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


#1

Obviously the Model T or the Stanley Steamer can’t keep the pace on the Interstate. But what about vintage cars? A 1970 Ford, 1960 Chevy or even a 1950 Buick could probably be used as daily drivers. But what about something from between 1920 and 1940 - would that be practical?



I guess what I’m really asking is, at what stage does a car become too obsolete for modern traffic.


#2

Also when does a working old car become too valuable for daily driving?


#3

Hi,

There was a story in the newspaper (Connecticut Post) about a man who bought a used 1939 Dodge coupe in 1942 and drove it daily until 1993. He got into a minor fender bender and decided to stop driving. He was in his 80’s. Many of people will say a car that old isn’t safe. You have take into consideration how you drive and where you drive. Installing shoulder strap seat belts will make it safer to drive. The most important safety device in a car is the driver.

I used to always drive cars that were 20 or 30 years old. They were cheap to buy and easy to fix. I now drive newer cars (5 to 10 yo) because of better mileage and AC.

Bill


#4

Basically, automobile engines earlier than about the very late 50’s will self-destruct if driven over about 55 mph. This has to do with the bearings, mostly.
If you are driving below this speed, I don’t see a problem with earlier, except for the absence of conveniences. I used my grandfather’s 52 Chevy for years. It had a heater, which was an option. It was easy to steer, due to the large steering wheel, had large vents on the side windows to blow in air, and got 20 mpg, not bad for such a large car. It was very comfortable.

I would avoid American cars from the 70’s and 80’s, as a rule, due to poor reliability and tempermental engines due to emission controls still experimental.


#5

From a practical point of view, anything very old (pre-war) is probably to valuable to use as a daily driver anyway. Aside from cost, I would be reluctant to use anything that didn’t have modern brakes. IIRC, four wheel discs became common at some point during the 60s, so that would probably be my personal cutoff date. I also don’t drive anything newer than the early 80s, due to all the additional claptrap on newer cars, so my range of years for a daily driver is about 1965-1985. There are some earlier cars I would love to own, but not as daily drivers; I can’t think of anything newer than 1985 that I would bother with.


#6

What car in the 60’s had 4 wheel disc brakes? The first pickup I ever had with 4 wheel disc was a 2004, they definitely had drums in 96. I remember a few foreign makes having 4 wheel disc in the early 90’s, and maybe some of the smaller American cars, but most were still rear drum brakes then.

Skip


#7

IIRC, four wheel discs became common at some point during the 60s

Unless you consider the Corvette to represent “common”, you’re off by a decade or three. ;o)


#8

To be practical, you need a car for which you can get parts. I live in an area where the dry air allows old cars to safely carry on without much corrosion. So pick a car that had a high production volume.

From a safety point of view, I would want a car with seatbelts, and power steering to get the quick ratio.

I see many 60s Ford and Chevy pickups that were pre-emission controls, and parts are still available. A fellow who lives on a ranch has a classic Volvo, late 60s, I believe. He uses it as a daily driver. Parts must be expensive for him, though.

Avoid cars with wrap-around windshields (50s), they are very expensive to replace.

In summary, I would be quite comfortable with a 1968 Chevelle Malibu 6 cylinder, since the V8 was rather thirsty. J.C. Whitney and others carry a full range of parts for these cars.


#9

To be practical, you need a car for which you can get parts.

This is probably the biggest concern. A daily driver (no matter how well it’s built) will need repairs every now and then. Guy I worked with owned a Lotus. The drivers side wiper arm broke. His car sat for 3 weeks (we had a lot of rain then) until the part was finally shipped in from Europe…and the car was only 2 years old. If it’s your daily commuter you don’t want to be waiting around for days/weeks for a part.

In summary, I would be quite comfortable with a 1968 Chevelle Malibu 6 cylinder, since the V8 was rather thirsty.

So would I. I use to have a 67 SS with the 327 and 2-speed Power Glide. When I floored it the gas gage moved as fast as the speedometer.


#10

Practical? I’d say anything back to the late 80’s . . . just try to get someone to service your carb on an 80’s car . . . and given the relative age . . say 20 year old car . . . most cars in the north get rusty and unsafe . . . and in 20 years, people who drive an “average” of 12,000 miles a year . . . that’s almost 250,000 miles. I’d vote for 1988 as “practical” cutoff date. Having said that . . . folks who are regulars here or who visit this site are car nuts and will debate the practical, being able to fix older cars, specialty stuff, and so on. My answer is for the average citizen who just uses a car for transportation. Rocketman


#11

IIRC, Studebaker was the first to introduce front (not 4-wheel) disc brakes–on the Avanti, circa 1963, but they were alone among US automakers at that time in terms of that technology. With “the Big Three”, disc brakes (front only!) were being offered as an option by somewhere around '71, but even these optional front disc/rear drum brakes were not commonly found on US cars until somewhat later.

