TRAVERSE CITY, United States – Twenty-nine-year-old Jonathan Klinger is on a mission to prove that vintage cars belong on the road, not in the museum.
Klinger is an antique car buff who works as public relations manager for Hagerty Insurance, a Traverse City, Mich., company that specializes in insuring collector cars. One day, he and his boss got to talking about some of the common misconceptions people have about antique cars.
“They think they’re unreliable and hard to repair,” he explained. “And they think you have to be a millionaire to buy one because they watch all of the car auctions on television that focus on the high end of the market.”
To show people just how affordable, dependable – and enjoyable – antique cars can be, Klinger put his 1999 Ford Explorer into storage and vowed to spend 365 days behind the wheel of a 1930 Model A, which his boss purchased for $11,000.
“The Model A is exactly what Henry Ford wanted it to be,” he said. “It’s a simple, reliable, easy-to-use vehicle that virtually anybody could drive.”
Klinger says he made very few modifications to the car because he wanted to keep it as close to stock as possible. For safety, he installed radial tires, seatbelts and safety glass.
The cold, snowy winter in Traverse City presented a challenge, but Klinger says the Model A didn’t disappoint.
“I was pleasantly surprised with how well the car handles in the snow and how well it started when it was cold,” he said. “And while many people think the skinny tires are a disadvantage in the snow, it’s actually the opposite. The wider the tire, the more it spreads out the weight and the less traction you get per square inch. The narrow tires slice through the snow.”
Another benefit in the snow is the extra ground clearance the car provides.
“If you think about what things were like back in the 1930s, there were mostly dirt roads so the vehicles had to be a lot higher,” he said.
Klinger says he makes his daily 14-mile commute to work with ease. The route is along a winding rural road where the top speed is 45. Long-distance trips, however, required an adjustment.
“The Model A cruises comfortably at 50 mph, and it’ll top out at 60, but that’s really pushing it. That means taking back roads and staying off the interstate,” he said.
The longest trip Klinger has taken so far is a 14-hour journey to Illinois. With no freeway driving, the usual seven-hour trip takes double the time. But Klinger has found the silver lining in that potential cloud.
“Think about why a lot of people despise road trips. They’re primarily on the highway and every exit looks the same so it’s a really boring drive,” he said. “When you’re on the back country roads, that’s when you start coming across smaller towns with a lot of neat old buildings, farms and ‘mom and pop’ restaurants. So the trip becomes more about the journey than the destination.”
Klinger says some of the things that make the Model A different from the cars of today – i.e. no power steering or power brakes – have made him a better driver.
“This car doesn’t have the stopping ability that today’s cars have, and it doesn’t go as fast, so you won’t ever see me driving really close to someone on the road because if they slammed their brakes I would never be able to stop in time,” he said. “And I guarantee that you’ll never see anybody driving a Model A with a Blackberry in one hand and steering with their knee.”
He says he’s learned to enjoy life in the slow lane.
“I think it’s okay to let some of the distractions go for a while,” he said. “I don’t have the radio because there is no radio, and I’m not looking at my Blackberry because I have to keep both hands on the wheel. It forces you to unwind just a little bit.”
Klinger has been chronicling his adventures in the Model A in a daily blog at www.365daysofa.com. He plans to celebrate the end of the year-long project in October at the annual Hershey Swap Meet in Pennsylvania.
At the end of the day, he says he’s just trying to prove an important point.
“These cars are nice to look at, but they were designed and manufactured to be driven, and they deserve to be driven,” he said.