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Sajeev
Community Manager

Community Question: No brainer modifications for your classic?

In some ways a classic is just a blank canvas for its owner, right? 

 

This week's Community Question wants you to think about modifications to your classic that you'll enjoy or appreciate. Upgraded brakes are usually a great idea and rarely hurt its value. Period correct modifications (8-track tape players?) have a big following too. And there are things like aftermarket differential girdles, which do very little (or sometimes hurt performance) but they still make the right impact on some vehicles. 

 

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So, with that in mind, what "no brainer" modifications do you have or want for your classic? 

44 REPLIES 44
Rob1
Instructor

I installed rack and pinion in my 73 C3 and luv it i still have all OEM components removed cleaned and boxed up in storage also installed HEI a no brainer upgrade and same kept the original distributor.R

plusman
New Driver

What rack did you use?

Rob1
Instructor

Sorry plusman I was away the kit came out of Cali        Steeroids

hyperv6
Gearhead

Depends on the car. If it’s not 100% stock it is brakes. 4 wheel disc on on older car take the butt pucker out of the will my 4 wheel drums stop? 

If it is all original I would seek out rare options or prototype parts. 
I have found a few of each for my Pontiac. Being a Fiero there were many period performance and body items available and I have collected some of the rarest. It makes for a very one of a kind cart hat I made my own.

 

Rust-aholic
Pit Crew

I’ve got 2 cars 1968 Lemans convertible and 1970 Buick GS 455. The Pontiac is around half done and will be a restomod. Easy decision plus removed everything so why not coil overs tubular control arms 12 bolt rear, 428 Pontiac aluminum heads, Doug’s headers. I could go on. It’s been a long project which helps on the freaking money I’ve spent. The Buick has aluminum front drums which are pretty cool and not bad. It’s a non posi rear and even though it’s a BOP it’s tricky to find correct gears so maybe 12 bolt. I want to keep it close to original. It’s an unrestored driver that will need complete restoration and it’s rusty!

KelownaCotton
New Driver

I've upgraded my '58 Impala w/ front disc brakes, electric wipers, power steering, and seat belts.  New trim, exhaust and upholstery.

rxk9394
Intermediate Driver

One of the biggest "no brainers" for mid 60's and previous cars is the master cylinder.  Even if you don't want to convert yet to modern disc brakes and/or upgraded components if you have a single master cylinder you should replace it with a dual setup.  As in DO IT RIGHT NOW!  (public service address for those hard of hearing).

 

Yes it may involve some tubing and minor fabrication, and yes it will mean your vehicle is no longer bone-stock.  But with a single master cylinder if you have just one line failure (old ratty rubber hose lines or rusty steel lines immediately spring to mind), you lose all braking to both front AND rear.  With the dual master cylinder you will only lose one or the other.

 

For any given make or model there may even be easy bolt-in retrofit kits available with all the piece parts included.  From there the basic knowledge of how to bleed the brakes will be needed.  Not a difficult mod.

 

Did I also mention you should DO IT RIGHT NOW? 

 

C2andC8
New Driver

Can't agree with you more!!

Elsie
New Driver

Not really a modification but a necessity. Have an Alfa GTV and installed emergency releases for the hood and trunk just in case the original 50 cables happen to break.

DaveA
Detailer

I did the same thing to my DeLorean. The front trunk (frunk?) has an hidden emergency release.

Rob1
Instructor

De Lorean super cool piece of automotive history,lotus engineered,they have a niche market here in Canada and the price has been climbing most people will never see one on the highway or in person,Cheers R

Mistermike
New Driver

I converted my 1995 Suburban to what appears to be a stock 5 speed manual.  Since it was not available from the factory I used the parts from a pickup of the same era. There are probably others, but it is the only loaded LT Suburban I have see with a manual transmission.

DaveA
Detailer

Nice! I have a friend that also installed a manual transmission into car that was only sold as an automatic. With enough time and money, it’s amazing what can be accomplished!

70-Z28-RS-LT-1
Pit Crew

Mine stays original, except for a couple quick add on parts I can remove easily if I show it, etc.  The parts are a 'Hurst Equipped' emblem on the back end and also I will swap out the stock black Hurst 4 speed round shifter knob for a polished T-handle shifter.  My '85 Mazda RX-7 stays original though.  No swaps on that one.

