The last couple of months I have been putting a lot of miles on the '97 Dodge Van. It now has 110,000 miles and still runs pretty strong. I think the reason for this is maintenance — or, possibly, over-maintenance.
On a recent trip to Arizona, my bride was reading an article from the Wall Street Journal to me reporting that some cars are better investments than stocks or bonds. This was not really news to me but I think it helped her appreciate my little fleet.
The thing about having old cars — or new ones — is maintaining them. A great restoration after a few years of neglect looks like a daily driver.
Non-operation, in my opinion, is the main cause of trouble for many old car owners (myself included). General maintenance including oil changes, fluid level checks and other normal stuff keeps old and new cars going a lot longer.
Please be advised that maintenance — especially when you have a few cars — comes with some expense. Let's use wiper blades as our example. No one wants a scratched windshield. To prevent this, the wiper blades on all of my little fleet get changed as soon as the first one fails. In my case, this means five cars x 2 blades per car or 10 blades x $7.00 per blade or $70 to complete this task.
It's not cheap, but neither is a windshield in any of the five cars.
Oil changes, belts, hoses, coolant changes start to add up in expenses. I never could imagine how Jay Leno keeps all his fleet going. Well, he has people that do it for him.
Back to getting rich from old cars. During my last trip to Arizona, I had the opportunity to go junkyarding in Phoenix. The name of the place I visited is Hoctors Hidden Valley Auto Parts. Located about 20 miles due south of Phoenix in Maricopa, they have an inventory like I have never seen before.
There are acres and acres of old cars from the 1920s to the 1970s. The place is so big that it took me 1 1/2 hours to just look at the Chrysler B bodies on row 26 and 27. I saw cars that I have heard of but never seen. A 1959 Dodge Royal Custom four-door. A 1959 Plymouth Belvedere hard-top. A 1960 Dodge Matador two-door hard-top. There were lots of Dodge Darts and Chargers.
On my way to row 27 there were '56, '57, and '58 Buicks aplenty that looked good. The Cadillacs and all the GM stuff were in huge supply.
When I lived in Arizona from 1970 to 1980, I used to visit this same junkyard in Maricopa and it was pretty small. Now it's huge.
To get there, go south on I-5 toward Tucson. Get off on Maricopa Road and go south. Warning: there are lots of Highway Patrol on Maricopa Road. After about 15 miles, you will get to AZ-238. Head west and in another three miles you'll get to Rio-Bravo Road and you're there. Rio-Bravo Road is not paved and can be a bit rough. If you have loose teeth, drive slow.
For you Mapquest guys and girls, it's 21046 N. Rio-Bravo Road, Maricopa, AZ. They also have a website: www.hiddenvalleyautoparts.com.
Back when I was a local, we used to pack some food and adult beverages and spend hours out there in the old cars. Beware of rattlesnakes and gila monsters. Walk carefully and watch where you put your hands. It has been my experience that rattlesnakes and ground squirrels both like to live behind dashboards.
The owners of Hidden Valley probably believe old cars are better investments than stocks or bonds. Parts out at Hidden Valley are not cheap. They set a good price for what they have to offer. They can tell you over the phone if they have the vehicle and part that you need.
Of course, I'd rather visit a junkyard than call if I'm looking for a part. I like drifting through junkyards. I like the excitement of finding things. For me, that's entertainment, cheap. I very rarely call ahead.
I went out and found three 1962 Plymouths and several 1963s. They were well picked over but some treasures were still there.
There are a few of these yards left that allow the consumer to visit and enjoy. Even if you didn't have an old car, this is a neat place to visit.
To maintain or improve your restoration, sooner or later I think more will learn about Hidden Valley in Arizona. As inventory becomes more in demand, prices out there will increase. Old cars will always be good investments from the junkyard to the consumer.
Finally, a word about the management of Hidden Valley. After 20-plus years since my last visit, no one, of course, remembered me. Even though I bought nothing, everyone was friendly. I made some comments about Arizona in the 1970s and everyone wanted to remember that a 1962 Chevrolet Impala in good shape could be had for $1000 in those days.
Hidden Valley is a recommended spot for everyone who likes old parts.
Of the maintenance products I use, one of my favorites is Red Line WaterWetter. My supplier, Lee Guenveur III, Lee Guenveur's Performance Products & More, S. Pasadena, CA., sent me a bunch of written stuff on the product on my last order.
My friends Ron, Randy, Steve, and Terry also like Red Line WaterWetter simply because it works. What does it do? Quite simply, it lowers your coolant temperature in normal operation by about 10 degrees. How does it do it? If I would read Lee's material, I would know. But what I do know is that it works.
Years ago, out in Bakersfield, I was with the 07 Southwest Tour car and noticed them putting this pink stuff in the radiator. When I asked the crew chief about it, he said, "Everybody on the Tour uses it."
At this time, I had a '70 Pontiac Formula 400 that was like driving a rocket ship. It had power aplenty in a light car. The problem was it ran hot and with the air on in traffic overheating was pretty normal. On a hot day, even without the air conditioning on, there could be a problem.
It's really embarrassing to roll into a car show with steam pouring out.
Anyway, that's when I started with the WaterWetter and every car in my fleet is currently using it. I have never overheated any vehicle since — including the Corvette that cools from the bottom.
My buddies Ron, Randy, Steve, and Terry like to trade auto parts or breakfast for the Red Line product. All is well with this deal.
Two questions came in recently via the website in regard to restorations and maintenance. The first question was in regard to chrome and plating. The second was regarding car covers.
Before I begin, I will advise that these are my picks. These are companies that I have had good luck with in my own personal experience.
For bumpers and large chrome pieces, I like The Bumper Man in Los Angeles (not to be confused with nearby The Bumper Boyz or The Bumper Shop of California). For small parts: Sihilling Metal Polishing and Chrome in Santa Ana. Sihilling does beautiful pot metal.
As for car covers, this is what I recommend. Buy the softest, cheapest, lightest weight cotton cover you can get. A used one will normally work out after washing. Put this on your car first. Next, go to the swap meet and buy the cheapest waterproof car cover (they're normally blue in color) a size larger than you need. Put the blue one over the soft one and you're good.
I like to put extra eyes on the blue one to keep it from flapping in the wind.
The double-bag method is recommended for a car that is driven on the weekends or stored.
For the daily driver, the single stage premium cover from California Car Cover is your best bet. Some of my friends report good results with the "Noah" car cover for everyday.
Thanks for the questions and always feel free to comment on anything in this column.
Now is a wonderful time of the year in California to take care of the maintenance of vehicles, classic and daily drivers. It's not really hot or really cold. In fact, the hottest thing going is the election — and major league baseball.
Originally published in the November Automotive
Copyright 2004 by KAL Publications Inc.
Covering the California auto parts aftermarket since 1928.