked me to chime in. He came away with one of their numbers.

“But you can’t contact them now I mean you gave them that ridiculous story.”

 “Well I’ll just have to keep it going.” Blenn continued to down drinks at a rapid fire pace on the plane and came away with an orange haired fifty something stewardess’s number. We took a cab to pick up the car and everything seemed fine until Blenn asked me to stop a convenience store so he could grab some ‘road sodas’. I hadn’t realized from my interaction with him at the bar that he was a full blown full time booze hound. I thought it was something he did on the weekends or after work once in a while. He was insistent that we stop in New Orleans and didn’t seem to understand that the city was still recovering from Hurricane Katrina so I suggested maybe a stop in Memphis would be better. “Look Blenn I know it’s not New Orleans but you can cut loose on Beal Street ok?”

Blenn had been off beer for a few hours before it was his turn to drive, one of the main reasons he was along on the trip. It was dark as we zipped along a highway somewhere in North Texas when I dozed off. I was jarred awake by a loud crash and a thump thump thumping sometime later. I shot a panicked look at Blenn and noticed an open tall boy between his legs.

“Oh shit it just jumped out of nowhere I swear!” He had veered off the side of the road and run over a blown out truck tire which was then caught in the wheel well. I took over the controls and we limped into Memphis with a shuddering in the right front wheel that ran all the way up into the steering column. Immediately upon checking into our hotel Blenn hit the streets to sample the nightlife. I left him when he started asking random patrons in bars along Beal Street where he could cop some weed and was introduced to a shady character who claimed to be the body guard of the mayor. We had to wait in Memphis for several days while the parts we needed were procured.

Blenn continued his binge drinking all the way back to Philadelphia and to make matters worse it was December and the heater conked out on us. We arrived home weary each wearing four layers of Wal-Mart sweatshirts topped with a pair of cold weather overalls. It was the last time I hung out with one of the regulars outside of the bar.

The car was a blast and a real head turner but it was also a forty year old car on which things were constantly breaking and there was only one shop in town that could do the work properly and get the correct parts. I decided to sell it but often miss the car and find myself regretting the decision especially now that it’s very possible in the not too distant future we will be able to print out any parts we need at our neighborhood garage.

There are already high end shops that have the ability to laser scan a complete car and then 3-d print any piece of that car, or the whole car if it need be. Currently the technology is used as an insurance policy on priceless cars but one can only imagine what this technology hold for the future. An article in Popular Mechanics pointed out that these are different from kit cars as they are exact clones of the original, flaws and all.

I’ve got three classic cars that I lust after on a weekly basis, the Austin Healy 3000, Jaguar Mk2, and Eagle E-type, basically a Jaguar E-type as it might look if they were still produced. Now the Austin Healy 3000 or the Jaguar Mk2 might be attainable but, for what I could afford, they definitely wouldn’t be show quality and would probably require a ton of work to get looking and running in top form. The last price quote I saw for an Eagle E-type was $500,000 not even remotely in my price range. But that may change in the future when cars can be scanned, downloaded, printed, and assembled. It will be interesting to see the ramifications of 3-d printing not only on the classic car industry but on the auto industry as a whole in the next fifty years.  

Columnist Joshua Lorenzo Newett is a novelist, entrepreneur, and English professor at The Korean Naval Academy in Jinhae, South Korea. Saving Bill Murray, his second novel, was recently published here.

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