A quick answer to a question I get all the time. “What’s it like driving old cars on long trips?” In short, it’s awesome! There are challenges (no doubt), but it’s too fun to pass up. Plus, you look really cool doing it.
When I tell people I daily drive a 1979 Chevy pickup, they usually look at me a bit sideways. They’re probably wondering how anyone could possibly get by without modern conveniences. If only they knew the full extent of my ‘daily driving’ habits.
For several years, I split my time between California and Wyoming. A quick glance at a map reveals that those places are more than a thousand miles apart. And I drove that distance in my old Chevy at least four times per year. Not just because I wanted to—it was my only car, and I had no other choice.
Is it possible to drive long distances in an old two-wheel-drive squarebody? Is it comfortable? What about winter when the road is icy, can you still do it? Yes, yes, and (mostly) yes.
Long Trips in a Classic Truck
Driving thousands of miles in all weather conditions taught me a few things about old cars. First and foremost, I learned that it’s absolutely possible to drive a classic vehicle wherever you want.
I also learned that owning a decent socket set is paramount.
For the most part, my basic drivetrain proved reliable. Why wouldn’t it? The truck had a well-maintained 350 and a Saginaw-Muncie four-speed; not a whole lot of parts to break. A Holley 650 topped it off, and she ran like a dream.
As far as comfort is concerned, I figure it can’t get much better than floaty 2WD suspension and a plush foam bench seat. However, a lack of air conditioning made summertime in Nevada a bit… irritating.
Oh, and another thing. If you know anything about Wyoming, you know that it gets damn cold in the winter. Take cold, subtract 20 degrees, add some wind, and you have Wyoming. At such temperatures, it takes more than a piece of cardboard over the radiator to heat that truck up.
And yes, I put a different thermostat in it too. In my squarebody, expecting the heater to work at 0 degrees (or colder) was wishful thinking. Gloves came in handy. That said, it was perfectly tolerable for me and fun enough to deal with.
Many people ask about the gas mileage of my ‘79 Chevy. And it took me a good year to get an accurate number. At 70 miles per hour with 3.08 rear gears, I could run a little less than 300 miles before switching to the other tank.
Assuming I left a gallon or so at the bottom, that rounds out to about 15-16 miles per gallon. The best I ever got at highway speeds was 18MPG.
Again, I honestly believe that it’s possible to drive a classic car halfway across the country. Other than a few mechanical hiccups here and there (due to cheap replacement parts), the truck never left me stranded.
The 350 was reliable enough for decades of use on American roads, and there’s no reason to assume it won’t be today.