After wrapping up the brake system tuneup on the 1949 Ford I started looking for the next challenge. Maybe for the first time since I bought the car, I didn’t see a good reason I couldn’t just drive it. For a 70-year-old car, it starts and runs with shocking reliability. Now that the brakes are all sorted out, it stops too. I wondered if I could manage to use this old car as my daily driver for a week. How would it fare on roads after seven decades of innovation?
First, a little about my car. I bought it in the summer of 2012. At the time I was working in a high-end exotic car restoration shop. Every day I saw magnificent machines, in various states of restoration. Year after year these cars stayed in the shop, away from their owners and off the road. The game was to create a car that simultaneously indistinguishable from a factory fresh example while being a cut above in every way possible.
That was NOT the kind of car I wanted. I looked for something I could drive now and fix up as I went. I found a car that was as far away from the cars at work as possible. What I landed on was a clapped out ’49 Ford, which I managed to drive home. Slowly, over the last seven years, I’ve improved the car a little at a time. If you’d like to read a more detailed account of the work I’ve done, you can visit my restoration blog here: aaronstarnes.com/blog
The lack of interior was the initial draw for me. It looked like a blank canvas on which I could learn to ply my intended trade. The exterior was a two-tone black and green and every panel had at least one rust hole. The engine, a 239 cubic-inch flathead V8 which had 100 horsepower when it was new. That’s backed up by a three-speed manual transmission with three forward speeds. The car has manual drum brakes all the way around and a top speed of about 70 mph. My mission for the week was to find out if this antiquated heap could hang in modern traffic.
The old car is a little awkward in parking lots because its turning radius is not that of a new car. It gets lots of smiles. I was pulling into a supermarket and a lady offered to trade for the car. I said, “what you got?” She said, “I’ll give you my husband for the car.” He looked strong and capable, but I thought I’d hang on to the car.
I looked forward to the commute to the shop. I left home and the mundane task of going to the bank was made more interesting because of the Ford. First gear has straight cut gears, which means you can’t down-shift to first unless the car is practically stopped. Even when stopped, about a third of the time you get an audible grind.
The wind noise is outrageous. It’s so loud. Probably because my interior is incomplete. I don’t have the appropriate weatherstripping for the doors or the windlace installed.
I turned right through an intersection and a guy hung halfway out of his driver’s window waving both arms and screaming about my car. I guess it was a compliment, but it looked like he was warning me about an engine fire.
The car just works. Drove home in the rain. Thank you rain-x! The wipers are terrible. They run off a vacuum system that uses the constantly fluctuating negative pressure from the engine’s intake manifold. They weren’t great from the factory and 70 years of wear have done them no favors. Plus, the driver’s side snapped off anyway.
The stakes are higher when you drive a car like this. It felt like riding a motorcycle because I was more vulnerable. It has no airbags, no ABS, no crumple zones, and no factory seatbelts. Old cars also have a charming reputation for impaling people with their steering columns during collisions. The only safety restraints in this car are 3 point belts that I installed myself, and I’m not an engineer.
I created an aluminum block-off plate to cover the hole in the firewall where the heater valve mounts. Hot air from the engine compartment would pour in through this hole. mine leaks. With this blocked off, the fresh air vents do a pretty good job of cooling the car. I also replaced a fuse for the tachometer and hooked up the speedometer cable.
I worked late this day, and the drive home after dark was lovely.
It’s always something with old cars. You either like it or you allow it to become a nuisance. My temp gauge read null on the way to work this morning. I didn’t worry about over-heating because the car had been so consistent all week. Looks like a wire came loose from the gauge pigtail I made.
It was cool and drizzling that evening after work and the drive home was pleasant.
This was the fulfillment of the dream I think anyone who buys an old car has. And that is to actually drive it around. This was the most amount miles I’ve ever put on it consecutively, about 200 miles including the commute and errands. It really never complained. It had a couple small issues, but never the catastrophic failure I half expected from the elderly powertrain. So, can you daily a 70-year-old car?
Of course you can. However, you have to limit your expectations to the car’s capabilities. My old Ford made me proud this week. But I had to adjust my driving style. Rather than taking the interstate, I left early and took back roads. You also have to account for looky-Lous and all the waving back you’ll have to do. Driving the car becomes an event. You’ll look forward to the commute, even if it is just to work and back.
