It's probably wrong to personify inanimate objects, but some machines are undeniably imbued with something that can only be described as "soul". Attempting to neatly, succinctly describe this soul is fruitless - but as the US Supreme Court once said of hardcore pornography - "you know it when you see it."
There are a few common characteristics that seem to be shared by the most soulful machines;
Integrity - The machine has to demonstrate excellent fitness for use. In other words, be truly excellent at its intended job. Without this basic integrity, there cannot be soul.
Reliability or Serviceability - To have soul, a machine must be dependable, as this attribute helps cement trust between man and the machine. No machine is truly perfect (see MoPar Ballast Resistors or Lucas electrical systems) so while a certain number of foibles are permitted, these must be easy to remedy with nothing more sophisticated than a pliers, small hammer and jackknife
Simplicity - See reliability above. Simplicity is much more than readily repaired breakdowns however. It's about the basics and nothing more. Simple machines don't try to distract the operator with useless glitz and glamour. Instead, they declare clearly and honestly what they are - and what they aren't. We either learn to love them for this honesty and purity or look somewhere else.
Some might consider the absense of performance on this list as a most serious oversight, but I don't think speed, power or handling are a prerequisite to soul. A former colleague once bought a Ferrari 308 and the car caught fire and burned to the ground on one if its maiden drives. Not a particularly soulful moment, unless Heidi Klum was riding shotgun and helped to toast marshmellows and drink Pinot Grigio over the glowing 4 cam embers.
A soulful machine makes a connection with its operator that transcends pure speed-lust. I've owned plenty of truly fast cars that were absolutely lacking in anything resembling soul. For example, the absence of personality is one of the principal complaints raised about modern Japanese performance cars such as the Nissan GT-R.
We come to view soulful machines as companions, partners or even friends. We give them names. We keep them for decades or a lifetime. Our friends fail to understand our Rollie LeBay levels of dedication to these seemingly ordinary machines.
Our pilot friends describe the Boeing 727 in almost loving terms. They rave about its reliability, the crisp, unfiltered responses to the flight surfaces and the vice free handling. Similiar sentiment is often heard about DeHavilland Beavers, McDonnell Douglas DC-3s and B-17 Bombers. My stepmother's Dad survived over 25 European bombing campaigns as a top turret gunner on a B-17 - so I know that the oft repeated stories of this legendary aircraft are not exaggerations
Hardcore cyclists often share a similar appreciation for vintage British vertical twins or small bore Honda singles. In 1974, Dad bought me a new Honda CT-70 K3. That indestructable Trail 70 carried me for thousands of trouble free, adventurous miles across southeastern Massachusetts. My friends rode much faster 125 or 250cc 2 strokes, but when their bikes were laid up with melted pistons or other maladies (pretty often) - my little Honda was out on the trails doing absolutely everything that was asked of it.
So strong was the bond with the Honda that I never sold it - and recently completed the full restoration that it so deserved. My buddy Vito Lanzone owned a Honda C90 during his 1966 tour with the Air Force in Vietnam. Vito's rarely given to bouts of sentimentality, but he talks of that little Honda with something approaching love.
Like many folks in the Granite State, my brother is a big fan of vintage farm tractors. One drive of his 1941 Farmall A makes the reason for this passion abundantly clear. From the distinctive chuff of the flathead four engine, the bolt like action of the shifter, the whine of the square cut gears and the mechanically direct steering - the Farmall A is unalloyed mechanical soul. It is stone reliable and ideally suited to its intended purpose.
Our former 1968 Chevy C-10 was also overflowing with soul. With only 54,000 one owner miles, the 250 stovebolt six was torquey and smooth but the truly best feature was the 3 speed column shifter. You simply couldn't hurry shifts in that truck, the column shifter had an uncanny way of encouraging you to relax and just enjoy the truck on its own terms. On the New Hampshire dirt roads, the C-10 was magical in its ability to slow down the world and bring you back to a simpler time. We recently sold the truck to the world reknowned New Hampshire basket maker Sharon Dugan. Sharon had been searching for a basic, unmodified truck just like ours - and was smitten the moment she drove it. Watching her skillfully palm the shifter and the peaceful look on her face during the test drive assured me that this truck had found its next soul mate. As James Brown would say, Sharon and the C-10 just seemed to get off on the "Good Foot."
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