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Matt Harwood

Tips for conducting an old car tour

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Most of you, I'll assume, have been on a car tour with your antique or Classic car. If it went well, you had a great leader who did everything right. Sadly, I'm finding that it's increasingly rare to succeed like that so I thought I'd offer some tips for those of you who might be considering organizing a day tour or weekend outing for old cars.

 

Over the past three weeks, we've done three day tours, which were really rolling car shows. Meet up somewhere, drive in formation to a few hospitals and retirement homes, honk and wave, go home. But all three were frustrating simply because the organizers overlooked the basics or didn't take some factors into account or just didn't manage it correctly. These tips aren't aimed specifically at them, but they are a result of seeing problems in action while we were trying to participate. 

 

1. Drive a reasonable speed. If you're in a modern(ish) car, remember there might be older cars that can't go 75 MPH on the highway. This is not really a problem in my experience. The actual problem is going WAY too slow. That may seem like a non-issue, but on all three of these outings, the tour leader at the head of the line went so slow in an attempt to keep the whole group together that it caused all kinds of new problems. At one point we were on a two-lane country road with a posted 50 MPH speed limit and my speedometer showed 11 MPH (remember, my car reads 6 MPH slow). I put my car in 1st gear and let it idle and I still had to ride the brakes. Meanwhile, traffic is backing up behind us with people trying to go about their daily lives. We motored along that way for maybe 15 minutes. Not cool. This is probably a flat-out awesome way to make the general public hate old cars and think they're slow death traps that can't be used in the modern world. There's also the problem of cooling, brakes, and clutches at that speed. Two older cars, a Model A and a 1935 Ford, dropped out before the second stop today due to the insanely low speeds and stop-start that resulted, wreaking havoc on their cooling systems.

 

Riley took these photos from near the back of the line of one of the tours. He was in the back of Melanie's Chrysler wagon, which has pretty modern performance. She was incredibly frazzled by the time we reached the first stop. Going slow can be scary, too.

 

Slow.thumb.jpg.3f4f9a91b877aae2f6428100fe8a7d6e.jpg

Photo taken on a 50 MPH road. Actual speed, under 20 MPH.

The '32 Buick is second from last in line. Note the traffic backing up

in the distance. NONE of them were happy to see old cars on the road

that day. The Buick was the oldest car on the tour and can cruise at

50 MPH without issues. There's just no need to drive at parade speeds.

 

Liberty1.thumb.jpg.a48517fc147d6b456e94cefec1cccbf6.jpg

Creeping through the hills at 20 MPH. No 

momentum to get up the hill, and downright 

terrifying on the way down because the tour

leader was riding his brakes to keep everyone

together at 20 MPH. Cars bunched up, brakes

got hot, and it was scary as well as frustrating.

 

We have to remember that people will think old cars are cool until we start to screw up their day. Just go the speed limit, more or less, and count on everyone else to keep up. There aren't many old cars on these outings that can't comfortably run at 35-40 MPH. Go an appropriate speed and let the slower cars manage themselves--they're used to it anyway.

 

And if you're really concerned about people getting lost, give us addresses for each stop so if we do get separated we can punch it into our phones and at least get there to rejoin.

 

Also, it probably goes without saying that the tour leader should not stop to let everyone catch up right in the middle of a road, which happened several times today. Trust the people in the other cars to be able to figure it out, unless you've completely failed at rule #2...

 

2. Make good directions. If you are familiar with the area, pretend that you're not because there might be tricky areas that you don't spot simply because you're familiar with them. If you're downloading instructions from the internet, say on Google Maps, drive the route a few times to be sure it's navigable by old cars. Lots of highway driving, congested areas, or construction zones are no-nos. Again, this seems obvious but last week's tour required about 10 miles of high-speed highway driving with traffic, and that was a problem for, say, the 1912 Cadillac that was with us. Just because your "collector car" is a 1987 Lincoln, don't assume everyone has that much performance on tap. 

