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Hagerty Employee

7 simple modifications to enhance your driving season

Unless you are fortunate enough to live in a part of the country with year-round fair weather, odds are that your vintage car enjoys its time in the sun on a seasonal basis. Naturally, that means you are taking major advantage of driving season right now, and there's no experience quite like the open road in an older car.

GREAT suggestions, Kyle, especially on tires.
I’d have included a link to how tires are rated, and reading the sidewall.
YOU folks have one, don’t you?
Never mind, I got this one:

Alignment is also muy importante, allowing tires to best function.

To me, steering wheels and shifter knobs are primarily cosmetic.
Unless yours NEEDS an upgrade for other reasons, why bother?

BTW, I know you’re a Corvair guy, so — when they first came out, I thought them to be the ugliest of all American cars,
(an Aunt had one.)
I’ve since come to appreciate their styling a lot more.

1st gen Corvair is very "of the moment" stylewise.


2nd gen GM could use the exact exterior (with modern fittings) on a new EV and it would not only look current today, but also be better looking than 99% of EV and concept EV.

Advanced Driver

Good call on the Corsair! Although, to be fair, an old shoe looks better than a Tesla.

The second gen Corvair can easily challenge the best styling from Italy. 

I saw a 4 door hard top sedan last week that look almost as good as the coupe. 
It was the color my fathers was and had bumper guards like dads. Then I looked inside and it was a 4 speed sedan. Never saw one like that before, 

Advanced Driver

That Corvair is one of those cars that grows on you and just keeps looking better and better the more you see it. Such excellent proportions.

Don’t want to cut up your dash or change the look? You can get a Bluetooth interface, remote unit and amps to drive hidden speakers.

Best mod was a dual 12V USB port hidden in the console.

Phone app control of Ridetech - I might just go next level.
Pit Crew

As I read this article, I said, "Check" to all suggestions for my '87 Bertone X-1/9.
In New England I get three to four months of driving and this checklist is a spring ritual.

I know a lot of people who consider a good tire one with a high mileage rating... that is the completely wrong direction to go if you have even a mild interest in performance and handling.

Radio is probably the one item on that list where I need to throw the challenge flag. Even straightforward radio swaps can present challenges. Thinking of that Corvair, it's a simple dash that probably doesn't have a cover on the bottom - so it's an easy swap if someone makes a replacement of the same general dimensions... but I'll bet a stack of hundreds that this was a mono- sound car with a single speaker in the front dead center of the dash, and maybe a second single speaker between the back seats... now you have problems. If that radio has any wattage to it, running power through your 60 year old factory harness is probably not a good call. Take my poor ol' Allante, and you have a 'radio' that is functionally split between two components in two locations, and none of them are a standard DIN size

Radio and easy rarely fall in same sentence

There are stereos that are easy to fit in old cars. RetroSounds is one. Theirs have a base unit and the dual shafts are independent of the main body so they can accommodate a large number of vehicles. They also have a lot of different faceplates for specific cars to make them blend in. Some are rather hard to spot in situ.

The basic wiring isn't too tough if you have a decent path to get to the rear speakers, but you're right. there's always something hidden that makes it tougher than it seemingly should be. That is often mounting of the speakers. I'm putting a couple of full-range speakers in an old leather suitcase and covering them with a panel upholstered with acoustically transparent material. With quick-release wiring connectors it can even come out easily, and if there's a Bluetooth module inside of it you can simply feed it 12 volts and use it anywhere you have a battery, such as a family BBQ.
Intermediate Driver

I was recently looking on the web site of one of those companies making retrofit radios for old cars, (might have been Retrosound, I don't remember,) and they had another option. Send them you old radio and they would build a modern radio inside your old chassis. That would be a perfect fit and look.

For our "hobby" cars high mileage tires only tempt us to keep them longer than we should because after 8 years "there's lots of tread left". Even on my DD, I seldom put more than 6000Km a year on them - with half of that on snow tires - so it's been quite a while since I "wore out" a tire. I "timed out" 2 sets of Michelins last year and one set of Hakkapeliittas is pretty well ready for replacement at 9 years -- -

As for radios, you CAN get radios that fit and look pretty much like the originals (particularly for just about any old Chevy, Ford, or Mopar) with AM/FM / bluetooth - and remote amp kits with all the wiring you will need are also readily available for the "bleeding ears" crowd.
New Driver

Can I suggest an eighth improvement? Driving a ragtop? Put the top down. Invest in a wind deflector. It greatly improves air flow and makes it quiet enough to have a normal conversation with your passenger. I don’t leave home with my BMW e30 without it!

