Daily driving a classic can be a lot of fun, but should you?

Hack-Mechanic-Daily-Driver-Lead
Rob Siegel

I write a lot about the joys and pains of owning vintage cars. Much of my content revolves around a) doing preventive maintenance so you can live the dream and road-trip the cars, and b) putting the cars away for the winter and pulling them out in the spring.

But there is another way to use a vintage car.

Daily drive it.

Wait, what?

Before you start lobbing tomatoes at me, let me be clear about two things. First, I believe that while it is your car and you are free to do anything you want with it, there are certain bounds of propriety that you should accept if you want to be a responsible member of the vintage car world and not look like a spoiled brat with a trust fund. If you live in a location, like my beloved state of Massachusetts, where at the first snowflake they lay down so much salt that you can hear the bridge decks rusting, it is jarring to even think of someone taking a rust-prone classic like a Jaguar XKE or a vintage 911 and doing donuts in the parking lot with it. And it’s downright heartbreaking to hear of someone daily driving such a car in salty slush.

There are limits, and when exceeded they get you reported to the oft-whispered-about Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Vintage Cars (SFTPOCTVC). They have British Racing Green helicopters. You don’t want to know what the penalties are.

Second, if you insure your car with a specialty insurance provider, there are restrictions on your policy that essentially require that you don’t daily drive it—for instance, Hagerty requires that all household members with a valid driver’s license have a regular-use vehicle for daily driving and maintain regular-use insurance in their own names. The idea is that if you own and insure a daily driver, you’re likely to also drive it, which means you’re not driving your classic every day. (If you have any questions about what your policy entails, call your provider and speak with a representative.)

But let’s assume for the moment that there are no insurance limitations or weather concerns. You love your car, and driving it gives you great pleasure. Why wouldn’t you daily it if you could?

Or maybe I should phrase it in a less value-loaded way: Would you daily-drive your collector car if you could?

Rob Siegel - Bring A Trailer - DSC_0502
Rob Siegel

Let me start with a story. About 15 years ago, I had a 1973 BMW 2002tii (similar to the one that I sold for my friend Mike on Bring a Trailer) that I’d just finished sorting out. I had it on eBay, and a local fellow came to check it out. He said he’d craved one of these cars for decades. He looked at it, drove it, loved it, and literally pulled out a checkbook and began writing me a check for my asking price.

“Where do you live?” I asked.

“Beacon Hill” (a classic old downtown Boston neighborhood).

“Boy,” I said, “renting garage space down there must be pricey.”

“I don’t have a garage.”

“So where would you park it?”

“On the street.” I was stunned.

“You don’t even have off-street parking for your other car?”

“This would be my only car.”

“We need to talk.”

I explained that if he took an old rust-prone car like this with its small ornamental bracelet-like bumpers and parked it on the street in downtown Boston, in nine months it would be unrecognizable due to bumper bashes, weather, and likely vandalism, and that the best thing I could do was not take his money and force him to think about what he was proposing.

He wasn’t happy. The guy was a surgeon and was not used to being talked to like this. He yelled at me, saying, “Who the hell do you think you are not to take my money?” I calmly held my ground.

In the morning, he called me. To my surprise, he thanked me for forcing him to think things through. He realized that he wasn’t only looking to buy a vintage car—he needed to buy a support structure for a vintage car.

Now, OK. That’s an extreme case. You’re not like that. You’re likely Hagerty client who already owns a vintage, or classic, or valuable car and understands about the larger support structure and the myriad of issues of caring for the car.

So, given that, would you daily drive the car if you could? Do you even want to?

It’s an interesting question, n’est pas?

