Top 10 Things I learned Driving a Model A for a Year

A few years back, I embarked on a yearlong journey of driving a stock 1930 Ford Model A Tudor sedan as my only source of personal transportation with no exception for distance or weather. Why? To prove that classic vehicles can be driven, they are reliable and you don’t have to have six figures of disposable income to own an interesting old car. Being a lifelong gearhead and old car nut, I knew this was going to be fun and memorable. But I never anticipated what a wonderful learning experience it would turn out to be, both about the world of old cars and life in general.

Here is what I learned spending a year driving an 80-year-old car that tops out at 50 mph and has none of the modern amenities we take for granted in modern vehicles:

[Click here for “365 Days of A,” the author’s blog documenting his experience.]

  1. If you take care of it, it will take care of you. When it comes to old cars, there is absolutely a direct correlation between how much you take care of them and how well they perform. Modern cars are basically self-sufficient and much less maintenance intensive, so you can get away with completely ignoring them. With an old car, just when you think you aren’t doing any disservice you might find out when it is too late that you’ve caused permanent damage.
  2. Life is far more interesting when you take the back roads. The world is a much bigger place at 50 mph than it is at 75 mph on the freeway. Many people would jump to the conclusion that driving slower speeds is a waste of time. I’d argue that being forced off the interstate and diverted onto backcountry roads that take you to random small towns with locally owned businesses makes for a much more enjoyable trip.
  3. Modern brakes are amazing. Modern cars are so good in every way that it’s difficult to find a bad one in terms of their basic functions. A key example is modern brakes. However, it is human nature to push anything to its natural limit, which is why it is so common for people to tailgate and wait until the last second to come to a stop. You won’t find anyone driving an older car tailgating the vehicle in front of them because there is no way they could stop in time if that person slammed on the brakes.
  4. Don’t overthink it. I learned this lesson the hard way a couple of times. When you discover a problem, ALWAYS start with the simplest solutions first. Period. It is very easy to read into an issue and convince yourself the problem is much more severe than it really is.
  5. Humans are far more adaptable than we think. Driving a car with barely any heat in Northern Michigan every day for a winter sounds crazy. And I love modern climate control and heated seats. However, when this was my daily norm I bundled up and never felt cold. I find myself feeling much colder in modern cars during those initial minutes before the vehicle heats up than I ever felt the entire time driving the Model A.
  6. Everyone has a story. You don’t have to be a self-described gearhead to have a story involving an old car. I was amazed at the people who would approach me at gas stations to tell me about a car they once owned, a memory of a relative or friend and their car, or their prized possession sitting in the garage.
  7. Don’t honk, just smile and wave. No matter how friendly the intent, it is always startling to get honked at. A smile and thumbs-up is far better than a friendly honk.
  8. Classic cars are the greatest equalizer. It doesn’t matter if your car is worth $3,000 or a million bucks. The common bond that brings all enthusiasts together regardless of their backgrounds is the passion for interesting vehicles.
  9. Old cars keep people young. Whether it is a nostalgic story from someone’s past, getting someone out into the garage to tinker, or the social nature of the car hobby I would always see a youthful twinkle in old-timers’ eyes when they are around old cars.
  10. It isn’t just about the final destination; it is about the journey itself and the people you meet along the way.
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