11 December 2013

Winter Wonders: Classics that can handle the snow

Few people today would think of taking a treasured classic out in winter weather. This is perhaps partly because, back in the day, the average front-engine, rear-wheel-drive full-size sedan or muscle car was terrible in the snow. A few, however, were outstanding at talking back to Mother Nature. Here are five that more than held their own:

  1. 1966-67 Olds Toronado: The first-generation Toro was an amazing piece of engineering. It was the first front-driver from Detroit since the 1930s Cord, and the massive amount of weight from the Olds V-8 over the driving wheels, coupled with the skinny tires of the day, was key to this car’s amazing traction in the snow. 
  2. 1980-88 AMC Eagle SX4: The Eagle was perhaps AMC’s most brilliant mash-up of existing parts, marrying a drivetrain from its Jeep division with the AMC Concord wagon to create the first successful mass-produced four-wheel-drive passenger car. The Concord wagon-based cars still turn up in regular use in places like Colorado and Alaska. The Gremlin-based Kammback is particularly weirdly cool and nearly extinct as is the sporty SX/4.
  3. 1983-86 Audi Quattro Coupe: Audi’s first Quattro coupe (known to fans as the Ur-Quattro) was a breakthrough car. The first mass-produced, all-wheel-drive high-performance car, it was utterly impervious to bad road conditions and quickly dominated the world rally scene. As cars from the 1980s become collectible, we expect the rather rare Quattro coupe to appreciate in value.
  4. 1959-69 Chevrolet Corvair: The key to the Corvair’s ability in snow was the exact opposite of the Toronado’s: Its engine weight was over the drive wheels, but in this case, it was the rear wheels toiling under a rear-mounted flat-six. Air-cooled VW Beetles with snow tires also weren’t bad in the snow.
  5. 1989-94 Porsche Carrera 4: In the late 1980s, Porsche briefly held the crown for the supercar that everyone wanted (but nobody in the U.S. could get, until Bill Gates changed things). It was the first 911 derivative to sport all-wheel-drive.  Everyone hoped that the sophisticated system would eventually filter down to 911s that were actually obtainable, and by 1989, the 911 Carrera 4 had it. Today, the first Carrera 4s (known as the 964) are used cars that are rapidly approaching collectible status. Like the 959, you have to work really hard to get stuck in one, with ground clearance being the only issue.

45 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Channin Greene Chicago December 18, 2013 at 13:02
    Living in Chicago, I considered buying a 66 or 67 Toronado for several years. I waited too long because now they are priced out of my range.
  • 2
    John F. Quilter Eugene, Oregon December 18, 2013 at 13:03
    I have no fear of using my two Morris Minors (narrow tires and 37 horsepower) in the snow. For environmental reasons there is no salting of the roads in Oregon so no worries about salt corrosion.
  • 3
    Larry Wiese San Antonio, TX December 18, 2013 at 13:12
    Hmmm... a list of classics that can handle snow that does not include the Mini Cooper S or the Saabs that dominated the Monte Carlo rallies for several years?
  • 4
    Rob Boston December 18, 2013 at 13:18
    The VW Beetle was/is awesome in the snow. Maybe not by todays standards, everyone is driving a truck these days..But in the day, there wasn't much that would beat it.
  • 5
    Richard Carruth United States December 18, 2013 at 13:44
    As an iX owner I am used to being ignored in car discussions, even on BMW sites. I expected better from the Traverse City crowd. I know there are not many out there. Only about 2400 cars were sold in NA over the 4 years that the car was available here. But....ix's are just about unstoppable in the snow. It it after all what they were built for. My car never sees the white stuff and has always been a southern lady. Still I suspect not much out thee would handle with the ease that she would.
  • 6
    Bob Hermann Houston De. December 18, 2013 at 13:50
    What about the timeless VW Beetle ? I drove a 62 for yrs in lots of snow. It would go where the conventional rear wheel car wouldn't dare to go. also owned 67 Olds Toranado. What a great car! It would pass every thing except the gas stations. A great touring/road car.
