I’ve written many times that old cars are not safe in modern traffic.

It’s one thing to type that out. It’s another to experience it.

Sunday I took the SCM Volvo out for a drive, through Portland, onto the freeway and back.

As old cars go, the Volvo is relatively safe. I have installed inertia-reel shoulder belts for all four seats. It has front disc brakes. With the handling kit I had installed by Swedish Relics, it still has pathetic road holding, but better than it did when new.

I started from downtown Portland, and headed north on Interstate 5 to the I-205 bridge. The speed limit is 55, and I was going 50. I found that when I tried to change lanes or merge, the new cars on the road showed me no mercy. They pulled up close behind me. They wouldn’t let me over.

The fact that I was driving a car that was half-a-century old didn’t make any difference to them. All they knew was that they were going 80 mph and I was going 50.

They saw me as a moving roadblock.

Frankly, I was terrified. The new cars, mostly huge, whizzed by me at a 30-to-40-mph differential. I couldn’t match the stopping power of any of the cars on the road.

I wanted to turn around, go home and get my little Hyundai.

Finally, I left I-5 and got onto the two-lane Washington SR 14 (the same highway I took three weeks ago while I was still sorting out the car).

Once we were on an open, two-lane highway, both the car and I relaxed. I started thinking about the SCM 1000, and why the route that Neil D’Autremont puts together is so critical to the success of the event.

These old cars do not want to be on the freeway. They also do not want to be in congested city-center traffic.

I visualized being surrounded by 40 other classic cars, heading up the Columbia Gorge. I smiled.

With each passing day, our old cars become less suited to modern conditions. They really should only be taken out on appropriate roads and in appropriate conditions. I’m not even so sure you should go out solo on a long trip through desolate areas — no matter how well your car is sorted.

I’ve been planning on a spring break road trip with Bradley. We are thinking of covering 1,000 or so miles and heading south to Virginia City. Now I’m starting to have second thoughts. We would hit Oregon’s Steens Mountain and the Alvord Desert — very remote country.

Do I want to add the stress of having an old car, traveling solo, to my trip with him?

This will be the only spring break road trip we have together with him as a 7th grader.  Next year he will be 13 and may want to do other things.

He will enjoy the views and the time together no matter what car we are in.

With the Hyundai, starting and stopping and keeping up with modern traffic will never be an issue.

Driving a 1965 classic, solo, with no friends around, adds its own degree of tension.

The Volvo is nearly completely sorted and appears to be ready for 1,000 miles. But it doesn’t like to cruise at 80 mph. It has no a/c. It has no airbags and just-adequate brakes. The car is an assemblage of 50-year-old parts, only one of which needs to fail to bring everything to a halt.

The Hyundai is safe, reliable and relatively comfortable. But it is no sports car. But will Bradley care?

Am I just getting old and soft? Am I denying myself a father/son adventure?

I’m perplexed considering the fantasy (and stress) of a road trip, solo, in a vintage car, compared with the no-hassle experience of having 1,000 miles alone with Bradley, traveling through forests and across mountains and deserts together.

Turning on the a/c if it gets hot. Listening to Sirius radio.

Given this choice between modern convenience and traveling solo in a classic, what would you do?

42 comments

  1. Drive it, that’s what it is made for. I drove my Pantera from Michigan to Reno last June and I’m driving it to Phoenix in April. If you can’t drive it and enjoy it why have it?

  2. Perhaps you need a Mercedes-Benz from the early seventies, Keith. They are beautiful vintage cars and entirely capable of handling modern traffic. As a matter of fact, there are probably new cars less capable than a Mercedes sedan built in the early seventies.

    1. I agree with Jim, a seventies vintage Mercedes, especially an SL, will give you the grand touring car you need, My ‘79 280 SL has no problem keeping up with traffic on the interstate but 75mph with the top down is no fun. Make sure the A/C works. Probably no more expensive to maintain than the Alfa’s and, so far, I’ve been able to find everything I’ve needed to keep it a reliable driver. All the tech you need and none you don’t.

  3. Compromise, sell a few of the Alfas and get a modern sports car with a manual: ideally a GT3 stick. If want to spend less then get a 911 with a manual and you will keep up with traffic (LOL) and have the reliability, convenience of a modern car while enjoying the engagement and character of an analog sports car. I’m here to help.
    Michael

  4. I’m curious how you would feel if you were able to take your Super on the trip instead of the Volvo? I’ve got a ’73 Super and am going through suspension and potentially upgrading it’s 1.3 liter and gearing to deal with Interstate speeds better. Do you feel more comfortable in modern traffic with the capabilities of your Super and its upgrades?

