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Driving golden era cars in the modern era

Discussion in 'Skills and Smarts' started by StraightEight, Jul 4, 2008.

  1. StraightEight

    StraightEight One of the Regulars

    Haven't seen this one discussed. We can't live in the past but it's a nice place to visit, especially in a swing-era car. Cars of the '30s and '40s were built before Eisenhower's freeways. Most have under 100 hp. Most are 3-speeds and lack overdrive. If you go for an authentic look, your car has bias-ply tires instead of radials, which makes it more of a handful. With my gear ratios, 55mph = 3500 rpm, about as fast as that long crank comfortably wants to spin. I try to avoid freeways but in LA that is impossible, but I'm sure not planning to drop a ubiquitous small-block in the Buick to replace the straight eight, as so many people at car shows encourage me to do.

    So I'd be interested in hearing your tales, observations, and techniques for operating a 60+ year old car in times when hurrying is so fashionable. Hot rodders can start their own thread; this one's for the gals and gents keeping alive old technology.

    I'll start off: I've found that an LA freeway right lane isn't such a bad place. Sure, there's traffic in LA to slow everybody down, but even on open stretches I've usually had wingmen with which to cruise at 45-50 mph (when the Buick says 60 mph, the GPS says 52--don't trust your speedo). City buses don't move much faster. Many times I've convoyed with lawn crews in claptrap Toyota trucks. Lately, the right lane has more 'normal' cars as people slow down to conserve fuel. Of course, you get the occasional jerk trying to make time in the right lane. Changing lanes is always a challenge. Mirrors were options and most period mirrors are too small to be useful. The Buick has a blindspot big enough to drive another '48 Buick through (much less a significantly lower Honda Civic). So the biggest hassle is cars merging into the freeway from the right, especially those trying to merge at 35 mph.
  2. Well, to start out, I should confess that I'm a recovering hot rodder and my "old" car is from 1968, but my true love is cars of the '30s, '40s, and '50s. I prefer original engines with modern trannies and brakes, but I don't think they're absolute necessities if you drive reasonably and anticipate the insanity of your fellow drivers.

    I do not (thank God) live in SoCal, so I have more options. On my daily commute to school, I can take 2-lane blacktop or freeway. The freeway saves about ten minutes. It's hardly worth it, even if you're not driving a classic (even better, I get about 4mpg more driving 55 instead of 70). Plus the scenery is better.

    Regarding bias plies, I think they're the only way to go. I just can't stand the look of low-profile tires (yes, even 75-series) on a Golden Era car.

    Good thread, and a neverending source of debate on many other message boards I belong to.

  3. Smithy

    Smithy I'll Lock Up

    Can't really speak for American cars but I've owned and driven a fair few classic British cars. Motorways tend to be a bit tiresome for many, as most lack fifth gears or overdrive. For example driving a Mini on a motorway (even one like a 1275 Cooper S) is enormously noisy and hugely tiring. Pre mid '60s British sport cars also often lack legs for motorways or the speed that modern vehicles travel at. T series MGs are a prime example of this, they were nippy for the '30s to '50s but are slower that modern family cars.

    Driving classic high performance sports cars is an entirely different kettle of fish than driving a modern high performance motor car as well, with all its various safety acronyms, power steering, modern gearboxes and modern tire sizes which put more rubber on the road. Those who have driven a 3.8 E-type on a wet and greasy road will know what I'm talking about!

    Saying that, such cars have more "soul" than modern cars, and are far more rewarding (but also demanding) to drive. I'd take a classic (British) over a modern motorcar any day.
  4. Nick D

    Nick D Call Me a Cab

    I do believe that would be criminal.

    Yes, I'm biased. ;)
  5. My old car is a '67 Chrysler, and except for some electrical upgrades (more from necessity than option) and radials (non-low profile) it's pretty much stock. Freeway speeds are no problem for the 383 2bbl, of course, but I'm still careful driving nearly two tons of steel and glass.

    I'm also in the Los Angeles area, Straight Eight, so I feel fortunate that my car has air conditioning, but I'd love something a couple or three decades older.