  • 7
    George Walling Merrill, Oregon December 18, 2013 at 14:05
    Porsche 356 and the 1965 Formula S Barracuda
  • 8
    MICHAEL KOHEL United States December 18, 2013 at 14:13
    How could one forget the VW Beetle and Saabs, both great winter vehicles, one rear drive the other front.
  • 9
    JonB Detroit, MI December 18, 2013 at 14:18
    The other feature that made the original VW Beatle good in snow was the independent rear wheel parking brakes. You could stop the spinning wheel and transfer power to the rear wheel with traction. I learned to drive in snow in my father's 1962 VW. Also, my 1989 Pontiac 6000 AWD was amazing in snow and ice, I am not saying a Pontiac 6000 is a classic though!
  • 10
    Mary Zeitner Seattle December 18, 2013 at 15:41
    My 1972, '73, and '76 Fiat 128s were very good in both ice and snow. In fact, there was a picture in the Alaska Airlines in-flight magazine of my '72 parked in about 12-14" of snow at the top of a mountain, in front of the telescope where I worked in Arizona. (What the pic didn't show was the neighbor boys pushing me off the mound of snow the plow had left in front of the house after I managed to get myself high-centered!)
  • 11
    joe jensen Wisconsin Rapids, WI. December 18, 2013 at 16:33
    Back in the day, I drove a 1966 Ford galaxie 500 2dr hd.top. With good snow tires, and a little weight in the trunck, it would go good in the snow. Now I have one fully restored. It wont' see any snow.
  • 12
    Dennis Central NH December 18, 2013 at 17:53
    Brings back memories, as a lady with a wagon in 1968-9 pulls out in front of me on the highway, goes over both lahes. My 66 Mustang was up on its back wheels, coming within inches of hitting her, and a Toronado goes right up the center strip, missing us both. A Ford guy had to admire that GMC stayed secure right on the grass.
  • 13
    M Wallace Oregon December 18, 2013 at 18:08
    The Cord was made in Auburn Indiana, not Detroit.
  • 14
    Len Zapala Troy, NY December 18, 2013 at 18:39
    How about the Lancia Delta Integrale series. 10 WRC championship. 6 WRC driver championships and 5 Monte Carlo Rally wins.
  • 15
    Gerald Neil Lambton Shores, Ontario, Canada December 18, 2013 at 19:38
    Thank you for your article about cars that can handle the snow. l have a 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado and l never see anything online about my car.
  • 16
    P.Johnson Rochester Hills Michigan December 18, 2013 at 20:40
    Living in the great white north, you have to have 4 wheel drive, or at least front wheel drive. I've had em all, 4 Audi's,1 Quattro, 2 Toro's, 2 F150's, currently have a Explorer and Edge, both 4 wheelers. Never been stuck once.
  • 17
    Butch Empire mi December 18, 2013 at 20:58
    Had a few AMC 4x4 an eagle wagon and a two door coupe hatch back my favorite was the two door went almost anywhere ,just like a jeep car.
  • 18
    Tom U.S. December 18, 2013 at 22:24
    What about the four wheel drive Subaru of the seventies and the eighties.
  • 19
    Bill Clark Upstate NY December 18, 2013 at 22:27
    Its hard to have a list like this without including the 70's Jeep Cherokee. With a 360, Quadra-Track and Hydramatic, this was a tank that could take you anywhere. And about the same maintenance and gas mileage as a tank
  • 20
    comatus Frozen Black Swamp December 18, 2013 at 10:34
    Well, the Audi's spring coils would break if a small stone lodged in them, and the brake pads regularly froze to the rotors. Other than that, they were great.
