Is there any real point of owning a classic or retro clunker unless its going to get a decent journey now and again? Mike Humble shares a thought or two about running a mature motor…
It’s always nice to have nice comments bestowed upon your retro or classic clunker as you go about your daily commute. I don’t claim to have the most perfect condition Rover 214 – far from it in fact, but it is what I would quote to be in a happy condition, of perfectly usable daily fettle and of course rare enough to be special owing to it being the top of the range GSi trim. The car wasn’t wrestled from the clutches of the previous jockey Neil Rapsey to be locked away hidden from view, it was bought to enjoy and use whenever I please and because I regard the R8 Rover 200 to be one of Rover’s finest moments in its history.
Just this morning during one of those brief “at the pump” conversations discerning gentlemen of automotive taste have at filling stations, a mature chap mentioned how nice the car looked for its age. The conversation spilled into the kiosk whereby he mentioned about his own Rover 200, bought new from the dealership which is tacked onto the petrol station – a former Rover main dealer of long standing. He was driving a Hyundai – which of course proves what I have said all along about just who swept up MG Rover’s customer base post-2005. But then, the conversation took a bit of a metaphorical nosedive.
I was almost accused of being environmentally unsympathetic for driving an “old” car – as he stated, continuing to almost berate me for being unkind to the car for using it on a daily basis. After this I could feel the dribble running from the corner of my mouth so I bade him a farewell and got the hell out of there tout de suite. Now this left me thinking – why shouldn’t I enjoy the car? And what makes me wrong in opting to use it in a semi-daily smoker manner? Cars, after all, are designed to be used daily and providing you adhere to normal periodic and preventative maintenance, they plod on quite merrily offering near equivalent levels of dependability and satisfaction as a newer car.
My own Rover has racked up an amazing 32,500 miles since that day back in 1991 when she drove out of Longbridge under her own steam. The first owner was your usual stereotype Rover pensioner, who poured unconditional love upon it despite accruing an incredibly low mileage under his stewardship. A shortish period of ownership in South Wales followed, prior to me becoming the adoptive parent. Either way, by the time I owned it, the car still felt tight and barely run in. This is why I have been using the car as often as feasibly possible, a period of increasing distances and speeds in order to gently condition it towards full performance and decent reliability.
You see, my argument is this… what’s the point of having a car, be it retro or full fat classic, to not actually drive the damn thing? Sure, I’m not for one moment saying you should buy a “barn find” 2000 mile 1.5 Maxi and then use it for your 20.000 miles a year lifestyle – you’d be a buffoon and very quickly become bitterly disappointed if you did. What I am saying is enjoy the car and give it a decent run out now and again because leaving a car to fester, even in perfect storage conditions causes havoc on any car and ultra low mileage retro-classics can be more hassle than you could ever imagine if they are not run regularly and properly from time to time.
I took the risk on the Rover as a result of a twofold calculated decision. Firstly, I had built up an element of trust with the previous owner and secondly because I have the skill set and the ability to repair if the car was to unluckily suffer a trauma. A prime example comes in the form of a truly A1 condition Cavalier 2.0i that came up for sale a little while back, being sold by an 84 year old chap who for medical reasons had to hang up his driving gloves. The car in question was a MK3 example that was original in every way – right down to the factory-fit Philips wireless. It was owned by a friend of another elderly gentleman I did servicing for and I had considered it for myself.
In the end, the 17.000 mile odometer reading (yes, you did read that correctly) made me baulk but I did put a contact in touch who was after a decent saloon car. Said acquaintance bought the H plate Luton flyer for just £1000 and seemed pleased as punch initially, but the honeymoon period soon ended. After a month or so of daily grind the plug leads failed followed by the coil pack and a nasty oil leak that developed from the cam carrier. Yours truly was hired to cure the leak and I fitted a timing belt and water pump at the same time, further fun and frolics continued when the alternator decided to draw a current rather than generate about two weeks later.
By now, this bloke had bombed considerable money into the Cav and he was convinced the car would settle down by now for sure – but it went downhill whilst going uphill, if you get my drift. A tow bar was fitted to the red rep-mobile after he inherited a fairly big caravan from a deceased in-law, so the wife, along with two fed up children were packed into the car for a week in the Lake District. My memory tells me his holiday was cut short after his wife got caught short on the M6 after stopping for a “splash ‘n dash” at Corley services. Anyone who intimately knows the various rest stops on the M6 will know that Corley has a gruelling bank when heading northbound.
It’s a long grinding gradient that has many a truck on its hands and knees crawling though the gears, though chances are you wouldn’t really notice in the average car. A fuel injected 2.0 Vauxhall Cavalier loaded to the gunwales with an ABI Monza nailed to the bumper should still give a good account for itself in all fairness, but soon after building up speed on a hot summer’s day the Cavalier decided enough was enough. From what I was told and without any warning, the Vauxhall started knocking like Woody Woodpecker followed by everyone’s friend – the oil lamp illuminating and a quick rise in in temperature. At this point, evasive action took place by pulling onto the hard shoulder.
As they were rattling along at a snail’s pace trying to make it to the next call box, there was an almighty BANG and that – my friends – was that. All around the car and in its wake was a combination of oil and metal pieces and, after lifting open the bonnet, a jagged hole in the engine block that, to quote my mate “a Fox could hide in” was painfully revealed. To cut a long story short, the car was recovered and a second-hand engine was fitted after which his missus decreed that the car was to be sold at any cost and his brief flirtation with the MK3 Cavalier was curtailed before any more expenditure took place to threaten his wallet, marriage and sanity!
A similar thing happened on a much bigger scale. I recall a family haulage firm cascading a fleet of ERF EC11 tractor units from an easy-going contract they had existed on since new that came to an end. They were placed into a very different and very hard-working enviroment whereby, almost one by one, they suffered engine and driveline failures- nothing to do with the trucks (the Cummins – Eaton combo is superb) but more to do with the fact they were never worked hard on their previous job. Now they were seriously earning their corn in a new role, they simply had never been given the chance to run in properly – this unfortunate event cost the company tens of thousands in a relatively short space of time.
The moral of the story is that, yes, it’s nice to bag a cheap mega-low mileage car but you have to treat them almost like a new relationship, go slow and easy at first – go at it full pelt from the start and all hell will be let loose and the love affair will soon end in tears. Cars are meant to be used and not abused, but by ignoring the aforementioned, a low -mileage older car will be much more problematic than a well used and well serviced example. And don’t be bothered about PC nimbies because you actually like to drive your old glory now and again…
You pay your road fund licence and stupid rates of VAT every time you give it a drink – enjoy yourself!