 

Also, try to add landmarks to your directions. Mileage indications are useful, but odometers can be inconsistent, so add landmarks both to warn people that a turn is coming as well as along the way when nothing is happening so that people can verify that they are on the right path. One of our instructions today, for instance, was, "Follow the curves and when the road goes straight, turn left." Um, what? They were trying to say that there was a left turn branching off the main road, which was kind of making a right turn, but it was confusing as hell and a lot of cars shot right past. How about a street name at least? Landmarks, street names, and other indicators can be extremely useful. When Melanie and I make a tour, we often take photos of large landmarks and include them in the directions so people know what to look for. 

 

3. Be aware of your surroundings and react. For a while last week, I was second in line following the tour leader, who was in a modern car (PT Cruiser convertible LOL). There was a long downhill run and he simply rode his brakes all the way down at about 20 MPH. I suppose modern brakes can handle that. On the other hand, those of us in the 5200-pound limousine with 80-year-old brakes were white-knuckling it all the way down the hill terrified that we were either going to plow into the car ahead of us or the brakes were going to catch on fire, even with the transmission howling in 2nd gear. Again, PLEASE take into account the capabilities of the cars around you and drive appropriately. The PT Cruiser could have scooted ahead to give the old cars behind him some room without losing the group at the bottom of the hill. He owns several old cars, including a Pierce-Arrow, so he knows all about old car brakes. THINK!

 

4. If you need photos of the event, please appoint someone else to do it. The tour leader today stopped every time we were about to turn into a retirement home driveway, waved everyone AROUND his car, and took photos of the line of cars as they maneuvered around him. Meanwhile, radiators are getting steamy, we often had to pull into oncoming traffic to go around his car, local traffic is being blocked, and, well, it's just a mistake to stop like that. Have someone zoom ahead to each stop and take the photos instead.

 

5. When you have the chance to merge into traffic, TAKE IT. Last week we sat for about 15 minutes at a right turn because the tour leader was waiting for a large enough opening in traffic for ALL the cars to make the turn. Not going to happen. JUST GO. We'll catch up and hopefully traffic will see what's going on and not make too much congestion. If you did rule #2 well, everyone will eventually catch up.

 

6. If you've got some horsepower, don't be afraid to use it. I don't mean do something stupid like spin the tires, but there was an old guy today in a 1970 Oldsmobile 442, and he drove that thing like it had 20 horsepower. He slept through the first 10 seconds of every green light and accelerated slower than someone in an electric wheelchair. Meanwhile, everyone behind him has now missed the light or the turn and clutches are getting torn up. Yes, there are probably some slow cars on the tour, but if you can scoot along at normal traffic speeds and get out of the way, it'll help everyone keep up and make a smoother drive. Just keep moving with the flow. Creeping along because you think you need to go as slow as the slowest car isn't helping and can make for dangerous situations. The slow guys can handle themselves, I promise.

 

And this last suggestion is for everyone on the drive, organizers and participants alike: PLEASE PAY ATTENTION. Don't just fall asleep and follow the car in front of you like a zombie. At one stop today there was a circular driveway around the courtyard of a rest home. We circled it and then were supposed to exit to the right. Well, at one point, a car died in the circle and by the time he got it going again, the line ahead of him had already pulled out of sight. He saw old cars pulling in, and just followed them to the left, back into the circle. And then the guy behind him followed him. Pretty soon we were locked in an ouroboros of idiots in automobiles where nobody could move because it was totally gridlocked. Come on, guys! You're grown men smart enough to make enough money to buy an old car. Surely you can figure this simple stuff out. I just couldn't believe my eyes as I watched them stupidly continue to pile into the lane and jam us all in place. Two cars had to drive across the grass to break the gridlock and open the path again. It was soooo stupid.

