Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Three reasons Detroit deserves to go out of business

I drive a 1991 Toyota Camry with 467,000 miles on the original engine and it that still runs fine. I drive it almost every day and it hasn't even been in the shop for anything except tires for about a year and a half. We also have a Toyota Previa with 426,000 miles that still drives beautifully (except it needs a new muffler system about now). My previous car was a small Toyota pickup truck that I bought new in 1985 and put 352,000 miles on before a belt came off and it blew a head gasket. Would of run another 1oo,ooo if that hadn't happened.

Try finding anything built in Detroit that can do that.


Anonymous said...

Rumor has it the previous owner of your 91 dropped a new tranny in it.

Lee said...

I can't compete with that. But I do have a 1982 Checker Marathon (Kalamazoo, MI) with 200,000 miles on it. I installed a new engine (Chevy 350 V8) in 1999, but (to my knowledge) the transmission (GM Turbohydramatic 400) and rear end (Dana) are original.

Before that, I had a 1966 Ford Galaxie 500 with a Ford 289 V8 that I had put 210,000 miles on; then, gave it to my brother and he put on another 150,000.

Longevity-wise, you're fine with big Detroit iron. A trade-off with newer high-tech cars is that you are never going to see a 1991 Toyota Camry on the road in the year 2030. But you still see a lot of 1965 American cars on the road today. No, the original engines don't last quite as long as modern Jap engines, but that's not the whole story. The limiting factor on the longevity of a car is not the engine or the transmission. It is the frame on a traditional large American car, or the unibody "frame" on more modern cars.

As long as your 1955 Chevy's frame is good, you can replace any part on the entire car. You can even repair the frame itself, but few advise doing so -- too expensive.

From a practicality standpoint, I have never been a fan of high-tech cars. The modern Japanese sedan is an absolute marvel of engineering and, in my opinion, nothing can touch it. I love them. But it's a throwaway car. When it is worn out, it is worn out, and way too sophisticated and complicated to consider restoring.

Your best deals are to buy a good, commonly-owned "classic" American car and just keep replacing parts. If you keep a classic car in the same condition it was in when you bought it, you'll lose nothing at resale, and in fact may make money.

I happened to fall in love with the wrong "classic" car -- Checker body and glass parts are hard to find. However, the drivetrains are Chevy and the chassis parts are off-the-rack from other cars (e.g., Jeep steering box). Mine needs restoring, and it would cost probably $10 - $15 grand. But then I would have a car that's worth about $20 grand, and would be set to drive it for another ten years.

The best classic cars to own are the ones with the greatest availability of parts. 55 Chevies are quite expensive, but you can save a lot of money when you buy if you select a four-door model; they run about half to a third the cost, in comparable condition. Good news for the buyer, maybe not so good for the seller. But, who knows, they aren't making any more 55 Chevies, and one might reasonably expect the four-door models to appreciate faster.

I prefer Fords myself, but the parts availability is not as good as Chevies. Plus, the beauty of a Chevy is, back in the day, any Chevy engine would bolt right up to any Chevy transmission. But Fords, particular the early to mid 1960s models, are a paragon of easy maintenance. They really did "have a better idea."

Cars likely never to run out of parts include: 55-57 Chevies; 56 Ford Crown Vic; 63-64 Ford Galaxie; any Mustang before the Mustang II; any 'Vette; 1950s T-Birds; 1930s Ford Model A; VW Beetle pre-"Super Beetle". The VW Beetle and Ford Model A share the distinction that the cars are easy enough so anyone can understand the entire car, and if you're handy with tools, you should never have to walk.

In short, the flip side of good high-tech (long-lasting, reliable) is easy-to-fix and solid, with cheap parts.

Anonymous said...

I've owned both American and foreign cars. Most of the time having good service with all. I don't own a car with less than 100,000 miles on it. I've owned 5 Hondas putting over 200,000 miles on each before "passing" them along to others some of which are still no the road.

But I must defend the Chev Astro van, which sadly is no longer in production. I have owned three Astros. I put 290,000 miles on the first one, sold it to a friend who ran the miles up to over 400,000 miles (I saw it with my own eyes.)before parking it. My second Astro had 325,000 miles when I sold it and it was running well when the next owner wrecked it. I'm on my third Astro with 170,000 miles. Not all American cars fail to hold up for the "long haul".

Detroit has a lot to learn and they can if the "pain" is difficult enough. Let's bring them back to soundness by the free enterprise system not the government bailout.