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Hunk-A-Hunk of Burnin’ Love:
How to Keep your Classic Car from Overheating this Summer

Every classic car owner has been there: cruising down a two-lane on a beautiful summer day, windows down, radio up, the sky a perfect blue — when suddenly, your heat gauge starts to sing:

“Lord Almighty, I feel my temperature rising. 
Higher and higher, it's burning through to my soul…”

Classic cars all have a thing for Elvis. They have a thing for overheating, too. Especially during the summer. And after this year’s record-breaking temperatures, it’s an excellent time for every classic car owner — and one-day owners as well — to revisit some of the actions they can take to keep their heat gauges from interrupting their next adventure. 

On a hot midsummer day, we swung by Back to the Fifties, a vintage car show held each summer in St. Paul, to ask classic car owners on BFGoodrich Tires about their personal hunks of burnin’ love — and how they build to keep them cool.



Terry bought his silver 1958 Chevy Apache pickup at a swap meet about 16 years ago. It was a “total rust bucket” at the time and needed to be rebuilt from the ground up. You’d never guess from looking at it now. 

Driving into the Back to the 50s show this summer, Terry did have his truck overheat a bit, but things didn’t get too out of hand thanks to an electric fan he installed to push fresh air across his radiator. The car still gets hot, but the fan keeps the engine at a temperature that’s safe for the vehicle.  

“If you’re nervous about getting into vintage cars before you buy anything, join a car club or come out to events like this car show and talk to people. Car enthusiasts are always willing to talk about their cars, and give you advice.” – Terry P.



Lee has owned this black 1964 Buick Special Convertible for about 10 years, and in that time, he’s been lucky to have very few overheating issues. Lee gives credit to Buick for designing such a durable car that doesn’t experience this issue as much as other makes.

One tip Lee brought up for other vintage car owners is to right-size your radiator with your home climate in mind. Lee’s Buick spent most of its life in Arizona, but in Minnesota, where the hot summer temperatures also come with a fair amount of humidity, a larger radiator was necessary to handle the heat coming off his engine. 

“BFGoodrich Tires are the best because of their safety, reliability, and durability — it makes them very cost-effective tires as well as being a good tire to drive on.” – Lee S.



Frank and Doug are a Chevy family through and through. It’s a tradition that goes back as long as they can remember. They’re both loyal BFGoodrich Tires fans as well, putting them on all their vehicles. Frank has had his 1959 Corvette Roadster in “Crown Sapphire” for over forty years with little overheating trouble. He put a cooling fan in his car, which he admits is a pretty basic fix, but it’s worked well for him for decades. 

Doug is a grocery manager, and his “grocery getter” is a Chevy Colorado. But when he comes to car shows with his dad, he brings out his 1964 Chevy pickup, painted a striking teal called “Turquoise Polly.” His biggest modification to the truck was to add a 350 Chevy crate motor, onto which he attached a flex fan to avoid overheating. So far, the flex fan has worked well. He highly recommends them as a solution in hot climates. 

“One of my favorite memories with this car was having my grandkids — Doug’s children — sleep in the back seat during car shows back when they were little. These older cars have roomy interiors, and it was fun to take advantage of it.” – Frank K.



Steve bought his “Black Cherry” 1957 Chevy Bel Air in 1981, spent eight years building it, and got it on the road in 1989. This car has seen more of the country than you might have. Steve has taken it on trips through Indiana, Texas, Wisconsin, The Dakotas, and Kentucky.

Steve is also a Chevy loyalist. His grandfather had a Chevy dealership, which was passed down to Steve’s father, and eventually passed on to him. He’s a Chevy guy “til death” and he’s got the tattoo to prove it. It took Steve a few years of tinkering to address the overheating issues he had with this car. For folks struggling with an issue of their own, he recommends investing in a fan shroud and that you consider swapping out your thermostat. 

“Different companies have different standards for thermostats. Even if you think yours is in good working order, your thermostat could still be your issue.” – Steve N.



Jeff worked at a Cadillac dealership for years, and one day they had an old farmer come in to trade this 1954 AMC Rambler in for a new car. It was all-original, but it needed work to get road-ready. Jeff’s boss wanted to scrap it, but Jeff couldn’t let that happen. He asked, “how much do you want for it?” And the boss said “$200.” His brother was about to turn sixteen, and Jeff had just scored the ultimate present. 

Or so he thought. Jeff’s brother thought the Rambler was too much of a “grandpa ride.” Jeff disagreed. They ended up trading cars, and the Rambler — after being rejected by everyone around him — happily lived in Jeff’s garage for decades. He drove his kids around it for years and soon, he’ll pass it down to his grandson. Now, it’s a “grandpa ride” in the best way possible.



If your classic car tends to run hot, especially in the summer, the good news is: it’s likely not your fault. Most of the cars we consider to be “classic” ran hot right off the line. The thermodynamics of engines and coolant technology have come a long way in recent decades. It’s part of why you see way fewer smoking vehicles on roadsides these days — heat is a much less common issue than it used to be. 

More good news is that the cooling system in a classic vehicle will likely be entirely made of metal, making cracks and coolant loss less of a concern than it is for more modern vehicles, which are full of plastic parts that can’t be soldered back to life if they fail. 

If summertime heat has your temperature gauge in the red, be safe and don’t drive that vehicle. Like everything with mechanical systems, your heat issue could have many different root causes. It may take some trial and error to figure out what works. 


Running hot and not sure where to start? Take a look at your vehicle’s:

Radiator: In a classic car, time, local bugs, and the elements have had plenty of opportunities to rust, contaminate, or clog up your radiator. 

Thermostat: Thermostats vary more than folks realize. They can age as well, and stop releasing coolant when they should. Grime can also seal a thermostat shut, preventing coolant from reaching the engine.

Belts, Hoses, and Seals: Especially if your vehicle has a lot of original parts, a frayed, loose, cracked, or broken belt, hose, or seal might be leaking coolant.

Radiator Fan: If your radiator fan is broken, your coolant won’t return to the radiator to cool itself down and you’ll have hot coolant running through your engine.

Head Gasket: Cross your fingers that it’s not this issue. But you may have blown a head gasket. This or a cracked heater leads to a lot of spilled coolant.

Engine: At the end of the day, a humble engine will only last so long. Oil leaks, a cracked engine block or exhaust manifold, and other forms of wear and tear can all in time lead to an older car consistently running hot. If all these other roads lead to dead ends, it might be time for a swap. 


“My motto when it comes to cars is ‘build ‘em to drive ‘em, and drive 'em to fix ‘em.’ Nobody likes to break down, but building a car to only take it out for shows is just sad. I always tell my daughters: ‘If we break down, just think of it as an adventure.’” – Jeff P.

Great advice for classic car enthusiasts today and tomorrow.

Enjoy the adventure, bring water, and stay cool.


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