 

This isn't hard, I guess, but if you're inexperienced maybe this will be helpful. If you're an experienced tour participant, maybe help where you can. Melanie sometimes gets out to direct traffic when people get mentally mushy and I occasionally will block an intersection with the giant car to clear a clog. All it really takes is a little bit of extra thought to make everything smooth and easy. 

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Oh Matt, you silly boy. You're expecting common sense.

But still, a great write up....................Bob

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Posted (edited)

While above offers some great advise, many of the concerns mentioned is why I prefer to enjoy my vintage driving either by myself or with no more than 2-3 other cars, all which must to be operated by somewhat experienced vintage car drivers possessing reasonable amount of common sense (I know latter is a lot to ask, but...).

Larger the group, more chances for idiocrisy (sp ?).

 

OTOH, I've seen most of the aforementioned illogical driving behavior daily in everyday traffic for past 40 years, so nothing unusual or specific to old car touring... 

Edited by TTR (see edit history)

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Thank you Matt! I have organized many tours locally as well as  hundreds of miles from home. KEEP MOVING is the answer and as you state at a reasonable speed. The general public will only remember the inconvenience to them of slow old cars all grouped together. Everything you state is spot on. 

Walt

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Matt excellent write-up. How's your blood pressure?

 

Charley

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Good stuff! Been too long since I did any significant touring, but I used to do a lot, and remember many times things were done very well! And a few times when not so well.

 

As for the guys with the really slow cars knowing what they are doing? A long-time member of the HCCA regional group I belong to, for many years (until his '11 big Buick became roadworthy) had only a beautiful one cylinder Cadillac that he drove on lots of big car tours. He would call the tour leader days ahead of time, find out all the starts and stops and routes. Then get his maps, find a few shortcuts, and make his way. He would arrive at the starting point first, and just about when the first of other cars showed up, let them know, and head out on his own. Usually, he would stay close to the tour route, and the rest of the club would catch and pass him as he crawled safely along the back road shoulder. Usually, the rest of the club would get to the lunch stop first, and he would wander in a few minutes later, grab a quick bite and be the first back out on the road. A little later, the club would pass him again. But a shortcut or two would keep him somewhere nearby (remember, this was before cell phones were common!). The tour leader was usually informed of his shortcuts, but I cannot remember anyone ever having to go out looking for him. Sometimes he would be the first one back to the final destination (usually where the trailers were parked), sometimes he would pull in a few minutes later. I would bet he put nearly twenty thousand miles on that little Cadillac in about ten years.

 

As for things like google maps and driving the route beforehand? NEVER absolutely trust any of the map services, especially when antique automobiles are involved. We live in an out-of-the-way corner off a main highway, our house is the last one on a "not-a-through" street. Several of the mapping services show our driveway as a through street to the road behind us! Fortunately, because of our out of the way corner, it doesn't happen a lot. But still, ten years after the mapping services became common? About once a month, SOMEONE drives down our driveway (after two "not-a-through-street" signs, and one "private driveway" sign) gets confused, and turns around trying to find their way out. There are also two other non-existent roads in our immediate neighborhood showing on some of the mapping services. By the way, our house is on a hillside, and it is about a thirty foot drop from our driveway to the road behind us.

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1 hour ago, 60FlatTop said:

Good information on driving in formation.

 

 

i-see-what-5c39e1.jpg

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Yesterday the Bay Area Regional Group of HCCA did a local tour with 11 cars, most of which were not brass but were, at least, pre-war.  It went generally well, but we had one instance of following-the-car-in-front the wrong way combined with an unclear direction.  Some further comments from almost 60 years of doing this stuff:

 

Before the event, a blank-slate person (i.e. someone not present for the initial route layout) runs the FIRST DRAFT route and makes corrections or clarifications before publication.  Agree with using both landmarks AND odometer readings.