I first insured a car with Hagerty nearly 20 years ago. It was the 1973 BMW 3.0CSi that I’ve owned since 1986. Since it has a Karmann-built body, and since the essential must-know automotive joke is that Karmann invented rust, then licensed the process to the Italians, it goes without saying that the car never sees snow or salted roads, as you can hear it scream like the demons in Constantine when holy water is mixed in with the sprinkler system. But for decades, whenever the weather was amenable, I commuted to work in the car the five miles each way on local roads. Stopping myself from doing so when the car went on the Hagerty policy took some adjustment, but it was the right thing to do. The policy for the guaranteed value of $14,000 cost me something like $120/year, which was about 1/5 of what I was paying for conventional insurance. Obviously, both the guaranteed value and the premium have increased since then.

My precious ’73 3.0CSi was driven to work as often as possible before it went on my Hagerty policy in 2013. Rob Siegel

Not entirely coincidentally, around this time, I bought my 1982 Porsche 911SC. Knocking down the premium on the 3.0CSi by putting it on the Hagerty policy was one of the things that enabled the purchase of the Porsche. I daily-drove the bejesus out of it, which certainly took the sting out of the restricted use of the 3.0CSi. At the time, Massachusetts had insurance laws that allowed a Hagerty-type policy only on cars that were at least 25 years old, so the SC remained insured conventionally for years.

My dearly departed ’82 911SC was daily driven before it became a Hagerty car. Rob Siegel

History rapidly repeated itself when, in 2007, I happened into a decently priced 1999 BMW M Coupe (a.k.a. “the clownshoe”). The 911SC had just turned 25 years old and thus qualified to go on the Hagerty policy. It and the 3.0CSi officially became weekend cars, and the M Coupe became the fun daily driver. At some point, Massachusetts insurance rules changed, allowing me to put the M Coupe on the Hagerty policy as well.

My M Coupe doesn’t see much use these days, but I daily-drove the hell out of it for a while. Yes, it is ridiculously tiny in the SUV-dominated world. No, the image isn’t Photoshopped. Rob Siegel

I mention these three cars to make the point that I had been daily driving them before I elected to take the trade-off of increased coverage (and, in my case, lower premiums) for restricted use.

Now, in truth … yeah. You got me. I wasn’t really daily driving these cars, in the sense that they were my only car. I always (well, almost always, and we’ll get to that) had a dedicated daily. Even during non-winter seasons, I take pains to keep the rust-prone cars out of the rain, and obviously they’re only brought out in the winter if there’s a long-enough snowless stretch and a good-enough hard rain to wash the salt off and ensure that a winter drive isn’t utter SFTPOCTVC-taunting folly.

Taking a step back, let me pose a counterpoint to my own question. There are certainly very good reasons why you might not want to daily drive your classic even if there weren’t insurance or rust issues. It might be not wanting to put miles on a low-reading odometer. Or you might be concerned about scratching the beautiful paint or dinging the restored body. Or, if you have a decently long highway commute, the reliability issues of an old car might be a primary concern, or the wind noise from the old door seals might be fatiguing. Or the car’s climate control system might be inadequate for your location’s heat and cold. Or you might have been caught in the rain in the car once and found how stress-inducing vintage cars can be in even short heavy downpours, with their uneven braking and wipers running at the speed of a 90-year-old man picking up his mail. Or it might be as simple and understandable as liking pecan pie for Thanksgiving desert but not wanting to eat it every morning and evening. Or enjoying a short visit with your aunt Minnie but not wanting her to move in with you. Nothing wrong with any of that.

I daily drove BMW 2002s from 1982 through ’88, then moved onto whatever needy affordable BMW 3 or 5 Series sedan I could find. From 2008 through ’16, I drove BMW wagons—first an E39 1999 528iT that broke all the time, then a more-robust 2001 E46 325XiT. When the 325 wagon was beginning to get needy, and a friend of mine offered to buy it, I took him up on it. I certainly had other cars to drive—in addition to the Hagerty cars, I had a ratty 2000 Suburban that came on and off the road depending on whether I needed to use it, and my Z3 roadster wasn’t yet on my Hagerty policy—but I unexpectedly found myself without a dedicated daily driver.

