One night, I was driving home on the freeway when an old, neglected 1956 Mercury passed me at a good clip. As it flew by, its left front wheel came off, hubcap, hub, and all. It wobbled crazily out into the fast lane of the highway and bounced over the center divider. Fortunately, no cars were hit. Simultaneously, the Mercury dropped to the pavement, creating a shower of sparks, and then careened off onto the shoulder. I had heard of such things happening, but had never witnessed them before
.I doubled back to see if I could help, but there was nothing I could do. The driver was unhurt, but the car was most likely damaged beyond repair, unless the fellow had a lot of money and knew of a shop that could handle it. Parts for such cars are no longer available at Pep Boys.
Why did it happen? The answer is simple. With cars from the 1960s on back, the front wheel bearings need to be packed with fresh grease every 10,000 miles. If that isn’t done, the bearings will eventually run out of grease, get hot, wear out, and even seize on the spindle. And if you are doing 70 mph at that moment, you could lose a wheel, lose control, and destroy your car, and probably not do yourself any good either.
I know this as I did routine maintenance at “service” stations as a lad. They were called service stations, because they did a lot more than just pump gas. You see, cars from the early Sixties and prior needed regular attention. They required oil changes every 1,000 miles, along with a chassis lube. And they needed ignition tune-ups every 10,000 miles in order to run properly.
Also, cooling systems needed to be flushed and refreshed every year. And universal joints needed packing every 5,000 miles, too. But sadly, most people were blissfully unaware, and didn’t do all that routine maintenance, with the result that most of what we now call classic cars were neglected to death. The few that were scrupulously maintained, on schedule, lasted nearly forever.