(The Classics Perspective is a column exclusive to AutoTrader Classics and written by our own Online Editor Brian Medford. We hope you enjoy it.)
Let's face it. Very few of us who own old cars drive them regularly. Sure we drive them on the weekend and maybe to work once or twice during the week, but largely we have a modern car that we drive every day. You know, something "dependable" and "safe" for your commute. But what if we did drive that old car every day? Surely that would be impossible...or is it?
For the last few months I have been driving my '75 Plymouth Duster to work nearly every day. I have cheated, there were a few days where I had run the tank down to fumes and jumped in my old econobox commuter car instead. But during some of the hottest days of the summer there I was on 285 in Atlanta's infamous stop-and-go traffic. A man, a 35 year old car, manual brakes, and a somewhat functional air conditioner. Not once did the Duster let me down. The leaning tower of power 225 slant-six never missed a beat and more than easily kept up with traffic (for the few brief times when traffic let up).
I have noticed a few differences in driving the Duster every day versus my old commuter econo-box. I spent the first few days wondering if my brake lights worked. On the highway nobody would get within five car lengths of my rear bumper even in the heaviest traffic. I verified over and over that I had complete functioning lights on every corner of the car. I'm not sure what makes a mid 70s chrome bumper so scary but apparently it is enough to keep an Atlanta driver at bay (an impressive feat).
Another difference is people seem to be more courteous. I work in an area of Atlanta not known for having great road manners. In the Duster people are more than happy to let me merge into traffic or turn onto a busy street. Again I'm not sure if people are genuinely happy to see the old car or just scared of what damage it might do to their car if they hit me.
On the driving end of things I noticed a difference in myself. I am not in nearly as much of a hurry anymore. I drive the Duster nice and easy. I leave plenty of room between myself and other cars. I generally drive like an old man with the exception of keeping up with traffic (the Duster gladly hums along at highway speeds and then some). I just pop in my cassette-to-iPod adapter, hit the "shuffle" button and enjoy the drive. You really do have to pay more attention in an older car. I'm always listening for changes in the car. The other week I got home and tweaked the mixture on the carburetor to solve a stumble at idle. I am constantly asking myself "what was that noise" as I drive. Part of this is that I am still getting to know the car. Soon I will be able to sort out the "uh oh" sounds from the rest of the automotive symphony going on around me.
So if you see a gold Duster in Atlanta traffic give me a wave and a honk. I’m not out for a joy ride, I’m just going to work.
Editor's Note - It would be a severe oversight to not mention the inspiration for this experiment. The General Manager of AutoTrader Classics, Rob Huting, has been driving a classic car every day for years. His trusty ’69 Mustang convertible brings him to work through the nastiest weather and meanest Atlanta traffic. It isn’t his weekend car, it is his only car. My hat is off to you Rob.
(Brian is an avid automotive enthusiast who grew up in his father's shop and has had grease under his fingernails from an early age. He has been involved in the classic automotive industry for well over a decade. He has owned several classic cars and is currently focused on the Plymouth brand.)