Why we want the cars we couldn’t have | Column

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Nov 11, 2021 | Column | Posted in Columns | From the Nov. 2021 issue | Never miss an article

What did I say to my wife yesterday? We need less stuff in our house.

What did I do today? Bought another camera. 

Do I need another camera? No, we have a house full of them, from those hundred-year-old folding models with the cloth bellows to today’s high-tech digital workhorses.

So why did I buy another camera? To experience a legendary piece of equipment that at one point sat totally beyond my means. 

I have always shot Canon cameras because that’s what my dad has always used. Like father, like son, right? 

In 1971, Canon launched its first real professional model. It was simply called the F-1, and this all-manual brick of a camera was designed to go anywhere under any conditions, literally from the Olympics to the battlefield.

Canon rated the camera’s shutter for 100,000 cycles and said that you could use it in conditions south of 0 degrees. Another promise to pro photographers: It would stay in production unchanged for 10 years, so no worries about gear going out of date. And what did Canon do after those 10 years? It released a similar yet totally updated F-1 that, again, would remain in production for a decade.

This model carried an appropriate cost, too. In 1973, a new Honda Civic stickered around $2000. At the same time, you could buy a Canon F-1 with a short lens for about $600–that’s more than $3600 in today’s dollars. Even when I started shooting in the ’80s, such gear fell well beyond my budget. 

Fast-forward to today, and film photography is hip again. We even have a custom film lab not 5 minutes from my house, and we don’t even live in a real city (sorry not sorry). 

Lately, I have been thinking about getting back into film. I have all of these old cameras–including the Canon A-1 that got me through school–so why not experience them once again? 

I admit, digital makes too much sense. You take the photo and then immediately upload it for the world to see. No wait, no expense. 

But it’s not quite the same. Maybe it’s the difference between clicking an icon to play an audio file versus firing up the turntable. 

I recently wondered, how much would it cost to go back in time and experience Canon’s legend? How do those 10,000 parts come together to produce that satisfying click?

Well, as my eBay history shows, you can now buy an F-1 for $217.44 with free shipping. It’s not a perfect example–the seller, one of the biggest names in used gear, labels its condition as Bargain: “70 to 79 percent of original condition and priced to sell.”

That’s fine. I like things that have a story to tell. Again, it’s all about the experience. 

Why today’s interest in older cars–older as in from the ’80s and ’90s? The experience. Maybe you wanted one back in the day and couldn’t afford it, or perhaps you’d like to see what it’s like to turn back the clock a bit. 

Fortunately, those days gave us some of the coolest cars. We were there, and I have been lucky to own some of the day’s greatest hits–machines sporting model designations like Si, SE-R and GTI. 

Are those cars fast by today’s standards? No, not really. A new minivan is likely quicker. Anything EV would destroy them. 

But those older cars have an appeal that goes beyond numbers. They’re simple, fun and light on their feet as they’re not weighted down with too much extra gear. Thin roof pillars and low beltlines deliver airy cockpits. Looking back, even something that seemed mundane at the time, like a flip-up-headlight Accord, now has a retro coolness thanks to the same traits. 

And I totally get it. Everything sitting in our garage can be tied together with a simple theme: cars I couldn’t have back in the day. 

My advice for those disenchanted by the rising prices in that segment: You’ll find something–maybe not your unicorn, but something that you’ll be proud to own and show. Or maybe it will be something from the bargain bin that has a few stories to tell. Ping me online and we can go shopping together. 

Don’t worry, though, I’m not there bidding against you. I’ve ticked most of the boxes off my list–although, thinking back, I never did get my dream car from my school days, Mazda’s then-new 323 GTX. It offered all-wheel drive, turbo power and all the rally cred. At the time, though, I could only afford a pair of Chuck Taylors and, eventually, a used Accord. 

[Mazda 323 GTX | Vintage Views]

Not sure if I’ll fire up the time machine and search for that little Mazda. I think that ship has sailed, as today’s examples carry prices well outside my comfort zone for an impulse purchase. But, someday, it might be fulfilling to just experience one.

Join Free Join our community to easily find more Column articles.
View comments on the GRM forums
jerel77494 New Reader
11/10/21 12:31 p.m.

I'd love to try an Eagle Talon TSI.  Turbocharged, 5 speed, all wheel drive.  They were the scourge of the IMSA Radial Sedan series.  They were forced to run lower boost and narrower tires.  Not even 1st gen M3's could keep up!

Tom1200 UltraDork
11/10/21 1:04 p.m.

Since you touched on it; the picture below is from a glass plate negative, taken by my Great Grandfather, Clatonia Doritcos, he was the town photographer in Newton NJ. The young lady on the left is his daughter (my Grandmother) Josephine Dorticos. We have no idea who the guy is.  Digital is not film...............I total get why you'd want to get back into it.

captdownshift (Forum Supporter)
captdownshift (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
11/10/21 1:07 p.m.

In reply to David S. Wallens :

There is a GTX for sale on the interwebs right now that even includes a handful of spare transmissions...


You're well aware of my feelings with regards to 90s Mazda hatches, I'll take the more mundane BG chassis 323, swap in a BP, add a BP26 manifold and mild boost. Now if only I was still able to get some of those Jim Pierce front controll arms and subframes...