  5. I wise man just yesterday told me, “Don’t wait. Get out and do it.” I think his name was Keith something…

  6. Keith, Borrow something sportier than the Hyundai. Enjoy yourselves, and a stress free, entertaining car. What cars does Bradley like? Mustangs, Corvettes, Kia Stinger, BMWs?
    Pick one from his list.

  7. Volvo, no question, and mostly 2-lanes. Soon enough he can buy his own appliance, if that’s what he prefers, but he’s a long way from having a Volvo adventure of his own. Now is your chance to plant the seed, even if it goes dormant for awhile. He’d never forget it and neither would you. A little roadside adventure is just that – reread some of your own articles! Take a chance…

  8. I understand exactly what Keith is saying – the other cars on the road are typically driven by people who weren’t born when this Volvo was new. Even their minivans have 300 hp, airbags, crumple zones and they’re leased – if it get’s totaled, who cares? So they drive like complete morons, showing nothing but contempt for some old geezer in a weird car.

    Due to his health issues, Keith’s new 122 is an automatic, which probably makes it even less able to accelerate out of dicey situations. So yes, stick to back roads in rural areas as much as possible. And have fun!

  9. Keith,
    Take the old girl. Dont be afraid of other people’s lack of appreciation for cars that you have. Truthfully, you could probably push the Ol Volvo, and she wouldnt mind. In the end, even if she broke, neither would you. It’s the experience that counts. Good luck. Your son wont regret any of it.

  10. Keith,
    You should keep your occasional appointments with the 122!
    Driving an older car that might break down keeps you in touch with your past and present. Besides, so what if it breaks. That’s what that triple A card in your wallet is for. I agree the Interstate roads these days are full of discourteous drivers, so why not take the 2 lane? Your son will appreciate the vistas and interesting things seen along the way. Enjoy these old cars. They represent a lot more than just outdated
    technology…….

  11. I solved your situation years ago I owned a plethora of Volvo’s I had a 1967 144 sedan and I installed a p1800 transmission that car would easily run 85 MPH when you were west of Ft. Worth. What a wonderful car! I drive a 911 on back roads and find that traffic even on the 2 lane roads moves at close to 80 MPH and on major access roads 90++MPH is not uncommon. People do not understand how much damage and death you can instigate in a very short period of time at that speed.

  12. Hmmm… Don’t you guys have a Porsche 911 Turbo? Just because you don’t want to take an ancient car doesn’t mean you have to drive a Hyundai.

  13. It is a mistake to say “all” old cars. I drive a 2005 Lincoln Aviator and it can be a very, very bad boy at 80 mph. It is street machine and a woad warrior. I do not restore this beast, I preserve it. 100% maintained, factory parts or better. I could get in it right now and drive to New York city. True, the world is full of cars that are not road worthy – from today, on back to the day they were built.

  14. just drove my 54 TR2 home from the shop(normal place for it) and appreciate your concern. however, isn’t the “unknown adventure” and totally different driving experience most of the fun of these old classics!

  15. Take the Volvo and plan an appropriate trip. My sons and I relish the memory of a camping trip we took in an old 911 around Jacksonvile and Amelia Island. It made a bond between us and has kept them interested in vintage cars. Full disclosure, I trailered the car the 275 miles from our home in Jupiter, Florida to Jacksonville, Florida. I do agree driving a vintage car, even a 911 that can keep up with traffic with two young passengers was not appealing. The Hyundai will never give these memories. Happy to send you pictures showing how the car was part of the experience.

  16. Seems to me you’re overthinking this about eight ways to Sunday. Most of the fun and true learning in life comes from engaging with the reality that perfection and complete safeties are unachievable and distracting fantasies. Get out and drive your old car…roll down the windows and if you break down, you get to model to your son how to be calm in a tense situation and yall probably will be able to fix whatever the issue with baling wire and a hammer anyhow. Also, if you’ve a AAA membership, again why are you worrying?

