Has the Fuel Economy Killed the Classic Cars?

Monday, March 31, 2014

As car owners become more aware of the damage that pollution does to the planet, and as financial pressure piles up, many car buyers now prioritise fuel economy when choosing a new vehicle. The classic argument is that fuel economy is mostly a function of the weight of a vehicle: those made from thinner modern steel are lighter and tend to use the least fuel, while those classic cars made of old 1960s and 1970s parts tend to be fuel-heavy.

So has vehicle buyers' preference for fuel economy killed the classic car?

Owners of classic cars dispute this strongly, and they might, at least in part, have a point.

Fuel Economy

  • The first thing to remember is that your driving habits can increase your vehicle's fuel efficiency substantially. For example, use overdrive gearing to slow down the engine, stay in higher gears without lugging the engine, avoid idling, avoid speeding, do not accelerate and stop suddenly, just to name a few. Interestingly, the annual world title for the most fuel economic driver is usually won by drivers in somewhat older cars who pride themselves on their economical driving skills.

  • In addition to driving habits, fuel efficiency can be improved by ensuring that the vehicle is technically optimised for fuel efficiency. For example, regularly check tire pressure and wheel alignment, drive on an appropriate air/fuel mixture, check the vacuum fuel pump for leaks and replace it if the steel is inappropriate for modern fuels, have carbon cleaned from the engine and regularly check and replace the spark plugs, rotor, condenser and distributor cap. A properly tuned up classic vehicle, regardless of its size and weight, can have even better fuel economy than a poorly maintained modern vehicle.

  • Governments worldwide prescribe an average fuel economy for car manufacturer’s entire fleet. This has caused some anxiety among supporters of classic models. However, these rules do allow the vehicles below that economy to be sold, as long as the whole fleet's average is right. As a result, instead of scrapping such models, manufacturers have simply re-designed them to increase their fuel efficiency.


  • Ethanol, which constitutes an increasing amount of our fuel, does threaten pre-1990 manufactured cars. It firstly lowers fuel efficiency from three to ten per cent. This means that, with time, hybrid or electric cars will become more fuel efficient than their older counterparts. The other problem is that ethanol corrodes the fuel systems of older cars, such as their think gas tanks and steel fuel lines. Drivers with pre-1990 cars may need to have the materials replaced from which these systems are made, which is expensive.

So if you have a classic car, maximizing fuel economy might be tough considering the new fuel economy ways.