If you got all your vintage car information from TV shows, you’d likely think all classics had paint shinier than the sun and, if they didn’t, had to be restored in 30 days or someone would be forced to sell their shop. The truth is stranger than fiction, though. When contemplating a vintage car purchase, or justifying the one (or two, or three …) you currently own, you’ll waffle between the joys and the inconveniences. The conclusion we reach from weighing these pros and cons will be different for everyone, but don’t shy away; join the conversation and add your own reasons, either for or against, in the comments.
I wrote out some of the points of vintage car ownership I have personally debated and discussed with friends and family over the years. These have shaped both my collection and my life, and hopefully they can help shape yours.
Humans are pretty vain beings. Much of what we own projects an image of ourselves—what we want to be and how we desire to be perceived. We strive to separate ourselves from the rest of the herd corralled on the 405. Driving something other than a beige crossover with 13.1 sticker on the rear window is an easy solution.
A prime example is my 1965 Corvair. Regardless of where I take it, the car usually stands out. It provokes fun conversations, and I like to think the white coupe is a rolling depiction of my lifestyle. The path to where I currently sit (literally and figuratively) started with a ’65 Corvair. Now I keep one around to remind me of where I started and how far I have come.
Some know-it-alls will convince you that vintage cars have the personality of a needy toddler who just learned the word “gimme.” While this stereotype isn’t universally true, the vast majority of items produced for consumers are not meant to last forever. The cars of the 1960s were never expected to last 60 years under regular use, though some vehicles have managed to pull it off. Keeping something vintage on the road will require a liberal amount of care to prevent failures.
You can either anticipate the warning signs or let components go beyond their expected service life. However, ignore that scraping noise while turning, or the clunk as the transmission shifts into second, and you could soon be watching the green fly out of your wallet instead of watching the green stream past your window.
In the grand scheme of things, vintage cars are often just big toys for their owners. We buy them because we like how they make us feel when we sit behind the wheel or stoop under the hood. The experience of turning the key, dropping the transmission into gear, and heading out of the driveway for the most mundane errand is enough to bring a smile to our face. Vintage cars are just fun to drive, and in the right situations can be the closest thing to time travel a human can experience.
Modern cars are veritable bank vaults when it comes to protecting their occupants. Vintage cars are … less so. Life is all about risk, and how much you are willing to take on is a very personal choice. Lap belts are better than nothing but have been proven to be less effective in a crash than a three-point belt. Air bags are nice, too, especially when compared to a plastic three-spoke steering wheel and solid steering shaft.
Accident avoidance is another major factor in safety. Drum brakes often get a bad rap but, if properly adjusted, can provide enough stopping power to overcome the coefficient of friction provided by most narrow, classic-sized tires. The soft suspension of a ’70s land yacht makes a quick lane change in modern traffic a hair-raising experience. Many vintage cars will not have ABS to step in and help keep you from skidding. Remember, more metal and no crumple zones does not mean you “win” in a crash; it only means you have more momentum and that more force will be transferred to the occupants of your car.
Want to make new friends? Just drive a vintage car into a public place and smile. You will be chatting with someone in no time at all. Dive deeper and attend a gathering of vintage cars (if it’s feasible in your area). Unlike underwater basketweaving enthusiasts, car enthusiasts can simply hop behind the wheel and take to the streets to find fellow hobbyists, like-minded or otherwise. A vintage car attracts more attention than the Bat-Signal, and all those conversations—whether on a research quest or at your local Dairy Queen—will inevitably lead to a few new friendships.
Having taken a 103-year-old race car up some serious grades in the high desert of California, I can attest to how unnerving it is to be the slowest thing on the road. Staying in your lane and hoping other drivers sense the speed differential between themselves and you is not a relaxing experience.
Cars have molded much of the world around them—and vice versa. Road quality, traffic patterns, and the general demands placed on a car being used on the road have changed drastically. Most cars built 40–50 years ago were simply not built to cruise on the highway at 70 mph. Some certainly can, but most are not at their happiest when traveling at that pace and doing so will only serve to increase their wear and tear (read: their chance of mechanical failure). Having realistic expectations of what your vintage ride is capable of could mean re-routing your trip to the “blue highways” or swapping the keys for something that is better suited to the journey and experience you want.
This list isn’t meant to deter anyone from pursuing their interest in cars, nor is it meant to convince someone to immediately rent a trailer and tow home a Craigslist find. Instead, this is simply a realistic look at the landscape of the automotive hobby. We take the bad with the good, knowing that the struggle of keeping our vintage cars on the road makes the enjoyment of driving them that much sweeter.