    Fantastic cars, these older babies. I'll take one over a modern car, any day.

  6. Flivver

    Flivver Practically Family

    The newer the car, the easier (and safer) it is to drive on modern roads. Late 1960s cars with V8s and front disc brakes can be safely driven most anywhere. But, older cars require more planning.

    I like cars from the 1920s. These have relatively low horsepower engines, narrow tires, non-syncromesh transmissions (that must be double-clutched and shifted slowly), low top speeds and in some cases, two-wheel brakes. These cars simply can't respond as fast as a modern car to changing driving conditions...and many of the other drivers on the road around you don't realize this. This can lead to some potentially dangerous situations. With cars like this, it's best to stick to country side-roads and avoid congested areas or interstates.
  7. KittyT

    KittyT I'll Lock Up

    I don't drive an older car, but as someone who drives a modern car, I will say that I've noticed a lot of fellow drivers tend to keep their distance a bit when they see a classic car on the road, for fear of doing something stupid. This may give some of you who drive older cars a bit more of a buffer. Have any of you noticed this trend?
  8. MaryDeluxe

    MaryDeluxe Practically Family

    I have noticed as a driver of two older cars, that I really must think much more about driving then when I drive my modern car. If I'm going to be stopping, I need to start doing that in the middle of the block not at the end. Bias-ply tires look cool but can be a handful to hold onto when you hit ruts in the road and have no power steering. And of course no power steering means you get a great arm workout when trying to park! As for other drivers where I live, they still ride right up your butt and do just as many stupid obnoxious things around an older car as they do around a modern car. They are just more likely to give me a thumbs up or a wave when I'm driving the old Ford,
  9. StraightEight

    StraightEight One of the Regulars

    Varying reactions are observed on LA freeways. Because left-lane lounging is so common out here, people wanting to move more quickly are often forced into the right lanes to get ahead, and there they must slalom around the slower traffic. I know, I've done it, though I try not to linger on the right any longer than needed to get by the obstruction. I figure if you demand that the left lane be only for passing, you should also leave the right lane alone for people who want or need to move slower. But when drivers are late or otherwise in a hurry, it doesn't really matter what's over to the right--it could be all six original Bugatti Royales in a line. They just want to get past it and keep moving. I particularly hate the enormous pickups and SUVs that do the slalom elevated on off-road tires and jack suspensions. I take comfort in the thought of their frequent $100 fill-ups.

    Most drivers are courteous. Short story from Michigan, my home state, where I've experienced more road rage than anywhere I've driven: puttering in the right lane of a six-lane superslab at about 55 mph on a Saturday. Moved left to allow a merge, then moved right again. A Toyota Sienna minivan with Dad, Mom, and some kids was honking up that lane trying to make time. No danger, he had 15-20 car lengths to move over. Instead, Dad barreled right up to my bumper, high beams blazing. Swerved around in a big huff (kids had their noses pressed to the glass, big smiles--my old '66 MG Midget was very appealing to kids), swerved back into my lane, and jammed the brakes. Nice. Hopefully, Mom upended the Big Gulp in his lap.
  10. freebird

    freebird Practically Family

    Thanks for starting this thread! I don't drive an older car, my oldest are both 88 model gm products (a 88 Park Ave and an 88 Chevy step-side). However, I have been contemplating using part of my disability back pay to purchase an older car just for "pleasure". What websites do you frequent (other than this one) that deal with older vehicles? I've found one that I check occasionally for older cars for sale. It's CarsOnline.com
  11. renor27

    renor27 One of the Regulars

    Older rigs in a modern era

    My "newest" car is now 30 years old (78 Bronco ) the next one is a 66 VW Bug, the older motorcycles 1964 , 1955, 1937 and my dirt track racer mid 20s. An older car might be slower, might not have AC but they just are to much fun not to drive.I can say that are there are some thing I have to do different then driving a new car but I am happy to do that. Its about how you get some place not when.
  12. Boxerken

