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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/

Replies (46)

Replies (46)

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

Pit Crew

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.

Pit Crew

Kyle the corvair looks great and still looks like a corvair

Passenger

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.

Detailer

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!)

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.

New Driver

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 

 

 

Navigator

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

Pit Crew

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

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

Passenger

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. 

Intermediate Driver

I WANT that Corvair!

 

Well done!

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

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"!

 

New 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

Pit Crew

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.

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!

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.

New Driver

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.

Passenger

A few months ago I had a local shop try to recharge the York style AC unit on my 65 Studebaker Cruiser...no 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. 

Passenger

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...

Passenger

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

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.

Pit Crew

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. 

Intermediate Driver

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 ?

Passenger

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

Passenger

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

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....

New 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. 😂

Pit Crew

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.

New Driver