 

Don't make it a convoy!  Calif, for example, limits convoys to FIVE vehicles per "stick."  (In 1976, I was convoy commander of 35 US Army Reserve vehicles, from M151s (jeeps) to a 5-ton wrecker, from San Jose area to the 29 Palms Marine Corps base in Mojave Desert --and back--for 2 weeks of "camping out."  Yes, you can herd cats.)  Slow cars depart first, faster cars toward the end due to the "snap the whip" effect.  Our nickel group usually had the 1917 Franklin leave stops 15 minutes early and it usually arrived 15 minutes later than any other car. 

 

If you're slow, don't be reluctant to pull over and let others pass you.  For everyone, when you spot some angry twit in modern behind you, pull over and let him/her go.

 

Designate one vehicle as the chase car for breakdown assistance.  THAT car will stop to help.  Stopped cars use thumbs up/down to communicate to overtaking cars whether they do /do not need assistance.  Of course, if the stopped car is puking coolant or has a visibly flat tire, or has flames coming out of the hood, the thumbs down signal may not be necessary.

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Matt, I read this and groaned out loud.  When I got back into old cars 21 years ago after a 24-year layoff, I started with a Model A Ford because I’d once had one and think they’re neat cars.  I joined both Northern NJ and both national Model A clubs.  AND HATED THEM!  They had no idea how to enjoy an old car tour.  They toured in a snake, nose to tail, and it was a mortal sin to stop to take a picture.  I sold the Model A, got into brass, and have been having a blast ever since. Our HCCA tours assume that cars are comfortable at different speeds.  Some brass cars cruise comfortably at 23 mph and climb hills at 9 mph; some cruise at 45 and climb at 40.  Everybody gets a detailed set of instructions (some tourmasters are better at this than others!) and we tour at different speeds.  We’re told when lunch will start, and the starting time of anything that isn’t flexible (like a boat ride or a train ride).  Every driver should be able to figure out when to start, given the performance of his or her car and what speed s/he and the car are comfortable with.  Sometimes a few cars will bunch up for a while, but the slow ones pull over to let faster antiques and moderns pass.  And we have separate, shorter tours just for one-and two-cylinder cars and small steamers. I have planned many days’ routes.  I start with a computer program called Map My Fitness; it’s designed for hikers and bikers.  (There are other, similar plans that some route planners prefer.)  I look for back roads, and for safe places to cross major roads.  I look at the topographic map in hilly country to avoid the hairiest parts, especially steep downhill stops.  Then I go out in a modern car and drive my own instructions.  I learn where the computer says I should turn onto County Road 16 but the sign says Smith St., or maybe there’s no sign at all and I have to say First Right After Mailbox 974.  I learn where something that looked like a stop sign on the computer really was a light.  I learn where a direction would put early cars in danger, and find an alternative (or prominently warn them if there isn’t one).  And I find where I said to turn right where I meant to say to turn left (yes, it happens).  When I get home, I rewrite the instructions incorporating what I’ve learned.  And then I send them to another club member and ask him or her to drive the route and find the stupidities I missed.  Usually, on tour day, there are only one or two remaining ambiguities. Sometimes there are places you just shouldn’t go in an early car.  Several years ago, a Model T tour was put onto the DC Beltway with a left exit.  When confronted by irate tourists, the tourmaster said that was the only route to that destination.  So don’t go there, you bloody idiot!  I wasn’t there; if I had been, I might have shoved a screwdriver into the guy’s hood.

Gil Fitzhugh the Elder

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Gil, well said, but even though you have the route checked the week before, things can change. I know of what I speak! A property owner repainted his barn from red to blue and that happened to be a major clue on the route toward our luncheon meal. There were some unhappy and hungry people at the end of the day. I found that a map sealed in an envelope is often a good idea. If unopened, you have great tourers, if opened the laughter is unending.

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25 minutes ago, Grimy said:

Yesterday the Bay Area Regional Group of HCCA did a local tour with 11 cars, most of which were not brass but were, at least, pre-war. 

