By Jody McCutcheon
The philosophy of recycling has been around at least since circa 400 BCE, when Plato challenged the folks of his day to better utilize their waste products. Today, we recycle clothing, furniture, appliances, electronics, toys, books, whole garage sales of belongings–and in a way, we even recycle cars. Not just through scrap metal, of course, but through the much more glamorous means of restoring vintage autos.
Despite the implied eco-friendliness of such activities, Tom Krefetz, owner of Classic Showcase, a California-based, Jaguar-specializing restorer and seller of classic cars, insists people who buy vintage aren’t actually trying to save the environment but are rather fans of the vintage vehicles for the “rarity, the beauty, the performance, the originality, the history, the collectability, and because it is a work of art.”
But the fact is: vintage cars aren’t just beautiful, but they can be very green, too. The longer a vehicle lasts, the more eco-friendly it can be—if only because it’s on the road longer, offering added utility. “Keep what’s already made out of the waste stream,” suggests a Scientific American article, which continues to argue that an older, well-maintained car with good mileage is even better than a new electric one, due mainly to the larger manufacturing eco-footprint of hybrids and the fact that electric vehicles are emission-free only if their recharging outlet is connected to a renewable energy source (keeping in mind most outlets are still powered by coal-burning power plants.)
But vintage cars have their problems, too. For one, they may not have modern emission controls. Any emission standards a vintage car must meet are the ones enforced when it was new. The pre-1990s controls on emissions other than carbon dioxide, such as hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxides, were relatively lax, so vintage cars will have a tough time passing today’s emission tests unless they’re fitted out with new kit.
Other problems vintage cars may face is that they could use more oil, require more parts and more intensive maintenance than newer cars. The older the car is, the bigger an issue this becomes, and vintage parts aren’t always easy to find, as car-restoration businesses like Classic Showcase know too well. Most parts are available for cars built after 1950, but in general, the older the car—or the lower the model’s production numbers—the tougher the part is to find. Wherever possible, Classic Showcase and other vintage car specialists can restore an original part, or failing that, fabricate a new one.
The real experts in fixing vintage cars are Cuban mechanics. Cubans drive their vintage American cars less of aesthetic appreciation than of pure necessity, largely due to a five-decades-old US trade embargo that makes vintage parts impossible to find and jacks up the prices of new cars. Thus, Cuban mechanics have become creative enough to McGyver parts from other materials, proving that just about anything to do with vintage cars if fixable, with a little ingenuity.
That being said, to make vintage cars roadworthy, there could be several safety concerns to address, as they don’t have air bags, anti-lock brakes, crumple zones or other safety features newer vehicles boast to protect their occupants. Furthermore, vehicles that mix powerful new engines (or McGyvered parts) with old bodywork may pose serious accident risks.
That’s a lot to consider when restoring a car, but Krefetz says true buffs shrug such concerns off. In fact, the restoration is even part of the fun for true fans: “vintage vehicles are purchased because there is a passion and a love for them that needs to be fulfilled,” he states.
There are plenty of fairs and exhibitions around the world where that ‘passion and love’ can be fulfilled, and these multiply in the summertime. The St Johns Wood Classic and Super Car Pageant, held annually in this posh London neighbourhood, is a good example. Here, vintage cars ranging from sporty Mustangs of the 70s and Porches from the 60s mix with the elegance of Bentleys and rare Fords. The spectacle draws thousands of people to this small corner of the British capital, and this year’s event, held on Father’s Day, is expected to be the biggest ever.
Why is there such an attraction to the cars of yesteryear? Krefetz says he thinks it boils down to the beauty of their design, and the fact that “they just don’t make ’em like they used to”. He admits: “one really cannot compare a classic automobile with today’s automobiles. The cars of yesteryear were built better than the cars from today, because they were created to last. With continued maintenance and care, they outlast cars built in the more recent years, as the cars nowadays are made with many plastic parts that don’t last, and are designed to be short lived in the era of disposability.”
If given the choice between a ‘disposable’ car or a classic, we know which one we’d choose.
All images courtesy St Johns Wood High Street, with the exception of those marked. Main image: Classic Showcase