Usually my editorials are written at the very moment they pop in my head—that could be at the airport or on a plane, while lumped on the couch watching TV, or even lying in bed at any hour during the night/morning. Rarely does it happen while I'm perched in front of my computer at work. No matter how, the when is typically the same—the very last second...or later. This time around, my normally empty head was just that...empty. So for once, I reached out for a little second-party advice by asking a close friend what she thought. Within a matter of seconds, the fog was lifted and my head pumped with a couple great topics.
Having been well aware of a recent hot rod–related fatality involving another close friend, she'd suggested the idea of discussing the appropriateness of driving older cars under various situations. The more I let that absorb, the more I realized how, in this day and age, that's such an important topic, especially for younger people to understand.
Back when I was a young upstart hot rodder (we're talking way back in the late '80s!) and on through the early part of my editorial career, I never drove a “new” car. Nor did most of my friends. Now, over the years, comfort, reliability, and a number of “adult” features eventually dictated otherwise, but did not rule out driving my hot rods/customs whenever possible—not just to shows or special events. (These days, the one and only thing that prevents even that is not having one to drive in the first place! That's gotta change, and soon.)
Being more sensible, however, which was the main issue regarding this topic, I've realized for some time how even the best of drivers are way more at risk these days when interjecting any automobile of vintage origin (or style) into today's traffic and road conditions. Point is, for those of you who do engage regular commuting behind the wheel of your hot rod/custom, the potential hazard may not be worth the risk. But if so, keep in mind these important factors:
• Is your car up to performing under critical situations? In other words, is it set up to withstand a collision—are the brakes adequate, do you have seatbelts, what condition are the tires, and so on. Imagine yourself in a head-on accident—is there any part of your car (steering column, windshield) you find overly questionable as far as your personal safety is concerned?
•Is your car clearly visible to others, especially at night, and does it allow you to see well? Taillights: are they bright enough, and not only do the stop lamps work, but are they brighter than the running light? Older headlights, even some sealed beams, don't always sufficiently illuminate—make sure yours do (if not, consider updating) and that your high beams work. Lastly, loud exhaust is a good alert system for other drivers sharing the road, but too loud can be a big distraction, yourself included. For one, you may not hear/notice an occurring mechanical issue, but also the likelihood of hearing an approaching emergency vehicle is greatly decreased.
Basically, be heard and be seen in as safe a manner as possible. Many vintage vehicles don't demand daily driver requirements—but that doesn't mean they don't need to be treated as such. I always anticipate the worst when driving an old car (or any motorcycle), regardless of whether it's to the corner store or on a long-distance run. Be prepared for any and everything: flat tire, overheating, or an accident (including being properly insured).
And this should go without saying, but I'd be remiss if I didn't close with this, as it's the underlying basis for my editorial. Hot rods and alcohol don't mix—when they do, often the results are of grim nature. Use common sense when getting behind the wheel, regardless what you're driving.