I was driving home from a holiday dinner last week on Sauvie’s Island, about 15 miles from downtown Portland. The country road I was on was unlit, two-lane and winding. It was raining, but not heavily.
The road presented no challenges to the modern car I was driving. Cocooned by the touch-screen nav system, the heated seats, automatic climate control and powerful high beams, I motored along above the 45 mph speed limit and didn’t think much about the actual driving experience.
While I was adjusting the satellite radio, I flashed back to driving my second sports car, a 1958 MGA. I bought it in 1968, and put thousands of miles on it. Those experiences left a permanent imprint.
Even today, I find myself using the MGA as a benchmark by which I measure the visceral driving experience a car provides. After all, driving a car just means taking an engine, a gearbox, four wheels and a suspension and having that assemblage get you from point A to point B.
A new car may get you there quickly and quietly, where an old car may or may not get you there at all. It probably won’t be quiet, and if is raining, one or both of your legs will probably be wet due to the leaking top. But in either case, you are motoring.
If I’d been driving the MGA that night, I would have been having an adventure, my own little Morris Garage Indiana Jones moment. I would not have been able to see very far ahead due to the dim headlights. The wipers barely wiped, and the defroster was actually just a theoretical concept.
No one has ever accused an MGA of having brilliant handling, braking or acceleration.
So instead of trying to find Rigoletto on the Sirius Opera channel, I would have been fully engaged, trying to peer down the road between ineffectual wiper swipes, and wiping the condensation off of the inside of the windshield.
Why Drive New?
However, there are reasons to have more modern machines as a part of your fleet.
Driving conditions are wildly different now than they were in the ’60s. Roads are more crowded, freeways are more numerous, and drivers are more distracted.
SCM has a Korean import as our run-around car, and the more boring the task, the more perfectly suited the Elantra GT is for it.
We bought the Hyundai as a direct result of our BMW 633 CSi being sideswiped by a youngster in a big SUV. The driver simply pulled into my lane without looking and put a major crease down the side of the Shark.
No real harm done, except that the 6 Series had been an original-paint car. And although the repair work was masterfully done, the car was no longer original, and I became disinterested. So off it went.
The accident heightened my awareness about just how careless people are in traffic. Major distractions while driving include texting and talking on cell phones. I decided if I was going to be in daily commuting traffic twice a day when I took Bradley to and from school, I wanted it to be in a modern car with many safety features. Also, I wanted it to be car that could suffer the indignities of dings, dents and scrapes, and I just wouldn’t care.
Why put an old car that has managed to survive 40 or 50 years into a world full of oversized disposable vehicles?
Electronically of Interest
Modern cars represent over a century of mechanical evolution, but it has only been in the last 20 years that we have seen extensive use of electronics inside the cockpit.
For many manufacturers, ground zero for sales competition is how well thought-out their center stack – the part of the dashboard that houses the nav, heat, a/c and more controls – is.
There are some manufacturers, like Porsche and BMW, for whom on-road performance continues to be how they wish to be evaluated. Others, like the Korean imports, focus their attention on how user-friendly and intuitive their center stack is.
MGA – The Primitive Approach
One of the things that typified cars from the ’50s and ’60s was that they were easy to understand and to operate. Once you got behind the wheel of the MG, all of the controls made sense. (Well, the dash-mounted horn button and swivel-switch turn signal indicator in the A were a little strange, even for that era.)
For mundane driving tasks, the most appealing modern cars are those that have that same logic and simplicity of operation that the A did. Granted, now you’re adjusting cockpit ventilation systems, nav systems and more. But there are simple ways to address these features that are user-friendly.
For some time I struggled with my attraction to boring cars for boring drives. I wondered if I had somehow become less “car manly” and was giving into creature comforts as I reached my maturity.
I have come to understand that there is no sense wasting precious seat time in an old car by inflicting use as a daily driver on it. Let the modern cars in our lives do what modern cars do best – take the stress out of moving your machine back and forth over heavily-trafficked roads.
Save the old machines for the good roads and good times. In fact, the next time I get an invitation to go to a party on Sauvie’s Island, I think I’ll take one of the old cars. Those 15 miles each way on two-lane roads would have have made for a memorable evening, instead of a tedious drive.