Living in a tiny house is just one of the ways we have chosen to live outside of modern systems, automobiles is another. I thought I’d ramble on about cars a bit, if you don’t mind. The tiny house community is full of folks who have chosen a slightly less conventional approach to life and that’s one of the reasons we love it so much.
We buy old autos built before there were computer systems in them, which means our cars are much simpler and can be fixed with parts from Autozone. No pricey dealership mechanic needed. We don’t use an auto loan to purchase a car, and with the reasonable prices of antique autos – we don’t need to. This helps us avoid the costs of interest. We have a number of cars and are able to keep antique tags on most of them, which means one tag, no stickers, and no inspections – all of which saves us money. Did I mention the insurance was cheaper?
Here’s an example: one of our cars is a 1985 Mercedes 300 CD (coupe diesel) with turbo, design #123. It has a in-line 5 engine, which some folks consider the best engine ever made. This engine can and has gone one million miles without rebuilding. In fact, one of these cars passed the million mile mark not long after it was made. Mercedes tried to buy the car back to put it on display in their show-room and the owner refused. He was not willing to part with his car. Mine is 33 years old and has already gone 286K miles and can reasonably be expected to go another 200K miles over the next ten years. There is no modern car that will, as a matter of course, go 400K miles without a change of engine, or be used as a daily driver for 40 years. In addition, it seems doubtful that any modern car made today will be worth $5k in 30 years even if it was still running. We’ve chosen this particular make and model of Mercedes because it is an excellent car at an excellent value. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a sedate but powerful car that is very comfortable for longer drives and high speed interstate driving.
I also have a cute little 1979 MGB British roadster that is ridiculously fun to drive. It’s a simple 39 year old car, and it is not complex to fix. I purchased this darling little car for about $3,500 and to this day I can pull up to a light beside someone in a very posh modern car and they will be admiring my ride. It happens all the time. A car doesn’t have to be valuable to be a joyful experience. In fact, I have come to believe that driving an adorable little roadster on one of the first warm and sunny days of Spring is one of life’s simple pleasures. This zippy little roadster is a delight on curvy back roads and tree lined avenues. I love how it puts me in touch with the world around me in a very tactile way. I don’t feel as if I’m in a cocoon separated from everything when I drive this car. In fact, the experience of driving this car feels like a purposeful interaction with the sights, sounds, smell, and feel – even the temperature – of every place I pass through. To me, this is a vibrant and wonderful experience, part of the joy of being alive.
Modern cars have become so ubiquitous that even a super expensive car doesn’t stand out. Xaver asked if I noticed the Maserati that had just turned past us. I said “you mean that Honda?” There was nothing about that car that was interesting unless you happened to notice the logo. It just looked like every other sedan on the road that day. If you want a car that expresses something of your originality, choose a vintage car.
The 1969 Opel Rekord is one of Xaver’s favorite cars. This is a rather rare car, clean lines and simple systems. The body design is simple and beautiful. It’s never been a status symbol car, but it has performed very well for nearly 50 years and shows no sign of stopping now. In fact, one of the fun parts of going for a drive in this car is that we meet folks who remember these cars and have stories from “back in the day.” We end up having these wonderful conversations with random strangers because of the car, and that’s a lot of fun. Plus, he’s right – it’s a cool looking car.
Fixing a vintage car isn’t as complicated as it might seem. Autozone has lots of parts for older cars as well as modern ones, and they lend tools if needed. Books are available for most makes and models, and this is often a helpful tool. If you run into a problem that you can’t figure out with the help of the good folks at Autozone or using the book, there will be a forum online or a youtube video where someone shows you how to fix this exact problem. Often the cost of repair is very low and the biggest investment is the little bit of time spent doing the research. I think it is empowering to be able to drive an interesting car and fix it yourself. I love it. I’ll admit that I’m not the one doing the fixing though, lol!
Safety is a major concern when purchasing a car, and car makers have added lots of safety features over the years. Whatever you do, do NOT google the dangers of airbags, or the number of deaths caused by those things. Especially in older cars as the plastic in the airbag system begins to deteriorate. Do not look at that information if you are locked into driving a modern car, because it is absolutely horrifying. Folks driving modern cars are lead to believe the car they drive will protect them from anything, and that is sometimes true. We witnessed an accident earlier this year where the gentlemen at the wheel walked away, and that seems pretty miraculous considering the rather spectacular ballet moves of his truck. After looking over the available information, we’ve come to believe that vintage cars may actually be safer than modern ones. Airbags are one example. There are other safety features that have been around for a very long time, even if modern companies want to recycle those features and call it innovation. Xaver would be better at detailing all of that information than I am.
Perhaps the biggest safety feature of driving a vintage car is the way we drive. We don’t drive as if our cars are disposable, and we have noticed that a lot of other folks do. We drive like we want our cars to last another decade. While that’s not enough to keep bad things from happening, I think it makes a difference.
A car that can be in constant use for 30 – 40 years or more is the best choice for the environment. For every decade a car continues to run, there is no reason to manufacture a new one. My MGB gets 35 miles per gallon, the Opel Rekord gets 28 miles per gallon, and Mercedes gets 28 miles per gallon – diesel. The Mercedes diesel runs much cleaner than modern dirty cars (“dreckschleuder” Volkswagon and others) and is nearly indestructible.
I could go on and on. The computer system in your modern car doesn’t belong to you, only the hardware. It can be hacked. Your modern car has systems that record your every move. I’m starting to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but this information is all out there readily available. Insurance companies have a tremendous amount of information on where a car has been, how fast it got there, and all kinds of minutia. I’m comforted by knowing that where I drive my car and how fast I get there is still my business, and mine alone. I’m comforted that my car can’t be remotely hacked because there is no computer on-board (except my cell phone).
I drove a Honda for years, and it was a good car. It wasn’t the least bit interesting though, and I don’t miss it at all. And if you drive a Honda and love it, I’m not here to talk you out of it. I couldn’t even if I were inclined to try. Cars – no matter how old they are – are a means to get from point A to point B. It might as well be an interesting journey, and it shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg.
We love taking the back roads and driving interesting cars. It suits us, just like living in a tiny house suits us. We can give you all the intellectual reasons we prefer these vintage vehicles, and I’ve listed a few. But until you get in and ride with us a while, it may be difficult to understand our passion. No matter what you drive, if you are here reading this – you are a friend – not a foe. Choose the back roads, and enjoy the journey. In the words of an old Celtic blessing: “God be a smooth way before you, a guiding star above you, a keen eye behind you, this day, this night, and forever.”
What’s your favorite vintage car? The one you’d most love to drive every day if you could? What is it about this car that speaks to you?