When to move on from a classic car
After a thunderstorm delayed my flight back to Boston, I stumbled inside my garage at 1:00 a.m. and was greeted by the unmistakable stench of old, varnished gasoline. I eventually figured out the gas was leaking from my wife’s 2001 KTM Duke II, which had been sitting for at least three years for no other reason than a busy schedule.
I looked around the garage, and there sat my most pressing project: a 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Monza, with the engine and transaxle removed, parts strewn all over the garage. A 180-degree pivot would put me face to face with my 1978 Chevrolet Blazer sitting in the driveway. It hadn’t been started more than three times in the last two months. I could see it perfectly if I looked past the 1965 Allstate scooter in my way, which had been started exactly twice since I’d done a thousand dollars’ worth of work to it in February.
Three vehicles—four, if you count my wife’s KTM—all ostensibly purchased for entertainment purposes, and none of which were providing much in the way of entertainment at 1:06 a.m. after a long flight home.
Too many things. Not enough time to devote to any of them.
Is it time for me to move on?
I love old vehicles with personality, but I’m typically not overly sentimental about them. It drives my wife crazy. She’s had exactly eight cars in the more than quarter-century that I’ve known her. She loves her cars and never has a minute’s thought about moving them along. I’ve had more than I can count, and the minute I get my hands on one, I’m thinking about what the next one could be. I’m more interested in the chase than I am in long-term ownership.
Yet each of these three vehicles have managed to wedge themselves into my life, well beyond my typical relationship with a car:
1965 Allstate Scooter
I’ve owned the Allstate—which Vespa built for Sears for sale in stores in the 1960s—longer than any vehicle I have ever owned in my life. I purchased it in 1998 from my friend Bill LeBeau as a project for $300. I had just bought a house and I had no money and no space for a project car, but a $300 scooter, I could build in my basement. Bill’s got a small paint booth at his sign painting business, so I was able to paint it there. I threw in a big parts order with Scooterworks in Chicago, and that entire project ended up taking me a winter and about $1500 to complete.
I rode that bike from 2000 to 2018 without changing much more than the spark plug, but it was time to invest some money in it. The two-stroke 150-cc engine’s clutch side seal had given up, and while it was still rideable, it needed attention. I decided to spend some money on it, opting for a 177-cc piston, barrel, and head, a Sito Plus exhaust, and a Dell’Orto 24/24 carburetor. Along with recabling and resealing the entire engine, I was into it for $760 worth of parts, and a friend’s labor to help me put it together.
And I’ve ridden it twice since I got it back. The cables still aren’t adjusted properly and the carb isn’t jetted right, either. A truly miserable spring and early summer kept me from riding it at all when I had the time, and ever since, it’s just been sitting.
Time to go?
It’s been a part of me for so long that I can’t even think about being done with it. My dad was a Sears employee for 35 years and I’ve got a small collection of Sears stuff from that era, including this bike, a Silvertone 1457 “Amp-in-Case” guitar and amp package, and another small Silvertone tube amp, and I’m more likely to increase that collection than slim it down.
It doesn’t cost me a whole lot of money, it takes up almost no space, and it’s not really worth much more than it was when I completed it back in 2000.
This one stays.
The Corvair is at the opposite end of the spectrum. While I’ve had the Vespa for 20 years, I’ve only had the Corvair for two. Like the Vespa, I bought it cheap and it was from the father of a friend I went to college with. It didn’t even cost me anything to haul it home, because it sat in a garage just on the other side of town.
When I got it home, it wasn’t running, but I knew it turned over. A soon as we got it in my garage, we put some fresh gas in it, hooked up a new battery, and within 20 minutes I had it running—not well, but running all the same.
Over the next few weeks, I got it roadworthy and thought I’d bomb around in it for a summer and then figure out what to do with it.
Then I started pulling threads. Maybe I should fix the leak around the oil pan. I pulled the pan off and a fairly scary piece of metal fell out, which I now think was the metal gasket between the block and the cylinder barrel. I called Hagerty contributor Rob Seigel, who ran over to my house one night and we ran a compression and leakdown test and found that I had one cylinder with zero compression.
Now, months later, the engine and transaxle are out, the engine is disassembled, and I’m right at that point where I need to either spend a significant amount of money on it, or move it down the road to someone who’s more willing to spend the time on it than I am.
When I ask myself if it’s time for this one to go, the answer keeps coming back, “Yes.” I love the way it looks, but in the last couple of years, it’s brought me many more headaches than it has enjoyable days.
I’ve got a lot going on in my life, and if I’m being honest with myself, I’d rather have the garage space than the car.
The other two vehicles offer much easier decisions. This one is difficult.
I’ve had my eye on this particular truck for more than 20 years. Glenn Gould—whose parents owned the now-closed Wells Auto Museum in Wells, Maine—had it stored in a steel building in Shirley, Massachusetts. I’d gone to check out his collection of other interesting cars, but there sat this black, clean, and largely unmolested 1978 Blazer Custom Deluxe. He’d bought it from the first owner in 1979 and had driven it regularly ever since. At that time, it had about 50,000 miles on it. I mentioned that if he was ever interested in selling it, I’d be willing to make an offer.
Almost two decades passed. I ran into Glenn at a media preview at the New England International Auto Show in Boston in 2014. “I’m thinking about selling that Blazer,” he said, true to his word all those years later. I went back out to his barn, took it for a quick ride, and we shook on a deal right on the spot. In all those years, he’d only added about 17,000 miles.
I’m not saying it’s pristine. When I got it, 40 years of New England winters had taken their toll. The rockers were shot, the inner fenders were barely present, and it needed a radiator immediately. But the frame was perfect, and so were the floors. With a bit of effort, I figured I could make it a great driver, and that’s exactly what I got.
I scored a bunch of sheetmetal from LMC Truck to fix the rockers and fenders, did a bunch of body repair to make it look presentable and replaced the carpet. While the seats were out, I had the trashed driver’s seat recovered by Kelly’s Upholstery in Natick, Massachusetts. I could’ve bought a kit, but it’s kind of a one-size-fits-all approach, and I’d have to replace all of it if I wanted it to match. John at Kelly’s matched the vinyl on the passenger seat and built a new seat to match the perfect upholstery on the passenger and rear seats for a lot less than a full kit would have cost.
The next winter, I set to work making it perform a little better. The original engine worked pretty well, but the heads on it were probably the lowest performing heads Chevrolet ever put on a truck. Brian Lohnes—who’s the NHRA announcer on FOX these days—provided me a set of recently worked heads from his later 9C1 Caprice, along with an aluminum intake, a Holley carb, and a new Streetfire distributor. With a new set of cast iron manifolds and a dual exhaust, it woke up instantly and it’s been completely reliable ever since.
I’ve had it now for about six years. Last summer, I replaced the original hard top with a vinyl top, which transformed it into a fun beach cruiser.
Here’s my dilemma, though. In the years since I’ve owned it, these trucks have actually started to trade for real money. This is far from a pristine example, but my guess is that I could probably ask $7000 for it and send it down the road in a week. That, combined with $1500 or so from the Corvair, could fund some other, smaller vehicle in good, running condition that could provide me entertainment for many years to come. There’s a super clean 1979 Saab 99 GL for sale close by on Facebook Marketplace. I’ve also always wanted a Ural Patrol sidecar rig. Lightly used examples of those from the early 2010s sell in that price range, too.
Hit or stand? Stay or go? Hold ’em or fold ’em? The decision was easy on the other two. I’m going to be doing some soul searching to find an answer on the Blazer.