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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.


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Intermediate Driver

I have always like the idea of "bolt-on" improvements and upgrades more than big mods. I find that you end up getting to a point where you either drive off the deepend and potentially ruin the car (see turbo, tube chassis etc.) Or keep it simple and decide what is going to make the vehicle be a better version of itself! So in that mindset, my 89 Mustang coupe has a few bolt ons and a set of 17s but I'm not changing to 5-lug or supercharging it, or engine swapping or tubbing it or any number of wonderful expensive but more importantly... almost irreversible changes. I feel like I would lose my light, fun great sounding V8 manual car that is just a better car than came from the factory.

Pit Crew

Adding a Throttle Body fuel injection unit, HEI, and a modern 5 speed to my 1953 GMC panel truck makes for a much more user friendly driver, and adding the Air Conditioning makes it much more comfortable! All are reversible, should I or a future owner choose to do so. In the mean time I still have that big (302ci) GMC inline six singing under the hood as I cruise down the road in my "Ugly Truck"!


Pit Crew

Enjoyed the article and tips, particularly the subtle Pertronix points replacement that I should consider for my all original’68 Goat. BTW, the Corvair looks great. I wouldn’t change anything about it as to the outside appearance. Thanks Kyle.

New Driver

I have a 1999 Mustang Cobra Convertible. 31k miles, White. It has 2 mods done. A Cobra on the back over the SVT Cobra Emblem and a shorty antenna. Other than normal wear parts it's All Original.. I'm afraid to do any more as the car borderlines on perfect.


Another great article.  I agree with the author, mild upgrades are best.  I also love his Corvair...would love to have a '66 turbo as a daily driver, which all my cars (10) are...


Sounds like you have some work to do!
Intermediate Driver

I WANT that Corvair!


Well done!

Pit Crew

A few months ago I had a local shop try to recharge the York style AC unit on my 65 Studebaker go.  So they put on a late style Sankyo sp? compressor and now I can drive around with windows rolled up and 104 F out and people wonder if I am putting them on.  I can live with this upgrade. 


I love your article! I have a 1961 Chrysler Windsor that I got from my dad. I restored it, but it did not drive like I wanted. Bolt on sway bars, gas shocks, and disc brakes behind hubcaps and wide whitewalls makes for a wonderful driving car. I strive hard to make all modifications factory looking and easy to change back to stock.

Intermediate Driver

I agree bolt on mods are OK. I have a cam, high comp head, auto ignition advance, downdraft carb and alternator on our Model A. Makes it much more driveable as an every day drive..

Putting a rigid sleeve into the engine pipe to manifold joint is not a good idea - it is meant to self align and making it a rigid joint places extra stress on the manifold.


Kyle is right on!  If you watch Bring A Trailer, you will see Resto-Mod Broncos with Coyote engines that are often selling for over $100K.  What are people going to do with these trucks?  They are often heavily modified in ways that make them useless.  They have too much horsepower for something that sits up so high.  The high center of gravity doesn't make them better at off roading.  They will still get stuck in sand, snow or mud as soon as the differentials are buried.  They will be dangerous on the road with all that horsepower and high center of gravity.  The original Bronco design was superior by far, although not as flashy. 


Having driven a stock first-gen Bronco, I will also say that one with Coyote power sounds terrifying!


Looks like my 140 engine bay (without the air cleaners) but I decided to paint my new alternator to match the red distributor cap.

Intermediate Driver

Way to go Kyle in raising an area of interest to so many people. I might add that your article was respectful of other people's interests and generated a very pleasant, informative, and respectful response from pretty much everyone.


Let me see if I can articulate my modification intentions on my 86 Mustang convertible. Ever since I bought it in 92, my goal has been to maintain a safe, powerful, and reliable long distance cruiser. My first relatively simple mods pretty much kept the car looking stock from the outside except for lowered stance and rear discs. I received good responses from four-eyed Fox fans at many shows.


I continued to make many upgrades over the years for better performance and reliability while keeping the idea in mind that my visible mods should not turn off Fox fans. Cobra discs all around and Bullitt wheels kept my car noticeable for Fox fans, and generated a lot of compliments about how much my upgrades complimented the original style of the car. That has been my goal ever since. Attract fans and get approval for making appropriate changes that do not distract from the cars original looks. I seldom look for feedback on the under hood changes. They are extensive, but not for show, just performance and reliability. Generally when I do raise the hood, I also get nice nods about my mods.


With about a half million kilometres on the car, there has obviously been a lot of people who have seen the car and many who stopped and asked lots of questions. No one has ever asked me why I made any of the mods nor questioned why I didn't leave it stock. I like to think that everyone who has seen it on the highway or at a show would have done the same mods if they had bought the car and wanted to travel with it.


