A Fine Line
A good friend likes to quip that I'm the only person he knows who once had an engine in her kitchen.
OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration. There's a mudroom that exits directly off the back of the house and for a year there were 360 cubic inches of pushrod Detroit iron on a stand less than five feet from my refrigerator.
But there's a rational explanation. I don't have a garage and the mudroom does double duty as a shop and garden tool repository. And yet, I consider myself a lightweight in comparison to friends who are serious gearheads, my enthusiasm far outweighing any wrenching abilities I may aspire to.
One such friend keeps a small fleet of vintage European cars in his backyard, reasoning that a ready supply of hard-to-find parts is practical and economical. He regularly tours miles south of the border, picking up eBay bargains to add to the collection.
Another has a variety of cars suitable for practically any motorsport discipline, purpose built toys put together from wrecking yard and want-ad findlings. Lovingly restored with rebuilt engines and turbos, slicks or studded tires, roll cages or steel-reinforced bumpers - they find second lives as drag racers, rally cars, ice racers and cone-carvers.
Yet another friend doesn't need to worry about the bogeyman under his bed - the only monster found there is his new supercharger.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly where one crosses that invisible line between enthusiast and fanatic. Certainly, there's nothing wrong with meticulous vehicle care - after all, it's just practical protection of a considerable investment. And a clean, well-maintained vehicle functions better, right?
But where does it cease to be responsible upkeep and start to become an obsession? For instance, wanting clean valve covers probably isn't irrational. Using the dishwasher to get them clean probably is. (It works great, by the way.)
Initially, researching ways to make my vehicle more fuel efficient made good sense. So, replacing the restrictive stock air box with an aftermarket unit guaranteed to improve mileage and horsepower with a gazillion-mile warranty was the first step. After that, it was easy to justify a new stainless exhaust system since, with the engine breathing better, it now needed to expel air more efficiently. And so it goes.
From maximizing performance and increasing comfort level (after all, a lot of time is spent behind the wheel) it's a short step to making a few personalized cosmetic changes.
And from there, the sky is the limit.
One of the defining factors that separates enthusiast from mere prideful owner is rims. No average daily driver thinks twice about the wheels on their car. But a car buff will flip through the rim vendors section of their favourite magazine with as much wistful longing as a bride with a Tiffany's catalogue.
Perhaps it's more than ironic that the same rule of thumb seems to hold for those coveted polished circles as with the traditional gold band: roughly a couple of months' pay.
Looking at it that way, it seems logical enough that my newly purchased and much longed-for billet rims spent their first winter stacked in the living room.
Most of my friends seemed to think they looked pretty good there.