I took our 1967 Alfa Romeo GTV out for a drive through downtown traffic last week.
It was like bringing a knife to a gunfight.
The weather was overcast — but not raining — when I left SCM World Headquarters in Portland, OR.
The last time I had put miles on the GTV was when I drove it to Monterey last August. With Robert Cumberford as my co-pilot, it was a delightful trip.
The car never skipped a beat — until the master cylinder failed just a couple of miles from our final destination — Concorso Italiano.
In many ways, the GTV is the most complete and competent of all of my Alfas. The coupe has a stiff chassis. The car also has the necessary engine, gearbox, differential and suspension upgrades to make it as good as it can get.
In its era, compared to its contemporaries, the GTV was a brilliant overachiever. It has 4-wheel disc brakes, dual Webers and a 5-speed gearbox.
But today’s world is very different.
As soon as I pulled out, the large rear window and the side windows immediately fogged up, and I couldn’t see a thing behind me (there’s no rear defroster on the GTV).
I filled up with gas before getting onto the freeway. As always, I had trouble getting the gas to flow freely into the restricted filler neck.
As I pulled onto the freeway, I became aware that neither of my door-mounted mirrors was properly adjusted. Getting them right would have meant a trial-and-error process — including stopping on the shoulder, which I wasn’t very eager to do.
Going up the long grade of Highway 26, heading to Beaverton, I was aware of the helter-skelter lane discipline of the other drivers. People cut in and out with abandon and passed on the left and the right.
Putting on my (dim by modern standards) blinkers indicating I wanted to change lanes didn’t matter — I was ignored until I shouldered my way in.
As I took the Sylvan exit and came to a crosswalk, someone stepped out in front of me, walking against the light.
The GTV doesn’t have anti-lock brakes, so I immediately went into a four-wheel skid and managed to avoid the idiot pedestrian.
It started to rain, and the limitations of the small-bladed, single-speed wipers were immediately apparent.
The heater worked well (a strong point of the 105-series Alfas), and the heated seats I had installed made for comfy buns.
But as I drove home, I was increasingly aware of just how much work it was to drive the GTV in modern traffic. Everyone else on the road had cars that stopped and accelerated better than I did.
There are no safety features in my car. I have only lap belts in the front; three-point belts are on order. In the case of any kind of collision, my body would be the crumple zone.
I felt lucky that I got home through traffic without an incident.
I’m confident in my driving skills, and I understand how to drive a vintage Alfa.
But today’s environment, it is neither safe nor prudent to drive a 51-year-old car in an inner-city environment.
Our old cars are delightfully vintage. They entertain and delight us in ways that a modern car never will.
But their use is best reserved for country roads, good weather — and with friends in machines of the same vintage.
The world of the automobile continues to evolve, and our patterns of use will evolve with them.