Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pre-1980 Classic Cars as Daily Drivers

As a young man growing up in the 1970s, I fell in love with cars of that era. And even though my preferences are more in line with cars manufactured by "the General," I pledge allegiance to no car maker in particular.

Cars of the 1960s and 1970s were cool.

The 1980s also gave us some great designs and much improved manufacturing techniques, as well as better aerodynamics, brakes, suspensions and more.

Vehicles—regardless of date of manufacture—are utilitarian. They are designed and built with a specific goal in mind and intended for daily use. It is only when we decide to turn them into "collectibles," that they start accumulating dust instead of miles.

I am not judging anyone for doing so. After all, I currently have a '76 C3 Corvette in my garage. It is not a daily driver and it only sees duty in fair-or-better weather. But even though I only drive it every once in a while, I try to put as many miles as I can on the odometer, since my plan is to enjoy it.


Having said that, if I had to drive my Vette every day, I am not so sure I would enjoy it as much. So, when I see posts on online forums where people ask about recommendations about which classic car to buy and use as a daily driver, I have to wonder if they've thought the whole idea through.

Granted, I mostly read C3 Corvette-related forums, but I think this article applies to most (if not all) classic vehicles.

First let me state that in my book, a vehicle has to be at least 25 years old to be considered a classic. But whether you call them classic or collector cars, vehicles of that vintage are just plain old. They can be fun and cool to drive, of course, but practical they are not.

I get a lot of compliments every time I take my Vette out for a spin, but as much as I love it, sometimes it is more of a pain in the ass than anything else.

Comfort and safety were not at the forefront in the minds of designers and engineers a few decades ago, so things like good brakes, comfortable seating, and air conditioning and heating, to name a few, are not even close to what we see and get in today's vehicles. Even important safety items such as seat belts, don't come close to those we presently use.

In my case, my Vette is a tight fit, even though I only am 5' 9" and 175 lbs. Still, the steering wheel is big and too darn close to the driver, for example, so it is not what I would call comfortable, especially for long road trips.

The 4-speed manual tranny was one of the reasons I bought the car, but every time I drive it on the highway I wish it had a fifth (and even a sixth) gear. Rolling down the Interstate doing 70 mph with the motor revved up to 3000 rpm is not what you'd call relaxing.

The air conditioning system, something that is a must-have here in Florida, has cost me quite a bit of coin. It's been to the shop twice for service, new parts, and more. And to this date, it does not work correctly.

The brakes are okay since it has discs on all four corners, but cars of that era were notorious for having caliper issues, so a reasonable fix would be to install Wilwood calipers, which are not cheap. Needless to say, 1976 and older Corvettes did not come with ABS... or any sort of computers for that matter.

The lack of computers means that "fuel economy" is not a term that's applicable to such a vehicle.

The usually unreliable gauges make engine function monitoring more of a guess. The water and oil gauges can be calibrated of course for more reliability, but that means removing them from the car and sending them somewhere to be calibrated. Not the easiest or cheapest thing to do.

And fluid leaks are something that you chase pretty frequently.

For the record; I did own another 1976 Stingray which served duty my daily driver for a few years, but that was back in 1982 when I was in my early twenties. Comfort and safety at the time, did not rank high on my list of priorities.

On the other side of the coin, I think that a lot of people assume that a classic car is a safe investment. That is rarely true.

First of all, Detroit usually builds as many cars as they think they can sell, so age alone is no guarantee. And second, people usually drive their cars until the wheels fall off, or darn close to it, and the same mentality applied back when these classic cars were showroom new.

Classic cars cost money to operate and maintain, and many of them usually need frequent repairs that can turn a "deal of the century" into a money pit.

Not only that, but oftentimes finding a mechanic qualified to work on older vehicles, can be as hard or frustrating as locating parts for that same car.

Does that sound like a good, sensible plan, if you are in need of a daily driver?