    Boxerken One of the Regulars

    Vintage cars on today's roads

    I no longer own any vintage cars, but in the past I've owned a Model A and a 1932 Chevrolet. I always enjoyed driving these cars, but never used them for daily transportation, just weekend drivers. The 2 main reasons for not driving them are the brakes and electrical system. Brakes of that era were mechanical brakes although some of the more expensive cars did have hydraulic like modern cars, but the working mans car was not the case. Driving at even moderate speeds makes your stopping distance far greater. so you have to allow yourself (or I did anyway) alot more distance between other cars. In modern cars you need to watch where your going, in vintage you need to watch where you want to go. The electrical on most cars of the period were 6 volt as opposed to 12 volt today which makes a huge diffrence in a number of aspects of the cars. Having said that though, theres nothing more fun than driving a A Model Ford. I can close my eyes and hear that motor running.
    Ozarkian likes this.
  13. No, quite the opposite, actually. Lots of people in big SUVs get a power trip out of intimidating anyone in a more vulnerable position - compact cars, motorcycles, and classics. They're kind of taking advantage of the fact that the average old car person's vehicle is "their baby" and they don't want it hurt.

    But, as mentioned, maybe that's just a Michigan thing.

  14. 59Lark

    59Lark A-List Customer

    having driven old cars for long time.

    The experiences, that i have had behind the wheel of old cars, for a long time I always bought old peoples cars, usually 25 to 30 years old, and now my older car is a 1959 studebaker and my new car is a 1989 buick century bought from a estate. I just havent lived , my newer van is the only car that i ever owned that blended into the rest. I have always drove something that stood out like a sore thumb and been proud of it. I had a tire blow on a rambler and head for a row of hydro poles, and a hundred year oak, pushed that straight six back in the firewall, bent the brake pedal down and pushed the bumper into the block of the engine. That was all she wrote, then i had a 69 ford falcon , maroon sedan with a straight six 20,000 miles on her school teachers widow, first car had parking lessons in, not parlell. Also the one that the fellow through their cigarettes out the window and landed in the fellas crotch in the backseat. Then came the 67 falcon futura sport coupe with the 289 poor mans mustang. candy apple red, was driving alone one night wide open listening to buddy holly that will the day, said aloud , way too go rock and roll, and then the lights went out and the curve came and the concrete bridge and i prayed aloud to live a while more and the headlights came back on. wild shorts, the studebakers , had a electrical fire while riding with my soon to be wife along a busy street, and as a wire fell between her legs buring she started screaming and starting open the door to jump out and i grabbed her and said its just a little fire, the door hitting you and sidewalk will do a lot more damage and i pulled over and hanked the battery cables off. Later we bought a much older but better studebaker 59 lark and we were driving it for one of the first times and the accelator stuck to the floor and we were soon going 95 in a car with drum brakes single master cylinder with original brake lines, kin pins and no power nothing , she again is screaming and i tell her pull up the pedal and she says i not putting my head down there and she turns off the key, i got the pedal up and turn the engine back on, the fairly new muffler became elephant shaped and half the baffles blew out. I rarley take it out on the busy road, the car has a v8 but handles like a hay wagon with a hemi, but i just love driving it, am lost with the tunes and whir of the old eight, something about playing dion the wonderer and cruisin around with the generator whine and bias tires makes me so reluntant to return to this decade. the best is too have one for a summer car for fun, and a newer one for work, but if was a rich fool and living where there was no rust, i would drive a old one simply for cheaper repairs. and able to fix it more myself . 59Lark.
  15. DominusTecum

    DominusTecum Familiar Face

    Old cars take a bit of planning before you take them out, in my experience.

    I have a 1959 Ford Fairlane, (not golden era, but when I bought it I was in high school and thus on a very tight budget) and I think the above poster's "hay wagon with a hemi" is very apt. Mine only has a 292 V8, but she has no problem zipping up to 80mph (a terrifying experience in a car that large and old, let me tell you!!) I've had the generator/regulator up and die on a road trip, I've had the power steering (you don't even notice when it's on, it drives no differently) spring a leak and jet fluid all over the parking lot, and, last but not least, I have had the brakes go out when I was driving the car. Had to slam it into park or face a treeline. Two transmissions later, she was finally driving again. Currently, the brakes are out once more and I haven't had the time to address the issue yet.

