Classics as daily drivers - can it be done?

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Chris Martin
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Alastair Clements recently posted an interesting blog -"Joining the club on the classic commute" in which he reported his tales of spotting other 'classics' on the road while using his MGB GT. Nuno then posted his comments on how and why he uses his 'youngtimer' VWs etc.

I suggested this might make an interesting subject for the forum at large and would be interested in others attempts to drive something other than a modern jellybean computer car for their daily use.

I am not talking about the occasional use of a second car when you are in the mood and it is not raining, and for now I would exclude anything less than ten years old (probaby even twenty), but how practical is it to drive an older car as everyday transport?

For my part, as I have reported elsewhere, I have been using W123 series Mercedes as my main car since the eighties. The first one I had then in London was only four years old when I bought it, but then I found as Mercedes replaced that model with the W124 in 1986, the newer car had a lot more plastic, lighter metal panels, and crucially a lot more electronics. Now I have always preferred cars made of heavy metal and nuts and bolts, the sort of car an average enthusiast with a mechanical bent can maintain, hence my distrust of later plastic-and-computer-chip cars. My instincts were probably right as now it seems there are far more earlier 123s surviving than 124s, so is this typical across other manufacureres models? Are the seveties and eighties cars going to outlive their descendants?

I do not have any weird psychological  hatred of modern cars, but the philosophy behind them now seems to be to make them as cheap as possible, like disposable white goods, and once out of warranty period to be scrapped to make way for a new model. Computers are also reducing driver input. The old idea of brand loyalty seems to have disappeared with the passing of the old brand names - if anyone remembers an uncle being a Humber man who would never defect to Rover, it is hard to imagine that discussion today being about Hyundai or Toyota.  I am sure there are a few who will argue that their new ABARTH -ALFA - AUDI etc ( insert brand name here ) is the best car they have ever had, but the attraction is fleeting and will soon pass.

So, what can we use safely and reliably, and not counting looney politicians who see picking on old cars as an easy way to score valuable greenie points, still keep up with modern traffic?

Obvious candidates are VW Beetles, (and othe variants) Minis (the REAL one) Morris Minors, with or without subtle upgrades; certainly the MGB roadster or GT and many more similar from the fifties to the eighties. Then, if you can afford the petrol there are similar vintage Jaguar, Rover, Mercedes barges offering performance and comfort, and these days the Ford Mustang must be one the easiest cars to keep on the road given there is now a worldwide industry supporting their needs.

So what else does a classic fan use for transport?

Maybe there are even a few who do use their pre-war classics daily?

And as the latest W123 Mercedes would now be 27 years old and it is getting harder to find a good one, what will I have to drive next?

Let's have your wheels of choice.

(and Greenies, cyclists, horsey people and Jay Leno need not reply).

Chris M.

 

Nuno Granja
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Nice tread Chris,

Gona work now, but "I will be back"

 

 

nuno granja

Chris Martin
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Nuno Granja wrote:

Nice tread Chris,

Gona work now, but "I will be back"

 

 

nuno granja

Hope so, maybe you can copy your earlier reply to Alastair's post.

But where are the rest?

Classics as daily drivers?

There must be more out there.

Chris M.

 

James Elliott
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I will always drive a classic rather than a modern car. Martin Port has espoused on this in previous blogs and I agree with his reasoning. To summarise:

1) Moderns make us bored and fall asleep, this is dangerous.

2) Driving in modern traffic is soul destroying. While some people find that a nice comfy warm modern with a brilliant hi-fi keeps them sane, it has the opposite effect on me. I would have a "Falling Down" moment if I had to cope with modern London traffic every day in a modern. As it is, just the fact of being in a classic, feeling a little bit more at one with the machine I am in, lifts my spirits.

Once people get over the taboo that classics are any less reliable than modern cars or any less capable, it can become seriously addictive. And that tends to lead to multiple classic ownership so that, even if one is off the road in short or long term, you can still get your fix from another.