My take: you've replaced the original rims with oversized rims with the narrow sidewall (rubber band) style tires which are wider than original, then, replaced the original large hoop steering wheel with an aftermarket smaller one. Both giving the car harder steering. How is this an improvement?
Not to mention more stress on the suspension components from the incorrect oversized wheels and tires risking premature failures. Not a fan of the muffler "upgrade ".
Engineers occasionally get it wrong, but generally the design components are designed a specific way for fairly good reasons, primarily reliability. Not really sold the mods you mentioned are truly upgrades to your car.
Just saying...

Steering effort is partly opinion and partly compromise. Remember, when these cars were new they also had to be drivable by little old ladies at parking speeds going to the grocery store. The steering effort in my VW is so low that I will increase the caster on it in order to have it self-center a bit more and to purposely increase the effort. I'm not a big guy by any stretch, but the steering effort is so low it's comical. It, and of course the Corvair, naturally don't suffer from high steering effort since the heavy end doesn't steer. 😉

Engineers and designers often got overruled as well. What those in charge think the people want (with a dash of compliance at times) muddies things up.


Look how many people swap out the 70s 5mph bumpers for earlier versions (if they exist for their vehicle).


Many cars would have been much lower from the factory if it was up to the designers.


Most 50s and 60s cars would have been chopped 3-6 inches from the factory if you look at the actual concept drawings. Production model had to fit "tall man with big hat".


Thin sidewall tires ride harder, but depends where you are driving. More contact patch is more racy. I prefer cushy ride so no elastic band tires for me. We swapped them off of a late model vehicle we had for this very reason. Didn't come factory with the smaller diameter rim and tall sidewall but fit perfect.


Exhaust note... I am the rare person (apparently) that had my loud muffler my Mustang came with swapped out for a much quieter one.


Most of these things (that you can easily swap) come down to personal choice. Sure some of the choices may cause some earlier wear, but if you are actually using the vehicle then wearing it out should be the goal.


You can always restore it again and revert it to stock if you want to.


Upgrading the shift knob is an easy and great way to increase the satisfaction of shifting, and it can improve the interior as well. I recently replaced the shift knob and boot for my Esprit. Both had worn out terribly, the factory rubber shift knob feeling like a squishy dog toy. I swapped that out for a nice MOMO knob and stuck a tiny Lotus emblem on top. It looks great, and feels so much better in my hand.

Good ideas! I always liked the 2nd gen Corvair. Its a cool car.
Lets see, I've replaced my shifter , gone through 3 sets of mufflers to get the sound right, tires..ditto, tune ups...well does a "tune" count? Steering wheel original but my "special" car is late model and I like the steering wheel. Stereo can use an upgrade but more fun to listen to the "finally correct" mufflers.

Tires make all the difference. I put the stickiest things I could because I want to be able to enjoy my car if I push it towards the limit. Also related on the traction side would be to upgrade to a torsen or mechanical limited slip differential on a car that does not have one, especially a rear drive car.

I replaced the stereo system but left the original speakers until the foam dry rotted out then upgraded the speakers and amplifier together. I get lots of enjoyment from the upgraded stereo.
New Driver

GM did make an electric Corvair using Hydrogen/Oxygen to make electricity. It was called the Electrovair,if I remember correctly. Only made a few for testing. They were scrapped. Safety issues
Intermediate Driver

Yikes,the tires on my cuda are 28 years old, bought new when I had it restored in 94. They look new with probably 5000 miles on them. Anyone else replace tires every 8 years?

I predict that if you buy a set of 2022 tires they will not last 28 years no matter how lightly you use them.


Then again, I could just be wearing a tinfoil and steel-belted hat.

Advanced Driver

I have seen collector cars with really old tires.

