When I was growing up I was surrounded by old cars. My dad was a mechanic, so my parents always drove older, used cars. My dad also restored muscle cars.
My earliest car memories revolve around being in the garage with my dad, learning how those old, V8s worked. When I was old enough, I spent my summer vacations working for my dad washing parts and eventually helping with restorations and race car builds. Now that I’m older, I get to work on projects of my own—based on my childhood, it’s no wonder that I gravitate toward old cars. My old cars, though are from the 80s.
There’s always been something that I’ve loved about the simplicity of older cars. They don’t have all of the modern technologies of fuel efficiency and emissions systems or the complicated management computers that often confuse weekend DIYers and shade-tree mechanics. You can open the hood and see the engine and not have to worry about whether you’ll have to take the car to the dealership to get something simple repaired or change the oil. And you don’t have to worry about voiding the warranty if you want to make a modification.
That said, owing an old car can also cause you some headaches.
The drawbacks of owning an old car
Depending on how old the car is, you can find yourself in a bind when something goes wrong (and it will). Parts are not always readily available if your car has been out of production long enough. In the internet-age, it’s not as bad as it used to be since we can go on eBay or craigslist and find some reproduction or new-old stock (NOS) parts. You shouldn’t expect, though, that your local parts store will have every random piece or part that breaks or goes bad on your car.
If you’re lucky, there are forums for your car that are frequently updated by its members who often have spare parts laying around that they’re willing to sell or you have local junk yards that have a few examples of your car on hand to pick through. The problem is that you can’t always be sure that the parts will actually work once you install them—they’ve been in someone’s garage or basement or they came off a car in a junk yard and it was there for a reason.
If you’re really lucky, you have a popular car with decent following that can afford you a variety of replica aftermarket parts to keep your trusty rust bucket on the road. Just don’t count on it to have the part you’re looking for all of the time.
There’s also the issue of reliability.
Even though the 80s saw the proliferation of fuel injection technology, a lot of these cars still run on simple computers, relays, and manually set ignition timing. Changes in the weather, altitude, and even hitting the wrong bump one too many times can throw everything into disarray (or at least it might seem this way). And without onboard diagnostics, you’re left to the contents of your repair manual’s troubleshooting section and your ever-growing knowledge of how your car rungs to diagnose and fix the problem that seems to have come from nowhere. It’s likely that at one time or another, you’re going to find yourself stuck somewhere with a car that won’t start and you’ll have no idea where to begin.
More often than not, you’ll find that its the wiring that’s causing you all of your problems. Of course it’s the wiring—those wires were installed in the 1980s, which means it’s at least 30 years old and has reached the end of its serviceable life. Not to mention the owners before you have probably hacked into it once or twice to install or bypass something that wasn’t working over the years (remember neon lights and huge stereos? You’re probably going to find a short somewhere because of a hack job 15 or 20 years ago that was never finished properly).
This isn’t to say that old cars are bad. It’s just the reality of owning something that’s probably older than you are. There’s going to be a problem that comes up along the way. New cars aren’t free of these problems either, they’re just less likely.
The benefits of owning an old car
While old cars have their problems, owning and driving one is an awesome experience.
There aren’t any warranties to worry about when you decide to replace your stereo or make a modification to the engine or suspension. You have license to do pretty much whatever you want to it (so long as it’s not against the law where you live).
Another benefit is that you don’t have to feel bad about making a modification—it’s your car, you can personalize it any way you want. And the best part is, you don’t have to worry about resale value because it probably wasn’t worth all that much when you bought it.
My favorite part of owning an old car, though, is that you have the freedom to make it your own. You want a different engine? Go for it. You want paint it? No problem! You wan to slam it to the ground and stance the balls out of it? I’m not going to stop you.
My second favorite thing, and arguably the best, is that it comes with its own personality. Your old car has lived a long life and with that it’s probably been through a lot and been loved by at least one or two other people. It’s developed quirks that only you are aware of and have learned to love (or at least live with). You can feel all of the experiences of that old car and what it’s turned the car into. And as you replace a part here or modify a part there, you put a little bit of yourself into it as well, just as its previous owners did.
I, for one, wouldn’t trade that for anything.