Hot-rodders love to smash boundaries, but not everyone wants to completely transform their stock classic. While old cars ooze character and style from an earlier age, they often lack modern luxuries and safety protections that are found on even the most basic of new cars. Is there a middle ground where you can keep all of the things you love about your classic but employ some newer components to improve the things you don’t?
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Thank you, and absolutely when it comes to modifications and upgrades without destroying the outward characteristics of the car. I wrote Hagerty and told the story of what i did to my '57 Bird, which was sold at a fair profit to a Texas collector who writes me occassionally and is still driving it and won't sell it. Modifications and upgrades include disc brakes, variable ratio steering, electronic ignition, longer springs in the rear;
these cars ride like trucks, similar to 50s Corvettes, Vintage A/C and Heat and so on.
If you own a car you will drive frequently or it is selected as your daily driver I would recommend these upgrades to significantly increase the enjoyment of what you own.
Parts for most domestics are everywhere. If you own something esoteric try Kip Parts who i think is in Dallas Texas. Enjoy and drive!
Personally, I was fighting with headlights to see by. Now this was a bit before LED headlight possibilities, but I ended up with a pair of HID H4 bulbs inserted into new Hella 7" replacement kits. I couldn't see with direct to battery 100W H4 bulbs.
Unfortunately HID bulbs mandated a bit of drilling & mounting, but newer LED setups should avoid that issue.
I’m in the middle of a frame off restomod on a 1968 Pontiac Lemans and have checked all the boxes on improvements. It’s not a GTO so no regrets, have a 428 Pontiac instead of the 350 2 barrel it came with. Great article!
All that and no infotainment or sound/heat insulation upgrades? Those are easy, and make a classic even more fun. I'm hiding my new receiver in a modified center console, so the the interior still looks stock. It's nice to have your music sound great (even with the top down) and to be able to answer your phone hands-free.
Glad I upgraded the front drum brakes to discs on my 1969 Dodge Polara convertible ... however, I forgot to upgrade the drum master cylinder assembly to a disc ... needless to say, don't forget that !
Another article on what is essentially a mild hotrod or restomod. Steve Strope is the king of "Is that stock?" or "Did the factory do that?" in all of his work. I still remember the Charger he dropped the Viper V-10 into and also swapped to right hand drive, in support of a mythical 60's F1 driver who loved Mopars, IIRC. God was that a beautiful build. Much like the Zausner Torpedo by Moal was "Ferrari meets Track T hot rod", that car's spirit was "Ferrari meets aggressive Luxury GT Coupe". Someday. Someday.
Great mods. I'd love to go the less expensive route and change my vinyl seats to a vintage houndstooth cloth, but having them made was quoted at $4000. Time to buy a sewing machine and try to DIY.
You will want to get a walking foot sewing machine. Look around for a used industrial walking foot. Talk to outfits that sell and repair industrial machines. You may find that you enjoy the sewing part of the deal. One of the things I learned was that the foam padding isn't as good as cotton batting. You can build up the raised areas around the perimeter of the seats with cotton batting. Talk to furniture reupholsters for cotton batting resources.
Adding seat belts/shoulder harness? I also changed out all of my 6 volt bulbs to 6 volt LED bulbs. I enjoy performance mods, however, I also enjoy staying alive. Shouldn't that be the priority?
Being a transmission guy, I have to say something about the GM conversions. Even though the right 200-4R will bolt up straight to the Olds (BPO) engine pattern, the 700-R4 is a much better conversion in so many ways. First of all, its torque handling is comparable to the 350, rather than the ultra light-duty 200 unit (which GM was actually sued for using), and there are probably more performance options for the 700 than almost any other unit! The sky is pretty much the limit on making it hold up to your engine. AND there is a valve kit available so you don't need ANY wiring going to the unit for lockup, which you really want if lower RPMs is what you're after! The 700 is shorter than the 200-4R, so requires less modifications to fit. Last year, I completed an overhaul on a 700 conversion in a $100k 55 Chevy (383 stroker) where a poorly installed "rebuilt" unit lasted only 40 miles. It is now happily doing donuts if it wants to! And one of my good customers just had me do a full 350-700 conversion on his 71 Chevelle that he keeps looking mostly stock but wanted lower RPMs on the freeway. He is very happy with it. Buy an Olds-Chevy case adapter if you want overdrive on your old BPO setup! Otherwise, get a Gear Vendors, but it'll likely cost you more and require electronics and more maintenance.