    When you're driving a monster of a car like this, you often can't fit through the drive-through lanes at fast food joints. Also, since it takes a much longer time to stop with drum brakes that require pumping, Missouri (where I am living now) is particularly dangerous, because it has a lot of hills. I recall one morning in high school, I was late (was a band nerd and had to go in early most mornings) and when I roared over a hill at 65mph, I was confronted with the horrific sight of a stopped schoolbus, right in front of me. It was a miracle, but I did manage to get the car stopped. (What is more of a miracle, however, is that three days later the brakes did blow ---I'm so glad it happened then and not on that morning.) Turns are very wide, which can make some intersections interesting, and stoplights are timed for the capabilities of modern cars --I've driven through a few reds simply because there was no way that I could stop during the yellow, and when I neared the intersection, the thing was still green.

    Too, our old cars usually do not have lights which can compare with those on a modern vehicle. My taillights look like rocket engines, but they have a single bulb in them, instead of the halogen cluster found in something newer. I don't have a central brake light, either, where the people behind me are used to seeing one. Too, something newer can be reasonably counted on to do what you expect it to do. The '59, however, has wiring that is nigh on 50 years old. While it's still "safe enough" and not likely to cause a fire, that does not preclude shorts and other unexpected happenings. Sometimes, for example, I've had friends warn me that my taillights weren't working at all, even though there were no indications of this in the driver's seat.

    Visibility is another biggie. In the '50s, glass was definitely in vogue, and so you'd think a '59 Ford would have excellent visibility, and almost no blind spot. This is true. Sorta. If you crane your neck and look around, you do have almost 360 degrees of sight. However, it's difficult to constantly crane your neck, and the tiny mirrors on the driver and passenger side show you practically nothing. Even if they did, they're mounted so far forward on the car that they're difficult to see from the driver's seat, anyway. Finally, 50 year old glass looks good, and cleans up nicely, but what you can't see are all the tiny little scratches that years and years of motoring have given. You discover those scratches when you're trying to drive west in the evening, or east in the morning, and find that you have zero visibility through the windshield.

    A classic can't be relied upon like a newer car can, either. My 1999 Cadillac can be expected to start instantly, in any weather, and be driveable in 20 seconds max. The Fairlane, on the other hand, requires at least 5 minutes to warm up, on a nice day. On a not-so-nice day, it can take 20 minutes before the car is sufficiently warm that I can trust it not to die when I press the accelerator. Too, vacuum-powered wipers are certainly charming, but they really don't work very well, and you have to be driving at a good clip to generate enough vacuum for them to work efficiently. I remember many, many days when I would have no windshield visibility on an early morning, driving to school, either from fogging or from rain/drizzle, or sun in my eyes (compounded by the miniscule scratches on the glass) or a combination of these. It was therefore quite common for me to have to roll down my window, and stick my head out to drive. Classic motoring, indeed!

    The manueverability thing is definitely the biggest, though. It doesn't immediately strike you (or at least it didn't, me) but I basically learned how to drive on this ford. When I drove my mother's 1998 Park Avenue, which is, by modern standards, a lumbering beast of a luxury car, it seriously felt like a sports car compared to the ford. It was so agile and nimble and easy to drive! I daresay a modern park avenue might well be able to drive rings around even a 1950s sports car, like a vintage t-bird, Nash-Healy, etc. It is true, however, that I am a much better driver for having learned to deal with modern traffic situations in a car not designed for them. When I drive a newer car, I am that much more capable of using the extra "abilities," as it were, that it gives me.

    If you're willing to put up with all these little things, it's quite possible to drive a classic on a daily basis, but in my opinion it's just not worth it. A modern car can be had for very little money used, and you can use and abuse it all you like. The classic is much better suited to the weekend.

