The Internet of Cars: Automotive Social Media

It used to be that if you as an obsessive car fan were unable to squeeze enough existential meaning out of the monthly car magazines you read, you were reduced to satisfying your insatiable car lust—a shame that should not have been named but probably was, in all its minute and tedious detail, to anyone who would listen—by poring feverishly over classified ads in a local newspaper. Perhaps when you weren’t boring friends, relations, and total strangers with your findings, you reread back numbers of Hemmings Motor News to see what tasty motoring morsels were out there in classified ad land. New, old, and in between, minty prizewinners to abject crust buckets, you didn’t care. These were cars you might buy or more accurately dream about buying.

You can still do all that, it’s true. And you can still talk to yourself about cars while talking to others who don’t care about cars … about cars. But to be fair these are essentially interior monologues, which is to say they are inferior monologues, isolating and lonely, unrequited expressions of fantasy that mostly percolate in your own head before limply fizzling, only to be recycled at a later date by your restless imagination or perhaps to be replaced by another delusional vision of a possible automotive future you think you might theoretically enjoy but which again no one else cares about and which will probably never happen anyway.

Just a few short years ago, if one so afflicted came across a good deal on an interesting or offbeat car, he might be satisfied if he could phone up a similarly inclined buddy and tell her or him all about it. But basically, you and your imaginary quarry were on your own.

Well, thanks to the Internet, that’s not the case anymore. If the online world hasn’t already become a central component of your car addiction, you’re clearly not trying hard enough. Because the sad—or is it happy?—truth is the thing Al Gore invented makes it easier to be a car bore today than it ever was. And you’ll never be alone. As I realized today while engaging in some lively banter on the Morris Minor LCV (for Light Commercial Vehicle) page on Facebook, the Internet truly has made the world smaller, allowing far-flung automotive geeks—joiners, loners, and the saddest closet cases—to come together in a kind of instant call-and-response unit. We’re talking comradely psychic gratification of the permanently available sort, stuff that being a dedicated club member alone—say, an Edsel Ranger Ranger or a regular Studebaker Lark Jamboree attendee—just couldn’t possibly offer.

Whatever you’re into, automotively speaking, even Mitsubishi Twin Sticks, the Internet has your inner car bore covered, along with your outer one. And there’s room for everyone—scholars, pedants, and blowhards, all-knowing Rain Men and flighty voyeurs alike. Single-marque, single-model. Every marque, every model. Design, engineering, tech—there are a million ways in. In short, everything you love to think about can be found on the Internet, somewhere that won’t take you long to find, along with someone who wants to share it.

It’s not just the dedicated sites, either. Car lust has invaded Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Tumblr, and many other popular sharing and pretending to be caring places for letting your hair hang down, including the ones your kids don’t want you to know about. Fortunately for them there aren’t enough hours in the day for a single person to monitor all of them. There are plenty of proper automotive websites one might read, of course, with endless amounts of content. (I recommend AUTOMOBILE’S fine online site, myself.) But, truth to tell, the social media presences of a few like-minded individuals on Facebook alone can waste most of my day, with the added benefit that I am no longer forced to explain to indifferent loved ones why they ought to find my particular interest interesting, because there’s someone who’s twice as into it as me just a mouse click away.

When it came time to find an idler box for my 1970 Rover 3500S, Facebook’s seven different Rover P6 groups were there at the ready. I’d wasted months looking elsewhere, then, in desperation, posted a cry for help. Within an hour, a fellow in England who had been sold one by accident was mailing my new LHD idler box to America.

“Car lust has invaded Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Tumblr, and many other popular sharing and pretending to be caring places.”

But that sounds very practical, and I’m not here to discuss the practical. Where else can you find a page where people post photoshopped images of what British Leyland might have done to update the looks of the Austin Westminster for the modern day? Yeah, that’s right, if there were a British Leyland anymore or, for that matter, any enthusiasm for Austin or Austin Westminsters outside of a very small circle of very strange people. But God save them all, with their lunacy-tinged memories of Britain’s disappeared industrial empire.

I’m here to talk about dreaming of cars you might buy, but the knowledge of being able to find parts makes the hunt so much broader, the dream so much more vivid.

One Facebook friend who posts frequently on the British Saloon Car Club of Canada’s spirited FB group is on the lookout for the earliest Morris Minor ever sold in North America. The fact of its earliness, I’ve learned, will be proved by an imperceptible difference in taillight size and a few other things too dull to recount. Many of his fellow group members are eager to help him, and I wish them well.

One group, whose secrecy its 79 members have been sworn to uphold, invites members to share top Craigslist offerings. Popular recent postings include notice of an unrusted 1952 Ford cab-over stake truck lying fallow in a field in the Midwest, which sparked a thoughtful discussion of its many possibilities. Another invited members to consider a 1962 Heinkel 103A-2 Tourist scooter, and still another a 1983 GMC 3500 Dually. So cool.

Of course, the best thing about automotive social media, self-made, self-regulated, and organically grown, is that it’s not the content being posted by carmakers themselves. “How do you wash your Volkswagen?” a company-sponsored Facebook page asked viewers a while back. Although the ensuing tsunami of off-color responses was amusingly not what VW bargained for, it was for this car nut nothing next to the ads that get called out for me online every day. Rolling testaments to the indefatigable human spirit, like the bullet-riddled, six-door airport limousines and their crack-addled sellers. The Plymouth Crickets with their peeling vinyl roofs and disintegrating interiors that appear to have been made of crudely recycled banana peels. I love the smell of used cars first thing in the morning. And thanks to the Internet, the whole rest of the day, too.

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