Living the Car Lust Lifestyle: Owning One
We here at Car Lust often compose soaring prose to cars which the larger society relegates to the dustbin of history, odd bits of automotive flotsam and jetsam that occasionally rise up from the depths of our personal histories and break upon this little corner of the internet that all may see and wonder at the quirkiness of our collective automotive history. Who among us hasn't clicked over here to see a car that brings back recollections of youth, maybe your first car? It's always great to see a car your parents owned, one that calls up those warm fuzzy memories of snoozing in the back seat, safe in the knowledge that mom and dad would get us wherever we were going safely.
And so we read these missives to cars gone by and at least every once in a while think how neat it would be to find one of our favorites in good condition, lovingly cared for by its owner, and ready, with
minimal restoration, to carry us back to those thrilling days of yesteryear when our main concerns were how much time we could spend hanging out with friends and getting more guys/girls into the car with us. "Yeah," we think, "I'll get me one of those and cruise around town with the old songs playing, the wind in
my hair what hair I have left, and everything will be groovy/cool/rad/[insert-decade-specific-adjective-here]."
And then one day ... you do it. Barring a rapid no-fault divorce for making such a flaky impulse purchase, you're the proud owner of your favorite old car. Now what?
I can tell you first hand, it ain't no picnic.
As I previously described I am, in fact, the proud owner of a typical Car Lust model: the late, barely lamented 1974-1978 Mustang II. How I acquired it is detailed therein, but suffice it to say that it truly was an impulse purchase, albeit a necessary one. And now from the pedestal of having owned the dumb thing for going on 18 years now (has it really been that long?), I feel I am in a position to offer you, the Car Lust reader, some advice if you happen to one day let your emotion get the better of your good sense and actually decide to act on a lust.
One hopes the reader will forgive my bluntness, but there is one overriding rule of thumb to keep firmly in mind when contemplating the purchase of an older car: Old cars suck. Oh sure, they look pretty good on the outside. Those sensuous curves, classic (or not so classic) lines, all screaming Performance! Luxury! Good Taste! But once you get them home and start living with them for a while, you come to appreciate the advances in technology and quality that have come about in the last couple of decades.
Good looks aside, we're still talking about old technology. Depending on how far back you go you may end up with only lap belts or no belts at all which may induce feelings of abject terror at highway speeds. For the most part you can forget about fuel injectors; you'll get sometimes finicky carburetors to deal with which, depending on the make and year, may have you under the hood more than once manually adjusting the choke just to get it to start. The steering and suspension will be soft and squishy, especially on American models, and by and large it will be creaky, drafty, noisy, and occasionally leaky. Drive on the highway for more than an hour or so and your ears will feel like you just got out of a rock concert. And forget about having a quiet conversation with your passenger; you'll find yourself hoarse after nearly shouting at one another the entire time.
Have I mentioned repairs yet? There are approximately 20,000 parts on an average car and they don't all wear out and/or break at the same rate. This is both a blessing and a curse. If they all went at once, no one in their right mind would drop the amount of money necessary to fix them all. On the other hand, you are virtually guaranteed that at any given time something is in need of repair. Sometimes it's big and expensive, sometimes small and inexpensive, but perhaps more irritating. In many cases, basic parts are easy to come by, especially if the major drive train components were used on a lot of models. But just try to find, say, that little bit of rubber that goes on the end of the sun visor for a Mustang II. Really, it's almost as much fun trying to describe what it is you need as it is to actually find it (I did, by the way). Did you know that a short-circuit in a rear window defroster can cause the entire back window to shatter? Twice? And I've lost track of the times I've had to rewire that ^#$@*)($ defroster. At the moment, I am (knock wood) only dealing with a front seat latch that has a broken cable.
This naturally brings us to the subject of restoration or modification or "restomodding" as it's sometimes called: taking an older car and refitting it with newer parts to create what amounts to a modern car under a classic car body. This has become something of a cottage industry of late with several TV shows devoted to creating "project cars." New engines, transmissions, steering, more and better insulation, modern climate control systems, new seats, all there to give you that "old car" feeling without all the discomforts that go along with them.
Isn't that a bit like cheating? Frankly, I'm of two minds on the whole restomod issue. On the one hand, I will confess that I did, in fact, swap out the old 139-horsepower 302 in my Mustang II for a newer 5.0-liter fuel injected engine with dual exhaust. I had several reasons for doing so, but it largely came down to having a dirty, underpowered, inefficient powerplant in an otherwise nicely functional package. Engine modifications were one way to go to get more power, but that would more or less sacrifice mileage in the bargain and these days it's not all that sensible to be driving a 7 mpg car. And, in a sense, a new engine doesn't really change the basic operation of the car: it's mostly just more of the same power (though in my case a bit more noise as well).
In the end I chose to keep the remainder of the car more or less as-is (sorry, I must have something other than an AM/FM 8-track 10-watt stereo). Yeah, the seats aren't the most comfortable, and it's still rattly and creaky and drafty and noisy, but that's part of the fun of having an old car: every time you get behind the wheel you step into a time capsule and experience what you or others experienced back when it was all shiny and new.
And there's something undeniably appealing about the simplicity of old cars. Sit in a new car today and you will be surrounded by DVDs, iDrives, iPods, GPS, OnStars, touch screens, TomToms, Bluetooths (Blueteeth?), paddle shifters, CVTs, and a virtually endless alphabet of other devices all designed to make the driving experience ... easier? There is something altogether viscerally rewarding about having an engine, transmission, steering wheel, gas and brake pedals, and not a whole lot else. Behold, I press my right foot and I go down the road with nothing but a star and an oil company map to steer by. If I am cold I turn on the heater; hot and I open the window (and remain hot, but maybe not quite as sweaty).
Don't mistake this for an ode to Ludditism. I wish to heck that my Mustang handled as well as a base model Honda and be warm on a cold winter's day within five minutes of starting it up. But, it is what it is and memories of "the good old days" need a shot of reality every now and then lest they become a bit too warm, fuzzy, and rose-colored. To be honest, if/when I get another car I'll no doubt grab the most reliable and technologically bullet-proof and sophisticated one I can find.
Is having one of these things worth it? It's certainly not for everybody. It's almost a requirement that you become at least somewhat mechanically proficient, if only to avoid putting your mechanic's entire extended family through college. In most cases, there's no investment opportunity as very few cars will ever appreciate in value enough to recoup the time and money spent on keeping them up. It all comes down to whether or not the satisfaction and pleasure you get from driving the car is worth the various investments you put into it. For me, having a car that I could have bought new when I first got my driver's license and seeing people break into smiles when they see it is worth all the little niggly problems and inconveniences.
And now if you will excuse me, I have a seat latch cable to replace.
The photos are, in order:
-- A 1969 MG MGB Roadster, which is probably the single most common car that people buy to "fix up and drive some day"
-- A 1965 AMC Rambler ambassador 990 Sport Coupe
-- An ad for a 1978 Plymouth Sapporo, née, Mitsubishi Gallant Lambda
--Anthony J. Cagle