They are on tailored show cars, not on the road at 70 MPH, so safety is not a factor, just looks.
Advanced Driver

When I bought my 560SL the massive (16") steering wheel made in/out a chore even for a little guy like me. I researched and discovered that the next SL model R129 the first-year steering wheel looked exactly the same and also uses the same airbag and is almost 3/4 inch smaller in diameter. I found one (cheap) on email recovered with a wheel skin and wow what a difference in getting in/out and the overall driving experience.
I also made a cup holder out of two stainless steel small holders purchased off Amazon for $9.69 then made a wood insert covered in pebble textured plastic that I could remove and "hide" stuff under. Not a major item but believe me convenient, I even made it, so I could use the armrest if I did not have a drink in it.
Then while complaining to my wife that after playing softball or after driving an hour or more my backside hurt. She stitched up in matching color an old bleacher seat pad that does the trick.
Sometimes the simple things make such a difference especially if you DRIVE them.
Most importantly remember Motion is Lotion and Rest is Rust.
New Driver

Everyone is as different as our cars are. I believe there are generally two types of "Driver Cars." One type is our daily / weekend cruiser while the other group is our long range tourers. I have enjoyed both, along with disappointments when something breaks or falls short of expectations. For LONG RANGE road touring in our '63 Corvette, my wife and I have come to appreciate these nine modifications we've done over the past three years;
1: Aftermarket Air Conditioning
2: Radial Tires
3: Overdrive
4: Front LED Headlights (plug & play with existing wiring. Not superbrights!)
5: Modest tinted Windshield and Driver/Passenger side glass
6: Seat Headrests (safety) & Bolstered sides (comfort)
7: Dual Master Brake Cylinder with Front Drum to Disk Brakes
8: Twin Coffee Cup Holders (that a don't look stupid)
9: Modern Factory appearing Stereo/Speakers-Bluetooth

Your list/needs will be different. We now travel safer, faster and in all kinds of weather.
- Next on our list for 2023 are 3-point seat belts (single factory lap belt now)
Pit Crew

I suggest checking windshield wipers. With our regular cars we know when the wipers are ready to be replaced when their performance gets downgraded. Most of us probably rarely drive our cars in the rain but when you must, getting left out with rotten blades is not fun.

This is a good reminder that I often only think about when it's too late!

After adding overdrive to my wife's Volvo Kombi I did not want to drill the dash for a switch. I used an aluminum shift knob from Denis Welch that incorporates a toggle switch - up on the switch is up into overdrive. As the English say ,"it falls readily to hand".
Intermediate Driver

Adding aftermarket EFI and air conditioning to the 64 Falcon wagon made it a nice driver .
It already had disc brakes,
Haven’t added power steering yet ,

Gary Tayman in Florida , will install FM and Bluetooth and satellite in your origional radio , and you can’t tell it from the outside .
Intermediate Driver

Gary Tayman in Florida rebuilt my original am radio in my '68 Chevelle......couldn't be more pleased!

When I got my car back 23 years after selling it, I checked the tire date codes and determined that they where probably the same ones that I put on it before I sold it - YIKES!
They did look to be in great condition, so without checking I would have never thought them to be that old.
New Driver

brakes and fluid change usually get overlooked.
usually better to have a car that stops well than looks nice

Agreed - Cars that do not stop well do not look nice very long,

Brake fluid change every few years may help prevent need for caliper rebuilds or replacement.
Advanced Driver

I recently replaced the tires on my Jaguar XJS. The ones that came off looked, good, no sidewall cracks, plenty of tread. Nearly new, really. That is, they were nearly new 19 years ago. They looked so good it pained me to get rid of them. 4 new tires later those weird vibrations are gone and I don't have to worry about something falling apart at higher speeds. Traction seems improved too. Money well spent!
Intermediate Driver

The changes identified along with others would certainly make a 50 year old car drive and ride better. However if I wanted my restored 50 year old car to be like a new one I would just buy a new car. I owned a 1964 Chevelle Super Sport for 40 years and restored it back to original. In my case I liked to reminisce on what life and the driving experience was when I was young. It always amazed me that I used to drive my S/S fast and on curvy roads no less. The car was just a way to take me back to simpler times when my worries were what I had planned for Saturday night! Of course that isn't what everyone wants.
About tire life: I have a 2002 Honda S2000 with 42,000 miles and never wear out the tires. When I bought my last set of tires from a well known online retailer I checked the date codes and they were already 1 1/2 years old. I contacted them explaining how I used the tires and they agreed to refund a prorated amount equal to the 1 1/2 years of lost use. They were a standup company.

