Don’t you just love it when you’re on the road and you see a gorgeous classic car? Maybe it’s a huge two-tone Bel-Air from the 1950s, or a sporty ’65 Mustang. Then there are those outrageous ’30s-era roadsters with the chopped roofs, like you might see in a ZZ Top video. Ever wonder what it takes to maintain one of these beauties? Whether you’re shopping for your first vintage vehicle or have already started a collection, let’s find out!
Purchase & Store
Maybe you haven’t yet purchased your classic car and aren’t sure where to start. The best place to begin your search is online. If you already have an interest in a certain type of vehicle, there’s probably a club for it — the Shelby American Auto Club, for example. Car clubs and forums are great places to talk with experts about particular car types. Most cities have classic car trade shows and other gatherings where you can look at a wide variety of cars. Before you buy, make sure you have a garage or storage space for your new baby, to keep it secure and out of the sun and rain. An open carport will only provide overhead shelter, so you might want to invest in a car cover to keep dust off if that’s your only option.
A Bonanza of Classic Autos
We visited the Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum (WAAAM) in Hood River, Oregon. This unique museum is home to more than 130 still-drivable antique and classic cars, including a 1914 Detroit Electric, Studebakers, Bel-Airs, Cadillacs that seem a mile long, and even the real Lincoln Zephyr with a V-12 engine and suicide doors — the original “Hot Rod Lincoln.” It takes a cadre of dedicated volunteers to maintain all these cars, and they were happy to give us a few tips.
As a pilot, I’ve owned and rented a series of Cessna aircraft, most of them built during the 1970s. What holds true for airplane engines also holds true for automobile engines: They have to run, and for the same reasons, as the folks at WAAAM explained. “These cars are made to drive, not sit. Make sure you take your car out for a drive at least once a month. Better yet, once a week! Oil needs to circulate through the engine to keep it lubricated. When a car (or plane) sits for long periods, condensation inside the engine can cause corrosion, so don’t just take it for a quick spin around the block; you want to drive it for at least 30 minutes and rev it up some once it’s warm, to heat the engine and oil long enough to boil out any condensation. Be sure to have the oil and fluids topped off and changed regularly. If you don’t want to employ a mechanic, you can even take a class in auto maintenance at your local community college or online.”
Keep the Rubber on the Road
Driving is good for the rubber components, too, especially the tires, hoses, and gaskets. Tires can actually develop flat spots from sitting too long. Have a little fun around the corners! Turn the wheels and warm up those tires and gears. I drive a red-hot 2005 Mitsubishi Evo VIII that looks brand-new and I haven’t needed to replace anything yet except brakes, tires, and batteries. To keep tires black and shiny, nothing beats Armor All Extreme Tire Shine Gel, which comes with its own applicator, or you can use this highly efficient hex-pattern applicator.
Shiny Inside & Out
Of course, you want your classic car to look sharp, inside and out. Leather seats can dry and crack with age, so apply a leather cleaner, followed by a conditioner, to restore suppleness to those seats. If the seats have developed any cuts or tears, try this leather and vinyl repair kit. The folks at WAAAM like Meguiar’s Ultimate Plastic Restorer for any black, unpainted exterior trim. “Don’t use a commercial carwash!” they cautioned. “Wash your car at home. You can do a better job than any carwash. We use Mother’s California Gold liquid soap because it won’t strip the wax off the car.” You’ll also need a bucket, sponge, wheel brush, on/off sprayer with different settings, and some old bath towels to dry off your car once it’s clean and shiny again.
I’m a fan of Meguiar’s waxes to keep my car’s paint shiny and water-repellant. Use the cleaner wax if your paint is dull or you’ve got some road tar on it; otherwise, stick with pure carnauba wax. I wax the car every time I wash it. It takes less than an hour, once the paint is in good shape. Apply with an old sock; remove with an old hand towel, followed by using a microfiber towel to really bring out the shine.
“Brightwork” (polished chrome or aluminum) can be tricky; many metal polishes don’t do a very good job. The best I’ve ever found is California Custom, an easy, two-step process using a liquid deoxidizer, followed by their exclusive purple metal polish. To protect your hands when using these products, be sure you have a pair of durable rubber gloves. Your wheels and metal trim will dazzle your eyes, and you’ll be ready to take that classic beauty out for a drive to show her off.
Shop for your classic car products here:
- Car Cover
- Armor All Extreme Tire Shine Gel
- Tire Gel or Foam Applicator
- Leather Cleaner & Conditioner Kit
- Leather & Vinyl Repair Kit
- Meguiar’s Ultimate Plastic Restorer
- Mother’s California Gold Car Wash
- Wheel brush
- Hose spray attachment
- Meguiar’s Cleaner Wax
- Meguiar’s Carnauba Wax
- Microfiber towels
- Durable Rubber Gloves
Prices are accurate and items in stock as of time of publication.
Crista Worthy writes about aviation, travel, wildlife, and more from her home in Idaho.