Challenges of Vintage Car Ownership

Challenges of Vintage Car Ownership

An older article we wanted to put in the spotlight again, as we’ve been receiving a lot of emails on this topic.

Before I knew “Jonesie” (not his real name), he had purchased a Beetle which, by all logic, should have gone to the crusher. Never had he revived a car, much less a Bug. But, he had disassembled the car, removed the body from the chassis and proceeded to cut and weld and renew the car.

By the time we had met and become better acquainted, he was driving the vehicle but experiencing some major difficulties due to poor advice which he had received and some poor workmanship from a shop which rebuilt his engine and did some front end work.

I took Jonesie under consideration and introduced him to a bonafide VW mechanic and engine builder. Almost immediately the mechanic identified some of the problems. Together, we began solving and drawing the car out of its slump. It was gratifying to see Jonesie driving and enjoying his car. He talked about it, joined a local club, went on cruises and even was joined by his wife in his forays onto the highways.

I wasn’t surprised when he asked for help to build an authentic engine for his year of Beetle. After considerable expense, he soon was cruising with an engine to-kill-for—a real German engine from ring gear to crank pulley.

When he talked to me some months later and announced that he was selling his Beetle and all of his VW things, I was shocked. He told me that he had experienced a problem with his speedometer. Then, there was some other minor problem. These distractions bothered him and resulted in his disenchantment with a vintage vehicle. He plainly told me that he had not expected these things to happen. Clearly he was under the impression that once “restored”, the car was going to run without a hitch.

His has not been the first case I have observed! A person spends thousands of dollars and countless hours laboring to “get it right” only to have little stuff happen—usually when it is least expected and least appreciated—in terms of money, time and inconvenience!

I am a diehard VW fan who doesn’t like break-downs and other mechanical distractions, but I am in there for the long haul! I never have been under any delusion that a restored vintage car is going to be like a brand new car off the assembly line. Nothing is going to work exactly as it did in those days long past. Never!

In an article in the September-October, 2014 Saturday Evening Post, Jeanne Wolf interviewed Jay Leno—known the World ‘round for his vintage car collection and now-famous garage (pp.38-41 and 82). When but a boy, Jay was given a ’34 Ford Pickup to work on. His dad told him that if he could fix it, he could have it. Jay met the challenge and eventually had the truck running. He said about that first challenge: “You sort of learned to respect the machine and how to make it work. That’s probably what really got me into cars. And that’s what has kept me involved in creating my own collection and building the garage.”

He added,

“When you buy an old car and fix it up and you drive it, there’s a bit more pride because you know what it took to get it running. That’s part of the romance. Modern cars are harder to bond with because they don’t break down.”

When asked if it was a good day when he was working in the garage, tinkering with a car, trying to get it to run better, Mr. Leno replied, “I love the challenge!”

“It’s generally whatever I’ve been working on that day. You say, ‘Oh, that one’s fixed?’ Then you test it, and hope it will hold up. When you deal with cars—and many of these cars are well over 100 years old—something is always breaking. To me, how I get there is always way more important than where I’m going.”

What Mr. Leno says rings of so much truth about vintage cars. They are a challenge, any way you cut it. Restoring and maintaining a vintage automobile is never like working at the Chevy dealership and day after day repairing the same ole thing. There is no “assembly line maintenance” with vintage cars! Each one asks of its owner to become intimately acquainted with every part of its operation. And, about the time that an owner believes that he has mastered the entire vehicle, something different breaks or the car “fails to proceed”.

If we find ourselves at a loss, after investigating and pondering the matter, we begin to consult The Vintage Car Community. Ah…yet another facet to owning a vintage vehicle! It’s the combined fellowship and knowledge of this Community that draws and tightens the bonds to strengthen ownership of an old car. Alone…a person becomes discouraged. With The Community, he thrives.

Alone…a vintage vehicle owner begins to feel as though no one is experiencing his problems. My experience with many Volkswagen owners shows that owners may even become afraid to use their vehicles for fear that something bad is going to happen. So…they don’t drive them. Eventually, the car falls into disrepair merely from sitting idle.

How can we help potential VW owners to avoid such a situation? By letting them see our cars and by relating the joys AND the sorrows of owning an old vehicle. By introducing them to the greater Vintage Vehicle Community so that they know, from the outset, that a person doesn’t need to “face the World alone”.

When new customers come to me for parts, I make it a point to inquire about their VWs. Then, I ask if they have heard about sources for parts, services and information. When they reply that they have not, I say to them: “Let’s put you on the map!” Then, I give each person a short list consisting of 2 or more Internet parts sources, a local maintenance service and any other pertinent information which I can think of. I like to see people leave me, armed with the information that will get them going in the right direction and going on that road NOT ALONE!

If a person comes to me inquiring about purchasing a VW for restoration or for just driving, we have a “sit-down” to discuss what that person envisions. If he has a romanticized idea about the prospect of owning an antique vehicle, I quickly disabuse him of that idea. I introduce people to the reality of old car ownership—the work, the costs and the constant maintenance required. I’d much rather see a person NOT get into owning a vintage car than to see him buy one, then become disillusioned and sour.

With all of that said…let’s continue to support one another in our hobby. We have the opportunity of not only conserving a part of World Automotive History but of having an enjoyable time doing it.

My Friends—I raise my VW key to you! Happy Motoring!

Posted by Jay Salser

My wife, Neva, and I have been driving and working on VWs since 1976. In fact, we raised our family in these cars. Now, we are retired and enjoy VWs as a hobby. The ’67 Beetle always has been our favorite year. We own a '67 Beetle and a '68 Karmann Ghia.

