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MARCH 28, 2014: THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE WITH OLD CARS: CAN YOU ACTUALLY DRIVE IT?

By on March 28, 2014
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I have always wanted to drive an original Model T for a couple of reasons.

 

One is they are one of the most famous cars in the history of internal combustion engines fitted to four wheels.

 

The second is I want to see whether I am even smart enough to drive a T.

 

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Obviously, a Model T has a few complications for a rookie driver, including unconventional shifting, braking and accelerator procedures.

 

I have discussed the idea of a Model T test drive with a local guy who owns one and he believed most people could get a T moving forward, but he was not sure they would be able to stop or steer it in a safe fashion.

 

He likes to give a wide berth to anything that might get in the way when he reluctantly lets a rookie climb behind the wheel because of the control issues involved in a Model T.

 

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You have to abandon a traditional approach to driving and learn about issues like manual spark advance when behind the wheel of a T.

 

Truth be told I have never driven a pre-war car in stock form, although the experience would be similar to 40s and 50s cars or trucks equipped with manual transmissions for most vehicles built in the 30s.

 

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Sadly, I have ridden shotgun on occasion with drivers who have given me cause for concern when they drive a car from the past.

 

Many drivers have never driven a car with four drum brakes, 40s, 50s and 60s steering systems and manual transmissions with no synchronized gear in first and sometimes second.

 

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It usually takes about two or three city blocks to determine they have no experience with old school automotive engineering.

 

They tend to saw on the steering wheel because they are not used to a car or truck equipped with the less-than-positive feel of old school steering components.

 

Older vehicles feel like they want to go in any random direction until the driver gets used to the degree of slack in the bygone era steering system.

 

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They do not call it “wander” for nothing; but put any car guy who spent time behind the wheel of an old car and he will get back into the rhythm fairly quickly and keep the car in a straight line.

 

The brakes will also be a challenge to any driver with little experience in old cars because the inexperienced driver will have to adjust to a different kind of brake system found inside four drums.

 

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The drums will not stop as quickly as disc brakes and a new driver of an old car may tend to under-estimate the stopping distance when they approach a stop sign or red light.

 

They will learn about the drum brake limitations in a hurry if they carry too much speed into a stopping situation, emergency or otherwise.

 

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Many old cars have inconvenient mirrors and sheet metal designs with big blind spots, so new drivers of vintage rides really have to look before they leap into another lane when behind the wheel of one.

 

Many have one-speed (or vacuum wipers) and some did not even come with turn signals from the factory.

 

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I have pointed out some of the perils and pitfalls for new drivers of old cars, but I also have to point out the sheer joy of time behind the wheel of an old classic.

 

I would highly recommend the experience to any car guy who has never driven a blast from the past.

 

Jim Sutherland

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