Owning an old car is different from owning a new car in many ways, which is precisely why I purchased my 1978 Datsun 280Z two years ago. I wanted to drive something that felt completely apart from the brand new vehicles I had in my driveway every week as a car reviewer.
Unfortunately, one of the more troublesome aspects of old car ownership is actually administrative, rather than practical. I’m talking about insurance. As you’re probably aware, insurance companies are loathe to make exceptions to their elegantly balanced actuarial tables, and that includes writing policies for vehicles located well outside the mainstream. While a number of specialized insurance companies operate in the classic car segment, coverage from these quarters can often come with mileage or use restrictions, making the path to legally driving on the road tricky to negotiate.
My existing insurance provider was willing to cover my Datsun, with no specific dos or don’ts when it came to driving, but only if I was willing to get an independent evaluation done in order to come up with a replacement value for the vehicle. I can understand the reasoning behind this, because not all owners are realistic when it comes to linking their car’s value to the actual market, and there’s the genuine risk of fraud associated with insuring a total rust bucket for a high dollar amount.
In the Montreal area, where I live, there’s really only one company that’s authorized to do these types of evaluations – PG Évaluation. Dutifully, I made my appointment and waited for the time when the professional evaluator would darken my garage door and get down to the business of tearing my car apart, piece by piece, in search of flaws, imperfections, and other problems.
If you ever have to get your car evaluated for insurance, I highly recommend you spend the one or two hours it takes locked in a separate room where you can’t hear or see the person with the clipboard walking in circles around your vehicle. Nothing good can come from witnessing a total stranger tabulate the list of sins that have yet to be dealt with on your classic, especially if that person’s point of view is completely out of sync with what you are trying to accomplish with your build.
Let me explain. My Datsun is essentially my track car, and while I’ve dumped too much money into it, 90 percent of that hides beneath the chassis where it’s almost impossible to see. The rest of the car has been given a very specific aesthetic – that of a weekend racer that would have been driven to the track in the late 70s or early 80s Japan, ridden hard, and then put away wet. I’ve pulled the bumpers off the car, it has mismatched mirrors, a cracked dashpad, and non-factory rims sporting R compound rubber. There’s also visible surface corrosion underneath where the bumper used to be at the back and unfilled mounting holes front and rear. This is all by design – not laziness. It’s how I want the car to look.
I knew there was going to be a problem when the absolute first thing the evaluator said to me when I opened up the garage was, ‘oh, I see you’re still not done with the restoration,’ and pointed directly at the rust I just mentioned. It’s here that the disconnect between PG Évaluation and how I wanted my car to look became abundantly clear, and regardless of how many times I explained to the evaluator that the vehicle was aesthetically complete, would never be restored, and was designed to be driven on the track. His one attempt at bridging the gap was his clueless declaration that ‘I have a 1970 Ford Mustang, but I would never put it on the track, because it’s too hard on the car.’
Would it be possible for someone to evaluate my car from any more wrong-headed of a perspective than that one? This person – a professional – couldn’t conceive of someone actually driving their classic outside of cruise nights and car shows, and yet was charged with determining the market value of my vehicle, one that had been built with an entirely different purpose in mind.
Even worse, I completely understood why this person had the attitude that they did. Over the last decade, the proliferation of televised auctions, network pickers, restoration and hot rod shop dramas, and speculative investors have created a world where striving to own anything less than a #5 fully-restored trailer queen is somehow tantamount to heresy. People like myself who are interested in actually driving – and tracking – their classics find themselves on the outskirts of the hobby as Boomers pay big bounties for high school dream rides that will spend most of their lives being polished with a diaper in between concourse events or ice cream runs.
Building a car for ‘me’ meant doing everything the way I want it done and not having to worry about justifying it to someone else…until I was forced to justify it to someone else to get the documentation required to legally register it. Being smacked in the face with what the mainstream considers ‘the one true way’ to own a car, and being unable to sidestep this group-think, made me that much happier the next time I was behind the wheel, knowing that some of those stares from the sidewalk, or the next lane, were likely ones of disapproval.
Bring it on.