6 of the most rewarding moments in vintage car ownership

Kyle Smith

Owning and maintaining a hobby car is full of ups and downs. With any luck the highs appear more often than the lows, but there is no way to guarantee their appearance. What we can do is focus on the moments that make the thin wallets and late nights and headaches worth it.

To bring some light into what may be a dark tunnel, we pulled out six of the moments in car ownership that we’ve found most rewarding. Whether you own a classic now or are thinking about jumping in with both feet, here is what you have to look forward to.

First show/event

Detroit concours
Xander Cesari

Getting your new purchase home is a big moment; taking it out for its first show or event is even bigger. A car can be an extension of your personality and going out to your first car show with this new form of expression is a powerful moment.

Sharing your car and its story can be as easy as joining a gathering of likeminded individuals in a parking lot—or, if you thrive on more challenging goals, as complicated as earning a spot on a concours lawn. You don’t have to walk away with an award, but we’ll bet you’ll carry a memory when you go.

First startup

We aren’t going to equate hearing the engine you built run for the first time to hearing your child cry for the first time, but we have to admit it can be powerful.

The mental and physical investment in doing a major repair to the heart of your car culminates in turning the key and hearing the noise through the tailpipes as it stumbles to life. The mechanical symphony of lifters pumping while the cooling fan whirrs and the fuel pump comes up to pressure is a delight in itself, but when the sound is the long-awaited result of your own labor? It’s truly worth savoring.

Catching a problem before it’s a problem

Kyle fixing Peerless
Kayla Keenan

Classic vehicles require a certain understanding. Once you learn your car’s language, you will know when something is not right.

Whether you do your own diagnosis or call in the professionals, having your hunch justified is an awesome feeling. It’s more than just keeping up on maintenance. This is knowing your car well enough that, when you detect a disturbance in the force, you act on it with confidence.

First difficult DIY repair

Kyle with XR250R engine out
Kyle Smith

Not everyone is cut out for DIY repair. We recognize that. However, there is something about breaking out the tools and successfully tackling a job yourself that is just so rewarding—and the first time is just that much more special.

The task could be anything from swapping out a headlight and properly adjusting it to overhauling an automatic transmission—or anything in between. Never feel bad about taking pride in knocking out even the smallest jobs yourself.

First time you chauffeur an (appreciative) friend

Brandan Gillogly

While a solo drive can be restorative, there is really nothing quite like sharing the experience of your beloved car with an appreciative friend.

Putting someone in the passenger seat—or, better yet, behind the wheel—can be a wonderful experience that will give them an inside look at your passion. Explaining the joys of driving a classic is tough; seeing the look on someone’s face as they experience it for the first time is will recharge the enthusiast batteries inside you rapidly. Who doesn’t want to be a disciple of the old-car hobby?

Road trip or cruise

1949 Cadillac Series 62 sedan side profile dynamic action
Cameron Neveu

A long trip with your vintage car can be just short of a spiritual. The sounds, smells, and feeling of taking your beloved car on an adventure is intoxicating—if all goes according to plan, that is.

It can be stressful, but with proper preparation, you’ll be out enjoying the open road in the closest thing to a time machine most of us can afford. One day on the blue highways in a vintage car can change your outlook on cars—and life. Don’t deny yourself.

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    Thumbs-up from other drivers or pedestrians.

    I’ve actually become adept at lip reading: “I didn’t know Datsun made a convertible.”

    Yep, “Thumbs-up from other drivers or pedestrians.” gets my vote. One driver driving in the other direction actually scared me, he was hanging out his window videoing me as I passeed by. At first, I wasn’t sure what he was holding in his hand

    Yeah, it’s great. I’ve had several short conversations waiting for a light to change and many parking lot conversations.

    These are all good, and I’ve experienced most of them. However, in my case, the ABSOLUTE MOST rewarding moment came when I revealed the project car and the plan to build it (alongside her) to our youngest daughter. It had come about as a result of her answer a few years prior when I asked her what her favorite car was. The answer set me upon a quest to get one into her life. It was a bit more of a challenge than I first thought, but the way it happened is something I wouldn’t change for a million bucks. The smiles and hugs I got as we worked our way through the challenges were priceless. Showing her the title and registration with both her and my names on them was the topper, as she then knew without any doubts that one day the car would be all hers.