The easiest and most useful upgrade to virtually any classic older than 10 years is to replace as many bulbs as possible with LED's. They last forever, give off virtually no heat and use very little power. It's also a very satisfying upgrade.
My current restomod is a 68 Mustang conv. Has a 331 stroker, heads, HEI, headers dual pipes, an AOD built for strong fast shifts, Vintage Air, PS, PB added, all chrome or aluminum under the hood. Looks stock, still with the 289 badge, until it starts or you look under the hood.
Heated & Cooled seats !!! are you serious.
Right now I am considering Fuel Injection for my 74 Cadillac Eldorado. The latest products such as the Holley Sniper EFI are relatively affordable, easy to fit and offer real benefits over an old 4 barrel with 90k on the clock.
My Mods to my 1966 C10
Lap belts, better than nothing, but not as good as 3 pts.
AM radio replaced with Custom Autosound Hidden GM AM style system, Rear underseat speakers.
Tank is still behind seat but all new and no leaks or vapors, may put under bed eventually.
Power Disc brakes up front.
H4 Sealed beams, Much better.
All new window and door seals to keep exhaust out.
I agree with all of the above and have done everything on this list to my Mustang, other than the heated/cooled seats. The only exception I take is the props for Vintage Air. A substandard product with poor customer service is my experience with them. Classic Auto Air is by far superior.
Check a magazine or car show and you'll see Vintage Air by far the most popular. Very efficient systems. I install many of these systems. I can assure customer problems are not as common as people sometimes think.
Unless you are 'loaded' with $$, it is best to make a list of what you want to accomplish, and prioritize those items, and make your plans. Break it down into 'steps' that you think you will be able to accomplish, while still keeping it on-the-road, safe and enjoyable.
Here are some prime examples of prioritizing - It doesn't do much good to put a high HP drivetrain, without the suspension/brakes to support it; and, don't forget the safety aspects of increased HP & speed = seatbelts; and, if one plans on spending a lot of time behind the wheel - seating, A/C, and/or tunes (depending upon your comfort level). The list could go on & on, depending on your 'vision' of what you want your ride to be...
Yes, yes, yes! Virtually every modification mentioned here I have made to my 57 Bel Air wagon. When I took the car out for a test drive, the first corner I came to scared the hell out of me. This thing handled like a fully loaded garbage truck with the two front tires flat. Slowing down & stopping required Arnold Schwarzenegger legs with both feet on the peddle. Over time I changed things for safety, reliability & comfort & if with my swaps, some performance is achieved, that's just icing on the cake.
I'm sure it was done to this car, but not mentioned, but I'd add changing to a quicker ratio steering box. I would also note that many of these suggestions are fairly simple to implement if you're working on a mid-60's or later vehicle, but can be much more involved if you have something older. As an example, most pre-60's domestic vehicles were built with the steering box and column as a single component, with the shaft being one long steel rod pinned to the sector gear at one end and splined through the steering wheel at the other. Changing to a faster or power-assisted box is therefore not a trivial exercise.
One beautiful hot sunny day I was on a Miata club run through the countryside. Rather than enjoying the sights and the winding road, I mostly thought about how I could somehow wire computer fans under the seats to create some sort of cooling. I never tried it, but it sure would make a difference.
I guess I forgot the Suspension upgrades I have.
And the new wheels and tires.
I have plans for the 3 spd. OD trans. that was an option (Have a rebuilt one siting in the corner and all the parts, but haven't fully committed yet.)
And the upgraded Radiator.
When I built the motor I put a Hi Flo oil pump, 70 psi. (always have great oil pressure)
That should do it.
check on most of the 6. Comfort and safety have come a long way. Make them as stealth and reversible as possible if not owning your own lifetime long. A few not needed depending on use/application. Here a daily driver (as each'n every was designed) but just how you drive your classic (truck, 'racer', luxury, etc) may have a big difference. Yes, make it your own but not alot of need to go beyond these - over board (in my mind). KISS.
I have a 67 Riviera, and one thing that I will say is my seats are 100x more comfortable than anything I have sat in newer in the past 20 years. Unfortunately they do not have some safety items like a headrest, nor are they adjustable, except to forward and reverse, so no tilt, no recliner, no lumbar... But they sit perfect.