Then I stumbled onto a ’74 2002tii for a good price. Suddenly I had the chance to wind the clock back to the 1980s and daily-drive a BMW 2002 again. The guy who’d owned it for 30 years drove it to one of the lawn events at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline, Massachusetts, with a “For Sale” sign on it. After chatting with him for a bit, he asked my advice on how to price the car. A few days later I went to his house and examined it thoroughly. Both of the rear shock towers had rust that was concerning but not unsafe, the exterior had a few rust blisters, and the car immediately needed a few minor repairs, but in general it looked good and drove well.

Otto shortly after I bought it. Rob Siegel

I said something like, “In better condition, it would be worth $Z. If you did this and that to it, it would be worth $Y. But to someone like me, as-is, it’s worth closer to $X.”

“I’m not afraid of $X,” he said.

“Just to be clear,” I said, “I’m not offering you $X.”

I paused.

“But if I WERE offering you $X …”

After a brief negotiation, I wound up with the car, which came with the name “Otto.” After I fixed a few things, I found that, to my surprise, it was one of the most solid-feeling, low-thunk, low-rattle 2002s I’d ever owned.

At the time, I had another 2002, a rust-free, small-bumpered, round-taillight ’72 2002tii that was easily worth four times what I’d paid for Otto. The chrome-bumpered cars are much trimmer and prettier than the ’74 and later cars with the big federally mandated 5-mph bumpers, which on a 2002 have all the delicacy of a tugboat. However, the small bumpers will crumple instantly if they’re nudged, whereas the big bumpers generally will withstand not only parking bumper-to-bumper taps, but also people texting at red lights and rolling into you.

The chrome bumpers on pre-’74 cars are lithe and lovely, but nearly useless for real-world protection from even parking-speed taps. Rob Siegel
Now, THAT’S a bumper. Rob Siegel

I’d recently left my 30-year engineering job and began working full-time at Bentley Publishers in Cambridge. It was slightly farther from my house, maybe eight miles each way instead of five, but still an easy commute along local roads. Something about the combination of having just become a full-time automotive writer, selling the wagon, and buying this unexpected big-bumpered driver-quality 2002tii made me think … DAILY DRIVER!

So, instead of adding Otto to my Hagerty policy, I treated myself and put the car on my regular policy and began daily-driving it to work. To increase my comfort, I transferred the pair of Konig (Recaro-style) seats from my other 2002 into the car.

Even before my recent back injury, I needed to do this to bring the car to daily-driver level. Rob Siegel

I had an absolutely delightful four months with Otto. I drove it into Cambridge nearly every day. I didn’t scan the rear-view mirror in terror while sitting at stop lights as I do in the small-bumpered cars (and yes, people rolled into Otto’s bumpers twice). If I had somewhere to go after work, I simply drove the car and parked it, whether that was in a lot or on the street. And, since I had the car conventionally insured, I didn’t need to worry about violating my Hagerty policy. It was liberating.

And, while I don’t own or drive these cars to have people look at me, I have to admit that, from a self-image standpoint, it was kind of cool to be the guy choosing to daily drive a BMW 2002 30 years after that fat part of the curve of the car’s usage profile had passed.

Otto was a great car to daily for four months. Rob Siegel

When the snow began to fall, I did pull Otto off the road for the winter (I’m not a Philistine) and daily drove the ratty Suburban for one final season before selling it. That winter, I happened into the 2003 530i stick sport that I still have, the car that’s proven to be the best daily driver I’ve ever owned.

When I prepared Otto for sale the following spring, I performed a routine compression test and found that the car had low compression in one cylinder. A leak-down test revealed that the head was cracked. I knew that Otto’s sale value was going to be capped by the rusty rear shock towers, so pulling off the cracked head, sourcing another head, getting the valve job done, transferring the components, and reassembling the engine ate up any profit I might have had in the car. But I didn’t regret any of it for a moment.

