How to Modernize a Classic Car

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By |2020-07-07T14:22:26-04:00April 1, 2019 - 08:39AM|Car Owning & Maintenance Advice|

Should you put modern technology in your classic car? Experts say it can be done, but you need to be cautious. Adding modern features may make a classic ineligible for car show accolades, but you’ll have a vehicle that can actually be driven comfortably in a variety of weather. Experts have different opinions on how much or how little you should add to a classic car and say it largely comes down to personal preference.

Restomod vs. Classic Restoration

Wayne Carini, the host of Discovery TV’s Chasing Classic Cars, says you can add technology to a classic car (and he has done it). However, it means your classic might become a “restomod.” A restomod is a vehicle that has had modern technology added to a classic car and it combines classic-car styling with modern-day comfort.

Carini says modern smartphones have negated the need for in-car technology. “My phone is my navigation system,” he added. Carini suggested the following equipment if you plan to drive your classic car regularly: satellite navigation, safety lights, and center, high mounted, third-brake lights for safety on the road. You’ll have to work directly with an automotive parts supplier to find which third-brake light works best for your classic car.

There are also steps you can take if you don’t care whether your classic car is considered a classic restoration. A classic restoration is when you restore a classic car or pickup using only original parts. Some collectors argue that doing a classic restoration maintains the integrity of the vehicle. Integrity, though, doesn’t always equal comfort.

Mustang GT350

Mechanical Upgrades for Your Classic Car

There are a variety of options that you can add to a classic car to make it more comfortable to drive. One thing modern-day vehicles have over classics are brakes. Most vehicles before the 1970s had drum brakes, which don’t provide the same kind of stopping power as disc brakes. You may want to consider adding modern disc brakes to a classic car to help with stopping power and stopping distance.  If you’re not willing to make the move to disc brakes,  brake boosters for drum brakes are a good option. They’ll give you better stopping power while maintaining the original drum brake equipment.

Another modern addition that you can add to a classic car is power steering.  Older cars never had it and you’ll likely appreciate it the first time you drive your classic to a local Cars & Coffee event. Power steering will offer more maneuverability than the manual steering that most classics have.

Classic car owners in colder climes should also consider making their vehicles winter friendly. This can be as simple as getting a set of snow tires, which will make it safer to drive in bad weather. If your classic car is going to sit for the winter, it also pays to invest in a trickle charger, a battery charger that delivers a minimal amount of power to your vehicle to keep all the systems operating. You can also consider installing a remote starter as a luxury item to warm up or cool down your car until you get in to drive.

Carini suggests that one radical step you can take to modernize your classic is to put your classic car’s body on a modern frame. Carini says that it’s relatively common and mentioned a 1949 Mercury that was put on a Tesla frame for Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA) annual meeting in Las Vegas. Carini said, “That was the talk of SEMA. It might just be the future.”

Putting an old body on a new frame is like a knee replacement. The ride quality improves greatly, fuel economy gets better and the new frame often requires less expensive tires. Some older classic pickup trucks have wheelbases (the distance between the front and rear tires) that are equal in length to modern sedans and coupes. You could take a 1962 Chevy C10 pickup, for example, and place it atop a more modern car or truck frame. The advantage is the look of a classic pickup with the conveniences of modern features. There’s also the benefit of a younger underbody for your classic. Be sure to consult your state’s motor vehicle department for advice on how to register the newly-combined vehicle.

Datsun 240Z

Enjoy the Drive

Whatever you choose to do, the key is to enjoy your classic. As Carini likes to point out, most classic cars aren’t about what’s on the inside or even the outside. “The adventure is driving the car. Aesthetically it’s a beautiful thing but driving it is a cool sensation. I don’t even turn on the radio. I’d rather get the whole experience and hear the motor.”

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