    Edit: Oh, one more thing I should have mentioned: GAS! My caddy gets a respectable 25mpg. My Fairlane? Maybe 12. Maybe. When it's idling, you can literally sit there and watch the gas gauge needle slide down. (Very slowly, of course, but move it does.) When she's got a 20 gallon tank, and drinks the stuff like water, you definitely notice a dent in your pocketbook, which, in turn, limits how far you want to drive. Of course, such range is limited anyway, by proximity to known repair facilities, hehe. I've had numerous mechanics tell me that my car is in amazing condition, a very good car, etc etc etc. Nevertheless, she still regularly breaks down on the road, for one reason or another, and it's no fun trying to put on a fanbelt on the shoulder of I-70.
  16. Twitch

    Twitch My Mail is Forwarded Here

    I only drive the 1950 Packard about 3-500 miles a year much because of they way others drive. Brakes on old cars are WAY weaker than today's and you nee to predict your moves and braking rate given the distance to the stop. Of course jerks love to cut around you and force more braking out of you. They tailgate and just drive like a-holes even when you go 65 in the slow lane.

    With few exceptions it is not pleasurable to drive a vintage car in an urban area today. Even the guys with cars in the 60s agree the braking is the weakness. And it's not just a matter of cobbling up discs on your old car. They're not integrated in engineering and won't help much.

    If you do make a lot of stops in a day it is possible the old generator won't keep out with the demand from the battery but if you get a powerful enough battery- even 6volt- you'll be OK. If it gets a but undercharged you still have starting pwer and can top up its charge.

    For the most part others have no respect of vintage and act carelessly in all ways when around you.
  17. StraightEight

    StraightEight One of the Regulars

    Brakes: True, old cars with non-vacuum assist brakes take a bit more leg effort but I haven't found them to be so bad that the cars can't be driven in regular traffic. Generally, I've found that once you put them in order and adjust them per the manual (on especially on four-wheel drum cars) they're not so terrible. Definitely, you need to plan your stopping events in advance, and tailgating is out.

    Disc conversions: I'm not sure I agree that they aren't effective. We put a front-disc kit on our '53 Ford for the La Carrera Panamericana Mexico road race. It was a Ford Aerostar caliper with late model Chevy Camaro pad made by Porterfield. That sucker sniffed the pavement on braking all the way from 11,000 feet down to the heart of Mexico City.

    Jerks: Well, I'm not sure the jerk percentages have changed all that much through the years. It probably balances out: the number of jerks offset by the number of people who steer wide and give you a thumbs up. The rest of the commuters just act like normal sheep.

    Worries: My main worry is being rear-ended from behind. Rear-ending is the most common accident on freeways so odds are that if you have a crash it'll be that. As one person mentioned, small tail lights on these old cars are sometimes hard to see, if they're even working. Also, as you're moving a bit slower, some people fumbling with cell phones or otherwise tuned out may not see you until its too late. My solution: leave lots of follow room, brake early to slow the car behind you gradually, and pay attention to traffic flow so you don't ever have to stop short. Motorcycle riding is good training because those who don't pay continuous attention to traffic flow while on a moto die quickly.

    Conclusion: There's no relaxing behind the wheel of an old car, but that has always been the case. There's a reason families in the '40s spent two days driving from LA to San Francisco. It's just more taxing to cover long distances than in a modern car with the a/c running and the road noise dampened and the scenery racing by at 80 mph. As long as you're not in a very modern hurry, old cars in good tune are a great (if not terribly green) way to get around.
  18. 52Styleline

    52Styleline A-List Customer

    My 1952 Chevrolet doesn't get driven a lot and never in town traffic. It was built for 50 mph speeds and since the car's parts are still pretty much original, I don't like to push it much over that for any length of time. My old Chevy has power nothing so driving it is a lot of work. I drive it on the remaining back country roads built in the same era as my car.
  19. Wow, thanks for the link! Jay has an awesome collection of unusual cars. :)
    Most notable is the steam powered Doble. An absolutely remarkable feat of engineering! :eusa_clap
    We need to reintroduce steam powered cars of this type made with modern innovations. I think it would put OPEC out of business in a few short years, and oil prices would fall to their actual value again.

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