Sure, some cars are less suited to certain weathers which again leads to multiple ownership. Until I convert my Elan +2 to an alternator for example it can't really cope with winter commuting: turn anything else on (wipers, heater or whatever) and the lights go out unless you are revving it. That's why for the past two weeks I have been in the Interceptor non-stop: wonderful heater, powerful, two-speed wipers, rear window demist - all round a much better winter car.

At the end of the day I think it all comes down to psychology: as mentioned earlier either you are someone who NEEDS to drive a classic every day or you are not. I am one of the former group and some of my colleagues are too, though if I had Port's 120-mile round trip to cope with every day that might be a different matter, or, more likely, would just mean acquiring another classic that was particularly suited to that journey so the others would become more occasional treats.

I also admire David Evans who only has classics (for a long time I was in the same boat, but the advent of kids has neceassitated a huge Merc wagon to fall back on in case of emergency) and treks to Cheshire in either his 200,000-mile BMW 2002Tii or Citroen GS every other week, as well as regularly commuting in them.

I actually feel privilaged to be able to commute in a classic every day and, in the past 15 years, while I have been doing so, I have noticed a huge number more that are clearly used daily than in the mid-1990s. And the people driving them look far happier than the other road users, too. A classic tempers your expectations and you can remain calmer while everyone else is threatening to kill each other so they can get somewhere 20 seconds quicker.

That is one way in which our hobby has changed dramatically since I first joined C&SC in 1996: back then when I started to use the yellow Elan as my only car for all trips in all seasons and all weathers, it was viewed as slightly weird and was certainly unusual amongst the C&SC team of the day.

Nowadays, many of the C&SC team use their classics all the time, but it is not just us and we don't think we are particularly heroic: the same can-do attitude is something we have noticed spreading through the wider classic car world as well. And that is great news.

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Coventry Climax
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In the 22 years since passing my driving test I've never once owned a modern car and am proud of the fact.

Probably the most practical daily-driver I've had was a 2CV (in which at one stage I was covering 2500 miles a month, and which is currently sitting in a friend's barn in France awaiting restoration).

Like you Chris, I too had a Mercedes W123 at one stage (an immaculate, one-owner 280 CE), but being a bit of a masochist I found it a bit too modern and refined. The older I get the more I'm tempted by another though...

 

James Elliott
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Coventry Climax wrote:
Like you Chris, I too had a Mercedes W123 at one stage (an immaculate, one-owner 280 CE), but being a bit of a masochist I found it a bit too modern and refined.

Not to decry anyone who does use a car such as W123 every day, but Coventry Climax is clearly cut from the same cloth as me: that's exactly how I feel.

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Nuno Granja
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Just to start my post on the Alastair Clements blog post  "Joining the club on the classic commute"

 

 

(sorry about my english, its not my native idiom as I'm from Portugal and from a generation who only learn french at school... )

 

 

I have a lot of friends who drive modern diesels and have classic on the garage for week-end rides and events, they are nice people, interesting petrolheads to spend quality time around cars and a few are really good friends, but for me there is no other option than drive the cars.

I run small business with clients spread all over the country, I often do business and leisure trips around the country, I have two houses, with 300km between them, two small kids, wife, big family, a social life and I go surfing with regularity.

 

 

So there is no such thing of "week-end time to take the classic out of the garage for a leisure ride". Cars must be an active part of our life or bust.

Since the begginning of my adult life I have organized it to don't do daily commuting, living in town's center close to the office, with all the usual commodities within a walking or bicycle range . Probably the reminescence memories of growing up in suburbia during the 80's (no web or mobile phone...) and staying completly isolated when the motorbike was broken or in maintenance, force me do this option.

 

 

I allways used old cars as regular transport, but I don't trust italian or british brands (sorry, nice cars but...), from VW Type 1 "beetles" to Type 2 "Splits" and "Bays", from Type 3 "Squareback" to Type 4 412 "Variant", I had a lot of aircooled VWs and used them pretty well around the country and some times across Europe.

