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Grace
Hagerty Employee

Subtle modifications are the best modifications

One of the best parts of the automotive world is that, with very few exceptions, no one gets to tell you what you can or cannot do to your car. I know those on the left coast will scream, "but C.A.R.B!" and they are right. After you perform a certain amount of modifications, you can't drive your car on the road (legally, at least). However, you can still make changes and enjoy the car off the street, whether that's on a track, on a trail, or on display at a show. We have the freedom to build our automobiles into extensions of our own personalities, and anything goes. That being said, I hold subtle modifications in higher regard than shouty, over-the-top stuff.

 

Read the full article on Hagerty.com: https://www.hagerty.com/media/opinion/subtle-modifications-are-the-best-modifications/

73 REPLIES 73
Pepperalls
Detailer

I think you are still a "purist" if the mod can be unbolted and undone with no harm. If such a mod allows you to drive more (or carefree) then have at it. Most people aren't entering judged concours with their car. It's hard to argue against more safety as well.

 

I have no problem with someone not being a purist. It's a bit of a shame when a really good original or restored car gets radically (irreversibly) customized but ownership comes with the privilege to do whatever makes you happy as owner.

 

For me it depends on the vehicle (rarity, condition, value) and the intended use. I wouldn't put fins on a VW Bug, but if you want to and you're going to drive the car  --props to you.

Bigdog69
New Driver

Fins on a VW bug actually sounds pretty cool.

Bmike
Detailer

Fins on a Bug?  Wings maybe.  Fins on a Barracuda or Stingray perhaps.  Btw, I still enjoy setting the dwell and timing on my Bug.  Tinkering junkie.

audiobycarmine
Advanced Driver

Who remembers the fiberglass "Rolls-Royce" add-ons to Beetles? Way cool! 

RallyeRalph
Intermediate Driver

There's an old saying, "The best makeup on a woman looks like she isn't wearing any".

Figuero
Intermediate Driver

But smells like bubblegum.

Kyle
Moderator

Yeah, I'm gonna steal that analogy.
MR
Intermediate Driver

Nice article!

I acquired my fourth ( and last) Karmann Ghia in 1997. It had really good bones but definitely had been through the ringer. I suspect it had seen many owners who all had a "vision".

I wanted to restore the KG to it's former glory but picked a modern color. I also decided to redo the interior to more reflect the upgraded 2-tone cloth interior of the early Ghia's.  Later KG's received full vinyl interiors at the factory. I upgraded the engine by increasing the CC's and installing period Dellorto dual carbs topped with vintage style air cleaners. I finally dropped the suspension on all corners a very subtle 1" but left the wheel/tire combo stock.

Mine too will never win a concours but it turned out exactly as I hoped. I agree, subtle mods are the best!

MitchellR
Passenger

In 1963, my father bought my first car, a Corvair Monza Spyder. The car was the worst car I have ever owned. It flipped the fan belt within 1 hour of driving, normal when changing gears. In fact, the deficiency was so well known that other owners carried spare fan belts for themselves and others that they would find on the side of the road with the same problem. I am writing this because I haven't seen anyone bring this topic up.

dhomuth
Intermediate Driver

On Corvair sites, people bring this up constantly.  It was an annoying  problem, but there were several fixes that were comparatively easy. The keys are (1) to use the Correct fan belt, and not just any of the correct length, (2) to tension the belt properly, and not just estimate the proper adjustment.  Two aftermarket fixes:  (3) the factory installed a smallmetal keeper on the right hand side of the fan that served to keep the belt in place, and (4) there was a spring tensioner that was installed on the idler pulley that kept the proper tension on all the time.  Still, it was always wise to carry a 9/16 offset box end wrench and large screwdriver in the "frunk" (?) for those occasions when things might come adrift.  I only ever experienced it on the first drive I took after purchasing my 1966 convertible after it had been "restored" by a "mechanic" who had no idea that he had installed the wrong belt.  Otherwise, in well over 200,000 miles of driving several Corvairs, it never happened. 

