A report on classic cars, slow travel and enduring friendships
“Do it for love, not money” is one of my favourite mottos. Even better if you can do what you enjoy and live off it. Such is the case with Jimmy George Francis, JG to his friends, whose passion for restoring vintage cars and traveling has become a way of life – and pays the rent to boot. We spoke on the phone when on a rare occasion he was at home in LA.
The fascination begins
JG, who as a kid was interested in all sorts of cars, grew up in Nevada next to a mechanic who introduced him to Mercedes-Benz and subsequently became his good, albeit older friend. What stuck with him to this day is the sound of the engine, as his friend would pull out the driveway, the way the door would shut and the smell of the leather interior. "It's in the details", he explains, "you can take the whole car apart and put it back together without any problems. That's when you have this moment of "wow, that's amazing". It gives you peace of mind."
It comes as no surprise then, that he bought his very own Mercedes about eight years ago. It was a 1979 300SD dressed in faded maple yellow and sunburned bamboo. “Bringing that car back to life taught me a lot about Mercedes-Benz, but more importantly I had finally found something I loved to do.”
Since then he has restored about 300 models, a skill that evidently runs in the family but unexpectedly, it wasn't his father who passed it on to him. "My mother raced cars in the sixties, she is very hands on and talented in fixing things so I guess I got it from her." Five or six cars he kept for himself over the years. He currently drives a 1975 two-toned 300D in brown with lavender stripes to match his Ray Bans. Personalization doesn't get any cooler than this.
On road trips and friendships
A night in the Mexican desert, 13 flat tires in 14 days, getting caught in a blizzard sans windscreen wipers, miniature horses and a cow with a coiffed hairdo. These are just a few of the bizarre experiences JG and best mate Sean Johnstun, have encountered over the past years in about 20 road trips across 37 states together. Racking up a lot of mileage, clearly?
"We keep saying we should write a book about it all." Friends since high school, these two have travelled about 40,000 miles over the past few years alone. "We never take the interstate, we always go for the tiny little back roads even if takes much longer. It makes for interesting stories." Such as ripping a big hole in the oil pan while performing a high speed suspension test on a dirt road in the middle of no where in New Mexico. No phone reception what so ever. “Seven hours and a two hundred dollar package of JB Weld later, we were back in business and made it to Farmington just in time to see a drunk girl puke in her booth at Denny's“, reads the description of the respective Facebook photo.
Camping in the desert, however, is not generally their preferred accommodation. “We usually stay overnight with friends, occasionally sleep in hostels or – one of my favourite memories – crash on the beach and listen to coconuts falling to the ground”, recalls Sean. Don’t they ever get on each other’s nerves? “We can laugh our heads off about silly stuff but we can also be silent for hours and still be comfortable. We just get on well regardless what happens."
Their relaxed attitude also shows in their approach to travel. "When you are willing to drive slowly, off the beaten tracks, you learn so much about the country. We have discovered cultural differences that exist even from one state to the next, simply by shopping in their respective convenience stores or gas stations", explains JG. Apparently, in Alabama one can buy fishing poles and frog legs, in Mexico moccasins and in Texas gun racks. "Mississippi comes across as old and depressing in places while in - let's say - Kentucky it's all lush and beautiful with white picket fences." Speeding across the main roads, these details often go unnoticed.
On classic car culture and every day life in California
"To some extent, the car you choose reflects your personality or your lifestyle. In Los Angeles there are many young people who appreciate the kind of individuality an older car brings. Not everyone can afford a brand-new car but classic cars still have this recognition. You can pull up to a club with an old 300D and park up front the same as if you drive a brand new SL. It still has this status feel." JG lives in a small neighbourhood in LA. "The way to live in this city is to live where you don't need to use the car every day." JG, who has six little garages where he alternately works, walks to his favourite coffee shop The Village Bakery and Cafe every morning to do his emailing and friends will come to meet him there. “LA gets a bad rep sometimes but there are a millions good things I can say about this place” he says in the Mercedes-Benz documentary Classics – a Way of Life (click on video icon above). "The sun shines most of the time...people are in a better mood… they figure out a way to work hard and still enjoy life."
In short: Enjoy what you do, travel with your eyes wide open and make friendships last forever. A philosophy that works just as well outside of California.
Jimmy George Francis, owner of lavender Ray Bans and an extensive collection of vintage suitcases, restores and sells vintages Mercedes-Benz cars in Los Angeles: www.mercedesmotoring.com
Sean Johnstun is a resident of the “live music capitol of the world”, i.e. Austin, Texas, drives a 1942 Dodge truck without heating and windscreen wipers and is a gifted photographer. He is also a genius in his own right with car upholstery and bespoke interiors: http://www.fatluckys.com/
They both star in the Mercedes-Benz video Classics – a Way of Life (click on video link above)