 

 

I allways buy uncommon (from my point of view...) cars around 20yo who are cheap to buy and mantain, restore the body and interiors to good level and do the mechanics as good as it gets. Then I use it for a few years.

Almost of my cars are buyed at the low point of value curve, a few directly from the scrapyard driveway and if I did not preserve them from that point, they will never reach the classic statuts. So I had saved few cars that no one wants, and the perfect example is my ex-VW Type 2 63 Split, brough from a scrapyard in the late 80's by 250euros . After one year and 4500euros spent, I use it for 10 years with a few surftrips to France and for longer periods was the only vehicle available. I drive it much more than 100.000km and even today people remember me with it. I remember someone saying in the late 80' about the restauration "what a silly way to spend money...". But I also remember in 91, during the first trip to Biarritz the crowds around it at the surf contest car park. It was sign of times to come.

 

 

In the late 90's I start to need and want faster cars and switch to the liquid cooled phase, running two Sciroccos (early) Mk2 GTI (from 99) and an Audi Coupé Gt, FWD - 2.3L (from 2002)) wich for a lot of people are no classics, probably only youngtimers.

For the same reasons to d'ont drive it only at week-ends, with a a few exceptions I d'ont do the maintenance or repairs jobs. They take a lot of time and a non professional tends to do a lot of atempts to get it right. I prefer to drive it. As some enthusiasts have a genuine pleasure on working their cars, I get the same sensation from going to the garage, talk with the mechanic (after 20years is a friend...) pay the bill, and get out in a revised vehicle.

 

 

I buy my Audi Coupe Gt in late 2002 and start to use it in early 2003. In November of the same year my (then) girlfriend buy a new Golf IV. Since then the Audi have done 185.000km with 3 big european trips, one (from Oporto) to Berlin and the Golf is reaching the 70.000 mark with only an week-end trip to Spain.Now with one and half year old twins, we have used the Golf a little more, as the baby seats dont feet at the Sciroccos and the Audi have no aircon a valuable commodity in south of europe's summer.

 

 

About the reliability, maybe a lot of people d'ont believe me, but in all those years I only have a few breakdowns, probably a one figure number. The only serious one was when the engine of my ex-VW Type 2 63 Split seized at Salamanca (Spain) on the way back from Biarritz, but in 1997 it have done more than 100.000km in my hands. A few other times I have done some repairs on the road ; Cleanning a carburetor of a 68 VW Type 1 on the roadside near Zurich, under a 74 VW Type 2 Bay cutting the extremity of a leaking fuel rubber pipe in a camping near Porto Fino or even repairing a broken acelerator cable with electricity connetor and a wire from a fence in the deep south of Portugal.

I allways do the maintenance and repairs by the book, use quality oils, etc, etc and even with 6 volts as with the Split, if everything is good working order no problems (of course I d'ont expect the power of 12v ligths...).Until a few years ago I only use Castrol oils but now i switch to ENI (ex- Agip) as they are on of my biggest clients. I'm a MIchelin and Kony client since the begginning of my motoring life.

 

 

I have my share of restaurations when I'm single, and live in a small flat, but at this point and probably for the years to come I can´t afford them (time and money), so after something close to 275.000km in Sciroccos and 185.000km on the Audi, I'm start to think in Corrado or Porsche 924 for my personal use, and for the family trips a BMW E34 525i Touring or an Audi 100C3 Avant 2,3 5cil with aircon. Those 2 station wagons are big reliable with a resonable mpg, they are on the market by pocket money and I can repair an engine without broking the bank account. The Audi is very rare here but have the advantage of keeping me in my zone of (mechanical) confort.

 

 

To finish...

Sometimes I miss my VW Type 2 Split, not for the usual reason as had enough good times on it, so no envy of the good old days, but when caught me over the speed limit as at the last week , I think for myself " there are no such problems with a Vw aircooled "....