  • 21
    Bruce McLaughlan Milford, MI December 18, 2013 at 10:47
    My winter classic is a 1985 Porsche 944, outfitted with snow tires. Yes, you can still break the rear loose, but the rear placement of the transaxle provides surprisingly good traction and balance, in a car that doesn't tend to understeer as much as front-wheel-drive (or even many 4wd) vehicles. Ground clearance is the limiting factor - but then again, we've even had a Jeep high-centered in a snow drift.
  • 22
    Tim T. Shepherdsville, KY December 18, 2013 at 11:18
    No mention of the SAAB 96 and its brethren? My '72 95 was far and away the best snow car I've ever driven.
  • 23
    Eric Minnesota December 18, 2013 at 11:18
    with good winter tires, and I mean Blizzak or equivalent, you can drive anything int eh snow. I have driven my 1990 300ZX for 3 winters now, and with Bizzaks, it sticks to road like glue. But of course, ground clearance is still an issue until the plows are out!
  • 24
    Eric Minnesota December 18, 2013 at 11:19
    with good winter tires, and I mean Blizzak or equivalent, you can drive anything int eh snow. I have driven my 1990 300ZX for 3 winters now, and with Bizzaks, it sticks to road like glue. But of course, ground clearance is still an issue until the plows are out!
  • 25
    Paul Woods Boise, Idaho December 18, 2013 at 11:57
    You left out the Jensen FF, an early 1970's British vehicle with four-wheel drive, anti-lock brakes, and a Chrysler 383/torqueflite drivetrain.
  • 26
    Dan United States December 18, 2013 at 12:26
    I can vouch for the Toronado, ours is a '68. It was my first car in high school, and I still have it. It has been in the family since '71
  • 27
    Larry Wiese San Antonio, TX December 18, 2013 at 12:27
    Hmmm.... a list of classics that can handle snow that does not include the Mini Cooper S and Saab? These two dominated the Monte Carlo rallies for many years. In case anyone is not aware, these are run in serious snow and ice
  • 28
    Patrick New York December 18, 2013 at 12:27
    You forgot to mention the air cooled Volkswagen Beetle. I live on the east coast and over the decades these great cars always got my family through the worst blizzards.
  • 29
    Mark Mederski Ohio December 18, 2013 at 12:54
    Speaking of rear engine/rear drive cars, recall the VW ads in which the snow plow driver made it to the highway maintenance garage in a VW...before the roads were plowed! Good VW advertizing in that era.
  • 30
    Doug Kotcher Hawthorne, NJ December 19, 2013 at 17:04
    VW Beetles weren't bad in the snow? Is that the best you can say? I drove my bugs through blizzards in the Adirondacks and in New England and never got stuck. I think you could have given the Beetle a little more credit than that.
  • 31
    Daryl Wade Athens Ontario Canada December 19, 2013 at 18:28
    What about the Mini? They used them for ice racing around here for years. Super light weight, front wheel drive...
  • 32
    Bob Quackenbush Central Virginia December 19, 2013 at 07:28
    Don't forget those old 2 stroke Saabs! I had a 1964 850GT that answered the call with me during the blizzard of '66 in the Metro Washington DC area when they sent out a call for 4 wheel drive vehicles to help get doctors and nurses to work during a 3 foot snowstorm. For 3 days I ferried essential personnel between their homes and Suburban Hospital in Bethesda MD, and while I saw many 4 wheel drive vehicles stuck in snowdrifts, I never got stuck once! Those early 2 stroke Saabs didn't have a lot of horsepower, but they were great in snow!
  • 33
    Craig Fish New York December 19, 2013 at 20:41
    What....no Saabs?
