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Classics 101: An Introduction to Classic Cars
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One of the most enjoyable experiences that I've ever had with my Classic car was taking part in the Classic Car Club of America's CARavans. These are action-oriented national tours that focus on driving the cars, rather than just showing them in static displays.


Since the mid-Eighties, there have been two national CARavans hosted each year. Most of these tours are one week long and cover at least 500 miles. And every five years, the club plans a multiple-week CARavan that may cover several states (in 1995, the CARavan traveled from Rhode Island to California). Over the years, these CARavan names have included the Back Home in Indiana Tour, North to Alaska Tour, Oh Canada! Tour, and the popular Pacific Northwest Tour.

In 2008, the CCCA sponsored three tours. The first was an unprecedented 21-day Classic Europe CARavan in early May. The second tour was the Big Sky Tour in Montana, hosted by the club's Colorado Region in late June. The third CARavan will take place immediately following the annual AACA Hershey meet in October--the Independence Trail CARavan, hosted by two regions, the Delaware Valley and Chesapeake Valley. Because of hotel room limitations and other variables, the tours are restricted to a certain number of participants; the number can range from 60 to 100 cars.

I recently participated in the club's Big Sky CARavan, which was held June 19-27, primarily in Montana. One hundred cars participated on this tour, ranging in years from 1928 to 1948. I chose to drive my 1931 Lincoln Town Sedan, although I also own a 1937 Lincoln Willoughby Sport Sedan. As one might expect, there were many cars from the 1940s (the newest cars accepted by CCCA are from 1948).

For many CCCA members--and that includes me--the CCCA CARavans are their favorite club activity. Driving a Classic automobile through beautiful countryside with a group of friends is pretty hard to beat. As most of us have heard over the years, "That's what they (the automobiles) were made for!"

It's worth noting that many of the participants on CARavan tours have restored Classics to award-winning condition. In fact, a number of the cars on tour are former 100-point show winners that are now being driven and enjoyed. Many of these car owners have maintained their cars so carefully that after thousands of tour miles, the cars are still high-point cars.

I can't imagine anyone owning a vintage automobile – whether it's a Model T or a Stutz – and not knowing what it's like to drive that car. It's very enjoyable to attend a vintage car show. One can look at cars all day, but for me that is one-dimensional. Getting behind the wheel of a vintage car--or, at the very least, riding in it--offers a much deeper experience and understanding of that car.

That's why I chose to drive my 1931 Lincoln on the Big Sky CARavan. The length of the tour was pegged at just under 1,000 miles, and I wanted to experience the spectacular Montana countryside in that Lincoln. Several years earlier, I'd driven it from northeast Ohio to Vermont and Burlington, Ontario, Canada, but I knew the Montana trip, with its spectacular scenery and challenging mountains, would be different.

I wasn't disappointed. From the time we left Bozeman, the scenery was wonderful and, on more than one occasion, simply breathtaking. One doesn't have to leave the United States to see majestic mountains and magnificent rivers and lakes. And, of course, it can't get much better than seeing it all while looking over the hood of a 1931 Lincoln – and seeing several beautiful Classic automobiles in the distance. Wow.

Predictably, the Big Sky CARavan posed some driving challenges, particularly for the earlier Classics, such as mine. As is customary with tours such as this, there was a trouble truck complete with trailer and a competent mechanic following along throughout the journey. The mechanic made the difference on several occasions, keeping the Classics on the road. Still, a few cars suffered mechanical failures serious enough to force them off the tour.
My Lincoln became one of those casualties. With about 200 miles to go to Big Sky, I discovered water in my engine oil. At the least, it meant a blown head gasket and at the worst, it could be a cracked block. We wouldn't know until we pulled the cylinder heads. My very complete and extensive mechanical trouble kit didn't include head gaskets. With three days and 200-plus miles to go, I opted to put the Lincoln on the trouble truck trailer and transfer it back to Bozeman, where it would be shipped back to Ohio. I finished the tour--two days in Yellowstone Park – in a 2008 Chevrolet Impala.

Nearly every evening during the tour, the participants would gather for dinner and drinks to discuss the day's activities. On those days when we put some serious miles on the cars or saw some especially breathtaking scenery, there was plenty to discuss. We also learned that we had some very serious tourers in our midst--there were many who'd been on 30 or more CARavans and several who been on 40 or more!

It was especially significant that there were several younger tourers with us. I hesitate to call them children; they were young men and women – and behaved as such. It was a delight to have them along and I spoke at length with them. They enjoyed the spectacular countryside, which, like me, they were seeing for the first time. However, they also enjoyed being in and around the Classic automobiles. I suspect that they enjoyed riding in these splendid pieces of machinery instead of seeing them parked.

This article originally appeared in the October 2008 issue of Hemmings Classic Car.