Kyle
Moderator

@dhomuth nailed it. I've driven tens of thousands of miles in multiple Corvairs and have yet to throw a fan belt. The items he lays out are correct. Most folks want to pull the belts tighter to prevent them from flipping or throwing, but in fact slightly loose is best. Should be able to turn the alternator (or generator, I like early models too!) with one finger. To folks used to single-plane accessory drives, this will be insanely loose, but that's the ticket. If you still have problems, I recommend making sure your pulleys run true and are nice and clean.
ppointer
Intermediate Driver

Love that Corvair.  Maybe not Panasports? but what a look!  Thanks for your articles.

Kyle
Moderator

Not Panasports, but it was a tossup between these wheels and Panasports. These are ET Wheels LT-III wheels in 17x7 front and 17x8 rear.
MacGowan
Passenger

 I drive my collector cars, so to me , any modification that makes them more drive-able and safer to me makes a lot of sense. I have done no Mods to my 1951 chevy truck thats restored to original, But the Pertronix ignition makes sense, I am ordering one, Putting Radial wide whites on it instead of bias plys and looking at a dual master cylinder instead of the single. One upgrade I wanted to make was to the rear end so I can drive at hwy speeds. Given its a torque tube, that has turned out to be a real can of worms and likely wont happen.

corlw1
Passenger

Kyle the corvair looks great and still looks like a corvair

dhomuth
Intermediate Driver

Other than perhaps the Yenko Stinger and the Fitch Sprint Corvair variants, I have yet to see any body modification that improves their looks.  And even those are arguable.  Happily neither of them was all that radical, and they left the basic body contours alone.

Kyle
Moderator

Thank you! I would love to add a tin tail rear spoiler, but Can't bring myself to remove paint to wld one on.
topside
Detailer

Agreed. Many improvements that enable better and safer operation can be essentially invisible without disassembly or close and expert inspection, without negatively affecting the overall experience. As much as I love original, production-correct cars, I have no problem with things like dual master cylinders & disc brakes on '50s & '60s cars that are driven, as long as they're OEM-appearing. Ditto suspension, ignition & electrical. I draw my line at billet items, flashy serpentine accessory drives, and cutting the car. Keep the stock OEM items boxed & labeled in case a future owner wants absolute originality. By the way, love the Corvair.

Numberscruncher
Detailer

Personally, I cringe when I see mods. As you said, to each their own. As for me and my house, my 64.5 Mustang is and always will be OEM stock. I've added a few Ford options that were available in 1964, that this one didn't have, but heck, even the paint job was redone in the original "bake on" paint. It's my time capsule back to the 1960s.

1967jvh
New Driver

As one in the purist category, I try to keep my GTO as close as I can for history / value.  Yes mine is more a driver than show car, but as optioned is rare.  Agree things that remove / install factory is not a problem.  I even replaced the manual steering on mine with power (abet from a 67 A body), just did not come that way.  I can always sell with the original steering box.   I just hate to see someone taking a rare vehicle and customize to the level it is no longer a classic.  They could have cut up a $3000 LeMans rather than a $30,000 GTO to get to the same place they end up. 

elldorado2000
Intermediate Driver

Couldn’t agree more.  I upgraded the alternator in my 74 Grand Am to a modern 140 amp unit out of Chevy and essentially doubled the available amperage and increased the ability for replacement about 1000%.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vB-W3ibqZYo&list=PLDVMZI_3FDreUgeiihv4nG8KWDXGh2eti&index=4&t=888s

TonyT
Instructor

My mantra is "make the part fit the car, not make the car fit the part." As stated by others, make the upgrades and modifications bolt on as much as possible so as to preserve the originality of the car. Conversely, they are just cars, and cars are just things that in the so-called final analysis won't amount to a hill of beans. Express yourself (but tastefully!)

Koffer
Navigator

Living in the rust belt ,finding a clean car = not getting it from around here. I bought my one owner 65 beetle from Southern California , not rust , not even a acid eaten battery tray . Had a few touch ups thru the years and a stock color respray many years earlier , a super clean stock car. Was told by many on forums that I paid too much for it but these are the same people who live where rust is a brown speck that shows up on a bare piece of metal after 10 years outside .

