The old car hobby looks like a warm and fuzzy world if you see it from the vantage point of a typical car show.
In many ways, it is a warm and fuzzy world–that fuzziness lures people into the idea of owning an old car, so here are some things to consider before you make that big leap.
That seems obvious but it’s something you put at the top of your ‘I’m a serious buyer’ list because old means everything about that car is old—the metal; the mechanical parts; the suspension parts; the electrical system; the door locks; the upholstery; the window glass; the heating system; the plastic knobs…and every other part.
If that list seems long, you might want to kick tires on a new Jeep because all those things are lurking in the background of every old car’s biography. If you’re not intimidated, then the next decision is what do you buy?
You’re new to the hobby, so you can rule out a major project unless you want to catapult your wallet towards a guy who can do all the work. If you’re a kid in high school that won’t happen unless you’re one of Elon Musk’s kids–or you’re very comfortably retired.
That brings us to what you can actually buy. Forget about the high-end stuff you see on TV auctions, because if you’re an average buyer, check ’70 Superbird off your list. A realistic car for you will have four doors and a short list of wannabe buyers.
You’ll be in the middle of six guys bidding on a ’62 Rambler Classic next to the giant lineup of guys bidding a ’69 Camaro auction car. There’s nothing wrong with that—you’ll see 12,000 ’69 Camaros at a car show before you’ll see a ’62 Rambler Classic.
That’s the cool part—you’ll be a lone wolf in the hobby, and you’ll get a lot of interest at car shows with a vintage Rambler.
The downside is obvious to every veteran in the car hobby. The Rambler you bought won’t move much on the value scale so what you paid will probably still be market value in ten years–don’t look for a pile of gold at the end of the AMC rainbow.
Parts will be a nightmare for a rookie owner because they don’t make many reproduction pieces for your Rambler on the same scale as the ’69 Camaro. It’s not even close.
None of this should intimidate you because you can connect to AMC clubs all over the universe and get advice and leads on parts. Most clubs are very enthusiastic about new owners.
The last piece of advice is to drive an old car.
This is critical because they’re not like your new Lexus RX Hybrid. Old cars will leave a carbon exhaust smell on your clothes because that’s how they ran back in the day—no high-tech catalytic converters—just pure, unfiltered, sometimes-rich, exhaust.
Another thing you’ll learn is how much wind noise you’ll find in an old car. You can upgrade to a better rubber-seal set up, but it’s still not going to be like driving your Lexus. Factory sound deadening was minimal in the lower-end cars back then–you’re going to hear every thump in the road.
Handling, steering, and braking are also nothing like your Lexus so a 60-year-old car will be a new experience for you.
This is the most important part. Your old classic will let you down at some point because of many things. One—it’s over 60, so its parts don’t function like it did in ’62. Or it does function like it did in ’62 because vapor lock was a big thing in the 60s and today’s gas doesn’t help at all.
It could be anything—a broken fan belt, alternator/generator, carb, or rear-end—but you will definitely be stuck on the side of the road. Hopefully somebody will help you push it off the road because your old Rambler won’t have emergency flashers.
By: Jerry Sutherland
Jerry Sutherland is a veteran automotive writer with a primary focus on the collector car hobby. His work has been published in many outlets and publications, including the National Post, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Regina Leader-Post, Vancouver Sun and The Truth About Cars. He is also a regular contributor to Auto Roundup Publications.
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