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Thread: What's the oldest car that can be used as a daily driver?

  1. #1

    What's the oldest car that can be used as a daily driver?

    I ask because I recall seeing a 1963 Cadillac regularly parked on the street near an old folks' home here in Arlington, VA (near Pentagon City Shopping Mall). The car was rusted to hell and was clearly unrestored, but someone was using it daily as I recall seeing it puttering around the streets on a regular basis.

    This makes me wonder - how old does a car have to get before it becomes impractical? Pre WWI cars are clearly out of the question for highway travel, but how about a 1980s DeLorean, 1950s Studebaker, or 1930s Pierce-Arrow?

    In other words, at what point (if any) do we say 'that car is too primitive for modern roads - throw it in a museum, or in the woods - your call'?
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  2. #2
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RebelKnightCSA View Post
    I ask because I recall seeing a 1963 Cadillac regularly parked on the street near an old folks' home here in Arlington, VA (near Pentagon City Shopping Mall). The car was rusted to hell and was clearly unrestored, but someone was using it daily as I recall seeing it puttering around the streets on a regular basis.

    This makes me wonder - how old does a car have to get before it becomes impractical? Pre WWI cars are clearly out of the question for highway travel, but how about a 1980s DeLorean, 1950s Studebaker, or 1930s Pierce-Arrow?

    In other words, at what point (if any) do we say 'that car is too primitive for modern roads - throw it in a museum, or in the woods - your call'?
    Assuming no significant updates - in other words - "stock" or as it left the factory - I'd say nothing built before the mid-1950s at the oldest. I'd probably go a few years newer than that, myself, in order to get a "modern" 12V electrical system and be assured of a "modern" engine design, too.

    Any car from about the early 1960s and up can be made very everyday drivable with a few basic upgrades. For example, changing the points-type ignition to transistorized (very easy and inexpensive) and adding modern tires, which most older cars will have by now anyhow. If the car is a performance car, with an aggressive axle ratio (trucks, too) then swapping in a modern overdrive transmission will be worth doing.

    These are things I've done to my '76 Trans Am, by the way. It could be a daily driver, if I wanted to use it for that. It starts easily and in OD can cruise all day at 75 MPH with the engine turning less than 2,000 RPM - just like a modern car.

    Any car built after the early-mid 1980s will be "modern" in the sense that it's going to be fundamentally like current cars. It will have a computer and EFI, etc.

    The real problem you'd face with something like the DeLorean (or something similar) is that it was a lemon when it was new!

  3. #3
    Administrator Ken's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RebelKnightCSA View Post
    I ask because I recall seeing a 1963 Cadillac regularly parked on the street near an old folks' home here in Arlington, VA (near Pentagon City Shopping Mall). The car was rusted to hell and was clearly unrestored, but someone was using it daily as I recall seeing it puttering around the streets on a regular basis.

    This makes me wonder - how old does a car have to get before it becomes impractical? Pre WWI cars are clearly out of the question for highway travel, but how about a 1980s DeLorean, 1950s Studebaker, or 1930s Pierce-Arrow?

    In other words, at what point (if any) do we say 'that car is too primitive for modern roads - throw it in a museum, or in the woods - your call'?
    We still have old diehards over here that regularly drive cars from the thirties - I've seen several oldies in the last couple of weeks that I didn't even positively identify, one, I think, might have been an old Riley and one of the others (from the radiator shape) looked like an old Bugatti. We frequently see the old English classic cars around - Bentlys, Austin 7s, Jaguars. It is the same with classic bikes, there are dozens around here ridden every day. Providing it passes its MOT and is taxed and insured it is road legal.

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  4. #4
    I'd say anything made after 1935-ish, as long as the daily drive doesn't involve any major highways or urban areas. Something with an all steel body, a windshield wiper (or two), hydraulic brakes, top speed of at least 60, shock absorbers, and independent front suspension (not a solid axle with leafs).

    12 volt is not needed, 6 volt will start good enough, because there are almost no other loads on the battery/generator while driving. A "modern engine design" isn't really needed, an old flathead would work just fine if the operator knows how to use it and understands that they are more delicate. A car that old is also about as low-tech as it gets, so basic maintenance could be done easily.

    Sure, something from the 1960's would make a nice DD, but a late 1930's car could be used, if the person using it doesn't mind a few inconveniences (like frequent service intervals). Commuting long distances or into and out of an urban area would require something made after 1955 at least ("modern" OHV V8 engines).

  5. #5
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dieseleverything View Post
    I'd say anything made after 1935-ish, as long as the daily drive doesn't involve any major highways or urban areas. Something with an all steel body, a windshield wiper (or two), hydraulic brakes, top speed of at least 60, shock absorbers, and independent front suspension (not a solid axle with leafs).

