/ 6 April 2023

New cars are good but old cars are special

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Timeless: I drove this 1957 MGA Roadster for 1 600km and grew to love its individuality and quirkiness. Photo: Supplied

Recently I was presented the opportunity to drive a 1957 MGA Roadster classic sports car for 1 600km. Initially, I approached this trip with a similar mindset to my other road trips, but I soon realised that modernisation is muffling the spirit of what makes a car special. 

Cars are faster now, especially when looking at the electric variety. Yet it feels as though even the modern petrol-powered cars are missing the characteristics that make car people passionate about their vehicles. 

I have never understood why collectors of classic cars spent so much time restoring them, until I spent time with a true classic. I realised that you get a sense of individuality in a classic car, a feeling that your car, although mass-produced, is exceptional in its own way. 

My grandfather had an admirable collection of cars but he only talked about one car in particular: the Hillman Imp. Yes, it isn’t the most exciting vehicle in the world, but listening to him talk about it, I could see that he had a human-like friendship with it, as though it had a personality of its own. He had a friend in a pile of rubber and steel. 

He knew it backwards and always said his little car would throw a mechanical strop when leaving town, with breakdowns and whatnot, but when it was going home it would run perfectly, never skipping a beat — as if it knew it was homebound. It wasn’t a perfect car and had problems, but that’s not the point. He loved it. The joy on his face when he talked about that little pile of rust is the raw experience of owning a car you cherish. 

The thing with classics is that they allow you to understand them. Every different chassis has a trick up its sleeve, a touch we don’t get with modern industry standards. You can buy a new car nowadays, and I can almost guarantee it will be the same as every other model that has left that production line. 

My grandpa’s Hillman Imp was his, and there wasn’t another like it. I have spoken to many people with similar stories, all with a human-like bond with an old car. Driving that 1957 MGA Roadster for 1 600km made me realise that a car like that has its own little quirks, where the ignition key only works with a specific motion, the funny noise it makes when it gets a little too hot, or the specific way you have to slip into the driver’s seat. 

Yes, new cars are fun, but there is something special about the classics. Their unpredictability and simple nature are something that I don’t think we’ll see again.