I paid 1/2 the price for a local car in 60% as nice “restored” condition and  less for the whole car then just metalwork would be for a rotted mess anywhere around here 

I upgraded the generator with a 12v small case Porsche unit and mounted the regulator to it like the stock 6 volt. Upgraded the from the stock points to the electronic under the  stock cap . 
everything I’ve done has been bolt on upgrades that can be reversed and when I pop the engine lid you really got to look hard to see the changes that make it a much better driver .
Seeing in the cars on most tv shows that are rust free stock cars being cut up and modded to the point your not sure what it started out as makes me sad. These are the same places who say “ it’s a real rusty car “ and there’s a thumb sided hole in the lower quarter panel
Graveyard Carz is about as real as you get with what real rust is . Mark knows his stuff but the showman self centred stuff is grading but the show does showcase what real world 50+ year old cars that were used in other places then the southwest 

 

 

merlebalke
Detailer

I think those TV shows are real cautionary tales because so many of those supposedly rust free cars turn out to be real rust buckets once the old paint is removed.

jnsilver
Passenger

I have a 1964 Corvette that I have owned and driven for 30 years.  It wasn't Bloomington Gold pristine when I bought it because I couldn't afford it if it had been.  It has always looked very good and stock to the average person, so it's been fun to take it to local shows and just drive and enjoy.  Over that time I have made several modifications that have made it safer and more reliable as a driver.  These include:   Radial tires; Fiberglass one-piece rear spring; Pertronix ignition; Dual master cylinder; Third center-mounted brake light (attaches with suction cups so it can be removed at shows); and Power steering (because I am older and parking was getting tougher).

Sajeev
Community Manager

Sounds like you did it right, I love Corvettes with better parts from later models!

3pedals
Pit Crew

I appreciate the mechanical and engineering talent it takes to add modern drive train and suspension to a vintage car or truck. I prefer the experience of driving a 60s-70s muscle car as they were when I had them in that era. If I wanted a car that drives like a new Mustang or Corvette I'd buy a new. But I do appreciate the diversity of style and ideas when I'm cruising with fellow gear heads

JF1
Navigator

Great article - safety and reliability are paramount and should be the focus of any upgrade or modifications.  What value is a $10k paint job if it doesn’t leave the garage?

Edwardsg
Intermediate Driver

Upgrading to dual master cylinder or disk brakes I view as a plus. I’m pretty open to things that improve safety and / or reliability for the most part. What I enjoy most is cars that look pretty original, but the things done to it make it so it the owner takes it out and drives it. Say you had a RA IV Pontiac, which had 4.33 gears. An overdrive transmission or swapping gears is a subtle mod. Manual steering to power steering also fits there. 
I have mixed feelings on going to fuel injection vs. carb. A bit too obvious.

MaverickNutron
Intermediate Driver

I'm from the same 'old school' mentality...make it a "better" driver while affording the ability to return to "all-stock" if desired.  Upgraded my '65 F-100 to a Pertronix unit (virtually invisible), power steering and power (drum!) brakes from a later F-100 but only a 'purist' would know these bits are "not correct" for a '65.

carlsoncg
New Driver

Could not agree more.  My Model AA Truck is currently unreliable to travel more than a few miles causing me to be left out of 60-70 mile long cruises with my local Model A Ford club.  So I am gradually replacing items such as you describe so the truck looks authentic, but will hopefully become more reliable as time goes on.  Even though it looks very good cosmetically, even under the hood it will never succeed in AACA or MAFCA competitions as it is not "show room condition" because I drive it vice trailer it.  Unfortunately unless I change the rear end (worm gear) and transmission I will not over come a top speed of 30-35  mph, but that is Ok, I can just leave earlier for the tours and arrive home later, but if I can get the reliability up using subtle upgrades as you discuss, at least I can participate without worrying (every time) about not getting home without help from AAA or holding up the club for 3 hours while we repair/band aid a break down. At least it won't happen every trip, it is 92 years old after all!

oldcars
Intermediate Driver

I think of mods as more to do with looks. Almost any car needs a good set of wheels and tires, not factory, and usually slightly lowered to give a good stance.