Spud426
Pit Crew

I will always go with a Pertronix ignition to replace the old single or dual point setup, which are not completely reliable,  but typically I’m a stickler for keeping it 100% original.

rxk9394
Intermediate Driver

Adding another one to this topic.

This one for me qualifies as a delayed reaction no-brainer.  After "fiddling" (or add any other colorful adjective in there) around with carburetors for most of my DIY time on old cars, converting over to modern EFI has been an unbelievable blessing.  The Holley and Edelbrock EFI setups are now almost plug and play with the necessary other mods needed (ie fuel pumps return lines etc).

 

I should've made that investment and done it sooner.  I now never want to touch a carb again...  

70chevelle
New Driver

2 winters ago I put a ZZ6 420 HP crate motor in my 70 Chevelle. Mine came with a Edelbrock Pro flow 4 EFI, serpentine belt system, all new accessories including AC pump. Last winter I installed big block version of same system on my Nova. Can communicate with both cars with smart phone or the 7” communications pad. Gives you most important info telling you what your settings should be, what they are, and allows wireless changes. Even driving down the road. Even allowed me to set temps each electric cooling fan comes on at. Turn key and GO. Spend the extra money for complete new fuel system. My 2 came from Just Tanks. About 3000.00 to do it right. No regrets

win59
Detailer

Hi-torque gear-reduction starter and a Genernator.

Toy94GT
New Driver

For my 68 Mustang I've added Pertronix for quick easy starts, front disc brakes and Borgesen power steering conversion. All make the car more enjoyable to drive. Thinking of an EFI upgrade as well.

My 94 Mustang I've added Cobra front disc brakes, sub-frame connector (convertible needs all the stiffness that can be added) Boxed rear control arms. But the engine is a highly modified 331 Stroker 🙂

Rick2
Detailer

When I had my 1954 Mercury two door hardtop I did drop spindles which were set up for disk brakes,  new brake booster and master cylinder. Electronic ignition, 390 cfm Holly, headers with Smithy dual glasspacks. That car ran and sounded great for a 256 & Mercomatic. Instead of installing an electric windshield wiper motor I rebuilt the vacuum motor. It not only worked great even during acceleration but was variable speed also. 

Huntwt
Pit Crew

I’ve done two things to my 71 Beetle. Disk brakes are an absolute no-brainer, even on a light car. The other change was more subtle. I put an electric pump in for the windshield washer fluid. Originally VWs used air pressure from the spare tire to power it. Great from a simplicity standpoint, but Murphy teaches us that the day you actually use your spare tire is the day you discover that maybe you should have checked the pressure in it from time to time. 

dpeterb
New Driver

1953 Buick Super. Petronix ignition, power front discs, one wire GM alternator. Made a big difference in driveability, especially the brakes.

 

MoeM
New Driver

All my two stroke road bikes get expansion chamber exhausts (if I can find them). Really opens up the powerband. Most of my classic cars/trucks will get Pertronix ignition. 

 

Connie67
New Driver

The only modification I made to my 67 Continental was front and rear sway bars. Makes her corner a lot flatter and actually improved the ride. Also added period correct FM tuner for the factory 8 track tape player. 

charlylutz
New Driver

When I purchased the 07 Mustang GT it had a Ford comp cam with long tube headers and Flow Master exhaust, in the last 2 years I have spent upgrading the suspension with improved pan hard bar, KYB shocks and struts, strut tower brace, upgraded rear trailing arms, poly bushings on the remaining rear components and a gauge package. The handling has greatly improved without sacrificing the quality of the ride.

autowriter
Pit Crew

After I started judging several concours events here in the PNW, I have wanted to own just one 95+ point concourse car that I could enter competitively.  As it turned out, I found the very 1966 Corvair Corsa convertible I bought in 1/68 the night before I went to Viet Nam the second time.  Though it had been "upgraded" by the previous owner, it was to be quite frank, a real mess.  It was recently completed after 7 years, and I changed nothing about it that wasn't on the original build plate.  The only thing that is different is the addition of many sound-deadening insulation sheets under the carpets and in the panels to make the car quieter.  But the 1978 Datsun 280Z Black Pearl coupe I owned for 39 years prior to that got the full resto-mod treatment, while keeping the drivetrain Nissan entirely.  15" Konig Rewinds in anthracite came close to the body color, the progressive rate lowering springs gave it a great stance, the period-correct front air dam and BRE rear spoiler made it look purposeful after all the "bling" chromed trim was removed.  The tuned headers and low restriction exhaust gave it that unique I-6 sound and improved mileage and performance somewhat.  Removed the "period correct" dealer-installed sunroof (it always whistled and leaked from new) and side trim and extra vinyl striping that identified it as a 280Z.  (If someone could tell what it was, it would make any real difference.) The idea was not to go overboard and make it bizarre looking.  Because parking lots are full of idiots, I kept the big bumpers with the bumper guards.  Wisely as it turned out.  It won and placed in a lot of shows here in the PNW, and drove as good as it looked.

