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Classic car collectors shouldn't hesitate to drive

Young members of a Mexican music and dance

Young members of a Mexican music and dance troupe admire a 1967 Chevrolet Impala, painted by Eddie Pedregon, at a display of customized lowrider automobiles in Anaheim, Calif. (April 12, 2008) Credit: AP

While driving around on a beautiful day this past week, I saw a 1967 Impala, a 1969 Firebird, and a TVR Vixen. What was unusual about these sightings is that I didn’t spot them through an open garage door, or peering out from under a tarp. They were on the road being used and enjoyed by their owners. In the winter when it’s cold. And the roads are dirty. What’s wrong with these owners? Don’t they have a responsibility to tuck these cars away from oh, say, early November through mid-April?

As I saw each one of these cars I couldn’t help but think to myself how lucky the owners were to be driving them in the dead of winter. To extend the enjoyment of their hobby year-round and not have to deal with the dreaded winter-storage blues. And then it occurred to me…why not? If you think about it, there are many sunny beautiful days here in the northeast during the winter. Imagine what a treat it would be to drive your classic car on a crisp clear day with the heater on and the radio playing. When was the last time you did that? For many I’ll bet the answer is “decades ago.”

In conversations with collectors, customers, and colleagues, I’m discovering that more and more people are adopting the position that classic cars are meant to be driven, not stored. And I have to admit, I agree. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that you take your classic car out in the middle of a snow storm, or even when there’s snow on the ground. I’m not even suggesting that you intentionally take it out in the rain.

The truth is that most of us do not own “concours quality” collector cars, which most would agree should not be driven in inclement weather, if driven at all. We own “driver quality” cars. Some nicer than others. These cars are not afraid of the cold and they can be cleaned if they get dirty. So why don’t we use them year round?

The fact of the matter is that more and more collectors are doing exactly that. Some time ago in this column we touched on the increasing popularity of cars with roofs, as opposed to convertibles. At the auctions and cars shows that I attend, I have the opportunity to talk with buyers, many of whom are opting for hardtops and sedans so that they can use them year round.

Most of us are used to our daily drivers with modern conveniences such as remote start, climate control, heated and air-conditioned seats, all wheel or 4-wheel drive, audio and video systems, Bluetooth and more. Our cars are warmed or cooled before we even enter them, and we can drive safely through most weather conditions, all while listening to our favorite tunes or watching our favorite movies, while calling home to find out what’s for dinner. 

But there was a time when our classic cars were just cars. They too were used on a daily basis in all but the worst weather. They might not have had video systems or Bluetooth, but they transported us comfortably and safely (all things being relative) through all four seasons in the northeast. We didn’t give a second thought to hopping in the car and driving to the supermarket or the movies just because it was raining or snowing. They may not have been as advanced as today’s cars, but they got the job done. And this included convertibles.

These cars are capable of performing the same duties today. So that must mean that it’s the owners that are not.

Generally speaking, when it comes to classic cars, Americans are obsessed with perfection. So much so that we are willing to trade it off for the enjoyment that the car might otherwise provide. When visiting car collectors in other countries it quickly becomes apparent that their idea of a perfect car is not the same as ours. Their idea of perfect makes the assumption that the car is used as a car was intended to be used. A little dirt on the floor-mats, a chip here and there. And believe me, this applies to some pretty high-end collector cars. Maybe they know something that we don’t.

At an auction that I recently attended, I walked over to congratulate the elderly buyer of a beautiful 1964 Jaguar XK-E Roadster for which he had paid well into the six-figure range. These cars have been amongst my favorites since I was a kid, and this was one of the nicest ones I had ever seen. I asked him if he was planning on driving the car or just adding it to a collection? He emphatically told me that he was going to drive it every chance that he got. I asked him if he was concerned that by driving this flawless car he would certainly diminish its value? He responded by telling me “I can always make more money. I can’t make more time.” I guess with age comes wisdom.

My hat is off to those of you who use your car all year long. 

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