Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!
Claire asks: I’ve read your columns about driving “pre-Uncle” cars as daily drivers and want to know what you think about driving a 1979 Chevy Caprice? I’ve been told it is too slow to keep up with today’s traffic.
My reply: Well, “today’s traffic” isn’t moving appreciably faster than it did back in 1979. Today’s cars are certainly much more powerful and capable of being driven much faster.
When I am not test driving a new car, I am driving my 18-year-old Nissan pickup. It has a four cylinder engine and is probably slower – in terms of what it is capable of doing – than your ’79 Caprice, which probably has a V8 (not a powerful one, but a V8). Yet I find I can easily thread the needle through traffic – around and past much newer and far more powerful cars – that are driven as slowly as 1984 K Cars by people terrified of being Hut! Hut! Hutted! and mulcted or who drive like senile old febes addled by tranquilizers because they’ve been conditioned to believe that is how “safe” drivers drive.
Your contemplated Caprice is immensely safe. It may not have a single air bag but it does have body-on-frame construction and lots of heavy gauge steel – and real bumpers fore and aft – to protect you from the Clovers.
It also has another “safety” feature – visibility. You can see around you in a car from the ’70s, which is often much harder in one of today’s cars.
Finally: This car has simple, easy to fix and cheap to fix mechanicals. You’ll need to find someone who knows how to adjust a carburetor and do a tune-up on an older car without a computer (no “codes” to read) but once you do – or if you decide to do it yourself – you will discover how inexpensive it is to drive one of these cars vs. one of today’s cars.
Example: If the fuel pump needs to be replaced, it will cost you about $35. The pump is also located on the engine and held in place by two bolts; it can be removed and replaced with basic hand tools in about 15 minutes. A modern car will usually have a fuel pump “assembly” located in the gas tank. It does not cost $35 and will take considerably longer than 15 minutes to replace.
Aside from the pump, there is a carburetor – and this comprises the entirety of the fuel system. The carburetor can be rebuilt multiple times using kits that cost less than $100 and if the carb ever has to be replaced, the worst case scenario is about $400 for a new one that can be installed with hand tools in about 15 minutes.
The rest of the car is similar.
Pull the trigger!
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I recall driving those cars. They had plenty power with the V8 and I doubt they made a Caprice without a V8. I’d buy a good example in a heartbeat. Put aftermarket springs and anti-rollbars and the usual flipped over air cleaner top and duals and have a sweet, good fuel mileage ride with nothing in or on it I couldn’t fix.