Full disclosure: I did make one emergency trip to Ft. Worth from my shop to my upholstery supply store. The Ford could have made the 60-mile round trip but it would have taken half the day to get down there and back on back roads. My pickup can bomb down at 80 mph, in my truck that week.
Now in its seventh iteration, the Lexus ES is better than ever. The first ES came out three decades ago in 1989. Back then they were built on the Camry platform. The newest ES shares a platform with Toyota’s excellent Avalon. Has the Lexus treatment improved Toyota’s recipe?
This ES350 came off the assembly line in Georgetown, Kentucky sporting Ultrasonic Blue paint on its sheet metal skin. I was slow to warm up to the spindle grille, but now I think it looks pretty sharp.
The roofline makes an arc that sweeps gracefully from the base of the windshield, up over the four doors, and terminates beneath a spoiler on top of the deck lid. The chrome molding around the windows is a nice touch, and it just enough bling. 19 inch F-Sport alloy wheels finished in gray offer a nice contrast to the intense blue.
Lexus designers did a good job of developing the design theme on this car. Nothing looks out of proportion. And, rather wisely, they stayed away from a completely hard-edged motif. The problem with blocky designs for cars is that they’ll never be totally cohesive. There are certain elements that must be organic. Until we figure out square wheels, I fear we are beholden to at least some rounded features.
The gauge cluster in front of the driver mimics the hourglass shape of the grille. The driver’s feet are treated to aluminum pedals thanks to the F-Sport package. And everyone’s ears are treated to the 10 speaker Lexus premium sound system. The screen in the dash is lovely, both for its size, 12.3 inches, and its resolution. It’s also nice to see that Lexus has adopted Apple Carplay. I did notice a little distortion 10.2 inch wide heads up display, making this $500 option a questionable value. To be fair though, this is the first time I’ve noticed it in a Lexus product.
The build quality inside this ES is better than ever. And whether you like red skins on the seats or not, the excellent execution of these seats is undeniable. Everything you touch feels good. In the past, for whatever reason, Lexus’ shift knobs were never tight. They would always spin in your hand. After you buy this Lex though, you can tell all your friends about its nice tight knob.
There’s a lot to like inside, from the embossed headrests to the tasteful detail stitching on the dash and door panels. One particular detail I liked fixated on is the elegant shape of these door handles. It’s a small thing but it’s one we touch every time we drive. What can I say, I’m a sucker for hardware.
The ES350 has a 3.5 liter, dual overhead cam V8 that churns out 302 horsepower and makes a particularly mellifluous noise while doing it. It’s smart too. Variable valve timing allows this engine to switch between the Atkinson cycle, which holds the exhaust valves open just a bit longer for better fuel economy, and the old fashion Otto cycle for power. Passing power is excellent but don’t you try any shenanigans in this car.
Even with all the nanny controls turned off the Lexus slaps your wrist if you flat foot it from a stop. This car has the power to lay parallel rubber lines for half a city block. But Lexus engineers didn’t think that was an essential part of a luxury car’s disposition. When the traction control takes hold it doesn’t just turn down the volume, it shuts down the party and sends everybody home. Rather than tapering off the power it shuts it down pretty abruptly. I mean, what’s the point of having all those ponies under the hood and enduring the so-so fuel economy if you can’t let them run?
The ES350 is exceptionally quiet and comfortable to ride it. It has a truck-load of bells and whistles to keep occupants safe too. Radar cruise, airbags crammed into every cranny, pre-collision system, the gang is all here. Plus the F-Sport trim comes with tuned suspension including performance dampers.
The MSRP on a new ES350 is $44,035. But if you want the F-Sport trim all gussied up like this test car, it’ll set you back $52,904. That’s a considerable pile of scratch. But if it must be luxurious and it must be Japanese, then perhaps it must be this car. If I were in the market, I’d probably go with the ES300h hybrid rather than be teased by that great lump of power under the hood that I can’t use. Perhaps there was a hiccup during my transition from being a child to adulthood, but I don’t like being told what to do, even by a car. Realistically though, who would buy a buttoned-down, mid-sized luxury sedan to do something as juvenile and uncouth as turning tires into white smoke?