Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Car blogging I Hate My Classic Car
My wife and I ditched our dull late-model sedans a few years ago. We adopted a 1963 Studebaker Avanti as our only car, driven once or twice a week from our downtown San Francisco home. I blame the Avanti's seductive powers for our infatuation. It looks futuristic even today—Jude Law drove one in the space-age fantasy film Gattaca—and the car is loaded with luxury options. . .As many a passerby reminded us, they don't make 'em like that anymore. But several years with this rolling museum piece has taught me the truth: Even the best old cars sucked.

The automobile in question:

I have some sympathy, as regular readers know. An old car isn't really transportation, it's a long-term project that provides transportation. Much of what he says is true. Get into one of those older ones and it feels like you're driving an old truck. They're noisy. The steering is squishy. They rattle a lot. You feel totally exposed without bucket seats and shoulder straps (though you do have acres of steel between you and any errant object). I suspect Mr. Boutin more or less went in expecting an experience similar to what he had been driving and when it didn't measure up, blamed the car. There's some justification to blame the car, mind you; I think Detroit (and Kenosha) had quality problems long before the 1970s. But, you know, if you expect an Acheulean hand axe to perform like a chain saw, you're bound to be disappointed.

Maintenance seems to be his biggest problem. Once a car hits 10, things will start going. Since most people don't keep their cars much longer than that, they're not used to having to constantly fix stuff. On top of that, modern cars are far more reliable than they were then. Still, with something as complex as an automobile, everything's not going to go at once. The brakes will need work, then the transmission, then the steering, then another part of the brakes, then the engine, blah blah blah. It's just something to live with.

He might have needed far more work on the thing than basic maintenance though. He probably would have done well to have a complete engine rebuild, which is probably preferable to putting a whole new engine in it for something of that vintage (I did that to mine, but my original engine kinda sucked anyway).

I think it's entirely reasonable to have an old car as a daily driver since, you know, I do. You can keep them maintained to be reliable, but it will take more time and money than a modern car. And a really good mechanic. And you need to know at least something about the mechanics to know what needs to be done when.

There's remods*, of course, which is sort of what I did. Generally I don't like that concept, though obviously I partially went along that route myself with the new engine and exhaust. Most of the fun of having an old car is. . . .having an old car. It's experiencing what people experienced back when the car was new, or what you experienced back when the car was new. You don't really want to get your whole life stuck in the '60s or '70s or whatever, but it's fun to get behind the wheel and be taken back to those times. And it's preserving a bit of history. But it costs.

* Remod: Restoration-modification. A lot of the car shows on TV do this. They'll take a classic car, and upgrade most of the crucial parts -- steering, suspension, engine, etc. -- with modern parts so it performs like a modern car.