Modernize A Classic Car?

To modernise or not to modernise is the question facing many collectors as they try to decide whether a car should be restored to its original specifications or upgraded to contemporary driving standards. The classic purists insist that any mechanical alteration spoils the pleasure of driving a vintage machine, while diminishing the car’s value. Those who take the opposite view usually do so because the fitting of modern brakes, tires, safety equipment, and even engines and transmissions makes driving in modern traffic conditions less stressful. As well, the car can be used as a daily driver with fewer concerns about reliability.

I’ll confess to having always been in the “period-correct” camp as I enjoy seeing vintage cars as they were when new. But lately I’ve come around to admitting that perhaps modernisation does make sense if the car is to be driven regularly. For example, brakes on those old cars don’t have the stopping power of today’s automobiles. Steering may be vague and unresponsive. An engine that lacks the power to keep up with expressway traffic can be frustrating for both the owner and other drivers.

Perhaps it all depends on whether the work is done tastefully, with the objective of keeping as much of the original look as possible. Anything more and the car falls into the custom or hot rod category. One of my favorite cars, the Jaguar 3.8 sedan, can be bought in England as a completely rebuilt automobile featuring a modern Jag engine and transmission, disc brakes, current safety equipment, and comfort and convenience upgrades. And yet the car has lost none of its 1960s charm; indeed, you’d have to look closely to be certain it was modified. Not only do I approve, I’d love to have one.

Cars like these are, of course, expensive, which is why you won’t find a reborn Jaguar in my driveway. The average North American enthusiast is more likely to start with something rather humble and if he’s handy with tools, will probably do his own work. It may take longer to finish the job but there’s the satisfaction involved as well as the money saved. And those contemporary parts don’t have to be new. By going online an owner can now browse through a selection of used car parts from all across the country, available from yards that specialise in low cost, quality parts.

In my town I’ve seen a lovely 1936 Dodge coupe with an updated 6-cylinder engine, newer transmission, and aluminum wheels fitted with radial tires. On the highway one afternoon I found myself behind a lady-driven Morris Minor with an upgraded wheel/suspension package and what had to be a contemporary engine. In fact, certain Nissan engines and transmissions apparently drop right into Morris Minors, totally transforming the performance. I would happily own either of these cars and it wouldn’t bother me that they’re no longer original. After all, making old cars new again is what this hobby’s all about.

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