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Hagerty Employee

6 subtle, stealthy upgrades to modernize your classic

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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Intermediate Driver

I opened this “Six stealthy upgrades....” expecting to read about performance upgrades and finding instead how to pimp out a classic !


Lowering a car was a popular trend in ‘50’s usually accompanied by full length lakes pipes and flame paint.  Jumping low rider, frame draggers re-emerged later.  Not my style, reminds me of sagging springs.


Porsche seats in a Z 28 or L-79 Nova ?  Any love for faux fur seat covers and matching dash pads ?


Front disk brakes are nice and an inexpensive upgrade.  Rear disks on most RWD American sedans have little value.  Having said this, I have never had a braking issue driving many ‘57, ‘63, ‘64 and various other Chevrolet cars and trucks all with 4 wheel drum brakes, some on the drag strip.


HEI is a poor choice for performance application as it has little if any adjustability.... one spark fits all.  


Overdrive ?  Most of not all carbed and cammed street motors need 3000 rpm to produce HP.  Dropping rpm to 1800 or so with a weak OD trans is a recipe for trouble.   A super low first gear insures an uncontrollable launch followed by big stumble as engine rolls over loaded by gear as trans shifts to second.  Similar to skipping second on a 4 speed.


Air conditioning.  IMO, there are few ways to make an engine compartment difficult to service and generally unattractive than adding compressors, brackets, hoses, dryers and condensers.  

Many if not all GM Muscle Cars did not offer AC in their hi-performance versions.  Imagine a ‘67 L 88 Corvette w/ AC


Disappointing article !

Pit Crew

You must live in Minnesota?
In Georgia , A/C is the first thing to add if you want to spend any time actually driving an older car.

We have a 65 Falcon station wagon with a hot 302 with a lumpy cam & C4, tubular A arms , disc brakes, dual chamber master cylinder, original radio converted to Bluetooth by Tayman electrical in Florida.
Slot mags & fat tires, air shocks,
And vintage air AC.

We have driven it on several 1000 mile trips.
It’s a nice highway cruiser and attracts more attention than any Lamborghini ever could.


Yeah the Georgia summers combined with stoplights programmed to stay one color WAY too long make for being able to smell your undercarriage cooking before the light changes. I have two that need AC.

Pit Crew

Throttle-Body Fuel Injection (TBI) is a nice upgrade if your old carburetor gives out. There are kits from Edelbrock, Holley, FiTech and Atomic for most four-barrel applications, at about a 20-30% price premium over a new carburetor. They also interface with their manufacturer's electronic ignition kits, to provide a total electronic engine control solution. Holley also makes kits for one and two-barrel applications.


If you want to go crazy, Edelbrock and Holley both offer port-type fuel injection kits for most classic American V8 engines for about $4k. The kits come complete with electronic ignition, intake manifolds, and wiring harnesses. Holley also makes a universal port injection kit that can be retrofitted to an existing intake manifold, but you need to have a machine shop drill and tap the intake manifold for the injector bungs.


One more modification I consider essential on pre-1967 vehicles is replacing the single-circuit master cylinder with a dual-circuit master cylinder, even if you retain the the stock drum brakes. With the dual-circuit master cylinder, a blown brake hose or wheel cylinder won't leave you with total brake failure. Cheap insurance at ten times the price.

Intermediate Driver

I love all the thoughts and suggestions for subtle mods to our older cars. This has been my philosophy when upgrading my Mustang. Although it is more of a long distance cruiser, I do show the car and I really like the reaction it gets at shows. Other than the obvious changes like full discs, wheels, and tires most of my many mods are less  noticed by Mustang fans, at first glance. Ride height is one example that really enhances the look of the car but is still subtle, not exaggerated.  Another is a high quality modern paint that is true to the original color of the car. It really catches the eye without being obvious. Again, not exaggerated.

My most enjoyable moment at car shows is when Mustang fans start to walk past my car thinking it is nothing special, then stop and turn back for a second look. I then get lots of questions about how have I gone about upgrading it while keeping it almost stock looking other than changes that make it look better. My favourite comment is that this is how Ford should have done it. As others have said already, all of my mods are reversible although that doesn't really matter to me since I would never sell this car. My wife and grand kids would kill me!


It was a shock to see this, as we have my wife's 1964 F-85 sedan in the downstairs garage. It's had the anti-roll bar upgrade, front disc brakes from a Mustang II, electronic ignition and throttle-body EFI. That was a big help. We did air conditioning with an aftermarket unit, and have it working through the original controls, with the addition of one switch. 


I've been thinking about what to do with the transmission, and if it's worth putting in a collapsible (and adjustable) steering column. We like the original cloth benchseat in the front. The interior is done in mostly NOS materials. Barbara likes to think that her grandpa had his hand on the steering wheel. It was his original 330 V8 grocery getter. 


Just had some custom mats done for it by Custom Mat Company in Florida, they did a nice job with the F-85 logo and matching turquoise. Most of my work was done by Gerek, who owns Cornerstone Automotive Restorations in Lititz, PA. Now if only I can find the wheel trim and that elusive lower side panel trim. The original rotted away.