Five Subtle Modifications to Improve Your Classic

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By Chris Pollitt

Modification can often be a bit of a taboo in the world of classic cars. Certainly, the notion of a modified car brings about all manner of heinous cliches, normally centred around big wheels, lairy paint and an exhaust far too big for the engine they’re attached to. But don’t get bogged down in such imagery, modification can be used as a force for good, too. There are myriad companies out there that exist solely to modify classic cars, but in the name of improving them. The cars may be from a bygone era, but the technology around them has advanced massively. It is technology that has bettered cars significantly, and it is technology and evolution that we can use to our benefit. 

And don’t think these modifications will rob your classic of their soul or essence. The reality is that by employing one or all of these modifications, you will make your classic more versatile, more usable and more reliable. We should always celebrate the cars of the past, because they are wonderful, brilliant things. But there is no need to ignore the technology of today. 

1) Electronic Ignition

Old cars can be a bit of a pain to start as they get older. Even if they’re reliable, they’ll need regular maintenance to stay that way. Points, condenser, cap, it all needs to be tinkered with. So why not spare yourself all of that and fit an electronic ignition system. 

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Most systems are the work of but a moment to fit. Some are basic, in that they just replace the arm and points, whereas some units replace the entire distributor unit. The latter is the better option, as the former can be fiddly to set up. But either way, electronic ignition will mean your classic car has a reliable, constant means of ignition come rain or shine, summer or winter. And who doesn’t want that peace of mind? 

2) Cooling

Ah yes, the old cliche of the classic on the side of the road, bonnet up, with a cloud of steam. It’s a known fact that classics, with their aged mechanical fans, are rubbish at sitting in modern traffic. Even the ‘modern’ viscous fans struggle. The roads are busier now than they have ever been, so the chances of being stuck in a tailback are greater than ever. Do you want to be showered in steam as a direct consequence, or suffer a spike of anxiety as you watch the temperature gauge? Of course not. 

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Companies like Kenlowe live to remedy this for you. The job is simple, as the new, electric fan simply attaches to the radiator via some special fixings. Then you can wire the fan into the power and either fit a switch in the cabin, or a thermostatic switch can be inserted into the coolant line directly. With the fan pressed against the radiator, cool air comes fast, and you don’t break down. 

3) Tyres

Classic car tyre technology, by which we of course mean cross-ply tyres, was a frankly terrifying thing. Yes, they were tough, but they made for an interesting drive. Often near lethal in the wet, with a deep-seated love of tramlining through any ruts, cross-ply rubber was one to keep you on your toes at all times. In 1948, the radial arrived, which was a far more stable and safe option, and has indeed become the industry standard. But what if you want to keep your classic looking period correct? Does that mean you have to take your chances with cross-plys? Not at all. 

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You can still buy new cross-ply rubber, which is perfect for lower power cars. However, if you have a classic with a bit of grunt, you really should have radials. But don’t think you need modern-looking tyres. You can buy all manner of period-look rubber that gives the impression of cross-ply, but with the reliability, safety and stability of being of a radial construction. Companies like Longstone Tyres will be more than happy to supply your car’s new shoes. 

4) Brakes

Power, as they say, is nothing without control. Braking technology has come on leaps and bounds over the years and is better now than it has ever been. This means you don’t need to relegate yourself to using whatever antiquated technology is present on your classic. There are endless options out there that can bolster your classic’s stopping power. 

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Companies like Hi-Spec will happily sell you new, complete braking systems with performance calipers, discs and pads. If that’s a bit too involved, how about fitting the brakes from a more modern car? For example, it’s common to find BMW brakes on Rileys of the ‘50s. Or you could just upgrade the discs and pads. Companies like EBC, a British firm, have parts for every car imaginable. Vented discs, better pads with more stopping power, higher grade brake fluid. Everything you need to help bring your beloved classic to a stop. 

5) Power Steering

One of the biggest grumbles that comes from classic car owners, and we know because we’ve grumbled it ourselves, is that steering can often be unforgivably heavy. Honestly, the heavy steering of some classics can genuinely put you off driving them. Taking the classic out should be a joy, not something that requires you to have the physique of Popeye. Happily, there is a solution at hand. 

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The modern car has brought with it the electronic power steering system. In essence, it’s a motor that bolts to the steering column and serves to amplify the input by the driver. No complicated hydraulics, no massive draw on the engine’s power. And more often than not, the system isn’t intrusive, and as such, the car can be returned to standard without too much fuss. Companies like Lite Steer and Easysteer will be able to guide you through the process of adding this function to your car.

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