The more modern a car gets, the more complicated it gets. When you buy a new car today you know that it has a lifespan limited to around ten years. Because at some point in will need some sort of electronic box which will cost far more than the car is worth. There are of course exceptions to the rule. An Enzo or a Maclaren will obviously merit the expense of keeping them running. But how much is it going to cost to keep a Ferrari 430 on the road. Will they become sale-proof while their granddaddy, the 328, continues to appreciate?
The wonderful era of the mid sixties to the early seventies saw many breathtaking designs, but also metal that, if it has not been repaired, you can breathe through. Ever seen a neglected 60s Ferrari ? These cars came from a time period where scrap metal was badly re-cycled and modern rust-protection methods had either not been dreamed up or were considered too expensive. Why would the buyer of a new 250 GTE be worried about whether it would be falling apart fifteen years later. He would have sold it long before. And don’t imagine that just because an Aston Martin has an aluminum body it is immune. The aluminium was patched onto steel subframes with the resultant electrolysis rotting both the metal and the alloy.
Which brings us to cars of the thirties and fifties. Real chassis, real non-recycled steel, proper craftsmanship. As long as they haven’t been left outside to rot for years, these cars really do stand the test of time. A case in point was the Delahaye 235 with body by Figoni that we recently acquired. The car is 55 years old. For the last ten years it had been hibernating in the corner of a garage with no thought of any maintenance. Apart from a re-paint at some point, the car is all original.
We changed the engine and gearbox oil, rebuilt the fuel pump (which took 20 minutes and 20 euros), drained and flushed the fuel tank, put a new battery in place, held our breath and pushed the button. And hey presto, the old girl sprang to life, completely shrugging off ten years of slumber. Cable operated brakes meant that we didn’t have to re-build the hydraulics. The car runs and drives wonderfully.
And the body ? Well, a very small amount of purely surface corrosion on the underside of the floorpans, the sort you can almost rub off with your fingers. The body itself shows no sign whatsoever of rust and the doors close perfectly, with perfect shut lines, just as she came out of the Figoni workshop.
I’m not saying that all cars from the thirties and fifties will be like this. The older the car gets, the more likely that some or all of the wood skeleton for the body will need repairs or complete replacement. And the best metal will eventually need attention, especially if the car has been well used. But in general, cars from this époque were made to last. And if they have been reasonably cared for, can often be in surprisingly good condition.