How to: Daily Drive a Classic
My first car was a '65 Mustang - a secretary's car as they used to call it, outfitted with a 200ci straight six and a three speed on the floor. I was 13, and it was a present from my folks. If I were to guess, it was as much a nostalgic buy for my ol' man as it was a present for me. In any event, my thoughts on old cars at the time were significantly different then than they are now. My plan for the '65? Restore it! And then look at it in the garage, mostly, since it was a low-mileage example, showing roughly 24,000 miles on the odometer at the time. Together my dad and I fixed the shift linkage that kept it in two gears at once, did the little bodywork it needed, and restored the little parts in the deluxe interior that it needed - door panels and such. Overall it really was a solid car, and we took it in for a paint job and that was that. She was a looker, and I was all but afraid to drive it.
We moved a few times, and each time she found a new resting spot - in a barn, in a garage, in a shed - always covered and always protected. Five or six years passed this way, and I always paid up the insurance and kept the registration up to date. Then one day something in me changed.
I had decided to take her down to Quincy, Illinois to visit a friend, with another friend riding shotgun. It was about a two hour drive, and it was uneventful, if a little slow. She handled well, was comfortable, and even got 22 mpg with the little I6. During that ride was when I decided that she deserved more than the life I was giving her. She didn't deserve being tucked away in some dusty corner, only to be brought out on sunny days, or showcased to some new visitor to her living tomb. No, she deserved to be driven, and I was going to do it.
I did more than the basics. I converted her to a V8 with a fresh 289 (the first of many), beefed up the brakes with 1970 front drums, replaced the rear end with an 8-inch from a '68 Mustang, installed a T-5 transmission from an '89 Mustang GT, and upgraded the front and rear suspension components. New wheels and tires rounded out the package, and I had myself a sweet little hotrod. Then I drove her. I took her everywhere - Virginia once, and North Carolina's outer banks, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Missouri - the list goes on. Miles and miles I racked up, more than 40,000 one year alone. Rain, snow, and sunshine, it didn't matter. If I was going, I took the Mustang. She was finally living the way she was meant to. Then I killed her.
One hazy Saturday morning, on the way back to Detroit from Ann Arbor a concrete truck lost his axle, leaving it in the middle of the left lane on the highway. The minivan in front of me slid over, but I didn't have time to react, hitting it head on. I was lucky to walk away, but I did. My trusted friend - my first car, the one I'd had for 15 years - didn't fare so well. There was no saving her; to be honest, I wouldn't have wanted to drive her again if I could have repaired the damage, it was so extensive. I salvaged the parts I could and sold the rest on Craigslist a year or so later (it takes time to part with an old friend).
I bought a '69 Torino and rebuilt her into a running, driving car from a sad, tired shell of her former self. Classics have something that new cars just don't - soul. They have quirks and rattles, and require attention while you drive them until at some point they become an extension of you.
So the question is, how do you daily drive a classic? You get in, you turn the key, and you feel that this is where you belong. Then you drive.