Here’s my New Year’s Resolution for my driving my old cars: Dry days only from now on.

I once prided myself on taking my cars out in any weather, day or night. “They were just cars,” I said. And to paraphrase collector and concours judge Ed Gilbertson, “Cars are meant to be driven.” They won’t melt.

I have put 500 miles on my cars in the past two weeks driving on both the four-lane Highway 101 along the Oregon coast and the six-lane Interstate 5.

Some days were bright and sunny. I even had the top down on the AMG SL 55. Other days were dark, windy and rainy. Even in my modern Hyundai I worried about aquaplaning and not being able to stop in time should there be an incident ahead.

I thought back to the days when I was a student at Reed College in Portland (circa 1969-72) and how often I made the 630-mile trip between school and home in San Francisco. I did it in as little as 9 hours, but more often 10 to 11.

I didn’t think twice about hopping into my 1963 Giulia Spider normale or my 1967 Duetto and heading north or south.

Why did I feel so safe then, and so insecure today?

It’s a simple matter of relative performance. In 1969, my 1963 Alfa had better brakes than most other cars. I had swapped out the 5:12 rear end for a 4.1, so it cruised easily at 80 mph – which was faster than most other cars on the road.

Cars were smaller – a full-sized F150 pickup truck in 1968 didn’t tower over my Alfa the way that trucks do today.

In other words, the Alfa could swim with the school of modern traffic and hold its own. I still recall packing a small cooler filled with Pepsi and apples, putting them on the passenger seat, and heading out, alone – no cellphone, no towing service, just a small tool bag. (And always a spare head gasket under the trunk mat.)

Today it is a different world. Our old cars are hopelessly outclassed by every other vehicle on the road. In general, they are smaller and slower, and certainly less safe.

Even more, traffic today on an interstate moves at a minimum of 80 mph. Even in pouring rain, I was passed over and over again by giant pickups going at least 20 if not 30 mph faster than I was. They tossed up tremendous cascades of spray, blinding me, even with my two-speed wipers on high.

Consequently, I’ve become a fair-weather old car driver. Unless the weather is good and it is daylight, I’m not interested in taking my car out. It’s just not worth it.

My modern classics, the 2004 Mercedes SL 55, 1991 Porsche 928 and 2002 Land Rover Disco are not so scary. But spend a few miles on the freeway in the rain in the 1971 Jag, the 1967 Duetto or the 1965 Giulia Spider Veloce and you will need a couch-session with your car-psychologist to get rid of the shakes.

So let’s make this resolution together. Let’s only play with our old cars in the good times. When the tarmac is dry, the sun is out and on two-lane roads.

Let’s take ourselves back in time to when our old cars were “kings of the road,” able to hold their own against anything else being built in the same era.

There is no reason to inflict bad weather or dangerous conditions on your precious old car. It’s lived this long; it has earned the right be a sunny-day-only machine.

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  1. I agree with you. I don’t even drive my old vintage cars anymore at night because all of the headlights are so high on the other “cars”. I feel like A lot of folks must have their their highlights on . But most likely, because their headlights are so much higher than my old cars.

  2. Keith,

    I completely understand and agree with your thoughts. After a while, perceived risks grow in one’s mind to the point that risk-taking is less about youthful exuberance and more abut being tired and wary of repeating the same mistakes without concern for less fortunate outcomes.

    At 67, the thrill of driving (and flying) has changed but not diminished. While aging is inexorable, growing old I is not an option.

    Carl

  3. Really good article!! Yes cars are built way better and modern features and technology have made them safer. Your comment that they are made to be driven is true but we can be selective in when we drive them. In the name of preservation we certainly need to manage the risk of when and where we drive our classics. Back in the early days of those cars parking lots were filled with them and few survived. As you said they have earned the gentle treatment they now receive…….

  4. Keith, your comments ring true. I’m more of a fair weather friend to my classics. That doesn’t mean if caught in a shower that the wipers won’t work. Now, that scenario could be catastrophic too. All newer fresh meat are prepared to meet challenges with no second thought. Disclaimer, once snow starts falling, we head South.

  5. I only drive my 62 e type between 1-5 pm. with a temperature of 68-75. And Only on PCH between Dana point and Newport Beach. I still get blown over by Honda’s.

  6. Most people have no idea how rain destroys your ability to control a car in an emergency. My solution is to always have excellent tires, put Rain-X or similar product on windows, leave the GT2 and Carrera at home and drive the Tundra.

  7. Even though I am a Porsche guy the “family Car” was a Volvo 30+ years. My favorite was a 1967 144 sedan which I installed a 2.0 L later engine and a P1800 transmission this car was comfortable and I still believe safe at 80 mph. I think your 1966 sedan has the same potential. Arriving in Texas in 1966 with a 1956 DeSoto I went west from FT. Worth on the new I 20 What a wonderful car. It would easily cruse at 75 MPH. Unfortunately it was short lived because of the rust problems

  8. Not drive in tbe rain?
    I guess you’ll be moving from Oregon / Pacific Northwest to California or Arizona…

  9. I love the vintage snap circa 1969. The Alfa is such a cool car it held its own against the duetto in my opinion, Dustin Hoffman bedamned. I think most car guys knew even then that model was going to be collectible. Driving the cars make the memories, no one waxes euphoric about their car sitting in storage.

  10. Surprised it took you 30 years to figure that simple maxim out.
    PS Always wash with limited amount of water…spray wash or rinseless at least 95% of the time.

  11. Surprised it took you 30 years to figure that simple fact out. Just fyi…use spray wash or rinseless wash 99% of the time…or maybe use an aerator if car is too dirty for the above.