This week it’s really Tony’s Tale. I decided a couple of weeks ago that it would be good to exercise some of the SCM fleet, specifically the four-doors we have in the basement. As I was busy being the hovering “mother hen” and shepherding the gerbils down the freeway, I asked Tony to be both scribe and photographer for the day.
Here are his thoughts, and the responses he got when he queried the gang who rode and drove in the cars:
The SCM office crew hit the road on Friday for an extended lunch. A dozen of us piled into three old cars — our 1964 Chevrolet Nova wagon, our newly acquired 1967 Alfa Giulia Super (the green one in the pictures) and Bill Gillham’s Giulia Super “Hooligan” (blue) — and one modern one — our 2007 Maserati Quattroporte.
We made the winding drive out to the Sandy River, stopping for nourishment and hydration at the Tippy Canoe. After lunch, the uneventful drive took a most surprising turn when the Maserati caught a flat tire. How poignant that the car had to be towed home was the newest of the bunch!
As we mused over the various cars, it became immediately clear that these vehicles represented something different to each person at the table.
Here are some reactions from around the table. You’ll find a gallery of images and a video below.
I rode out to lunch in the Nova, which was no eye-opener for me. I own and work on old American iron, so the Nova is a known quantity — it wanders down the highway but has plenty of power, has lots of room inside, and there’s a good amount of wind noise from reproduction weatherstripping that’s close to but not quite the right size. I actually jetted and tuned the carb in that car about a year ago, and it still feels dead-on. It’ll always start and won’t ever break down — unless you leave the lights on or run it out of gas.
The Alfas rev well and make good noises, but they both have wiggly idles. They felt like they were going to die on us at stoplights. I found myself thumping the throttle a lot, just to make sure each engine was still ready to rev.
Both Alfas ran fine out on the open road — seems like they both shine a light brighter on twisty backroads. They’re less confident on the highway, especially in the blustery Columbia Gorge. Or maybe that was just me, trying to avoid the 65-mph semi trucks that dwarfed us. The blue car has a reported 250,000-plus miles, and you could really feel it compared to the green car — mostly in the clutch action and overall handling.
The Nova: Visibility all around the car. There don’t seem to be any blind spots.
The Periwinkle Alfa: Lots of levers that take some time to figure out what they do. Hard to tell if the turn signals are on.
Both of them make a nice sound, which is missing from a lot of new cars. Also, old cars require a more active driving experience than new cars, whether it’s fixing your ever-falling rear-view mirror, or cranking on the power steering-less steering wheel.
So my opinion of today is that we all had a good laugh. I personally am glad that I only had to drive the Nova. I love the fact that people were laughing at us driving there. I would have to give today to the older cars — none broke down, none got a flat, and none had to be towed. We had a lot of laughs and good times. I ate too much food, but this was a great Friday before the three-day weekend.
Best line of the day, from Keith, when the Maserati tire appeared to be going flat: “Haven’t you seen low-profile tires before?”
New cars are much quieter inside, produce more reliable power, and are safer in case a crash happens.
Old cars are memorable to drive, with huge differences between manufacturers — even on base-level cars. It’s hard to tell the difference between a modern Ford, Kia, Honda, etc.
Plus, low-profile tires are obnoxious.
I love the old Alfas, but you do feel pretty exposed driving down the interstate next to SUVs and semi trucks. But cruising down the twisty two-lane road along the Sandy River, they were great.
The Chevy Nova and the Alfas were built in the same era, and it’s interesting to feel the differences — and similarities — between the opposing automotive philosophies.
Both cars feel almost brittle compared to modern cars. They rattle down the road, and they feel less stable — but also more alive.
The Alfas feel almost like toys. They’re small, and I have to hunch over to see out the windows. The high-revving engine is always buzzing — almost like a fuzzy distortion pedal for an electric guitar.
The Nova rumbles down the road with the steady bottom-heavy beat of an electric bass. The Nova’s interior — mostly steel and glass — amplifies the sound of the road, the wind and the engine. The looser steering makes you pay attention, and the drum brakes mean you always have to be aware of what other cars are doing.
Older cars give you a better feel for the road and the driving experience. It is like you are one with the road and car.
Closing thoughts from Keith: The Alfas and the Nova were built before many of the staff were born. While they are capable of holding their own in freeway traffic, they are really happier on the two-lane roads that represented the highways of their era.
It is important to me that the staff here spend as much time as possible in and around these old cars. They represent an era gone by, and just as if you only drink one kind of red wine you’ll never develop a sophisticated palette, if you only drive newer cars you’ll never get a sense of what people are talking about when they refer to that “old car feel.” You know, wandering all over the road in response to wind gusts, uneven idles, horrible brakes, tremendous wind noise and other fun stuff.
We’ll be doing this again more often as they weather continues to turn in our favor.