Like pets and people, cars need to be exercised regularly, especially those with a few miles on them. If those old bones and joints aren't given a regular workout, they deteriorate – rubber gets brittle, oil loses its viscosity, gas sheds its octane and moving parts become arthritic. Cars aren't couch potatoes; they like it when you take them out.
If it's an older collectible car, however, maintenance can be an issue. Many parts are unavailable, and the quality of OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) and NOS (New Old Stock) replacement parts can be iffy. A couple of years back, for example, a crop of made-in-China rubber bits and pieces hit the North American collector market and it was, well, crap, causing a lot of misery and frustration. Keeping that carburetor-fed, contact-points-sparked, cast-iron, pushrod-activated powerplant humming can be a challenge.
But there are advancements out there that have made life easier. Here are five that have changed the face of the collector car hobby:
Electronic ignition: There are several aftermarket companies which manufacture electronic ignition systems that replace the mechanically activated contact-points arrangement. It's about time – the old setup traces its origins to 1910, when Cadillac developed the first usable system. Today, companies such as Crane, MSD and, especially, Pertronix have a range of products that can be installed in minutes for an extensive variety of models. They do a better job and, once in, never need replacing. Installing an electronic ignition system in a vintage car makes a world of difference; it runs better, starts easier, is easier to tune and delivers better fuel economy. And most of the time, it preserves the vintage character of the car. I have Pertronix in my Triumph TR4A and it woke up the engine.
Carburetors: Arguably the most problematic area of an automobile is its fuel system. As someone once said: 90 per cent of all electrical problems can be traced to the fuel system. Pumps wear out, lines corrode and carbs stop working. Some, once they let go, can never be put right – Stromberg and Solex, for example. But replacement carburetors are often better than the originals, with closer manufacturing tolerances, less reliance on rubber parts, and more precise fuel metering. One company – Weber – has pretty much cornered the European collector car hobby, with replacement carbs for everything from Austins to Zagatos. Next time you attend a vintage car show and shine, check out how many European models are sporting Weber carbs. Bonus: rebuild kits and obscure models are readily available and are usually reasonably priced.
Synthetic lubricating fluids: Today's breed of synthetic "oil" is technically a man-made lubricating fluid, and you can get it for engines, gearboxes, differentials, brake systems, suspension parts and more. Synthetic fluid warms up faster, holds its viscosity longer, lubricates better and goes further between changes. Long-in-the-tooth transmissions benefit enormously from synthetic gear fluid; synchromesh is preserved and cold starts are made easier. Like old-age pensioners, vintage cars don't like getting up in the morning and can be grumpy until they get going. Synthetic oil makes it easier to get the ball rolling.
eBay: Until this web-based marketplace debuted in 1995, vintage car hobbyists were at the mercy of swap meets and auto-jumbles for hard-to-find replacement parts. EBay is a 24/7 swap meet and I'm amazed at the variety of stuff up for sale. Need a set of trunnion bushings for an MGTF? Gudgeon pins for an Alvis? You'll probably find them on eBay and, to a lesser extent, craigslist and Kijiji.
Collector car insurance: British Columbia collectors have it good. The government-owned Insurance Corp. of British Columbia (ICBC) has a collector/vintage/modified car insurance plan whereby, if your car passes muster, you can get plated for a fraction of what it would normally cost. My TR4A, for example, runs me about $260 a year for good coverage, with all the usual deductions. In Ontario, private companies, such as Hagerty and State Farm, have similar programs, but neither can match ICBC's rates.
The Telegraph in London recently reported that collector cars are one of the "shrewdest" investments you can make, appreciating in value more than gold, coins, stamps, antique furniture and, in some cases, real estate. In the past decade, The Telegraph says, some classic cars have soared in value by up to 430 per cent – the operative word here being "some."
If you're talking about Ferraris, Bentleys, Porsches and the like, that may be true. But for most enthusiasts, collector cars are, first and foremost, an excellent hobby, with all kinds of built-in fun and appeal.
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