I’m wrestling with the “size” question again.

What should a “right-sized” collection look like? And what should the philosophy behind the cars selected be? How many cars is enough?

First, with a nod of the head to vintage car events, I would suggest you need two pre-1975 cars, one open and one closed. While some events have more stringent model-year requirements, the older a car is, the more difficult it is to get into “event-ready” condition, and the more it will beat you up as you drive it.

Having driven a 1947 Nardi-Abarth Siata in the 1991 Mille Miglia, I can attest to what it is like to lock yourself into a dryer set on spin cycle for 1,000 miles. The Siata had a “hopped up” 750-cc four-cylinder engine, cycle fenders, no doors and no top.

If I were offered the chance to drive it another 1,000 miles, I think I would offer it to my daughter, Alexandra. My time driving cars that punish me, mile-by-mile, has passed.

We chose the 1974 cutoff for the SCM 1000 as the 1965-74 era saw some quite wonderful cars. As smog and safety regulations began to influence cars, nearly every model from every manufacturer looked less elegant and offered less performance by 1975.

I have always liked cars with back seats, no matter how tiny. You can carry someone along for a short distance, or throw your travel bags back there. One of my most memorable trips was in a 308 GT4 that I bought from Bruce Trenery at Fantasy Junction. SCMer (and now Giulia Super owner) Richard Lincoln and I drove it back from the Bay Area to Portland. Squeezed in the back seat were Bradley and Richard’s dog, Carrera. And we had a trunk for our bags!

Good examples are any 911, Alfa GTV or MGB GT. Our 1971 Jag S3 V12 2+2 coupe ticks that box for us.

You also need to be able to cruise comfortably at 70 mph. America is a big country, and nearly every vintage event will have lengthy transits.

Putting a five-speed transmission, most often from a Japanese economy car, into an MGA or MGB simply transforms the car. Buzzing along at 4,000 rpm at 65 mph for hours on end isn’t much fun.

Our 1967 Duetto gives us an open car, with a five-speed, exemplary handling and enough power.

I always upgrade the suspensions of the cars I am driving. I’ve never been very interested in mods that significantly increase horsepower; I’ve owned Vipers and driven Veyrons. If you need big horsepower, buy a car that starts out equipped that way.

Even 1.8 liters and 90 hp will let you keep up with traffic. A good suspension will let you carry your speed with you through the turns. While front disc-brakes are a plus, if you drive a drum-braked car the way it was meant to be driven when new, you will be just fine. Just be aware that every Kia in the world can brake in a shorter distance than you can.

Let’s get back to the collection. I also think you should have something fun for casual off-road use. Land Rover Defender 90s more than 25 years old are coming into this country with some regularity. I find the prices of the NAS spec D90s to be ludicrous; I would have a Rover expert do a thorough pre-purchase inspection of anything coming in from overseas as they are often totally used up before being shipped to us. The turbo-diesel engines are magnificent off-road.

A Discovery that has been well-kept is an affordable choice as well. But that’s another car that requires a PPI by someone who really knows what they are looking at.

My final car would be a fully depreciated super car, like the SCM AMG SL 55. If you search thoughtfully, you can find one for under $25,000 with under 50,000 miles that you can drive to the moon and back.

Recall that we rarely put more than 3,000 miles a year on our collector cars. So if you think you can go 20,000 miles before a valve job or head gasket, that is nearly seven years of use.

No longer are these daily drivers that get 15,000 miles of use a year and are left parked outside.

That leaves me with a four-car collection. Two early cars for vintage events, a 4WD for casual off-roading, and a 15-year-old depreciated modern super car for gobbling up long distances.

I’m sure you agree then, four cars should be plenty for anyone.

Then why do I still have ten? You’re not expecting me to sell the Lotus Elise, the Volvo 122, the 1965 Giulia Spider Veloce or the 1971 Junior Zagato are you? I’m sure it won’t take me long to justify owning every one of them…

13 comments

  1. The same reasoning guided my engagement with airplanes, and four was the number.

    A reliable, fast, efficient 2+2 for covering vast distances traveling to exotic locales. Mooney
    An open cockpit biplane, because of course. Stampe
    An unlimited +9 -6 gee aerobatic single seater. Zlin 50
    An amphibious two-seater for beach days at Tahoe and outback camping and fishing. PA18.

    All but the first have been deemed no longer Necessary or appropriate for my age. The Mooney, however, is scheduled for one more trip, probably one way, to the Andes.

  2. re: 4 is enough
    Keith:
    But what if 3 cars is the limit? You could merge your MGB/Alfa/911 with your MB SL AMG, and get a 280SL. Mine has tall gears, enhanced AC, and the best choice in tires and shocks. Lots of room with adequate zoom. Alex

    1. Pagoda roof or R107 280SL? My R107 has built-in AC , 4-speed trans (some have 5-speeds), good size trunk with space behind the seats for storage and a comfortable ride for long distance cruising.

  3. Looks like Bradley won’t fit in that back seat much longer.
    In about 1983 a friend asked if I wanted to help drive his 76 Porsche Turbo cross country to a new job along with a third friend who was a bit more portly. Practicality dictated that the third gentleman was not going to be rotating to the back seat so I would be in the back seat for 2/3 of the drive. At 5’11”, 165lbs and 30 years old I prided myself on my flexibility. I decided to take a one hour test ride in the back before committing to the journey. At 30 minutes in I had a kink in my neck and a leg that was going to sleep.
    The decision to stay home was not a hard one and my ongoing romance with vehicles that feature usable back seats and performance commenced. Currently eating up the miles in an E63 wagon with no complaints from my back seat guests.