    1. I love older stuff build solid no plastic like today more classand character easy too work on true at one time no safety glass or seat belts have installed if u have one wished l could afford a 60 thou 64 mercury comet enjoy the old stuff and nothing wrong with a Hyundai one of the best cars l owned until a Mexican run a stoplight

  17. Well I drove CSX2539 from South Jersey to Newport R.I. last spring…..the year before 1963 jaguar conv. No problem keeping up with traffic …I would not be afraid to drive any car I worked on the 256miles or longer 😊

  18. In 1961 I drove my MG TC from Easton Md. to Kansas City MO. blew a head gasket in St Louis, otherwise a slow but safe trip. Then a year later I drove my ’56 Porsche Speedster from K.C. to Washington D.C. Today I am happily driving a Prius and staying away from the Interstate Highways.

  19. I feel your pain. When we were a little younger, and one of our beloved old cars “failed to proceed”, it was a minor inconvenience and we’d manage to turn it into an adventure. Now that we have to consider other things, probably best to go the safest route and take the new car with Bradley on your Spring Break. Save the old dears for the planned road trips with others in similar situations, where you have not only help but will be with others who get it. Enjoy the a/c, or the heat, along with satellite radio and other comforts and leave yourself stress-free and therefore more able to just enjoy being with your son on another adventure.

  20. Well I couldn’t agree more about Hwy. 14! I happen to have a house on the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge, as well as a house in Santa Monica. I keep my 1969 Ferrari 365 GT 2+2 in the Gorge, precisely because I would much rather drive it on those roads than in LA traffic!

  21. Lots of good comments and advice. Bottom line is what makes you feel comfy with your son on this adventure. Any choice you make will be fine with him as long as you enjoy the trip.

  22. Keith,

    I understand your predicament. Why not get something a little a little newer but still old. You have seen and commented on my blue 1975 450SL at the start of the Northwest Classic Rally. I recently took the car from Virginia to Florida using the auto train. I was not using it in the winter anyway. I would be judging at the Boca Raton Concours, I went a week early. I took the opportunity to stay at a friends in Palm Beach. His nephew and I spent the week visiting car collections, a great time. Over the course of four days I drove the car 650 miles on small Oceanside roads to interstates. The car has fabulous brakes, accelerates brilliantly and has room for my luggage. The car never overheated and was capable of doing a solid 70-90 miles per hour in relative safety. We had a glorious time.
    In three weeks I go back to Palm Beach and will drive briskly to the Amelia Island Concours, spend the long weekend and then drive back to Virginia. There is a reason it is nick named Panzer wagon.

  23. I drove a 1974 BMW 2002 in college and it was more than capable of running 90 mph all day. Front discs, today easily converted to four wheel discs and available with an automatic. Also agree that any early 70’s Mercedes would be fine in today’s traffic. Always more fun on back roads when not in hurry, check out websites for fun places to stop along the way!.

  24. You know what to do. Can the Volvo but stay classic. My vote is for a Porsche 911 SC (79- 83?) or Carrera (84-89). Still has the classic 911 body style, but with AC! Swap out the radio for a vintage look but with Bluetooth. Maybe a targa for that convertible, wind in your hair feeling. And go! All day long. I have driven from Los Angeles to Monterey for Car Week in August every year for the past 6 or 7 in a classic. With no air. And damn near roasted every time around Pasa Robles ( never less than 95). But not this year. I have AC.

    So combine the thrill of a vintage sports car with AC and Bluetooth. You’ll love it.

  25. As much as I enjoy driving old sports cars, for the trip you are planning I might get a weekly rate on a Camaro or Mustang convertible from Hertz, make sure it has Apple Car Play and XM Sirius sat radio and hit the road.

  26. My 77 lincoln versailles loves the highway, far more comfortable the my suv. Not to bad on gas with 5.8l v8 it get 22 on the highway better then the wifes explorer. Also has factor 4 wheel disc. Stop on a dime for a battlecruiser.

  27. Take the Volvo, Bradley will never forget the trip in an old Volvo with his dad, but never remember a thing about a Hyundai

  28. Keith, I have long known we share a passion for vintage Alfas, and now there’s further overlap as I see you spending time with a Volvo 122S. I came home from the hospital where I was born in a two year-old 1967 122S; I grew up with that car and it was my first driver in high school and college. In 2010 I bought and restored its identical twin, a two-door like yours. In 2018 I drove the 51 year-old Volvo, with my then 84 year-old mother, from Virginia to the Volvo National Convention in Vermont. The car had a few quirks on the trip (heater jammed on, starter got finicky) but it made it up, detoured to Cape Cod, and got home, more than 1,600 miles. It gamely kept up with traffic on roads large and small (though it was sure hard to talk above 60 MPH). We had a mother son adventure for the ages. And the vintage Volvo got as much attention as most six-figure cars ever hope to. Winning third place for our class at the Convention was the icing on the cake. A 122S was a great choice for my parents in 1967 and it is a solid vintage car to go adventuring half a century later too!

