Caught in a rainstorm with your classic? Here’s what to do next

During the first week of March, before the U.S. began shutting everything down to curb the spread of the coronavirus, I had the pleasure of driving my 1966 Sunbeam Tiger almost 1400 miles with about 70 Hagerty members on our annual “Amelia Island or Bust” road trip to the Concours. It may be a while before any of us is able to safely enjoy a long trip like that again, but nevertheless, now’s a great time to plan ahead.

We started in balmy Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and worked our way down through Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, and then Florida. Being an end-of-winter East Coast adventure, we know that this time of year it can be cold, snowy, or even icy in the mountains before hitting the flatlands. And this year we had another twist—we got hit HARD by an absolutely monstrous rainstorm that lingered over our route for more than two days.

While inconvenient, everyone made it through, and it was one of those “Wow, can you believe that?!” sort of moments that tend to bring people together. It prompted me to think about what worked for us in these conditions, and how it can help others prepare for the worst.

Make sure your wiper and defroster system is working

OK. You don’t drive your classic in the rain, ever. You’ve told people that a million times. But just in case, check the operation of your windshield wiper system every now and then. It could save your life if a sudden storm comes out of nowhere, or if a vehicle ahead of you throws up a bunch of water you need to see through. This includes wiper blades, which degrade over time even if they never see a swipe. It’s easy enough to test here and there, and if you’re worried about dry wiping your NOS windshield, just lift the arms off and let them wave in the air like they just don’t care.

A working defroster system can also work miracles, but in the Tiger’s case it was merely a whisper of warm air. Throw a few microfiber towels in the cabin of the car that you can reach in an emergency, too—I was busy wiping the water and humidity off the windshield to keep visibility as good as it could be, and you may need ’em too. I’ll throw a plug in for Rain-X or one of the other glass treatments, and keep reapplying it when you can.

new tires inside of sunbeam tiger
Brad Phillips

Tires, tires, tires

When I was prepping my car for the trip, I realized the tires on the car had been purchased in 2013 and had quite a lot of uh… “enthusiastic” miles on them, including a couple of Tiger Club autocross events. A quick call to Tire Rack put a fresh set of 13-inch tires on my doorstep, and I had them mounted and balanced locally. This probably saved my bacon more than anything, and the fact that I knew my tires were as good as they could be gave me a lot of confidence that I could trust them to get me through. You really need to check your tires regularly—fronts tend to wear differently than rears on a lot of cars, and you may not be able to rotate away your issues.  Keep a good mind on the tread pattern, too. Those awesome drag radials might be fun at the strip, but if you’re going to take your car out into the wild you may want to get something with more all-season capability.

sunbeam tiger driver point of view
Brad Phillips

Adjust your driving—big time

Even with perfectly good tires, water on the road can be a big problem. We hit big ponds of standing water, mud washed over the apex of corners, drastically shortened visibility, and all the rest. Tigers have a lot of torque, thanks to that small-block Ford between the front wheels, so I drive it like there’s an egg under the throttle when the weather is dicey. If you hit standing water, don’t hit your brakes or make big steering adjustments—just let the car go on through and be easy. Going around corners should be slow in and accelerating gently out, watching for mud, rocks, or anything potentially slippery that could cause a problem. Frankly, my little rear-wheel-drive car felt much better than I thought it would, given the Noah’s Ark situation we were all in.

white sunbeam tiger front three-quarter with floor mats on line drying
Brad Phillips

Yes, your car is probably going to leak

My Tiger was a worst-case scenario for water retention, and yours may be, too. Non-existent door seals, a convertible top that left about a half-inch of clear space between the side window glass and the roof all the way around, a windshield seal that let a river run down under the dash onto my legs… you name it. By the time we got to Florida, the floor of my car was completely full, with standing water that would visibly slosh back and forth across the sodden mats. Fantastic. As quickly as I was able to when we arrived in Florida, I pulled the mats out and dried out the standing water with the last of my paper towels. My car has the original underlayment, which also soaks up a lot of water, so down the top went for two days to get some sun and breeze in there!

My apologies to the other hotel guests, who had the pleasure of seeing me air my flooded belongings in the parking lot all weekend. Hey, you do what you gotta do. The main point here is to get the wet stuff out of the car as quickly as you can. You can do more than what I was able to do, like buy desiccant bags to soak up moisture afterwards, rent a carpet cleaner to suck the water out, plug a dehumidifier in there to help keep mildew at bay, etc.

white sunbeam tiger side-view touring series car
Brad Phillips

If you get stuck in big rain, don’t panic. If you’ve done all of the above, chances are you’ll get through it and to a safe place so you can continue on with the adventure. There’s a sense of satisfaction you may feel by surviving something like this instead of just succumbing to the elements. When you can, get out there and keep driving!

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