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Vol. 2, No. 18
November 12, 2004

Classic Cars: Is One Enough?
by Andrew Angove

Image: MILEPOSTS Garage

Is one ever enough? Can one classic car ever be enough to satisfy a collector? Is it better to have one pristine car that is dependable and show worthy, or lots of cars in various states of repair? Is it possible to resist the temptation of yet another classic car that catches your eye? If one Cadillac is good, two must be better, right?

Think about this for a minute: Given a spouse who doesn't care how many cars are sitting around, and a money fund large enough to support more than one car, would all collectors have more than one car? Most would likely answer yes, and there is a practical reason for this as well. Having a parts car at hand to supply all the little nuts, screws, brackets, and other parts is less expensive than buying them individually from a salvage or parts vendor. Plus you always have another car available to check when a question arises. No more wondering about how something attaches, you have another car you can check to see for sure how it attaches. When you need a screw, or want to replace a rusty or bent bracket, there's another one available. Kind of like having your very own mini parts yard.

And when you need something in an emergency, like a fuel pump on Sunday night, or another wheel rim, you have them, even if they aren't new, chances are they might work long enough to get you home, or get the car to a shop for repairs. Actually, having more than one classic car sounds like a good thing. But there are drawbacks. For instance, spouses aren't always as understanding about these things as we'd like. Neither are the neighbors or the municipal authorities in the area where you live. They don't always understand the necessity or attraction of having an old car or two sitting around. If you have acreage out in the country where these things aren't controlled, you are very fortunate and should be thankful you have this luxury.

For most of us, we're doing good to be able to garage the car and keep it out of the weather. Having adequate storage for all the parts that seem to appear, and the space to work on the car is a luxury we have to do without, and just make the best of the minimal space we do have. In this instance, one classic car is enough, because there simply isn't room for others.

There are circumstances where having multiple classic cars can be a major problem, though. For instance, when you have too many projects, and none of them ever seem to get completed. Then you wind up with cars sitting around deteriorating, and in need of twice as much work as they needed when they were purchased. Old cars were not designed to sit for long periods of time, they were designed and built to be used. When cars sit for long periods, they develop strange problems and seem to fall apart much faster than a car that is driven regularly.

I know a guy who once had a nice collection of cars. At one point, he had a 1958 Thunderbird Convertible, a 1958 Lincoln Continental Mark III Convertible, a 1960 Thunderbird Hardtop with Sun Roof, a 1963 Thunderbird Landau, a 1964 Thunderbird Landau, a 1964 Lincoln Continental Convertible, a 1965 Thunderbird Landau, a 1966 Thunderbird Town Landau, a 1971 Thunderbird Four Door Landau, and a 1976 Thunderbird with Creme and Gold Luxury Group. Obviously, he and his wife couldn't drive all of them at one time, and several of them were not operating because they were waiting to be restored. But some of them were nice originals, fully operational and drivable. Realizing he had too many cars to ever finish, he started selling off a few of them. He managed to sell the 1963 Thunderbird, the 1964 Thunderbird, and the 1965 Thunderbird.

This reduced his collection somewhat, but still left quite a few to contend with. They purchased a new home, with additional storage space, and managed to get quite a few of them under cover, but a few of them still had to sit outside, unprotected from the elements. Of particular concern was the 1966 Thunderbird Town Landau, which was parked in the circular driveway in front of the house. When this car was purchased, it had always been garaged. It was a low mileage, original car that was almost as perfect as a car that had been driven from time to time could be. The Wimbledon White Landau had a white vinyl roof, and a pearl white vinyl interior. It also had a 428 V-8 under the hood, and was equipped with factory air conditioning, Highway Pilot Speed Control, power windows and driver's seat, reclining passenger seat, deluxe wheel covers, rear fender shields, and Studio Sonic rear speaker reverberator.

Although the car ran great and looked new, it was not driven very often, and sat for several years without any use at all. The last time I saw it, the pristine white vinyl roof was in shreds, and the once shiny white paint was dull and faded. The perfect pearl white interior had begun to show signs of sun fade and rot, with several seams splitting in the seats. I don't know what happened to the car after this, but it is a perfect example of what happens when a collector has too many cars to tend to. They can't all be driven at one time, nor can they all be kept in tip top shape unless a super human effort is put into in, and all too often this doesn't happen.

Over the past few weeks, a few friends have been helping me with my 1969 Thunderbird Tudor Landau, and a lot of time and effort has been put into getting a lot of little things repaired, as well as a few bigger projects completed. At the end of one weekend, as I was sitting in the driveway installing the driver's door panel and armrest, I thought to myself how sick I was of doing all these projects, and never being able to enjoy the car.

The car still needs paint and body work done, and a new headliner installed, as well as a few other things. It does run good, and pretty much everything on the car operates as it should, but the sheer joy of driving the car is lost on me for now, because I can't have the "total experience" of shiny paint and chrome, as well as a fully functional car that can be driven anywhere without concern. I know that given enough time, this will happen, and I look forward to that time.

But I also have come to the realization that anyone who restores one of these old cars, and sells it so they can start over again on another one must be missing out on the biggest part of the old car experience: driving it and showing it off to others. There is some satisfaction in meeting with other enthusiasts who understand what the end result will be, and can visualize what the project once looked like, and will look like again, but one can't fully enjoy an old car until most of the big things, and most of the little things, have all been tended to.

Another collector has an affinity for Cadillac Eldorados, and has a goal of owning at least one of each year, ending with what they feel was the last collectible year for them, 1985. Since Cadillac made the Eldorado beginning in 1953, that means he will have eventually have at least 32 of them. He already has 1959, 1962, 1963, and 1965 Convertibles, one each from 1967-1970, and both a Convertible and Coupe from 1971, in fact he has two of each of those. One to restore, and one for parts. A couple of the older ones were very nice cars when he purchased them, but he hasn't the time to work on them, and they haven't been driven in years. Each time I see them, they have gone downhill considerably since the previous time I saw them, and it doesn't appear he will ever have the time to work on them. Yet he currently has his eye on a 1973 Eldorado Coupe, and a 1984 Eldorado Touring Coupe. Both are nice cars now, but I fear they would be better off in someone else's hands, considering his past track record.

And this is no secret, I've told him I think it's a shame to let these nice cars fall apart, and for the sake of the car he should sell them before they are too far gone, but I fear he will never part with them. Tomorrow is always another day, and perhaps the time and money to work on them will appear as if by magic. But I fear tomorrow will always be another day where they just sit and rot, another step closer to the grave.

My experience is that these old cars seem to work better when they are driven regularly, and maintained properly. Obviously, care should be given where and when they are driven, but they are almost always better off when in regular use as opposed to sitting in storage for a long time. And an old car out on the road serves as an advertisement for the old car hobby, because you never know when someone might spot your car and decide that they too would like to restore one, and preserve it and enjoy it in the years to come.

Copyright © 2004 Automotive Mileposts, Inc.
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