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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

5 must-have mods for your vintage ride

Our beloved cars and trucks were perfect the day they left the assembly line. Well, sort of, if you consider how manufacturing has improved decade after decade. Yes, time marches on, and everything from engineering to materials science moves forward with it.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/hagerty-community/5-must-have-mods-for-your-vintage-ride/
209 REPLIES 209
Roadmaster
Pit Crew

You really have no idea of what you are talking about. Let's see, where to begin? First of all, it's not a Nailhead V8. It's a straight 8. The V8 did not come out until 1953 to celebrate Buick's 50th anniversary. 

 

If you are behind me, the best wipers known to mankind won't help me see you. Oh, I know, let's install one of those rear window wipers. Yeah, that's the trick.

 

I rarely use my headlights because I prefer not to drive at night. The headlights are just fine. I just prefer not to drive at night unless I must.

 

I don't tailgate and so the type of brakes I have is a moot point. I don't tailgate not so much that I am afraid of the brakes fading (they are in excellent condition), I just prefer for my windshield not to pick up a rock.

 

One last thing, the stink you smell is not from my carburetor, it's your upper lip.

DT
Advanced Driver

Now Boys, Lets Play Nice 🙂
GRP_Photo
Instructor

Where's the fun in that?

csnyder
Intermediate Driver

I'm not going to get nasty. Not my way -. The 4 barrel carb feeding the 320 cubic inch straight 8 doesn't smell much different than when feeding the 322 inch nailhead. Like any old engine, they ALL stink.

 Your reading comprehension is worse than my Buick knowledge if you thought I was worried about your wipers while I'm breathing the stink. There was a CHOICE in there. Means EITHER I worry bout the stink behind you or getting hit in front of you.

When I drove 6 volt cars I didn't like driving at night either - but sometimes it is hard to avoid. (and buying a replacement 6 volt bulb "in a pinch" is NOT easy either!!!!~ I ended up spending the night in Choma on my way from Macha to Livingstone when I found I only had one headlight on the '49 bug - it was bad enough seeing inthe dark with one headlight - no way was I going to chance it with only one - not knowing how long IT would last. I wouldn't have been on the road at night if I hadn't stripped the spline out of the rear drum and had to modify one from a mid-60's bug on a Sunday afternoon - which is what I mean by driving at night being hard to avoid some times. I got up just before sun-up Monday morning and hit the road - arriving back at the college about 10 minutes before classes started (I was the teacher). It took over a week to locate another 6 volt headlight bulb - and that was back in '73

BMD4800
Instructor

51s had a straight 8.

The smell can easily be mitigated in your transport pod by selecting recirculate on your HVAC controls. A mask would help as well, along with a series of diffused scents should you happen to pass a diesel, an asphalt paving operation, any type of animal feed lot, or my favorite place-smell, the Oats mill in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
csnyder
Intermediate Driver

Got no recirculate function on the old ranger - although it DOES have A/c. Had no AC on the Hemi Coronet and no recirc on the '57 Gofer (even though I DID put air on it) I would have pout EFI on both of them if it had been a viable option back when I owned them and I DID keep them as well tuned as possible trying to keep the stink to a minimum.

 

 I used to avoid driving through Rothsay Ontario or anywhere within about 20 miles downwind - even with the windows up and the cowl vent closed.

If following on a scooter (any 2 wheeled "non-pod") it's not an option either - or on most "vintage" cars.

BMD4800
Instructor

GM cars did.  Maybe that’s your issue.  

beeser
Intermediate Driver

You must ALWAYS keep a respectful distance from ANY classic car, in any direction, for the obvious reasons. And the older the vehicle, the more distance.

 

In 1988, I purchased a well-patina-ed 1949 Dodge B-1-B 1/2-ton panel truck. It was completely stock, from the 218 flathead and 3-on-the-floor transmission to the low gearing in the rear axle and the 6-volt, positive ground Auto-Lite electrics. I was 27 at the time, and paid $850. I drove it like I was living in 1949; prudently. It was never a ball of fire off the line, and required extra stopping distance, but it would do the Interstates, and was often my daily driver for weeks and months at a time. At times, some hot head (usually a young male) would run up my ass, pull in front of me then hit his brakes, trying to make some point. I got to where I could see it all coming, and was already on my brakes as he was passing me. I'm sure these guys had no idea of the jeopardy they were putting themselves in, pulling in front of a two ton block of steel and iron with maybe a third of the braking power their plastic-laden dispose-a-cars had.

