If you got all your vintage car information from TV shows, you’d likely think all classics had paint shinier than the sun and, if they didn’t, had to be restored in 30 days or someone would be forced to sell their shop. The truth is stranger than fiction, though. When contemplating a vintage car purchase, or justifying the one (or two, or three …) you currently own, you’ll waffle between the joys and the inconveniences. The conclusion we reach from weighing these pros and cons will be different for everyone, but don’t shy away; join the conversation and add your own reasons, either for or against, in the comments.
I wrote out some of the points of vintage car ownership I have personally debated and discussed with friends and family over the years. These have shaped both my collection and my life, and hopefully they can help shape yours.
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Kyle is a very thoughtful and intelligent writer. I always enjoy his columns and they often evoke a reaction in me. In this column, he writes about the pros and cons of vintage car ownership, as if it's a choice. For me, it wasn't. From my very earliest recollections, I have been a car fanatic. There was no alternative path for me. It was always going to be cars and motorcycles. And because I wasn't born into a rich family, I always lusted for the cars in the back row of the used car lots.
I was raised in a working class trades family. Everyone in my family worked with their hands. So if I was going to love cars, I was also going to work on them myself. There are some pros and cons about that.
I wasn't raised to wear a suit, white shirt and tie to work, but somehow that happened. I can't tell you how many professional meetings I attended on Monday mornings, where it was clear that I was the only one who had been working on greasy cars all weekend. I was often embarrassed by that grease that just wouldn't come off my fingers. One of the cons of classic car ownership is that class thing. Some people simply look down upon those who get their hands dirty.
That is even true among some members of the car community. This next comment is going to piss some people off, but when I was a member of my local Porsche club, there was a very distinct sense of awe mixed with contempt by some of the members when they considered those (few) of us who worked on our own cars.
In many ways, it's a lot easier or at least more natural to own a classic if you can rebuild it yourself. It gets expensive and frustrating when you have to rely upon someone else to fix that old machine in your garage. And driving a car that you have restored has to be one of the most satisfying things that I can think of. It takes a lot of skill, discipline and determination to tear apart a car and get it back together again. Restoration of old cars gives us all a little more self reliance in a complicated world. For me, the Pros far exceed the Cons. Thanks for your article, Kyle!
Pretty much agree across the board. Owning 4 pre 1975 vehicles I always have something that needs attention. But even though I am north of 60 years old I am having fun...all that matters. My buddy's Dad is almost 90 and before this COVID junk was doing 2-3 cars shows a month.....so it can be done! I may not feel the same in a few years....but my son is a car guy and I hope will carry on for me.
My 1968 Corvette has no power brakes, no power steering, no AC, no computers, no airbags, etc. Just a big V8 engine with a car attached...wild, raw and dangerous. However, that happy to be alive feeling cruising down the highway or through town is priceless and just the way I like it.
My father had a 1956 Chev 4 door hardtop with 265 and manual. Oh to have that today. He always drove 65mph even pulling a small trailer. Never a problem. In fact I had a 57 Chev and drove that same speeds in mid sixties. The big difference today is overdrive transmissions, computer controlled ignition and much better machining for all parts. My father used to brag that he got 107,000 miles out of the 56 Chev. That was not that common. Now instead of running 2500 to 3000 rpm at 65 mph engines will run 1500 to 1800 at that speed. Plus with computer controlled ignition, gas is not washing down the cylinders every time an engine is started. No wonder 100,000 miles is just getting broken in!
40 or 50 years ago.... no, try 70 years ago or more. The interstate system was started in the mid-fifties. Cars from the ‘60’s and ‘70’s certainly were able to cruise all day at highway speeds... but most understood the limitations in braking, acceleration and handling. It was second nature. Today’s cars are infinitely better performing, handling, and especially braking. Most drivers today take for granted how capable today’s cars are. Those that drove 50 years ago know what to expect with old cars.
The other point not mentioned: to paraphrase Jay Leno, if you make money on an old car, you didn’t do it right. Also, the generations all have their favorites, and time marches on. The car hobby, still perceived as an “investment” by many is overdue for a hard crash as public perception, changing laws, and younger generations not interested in cars, except as appliances.
The joys of vintage car ownership certainly outweigh the cons. Image I'm not really concerned about. I don't often show my cars, other than when the show is part of a bigger car activity. And actually, the maintenance is part of the experience. I'm a tinkerer, and I love restoring and maintaining old cars. Fun? Oh, yeah! Safety is a minor concern, so I stay very alert when driving one of my old cars. But I am also a racer, so I accept the risk as part of the dues. The social aspect is high on the list of pros. When you have a gathering of people who are as passionate about the subject that has brought them together, only positive experiences can develop. And since I keep a modern car for everyday chores, the usability factor is of no importance. Vintage cars are a joy in themselves. Each has a personality. and each gives it's own rewards.