Intermediate Driver

Your last sentence says it all, "Cars are meant to be driven".  How you do that is a personal decision.

New Driver

I've done a couple of CORSAs. I agree about subtle = best.  One thing you could try is searching for appropriate Chevrolet Factory mag wheels instead of decidedly aftermarket. Some look perfect on the Corvairs and you can even fit a staggered [wider rears] that make the look aggressive without being silly.. and it looks "Factory".   One upgrade I never see mentioned is finding a set of Volvo seats at the bone yard that look appropriate but provide wonderful comfort and support when using these as a sports car.  Lots more but it's mostly been well documented.  Keep having fun! 

Pit Crew

Wow, I've got to hand it to you Kyle, that's simply one of the slickest looking 2nd generation Corvairs I have ever seen. (I've seen quite a few, starting from childhood as my Dad owned a couple of brand-new ones.) That particular wheel / tire setup compliments the beautiful lines of the car perfectly.

Generally speaking, when it comes to cars that I feel a great deal of adulation for, I'm an "all-original" kind of guy at heart. That said, in this case you've well proven your point.

By the way, the angle of this particular shot demonstrates quite well why I myself am most attracted to 2nd Gen Corvair in the hardtop configuration (even though I'm a ragtop kind of guy).

New Driver

I've done my best to keep nearly 50 '60's cars stock that I have bought and sold on the road for the past 50 years but don't mind any car that's been modded one way or another regardless of what others think.  If a car can be resurrected that would otherwise meet the crusher, I am all for giving it a second life as a Frankenstein.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and some of the fantasy cars look better than what most manufacturers will produce possibly because it is not profitable at the price most heavily altered cars cost to make those mods.  Cars like the Ford Thunderbolt clones certainly don't look like the typical stock Fairlanes but I don't think too many people would consider them an  abomination. Certainly there are quite a few 1969 Camaro Indy 500 clones out there as well as other models that can command quite a bit of admiration.  I also respect modders like Big Daddy Roth as well as cars like the Mach Five from Speed Racer and the like.  I can appreciate what comes from the mind of the shade tree mechanic while looking at their 'never to be finished' rat rod as well as JFK's car sitting in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI.  I hope car lovers will acknowledge that keeping a car looking stock should not limit what others might do to many cars that might not get a closer look because it has had a little, or a lot, of changes over the course of its lifetime.


Well said! 


Perhaps I can add a couple of additional reasons why subtle modifications make more sense than going radical. The first is that after market parts often don't fit properly. How many times have you purchased an exhaust header and had it bolt in without requiring modifications? How many times have you installed an after market anti-sway bar that didn't fit properly? If you are experienced with fabrication, many after market parts are a starting point to get to the upgrade that you want. Another reason is that you better keep very careful records of your upgrades. Years later when you're rebuilding that system again, it becomes exceedingly difficult if you didn't carefully record the parts that aren't OEM to the car.  Maintaining good records of after market upgrades is also a big favor for the next owner.  For example, I installed front disc brakes and dual master cylinder in a 65 Dodge Dart.  It required me to source rear brake cylinders from from an early '70's Dodge half ton truck for brake proportioning.  Without good records, the next owner might have a major headache trying to identify the source of the custom brake cylinders.  The more radical the customization, the more complicated long term maintenance can become. 


Six Weber’s would look right at home on that pancake six.


I prefer the more subtle route. Disc brakes, dual bowl master cylinders, etc. Actually, a disc brake upgrade was the FIRST thing to happen on my Cougar. I also upgraded the instrument panel to L.E.D lights (not the super bright, but powerful enough that the rheostat works). I also did a manual steering conversion temporarily to get rid of the convoluted factory four hose setup (mainly because of leaking WAY to close to my headers). Which brings me to the next upgrade which will be the Borgeson Power upgrade. I like the idea of two hoses, a more modern saginaw pump, and an actual power steering gear. Right now the Galaxie has a single bowl M/C with manual drum brakes. Surprisingly, that system actually hauls that big sled down fast albeit with the typical "fade" of a drum setup. I guess it will be next to get a disc upgrade. This car will get power though. Manual is fine with a lighter car like the Cougar, but I think a tank like the 500XL would benefit from some power assist. 


I have made about 30 mods to my ride.  The first key to changes is to make them look like they came that way from the factory.  Only the most diligent owners of a car like mine can point out most of the changes.  The second key is have the changes "reversable" so a new owner can restore the car to original.

Advanced Driver

I always upgrade my brakes,alternators and ignitions,LED lightbulbs really improve rear brake light visibility on old jeeps that cant be seen in the sun.