So, should you daily drive your vintage car? Obviously, you need to take into account the value of the car, its fragility, the climate, where you work, and other real-world factors. If you’re serious about it, and the parameters are such that the SFTPOCTVC won’t bust you, and you work out the insurance issues, you might want to give it a test drive before a full-on commitment. Sort of like having pie for breakfast every day for Thanksgiving weekend. Or a week with your aunt Minnie.

Just don’t tell me you’re doing it on Beacon Hill, or I’ll give you the what-for.

***

Rob Siegel’s latest book, The Best of the Hack MechanicTM: 35 years of hacks, kluges, and assorted automotive mayhem, is available on Amazon. His other seven books are available here, or you can order personally inscribed copies through his website, www.robsiegel.com.

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    The type of car and how well its been maintained are the two biggest factors here. For awhile I was daily driving a Volvo Amazon, which at the time was 40+ years old. Those cars are incredibly robust and reliable. I never once had a breakdown in that car, and only a few minor bruises. I used to own a BMW 2002, a small bumpered ’71, and daily drove it for awhile back in the 90’s. Even though it was only 25 years old then, it was a constant struggle to keep that car on the road, it was incredibly finnicky and came home on the back of a truck more than once.

    Depends on the car you chose to drive. You choose a Euro car with hard to find parts and major service schedules. Then yes it could be tough.

    If it is a Corvette or pony car then it is not all that tough as these cars are pretty maintenance free and can go many miles with little work.

    I have a car now that I have owned for 40 years and I could hit the road to anyplace and only this year did I do some up keep repairs to be preventative not because it broke down.

    My uncle drives a 911 air cool daily and other than some minor things it keeps on running.

    Much of the reward is in the choice you make. I used to drive a Fiat. When they say 25K miles on a timing belt they mean 25 not 26.

    Next summer will be my first stint at daily driving our 91′ BMW 318iS, a solid 7/10 car. It’s not the most brazen choice certainly, but with a kiddo in tow I need to avoid weekly hiccups. My wife spent 4 months commuting in our 4-pt roll bar, bucket seat, 99′ Mazda Miata license plated HPDE racecar. Reliable transit, and extremely reliable dude magnet.

    I daily drove 3 318is cars from 2007-2019 on 40-50 mile commutes. Loved ‘em! Very, very reliable. My wife and I disagreed on whether the AC was adequate here in Phoenix though 😀

    I ‘daily drive’ all of mine – that’s in quotes because I am work from home these days, so driving daily really isn’t a thing for me these days. When I drive them, I drive them performing conventional tasks like going to the grocery store or the occasional stop into the work place and so forth. I have 5 with one under construction and 4 on the road, so there is not a great deal of duty being placed on any of them. If you like mint condition cars that look like they rolled out of the factory yesterday, daily driving probably isn’t going to be your thing, but if you are more into mechanically sound cars that you are actually going to enjoy, I recommend it. The worst thing to do to a car mechanically is let it sit

    Always a good read Rob, thank you! My biggest issue facing daily driving is when I go to the office I leave early in the morning, and all my Hagerty vehicles are quite loud – loud enough to make the neighbors really not like you at 5am

    I’ve done it, but that was in the ’90s in a non-snow climate. Never had a problem and the car suffered no damage. It already had some worn paint, door dings & paint chips, so it was a relatively low-stress means of enjoying the car on a frequent basis. People were less distracted then, and that car would be a lot more valuable, so I’m not inclined to put my nice cars at risk like that nowadays. But now that I’m retired, on a nice day with low traffic in my rural area, it’s a joy to break one out and savor it.

    Funny, this discussion just came up in a Porsche group I’m on. I live in Denver and they throw mag chloride down, which isn’t as bad as salt but still isn’t great. I don’t drive my 996 turbo in the winter but many of my friends do. I just don’t see the point of it. Most the time I take my dog to work and he’s not going in the 996. So for the 1 day a week I’d drive it to work, would I really spend the money for dedicated snow tires and then bring the car out in the mess? Or use it even less to bring it out on a day that’s not messy? Just seems kinda pointless to me. Even if I wasn’t bringing the dog to work I’m still not sure I’d bring it to work all the time, put it on traditional insurance, etc, etc.

