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.