I own a 1976 Triumph Spitfire 1500 that I work hard to keep up to snuff. We love to take it up the Metroparks roadway up to Lake Erie to get ice cream at Huntington Beach. Last week we decided to use it to do our errands and to save time took it on I-71 into the city (Cleveland). To say the least it was an "exciting" ride. At the top speed of 60 (that is the fastest that I dared) we could feel every crack and seam in the road. It was a great ride but not one I would do on a regular basis. Another reason to own vintage is the "Wow" factor. When you pull up to a light and get thumbs ups and hoots. that is worth all the hours of wrenching.
Vintage cars and trucks are great to bring back to life and enjoy but they take a lot of time ,green, and patience. Parts are not necessarily on a a shelf and finding them can be a challenge. But to complete the project is truly amazing.
Kyle; this is as honest and well-written an article as I’ve seen. The “Image” section especially so.
You write “cars of the 1960s were never expected to last 60 years…”, and you’re right, but most cars of the 1960s, and even 1950s, would last longer age-wise than their 1970s and 80s descendants. Their build quality was usually higher.
In 1972 as a 19 year old wide eyed kid, I fell head over heels for a Jolly green with white c stripe brand new Javelin SST. My cousin had an AMC dealership so credit was easy, gas was cheap and I was the envy of all my buds. After 3 or 4 years of immense enjoyment I sold it as my taste driffted to sporty cars, an Opel GT to be exact, and have regretted it since. Last fall I picked up my bucket list ride, a 1972 Javelin SST 360 in Big Bad Green @ 90% done. I was going to have a shop finish it but because of Covid and the lockdown in Canada and the need to self isolate, I decided to tackle the items on my finish list. I have taken it to pretty close to being finished doing things like paint and clearcoat repairs, installed a black c stripe, took care of mechanical issues etc. As I complete each item on my list I get great satisfaction that I did it on my own. Pretty hard to find any other hobby that can put a bigger smile on your face than that. Hopefully next year the car shows, show and shines etc. will be back and I will be ready to share my ride with other enthusiasts. After all isn't that what it is all about? Till then I will go for a ride or just sit in my shop and admire a beautiful work of art. No matter what car your taste leans toward, enjoy it, that's what they were built for.
I love the older cars because thy don't have all the technology crap in them and they don't look like bizarre insects on wheels. They have character, bizarre design or otherwise, and are in general more fun to be around.
I don't do my own work anymore because I've had a stroke but I'm still in the Hobby, 82 years old, 30 days till 83 if I make it, and I'm not going anyplace.
Very good work as always Kyle, and I thank you.
Everything is a compromise. My classic is a 1993 Miata, it is not a chick magnet, it is not the fastest, it has a very narrow interest group, it isn't a long distance highway cruiser (in fact a long drive does a number on my right knee), it is most assuredly the most comfortable, it doesn't have a lot of luggage room, it is a car that outsider guys love making fun of because it is a "Chick's car", and at present it is terrifying to drive because the timing belt should be replaced.
It makes me smile, I have had it for over twenty years and I have enjoyed just about every single inch I have driven it and if I have to take a wrench to it or pay someone else to take a wrench to it I look at that as what has to be done so that the smile stays on my face.
At the end of the day if it makes you happy and it isn't making someone else miserable that is all that matters. Thanks for the reminder Kyle. I will say this, I would enjoy a weekend out of town driving the Miata if I could just get there in another car that was better on a road trip. Like I said, everything is a compromise.
So true. In my case, I do not have a car that needed to be stock for value so I was able to upgrade components. Swapping out the 727 for a A518 for going 70+ was a no brainer.
Finding a good mechanic who does good work has been my issue. I can replace rubber seals, swap out a master brake cylinder, fix some rough paint or put on new mirrors and bumpers - but some things I leave to the experts.
Expert is the issue - a lot of them will just fix it enough to get you down the road, or say "your new gauges shot" or "that is the it supposed to be", and find out later it was a real problem or the problem just comes back.
As I wait for my new door handles (rather than adjusting them for the 20th time)....sometimes it is just better to replace the part than trying to save something that was not designed to work for 50 years.
But one nice payoff is that you end up with a lot of mechanic friends. Many shops are just happy to have something cool to work on and are almost as excited as you are when they get your 50+ year old car back on the road.
Let's talk about the fact that you invest thousands of dollars in them, and when finished, they are often worth about 1/2 to 2/3rds of what you put into restoring them. Kinda like a boat: A big black hole of metal to throw money into.
But don't dare, ever, to tell us that it's a waste of time! Love my 68 Mustang Convertible after spending years restoring her. Would I do it again. H33L No! I would buy one already finished and ready to drive. My 68 has more than enough DNA in it, via blood, sweat & tears, that if it ever got taken, I could prove it's mine simply by analyzing the DNA! 🙂
Pro: They’re the most fun you can have with your clothes on.
Con: They ARE money pits.
Remember this however, life is finite and no matter how much or how little money you have when you die, everyone is the same in the cemetery so enjoy it while you can.
The comment about ignoring new noises is so important. With many parts unavailable, minimizing a problem by catching it before it literally explodes could mean the difference between continued enjoyment or a basket case.