    12 volt is not needed, 6 volt will start good enough, because there are almost no other loads on the battery/generator while driving. A "modern engine design" isn't really needed, an old flathead would work just fine if the operator knows how to use it and understands that they are more delicate. A car that old is also about as low-tech as it gets, so basic maintenance could be done easily.

    Sure, something from the 1960's would make a nice DD, but a late 1930's car could be used, if the person using it doesn't mind a few inconveniences (like frequent service intervals). Commuting long distances or into and out of an urban area would require something made after 1955 at least ("modern" OHV V8 engines).
    Well, let me expand a bit.. my answer assumed the car will be used to deal with everyday traffic in a typical suburban/urban situation.

    A factory-stock 1930s-'40s era car would be a handful in such an environment; they are way too slow (both acceleration and top-end wise) to handle, for example, merging comfortably with today's fast-paced traffic and maintaining modern highway speeds of 70 MPH.

    I've driven cars from that era, incidentally. So I'm not just saying this based on what I've read. (PS: How many people alive and driving today can drive straight-cut/non-synchronized gearboxes?)

    A typical 1930s-1940s-era stock flathead car has a stop speed around 80-90 MPH; that's all out pedal to the metal. There's very little reserve left after 60 MPH and on hills (or loaded with people) you are going to have a sweaty time dealing with today's traffic.

    The brakes and suspensions are awful, too.

    A '60s and newer car will have at least adequate power for use on modern roads. You may not be faster than a Prius - but that's still fast enough. Ditto the brakes and suspensions. Not great by modern standards - but definitely doable.

    On 6V systems: Most people are going to want a radio and basic accessories like a heater/fan and windshield wipers. Also, the newer cars will have much better headlights.

    Final point: It's easier to maintain the newer ('60s-up) stuff because most service parts are still easy to get and pretty affordable. For example, any NAPA/Advance/Pep Boys is going to have plugs and filters for a '65 Chevy.

    Good luck with a 36 Chevy!

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken View Post
    We still have old diehards over here that regularly drive cars from the thirties -
    One of the Vintage Sports Car Club's stalwarts, their chief marshal, lives not far from you. He drives, among others, a 1930s Alvis & Bentley & an Austin Healey 3000.

    Quite a few Minor 1000s around here.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    Well, let me expand a bit.. my answer assumed the car will be used to deal with everyday traffic in a typical suburban/urban situation.

    A factory-stock 1930s-'40s era car would be a handful in such an environment; they are way too slow (both acceleration and top-end wise) to handle, for example, merging comfortably with today's fast-paced traffic and maintaining modern highway speeds of 70 MPH.

    I've driven cars from that era, incidentally. So I'm not just saying this based on what I've read. (PS: How many people alive and driving today can drive straight-cut/non-synchronized gearboxes?)

    A typical 1930s-1940s-era stock flathead car has a stop speed around 80-90 MPH; that's all out pedal to the metal. There's very little reserve left after 60 MPH and on hills (or loaded with people) you are going to have a sweaty time dealing with today's traffic.

    The brakes and suspensions are awful, too.

    A '60s and newer car will have at least adequate power for use on modern roads. You may not be faster than a Prius - but that's still fast enough. Ditto the brakes and suspensions. Not great by modern standards - but definitely doable.

    On 6V systems: Most people are going to want a radio and basic accessories like a heater/fan and windshield wipers. Also, the newer cars will have much better headlights.

    Final point: It's easier to maintain the newer ('60s-up) stuff because most service parts are still easy to get and pretty affordable. For example, any NAPA/Advance/Pep Boys is going to have plugs and filters for a '65 Chevy.

    Good luck with a 36 Chevy!
    As for the way too slow, I've driven my 240D (top speed 83 cruising speed 70-ish) on the highway, in NJ in heavy fast traffic. It wasn't fun but once you're going slow in the right lane you become everyone else's problem.... When in to the mindset of "I'm never going to be as fast as everybody else, so I'd better plan ahead" it's not so bad.

    I'm sure that there are not many people alive who could handle driving with straight cut gears, but they don't pose much of a problem for those of us who are proficient at double clutching, or even floating.

    I agree about the parts situation for a pre-WWII car. From that standpoint a post WWII car would be a better choice. There are lots of parts avalible for a '47 Chevy. http://www.rockauto.com/catalog/x,carcode,1326978

    I said mid-30's because the OP asked
    In other words, at what point (if any) do we say 'that car is too primitive for modern roads - throw it in a museum, or in the woods - your call'?
    If I were going to use a classic as a DD I would go for at least mid-'50s.

  8. #8
    Senior Member grouch's Avatar
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    If you want the car to be bone stock, you want a 1956 or later. That's when all the major U.S. makers went to 12 volt negative ground electrics. Yes, 6 volt will work just fine. I had a '54 Dodge Coronet with the 241 Hemi and Powerflite automatic transmission and it kept up with traffic just fine. However, daily wear repair parts like light bulbs and other electrical parts are hard to get because of the voltage. While my old Dodge would keep up, it was a bear to drive with the "armstrong" power steering (manual) and "charlie horse" power brakes.