  29. Speaking from my experiences, I probably wouldn’t take the Volvo unless I had a few other classics touring with me for support; or better yet a modern chase car following behind. I have 1960 Volvo PV544 and have experienced what you’re talking about on the freeway…scary! My Volvo is partially restored, but much of it is reconditioned original parts. Yeah you know it can make the trip, but in the back of your mind you’re constantly thinking these are 60 year old parts. That little voice in your head can take away the enjoyment of the trip without knowing that you have some support with you. Whatever you do have fun and create some memories.

    1. Just ask your wife what car you should take, opps sorry about that idea, just take Bradley, your cell phone, your insurance card, your AAA Card, a couple of visa cards and just have fun!

  30. I’m right there with you! I’ve owned several 122’s, a 142, 144 and a 164E over the years. And I loved them all…but it was simpler and slower back then. Over the years this dude began getting older too! And now, I like airbags and traction control and ABS and and and!!!
    For the last six months I’ve been resurrecting a late 240z cutting out rust, welding, gutting, cleaning, rebuilding and painting. All the while thinking of it as a future daily driver and a weekend canyon beast. Then I started looking at the details…my buddy’s STOCK BRZ will run circles around it and do it safer, quieted and cleaner!
    I jump in my daily commuter Honda Accord and realize I could give the Z a good lesson. So the heck with it, I’m selling the Z and picking up a 2018 Civic SI !!!!

  31. When you are right, you are right. I have a relatively new ’92 Alfa Spider and it is fine at freeway speeds and has disc brakes, seat and shoulder belts, and airbags. However, being older, I have developed a healthy degree of paranoia and I void the major freeways and prefer to take a twisty, canyon road to the Pacific Coast Highway. You see, it is not that the Alfa is not safe, it is drivers and their large trucks and SUVs that tower over me, just don’t see me when they decide to change lanes, that and their distractions with electronic devices.

    Choosing the right road is a very important part of enjoying your toy.

  32. Keith, I agree with many others here. You need a 60s vintage sports car with big engine for get-up-n-go, good brakes and steering. Thinking an E-Type for command of any road. There’s endless power and a feline leap from 65 to 100 or more with just a slight blip of the throttle. Brakes and steering to match.

  33. Keith,

    You’ve posed a great question to the SCM community. While I like the responses encouraging a vintage Benz to bridge the gap, that isn’t an answer to the specific question you asked.

    In 2010 I did a 900 mile road trip with my then 10 year old son from Boulder, CO to a number of places he was interested in visiting. We took an Infiniti FX35 press vehicle. We had a great, and exceedingly memorable, trip. Afterwards it dawned on me that I never once worried about the vehicle not starting, etc. I just filled it with fuel, hit the start button and away we went.

    That same year, I did a 750 mile road trip from Minot, ND to Fort Collins, CO in a 1961 Ford C-600 fire truck with a group of friends (which included a chase vehicle full of tools and spare parts). It was a great, and exceedingly memorable, trip, but it was a very different vibe. It was the equivalent of a Top Gear Challenge. We broke down. We affected roadside repairs. https://amoroso.smugmug.com/Cars/Project-1961-Ford-C-600-Fire

    They were both amazing experiences. What’s the right tool for the job at hand? I’d go for something modern for the trip with your son, or get yourself a wingman for the trip.

  34. I have a 1980c PUMA. I found it somewhat underpowered on LA Freeways. So I increased the engine size from 1600 to 1900. Next I changed the gear ratios. The smallest addition was fender side marker lights. Now I can zoom around at just 100 mph if necessary, other cars. including PKU trucks, and other fast moving rigs, just let me blend in to the Frey! Tons of fun because I can out maneuver most of them cause they need cameras and other sensing devices! Too much fun!

  35. That’s quite a dilemma, Keith. At least you have the ‘S’ twin-carb version, but that BW 35 slushbox sure saps the zip (and joy) from it…but I understand your current limitations. Here’s an idea: Maybe contact Hagerty DriveShare and inquire if there’s something more modern yet interesting you could rent for the upcoming expedition? If you have to drive the Hyundai, you may as well go Amtrak.

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