On any Sunday ... about loving old, slow cars.
- (from Hemmings Classic Car - February, 2011)
- by Jim Richardson
It was a beautiful spring day in 1947. My Uncle Benny's 1931 Model A Ford roadster was puttering along at about 25 miles per hour with the top down. I was in the rumble seat, and I remember reaching out and letting the drooping fronds of the old pepper trees that lined the road caress my hand. The air was perfumed with them, and smelled fresh and clean. We had to stop and put a little water in the old Ford's radiator, and I caught the mingled odors of steam and hot oil, too.
You see, we were ambling through Griffith Park in Los Angeles, which is a ridge of hills on the edge of the city, at the top of which is an observatory.
Uncle Benny stopped briefly so we could watch the swells play tennis, and then we drove on to where gentlemen were playing polo on magnificent horses. The thumping and thundering, turning and rearing were exciting to behold. After that, we went over to the big, creaky merry-go-round and I took a ride on a gaily-painted wooden horse. We wound up our Sunday sojourn in an area called Fern Dell, where the family had a picnic by a small waterfall.
This and other Sunday drives are my most treasured memories from my childhood, and I still take such excursions with family and friends regularly. But the car must be old and slow. In fact, the older and slower, the better. An open car is ideal for such Sunday spins, but not a necessity. The object is to explore and enjoy, not to get someplace. The problem with modern cars is that they are not meant for touring, nor is there much pleasure to be had in doing so in them.
A Model A Ford roadster is not roomy, but it is not claustrophobic, either. An A is also fast enough to drive on a freeway if necessary, though just barely. But the car is at its best dawdling along at 25 miles per hour. And it is still inexpensive to own and operate.
Of course, if I could take my grandkids on a Sunday drive in a Stutz, Packard, or better yet, a 1903 curved-dash Oldsmobile, so much the better. The Olds would be worth it just for the experience, and the Stutz and the Packard would be comfortable and impressive to drive. It wouldn't matter where we went. Even a drab industrial area would do.
In fact, some of my favorite Sunday drives are around the Los Angeles Harbor. It is generally deserted on Sundays, and though gray and dirty, there are some very impressive container and cruise ships to see. And I know a great little place there that serves the world's best fish tacos.
Modern cars, for all their virtues, are just very good appliances. They are built to go fast, they are cramped, and they are not designed for leisurely touring. The high beltlines and low rooflines mean that nobody in the car can see much, except the driver. Also, you must keep the windows up and the climate control system on, so you never smell the damp morning sage or the delicious bouquet emanating from a doughnut shop nearby. You are separate from your route. There, but not there.
One of my favorite car museums in Southern California is the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo. On any Sunday, you can take a ride in a Model A roadster like Uncle Benny had, or you might find yourself in a half-million-dollar open Packard. Recently, I shoehorned myself into the rumble seat of their Model A just for old time's sake and loved it. I also enjoyed the smooth, silent power of a 1934 Chrysler Airflow. It was not beautiful, but what an automobile!
If you decide a Sunday drive is in order, take the oldest car you can find, and bring along the youngest people you know. Don't be in a hurry, and don't have a destination. Oh, you can have an ultimate destination such as an ice cream parlor, but take the most scenic and unusual route possible. The point is the experience and the adventure, not your destination. After all, where is there really to get? If I could go anywhere I wanted, I'd go back to that Model A Ford roadster, tooling through Griffith Park, with Uncle Benny at the wheel.
But since that is no longer possible, I'll try for a close approximation in the oldest, slowest car I can find. And I'll tour interesting places. Maybe some sushi in Little Tokyo is in order. Or perhaps we can dawdle around Old Towne Orange, California, and dine at an outdoor Cuban café I know. Who's got a Model A we can use?
(This originally appeared in the February, 2011 issue of Hemmings Classic Car, and I'm sure we Crosley Car Owners Club folk can identify with Jim Richardson's essay.)