Reader Question: Cars Sans the Crap?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Greg asks: Hi Eric, I’ve heard you a few times on David Knight.  I am thinking about looking for an older car (maybe 1970s). I’m a performing musician and have to be places on time. Is there a company (or companies) that takes older great cars and restores them so they are like new as far as reliability goes but don’t have all the computers/bells, etc.

My reply: Absolutely; and there is probably one in your town – or not far from it. Not necessarily a restoration shop – just a shop that does good quality body and mechanical work.

I make the distinction because you plan to use your car as a daily driver – as opposed to a car that will be taken out only for pleasure and to car shows. You want functionality and reliability more than concours paint and a “correct” engine that will win you trophies.

This is actually a good thing – for you – because it is easier to find a shop that does good mechanical/body work but hard to find one that does meticulous restos capable of winning a national-level show. Also, functionality is a helluva lot less expensive than pedantic perfection!

The key to your plan is to start with a car that is already a naturally good candidate for daily driverhood.

You mentioned the ’70s – and that you’re a musician – so I will recommend a large sedan or – better yet – station wagon. Plenty of room for you and your gear – and your band mates/their gear, too. A Chevy Impala or Malibu; or equivalent Bucik/Olds versions of the same. Something like that. Ford Country Squire – etc.

These are very simple/straightforward vehicles that can be driven every day in factory stock trim – or improved a lot via things like transistorized ignition (if the car didn’t have it originally) and a simple/stand-alone throttle body (TBI) fuel injection kit in lieu of the factory carburetor. Many kits available and they are easy to install; any competent shop can do this for you. And once done, the car will start/run like a new car – but better, because it won’t have ASS or direct injection and half a dozen nudgy “assists” you may not want.

You’ll be surprised, too, about gas mileage. If you get one of the above with a small V8 (e.g., a 305/350 for the GMs) and have the shop replace the factory three-speed non-overdrive automatic with a modern four-speed overdrive automatic, you will probably get close to 30 on the highway.

Start with a solid “driver” – which you ought to be able to find for $5k or even less – and with another $5k or so of work put in, you’ll have a cool ride to go with the groovy tunes!

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. If you don’t need special hauling requirements for instruments, the 1990’s vintage “full size” Buicks are comfortable, reliable, and get good gas mileage. Just need to fix anything up to original condition, no modification necessary.

    Otherwise, an 88-91 or 92-98 Suburban ain’t half bad for reasonably simple and reliable, plus a huge amount of space. Sometimes you can find a nice 2wd pretty cheap because almost everyone wants 4wd. But a 2wd Suburban gets around great in the snow unless you are really pushing it which is not likely in a road vehicle.


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