Robson
New Driver

On my 912, high torque starter with a relay, 123Distributor ignition system, upgraded fuse box, and AGM battery.  I want to avoid the tow home of shame….

Steve1945
New Driver

I have a '66 C2 coupe and have made the following changes: rack & pinion steering, Willwood brakes, ZZ427 engine, TKO 600 5spd, Vintage Air, Griffin oversized radiator, '67 side vents, '67 interior with head rest & center pull hand brake, harness bar with 4 point cam lock harness, custom side exit headers with factory side pipes, American Racing 5 spoke wheels, '66 big block hood. It's a bit loud, but a great event car 

Redenzo
Pit Crew

The biggest improvement that I have made to all of my vintage stuff is dealing with ignition.  At the least not having to worry about the regular 10,000 mile tune up- setting the points, etc. is, together with a hotter spark and fewer fouled plugs a much more pleasant deal.  Next its gearbox changes and suspension work.  Did a 5 speed in the Alfa- so can run at highway speed at 3000 rpm.  Looking at a 6 speed for the Corvette.  The bigger sway bars, better shocks and stiffer springs combined with modern sticky radial tires mean that the cars can handle surprisingly well.   Amazing how a bit more rear spring rate can get an understeering car to handle neutral or with a bit of oversteer (which is what I actually prefer).  In any case- and so the purists don't blow a gasket-neither car is a concourse show quality car- both are modified to extend the performance envelope and make the ride/drive that much more enjoyable. 

Euphonium
New Driver

Pertronix ignition and general aviation landing lights in the grill of our '66 Mustang GT.   Burt

chrlsful
Instructor

What is a 'classic'? I claim late 30s thru very early 50s in some makes (usa mostly) but europeans (following my personal deffiniton, the only 1 that matters 2 me) is into mid/late '60s for many european. Anyway...

 

1st 2 factors then answers. 

1) classics should B daily driven if at all possible; 2) only 'sleeper' mods, if any (& for performance safety durability & pollution). I like to stay oe and w/in make at all costs (era correct often too).  So - electronic ignitions, efi and spfi, discs up front, autos w/OD, 3, 4 speeds w/OD, safety glass when replacing as broken, seat belts, modern cams and tires, re-jeted carbs and so forth. Love to look at mechanical breaks, cloth covered wires, over built frames, longitudinal single leaf springs, etc.  Some of the best of a classic is the mechanicals of how they solved problems in da ol daze...

Dislike 'patina' and 'rat rods'.  A well used (up?...no) vehicle is OK  but 'survivor' can be taken to a foolish extreme.

Enjoy watchin the stylistic trends flow thru cars/trucks/planes/boats world wide, they sure influence each other (like the AR man in the music trade) there's eras (seems longer than the music ones, a decade or less). Thnx 4 da Q.

 

kingandeverhard
New Driver

K & N air filters.  Piece of cake.  Could not be more simple.  Less than $100.  And they made a REAL difference in my 1976 280Z and my 2011 Jag XKR. 

Tim
Instructor

Just reading the article title, disc brakes came to mind. I see you covered that. 🙂 If I had a gen-1 Mustang, for example, I'd give it the disc brake, power steering and power brake upgrades if it didn't already have those. Also, a "factory" look A/C kit. And I'd swap the stereo for a Bluetooth compatible head unit that looked retro (but I'd still keep the original in that box of take-off parts). Under the hood, electronic ignition and an alternator conversion (if it had a generator) would be early modifications for low maintenance and drive ability. The goal would be to have a nice weekend driver and try to keep modifications invisible from the exterior. 

MYREDYOTA
New Driver

I finally got sick and tired of putting a band-aid on the vapor lock issues I have fought since I got my car. I finally installed a Holley Sniper EFI kit. Best upgrade I could have ever done. Worth every penny! Electronic ignition is the second best upgrade. Brakes are next.

