It never fails to make me smile when I pull up to a stop sign in my ’66 Volvo 122 sedan and someone rolls down the window to ask, “Hey, what year is that?” And I can’t say it wasn’t a good day when instead of a parking ticket under my wiper, I found a note reading, “I love your car!”
I’ve owned two other cars in the city – an ’89 VW and an ’88 Honda – that only thieves were attracted to, leaving me with broken windows and an ashtray empty of quarters. After the Honda got towed and I had to pay $300, I gave up on being a car owner and reverted back to my other wheels – a bike and a skateboard. But after eight years of borrowing cars and bumming rides, it felt like it might be time to invest in some real wheels again. I’d just about set my heart on finding an old Ford F-150 when my buddy Eric told me he was selling his baby blue Volvo. I immediately fell in love. It wasn’t tricked out or restored and there was definitely some rust peeking out here and there, but it was a true original and that’s what sold me.
I’d never been much of an auto snob, but modern cars just don’t have it compared to older cars: those chrome details in the grill and side panels, rounded headlights and true-red tail lights, Jetsons-era instrument panels, and real metal bumpers, not to mention that unbeatable old-car smell. The feeling of driving one of these cars is different too. It’s hard to explain until you get behind the wheel. You don’t always get power steering, electric windows, rear window defrost, or even heat for that matter, and you might not always be able to just turn the key and drive away. But when you do get going, you feel like you’re actually driving. I can honestly say my car is beautiful – she has curves, plenty of chrome, and there’s not a plastic panel anywhere. And did I mention she’s baby blue?
If you do happen to fall for a classic car, know what to ask about the engine, transmission, tires, suspension, rust, and so on, before handing your money over. If you don’t know what to ask or what to look for, make sure that the seller will let you take it to a mechanic for an inspection, or bring along a friend that knows their stuff. No vintage car is going to be perfect. As Talbot pointed out, “You’re buying someone else’s problems.”
Of course, owning an older car means that you have to pay extra attention to maintenance. Either find a shop with a mechanic who is familiar with your classic and spend some money, or take the time to learn on your own and spend your weekends under the hood.
I’ve chosen the latter option and although I’ve saved some money, I’ve spent at least twice as much time as a trained mechanic who’s got the right tools and lifts. For me it’s worthwhile, because by doing the work myself I’ve learned a new set of skills and gained an affinity for my Baby Blue.