 

What is their cutoff date?

 

 

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Gil's advice is SPOT ON !!

 

We tour extensively, and have done so since the 1960s.

 

What Gil notes is also applicable to touring with newer cars, as well as with a mixed group. As long as every car has a WELL-WRITTEN set of directions, a nagrivator, the address of each destination with specific times for the meals and other stops - DO NOT OVERCOMPILCATE. Each will drive at their own comfortable rate. If one vehicle is on the side of the road, no not have a dozen other stop. They may be doing photography - or looking at directions - or taking a phone call. Encourage every car to use the "THUMBS-DOWN" if they want someone to stop and help / "THUMBS-UP" if they do not need additional help. This avoids traffic jams and other problems.

 

Try driving a national tour with AACA, VMCCA, CCCA, HCCA, VCCA, BCA, and get the feel for how tours should be organized. Rick Marsh has a CD explaining how to plan and organize a tour. Youn reach him by contacting AACA National Headquarters and leave a request for him to get back with you.

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12 minutes ago, 3makes said:

Gil, well said, but even though you have the route checked the week before, things can change. I know of what I speak! A property owner repainted his barn from red to blue and that happened to be a major clue on the route toward our luncheon meal. There were some unhappy and hungry people at the end of the day. I found that a map sealed in an envelope is often a good idea. If unopened, you have great tourers, if opened the laughter is unending.

 

During our drive from Asheville to Dearborn on the 1996 Glidden Tour one of the notes (besides the interval and cumulative mileages) was to turn left at the "BIG CHICKEN'. When we arrives at the location, the restaurant, along with the chicken was in process of demolition - and we were running early, with Bob & Betty Thurstone following us in their 1930 Packard.

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11 minutes ago, Bloo said:

What is their cutoff date?

For participation in HCCA National events, the car must have been built before January 1, 1916.  The Regional Groups can set their own cut-off dates.  I'm a member of three separate RGs, all of which allow 1916-and-later.  I don't own a HCCA-eligible car at all (oldest is 1918), so--obviously--I can't drive one of mine on a National tour.  We had one member on this tour who drove a 1956 Range Rover because his 1920s Lincoln was sidelined.

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I am familiar with the 1916 cutoff for national tours. I was wondering what regional cutoff dates look like these days. I am currently driving a 1936.

 

I do own a national tour eligible car, a 1913 Studebaker, but it is not really ready for any out-of-state jaunts at the moment.

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4 minutes ago, Bloo said:

I was wondering what regional cutoff dates look like these days

Check with the RG(s) in your area.  It's their individual choice/call.  I'll bet a request to drive your Pontiac would be better received if you say that your 1913 Studebaker is undergoing work.  Likely they'd prefer that to a 2019 Whatsit.

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Bloo - Regional Groups can set their own rules and allow up to WWII.  Some do, some don't.  The North Jersey and Susquehanna Valley regions allow later cars on some of their one-day tours, but not on multi-day tours.  The Autoneers is strictly pre-16.  Groups in sparsely-settled areas tend to be more liberal.  And even the stricter groups wink a bit.  The president of the North Jersey RG has a two-cylinder Ford, but it's not tourworthy yet.  On our three day Jersey Shore tour in early May, for one-and two-cylinder cars, he comes in a single-cylinder Isetta built in 1958!  A few curmudgeons harrumph, but mostly it's all good!  There are also Affiliated Registers of makes that started before 1916 but continued later; examples are Velie and Winton.  Sometimes they have a gathering, and any car of that make is welcome regardless of year of manufacture.

 

Gil Fitzhugh the Elder

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What Gil said about the model A clubs triggered a few memories, not good ones. Even though I have been playing with antique automobiles since before I was old enough to get a driver's license, I was quite unhappy about 25 years ago when we got stuck behind a string of about twenty model A Fords. We were headed in modern car to visit family nearly 300 miles away, much of the way on back highways through canyons and mountains. On a long stretch of mostly two lane highway, were were stuck behind that line of model A Fords for almost fifty miles, at 25 mph! There were many places to pull over, about four small towns. Almost no places to pass. 