    If you want to change it over to 12 volts and upgrade the suspension and brakes a bit, I'd say cars back to the mid to late 30's would do okay. The Frog Follies happens every year about 10 miles from my house and most of the cars are 30's and 40's, albeit heavily modified, and they drive just fine. My concern with that old a car is the frame and body design. There is no crush zone to abosrb impact like a more modern car.

    If I wanted a daily driver older car, I'd probably get something from the 1968 or later years. Parts are available and they are much safer than earlier years.
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    For backcountry roads, I could be happy with most anything.

    For the I95 corridor's 0-90-0-90-0-90-0... traffic, or the Florida Turnpike's 95-95-95-0-95-95 traffic, I'd want something newer than about 1980, when American cars started getting decent brakes. ... and I'd give it a nice brake job anyway.

  10. #10
    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    I think it depends on the car. There were some essentially modern cars in the 1930s, and some primitive throwbacks in the '50s and '60s. The VW Beetle, for example, is still useable, although the earliest ones only had about 25 HP. A Fiat 1100 from the late 1930s had a reasonable chassis and hydraulic brakes. Some of the small Lancias such as the Aprilia and Ardea could still be useable. The Citroen 2CV was a pre-war design, but didn't go into production until the end of the 1940s, and remained in series production through the 1980s.

  11. #11
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by misterdecibel View Post
    I think it depends on the car. There were some essentially modern cars in the 1930s, and some primitive throwbacks in the '50s and '60s. The VW Beetle, for example, is still useable, although the earliest ones only had about 25 HP. A Fiat 1100 from the late 1930s had a reasonable chassis and hydraulic brakes. Some of the small Lancias such as the Aprilia and Ardea could still be useable. The Citroen 2CV was a pre-war design, but didn't go into production until the end of the 1940s, and remained in series production through the 1980s.
    I'd have agreed with you if it were still circa 1990 or so.

    I've owned several old VWs (Beetles, a Thing, a Fastback) and while you could still drive one today in a rural area or small city like Roanoke (my city) if you took it on, say, I-95, it'd be a "fun" experience! The slipstream of Semis passing at 80; the now-routine 70-ish (and often a lot faster) average speeds... would be a challenge to deal with.

    Pretty much anything that needs more than 11 seconds to get to 60 would be
    precarious and a car like the Beetle needed close to 30 seconds to do that!

    Most American cars of the late '50s and '60s and '70s would also feel huge to a modern driver. People who are not familiar with these cars have no idea how massive they were (and they felt even more massive because of the super-overboosted steering and ultra-soft and wallowy suspensions).

    But there are some cars that would do better than others. One I can recommend from personal experience is the Chevy Corvair, especially the second generation (1965-'69) models. They were pretty nimble, with decent for the era steering and the flat six while similar to the VW's flat four had enough power to move the car decently.

    The '70s-era Dodge Dart is another good one; also the Chevy Nova, Oldsmobile Starfire (remember that one?) and other mid-sized/compact (by the standards of the time) cars of the mid-late '70s.

    I think an '80s-era Fiero would be a good choice for a commuter car today, too. If you could fine a decent one!

  12. #12
    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    I would have rated a post-'73 Dart as undriveable even when new. Chrysler didn't cope well with smog regulations, and their engines had the worst driveability. It's almost like there was a delayed reaction between pressing the throttle before anything actually happened. I remember a '77 Volare rental car with a 318 that was slower than my 200 cu. in. six cylinder '66 Fairlane.

    I agree that if you include an Interstate driving requirement, the cutoff date becomes much more recent. But for surface streets I think many of the old hunks will do fine.

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    RebelKnightCSA;130331

    Quote Originally Posted by RebelKnightCSA View Post
    I ask because I recall seeing a 1963 Cadillac regularly parked on the street near an old folks' home here in Arlington, VA (near Pentagon City Shopping Mall). The car was rusted to hell and was clearly unrestored, but someone was using it daily as I recall seeing it puttering around the streets on a regular basis.

    This makes me wonder - how old does a car have to get before it becomes impractical? Pre WWI cars are clearly out of the question for highway travel, but how about a 1980s DeLorean, 1950s Studebaker, or 1930s Pierce-Arrow?

    In other words, at what point (if any) do we say 'that car is too primitive for modern roads - throw it in a museum, or in the woods - your call'?

    that's right sir..that's the one that I want to ask ... but you first than me to post so we need a help .. and more info... thank you

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    Most of the trouble with the late 1970s vintage Mopars with the "Electronic Lean Burn" was that no one knew how to properly tune them! The big shots at corporate, desperate to shore up their flagging dealer network by keeping service "in house", deliberately avoided releasing vital information that would have helped.

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