    Interestingly, Hagerty doesn’t really save me any money on the 996 vs regular insurance, I just get a set amount paid to me if something horrible happens…

    I live just outside Santa Fe, New Mexico, 7000 feet altitude. Rust isn’t a problem here. The problems are Rats and mice and dry skin. A rat can do serious damage to a car that isn’t used often, they’re watching. My wife and I often spend a month in Maine and we have to have our house sitter drive our cars (5) at least once a week or something like a shorted out computer ($3,000) will happen before you know it.

    As others observed, it depends on the car. It also depends on where you live, or the weather where you live. Here in the northwest, where it snows maybe once a winter, but rains a lot, for a few years I had two cars: 1964 E-Type roadster (Still own it) and a 1971 E-Type 2+2. One was a winter car and the other summer. When it snowed I took the bus! Even when it snows here, virtually no salt and the snow usually lasts only a few days. Now I am retired so drive much less, but still use my Sunbeam or the E for regular use, going out to eat or to the gym. Otherwise, why have them?

    Marc, yes. Many folks don’t realize that part of the joy of owning a vintage car is firing it up in the morning to do something as mundane as buying milk. It turns it into an event.

    I think where you live makes a huge difference. Here in Texas I could daily drive anything in the winter and not worry about snow and salt. When I lived in Chicago that was not an option so there was a clear divide between winter ready daily drivers and a car I want to keep rust free.

    I daily drove a 2002 for many years in California. No problems at all. I did all maintenance and even drove it in many auto cross events and driving schools. I stopped it as a daily when it was just easier to use a small truck.
    It worked because I was so aware of that car and the sounds it made that I could always head off a problem before it became something that would leave me stranded somewhere. If it was not a daily this would not be true.
    I always say that the most expensive car you own it the one you do not drive.

    Love your analogies Rob as I LOVE pecan pie but wouldn’t want it day and night either! I had to drive my Lexus SC late last fall/early winter while waiting for my wife to get her new Explorer (she used my dd-an old man Fusion) and was very uncomfortable doing so. Getting ready to store it and our Z3 this week-right where they belong!

    Rob,

    First, your “KUGEL” license plate seems perfect!
    But beyond that note, and per Daily Driving a collectible-

    Back in 1981, my ten mile commute into downtown New Orleans’ stop and go traffic was just the place for my 435 cc-engined 1964 Citroen 2-CV and its centrifugal clutch, while my bride drove her “big block” 602 cc Citroen Ami-6 6 miles west to a suburb. We both had dedicated parking. On days where weather required A/C and/or something more substantial, we each had a 1971 Citroen D-21 Station Wagon, could use one of the pair of Suburbans, or the Citroen SM (not the best idea for staying anonymous – or for a bride with a lead foot). Fortunately, our generally reasonable weather allows us to enjoy vintage cars year-round without salt or frozen surfaces, and all toys can safely be stored away days in advance if a tropical storms threatens.

    Thanks for your always informative, enjoyable articles.

    I have 2 cars and they split daily driver duties. A BMW M635 and a Jensen Interceptor convertible.
    (Sure I don’t drive every day, and we don’t have snow, salt or real high temps to deal with)

    Well, back in the day, I was more brave than savvy. It was about 1982, I parked my AH 3000 Mk3 for the winter months, and drove an Austin Westminster Mark 2, 1964 A110,( for those in-the-know). You are correct, same Big Healey engine, but it was SO worn out. Not to mention leaking brakes, and so on. Tried this as a DD for 3 months until the burning, leaking 6 cylinder had shed just enough precious 30 weight, to seize up on a most extreme climb up from Marine Drive in Vancouver. That was it. Good news was that it was time to bring the Big Healey out of storage and it was always my most reliable DD!

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