When I was fifteen, I began restoring my 1966 Ford Mustang which I drove daily from age sixteen to seventeen - in all of its dual exhaust, low-geared, four barrel carburetor, nine mile per gallon glory (I still have that car). At age twenty-two, I bought a 1979 MGB which was the most moody little thing I have ever owned and liked to set herself on fire when she was feeling just the right flavor of pissy. Following the MGB was a 1979 CJ7, which was my second open top Jeep and lots of fun, but didn't serve much of a purpose in my small stable of vehicles. Career changes and life itself led to me selling off everything but the Mustang and the low mile 1997 Thunderbird my grandfather drove before he passed away, until its 4.6L V8 decided it would rather be a solid block of steel and alloy one night somewhere outside of Atlanta. The question at this point was whether or not I should get an economical beigemobile with fuel injection and air conditioning, only to blend in with everyone else or go back to my habit of buying vintage metal.
I had owned old cars, but hadn't ever depended on one without a backup vehicle (my Mustang is undergoing a slow restoration in my garage at the moment). Then I decided for the sake of personal entertainment, momentary insanity, and actually wanting to write about it on here, I bought my 1963 Mercury Comet on June 13th, 2014 which had been pulled from a barn a month prior to my purchase and brought up to "drive-able" condition.
The day I picked her up:
-Built in July of 1962
-170 cu. in. I6
-3-speed manual on the column
-84,563 original miles
My little Comet made the nearly forty mile drive home just fine other than having a stumble here and there in the lower end of the powerband, which is to be expected with a carburetor that had been sitting up for a few decades. The guy who sold it to me replaced two brake lines, the radiator, and the distributor cap and rotor, but that was pretty much it. When I brought it home, I flushed all the fluids, took the valve cover off, and scraped the sludge off the valvetrain before giving it a Seafoam treatment to blow out the cobwebs. Everything ran well for about a week until the lever for the column shift came off in my hand in a parking lot and I had the car towed for the first time.
Broken shift collar on the left and new-ish one on the right:
My uncle isn't a mechanic, but he had the silver one in a box in his garage because it was a spare for my grandfather's 1961 Ford F-100. My grandfather died in 1994 but he sold that truck in 1990. Weird coincidence.
Thirty minutes later, I had it all back together and my steering shaft was also given a fresh coat of grease:
A week later (to the day) I was driving to a meeting, put my foot on the clutch pedal and something "popped" really loudly as the clutch pedal bottomed out on the floorboard and didn't spring back up toward me.
Tow truck number two:
Apparently, the Ford pressure plates of that era have three fingers that retain the entire circumference of the mating surface and they are prone to failure. What happened to me exactly? That "pop" was one of the three cast iron fingers snapping off.
Dropped the tranny:
Dropping the tranny took about thrity minutes, but dropping the driveshaft, letting the fluid drain out, dropping the crossmember, removing the linkage, etc. took another half hour. If you look at the bellhousing, you can see a big hole right by the starter motor bulge where the retaining finger failed to retain itself and went right through it. I JB Welded that closed.
There was only one parts store in all of Metro Atlanta with the clutch kit I needed, so I went to an Auto Zone in the ghetto the next morning and bought it for $250. A little over twenty-four hours after my breakdown, the car was back on the road.
Bonus fun fact: The original owner of the car had wired up a set of the original keys in the engine bay that I found while changing the clutch:
A week after that, the little bit of cancer on the two back doors was slowly growing, so I fixed that:
Not an exact match, but I am going to respray the whole car the right way in the not so distant future.
Two weeks later, after meeting with a client, the generator started making noise on me and seized completely, which required an overhaul.
$20 worth of bearings and thirty minutes of my time later, it was back in the car. But, to prove the barn authenticity of this thing, there was a dirt dobber nest INSIDE the generator housing. (If you look closely, you will also see the imploded remains of the former commutator ball bearing.)
A few weeks went by without incident for the most part other than replacing one of the tires, which I did myself with the spare tire that was in the trunk. By the way, there was a spare TIRE in the trunk when I bought the car. No wheel, but a tire. I pulled the old tire off the rim with hand tools, replaced it with the spare and had it back on the car in about twenty minutes. It balanced out just fine without any added weights, so count that as a win.
Last week, the generator kept falling out of polarity, and since I was getting sick of electrocuting the dog snot out of myself by arcing the field wire to the battery wire every other time I drove it, I set out to buy a new one. Unfortunately, I found out I would have to order one since nobody stocks them around here anymore. I mentioned it to my uncle today and he again dug around in his garage, only to find this:
Yes, that was a spare, new in the box from my grandfather's long gone truck. Five minutes later, it ran like a champ again.
So, the question of the hour which I asked at the beginning of this article: "Can You Really Daily Drive A Classic Car"
Answer: Yes. But you have to be committed to it and like an adventure.
My whole theory behind having this car was that I would be able to drive an uncommon vehicle that may have initial reliability problems due to the age and time spent sitting around, but the odds of a major issue would be slim. Nothing that has happened to this car thus far has caused it to be out of commission for longer than a day because the parts are still available and can be over-nighted without charge by most parts stores if need be.
Insurance (with towing) - $26/mo.
Gas mileage - 25mpg/city
Short of the clutch change, everything I have had to do to it took less than an hour and most of it could be performed roadside in a pinch. I wouldn't want to take it on a fifty-mile round-trip commute as it sits everyday because of the lack of highway gearing, but if it had overdrive, I wouldn't hesitate to do so. The parts are cheap enough that you can keep a hoard of common spares in the trunk, with about $50 worth of good tools and not think too much about a breakdown being a big issue as long as you know how cars work. You wont find a more mechanically simple car to wrench on than an old Ford Falcon or Mercury Comet this side of a vintage VW Beetle.
No, driving a classic car daily isn't the most maintenance free thing to do and it certainly isn't for everyone, but it can be done if you are willing to spend a little time tweaking and repairing here and there.
The trade off is the people you meet, the people who give you a thumbs-up when you're driving to work, the expression on people's faces when you tell them it is your primary mode of transportation, and... for me...having a car that everyone says matches your personality to the letter.
This car makes me smile everyday.