 

I sold that truck 6-years ago, in much the same condition as I received it, for $5600. Probably could get double that today....

csnyder
Intermediate Driver

Sounds like my '57 Fargo and '53 Coronet. The Fargo at a 246 or 250 (long head) Flattie with 3 on the tree and the Coronet had the 241 Red Ram with 3 on the tree and overdrive. THAT baby would move, but the old center plane brakes were pretty useless. Ended up putting Bendix binders on the back from a '63 which helped slow it down considerably. Ran it out to PEI and back from Elmira Ontario - and the Fargo out to Tulsa OK and back. (the coronet was converted to 12 volts with cibie? H4 headlights and the Fargo was 12 volts from the factory being '57 - with Bosch Z Beams for lights. Both also had electric wipers. (This was between 1971 and 1976) The '49 bug was between '73 and '75 when I was out of Canada - it took the place of my wrecked '67 Peugeot 204 which I drove from end to end of Zambia before it ended up parked due to parts unavailability. I daylied the bug for over a year - including a run to Chobe Botswana and back - 4 wheel mechanical brakes - tap lightly - correct the steering pull, then stand on the pedal with both feet and PRAY!!!!!

OHCOddball
Detailer

Mods depend on what you are using the car for: long distances on the Interstate or in town cruise makes a difference. Also, if original replacement parts are hard to get, it is sometimes worth updating to modern and putting the original parts in a box in case you want to put it back to original at some point.
jaysalserVW
Detailer

Perhaps those considering ownership of a vintage vehicle should examine WHY they want a vintage vehicle. Most vintage vehicles are not driven in such fashion that they are continually on the public roads in everyday traffic. Yet , owners consistently tell me that they want this mod or that in order to be more safe. Or for the car to be "more modern" or "more reliable" and on and on goes the list . Some tell me that they want to alter a vintage vehicle "because everyone is doing it!" Depending upon the person, my usual response is "Why don't you go buy a modern vehicle?" I am perplexed by
people who want something in order to change it.
DT
Advanced Driver

It's because most buyers of vintage cars today have no clue how to do the upkeep on them and also do things just because every one else is. Seems everyone's first upgrade is disc brakes. Disc brakes are fine and no doubt better than drums, But I have 2 classics right now with drum brakes that I drive often and I always feel safe because I drive safely and being a motorcycle owner all of my life pay attention to what drivers around me are doing. Yes accidents happen but by simply being aware you can avoid a large percentage of them.
csnyder
Intermediate Driver

The first stop with good drum brakes is almost always as good as, or better than, the first stop with disks at moderate speeds with no load. It's the SECOND stop, or the heavily loaded one at speed where the disks shine.

 The reason people modify their vintage cars is because they want to DRIVE them on today's roads without being a menace. For me it's sure not because I don't know how to maintain them - but to some extent it's so I don't have to spend time at the side of the road - pulling a "roadkill episode". Had enough of the "Zamfixes" back in the mid '70s when I was still young.  The TD and the Fiat 600 the last few summers didn't get too far from "home" but I did put a Pertronix ignition on the 800 engine that was stuffed into the 600. (These are "classics" that I babysat for 4 summers) The TD was updated to "B" running gear but still had the TD front drums. The 600 called me "TONY".

TonyT
Instructor

Have you ever been married? That cutie you chased until she caught you is busy changing you right now...
BMD4800
Instructor

2-way street there.   

beeser
Intermediate Driver

Completely agree with bradleydad and Roadmaster. Each of these "mods" seriously detracts from the experience of driving a vintage car. So your car doesn't have dual circuit, power disc brakes? Then don't drive it like it was not meant to be driven. Owning a vintage car also means maintaining it like a vintage car, so adjusting points and keeping the carburetor in tune is a part of the experience. Generators work just fine for the vehicles for which they were designed for. If your car is not doing the job you need for it to do, then you need a different, and probably more modern car.

 

Don't get me wrong; I'm not against doing a bunch of modifications and creating a custom vehicle. But don't pass it off as "making the car more drivable". I mean, really; disc brakes on a Model A running those original, skinny tires?

Studenorton
Instructor

I have to wonder what happens to wood spokes under hard four-wheel disc deceleration...
Dad could remember Whippets pretty regularly shedding their tires and rims mid-corner and finishing the curve on the spoke tips.
ModelT
Advanced Driver

I had a 1926 T touring with wood wheels. It worried me everytime I drove over rough roads. Lucky I live in Illinois where our roads are ........... smooth!
ModelAkid
Pit Crew

Smooth roads in Illinois? Now that's funny!
BMD4800
Instructor

Your alderman owns a concrete company or a waste hauling outfit?

I couldn’t wear my seat belt in the 1 ton truck, it would lock just driving down Main Street.
Kyle
Moderator

That's a Model T in the photo with the disc brake conversion (If I remember correctly only Model AA pickups had wood wheels, all Model A passenger cars has steel wires) and the young man who drives a lot of miles in that Model T was reluctant to put them on but absolutly loves them. Tens of thousands of miles driven with zero issues.