Tom9716
Intermediate Driver

Subtle mods can be used to make your car, your special car. I’ve had my one-owner 1971 Camaro SS350 since it was new. Most of the mods were completed in the ‘70s and were done to include features that I liked in earlier Camaros. For example, I added a replica cowl induction hood and 15” staggered-width Chevy rallye wheels (to replace the 14” ones), since I liked the way they looked. Also changed the cam and installed an Edelbrock manifold and Holley carb for better performance. And modified the transmission by adding a high-stall converter with manual shift valve body. All of the changes are reversible, so it can be returned to stock condition in the future. Although, after almost fifty years, it’s probably not going anywhere, at least not in my lifetime. My son says that after I’m gone, he’ll put my ashes in the ashtray and drive “me” around. 😂

John1
Pit Crew

List what you want and then picture how it will look afterwards. Not many cars today ( Post 1995 )  were built to look good...Other then cheating the wind the style of todays cars can all lead back to computer designing.  9 out of 10 of use remember what a car looked like when we first saw them brand spanking new on the dealerships lot...First impressions....Like the first time I seen up close and personal a Buick Regal...GNX...WOW...and then a few years later...seen one destroyed by someones attempt at making it to fit his vision. Other then todays advanced geometry and braking and engine performance gains.....the stock outer look of a car ( of your desire ) will always attract more noteworthy comments. We all know if GM ,Ford and Chrysler could go back to exact replicas of their all time best models with todays tech, we'd be standing in line to sign that dotted line..HINT-HNT....

carlsoncg
New Driver

Can I ask a question? Ok, I will anyway.  While I agree it is your car to do what you wish (though subtle/reversible is best), I just do not get the whole "Restomod" concept from a collectability point of view.  I understand it is interesting to take a 63 corvette and drop in the latest engine, suspension, etc., it will drive like a new car, but in 10 years what have you got?  The technology is now out of date and it can not be made a classic/original car so how does it keep its value? I guess we will know in 2030 when a 10 or 20 year old Restomod crosses the Barrett- Jackson auction block...?

Cool-isAmerican
Pit Crew

To begin with way to many people think that their cars (especially if all original) are worth so much more; yeah well not so much I'm sure you would find. Look the real point of the article is that it's each owners prerogative to do what they chose to their cars; lots of people love the "restomod" style because they are still good looking older cars that drive like a dream and run like hell, so what if they aren't original. Additionally I would surmise they will get a pretty solid payday when they sell some of those. Yes even custom needs done with taste but that does not say that many newer pieces don't make the overall ride much better; aka disc brakes, Sniper Electronic ignition, Tremec Tranny, modern tires etc. As to towing guys with electronic ignition systems home, well I have done the same for all stock a fair bit as well. Some cars just lend themselves to needing cleaned up and rebuilt some while others (C2 Vetts) should be left alone but even those typically have different engines (numbers) and rebuilts items on them so very little is truly original and worth big dollars as well so just lighten-up and let people alone. Hell I hate most BMW's but the newer generations love the crap out of them so what that's their dream ride so the arguments for what you do to your car is your choice not anyone else's just like your home is.....oh wait yeah maybe not such a great analogy; that decision always falls to the woman of the house!

warrene
Intermediate Driver

I've had to pull two guys home from tours with elec' igniton in their Model A's, points are far more reliable, can be fixed on the road, will run 13K easily.

I did make and weld mountings for a '38 Ford generator, tossed 3rd brush, wired as a 2 brush w/ Ford 8N regulator, works great with 50cp lights.  Also rigged oil pressure to center main, is supposed to help.  I fitted all bearings to .001, I run 5-20 synthetic oil, doesn't use a drop (new Hastings rings).  Also put in all stainless valves.  Stainless bolts & nuts in hot places is always a good idea too, also heated & bent shift lever away from my long knees.

warren

carlsoncg
New Driver

I have modern points in my  1929 Model AA truck, but good to hear that you think electronic ignition to much/unreliable. Great idea re shift lever, my truck has a thumb lever on top, driver's side of the shift lever that you lift to shift into reverse and it digs into my leg constantly in the (relatively) small cab. Also good comment about synthetic oil, old guys in the club are are over the place on that.

warrene
Intermediate Driver

Use a real torch to heat the lever just about red hot, I used a tin shield so as not to wreck my nice floor mat, bend the lever over, let cool normally and there you are.