61Rampy
Advanced Driver

My 61 Rampside Corvair is mostly, but not entirely stock. I bought it with Pertronix ignition and dual master cyl already installed, as was the "big block"  164 cubic inch engine.  I use it as a pickup truck.  As I live in Phoenix, A/C was an absolute MUST. I literally used parts found laying around the garage to put a system together. Took me over 6 months to get everything fabricated and installed, but damn, that thing blows 40℉ air! And the cab is tiny! Only Corvair parts on the A/C is the compressor bracket, and the throttle speeder-upper solenoid. Next (maybe), front disc brakes, but I'd like power brakes and there is Zero room anywhere, except in the L/R fenderwell for a brake booster.  I tried a Hydrovac unit, but wasn't happy with it.  Also thinking, not seriously, about electric power steering, but there just isn't room for it. Guess its brake pull, and armstrong steering for a while!

JimR
Instructor

On my 93 RX7 moving to a programmable ECU and being able to remove emissions was kind of a no-brainer. That simplified the ‘rat’s nest’ of solenoids and vacuum lines by half, as well as some trouble-prone components. It also added needed space to the engine bay, removed a lot of heat and a improved performance.
Lots of good recommendations for Pertronix, but my experience with an early 50’s Chevrolet over the past 40 years and maybe 40k miles hasn’t given me any reason to believe it’s really a “no-brainer” as I’ve not really had issues. 🤔

hyperv6
Gearhead

I will add one more after the Radiator thread. 

 

Upgrade a Radiator. Too many people try to run old and damaged radiators or modify a car that generates more heat and try to cool it with a 50 year old radiator. They will spend thousands of dollars on an engine and will not spend $600 for a high quality radiator to protect a numbers matching engine or a $15K built engine. 

 

I never understood this.  

 

Then in the middle you see that guy puke anti freeze at the Woodward cruise or other event wishing he had  done the right thing on a Hot August night. 

JimR
Instructor

Agree on the radiator if it’s a modified engine or came with those damn plastic OEM end-tanks. That I would add to my RX7 as a no-brainer mod. 
But I don’t know, on most cars with a stock engine aftermarket aluminum…especially with electric fans just doesn’t look right to me. While a cleaned and pressure-tested copper OEM with good hoses, belts and pump is fine the majority of time, unless slow parades on hot summer afternoons is your major thing. Again…I’m thinking no-brainer mods, as in…the factory should have done it that way in the first place. 

Rob1
Instructor

Hyperv 6/JimR in total agreeance with U on all points but dont forget the heater core I did and once the system had reached the proper factory pressure sure enough heater core started a slow leak now replaced.R

Stan54
Pit Crew

For safety I have added radial tires, seat belts, upgraded sway bar for the front and air shocks for the rear. I mounted backup sensors on the rear bumper which made it possible to back up to an obstacle without hitting it. No need to modify brakes if they're properly refurbished and not used for hard driving. For driveability an alternator and petronix ignition goes a long ways to reduce constant maintenance. My vapor lock problems were solved with an insulated gas line, and a spacer under the carburetor to reduce heat transfer from the engine. I found an air filter to fit inside my old oil bath air cleaner housing. I carry a screw Jack for the changing of tires instead of a bumper Jack which is just asking for trouble. If the original a.m. tube radio fails, I will modify that for a modern stereo system. Each modification improves my confidence and enjoyment when driving. I enjoy the challenge and satisfaction of working with old cars and I hope you do too.

MGABTD
New Driver

76 MGB 

 

Done so far:

Chrome bumper conversion

painted GM synergy green

Custom LED lights and turn signals

72 big valve head

Dual SU conversion

Patriot header

TT exhaust

Accuspark ignition

Aluminum radiator

Lowered car to chrome bumper specs. Blocks in rear, shorter higher rate springs in front

V-8 suspension bushings

1968 Dash and instruments

Fuel cutoff switch for electric fuel pump

Fuel pressure regulator

Battery cut off switch

Dieter
New Driver

I have made several changes to my 66 El Camino in the last 2 years but the best one was installing adjustable  QA1 coil over shocks front and rear so I can tune the suspension. Previous owner had rear air shocks and shortened the front coil springs. This made a big difference in the ride.

Jotto
New Driver

Backup camera. Pertronix ignition to eliminate ignition points but retain original appearance.

DaveA
Detailer

Not really a necessity, but a want: I added Bluetooth to the factory stereo of my antique. Physically it looks the same so no one knows the radio is not completely stock!