Tuesday, 23 October 2012 01:00

Jim's Blog - Are Classic Cars Safe for Kids?

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Here’s a question I never thought I’d worry about. Is it safe to haul your kid around in your vintage car?

My daughter Katie is nearly a year old. I usually drive her around in my ’06 Charger or in my wife’s ’11 Toyota 4Runner. But every once in a while I take her out in my ’66 Caprice or my ’72 Chevy Cheyenne 4x4, and whenever I have her in either of them I wonder if I’m making the right decision in doing it. What happens if we get hit by another car? Will she be safe?

Katie loves my truck. It’s big, orange, and bouncy, and she can see right out the back window in her rear-facing car seat. She usually babbles constantly when we’re in it (most recently saying ‘Da da da,’), and she can see me, too, which is a luxury she doesn’t get from the back seats of our more modern cars.

But that truck also has a 20-gallon gas tank behind the seat, no air bags, no independent suspension, and no anti-lock brakes. About the only things going for it are its solid construction and commanding view of the road. It’s heavy, so it’ll probably plow right through whatever gets in its way. But will its occupants walk away after flattening a Prius?

I’ve heard horror stories of trucks like mine in rollover accidents, with fuel leaking out of the tank’s filler neck all over the interior. LMC and other companies offer a Blazer tank conversion, which uses a new tank mounted between the rear axle and the rear bumper, under the bed. But is this really safer? Wasn’t this where the Ford Pinto ran into trouble? Granted, there’s a Class III receiver and heavy duty truck bumper back there too as protection, but aren’t rear-end accidents most common?

When I was a kid, I rode around in my dad’s ’75 Chevy ¾ ton truck all the time. Some of my earliest memories are of that truck and the projects we used it for. I loved every minute of it, and by most accounts, that truck was a lot more dangerous than my ’72 due to its side-saddle fuel tank configuration. But we never worried about it, and it was never a problem for us.

I love old cars, and I want my daughter to have the same sort of understanding of them that I had growing up. She spends most of her time in modern cars, so I can justify taking her out Christmas tree hunting in my truck and to local cruise-ins in my Caprice. For me, it’s a calculated risk, just like everything else in life. Is it worth it to you? 

Jim Pickering

Jim Pickering is the Editor of American Car Collector magazine and has been the Managing Editor of Sports Car Market magazine since 2006. As proficient with Snap-On tools as he is with a keyboard, Jim began his career as a professional mechanic while still in college at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, where he earned a B.A. in Creative Writing. He can often be found at Portland International Raceway at the Late-Night Drags, behind the wheel of his 12-second big-block powered 1966 Chevrolet Caprice. He is also currently restoring a 1972 Chevrolet K10 Cheyenne Super longbed in his spare time.