Classics Were Built to be Driven
Recently, as I was about to get into my 1930 Lincoln Judkins coupe after an evening event, someone asked me, "Do you live far from here? Will you be able to make it home tonight?" I replied, "Yes, I'll make it home fine. In fact, I could drive this car to California if I wanted to." (I live in Ohio.)
I never cease to be amazed by the reaction some people have to the mechanical capabilities of antique automobiles, as if they are archaic, delicate machines capable of being driven only short distances--and even then, only very carefully.
In reality, most of the Classics were overbuilt machines. A friend of mine just began restoring his first Classic and was taken aback by the quality of design and construction of the massive automobile. So why do people think these cars can't be driven?
Ironically, it isn't just the public that has this impression; many Classic car enthusiasts--including owners--do, too. Yes, owners.
That may sound odd, since the Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) has always promoted its tours, known as CARavans. Since the club's founding, more than 50 years ago, CARavans have been part of the club's culture. Over the years, CARavans ranging from three to four days in duration to 10 days have been held throughout the United States.
In the early days of the club, it was quite common to see Classics from the late 1920s and 1930s on CARavans. If a car from the 1940s was spotted on a tour, it was usually a Lincoln Continental. (In the early years, the club accepted only selected Classics built between 1925 and 1948.)
Perhaps the most amazing CCCA touring activity was the annual meeting held each January at the Buck Hill Falls Resort in Pennsylvania. Most attendees drove their Classics to this meet--through snow and ice! Jack Nethercutt Sr. drove a Classic round-trip from Southern California to Buck Hill Falls!
Granted, that was 40-plus years ago when the Classics were younger, values hadn't hit six figures--let alone seven--and over-the-top concours restorations hadn't become commonplace. Gazing at photos of these magnificent automobiles parked in and around the Buck Hills Falls Resort seems surreal today, as if one were looking at period photos instead of a later gathering of Classic car enthusiasts.
Today, the CCCA still conducts CARavans, but the cars on the tour are decidedly newer. Pre-1935 cars are uncommon and a car from the 1920s--or earlier--is quite rare.
What's happened? In a nutshell, many of the owners have gotten older, while their cars of choice have gotten newer. An owner who might have driven a 1932 Packard on a CARavan 30 years ago is now driving a 1947 Packard Super Custom Clipper. The owner who drove a 1930 Pierce-Arrow 25 years ago is now driving a 1941 Cadillac. The latter has, in fact, become the tour vehicle of choice for many CCCA members.
This phenomenon isn't unique to the CCCA. I've noticed that tours conducted by other car clubs--both at the national and regional level--are featuring newer automobiles. (In the case of clubs like AACA and VMCCA, they're also accepting 25-year-old cars.) To a great extent, this is happening because the newer Classics are easier to drive and, in some cases, have more creature comforts. Affordability is also a factor; many of the later Classics are quite reasonably priced.
One result of all this is that many of the great early Classics remain in their garages while the owners drive cars that are a bit more user-friendly and may offer more creature comforts. Those of us who enjoy seeing these early Classics on the road are disappointed. I realize this is very subjective and that my preferences are not those of other collectors; the simple truth is that a collector may tour in whatever he or she likes.
However, when I'm looking over the hood of one of my early Lincolns, I enjoy seeing an equally early Bentley, Pierce-Arrow or Packard driving down the road before me. It's a wonderful sight.
This article originally appeared in the August, 2010 issue of Hemmings Classic Car.