I have never sat in a Porsche, so I cannot speak for their level of comfort, but I have not been able to beat my old seats for comfort.
Good article, I have a 1965 Falcon Hardtop, which I am ordering a Classic Auto Air System for in a couple days as a winter project. Would suggest a Secret Audio system for anybody who is a big music guy like myself. Mounts easily under the seat, and only has a small control panel that mounts on dash lip, allows Bluetooth for phone or other devices, Thumbdrive music, AM/FM stereo, even Sirius XM capable. I love it!!! 👍
An easy upgrade is adding wireless bluetooth speakers. This eliminates new holes and wiring. With Bose, you can cluster several speakers. While at a car show or picnic, you can use them outside the car. Pretty flexible and affordable.
Most of us don't drive our vintage cars at night, but most headlights are lame in design. The power goes through the bulkhead, through the switch, and then out through the bulkhead connector again. Plenty of opportunity for resistance and voltage loss along the way. Putting the headlights on relays (two or more, depending on how you prefer to do it) will reduce the power through the bulkhead connector and switch, reducing heat buildup in the switch. And it will improve voltage to the headlight beams. Pretty easily reversible, also, if desired. Many outfits make kits, but anyone with some basic electrical knowledge can do it, and even make it look factory-ish.
Excellent article, Brandon!
I've done lot of this sort of updating for customers over the years. I typically tell people, if they're on a close budget, power disc brakes first and power steering with a new or remanufactured quick ratio box (easy to get from Lares Corp for almost any application), second. Along with the brakes comes better tires and sometimes wheels also. There are a lot of really good disc brake kits available, even for 14 inch wheels, from Scarebird Classic Brakes, Wilwood, Baer, CPP and others.
Those mods make older cars so much more drivable. A lot of GM's came with really tall gears, way back, so overdrive isn't totally necessary till later, but still a good idea and gives you a reason to put more gear and maybe a posi into the rear end. 🙂
"Installed over the course of just a few days" the author says. Riiiiiight. I watch the TV show and this car has been featured. Strope is not only very bright, experienced and competent, he is connected and has access to products and information from all the best pro's in the area. Plus he has his own staff of fabricators and wrench's to assist him and the tools, lifts, space and time to get these results. For us amateur's trying to do this in our garage and expect similar results is a dream. Very good info to see how he does things, but no need to over hype the DIY aspects.
200-R4 is a great choice. Installed one behind the 283 in my 62 Chevy Impala. If it has the 4th gear pressure port, American Auto Wire can fix you up with a kit to make a Lock-up converter work in 4th gear. No computer needed. I have done all the other upgrades with the exception of heated/cooled seats so I guess I am still roughing it.
Have been enjoying the heck out of my new 123ignition electronic distributor from the Netherlands. Just stab and go on my 73 BMW 2002, which never had the zip needed to enjoy its fun handling being an automatic. Kept the old Bosch blue coil and standard leads. Sooo stable and no flat spots on acceleration. You can plot your own curves (there are plenty of them online to copy from peeps that know way more about the dark art than I), MAP and even advance/retard while running in 1 degree increments via an app on my iPhone.
Also found an adapter that plugs into the aerial jack in the original Blaupunkt (or any std) radio that allows for an aux cord. Spotify’s 70’s Road Trip playlist and I’m cruising!
Also +1 on LED bulbs. Cheers.
4 speed automatic and disc brakes, at least on the front, are a must for anything you are actually going to drive. A 700r4 has already been transplanted into my 65 impala with disc brakes pending the end of the covid parts logjam. the factory motor was toast, so a donor motor with HEI went in, but i have no issues with running points and my 74 still has its points. you aren't going to put 12,000 miles a year on these cars, and you will never notice the difference between points and electronic for most motor builds. Stick with the points unless something specific drives you to change the distributor
When I did the complete rebuild on my 1966 Mustang 2+2 disk brakes was the number one mod. The 270 hp motor someone had put in it before I bought her was way to much for four drum brakes. 2nd up was a HEI clone ignition system, another good move. Overdrive is not a need with Top Loader 4 speed and a 2.79 rear gear! And being a racer more than lux NO a/c, radio or power anything!