You can read about him here- https://www.hagerty.com/media/people/when-you-put-10000-miles-on-a-ford-model-t-its-for-the-love-of-...
csnyder
Intermediate Driver

Remember, the "T" had NO front brakes and the rear brake is part of the transmission. Pretty "dicey" at best. The hand brake was almost totally incapable of stopping the car, particularly on a hill - and if you managed to lock the brakes on gravel downhill you WERE in for an interesting ride!!!

 

 Even the 4 wheel mechanicals on a '28 Chevy were just a bit better than dragging your feet. The rear brake was a band on the outside of the drum - the handbrake shoes inside the drum - a "panic stop" involved both hands on the e-brake and both feet on the pedal to avoid turning the drum into either a bell or a cone - - 

dbier
Intermediate Driver

Good article but I wish it had at least some high level info on expected costs for the mentioned conversions. For instance, does converting to electronic ignition on a 50's - 60's era car cost around $500 or $2,000? Or, FI around $1,000 or $5,000? Just a ballpark figure would allow me to focus my research on upgrades that are realistic for my budget. Nevertheless, I appreciate the article!
GRP_Photo
Instructor

Google is your friend.
ModelT
Advanced Driver

YouTube is your friend. You can find all those answers plus how to do those modfications.
I typed before reading the Google is your friend tip.
csnyder
Intermediate Driver

Electronic ignition is the cheapest and simplest - using a Pertronix conversion - about $100.
Might be able to do it for less with junkyard parts depending on your vehicle and abilities. I put electronic ignition on a corvair using a junkyard mitsubishi module and a modified ford reluctor for about $50. EFI can be from a couple hundred using junkyard parts to several thousand for a self tuning Holley - depending again on the car and your abilities. Either one is simpler with 12 volt electrics - so factor that in on early '50s cars
BMD4800
Instructor

As I have experienced, those fuel injection bolt-on set ups don’t always work better than a carb. For whatever reason many intakes just don’t do well with them. I swapped from a Performer back to a GM tried and true TBI intake. That engine ran PERFECTLY. no other changes. It just didn’t like the performer and adapter plate.

A properly tuned carb isn’t terrible either. In fact, I like my 401s with carbs, not EFI. With the factory intake, they just run better.
csnyder
Intermediate Driver

A GOOF efi setup will beat a GOOD carb every time and even a mediocre EFI can be better than a bad carb. The problem with "performers" and other "performance" systems - carbs in particular, is most guys go WAY too big and the rest of the engine can't handle it. A friend had a 327 with all the BEST speed parts on it and it could hardly get out of it's own way in a '68 impala convertible. Pulled a 350 out of an old GMC pickup - dead stock it outperformed the high-buck 327 by a long shot. The expensive parts just didn't match.

beeser
Intermediate Driver

At 200K miles, the Quadra-Jet on my '84 K10 Scottsdale was just completely worn out, so 10-years ago I converted it to the Rochester Throttle Body fInjection (TBI, "Slobberj ection") system, as found on '87 to '95 GM trucks. I salvage yard sourced everything, and cost was just under $200. Under the hood, it all looks factory original.

csnyder
Intermediate Driver

A good example of a dead simple low tech "non-performance" system that worked - and worked well - sometimes with a bit of modification on a LOT of engines. An adjustable pressure regulator made it pretty "tuneable" and  a few modifications increased the power on a stock 350 it came on from the factory considerably. More power and better mileage - The SFI from a Celebrity eurosport wakes up slant six nicely too - - -

Kyle
Moderator

Thanks for the comment. That is always something I would love to include, but the range is just so wide that it's nearly impossible to include a range for items like the things in this list. Well supported cars like Mustangs and Camaros will have reasonably priced bolt on kits for anything on this list, while something like a Studebaker will require not only more money in most situations, but also some fabrication and sweat equity.
jackinthesac
Pit Crew

I am 4 out of 5 for my '57 Thunderbird. I have been contemplating fuel injection for number 5 also. I also added radial tires as my first change for driving. I got the car to have fun with not to dust in the garage. although I am fortunate to have a cool running engine I also have an 16" pusher fan if needed. The need has been rare. I never liked the placement of the brakelight pressure switch directly under the battery so I incorporated a mechanical switch for late 60s ford pickups with a homemade bracket on the brake pedal arm. The mos visible change is under dash air conditioning. Any change could be undone and all removed parts are stored.
RallyeRalph
Intermediate Driver

First and cheapest mod- How's about some air in the right rear tire of the Moel T in the picture on the lead-in to this article?
ModelT
Advanced Driver

I believe those are low profile racing slicks.
dbier
Intermediate Driver

This comment is a bit of tongue in cheek but... If you convert to electronic ignition and fuel injection won't it stop working if there is ever the dreaded Electronic Pulse attack that will supposedly disable all electronics? So there's that consideration. 🙂
Studenorton
Instructor

You know, the police have those electric guns made out of B-52 comms jammers that shut a modern car right off. If you have a Mallory dual-point, they can't touch you. Bet my foil has thicker tin than yours!
TonyT
Instructor

Shhh! They're listening!!
OldFordMan
Detailer

 #1 thing that is the usual problem when a car is towed in to shop (and it has fuel and good battery) is the electronics:  sensors, modules, relays, etc.