    Her response to my question (almost before I got to the end of it) was, “1966 GTO”. I was in the process of buying land to build a new house, so funds were a bit sparser than usual. I spent some time looking, and then had to admit to her that I might not be able to buy her a ’66 GTO, but maybe I could “make” one for her. Thus began our plan to clone a LeMans into a GTO. Now, I probably just lost a number of readers (purists?) who claimed, “a clone isn’t a real deal GTO” – and they are correct. But I wasn’t planning a car to suit a purist. I was planning it for my daughter, and she agreed that she’d be just as happy with a “fake” as the real thing.
    So we bought a rusty LeMans (which is a whole ‘nuther long story), and set about converting it. It’s resto-modded with modern suspension, brakes, steering, and some other stuff, but at casual glance, it can pass for a real GTO. I never tell anyone it is real – always explain it, and it’s always entered in shows as a “LeMans/GTO clone”. But it’s got 95% of everything that a true GTO had in 1966. Many parts on it are true OEM GTO pieces. A friend told me to just tell people that’s “a 1966 GTO made after they stopped making 1966 GTOs”, which I thought was clever.
    She and I began our collaboration on the car in 2005 and completed it in 2008. All of the work was done in my garage shop except for machine shop engine work and paint, which we did in a friend’s garage outfitted with a paint booth. After completion, it was stored in her garage. She learned pretty much everything about building it from stem to stern, and she cared for it like it was her own child. I think she actually knew more about a “real” GTO after the build than she would have had we bought one. She and I took it on cruises, to shows, to get burgers, and for any excuse we could find to drive it.
    The story took a sad turn in the summer of 2021, when our genius, beautiful and vivacious daughter passed suddenly from an aneurism that burst in her head. The car was centrally parked at her Celebration of Life and a memorial decal to her adorns the rear window. I still carry on with the cruises, shows, and any old excuse to drive it. I put her favorite music (a lot of it stolen from me) on the stereo and crank it up to 11, the same way she did, and I relive the memories of spending time with her during the searches for parts, teaching her how to install them, tuning and tinkering, and laughing our sides sore while “arguing” over who would drive at any certain time – I’ll bet we played Rock-Paper-Scissors a million times.

    Wow…. I need to take a moment and wipe my eyes. Is that not the saddest car story ever? The most remarkable detail of this, is how you can find the courage and strength to go on. You are a model parent, and I feel that I am a better person having read it. The world has become darker place of late. We could all use a little more DUB6 in our lives. Thank you for sharing.

    Thank you, Rob. But please don’t think of it as a sad car story. She got the chance to experience building and driving her dream car. Not everyone gets that chance! Mrs. DUB6 and I got to have many, many wonderful times with her. We have four other children and seven fabulous grandkids – and she was a terrific aunt to them. I’m not trying to downplay the pain of losing her; it has been maybe the hardest thing in our entire lives. But we know that that car (among many other things) made her happy. And when I’m waxing it, changing the oil, wrenching on it, and cruising in it, my mind goes back to all the times we spent doing those things together, and THAT makes me happy. So let’s not concentrate on “sad”, because there are tons of happiness associated with this car story!

    Similar feeling with newer future classic when I titled my ‘04 Mazdaspeed Miata to my daughter. (She insures it with Hagerty.) I guess my new RF might be next. No hurry.

    My biggest reward is when I take my original peeling paint 1962 corvair to the car shows. The response I get from spectators is almost unbelievable. Everyone has a story or memory they want to share and I’m more than happy to listen. I can be parked next to a 50k muscle car and they walk right by it and look at mine. My total investment is about 7k on this car. I knew next to nothing about these cars when I bought it, but it’s a blast to drive, parts are plentiful and cheap and the smiles per gallon are through the roof.

    The colorful Saab badges, after 25 years, have faded to just a silver disc. I often get the comment “cool car, what is it?”
    Classic cars need to driven! The worst thing is to let a classic just sit.

    Warm Summer Night slow Cruise thru the Country side appreciating a Machine that someone made so long ago and someone already loved and cherished so long ago its like a bridge from yesterday to Today

    I certainly know the feeling. I always knew my final car would be an Ivy Green “post coup” 69 Plymouth Road Runner. I owned one in 1969… a post car, Ivy Green, 4-speed, 383, that I had to sell in 1971 due to insurance and gas prices increasing. My current Road Runner was purchased in 2015 and is just now finally finished. If this car could talk it would have a very interesting story. The car obviously has had a very hard and rough life before I purchased it. It started its life in California, then to Oklahoma, then on to Idaho and finally ended up in Kansas where I found it online and purchased sight unseen. It’s know back where it’s life started in Southern California. What was discovered under four coats of various colors was Ivy Green. And buried under blue and white interior was all-black. Did I ever strike gold. The car looks identical to the one I had back 1969. Had somebody else purchased it, in all likelihood it would have been tore down for parts then scrapped. The car has been fully and properly brought back to its glorious original life with exception of the now 572 MAX WEDGE and all-leather black interior and Gear Vendors six-speed automatic trans. Best time: 9.24 at 151 mph on 50% racing fuel and 50% 91 octane pump gas

    I had a friend in 1969 who had the same car as you did. Green, post, 383 and 4-speed. I had never paid a lot of attention to “newer” Mopars until I saw his car. I fell in love with it! In fact, if I would dig out my old artwork portfolio, we would find a screenprint that I drew, hand-cut, and printed with 4-colors that represents his car in burnout mode. I never owned a Road Runner, but I sure respected them, even though I was a Chevy guy!