  4. Coincidentally, I have four cars in my “collection” which includes:
    * 2018 Buick TourX (Shooting Brake) made by Opel in Germany. 2.0L turbo; 250hp; 295ft. lbs of torque; AWD
    * 2001 Porsche Boxster S; 3.2 L 250hp; 6-speed
    * 1973.5 Porsche 911T Targa; 2.4L; CIS; matching numbers; PCOA
    * 1970 Datsun 2000 Roadster. Perhaps the last one imported to the US.

  5. As a younger guy at the beginning stages of starting my own collection,
    I feel like this is a great guide to follow. This is pretty much exactly what I’m trying to accomplish at this point in my life

  6. Thanks Keith. Sage advice from a guy that’s been there, done that. I currently have a ’74 GTV and a ’86 Carerra Coupe and they are so wonderful for different reasons. The GTV is FULL ANALOG while the Carerra is just scratching the surface of modern. I hope you are well and hope to see you at the events here in the Bay Area/Monterey next year.

  7. every drum braked car I’ve owned, going back to a ’51 bel air, could lock up all tires in a panic stop…how would disk brakes shorten that stopping distance? put velvet ouch on your drum brake shoes and you’ll boil the brake fluid before you fade the linings.

    1. Haven’t lost brakes on my 1956 Morgan Plus-4 in hard long use, but I must compression brake into corners and descents in robust driving.
      I lost (boiled) brakes on a descent off Mulholland in an old Buick Roadmaster, totally scared myself…….

  8. Hi Keith here is my 4:
    MGA Twin Cam with mgb overdrive ( my high school car i never sold)
    911 Carrera Cab g50 ( can drive miles and miles in vintage comfort & a pleasure to drive, great people in PCA)
    Lexus LX470 ( no brainer rugged off roading in comfort and reliability & daily driver)
    Ferrari Daytona ( just Because)
    Chuck Coli

  9. I would substitute a vintage race car for the off road rig. The best one would be able to be driven to and from the track. A clone TransAm car (GTV, 510, 911) would be my choice.

  10. This is a great question. To me it depends on one’s life stage and circumstances, but I think nominally speaking, four cars is about right.

    As of last year I had 6 cars. It was one too many for me, so I sold the one I drove the least, a 2013 Boss 302 Mustang. Although I enjoyed that car over the seven years I had it, I’d acquired other cars and it was time to move on.

    At five cars currently I am pretty much at the limit of my ability to care for and drive each of them with any regularity. I am thus considering selling off another one, which would leave me with four, which to my (and Keith’s) reckoning seems about right. There’s just not enough time for me to enjoy every one of my five cars, let alone six or more, and I don’t see this changing as I get older. Quite the opposite, in fact.

    At age 60 I’m in good overall health and semi-retired, yet there are still plenty of demands on my time besides cars. I do try to prioritize my car hobby and drive them as often as possible during our seven month-long (or so) driving season. But the reality is that, despite best intentions, life, bad weather, and other various unforeseen impediments tend to get in the way of regular automotive enjoyment. That’s just the way it works out, unfortunately.

    Given the above realities and as relates to age, unless health issues dictate otherwise, once I hit early to mid-seventies I’d probably reduce the collection down to two cars, maybe one. At that point I think the point is to minimize the car hassle factor and just have fun. Heck, that’s the point now! I have a good friend whose 90 year old father still daily drives a Dodge Viper, so there always hope of enjoying at least one fun car even in the twilight of life! But only one (let’s hope!) at that stage.

    As to what cars to own, I’m happy with what’s in the stable at the moment:
    Italian: 2000 Ferrari 550 Maranello
    German: 1970 Porsche 911 T (ST tribute), 1995 993 C2 coupe, 2009 Boxster S
    American: 1970 Corvette LT-1 coupe

    If one has to go in the near future it’ll probably be one of the 911s, but I’m not sure which one. We’ll see…

  11. New subscriber here! I almost fit in these goals. Two pre-1974 cars, one enclosed, one open. A 1973 Innocenti Mini Cooper 1300 and a 1973 Mini Moke (currently ‘in work’ to get a 1275 and disk brakes. While the Inno is fine at 65-70, I am turning 4200 rpm and wear earplugs when on the freeway. I do think about one of the available 5 speed transmissions once in a while, but those are not nearly as cheap as the Japanese 5-speeds MG, Triumph, etc owners can put into their cars! The Moke is a ridiculous excuse for a car, but it will be the car that will drive me to the nursing home/hospice! And I can fit these two front to back in the 20′ deep garage bay!

    Then there is the 2004 MINI Cooper S, bought new and a fast, fun, comfortable modern sports car.

    Next to last is my 2004 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab, which is my daily people hauler, stuff hauler, and tow vehicle for long distance trips to Mini Meet West and other such events.

    Finally is the project car, a dismantled 1967 Fiat Dino Spider I bought in London in 1975, awaiting restoration. So the poor Tacoma gets parked in the driveway of my three-car garage, proving that the dictum ‘you always have at least one more car than you have garage space for’!

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