When my old flathead V8 has failed it could be points, coil or condenser.  Have all that new in a toolbox along with a fresh matchpack cover to set the points.

And ride on.......

csnyder
Intermediate Driver

Don't forget the hammer or heavy screwdriver to rap the carb when the float sticks - or the bottle of cold water for when it vapour locks.
I've had one sensor failure in 25 years and 274000km on my old Ranger - and it didn't let me down - it was the cam synchronizer and it just squealed something awfull when the bushing on it got tight -- - Haven't had a sensor let me down on the road in over 45 years (about 10 vehicles - many with over 200000km)- the O2sensor on the 3.8 Pontiac failed about 3 times but it never stopped it from driving. On the other hand I've had points close up on me, floats stick, ballast resistors burn out, condensers short and go open, fuel pumps vapour lock - Yes, IF and WHEN electronics fail, you are stuck untill you get a replacement. WHEN - not if, mechanical parts fail, they are "simple" to fix - but the inconvenience is still there - and you usually end up smelly and dirty before you get back on the road and arrive late wherever you are going.
TonyT
Instructor

Key word: arrive. Better late than never and you've got a story to tell.
beeser
Intermediate Driver

Even simpler and more reliable are the pre-'87 Mercedes diesels.  Mechanical injection, no points or carburetor, no electronics, outside of the radio. Nearly EMP-proof....

Flipper155
Pit Crew

We had a 1968 Mustang 289 coupe for almost 15 years, enjoyed owning it and improving it where necessary (added a brake booster to the 4 wheel drums, electronic ignition, suspension, radio, etc.).
Sold it a few years back, but recently bought a 1994 Mustang GT convertible. Now most won’t consider this a classic car in the truest sense, but it is 27 years old. And way more comfortable to own and operate with power everything, ac, disc brakes, fuel injection, etc. And I’m happy keeping stock. For now.
DrWho
Pit Crew

Electric cooling fans for the radiator are a great update for older British roadsters.
TonyT
Instructor

Don't forget to upgrade that Lucas or Bosch generator to a modern alternator because the new fan will consume ALL of the available electricity.
Studenorton
Instructor

I see some fine objections here, and I sympathize, but I can accept hearing this kind of advice from my insurance company. A lot of insurers just don't want you because they are convinced your cannot be operated safely no matter what. So I may chuckle up my sleeve some, but I'm not yelling at Hagerty over it.
exchaoordo
New Driver

Great list. The hardest part for me is the research and the shopping for these things: what electronic ignition do I need? What else will I have to do to get a dual master cylinder? Putting it all in is the fun part!
ModelT
Advanced Driver

YouTube is your friend. You can find all those answers plus how to do those modfications.
Powerwagon
New Driver

Some of these are major mods. I suppose I was expecting little tweaks. I have modded a few things on my ‘41Power Wagon, such as the alternator upgrade since I had to rewire the truck anyway. I’m going to put an electronic module under the stock distributor cap. I’ve done enough roadside point changes. Insulation may help a little but it is pretty loud in there. As far as A/C, the windshield flips up. And power steering /disc brakes on a truck that is most happy at 45mph? If I need that, I’ll drive my 01 Dodge. There is nothing like driving 80 year old iron with all of its creaks and groans. It helps me appreciate what my father worked with in WW2.
csnyder
Intermediate Driver

Can't beat an old power wagon if you have masochistic tendencies!!! Drove a '43? as a tow truck in a former life. The AC worked well in the winter, and the heater was great in the summer. The thing would climb walls if it could get traction, but anything more than a 25 mile drive was an olympic caliber workout for a 100 lb 17 year old.
mhealy1
Detailer

My 56 DeSoto has power brakes and steering, so I already have those modern conveniences. The generator drives the PS so I’m not sure how I’ll switch to an alternator, but I want A/C. Disc brakes would be great as one hard stop from highway speeds pretty much cooks the brakes, along but I’m not sure anyone makes a conversion kit. Dual master cylinder isn’t too hard. And radial tires, of course.
Choices choices choices….