What You Should Know Before You Buy An Old Muscle Car
So maybe you’ve been considering buying some old school muscle? What’s not to love? Heaps of power, classic looks, and an idle that could shake the pennies from your ashtray. You may or may not be planning to use it as your daily driver, but it will most certainly be your project. Here are some things you need to be ready for when preparing for some old-fashioned muscle ownership!
Sure, this one might seem cliché and obvious. We all know that muscle cars drink gasoline like it’s going out of style, but many still don’t quite understand the severity of the situation. When you take into account that your eight cylinders of freedom-thumping glory are often going to be paired with a dated transmission with sometimes as little as two speeds, you begin to realize that your car may be lucky to experience 12mpg… on the highway. Paired with an unusually addictive right pedal, muscle car owners tend to find themselves repeating the mantra “smiles per gallon, not miles per gallon” as they drive to fill up every other day.
If you’re looking at a classic, prepare to spend some serious dough on specialty oils, whether it be in the form of motor oils or gear oils. One important factor many virgin muscle car owners overlook is that oil isn’t the same as it was 40 years ago (thanks environmental regulations). Older engines use something called flat tappet camshafts which create higher amounts of friction than modern day roller camshafts, and they can become damaged when used with new style oils. If you’re using an old school engine, you’re going to need an oil that’s low on detergents and high on zinc, which is a roundabout way of saying you’re going to pay twice the price for an oil change.
In addition to motor oil, some older transmissions have components made of “yellow metals” (such as brass). Certain ingredients in modern gear oils can corrode these metals, destroying internal components of your transmission. Again, be ready to spend more money on these “yellow metal safe” gear oils, as well as some more money on fuel driving all over town to find said oil.
This might not seem like a bad thing at first. Cruising through town, you’ll usually have the attention of young and old alike. There’s nothing subtle about a piston thumping time capsule chugging fuel as it rolls down the street; something cops know all too well. Expect to be pulled over at some point, but not for what you might expect. It’s not uncommon to be let off with a warning just because so many officers seem to have a soft spot for muscle. It’s a muscle car owner rite of passage to begin sweating at a traffic stop only to be asked the age old question of “What’s this thing got in it?”
Regardless, nothing beats the feeling of a compliment at a stop light or even a simple thumbs up from a passing pedestrian.
This one is especially true if you have any sort of meaty tire setup, loud exhaust, or bumpity cam lope. Expect to be minding your own business, watching your fuel gauge fall ever closer to “E” as you wait at a red light, then to have someone (usually a shirtless man hanging halfway from a truck) yell “LIGHTEM UP!” expecting a burnout.
Understandably, people who request a smoke show usually just like the car and want to see what it can do, but the request gets old after a couple stoplight sessions of tire shredding glory.
Let’s face it, older vehicles require more work, and muscle cars are no exception. Tuning nowadays isn’t anything like it used to be, but you may be pleasantly surprised. Tuning old muscle takes patience, finesse, and about 4 hand tools. While nothing quite drives like a carbureted classic, you’ll soon get to experience the joys of some quality wrench time in an enormous engine bay. Whether it’s spending the time to fine tune the carb or setting points on your distributor, you’re going bond with your machine.
Despite the high cost of operation, constant attention, and time needed to dial in your ride, driving a muscle car will absolutely give you a new sense of appreciation for your vehicle. If you’re willing to power through these ownership obstacles, the rewards of owning a classic muscle car far outweigh the costs. In the words of Ferris Bueller:
“If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”
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