Elana ScherrCar and Driver
Ready for hunting season? We’re after wild bulls, horses—prancing and musty—stingrays, barracudas, and various wildcats. Those of you with a more mathematical bent might chase the thrill of the perfect number—2002, 458. The Wordlers among us are probably more interested in letters like SL, Si, RT, GT, GTR. Whatever your preferred catch, the thrill of the hunt never dims, and you don’t have to clean it and cook it afterward.
Car hunting, or car spotting—#carspotting, if you live on the internet—is something you already do, or you wouldn’t be on this website. For many of us, it’s almost an addiction. I’ve had to apologize more than once for the awkward pauses in conversation while I was distracted by a glimpse of bright chrome. Sometimes I can get away with the quick head turn at a blast of exhaust, but the urge to take an extra lap around the block based on a corner of color barely visible through an open garage door requires explanation and a patient passenger. I can’t stop, though. I feel a sense of failure if I’m not the first person in a group to say “Oh! Saab!” when an unusual car rolls by brunch. I don’t always say Saab; sometimes it’s an MG or a 720S or just a really clean little Dodge Dart. Those of us into cars tend to have a natural talent for car spotting, a kind of sixth sense that something excellent is in the vicinity, but raw talent can be improved by experience and discipline. If you want to be a top-shelf car spotter, you need practice and a few rules to follow.
(Don’t) Phone It In
Sorry to sound like your parents, but the cars are out there [gestures to the wide world] and if you’re nose deep in your online Miata chatroom, you’re gonna miss the real-life Miata driving by. This is especially true because many of the best car-spotting opportunities are when we’re waiting on something else, which is exactly the most tempting time to escape the misery of reality by immersing yourself in the misery of Twitter. Resist the siren song of social media. The 10 minutes outside the coffeeshop before your buddy shows up or the walk through the parking garage to the stairs are prime scenarios for catching something cool, if you keep your head up. Then, if you want, you can take a photo of it and post it on Instagram so everyone else buried in their phones can see what you saw in the real world. See also: #carspotting.
Loud pipes save lives and give advanced warning of an interesting vehicle approaching. Sure, that rumble might end up being just a 10-year-old Challenger with Flowmasters, but it could also be a 50-year-old Challenger with Flowmasters. If you’re on the hunt for electric cars, I guess you listen for the whirr . . . or you could use some of the other tips in this list.
Paying a little more attention while on the highway is never a bad idea, and it can have the added benefit of noticing that killer C3 Vette heading north in the fast lane or the AMG GT Black Series coming up fast behind you. (Move over, I’ve driven that car, it’s faster than yours.) Car spotting on the freeway can also make traffic jams a little more bearable. Sure, we’re all going 7 mph, but think of it as more time to look at that clean VW Vanagon.
Dream in Color
Cars have always come in black, white, and silver, but unless you’re talking Mercedes Gullwings, classics look better in bright colors. Or at least, classics tend to be restored in bright colors. Keep an eye out for a hot pop of orange or a splash of turquoise and you’re likely to be rewarded. If you do turn your head for a flashy cherry red or sunny yellow on a modern car, there’s a good chance it will be an exotic or high-performance machine too. Nobody buys a Hellcat or a Huracán as a sleeper.
There’s something about the form of an older or unusual vehicle that sets it apart from the bubble of a commuter SUV. Sports cars are low and long. From E-Types to C8s, they jab out of driveways and parking spots like lawn darts, sharp and dangerous. Decades of pickup trucks had the same square profile, and just the right-angle of a fender to a grille will cause a head swivel from a practiced car spotter. If it’s not an old truck, it’s a G-wagen, so that’s a win either way. Sometimes size alone is the giveaway. The very small and the very long hold promises of MGs, Minis, Caddys, and Chryslers. Get good enough and you can ID cars under car covers just by the flick of a rear spoiler and a peek of wheel chrome.
Where the Wild Things Are
This might be obvious, but if you want to see cool cars, go where cool cars go. Exotics lurk along coastlines and high-end shopping districts, 911s and M3s haunt the hills. The parking lot of any home improvement store is going to be full of pickups (unless Dyer’s around), and the deserts swarm with four-wheelers of all makes and ages. Car spotting at an actual car show is cheating, a bit like bird-watching at an aviary. The parking lot outside a car show, on the other hand, is fair game and often more interesting than the show itself since you know the cars all came under their own power.
While main street might be good for catching cruisers, nothing beats the side streets for curb-parked classics and driveway collections. Bonus points for finding multiples of the same make/model. There’s a person near my house who’s obsessed with fifth-gen Thunderbirds. It’s like a school of catfish in front of their place. Every time I head south I try to swing by the house that has two Civic Type Rs in the driveway. Why two? Spouses who can’t share? Twins who like to match? It is a mystery, and I love it.
Walk It Off
The best possible way to see the most cars is to get out of yours and walk. Not only will it please your cardiologist, but you’ll be able to put all the previously mentioned spotting skills to use. You’ll be shocked at how many intriguing machines you’ve missed zipping by at 15 over the speed limit. I’ve gotten in the habit of parking a block away from wherever I’m going, just to have a little wander through a new neighborhood in hopes of seeing a Lamborghini Miura with a “Free to good home” sign on the window. That hasn’t happened, but I can dream. In the meantime, I’ve yet to take a stroll in any town or country where I didn’t see at least one vehicle of interest. It’s like a car show every day, if you know where to look.
I know I’m not the only one who does this. What are your best car-spotting tips, and what are you most on the hunt for?
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