Keith’s Blog: My Old Cars Are Wearing Me Out

I take pretty good care of my old cars. I keep them in top shape. When something breaks, I try to get it fixed right away. They are stored in a climate-controlled garage at SCM World Headquarters.

Despite all this, after an active summer, they all seem to need attention at once when fall rolls around.

They nearly all need work — except the 2006 Lotus Elise and the 2001 Dodge Viper GTS. Is it a coincidence that the newest cars require the least maintenance? I think not.

For a collector, the Elise at 11 years old and the Viper at 16 are relatively new cars. Most of my other cars are 50-or-more years old — far past their design life. And, while they represent the best that engineers could do when they were built, they are archaic machines by modern standards.

Here’s the rundown:

The freshly restored 1965 Alfa Romeo Giulia Spider Veloce is on the button except for the steering. It’s still a little tight, and I’ll have that remedied when I find a moment. The trouble we’ve had getting the steering right points out the dangers inherent in completely disassembling a car and then putting it back together. It’s hard to get everything to be as it was before the restoration began.

I’d like to report there are no problems with the 1967 Duetto. There weren’t until I drove it on the Red Duetto Tour a couple of weeks ago. Towards the end of the tour, I noticed that the brake pedal was starting to get soft. It felt exactly like the pedal in the GTV when the master cylinder went bad in Monterey.

I’ve scheduled the Duetto to go into Nasko for a lookover — once he has a chance to fettle the 1958 Sprint Veloce and finish up the 1961 Sprint Speciale.

He wants to look at the brakes on the Sprint as well. He recently replaced a rear brake line that had a hole in it, caused by the line rubbing against the fuel tank. Losing all my brake fluid on a crowded city street in Portland created some exciting moments.

Nasko doesn’t like the way the pedal feels, and he wants to pull the front drums and see what’s going on inside. The car stops well enough but he feels the pedal should be more firm.

There are only a couple of things that the GTV needs after returning from its successful and glorious trip down Highway 1 to Monterey last August. The new master cylinder is working perfectly. In fact, the brake pedal has never felt better.

Both rear windows are coming loose where they attach to the body, but Guy Recordon at Guy’s Upholstery says that is an easy fix.

The Sprint Special is coming along. Nasko says it is just a couple of weeks from being a running and driving car (for the first time in four decades), and then it will go to Tom Black for some minor rust repair and paintwork.

My goal with this car is to have a handsome, slightly scruffy driver. I’ve learned my lesson with the Giulia Spider Veloce. I won’t ever do a complete restoration on a car again. A perfect car simply doesn’t bring me that much more joy than a #2 condition one that is mechanically on the button. The stress and expense involved in creating and living with a #1 condition car just aren’t worth it to me.

Bradley’s 1960 Bugeye is slated to go back to restorer Chip Starr for some minor adjustments, including replacing the wiper motor so that the wipers don’t stop in the rain. Further, he’s going to make some more adjustments to the hood so that it fits better. Because it is fiberglass (we have a metal hood as well), it requires subtle tweaks to get the hood-to-cowl fit just right.

And then there is the Bradley GT. It goes to a VW shop on Tuesday to have the transmission examined. My guess is we will just swap in a rebuilt one. The shop will also address the problem of the doors falling off.

That’s enough for right now, don’t you think? All of my old cars bring me great joy in use, but getting them into top-flight mechanical condition — and keeping them there — seems to be a full-time job.

The Lotus and the Viper wink at me as I walk by them, and whisper, “pick me, pick me” in the silence of the garage.

Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market and bi-monthly American Car Collector magazines, has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and has his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity.

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  1. I”m not the only one going through these pains and that is a small comfort. Un-enlightened car people will never understand why we sink more money into old cars and put up with all the headaches.

  2. Keith, your article reminded me of something I found myself thinking the other day – which is that you actually have to *drive* your old cars quite a bit in order to figure out what they need.

    I have a few old cars that I probably only use once every two or three months, and every time I do so I come away with a long list of jobs that need doing on them (most of which of course get “held over” until next time…), whereas the ones I use on a regular basis never seem to need anything since I’m always on top of them.

    Apart from anything else this does make me wonder how people with 50-year-old, $multi-million Ferraris and such, invariably with less than 40,000 indicated miles know whether their cars are in good condition or not. Perhaps that’s why they always seem to be constantly under restoration.

  3. I’m one of those people with a 50-year old Ferrari. Thank God the motor and drive train is bullet-proof. Just had to replace the front steel brake lines due to signs of corrosion. Every year there is some small maintaince item, but that’s expected with any car this old.