On European cars, 4-wheel disc brakes were undoubtedly introduced earlier than they could be found on American cars, but I very much doubt that they were common on European models in the '60s, with the possible exception of some exotics like Ferrari.

My '74 Volvo had 4-wheel disc brakes, but that was definitely the exception to the rule at that point in time. Even today, the lower-cost models of some brands still have front disc/rear drum brakes.

4-wheel discs common in the '60s? I don’t think so.


#12

I actually had a 1966 Malibu with the 283 V8; the mileage was not great, but the most gas I could ever put in the tank in those days (1975) was $11, and it pulled my camper trailer. The 1968 models were the last without emission controls and still had a high compression ratio.


#13

Last summer I was at the local Home Depot and saw a lady sitting in the passenger seat of what was obviously something old and unrestored. I stopped and asked her what it was. It was a 1938 Hudson. Except for the engine and drivetrain, it was completely original. As I was standing there talking with her, her husband came out with a huge load of materials, opened up the trunk, and began filling the enormous cavern that was the trunk. He said he drives the car as a daily driver, putting about 15,000 miles a year on it. He had regular plates on it, not antique plates, so I have no reason to doubt him.

That’s the oldest daily driver I’ve seen in a very long time.


#14

Close. 1970 was the last year for high compression big blocks. In 1971, the LS-5 and LS-6 engine options were limited to 9:1 in preparation for rules changes slated for 1975. Still, the LS-5 was rated at ~365HP and the LS-6 was rated at 450HP gross. I own a 1971 LS-6 so I’m curious to know what emissions controls you’re referring to that are supposed to be on that car.

I also own a '69 L36 Vette with a “high compression” big block.


#15

Mountainbike–

Hudson was an unusually well-made make of car, so as long as these people maintained it (and, obviously, they did), then it is certainly believeable that they have continued to use that car.

The best example of long-term use of a car that I ever saw was in the state of Washington, back around 1994. While driving on an Interstate (I-90??) several hundred miles east of Seattle, I spied the profile of an old touring car far ahead, on the horizon. I was driving at about 65-70, IIRC, and I gained on that old touring car very slowly, over the space of a few miles.

When I finally caught up with it, it turned out to be, of all things, a Pierce-Arrow (!!) of probably late '20s–early '30s vintage. There was hardly any paint left on it, and the body, while essentially rust-free, was really rough-looking. The driver, and his wife, both appeared to be in their nineties.

I know that I am making an assumption, but it really seemed to me that this old couple had just continued to drive this fantastic (and exceedingly expensive) car that they had bought when they were much younger. Since the Pierce-Arrow was the finest car of its day, with everything overengineered and understressed, good maintenance would surely have allowed that car to work properly for many decades.

Incidentally, the old couple were tooling along in that ancient car at about 60-65 mph!


#16

I would say somewhere around 1932 or 1933 for American domestic brands. The Ford V8 was introduced in '32 and is still used as a basis for street rods. I think a running original, while valuable, would still be viable as a daily driver. The VW Beetle was introduced around that time also. I don’t know how well the pre-war versions would do on a modern interstate, but Germany built their Autobahns in the 1930s and the VW was meant to travel on them.

In general, any post WWII car, with a few exceptions, should work as a daily driver. I’m not addressing “safety” because there is too much leeway in how that is defined. Anyway, it’s an interesting topic.


#17

Interesting points about the early '30s cars and the flathead V8s.

There were quite a few vehicles made right into the '60s that probably wouldn’t be able to safely keep up with today’s traffic. My first car, the 1961 beetle for example. Or my byddy’s Isetta. And all those old British ragtops that I love so much. While many of these could make their way up to highway speeds with some patience, I’m not sure I’d want to use one for a daily driver.

For that matter, I don’t think I’d want to drive a Smart on the highways!

Safety has definitely come a long, long, long way even since the '60s. Crumple zones, padded dashboards, collapsable steering columns, airbags, disc brakes, unibody construction, stronger pillars, even radial tires. Nothing built in the prior century comes close in safety.


#18

One of the guys I worked with (when I did landscaping) is still driving a 62 Chevy PU. It has the 6cyl and three speed transmission, which he has rebuilt numerous times. The rest of it is rust and plywood. He has no idea how many miles are on the thing. It is a beautiful two-tone of black Rustolium and rust.


#19

Back in the '80s I worked for Sanders Associates and there was an elderly lady there who drove an old '40s Ford, all original and unrestored. Turns out she had bought the car new and it was still her only car.

Last year I was reading an article on old pickups, and it turns out that there are a surprising number of old pickups still used daily on farms in the Texas/New Mexico region of the country.


#20

I would go back to a 1976 Impala and feel good about being able to get parts.