 

 

 

nuno granja

 

(I will be back)

 

David Evans
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Thanks for the mention James.

The way I look at it is that the BMW and Citroën were both everyday cars when they were new and there's no reason why they can't be now.

The only trouble is, if you rack up a big mileage in an old car – such as 17,000 miles for two years running when the 2002 was my only car, and the same in the GSA when the tii was off the road – is that you can run up big bills for repairs. Many is the time I've thought about buying a cheap modern hatchback, but it would too dull for words – and I couldn't write about it in the mag.

I basically think of the Citroën as a modern hatchback, despite it being 31 years old – and a bit knackered. But then it was scruffy when I bought it in March 2007, and it's done 62,000 miles or so since then. It hasn't let me down that often, either – not that you should ever says such things! Between them, I suppose that they do about 20,000 miles a year.

There's also the camaraderie – or shared masochism more like – of seeing other people whose classics are clearly daily drivers.

There's a bloke with a white BMW like mine – I usually see him if I'm in the GSA (why is life like that?) – and, more often than not, if you're going to see another old car, it'll be an MGB or a Merc W123 like Chris’. It's always good to see them, especailly if your faith in old cars is wilting. Then there's a rare treat of spotting something a tad exotic darting through the West End. Last week, for example, I spotted a lovely red Alvis convertible – possibly a TE or a TF – heading down Park Lane towards Hyde Park Corner.

I reckon the best thing for any classic/old car or whatever you want to call it – motorised moneypit – is to keep using it all year round. I don't commute in mine as often as I used to, but that's probably because I'm less tolerant of London traffic than they are – both sit happily in the slog. I think what I might need, though, is a nice, big, sporty ’70s barge with and auto ’box and power steering. Some day, one day...

Chief tea-maker, C&SC

Martin Port
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I can only really echo comments already posted by James etc above, but I too use a classic as my daily driver. I'm fortunate in some ways though - living outside of the M25 means that usually the bulk of my commuting (500+miles a week) is done at over 40mph which suits a classic far better than sitting in traffic. I for one don't envy Elliott as he battles through the traffic, covering a fraction of the distance I need to but over the same sort of time!

I do however have a bit of an aversion to modern cars. Don't get me wrong, they have their time and place and as a family we will usually use our 10-year-old Peugeot at the weekends, but I know that my daily commute to the office would be a dull experience in a modern and increase the risk of me 'nodding off'! So far I've done my daily commute in an MGB (top down almost always of course), Porsche 912 (a very competent daily driver), 998cc Mini (lots of fun but needed a bit more power on the motorway), Series IIA Land-Rover (the slowest and most rudimentary of my daily drivers), and now the Scimitar GTE (probably the most refined - almost feels modern which is worrying). Fortunately I'm not the only one in our family who feels this way: Mrs P also plumps to use the VW Beetle as her daily driver - certainly makes the school run a little more interesting and both of our boys always prefer to get into one of the classics.

Of course, I am a bit of a masochist, and still harbour daft thoughts of buying a GT40 or Porsche 917 rep and then commuting in it, but that may be taking things a little too far. Certainly once the AC Buckland is on the road that will be added to my 'which car shall I use today?' list (although I may be retired by then!) - if they can't work for a living then I'm afraid they usually don't stick around long (hence why my Fiat 500 only lasted one disastrous commute).

In short, I would rather leave the car that has leather seats, air-con, working heater, multi-CD changer, auto lights, auto wipers, defrosting windows etc on the drive and 'rough it' in a classic. It makes me feel more alive, more awake and if I'm honest, I get a proper kick out of being one of the select few on the journey to work that are sat behind the wheel of something different. On top of all that, once I'm off the motorway I get to have a bit of (responsible) fun for the last few miles on some twisting country roads. I know my Peugeot wouldn't offer that, even if it would use less petrol...

