It’s something quite simple...
Evans reflects on how, fairly often, only a little bit of investigation and repair is required to make an old car roadworthy again.
Iknow there are probably a good number of us who like to spend our time scouring the classifieds for our next classic American car or truck. And if we’ve got a limited budget, chances are the vehicle in question will need work. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve come across vehicles where the seller says: “Needs just a little TLC to get back on the road”, or: “I would have MoT’d it, or done the safety inspection, but I just don’t have the time...”
Sometimes it’s true; but often, I’ve found, cars like this, while sometimes looking good in the ad, end up being a big disappointment. I still remember the days when I would drive miles to look at a car that seemed good in the ad, and still good when I talked to the seller, only to find out it needed a whole lot more work than I envisioned.
On the flip side, there are sometimes those diamonds in the rough that you come across, often unexpectedly. Living in what is perhaps the ultimate consumer throwaway society, as a Brit I’m still flabbergasted at some of the perfectly good things people will discard, including cars.
Over here, particularly in the countryside, you can still find old cars sitting neglected in driveways or around the side of a property. And sometimes the reason they are there is a result of something simple, particularly when it comes to the older stuff. “Oh, it wouldn’t start anymore, so I parked it, it was 20 or 30 years old at the time anyway.” Or: “My mechanic said it needed a lot of work to keep it roadworthy and so I had to park it, I will get around to fixing it some day…” I’m sure many of you have heard stories like this. We all know that the longer a car sits, the more it tends to need to get it back into roadworthy condition again. Seals dry out, components rust, fuel goes stale; cars by their very nature need to be driven. Yet, if you time things right, you can come across a classic that’s not been off the road very long and a lot of people won’t touch it because it isn’t running.
And in these kinds of situations, you can often bag yourself a real bargain, provided you know what you’re looking at and looking for.
How about a rust-free Pontiac Trans Am that turned out to have a faulty fuel pump, or the oneowner Buick Riviera that needed its original carburettor rebuilding; the Chrysler LeBaron that had a faulty distributor, or the Mercury Grand Marquis that simply needed the wheels tightening and the owner stopped driving due to a ‘clunking’ at speed.
What I love about older American cars and trucks, I’m talking mid-1980s and older here, is that many are still simple from an engineering perspective, and overall, quite robust. Mechanical related problems (provided the car hasn’t been taken apart or extensively modified) are often small and even today, if you find cars like this, a few hundred dollars can be all it takes to have them back on the road.
And because many old Detroit cars had a lot of parts interchangeability and were made in high numbers, mechanical parts on this side of the pond still tend to be readily available (though in the current supply chain constrained environment that sometimes can be a bit of an issue). Certainly, I can recall pre-pandemic, walking into a local parts store and ordering an EGR valve for a mid-Seventies Buick, or needing a fuel tank for a 1968 Shelby GT500 and in many cases, it was either in stock or I could receive it within a few days and the price was very reasonable. Try the same with a late-model European import over here and you could A) be facing a huge premium for something as simple as brake pads or gaskets or B) it could take a long time to be in stock due to the uniqueness of the application.
As I get older, I tend to want things in my life to be simpler, and that goes for the cars I drive as well. It’s one reason why I will own and tinker with classic American iron for as long as I can. And, if I happen to be passing by a driveway with an old car in it that’s looking for a bit of love, I will always enquire about what’s wrong with it and if it’s for sale. Because, as experience has told me, often it’s just something simple that’s needed to get it mobile again…