Filed under: Hot Rods
So a friend of mine… a friend of ours… a friend of yours… just found out that he is about to be a dad. He doesn’t own a late model car, drives an old car every day, and emailed me looking for advice. As the father of three (7, 4, 8-months), I consider myself a bit of an expert when it comes to daily driving old cars with kids. And so I thought I would write up a little article describing the joys and pitfalls of doing just that.
For the past four years, I’ve been driving old cars daily almost exclusively. Part of my day is spent dropping off and picking up my kids from school and because I have kids of such varying ages (7 years old to 8-months), the car I drive has to be set up for all sorts of different types of car seats and restraints.
My ’39 sedan had provisions for rear-seatbelts already installed. It was a simple crossmember with bungs welded in to accept the belt ends. I added u-bolts (spaced 11″ apart) to this setup that acted as provisions for the LATCH system. With these in place, I could securely latch in a child’s car seat when in need, but nothing was visible when the seats were out. It was ideal and worked on anything from a rearward-facing baby seat to a forward-facing toddler seat. And once my 7-year old reached the appropriate age/weight for a simple booster seat, she was able to buckle herself in with a lap belt.
Of course, now I’m driving a ’65 Riviera daily and although the car is almost 40 years younger the setup is the same. The key to mixing old cars and kids, in my opinion, really is the figuring a way to implement the LATCH system safely and securely. Once done, it just becomes a matter of space and face.
Space. Car seats take up a lot of damned room – especially reward facing-infant seats. My old ’60 Chevrolet wagon had plenty of room for an infant seat in back, but standard infant seats just barely fit in the back of the ’39. In the Riviera, I just don’t have the room in the back – the infant seat hits the back of the passenger seat when installed on the base. However, the same setup fits perfectly fine in the front-passenger seat. That’s where the “face” part comes in.
Face. I’ve found that modern society just doesn’t take too well to the sight of a toddler riding around in a low and loud hot rod. I’ve garnered many a stink eye from some soccer mom in her Volvo wagon waiting in the drop-off line. That emotion is doubled when the shorty is riding shotgun.
See, all of the internets tell that soccer mom that placing a baby in the front-seat is not only akin to child abuse, but illegal as well. Of course, that isn’t the whole truth… Laws in most states say that toddlers can’t be secured in the front-seat when an airbag is enabled. If the airbag is disabled or in our case, nonexistent, then it is perfectly safe to restrain the little shit up front with you. Nonetheless, that stink eye can still burn.
And it burns because no matter how misguided that stink eye is, I know deep down inside that driving a kid around in a ’39 Ford isn’t nearly as safe as driving the same kid around in a 2013 Volvo XC60. It just isn’t – no matter the circumstances. And that sucks. It really sucks. It’s also why I tend to drive like Ray Lewis whenever my kids are in the car – DEFENSIVE. Overly so. Neurotically so. I stare down any mother fucker that even hints at the idea of rolling a stop sign. I brake at the first sight of a yellow light. I’m constantly checking my surroundings. I stay as chilly as a marine stranded on a Baghdad rooftop.
On some level, I think this added awareness makes up for the lack of the old car’s safety characteristics. Or maybe it doesn’t. But I can’t help but think that my kids will someday appreciate the memories of riding in these old heaps. There is something to that. I just know it.
At the end of the day, however, you have to be honest with yourself and consider not only your car and it’s mechanical soundness, but also your surroundings. I happen to live in a relatively low populated country setting. I’m never in traffic. I’m never on freeways. I deal with four or five stop lights – tops. And right or wrong, this makes me feel much more comfortable with the arrangement.
I don’t know that I could drive an old car daily in city traffic – much less with kids strapped down all around me. I think that’s something personal that everyone has to decide for themselves, but the point here is this: It can be done. Old cars and kids can be mixed. If you are having a kid sometime soon, you don’t have to be the opening paragraph of a Street Rodder feature eighteen years from now. The end of your world is not looming. It’s just getting messier is all…