A browse of social media this morning led to me discovering this feature by Jalopnik, one of the better motoring websites out there. I almost spat out my morning brew when I read the lines “Owning a vintage car is a ridiculous proposition. It’s a bad idea, but it’s one that’s so bad that we all sort of applaud it.” What?! Accepting that the Americans use ‘vintage’ how we in the UK would use ‘classic,’ my main issue here is the suggestion that owning an old car is somehow a bad thing. The writer goes on to say how owning an old car means you’ll certainly be on first name terms with your mechanic – the suggestion being here that old cars are hopelessly unreliable and you’ll have to spend a fortune keeping them running.
He goes on to say how there’s an entire industry that has ‘sprung up’ just to look after these old cars, ignoring the fact that there is a far larger industry dedicated to keeping NEW cars going. Have modern cars suddenly become so reliable that the AA and RAC have gone out of business? No, they have not.
Let’s take my 2CV as an example. I’ve driven over 100,000 miles in it and sure, I’ve changed engines (the original lasted 170,000 miles) and have to get the grease gun out every now and then, but when did I last have to call out a breakdown service? I think it was 2003, but the truth is that it’s so long ago that I can’t truly remember. I did experience a breakdown in 2012 when the main cooling fan failed, but after getting a tow up a steep hill, I managed to limp home. It was the work of mere seconds to fit a replacement and all was well.
I don’t think you can argue against the fact that old cars require a little more love than newer ones, but to claim they always go wrong is a long way from the truth. In reality, I’m actually pretty poor at sticking to the regimented service programme for my 2CV, yet it never seems to fail to proceed, and very rarely lets me down at the side of the road – I can think of about four times, and three of those were related to iffy alternators (before I learnt my lesson and bought a brand new one). The third and final alternator issue saw me simply remove it and drive to my girlfriend’s house on battery power alone. Try doing that in your brand new Vauxhall Insignia.
Then there are the considerable plus points to older car ownership. These are cars that make passers-by smile. They often make the driver and passengers smile too. They offer a driving experience that is raw and exciting, even at slow speeds. You feel at one with an old car in a way you simply don’t with a modern one. Driving some old cars is a real challenge, and all the better for it.
I simply live for older cars. My life truly revolves around them. My work is all about them. So is my free time. This is why I found the Jalopnik feature so frustrating. I do accept that there is a need to know your way around an old car. To get the best from them, you must understand their weaknesses. You must be on your guard and prepared to listen and feel for any mechanical issues. For me, this is all part of the fun. Journeys become a partnership between you and the car. On my 2CV, I once felt the clutch cable starting to break. I managed to limp to a car park where I was able to change the clutch cable (without tools!) and safely get home. You have to be prepared to occasionally get your hands dirty. This is all part of the fun! If you have your man sort it out for you every time there’s a slight issue, then it really isn’t the same.
But, my statistics speak for themselves. My cars are generally always at least 20 years old, yet I have called for breakdown services so infrequently in the past few years that I can’t even remember what I have to do if it happens. I think the last time was 2013, when a 300,000-mile Citroen BX I owned blew a major hydraulic pipe. It still drove perfectly well until I found somewhere safe to stop. A panic it was not, though this job wasn’t cheap either!
But, I could not afford to run a classic car if it was expensive. I simply don’t have the funds. I’m only able to restore my 2CV because of the generosity of friends, family and those of you who follow this blog, and that’s because bodywork is the one aspect of classic car ownership that I’m yet to crack. It seems my 2CV needs a major body rebuild every 100,000 miles. But mechanically? That car costs me very little indeed – easily less than £500 a year.
So, my real-world experiences simply do not tally with Raphael Orlove’s. There’s probably a simple reason for that though. Apparently, he owns old Volkswagens…