  • 34
    LBC owner NA December 19, 2013 at 08:55
    "Few people today would think of taking a treasured classic out in winter weather. This is perhaps partly because, back in the day, the average front-engine, rear-wheel-drive full-size sedan or muscle car was terrible in the snow. " The reason I don't drive my classic in the snow can be summed up in one word: salt
  • 35
    Jay E. Granite Bay, CA December 19, 2013 at 10:59
    The SAAB 95 & 96 with their narrow tires and weight over the front driving wheels where, and are, fantastic in the snow. It's disappointing to not see them on your list
  • 36
    Thomas Pomeroy Lovettsville, VA December 19, 2013 at 11:03
    How about the late '80s - '91 BMW 325ix...
  • 37
    Sean Lougheed Cagary Canada December 19, 2013 at 11:54
    I remember my Corvair being a great winter car and my 75 swinger too. But that was in the day when they were replaceable. I live where winter is harsh (-27 a the moment) and it would be unthinkable to subject either of these cars to the salt, rocks and high wear and tear of winter today.
  • 38
    Quattro v1.0 Las Vegas December 19, 2013 at 23:59
    As an owner whose 1983 Audi Quattro is insured through Hagerty, I must say you could not have picked a more horrible photo to represent such a stunning and important car.
  • 39
    Joe Roberts North Carolina December 19, 2013 at 00:35
    While the idea behind all five of your choices is basically good, but other than the Audi and possibly the Porsche, I don't think we have cars that the idea doesn't work quite as well as one would think. A standard VW of the 1960's would go through the snow a lot better than the Corvair of the era. From what I have seen the Toronado had the power, but it seemed the final drive ratio did not allow it to be as good in the slick stuff as other front wheel drive cars of the era. The AMC did pretty well in snow, but reliability was an overall problem even in dry weather. I would submit the Saab 92 through 96 of the late '50's and '60's as a car that should be on your list. It is as reliable as any of your choices. Mine went through deep snow as well or even better than my '72 Blazer and was and is a heck of a lot more affordable than most of the vehicles on your list.
  • 40
    Steve Portland, OR December 20, 2013 at 14:55
    What about the VW bug? More than any of the cars listed the general public used the VW as a get around snow car for many years.
  • 41
    Dave Gardner Morton, IL December 20, 2013 at 16:44
    In the early '80s my (then) wife and I each had a VW Rabbit -- a '74 and an '80. Thought we could put them both in the garage and create our own dealership. It didn't work. Sure were good in the snow, tho. Then in '81 I bought a new bright red Chevy Citation X-11. Could really blast thru snow with that one. Still think it was a sharp car. When was the last time you saw a running Citation??
  • 42
    Will Detroit December 24, 2013 at 11:30
    Enjoyed the article. Re: 1. Connersville, Indiana is not Detroit. Re: 2. One of the first successful mass-produced four-wheel-drive passenger cars was the USSR's GAZ-61, first introduced in 1938 by designer V. A. Gratchev.
  • 43
    Tim M Newberry, Michigan December 26, 2013 at 15:33
    In regards to the Audi ur quattro, ur means original and for those Audiphiles ur quattro is always suppose to be in lower case letters just like the quattro script on its trunklid. Values have finally started coming up. These cars make for a good investment as you can get a daily driver for $ 9,000 - $ 11,000 and a rebuilder for far less, but be prepared to invest money in hard to find parts. The rarest of the years are 1984-86. The 1983 had the old ceramic fuses and fuse box issues. 1984 saw an upgrade to that wiring. The majority of the urq's were sold in 1983 here in North America.
  • 44
    Karl T WI February 9, 2014 at 20:26
    Drove Corvairs through the late 60s when studded snow tires were legal. Could go just about anywhere that a 4-wheel drive car could go. Only problem was low clearance.
  • 45
    Neil NJ March 23, 2014 at 10:49
    I grew up in North Dakota. My dad bought a new Corvair in 1961. He saw that JC Whitney had 15 inch wheels for it and bought them. With studded snow tires on the rear and the additional clearance it was impossible to get stuck. In 1968 I bought a 1966 Plymouth Satellite with a 383 automatic. As much snow it went through in drive it when through twice as much in reverse so I never got stuck with it.

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