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Gruffalo
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Hi Guys,

Great idea for a thread. Sure to be some good stories come out of this.

I'm an Alfa owner so I take the "Fear Factor" to another level. I drive a 1990 Alfa 75 Twin Spark as a daily driver. Although not that old, it is a bit of a rarity on the road, even down here in NZ. In 3 years I've put around 60,000kms on it, and although its "spat the dummy" a few times, I put it down to being an older car rather than an "Alfa thing".

Not content with that, I also have a 1975 Alfa Romeo Alfetta GT, in original condition. Generally speaking it's as tough as old boots and now looks quite exotic among the day to day appliances that litter the roads. I love driving the old car, really sharpens up the senses, but it hates sitting in traffic. The 75 feels like an armchair by comparison.

On the odd occasion one of the Alfas doesn't wake up I jump in the Mrs Gruffalos Mk1 MX5. Now that's a hoot to drive! Only criticisms I have? Feels too modern (starts first time every time, doesn't leak or smell funny) and it doesn't sound particularly interesting. Although I am comparing to a couple of Alfa Twin Cams.

Always considered a Merc as a "sensible" classic option, a contradiction I know, but the fact they are so reliable and dependable would somehow take part of the fun out of every journey. I'd love a Scimitar GTE, tidy ones are starting to command decent money down here, so they'll probably stay on my "one day" list.

Chris Martin
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So far exactly the mix of responses I expected. Some of the above examples do indeed make my choice of Mercedes W123 a soft option, and I admire those who can dare to use older, rarer and more fragile cars as daily drivers.

The question of what makes a 'classic' has been asked many times before, and thankfully, there is no fixed rule. The 'Youngtimer' term for later models has been around a few years now, and indeed is probably a fair description for my choice and Nuno's cars too, but that takes nothing away from the fact that these too are old by modern standards. The oldest W123 would now be 36, and even my '85 (last year of production) has passed it's 27th birthday.

But yes, it probably is a bit too comfortable and reliable and certainly as much as I feel ready to jump in and go anywhere, anytime, it is no adrenalin machine. Of course, I can use the 450 SLC if I want to claim more classic points, or at least have the right to complain about petrol prices, but the reality is I could not afford to use it as a daily car even I was prepared to risk parking it in the supermarket car park (crashfest).

Some of the above remarks may also fit David's 2002, which last I heard had covered over 234,000 miles, (my Mercedes 280E  only shows 320,000kms on the clock) and his running reports frequently feature the sort of repairs one would expect with such mileage. For example I recently had new front end ball-joints and bushes done, typical service items to be attended to on any car with use, last April it was timing chain, but I reckon in all the years I have used these models I would average about $1,500 p.a. on service and parts, that is $30 (about 20 pounds) a week; can't say that is too bad!

David's '02 should be as tough as a Merc' and built to the same standards, but his choice of Citroen should be applauded, surely up there with Alfa for bravery!

James is cheating slightly by having the choice of more than one for his trip to work, so if the Lotus can't handle it, it is the turn of the Jensen, and I guess the relatively short trip from Putney to Teddington means the fuel consumption does not hurt so much, but the point there is he has admitted that the Lotus can not cope with all daily demands while the Jensen can as long as he can afford to keep filling it up.

See? Everything has a compromise.

Ok, so what about some more rarities on the road, or even older, maybe pre-war cars that are honestly used as regular transport? Not necessarily for long commutes, but also not just for sunny Sundays, there must still be some out there.

When my Model T Speedster finally hits the road (within six months I reckon) it will be on 'full' rego (instead of the cheaper optional concessional registration that we have here for oldies) so at least I can use it whenever I want without restriction, and the relative lack of traffic around these parts, and usually fine weather make that prospect a lot easier than it would for, say, a London commuter, but that is still not going to be my every day car.

Where are all the owners of early Beetles, Mo' Minors etc that still brighten up the roads?

I await further revelations with interest.

Chris M.