Modern "vintage" cars have another horror. Electronics. If your 20 year old ECU craps out, then you're likely off to eBay to find a used one. Eventually, every ECU and electronic box for these older "new" cars is going to be gone and we'll be programming Arduino's to substitute.
Still, I have totally enjoyed my affairs with vintage cars. They are friends and companions. I talk to my Ferrari when I walk past it in the garage. I plead with it before starting to not throw a code or make a weird noise. I thank it when I pull into my garage after a spirited drive and all the parts are in the same condition as they were when I pulled out.
Who am I kidding? It's all about love.
Excellent article! You are absolutely correct about community (“Want to make new friends? Just drive a vintage car into a public place and smile”). I drive my DeLorean everywhere and I’ve met so many nice people because of it. Just today I had it parked at a local coffee shop. Within a few minutes a father and son had walked over to get some pictures. I walked back to the car to greet them and let them sit inside. It made their day, especially the young boy. The smiles on their faces and the excitement in their voices is partially why I keep putting money into it: so everyone can enjoy it.
My biggest driving thrill is to startup my 1940 hotrod, take in the smells and sounds, and go for a drive. Cruising in that thing just brings a smile to my face. I also think that if done correctly, owning an old car doesn't have to be expensive. If you buy the best condition car you can afford, then maintain and upgrade it as needed, your costs over the long term will be no higher than if you buy a brand new model and have it depreciate just sitting in the garage. My 1940 is no show car, but 20 years from now, it will still be worth more than a 2020 SUV and the miles per smile will be far greater.
My old cars are my passion aind the worse shape they begin the more rewarding the project! Consider this when thinking about a vintage car:
I have a 1969 Camaro, when it needed a muffler it was $60 installed, when I needed the heads milled, new valves, springs and cam I still paid less than $1500 for all that work. All the parts were readily available even with COVID. The car sounds right, looks right and takes me where I want to go. All the mechanical labor costs remain about the same as 1990. Alternators and starters are still less than $50!
As far as safety is concerned, if the cell phone is in the glove box or better yet the trunk, there are nearly zero distractions. I know how to turn on the heater by pulling the 3 knobs down and the AM radio gets tuned by turning the dial till you hear what you want. No Bluetooth, fancy auto heat, nav screens, or any number of “features” to fiddle around with. I ask you what can top the staccato thump of a solid lifter Duntov cam anyway?
I would say that most US cars (at least mid-priced and above ones) of 50 years ago were made to cruise at 70, sometimes-wandering bias-ply tires notwithstanding. Until the 55 MPH limit went into effect in early 1974, I believe that most states had limits of 70 or more. My dad's 1961, 1964, and 1968 Buicks, and my grandfather's 1967 Dodge Monaco, certainly had no such trouble. Nor does my 1975 Olds 88 convertible, nor did my former 1968 327 Impala. Perhaps some 6-cylinder compacts and such were not comfortable at 70, I don't know.
My 1969 Beetle would seemingly cruise at 70 all day, but it was German, after all.
I've been in love with cars since a little boy. Not my occupation, but my hobby after retirement. I rented a small shop the week I quit working, nearly twenty years ago. Now I restore one vintage Porsche 356 a year. Here at the shop seven days a week. Pure bliss, not to mention the driving. .....Jim.
Bought a 2013 GMC Acadia new. Spent 50K. Drove it off the lot and it was now a used car worth a fraction of what I payed. Bought an ‘89 e30 BMW coupe for 6K. Spent
a bunch of money on it to make it look new again. It’s worth what I put into it or more since I did some of the work myself. I like the GMC. I love the BMW. Which one is a better purchase financially? Definitely the BMW. It’s a gamble with the older cars, but buying new is always accompanied by a loud FLUSH of cash down the pipes.
I just finished totally redoing my 73 Stingray's interior. My proudest achievement in the laborious task was I tore apart the clock and fixed it. The clock had never worked which is not uncommon in the old boats and its something I had been wanting to do ever since buying it 20 years ago. I have owned new vettes, a few year old vettes, but this one is the car I have liked the most. The bad thing about old cars is once you replace any single thing that is within view it makes all the other things you didn't replace look "OLD". There is the catch and why vintage repro stuff must be the best business in the world because when you make the mistake of replacing that rearview mirror with a nice, crisp repro you end up replacing the entire interior to match that $50 new mirror at a completed cost that just made the whole idea of a good investment go very bad. But you know I am so happy with my car I just can't stop running to the QT for a drink or to get that gallon of milk for the wife without complaining. In fact, I am hoping she needs something before I finish typing this or I am going to need to top off my fuel. Cheers to all of us who drive and work on youthful dreams we now own.
The safety angle can be a big concern. In 1963 or so I had a 56 Renault Dauphine that had to be put in second gear or even first to slowly crawl up small hills that any modern car, even the most inexpensive ones, can sail over at 70 mph without any noticeable effort. In today's traffic it would be a real hazard. And drum brakes were a true nightmare - if you had to make a panic stop while traveling 65, by the time you got stopped the brakes were starting to fade.