A Man and his Stanza Confirm the Secret to Longevity
"You never stop, that's the main thing"
I am fortunate enough to live in an area of north Sydney which has a number of picturesque driving roads. Every Sunday vintage car enthusiasts get together to make the most of these scenic slaloms, revelling in the chance to parade their prized classics from the yesteryear. This of course makes for excellent car spotting, but do you think I am impressed? No. These cars are all ‘storage ponies’, overwhelmed when called upon for operational duty. The result is a massacre of beautiful but faulty vehicles, clogging up the local streets and ruining the weekend.
What has always been more impressive to me are the mid-week classics. Those vintage and retro cars soldiering on as daily drivers, keeping up with the modern men and women without a hiccup. If I am driving to the beach on a Sunday afternoon and the cold Buick Rivera in front of me cooks its clutch and starts rolling backwards, I think for God’s sake put it in a museum and buy an MX5. If a 1970’s Datsun pulls up next to me at the lights on a Thursday morning commute, I think man, long live that valiant warrior. So why is it that these old daily drivers seem so much less likely to break down? I asked a man with a daily-driver 1970’s Datsun to find out.
I met George last week at the local hardware store. I was walking to the timber yard when I noticed him about to pick up 50L potting mix. I paused for a bit and asked if he wanted a hand. “Why don’t you grab one and I’ll get the other”, he said. We scooped up a bag each and started walking up the asphalt. He was an ancient man, but had a deep passion for life in his eyes and a sprightly kick about him. As we walked, I said “mate, you don’t need my help”. He laughed and looked across, saying “oh yes, I can still do everything… you never stop, that’s the main thing”.
When we got back to his car I was thrilled to see it was a mint condition 1979 Datsun Stanza. Stanzas are a bit of an Australian icon for me. If you had one in the UK you’d be driving a Datsun Violet, imported as is. In Australia they were produced here at home in the Datsun production plant down in Victoria, and stamped with the more aggressive name. Less than a month after their release in 1978, the rugged Stanza had already won the prestigious Southern Cross Rally. George’s example was a beautiful car, proud of its legacy, sitting there with its chin raised like a show dog after completing a trick.
More importantly, just like George himself, his Stanza is stubborn and defiant in the face of time. It was a workhorse in 1979, and damn straight it remains a workhorse today. George explained to me that he and his wife have been using it as their regular car for the last four decades, and it’s never once broken down. It doesn’t do as many miles these days, but still gets about. As it turns out, the secret to his own longevity is the same for his car. “My wife uses it to go to the shops, and I still run it in every day. Keeps it going alright”. When I ask if it’s had any problems at all in 40 years, he sighs, “ahh well she’s getting a bit of rust now”, and points to two microscopic amber dots on the boot lid.
I suppose keeping an old classic healthy through daily driving is common sense, in a way. We all know that letting a car sit for too long can lead to a whole host of problems. Build-up in the engine bay can seize things, and as the oil drains away the cylinders are left dry. Other fluids go off, hoses decay, and the body corrodes. The longer the car is abandoned, the less hope there is that it’ll start again. Maybe those weekend classic storage ponies suffer this fate, whereas George, keeping the 4 cylinders firing, doesn’t let it happen to his Stanza.
I like to think a little differently about a car’s longevity, however. Often after you purchase a new car, it feels as though it becomes partially sentient. The car adjusts its driving behaviour according to your attitude towards it. If you were shoved into a storage unit and only set free from time to time, would you be obedient to whoever locked you in there? Surely not. So while daily driving is the key to keeping a car running, it isn’t because you’re avoiding seizing and decay. It’s because you’re showing the old girl you love it, and it’s free, and every day it’ll be reminded that it still serves a purpose, whether it’s 40, 50 or 100 years old.
Thank you George, for the life and automotive lesson, and for showing me your exceptional little Stanza. I hope to see you driving it around for many years to come. I’m confident I will.