Touring With Your Old Car

By Stephen Kassis

Driving our vintage cars is becoming more popular these days. Special car tours, like the VCCA 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder tours, have increased interest in touring with our old cars. Local clubs and regions are having 100-200 mile weekend tours. Add to that safety items like turn signals, LED tail lights, and seat belts all of which have made driving the old cars safer and more enjoyable.

Overdrives or higher geared differentials are allowing our old cars to keep up with traffic on today’s modern roads. Of course, higher speeds require more caution when driving. Keep extra distance between yourself and the vehicles around you. This is especially important with mechanical brake cars as stopping distances are much higher in these vehicles.

Many car clubs now are acknowledging those of us that take our vintage cars out and drive them. They are not just for car shows anymore! Touring is a great way to have fun with the old cars. No trophies here, but plenty of fun, good times and fellowship with other club members. It is also a great way to create interest in our hobby and recruit new members. Seeing our beautiful countryside is a fantastic benefit of driving the old cars.

What does it take to get your old car ready for touring? It depends on the age of your car. Older cars take a little more preparation to drive on long tours than your daily driver. Early cars, prior to 1937, require more maintenance to be driven long distances than later cars. Preparing a 1931 Coupe for touring is more involved than a 1956 pickup. Be aware that the early cars were designed to be driven on roads that were much different than what we have today. Early water pumps, generators, distributors and starters have to be lubricated on a regular basis. In addition, early water pumps require adjustment to the packing nut to prevent leaking and possible overheating of the cooling system.

Prior to driving your old car on a long tour, there are a number of items that need to be checked. This will be an outline checklist of long distance tour necessities. Customize this list for your own individual car or truck. Keep in mind that most of the maintenance items are things you should be doing whether you are driving your car on long distance tours or just for a fun Sunday drive. Of course, the frequency will change on longer tours.

1927 & 1928 4-cylinder engines came with an oil filter but all other early Chevy engines were made without oil filters. Add-on oil filters were available but they filtered only a small amount of the total oil flow going through the engine. These filters were an attempt to protect the engine from contaminants. However, they are not nearly as effective when compared to the later full-flow oil filters. Instead, it is recommended to simply change oil more often – every 500 to 1,000 miles, or a minimum of once per year. In addition, we recommend an oil additive such as Lucas each time you change oil. This is especially helpful on vintage cars that sit idle for months at a time. The oil additive will help protect engine bearings on startup and give a little boost to the oil pressure.

Once again, this list will consist of many items that should be part of your regular periodic maintenance schedule for your old car. When going on a long trip, these items are especially important to check: engine oil, water level (don’t overfill), transmission fluid, differential gear oil, u-joint gear oil (all closed driveline cars & trucks), wheel bearings – grease and check adjustment. Each time you drive an early car with a bushing-type water pump, be sure to put a few drops of oil on the front bushing of the water pump. Carry a squirt can of oil for this purpose and keep it handy. Lubricate this bushing every 50 to 100 miles. Also, turn in the grease cup on the water pump (take extra water pump packing along too). On occasion, turn in the grease cup on the distributor and put a drop of oil in the generator oil cups & starter oil cup. Lubricate the chassis, including shackles, spring bolts, tie rod ends, drag link ends, king pins and steering box. Consult your shop manual for a complete lubrication chart for your car. In addition, check tire pressure and tire condition and also check the spare tire(s).

Mechanical brake vehicles (prior to 1936) should have a brake adjustment to insure optimum performance. This should be done by a qualified mechanic as it is vital to have the brake system operating properly.

Tune up the engine. Check the point gap and adjust the ignition points as necessary. Check the spark plug gap and condition of the plugs. Set the timing and carburetor idle mixture. Check & adjust the engine valves. Out of adjustment valves can cause poor operation and damage to the valve system. Check for non operating light bulbs – headlights, tail lights, turn signals, dash lights, etc. Bulbs may be in good condition but corrosion has prevented good contact, thus causing the bulb to malfunction.

Check your wiper motor and wiper blades to be sure they are functional and effective. Many early cars with vacuum wiper motors are less than wonderful when it comes to seeing clearly with windshield wipers. Rain-x is a great temporary substitute and will help your vision in an unexpected downpour. Other alternatives would include changing your wiper motor to an electric (when available) or having your vacuum motor rebuilt.

Spare parts are very important for cars going on long tours. Make up a small box of new or good used spare parts to include: Ignition parts – coil, spark plugs & wires, points, condenser, rotor & distributor cap. Carry spare wheel bearings (one inner and one outer front and one rear) and wheel bearing grease, even consider a spare rear axle on early cars. Cleaning supplies like window cleaner, Rain-x, car washing supplies, paper or cloth towels and hand cleaner will come in handy.

Take a selection of tools whenever you drive your old car. If you have multiple cars, it is recommended that you have a permanent set for each of your old cars. However, transferring tools between cars is also an option. Screwdrivers, wrenches, sockets, electrical test light, silicone gasket sealer, bearing grease, duct tape, electrical tape, electrical fittings and crimping tool will be helpful if there is a breakdown on the road.

A good jack is necessary. Original style early jacks are not the best for safety and reliability as they are small and unstable. If you find yourself having to jack up your car to change a tire on a hill, a good, stable jack will make a huge difference in safety. Consider switching to a modern Chevy pickup scissors jack (from a 2004-2009 1/2 ton model). These jacks are relatively inexpensive when found at a wrecking yard. They are compact, heavy duty and very stable. Quick and easy to use, they are much safer than original style jacks. If you have room, a battery operated air compressor is nice. If not, a can of “fix-a-flat” will work in an emergency situation.

Take the old car out on a test run several days prior to the long tour. Listen for odd noises and look for problems in performance. The great thing about touring with other club members is that if you forget the tool or item you need, it is likely someone else will come to your rescue. Follow the Boy Scout motto: “Be Prepared” and you will have lots of fun on your long distance tours.

The Checklist below is a basic outline. Add or remove items as is necessary for your car or truck. It is intended to be a starting point and by no means a complete listing.

Maintenance Checklist:

  • Check or Change Engine Oil
  • Check Transmission, U-joint & Differential Gear Oil
  • Lubricate Water Pump
  • Lube Chassis and Engine Components (refer to shop manual for lubrication chart)
  • Check & Adjust Front Wheel Bearings – grease if necessary
  • Tune Up Engine
  • Check Water Level in Radiator – don’t overfill
  • Check Tire Pressure and Condition – remember to check the spare(s)
  • Brake Adjustment – especially on mechanical brake cars & trucks
  • Check Lighting for proper operation

Spare Parts Checklist:

  • Ignition Parts: Coil, Condenser, Rotor, Distributor Cap, Spark Plugs & Wires, Ignition Points
  • Starter & Generator Brushes
  • Front & Rear Wheel Bearings – 1 of each
  • Gear Oil & Grease
  • Cleaning Supplies – Window Cleaner, Rain-x, Paper Towels, Car Washing Supplies, Hand Cleaner
  • Took Kit – Wrenches, Socket Set, Screwdrivers, Feeler Gauge, Electrical Test Light, Silicone Sealer, Squirt Oil Can, Duct Tape, Electrical Tape, Electrical Fittings and Wire Stripper/Crimping Tool, Emery Cloth, Lug Wrench or 1/2″ Drive Socket with Extension and Breaker Bar
  • Jack – Modern Scissors Type with Handle
  • Air Compressor (Battery Operated) or “Fix-A-Flat” Can
  • Rear Axle Shaft with Bearing Installed (1932 & earlier) – most often will fit under the seat in tool tray
  • Light Bulbs