Id still love a structurally and mechanically sound NX2000 or Volvo 240, but I'd need to clear the deck of other projects first. We'll likely be onto reminiscing about post Y2K cars by the time that happens. 

Tom1200 UltraDork
11/10/21 1:09 p.m.

So on the topics of wants; the 356 is now out, I've pretty much given up on 911s as well. As I've posted elsewhere I may go with a 914 or 912E.

In the meantime I consoled myself with a one of Mongoose's new retro BMX bikes, because at $450 how could I say no.

As for cars I'm thinking a late 80s or early 90s car may be the way to go for cheapskates like me. There is still stuff available for 10K-ish.

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
11/10/21 3:14 p.m.

I'm still pretty young, so it's hard to say which cars from my youth I want the most, but I can reflect on shooting with film. 

A month or two ago I took the plunge into film photography and bought a Pentax K1000. Probably one of the best decisions I've made in a while.

Took a family vacation to Los Angeles a few weeks ago, and although I have plenty of digital pics on my phone, having physical photographs to show my kid when she gets older is something special.

Datsun310Guy MegaDork
11/10/21 4:56 p.m.

I love film.  Even black and white.   

My dad stated they visited the graveyards every Sunday after Catholic Mass.  So much they took pics.  Figure in the 1940's?

codrus (Forum Supporter)
codrus (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
11/10/21 5:15 p.m.

No nostalgia for film here -- glad to be rid of it.

I do love my FD though!  They were new right when I graduated from college and started shopping for my first car, but I couldn't afford one and thought 2-seaters were "too impractical" at that point anyway.

Why do we buy them?  Pop up headlights is part of it. :)


SVreX (Forum Supporter)
SVreX (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
11/10/21 5:21 p.m.

My son shoots with a Red. I have no capability to relate to a $60,000 camera. 

But he also shoots with an old school Polaroid. 

He can edit audio on the highest end equipment, but still spins vinyl. 

Isn't this a great time we are living in??

Appleseed MegaDork
11/10/21 5:42 p.m.

I just want Godzilla. Is that too much to ask?

docwyte PowerDork
11/10/21 5:49 p.m.

All the cars I'd like to buy now are WAY too expensive, like a Mk4 Supra Turbo 6MT, or an NSX, or a 928 GTS MT, etc, etc...

zendog New Reader
11/10/21 6:50 p.m.

In 1995, I had the chance to buy a 71 Challenger RT ragtop. All original, B1 blue, no rust, 383 w/ pistol grip. I remember it being a PIA to shift! But I just bought my first house and couldn't swing another loan. Guy wanted 16.5k...

twentyover Dork
11/10/21 11:59 p.m.

Problem as I see it is that you need to take 10 shots to get a good one, and 100 to get a great one. That costs more than I'm willing to spend (Although I recently paid about $300 to repair my Minolta SRT102.)

The other downside is you don't know if you got the picture you wanted until a week later.


IMO this differs from vinyl or an old car, where the experience is immediate

codrus (Forum Supporter)
codrus (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
11/11/21 12:25 a.m.
twentyover said:

The other downside is you don't know if you got the picture you wanted until a week later.

You can get the results faster if you do your own developing, but that's a whole 'nother hobby.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
11/11/21 8:41 a.m.

Small update:

Like two weeks ago, I went to a photo gear swap meet hosted by the camera shop in Orlando. It was mostly older people selling to younger people--lots of film cameras plus some darkroom gear. Felt nostalgic to pick up some metal film developing reels. 

I was just looking, though. :)

Tom1200 UltraDork
11/11/21 12:14 p.m.
David S. Wallens said:

I was just looking, though. :)

Yeah like the same way our dogs are looking when we are cooking.

Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter)
Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
11/12/21 5:45 a.m.
Nicole Suddard
Nicole Suddard Marketing Coordinator
11/12/21 8:57 a.m.

In reply to Colin Wood :

although I have plenty of digital pics on my phone, having physical photographs to show my kid when she gets older is something special.

You're doing a great thing there. I've always loved looking through my parents' bins and albums full of physical family photos with them.

Heck, even though I haven't used a film camera since high school, I still send my favorite digital photos off for printing from time to time and put them in an album I got at Goodwill. Flipping through that album and passing it around at a gathering just makes reliving the good times easier than trying to pick through photos on a phone.


captdownshift (Forum Supporter)
captdownshift (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
11/12/21 9:07 a.m.

In reply to Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter) :

That's the sauce, and it has a much stronger transmission and center differential. 

dean1484 GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
11/12/21 12:47 p.m.

My dad passed a coupe years ago and I now have close to 14,000 slides to go through.  They go back to the late 40s.  It is a complete family history and a history of my dad. His last roll of slide film was shot about 6 months before he passed.  He kept perfect records. Each slide has the date and who/where it was taken.  I am now digitizing them and getting prints made of some for the rest of the family.   We are so lucky he did this and did it with a non digital medium.  

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
11/12/21 12:53 p.m.
Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter) said:




Not the first 323 GTX that someone has sent my way after reading that column. Honestly, I don't have the hots for one as much as I did back then. We'll see what the future brings. 

Our Preferred Partners