‘Grandpa,” said Nick. “This is the best car I’ve ever driven.”
I was about to point out that at age 12, Nick not only hadn’t driven this car, but any others for that matter. “You know how I can tell?” he asked, answering his question before I had a chance to respond. “I haven’t even turned this on,” he said, showing me the PS Vita, a hand-held PlayStation video game console he’d pulled out of his pocket. “I’m not playing my PS Vita like I do in real cars.” Note the word “real.” I found it an interesting choice of words, even for a 12-year-old, because we were in a real car, albeit one more than 80 years old. Nick spoke as we were heading to the rendezvous where we’d swap back this car, which we’d been driving for the weekend.
This car is a 1930 Ford Model A Tudor Sedan, and not just any Model A but one with some significant provenance. It’s also the car that provided my first prolonged experience with a classic car. Here’s how it happened: If this 1930 Model A looks familiar, it’s because it’s the one that Jonathan Klinger of Hagerty Insurance drove every day for a year a few years ago. So what, you might wonder? So consider that Hagerty is based in Traverse City, Michigan, in way northern Michigan where snow piles high and even Lake Michigan freezes over in the winter. But Klinger drove the car every day, and not just in northern Michigan but on a couple of trips through Chicago to visit his family, and even all the way to Hershey, Pennsylavania, for the big fall classic car gathering there. Klinger did a daily diary about his adventures, see www.365daysofA.com if you want the details. Anyway, since I was escaping the triple-digit temperatures in Phoenix and spending some time in Michigan, Klinger invited me to be one of the instructors at the Hagerty Driving Experience being held at the Gilmore Car Museum in the southwestern part of the state. At the Experience, teenagers can learn not just how to manipulate a manual transmission, but a manual transmission in a classic car. Because the Experience was taking place on a Friday, and because he was going from there to visit the old family farm, Klinger wasn’t eager to end that day by tackling Chicago-area rush hour traffic in the Model A and planned to rent a car for his drive to northern Illinois. “Why don’t you take my truck?” I said, offering the keys to my 2013 Nissan Frontier. “How are you going to get home?” he responded. “I’ll take your A,” I said. “Are you serious?” he asked.
I was, and from Friday afternoon until early Monday afternoon, I was double-clutching my way through the Model A’s three gears (no synchros here) as well as a Mitchell Hi-Lo overdrive that allows the car to reach 50 miles per hour without overtaxing its 40-horsepower four-cylinder engine. Actually, the engine was pleasantly peppy, though it was taxed when it came to climbing even gentle hills. On the other hand, steering was — literally — a handful, and you needed to plan ahead when it came to stopping via the four-wheel mechanical drum brakes. Jonathan had asked only one thing of my drive: To stay off freeways and stick to country highways and city streets. That was fine with me. I prefer two-lanes anyway, and especially when I’m on a road trip. Sure, Interstates can get you somewhere quickly — if there’s no construction or accidents — but limited access also means a limited experience as well. Gimme two lanes and let me eat where the locals congregate. Speaking of congregate, the Model A was a huge hit Saturday at the Girls U10 softball tournament and Sunday in the parking lot of Graham Church, a country congregation in the middle of Michigan. Come Monday, it was time to travel back to the museum, where Jonathan would arrive with my truck, put the Model A into a trailer with Hagerty’s 1969 Camaro SS and then pull them back to Traverse City.
So Nick and his sister, Lexie, and I would drive back home in my truck, which provided air conditioning, satellite radio, power windows, power steering, power brakes, and an amazingly smooth and quiet ride. No shakes. No rattles. But not nearly as much fun, either. On the way back, I noticed that Nick was playing with his video console.