Not much of this works for me. I'm trying to source a quieter muffler at the moment (definitely not that "deep, powerful sound"). Even with that, there's no sound system that can compete with an inline six in a '61 Econoline (I've tried). A smaller steering wheel is not a good idea in a van without power steering. Replacing the shift knob on a "three-on-a-tree.". I don't think so.
Maybe a tune-up is in order. I think I have about 10 miles on the plugs, wires, and rotor cap, but it might be nice to have someone check the timing.
New Driver

Our 1978 MGB had a catastrophic tire failure this year.
It started as a serious vibration at speed in a short 160 km trip. Worked it's way in to a darn serious wobble.
Right rear appears to had a dry rot condition, the belts and treads separated.
New rubber all the way around, it looked good, but the serial numbers weren't even in any database.
Good information!

Not really a modification, and I believe Kyle Smith addressed this in another article in the past, but replacing 40 + year worn out carpeting makes a huge difference for the driver experience.
I purchased a complete CCA carpet set and installed sound & heat reduction material from RockA for the installation a few years ago. It fit well, was not hard install, and the price was great at that time. I also purchased the mats that match for the new carpet, so it is good for another 40 years - for my grandson to replace.
Advanced Driver

The comment on steering wheel size and rubber bands would indicate to me that Mr. Smith already has power assisted steering. Turning it at low speeds would be a bear.

I also think that Mr. Smith's rubber bands and stance are improvements to safety and handling. Any increased wear on front end components are a small price to pay for these improvements.

I love the luggage rack.

No power steering on my Corvair. It would be a bear to fit a power rack with how the 'Vair is design. I've seen it done but it's not something I will likely ever pursue. That small steering wheel actually ended up not fitting (not enough dish to clear the turn signal stalk) but I have no doubt it would drive fine with it. The steering box is pretty slow and that gives a good advantage to the driver.

If you have a newer turbo car the best thing I ever did was add a tune to it. 

GM offered a tune for my 2.0 engine. It added 65 hp and never voided the warranty. 

I did have to use premium due to the 23 psi of boost but it added 1-2 mpg too. 

It totally transformed the car and in 10 years nary a mechanical issue. 

Tunes are great but be sure to study them and make sure to buy a reliable well sorted one. 

I did all this for less than $300. 

Intermediate Driver

Another great article. In my home state of MA you can’t keep many older mufflers due to asbestos. If it is uninstalled at a muffler shop they are obligated to dispose of it so check out your state’s rules and remove it at home if the muffler shop won’t allow you to keep it?

That is quite a nice looking screen, perhaps touch screen, radio you got there, also you might have mentioned upgrading carpet and mats as I see a really new looking carpet in your car. That rug really ties the whole room together.

I replaced all my speakers and went with an Android Auto / Apple Carplay head unit about two years ago and I'm really happy about doing that. I have a double DIN car so it was an easy update, and I can reverse it in about an hour if I want or need to.
New Driver

You Forgot Headlights. I have up graded my 65 Corvair Corsa Turbo to European Headlights. This was something that Sports Car People did and I did for years. I used to have a Collection of Headlights that I used in my Company Provided Cars in the 80’s. In my Corvair I have Hella H4’s in my Low Beam and H 1’s in my High Beam. They are 80 Watts on Low Beam and 100 Watts on High Beam. (These headlights can be bought from many sources) You do have to add a Relay (instruction on U Tube) if you go with these Bulbs. You also need to modify the headlight buckets slightly with a die grinder. They basically look Stock to most, but a trained eye will pick them out. (The headlights are of the era) This car is driven a lot, but still wins high scores at CORSA Club Concourse Events. People are very surprised how well they work especially on back county roads at night.
New Driver

The Electrovair still exists and is on display in the GM Heritage Collection.

One more task: Clean your door panels if they look like the one in the picture.

There is new door panels waiting on the shelf for this car. Just one thing I haven't gotten around to yet!

It's patina. Cover it with coat of semi-gloss!


I jest, but people should only sweat the appearance details if the details matter to them.

New Driver

Amazing! I Agree. I figured this out myself for my 1988 Land Rover Defender 110 RHD. Only one not completed yet is the stereo but I dropped it off this afternoon; it’s being installed Monday. BTW, MOMO Prototipo is a huge upgrade over the stoch, plastic Land Rover steering wheel and makes every trip more enjoyable. Smaller diameter makes steering effort higher but a welcome trade-off. Nice blog.
Intermediate Driver

I had a "quick shift kit" in my 1964 Spyder. I bought it from one of the catalogues back in 1965 or so and it was a game changer. It brought the shifter an inch higher and it changed the fulcrum. It made the effort a little more, but it really shortened the distance for each shift. I wonder if it is still available.