Bend it just above the 'bell'.

warren

DT
Detailer

If you put a Pertronix unit in your car always carry the points and hardware with you to change it back on the road in case the Pertonix fails. I'ts a 15 minute job at most and cheap insurance 🙂

 

warrene
Intermediate Driver

It's simple, you simply install new points about every 12 to 14K, maybe the condenser also, your old car is going to run like new the whole time.  When you're a hundred miles north of Glendive MT and your Pernotrix puked in the rain and it's 2 AM .. you'll wish you had listened to the old guy ... that knows.

warren  (87)

KickStart
Pit Crew

I guess it depends on the stock points. I owned and rode several British bikes, and the factory Lucas dual-point ignition was horrible. I was always kind of a purist with most vehicles, but when finally upgraded to an electronic ignition, I chose one without a black box (uses stock advancer). It was an incredible difference. The engine ticked over fairly evenly, and revved smoothly and higher than achieved with the best points tune. I kept the stock points plate ready to run in my toolbag. 
The electronic unit did fail once during a poker run and I had the bike back in the chase in 10mins. The repaired unit is back in and still there after 25 years. 
BTW- My mid-70’s Harley still runs points. 

motorhead19
Navigator

My '79  XJ12 Jag is full of possibilities for subtle mods. Among the things that have been done so far are replacing the engine fan with an electric fan and an improved ignition system that the previous owner installed. PO also began to change the body to UK spec bumpers and headlights. I am continuing this process because will give the car a trim, less clunky look -more like your Corvair.

The big change coming is a T5 to replace the 3-speed slush box!

BTW, my car also has the aftermarket bump strip along the sides like yours. I think those date the car and not in a good way. Mine will get tossed when it gets painted.

 

Cheers!

TH

Kyle
Moderator

Oh, how I loathe the person who chose to rivet that bump strip to the side of this car. I would have pulled it by now if it would leave holes in the panels. I managed to find an outfit that was producing the rubber that slid into the aluminum channel. I ordered everything they had left in red, and still came up about a door length short. Kinda a bummer, but it replaced enough of the Texas sun baked that it looks a lot better.

 

I'm too cheap to paint a car. 

cole
Passenger

Good article on philosophy of reasonable and pragmatic upgrades. Love the stance on the Corsa. Wonder what size tires are you running and backspacing on the wheels ?

Kyle
Moderator

These are ET Wheels LT-III wheels. Fronts are 17x7" with 4" backspace, rears are 17x8" with 4.5 backspace. If I was going to do it again, I would go with 7" all around. The 8" rears look "the business" but it is a lot of tire to spool up with the relatively low horsepower flat-six. It still moves out pretty good, but it was certainly quicker with the stock 13" wheels.
Maestro1
Instructor

RallyeRalph has it right, as does Kyle. My cars are modified only to the extent that the modifications add safety or driveibility. If you look at them, you can't tell the difference between what I've done and OEM with the exception of what I intend to do with my first fiberglass car, a mess I recently bought. 

mfp4073
Intermediate Driver

100% in agreement!  like my cars true to form with just the right subtle upgrades.  I think many of us (average) car folks look at over the top  show cars, you know, the ones that never get driven in, as a competition between a few, but cash heavy folks.   Making a contest of throwing as much money as possible at a vehicle to out do someone else.  Dont get me wrong!  I love the highly modified and expensive cars too.  All cars for that matter.   Variety is the spice of the auto industry.  For myself, I'm always drawn to someones basic car at the shows.  Last time spending an hour going over a perfect Datsun  210.  Spent 1 minute with the $120k custom.  This article nailed it.

DRF
Intermediate Driver

Aside from the bushings and items such as that, I have always liked seeing cars that have period accessories added to them by the owner.  Could be as simple as metal AAA badges, spotlights / fog lights, mirrors, curb feelers, fender skirts, or more complex things like roof racks. I have a window mounted ice water "A/C" unit that eventually I hope to put on my Hudson.  Higher end cars from the 1930's lend themselves to large Trippe Speed lights that would look out of place on a Model A, but either look good with a trunk on the luggage rack I think. While I haven't done it, adding turn signals probably is a good example of a safety item that most would think appropriate if done with parts that look like they could have been added in period.