The top five classic car cities

Look at any forum, chat room or Facebook fan page where old car enthusiasts gather and the common thread is a feeling that it’s hard to tell one new car from another. Whether you subscribe to that notion or not, it’s always refreshing to see old cars mixing with the new. Certain cities in the U.S. just seem to be more classic-car centric — they have the perfect mix of a reverence for vintage cars plus a combination of culture, roads and climate. Here are some of our picks for the most classic-friendly cities in the U.S.:

  1. Portland, Ore.: Portland is America’s best old car town. Trust us. A mild inland climate where snow is a rarity and road salt is unheard of means that old cars really don’t rust unless left outside in a damp Portland winter with the top down. An ample supply of reasonably priced old cars and young hipster drivers means that car spotters can see everything from Ford Falcons to Datsun 510s and AMC Gremlins plying areas like the Pearl District, Hawthorne and NW 23rd as daily transportation. There are several blogs dedicated to old cars photographed at random on the streets of Portland. There’s an entire cottage industry of ace mechanics who don’t advertise (and for whom you have to know the secret knock) but who service Portland’s bounty of old cars. Add this to the truly killer roads just out of town that crisscross the Willamette Valley wine country and the Pacific Coast (just mind the militant bicyclists), and Portland is hands down America’s best old car town.
  2. Monterey, Calif.: The Monterey Peninsula is host to some of the old car world’s most glamorous events — The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elégance, The Quail Motorsports GatheringThe Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion and numerous classic car auctions. In addition to all of this, its proximity to some of the most scenic stretches of US 1 and the iconic 17 Mile Drive which accesses the famed Pebble Beach Golf Course make for some unforgettable drives. That plus a fairly arid climate (once you get slightly inland) ensures that there are plenty of rust-free old cars around in daily use.
  3. Scottsdale, Ariz.: Scottsdale, like Monterey, plays host once a year to an orgy of classic car excess in the form of no less than six collector car auctions that take place in the middle of January. There’s simply nothing like it anywhere else on the planet. Permanent home to the Barrett-Jackson auction company of SPEED TV fame as well as Russo and Steele, the area boasts a year-round old car driving season (assuming you have A/C and an up-to-date cooling system) as well as some great roads in the mountains just north of Scottsdale. And it’s in the desert, so rust is virtually unheard of.
  4. Los Angeles: It may be congested and smoggy, but Southern California is to many still the epicenter of the American car culture, and it’s still possible to enjoy some truly great drives in a classic car. The classics are Mulholland Drive from the 405 to Laurel Canyon Boulevard and PCH from Santa Monica to Zuma Beach. Unlike most states, old cars in California wear their original license plates with pride and you can tell a California native from the 1960s by its black and yellow plates or a child of the 1970s by its classic blue and yellow plates. 
  5. Detroit: Yes, it’s an obvious choice, what with the whole Motor City thing, but the fact of the matter is, it’s well-earned. In addition to being the seat of the U.S. auto industry, the car culture is fully ingrained into the city’s psyche. Blue-collar, honest American muscle cars are celebrated here every August at the Woodward Dream Cruise, which takes place on the legendary Woodward Avenue where so much of the unofficial R&D was done by the Big Three during the muscle car era. The driving season is limited and the fact that salt is practically the state mineral of Michigan means that winter drives are a no-no, but with numerous automotive-related attractions like The Henry Ford Museum, Detroit is a must on any list of the best old car cities.
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