    Mopar has always done good greens. I had a ’69 Fury 2-door fastback in light metallic green, dark green top, and green interior.

    The first time taking the car out with your significant other. I picked my wife up for a date in my ‘65 Mustang back in 2011. It was 4 colors, interior was a mess, and ran rough, but I was proud of the work.

    It stalled at a light – turned out I ran out of gas (fuel gauge didn’t work). She gave me so much grief for not having working gauges and swore to never ride in it again. 12 years later, she’s still with me (both the wife and the car) today. And she’s gone for plenty for rides since then, to boot.

    I’m no spring chicken, so when I found the car that I have wanted for over half a century, I bought it. She’s a 57 E-code T-bird, in red of course. She had a case of “satoolongitis” when we got it home, but my son and I got her road worthy shortly thereafter. I climbed behind the wheel and we took off in the style the car was designed for. Back from my childhood came the smell of frying clutch and tires and the satisfying roar of a duel quad engine. Unfortunately, My son, whom only a couple of decades ago, I was so carefully strapping into a car seat, was all but terrified with our maiden voyage. I failed to realize, he has never been a convertible, he has never been in a car without seat belts, and has never ridden in a car where the seat only comes up to the small of your back. Much less in a one with “break neck” acceleration. He has gotten over it now, but for the longest time he referred to her as a Terrifying Beast. So much for first outings. Awww, memories

    I love this story. Spot on. First show. First drive. First breakdown. First fix. Repeating the first fix because you did it wrong the first time. The first road trip. The first autocross or driving event. The first burn out. The first cruise. The first drive with family who have now passed. The experience is so much more than the car. Captured perfectly every time you get back behind the wheel.

    Always need to do the road trips, indeed! A favorite of mine is pulling into a classic diner far from home, parking in a prime location and going in to ask for a window seat. Then simply watch the reactions and all the phones coming out for photos, etc.
    Then there was a fine time when I hit the dealership for a part and the spouse wanted to hit the specialty grocery store. I had not realized that I had been followed in by a woman wanting to know what that cute car was. Had it at a garage for a specific check and the proprietor reported that he was followed in after a test drive. In anonymous times, a classic car is an attention getter.

    I think one very important milestone was missed and @TedWaddell nailed it: Finding *THE ONE*! The thrill of ending months of searching or stumbling across the find, but that excitement when you find the one you’ve been looking for, plunking down the cash, and knowing it is yours! I can’t tell you the thrill of the trip home looking in the review mirror and seeing the new addition sitting on the trailer staring back at me… love that feeling!

    You nailed it, Robert W. The drive home with the car you’ve been looking for on the trailer, staring at you back there. That was 20 years ago for me and is still my favorite memory with my project car.

    My adult life wish was to find the car of my dreams and it happened quite by chance. I was looking for spares for a 1948/50 Fiat 500 when I spied a bunch of cars behind a house so went in to see if the owner could help me. He had a bunch of cars including the only one I wanted. It was a British 1959 Ford Zephyr Six CONVERTIBLE! Very rare here in UK and even more so in South Africa. The owner and I became very good friends and about 5 years later he eventually sold it to me. It took me 9 years to restore it and I used it for the next ten years with not one ounce of trouble other than the rear gearbox seal. I sold it only because of the danger of driving an open car in SA and sold it to a gent who sent it back to UK. One day I will find it again and have a pleasant chat about it’s history with the lucky owner.

    I know the feeling! I remember mind blowing thrill when they called and told me the car was finaly in after waiting more the two months. I remember to exactly the minute that I drove up to the dealership and a crowd was gathered around a car just inside of the garage out of sight and I just knew it had to be mine. The dealership had never sold one before and the two old guys that owned the dealership explained why of odometer showed 6 miles, they just had to drive it around town to show it off in their rural small Wisconsin town. And further as you mentioned, the trip home was another thrill to be remembered with great pleasure. It all started on a Monday in May 1967 and hasn’t deemed a bit today! We still love taking a cruse with the top down along country roads away from the madding crowd. Truly a love affair!

    Gosh, how about going to a swap meet and actually finding a NOS NLA part and getting a bargain deal?
    It’s like finding another Dead Sea Scroll! lol

    Oh, it happens. Bought my 1987 Buick Regal Grand National 4 years ago for $18,500. Today, it’s an easy $30K to $35K. But I’m not selling.

    My ‘74 was the get-away-car when my wife and I got married. Same car, so many years later used by my son and his wife at their wedding. Good stuff.

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