De gustibus non est disputandum
When I was on vacation last week, a post popped up on the H.A.M.B. featuring the Barris designed 1955 Chevrolet that we all know as The Aztec. It’s a radical custom and so the opinions on its design validity follow suit – people either love and cherish the car or they loathe it and everything it stands for. On the thread in question, these opinions started softly and then advanced to shouts in quick order.
I was notified about the hoopla while getting dressed to take my wife and kids out to dinner in New York City and to be honest, my first reaction was – “Shit, why now? I wish this would just go away until I’m back on the job.”
See, I knew this was gonna be war between two different camps and I figured there would be casualties. It just wasn’t something I was excited about dealing with or even thinking about while on vacation. Thankfully, things chilled a bit before they got out of hand and I was able to relax and mostly let it go. BUT, I don’t know that anything was really resolved and I do know that I didn’t handle it all that well… There are loose strings in unresolved arguments, right?
Time to tidy up a bit.
So the first camp holds the diehard custom car guys. These guys live for the custom car and the period which created them. The Aztec is a work of art and should be admired as such whether you understand it or not.
And the second camp holds the hot rod guy that just sees a chopped up with ’55 Chevrolet with “weird” lines and no real function to the form. They quickly drop their opinion, shake their heads, and move on.
Simply dismissing such a historically significant car on the H.A.M.B. is offensive to the custom car guys. In fact, some of them think a lot of custom guys don’t post on the H.A.M.B. because these opinions flow so freely.
If you step back 50-feet and look at it all from a broader perspective, it’s all pretty damned rediculous really. But perspective is in the eye of the beholder and if you are as passionate about old cars as some of us are, it’s damned near impossible not to take this stuff with a certain amount of seriousness.
So screw perspective. Let’s deal with this head on. There is no way in hell that anyone of us is going to be able to make these camps see eye-to-eye on the subject. It’s a lost cause and to use my least favorite quote of all time, “it is what it is.” Even so, I figure the H.A.M.B. has to have an official stance on the thing to tidy up those loose ends and I’m back to work and ready to state that stance.
I consider custom cars to be works of art. And by art, I mean:
So the Aztec is a car that Barris designed as a way to express his imagination. It was his emotional response to the 1955 Chevrolet and the way he thought he could improve upon it.
I appreciate most forms of art, but I really appreciate custom cars because I understand the sacrifice it takes to get that expression out. On top of that, I also really enjoy the context in which historical customs cars were built.
Context. To me that’s the most important part of all this… If the Aztec had never existed and someone built that car in 2020, I would still appreciate the work and the art that resulted, but I don’t think I would appreciate it nearly as much and doubt that I would pay much attention to it at all. And that’s because, to me the context in which the Aztec was built adds so much to the value that it has.
The Aztec is a symbol of late 1950’s custom car extravagance. It represents what was going on back then and the way people approached things. Bigger is better. More is better. In the late 1950’s America was stuffing itself with everything grandiose it could get its hands on and guys like Barris and Roth was intravenously feeding the masses their representation of this grand vision.
Taken in this context, the Aztec is a god damned masterpiece. And I say that as a hot rod guy that much prefers early customs over their late-50’s counterparts.
Of course, not everyone takes old cars as seriously as I do… and not everyone has an interest in historical context, art, or custom cars at all. I don’t think it’s the H.A.M.B.’s place to stifle those guy’s opinions.
I do, however, feel it is the H.A.M.B.’s place to educate those that are interested and willing to learn. You don’t have to like the Aztec. Hell, you can hate it with passion for all I care. I do, however, think it’s important to understand where it came from and why.
On top of that, I think it’s important for custom car guys to understand that art is literally made to create a response and…
De gustibus non est disputandum.