And besides, I drive my model Ts faster than that!

Even good antique automobile people can be angered by bad manners. Just imagine what the other couple hundred modern car drivers stuck behind them were thinking.

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I always thought it was too bad that many people never get to see the other cars in the tour on the road.   When I was tourmaster one summer I did a local all in town tour.  I laid out four routes.  Each participating car was given a route as they left the lot. You could not follow the car that just left because he went in a different direction.  Five time during the tour you met or crossed paths with other old cars on the same tour.  Most people enjoyed meeting other cars at four way stops or meeting them going the opposite direction.  Several people were totally lost as there was no one to follow.  Several of the lost ones tore open the envelope telling them where coffee was and joined us.  Several were so mad they suggested I should never be allowed to be tourmaster again.

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Tinindian -  We do that sometimes, but I don't recall ever doing it in a town.  Let's say you have an afternoon tour with two destinations, and plenty of time to visit both of them.  But you've got a 60-car tour, and neither of the destinations can accommodate that big a crowd.  So you have two tours, A and B, and one visits the destination in one order, and the other tour reverses it.  In between destinations, the A cars will approach and pass the B cars (or is it the other way - I'm old and get confused).  You'll see close to half the tour cars on the road coming at you, generally on a country road.  It's a sight you rarely get.

 

Last year's HCCA president decided people felt inferior if they were put in the B group.  So now we have Group A and Group I (one).  I guess if we needed to split the tour three ways, we could have a Group Alpha.

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11 hours ago, wayne sheldon said:

What Gil said about the model A clubs triggered a few memories, not good ones. Even though I have been playing with antique automobiles since before I was old enough to get a driver's license, I was quite unhappy about 25 years ago when we got stuck behind a string of about twenty model A Fords. We were headed in modern car to visit family nearly 300 miles away, much of the way on back highways through canyons and mountains. On a long stretch of mostly two lane highway, were were stuck behind that line of model A Fords for almost fifty miles, at 25 mph! There were many places to pull over, about four small towns. Almost no places to pass. 

And besides, I drive my model Ts faster than that!

Even good antique automobile people can be angered by bad manners. Just imagine what the other couple hundred modern car drivers stuck behind them were thinking.

 

Wayne is correct !!

 

We always advise that drivers of "SLOWER" cars, and those of tour cars "DRIVING SLOWLY", to find the first convenient Pull-Off whenever there is modern traffic behind them. The few moments delay to their personal progress is minimal when compared to the delay, frustration, anger, resentment, building up in the minds of those doing business, heading to work, or otherwise continuing with their active plans.

 

Remember, the ones we inconvenience are the ones who can legislate us off the road !

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Last years vintage tour in Kingston we found that one of the roads close to Lake Ontario was flooded. We had to glue in a few lines over the old directions as the tour book was already printed. So it is important to check tour roads before the tour as Marty says. 

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Another point to have a successful tour is that we are all getting older and should have a coffee / rest stop  1/2 to 1 hr after the start of tour. You have to make it an enjoyable day where the folks want to converse as well as drive. Then a point of interest in the after noon again for a pit stop with something to see or ice cream. 

But remember all the ladies are not interested in viewing car collections every day like the guys do. So on the vintage tour we listed a couple of interesting out of the way village hardware stores that sold everything from canoes to dresses to crafts. Also with these types of points of interest you will create the gaps in the line of cars.

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Travelling in a tight group on busy roads is a fools game.  Clear directions allows you to tour on your own, enjoy the drive and arrive at the next stop in a good mood. Stressed out people are not fun to tour with. We are blessed with many back roads in Alberta where we don't interfere with regular folks. 

161a (39).jpg

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