Jim’s Blog: Substance and Style

I like to think there are three factors that make an old car desirable: Style, performance, and nostalgia.

To some degree, each old car sale is driven by those factors, even if they’re not always the same for every model. A classic Corvette has all three in more or less equal measure. A Model A pickup is way more about nostalgia than performance, but there’s an element of style there too.

But the pandemic has changed the equation slightly, at least for the time-being. Crowds are gone. If style was about curb appeal from cruising, car shows, etc, you might find a car full of that style a little boring right now. After all, if there’s nobody out and about to see the winged Mopar you love to show off, what do you do with it?

If you’re going to pass the time with old cars, it’s time to consider examples weighed more with performance and nostalgia than with style. So what cars do that?

Our current situation is temporary — we’ll all be back to car shows and auctions soon. But in the meantime, here are a few classics that I think could be viewed in a new light on the other side of this crisis:

1. Early Muscle

409 Impalas, 406 Galaxies, 413 Mopars. The early days of factory-backed drag racing were pretty pure: build a car to go faster than the other guy. These cars were eclipsed by the bright colors and stripes of later muscle, at least in terms of curb appeal, but they offer a lot in both performance and nostalgia for their owners. And all those later muscle cars? They got their start here. 

Of course, you can’t really say that these cars don’t have style. I just think they have even more substance.

A stripped-down 409 Bel Air really feels like the 1960s inside, but it’s still a great driver, is easy to work on, and is a whole lot of fun to row through the gears when nobody is looking. The same is true for the Fords and Mopars from the era, too. This is muscle without the flash. Substance that is its own style.

I’d be looking for a #2 or #3 example with a few needs to iron out in my garage — nice enough to drive around and melt tires, with the feeling of old Americana throughout.

2. C2 Corvette

Equal parts style, performance and nostalgia, right? Well, the market has been turning away from these cars as of late, and prices were coming down on restored and original examples. But here’s the thing: You won’t likely find a better driving classic car in the market today than a 1963-67 Chevrolet Corvette. They’re comfortable, they’re fast (even in base-level trim), and they handle reasonably well by modern standards. Yeah, they’re stylish, too — but I think that’s just a bonus here.

These are feel-good machines through and through, especially when specced out with a no-nonsense 327 and a 4-speed. I’d be looking for a 1964 Convertible for the best bang for my buck, again in driver-level condition that I could make better with some hands-on detailing and low-level restoration work. Perfect for a solo drive on a curvy backwoods road.

3. Model T

And now for something completely different — a car with its own pedal for reverse.

The Model T market has been straight up stagnant for what seems like forever, but these are interesting cars for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the ingenuity that was baked into them from new. Your average farmer needed to be able to fix one of these cars when cars were still fresh to the world, so they’re simple and robust, and the driver is way more of the process of starting and driving one of these than he or she is with any other, later collector car.

If you like to tinker and don’t want to tear up the road, a T could be a fun detour from your usual old car tastes — and for not a lot of cash. And right now, you can learn how to drive it without an audience. 

Agree with my picks? What would you choose that is less about style and more about substance? Let’s list ‘em out and talk about it in the comments below.

5 comments

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  1. Jim, you are right the roads are ripe for taking out some early steel. Since things have progressed with folks staying home here I have noticed that the few times, that I have been out, I have encountered cars that I have never seen before in my area. I think it is really the same mindset that has made Cars and Coffee so popular here, that is the fact that no one else is on the road and that creates an extra layer of safety to drive something with the older tech.
    I have been spending time with my young one doing small projects on my daily, which is a SRT-10 single cab truck. She likes for us to take it out and run it through the gears when we are done on these empty roads. However, now that things have become so strict in my area, I might be a little more nervous of doing that now, so I don’t draw to much attention on me not being at home.
    A couple of weeks ago, Good Guys did a Virtual Car Show. It was great for me to take a second of a wide glimpse of crazy cars. I had shared this with a few other folks from the local scene here, and we created a string of showing off steel for a few weeks. This was great to see some of these cars that I have never seen on the road, especially from members of the Cadillac Club. I could not believe the amount of older classics, even a V16 that is housed right down the street from me. This also gave me a chance to show off my new 61 Invicta, especially since I am doing some drive ability upgrades and it would may not have been introduced to the group for some time otherwise.
    Either way, rather it is turning wrenches in the garage, pulling that classic out of mothballs or sharing your interest of the hobby virtually. Just get out and do it, because in the end, it is much more healthy than drinking beer in from of a endless stream of bad news on those cable news programs. Remember what we learned from the last time we did that after 9/11.

  2. Model T? Gotta be kidding. Has the Shelter at Home impacted your reasoning? C2 Corvette….Agree. How about 50 Olds and/ or 65-66 Mustang Fastbacks?

    1. Maybe I have been home too long… but I’m all about a challenge, and to me a T fits the bill. The throttle is a lever, and reverse is its own pedal! For the $6k or so you’d spend on a basic, functional example, I’d say it’s cheap enough fun. Plus, when has 30 mph ever been so exciting?

      I’m with you on the Olds and the Mustang. Why just fastbacks? I’d suggest any V8 Mustang from ’65 and ’66 — even the 2-bbl cars.

  3. Jim, I like reading your blogs, gives me something(cars) to think about. I had to sell my 57 Bel Air before moving to Fl, storage is costly. I like the 62 Impala over the 61, thanks.