  1. Richard A. (Dick) Diaz September 13, 2014 at 8:31 pm

    Thanks Jay for this insight! As you know I have hit that low point when I look at my ’67 and say, “Really?” We have talked and it honestly has helped to know many vintage VW enthusiast at one time, or another, find themselves at this low point! I feel myself climbing back out of that low spot I have fallen into and I am anxious to get past this latest challenge! You and Eric have been great and supportive in making me not feel alone! Thanks Jay for the “welfare check” phone call yesterday! Thanks for being there for us! Thanks Dick

    1. Hello, Dick…It made me sick when I heard that the seller had not been honest about the car he sold you. It is a testament to your stick-to-itiveness that you have been able to bring the car to this point. I hope that this latest hurdle will end the major challenges. There will always be “something” but in there, we hope to derive some pleasure from the little beaties! You and Carolyn will be able to drive in tandem to VW events and just for the pleasure of it–she in her Convertible Ghia and you in your ’67 Sedan! jay

  2. Well Jay, another well done story. It all adds up to an experience. Some good, and some not so. But in the end, you have a story, experience, and an education.
    I, and many spend time repairing, maintaining, and tinkering the new as much as the old. BUT FOR ME, if my vintage needs love its expected… but it burns me a tad when the new stuff brakes. And its more expensive than the old too… and more special tools.
    Most simple small tool box keeps my beetles going.

    1. Hello, Richard…We are feeling the tail end of your cold wave here in Texas–really nice compared to that 101 F earlier this week. Yes…I’ll never forget some of the trials experienced at the hand of my VWs. But, by the same token, I’ll never forget all of the pleasure these cars have given to me. Let’s keep hoping for more pleasure than pain, right?! jay

      1. Hey Jay
        Glad your cooling of over there, but I missed the heat here. 40 to 50 F, is not my favorite tinkering out side, or riding temp… Lol
        As for pleasure in Beetles ???? Well just looking at mine does it for me…. Lol, Driving just around town even is a double pleasure….. Not to mention a day drive to pick parts, or visite friends… WOW… lol, and the people that follow you to the parking lot, or hold you up when you stop, just to comment, or ask about it. Story’s they have to share about years ago owning one. Or the thumbs up, and strange signs we get from cars drivers on the hy ways. That always makes my wife laugh too. It’s like you belong to something when driving a bug… Lol. And a bad day wrenching on my bug, is still better than a good day watching T.V….
        Have a great day, and my beetle key is up to you all as well. Thanks to all for the great story’s, and valued information I keep collecting.

        1. Richard…I experience the same here. A group of us will get together on a Saturday morning and invariably people will see us and gravitate to our corner of the parking lot to ask questions, tell a VW story of their own or just admire or photograph our cars. Great feeling that is, in itself, a reward for our knuckle-busting labors. jay

          1. Another fantastic contribution, Jay. The ’67 community is learning so much from you around the world.

  3. A faithful Vintage VW Hobbyist in her own right, My wife, Neva, manages to understand what I’m looking for in a photograph for one of these articles. She always come through. Thank you, Neva. jay

  4. Well said Jay! (as usual)
    If you just want to get from point “A” to “B,” get a Honda. No drama but really BORING. Vintage cars are like dear friends you’ve known a long time. You know all their strengths, weaknesses, quirks, idiosyncrasies, and faults, but you love em anyway.

    1. Right on, Mike! Your own car should be about ready to roll, isn’t it? I can’t wait to see it. I always have gotten a lump in the throat when one of my projects finally roared to life and actually rolled down the street! Could we add that feeling to the list of Mothers, baseball and apple pie? LOL jay

      1. Its Sunday morning, 9/14. I just read the article about hitting the wall . I have reached that spot many times over the last 3 months asking myself why do I want to put myself through another resto. . That article is true, its not the end result its the challenge , I will now spend another day working on my vw 67 convert.Thanks for the inspiration. BOB

        1. Good morning, Bob…I think that the challenge is a common one. I have talked with (by this time in life) thousands of VW owners who’ve felt the same when working with an old car. I actually have tried to coax numerous people NOT to take on such a project, especially if they are ill-equipped for it. Owning a vintage vehicle can knock a person entirely out of the game. Not so long ago, I, myself, sold a particular vehicle, not because it was a bad car but because at my age and with my obligations, it was more than I could handle. I immediately felt a great burden lifted from my shoulders. I sighed, relaxed–then turned around and bought a lesser project. I am anxious to see the video you spoke about, Bob. Whether you keep this Convertible or not, you have rescued it from probable decay and it is a much better car for your efforts! And….I got to meet you!!! That’s the best part! jay

  5. well put Jay, knowing what someone wants from a restored car is very important. a daily driver, a show car, hobby car, weekend driver, all should be approached different from the start. I have been a life long boater, many people come out with me and become an “instant fan”. Then I have a sit down with them. how they would use a boat needs to be decided first.. then the long discussion about “do you like to fix things?” you. either need to be a mechanic, electrician, plumber and electronics guru, and enjoy working on it, or have a significant check book to have others work on it. just like with vintage cars you have to accept there will always be something needing repair.

    1. Hello, Ken…You make such good points! Enthusiasm alone will not cut the mustard! Some may take such counsel as an attempt to put them off. Reality sometimes is a little difficult to accept at first. But good counsel will stave off later problems and can produce long-lasting and heartening results. Keep up the good work, Ken! jay

    2. Well said, Ken! I’d say my ’67 runs “perfect.” However, there is always something to tinker with. As Jay said, these cars are old and have to be treated as such. However, if it were not for people like us, they would not continue to be on the road. We own and drive these cars because we love them, not because we have to.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: