Old is gold to antique auto buffsOn a lazy weekend afternoon, Kim Du-hwan and his son get together to wash their antique automobile. They lather, scrub, rinse and even wax their priceless vehicle. This is no ordinary car ― it’s a Hyundai Pony, the first indigenous, domestically produced model, which came out in December 1975.
Mr. Kim bought his now vintage convertible in the fall of 1978, fresh from the factory. His son Jeong-mun was in high school then, and remembers how excited the whole family was when his father first brought home the glorious set of wheels. The 27 years since then have flown by.
For a car, 27 years is equivalent to 90 years in a human life, so the saying goes, but the Kims’ relic Pony is as good as new. That’s because the father and son have been working hard to maintain its former glory.
Not many people keep their car as long as the Kims, of Nonhyeon-dong, Gangnam district, have, but they are far from being alone in their enthusiasm for antique cars.
The old joke that you buy a new car right after the installment payments on the previous one have been completed no longer holds true today. Nowadays, antique cars have become fashionable, and the desire to own a rare set of wheels is on the rise.
According to the Korea Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, as of February, among all domestically registered cars, 16.5 percent, or 24.8 million cars, were more than 10 years old. Five years ago, the figure was 2.5 percent.
An online community of vintage car lovers (cafe.daum.net/classiccarbank) has sprung up. Its members met one day to praise the virtue of their vehicles and to say how proud they were to be driving a vintage model instead of a sleek, state-of-the art machine.
Goh Seok-yeong, 63, a tailor, has been driving a 1984 Daewoo Granada since it first came out. Every day he opens the hood to check the condition of the car, and no matter how urgent his business is, he never drives his car before warming up the engine for about two minutes. He even regularly waxes the bottom of the car to prevent rusting.
Mr. Goh says he cannot go to bed without knowing that his car is safe and sound in the garage. He considers the car to be literally a part of the family. For 21 years, he has been driving this vehicle to his tailor shop in the Jongno district, central Seoul. There were times when the car suddenly broke down, and caused a lot of worry, but they are endearing memories about this automobile.
He says his wife has been nagging him to buy a “normal new car” because the antique has become so noticeable, but Mr. Goh says, “There’s no way that I will sell a member of the family. I will drive this car until the day I die.”
Yun Il-ju, 32, a celebrity manager, has been driving his 1986 Pony 2 for two years now. Some may think he bought an antiquated used car because he couldn’t afford a newer one, but in truth, he sold his four-year-old vehicle to buy the vintage Pony 2. It has been his dream car since he first saw it when he was a boy in 1982.
Now that he’s acquired his dream car, Mr. Yun says he’s the happiest man alive. When he parks his car, people bombard him with questions about his old relic, and some even try to take photos of his car on the streets. Mr. Yun says his Pony can hit a speed of up to 130 kilometers (81 miles) an hour. The car has enough space for him to even carry a mini motorcycle in the back seat, so the vintage car even works as an SUV. “I feel no need to drive a foreign car,” says the content Mr. Yun.
Lee Min-jae, 47, the president of the online community of antique cars, is a fan among fans. Apart from the 1981 Brisa from Kia Motors that he bought in 1992, Mr. Lee owns a 1960s-era Cadillac, a 1974 Volkswagen and five other vintage models. He was able to acquire these rare and precious cars because of his daytime job as a used car salesman in the Gangnam district. He is even a member of a group that encourages people to drive their cars for at least 10 years, called “People’s Solidarity to Drive One’s Car for 10 Years.”
If there is a vintage car on the market, Mr. Lee is sure to check it out. In order to maintain his Brisa, he has even collected auto parts just in case the car breaks down and repair shops do not have vintage spare parts. This even extends to a spare engine. Mr. Lee has become famous for providing cars for old movies such as “Friend.” He attributes the virtue of antique cars to their “simplicity,” adding by way of comparison, “Even if motorcycles become sophisticated, they can’t beat the simple joys that bicycles bring.”
Song In-gyu, 47, who operates a sound system business, drives an 18-year-old Presto from Hyundai, which has logged more than 300,000 kilometers. Before the Presto, Mr. Song used to drive a Ford Cortina and Hyundai Pony pickup, each of which was more than 20 years old. He says the key to maintaining a vintage car lies solely with the owner. “It’s how well you manage that enables you to drive the [antique car] longer.” Mr. Song does not spend a fortune on his car; he merely replaces parts when needed.
All the classic car fans agree that there is no such thing as a useless car. No matter how bad the condition of the automobile is, for those who know the structure of the car, all that is necessary is to fix a bit here and there, and it will improve. This is especially true for antique cars, because of their simple composition.
Lim Ki-sang, the president of the civic group that encourages people to drive their cars for 10 years, says, “We must get rid of this culture of being ashamed of driving an old car for a long time.”
For vintage car lovers, driving an old car is a matter of pride.
by Choi Jie-ho, Namkoong Wook