Modernizing Classic Cars
The first thing that comes to mind when talking about Muscle cars and Classic cars is usually “How much horsepower?” . It never fails that the engine is often the main focus of the conversation.
Forget all the hype around building a 500 horsepower monster under the hood. Some of the most effective upgrades you can make to your classic car can be done without touching your motor.
Below I am going to list XX fantastic under-the-radar upgrades to help modernize classic cars no matter what year, make, or model of classic automobile. These upgrades are going to be focused on braking systems, suspension components, steering components, interior items, transmissions, and wheels/tires.
Disc Brake Upgrades
No matter how fast your car is…..you need to be able to stop that heavy beast of a car when you hammer on te brakes. You can get away with drum brakes on the rear of these old classics, but I would HIGHLY advise you to upgrade the front brakes to a set of high performance disk brakes.
If your car came equipped with drum brakes all around, then a front disk brake upgrade should be at the top of your list of upgrades to complete next. Comnsidering that the most of the weight of your car is focused on the front end, especially when braking, disc brakes are a MUST HAVE.
Even if your classic car came with disc brakes on the front, there are many great upgraded disc brake kits available to help give your sweet old ride much better stopping power.
The disc brake kits will help dissipate heat a LOT better than the previous disc and drum brakes did, which will help with the stopping power and last a lot longer due to less breakdown and wear. The disc brakes also perform a lot better when wet, like on a rainy day.
When putting all that ‘power to the pavement’ from your roaring v8 motor through the transmission and drivetrain, down through the axles to the tires, there will often be some flex to the car’s chassis. This is not a good thing.
This flexing will affect performance and cause damage to your classic automobile.
Thankfully, there’s a very easy solution to help solve this issue – subframe connectors.
The subframe connectors help tie-in the front chassis and the rear chassis together with a weld or bolt-in set of steel rails. These rails will act as frame members that will help minimize any twisting in the chassis system.
Most muscle/classic cars have custom options available for these on the market that can be ordered & shipped right to your door.
Cant find a subframe connector kit for your classic automobile? No problem. Take your classic car down to your local restoration or body shop, and they can most likely make and install them for you using some 2 x 3 rectangular tubing.
Imagine having the luxury steering systems made for todays automobiles installed in your classic car or truck? The cars and trucks made today have much more responsive steering than the old iron beasts manufactured back in the 50s/60s/70s.
The classic cars were equipped with much larger steering wheels and a slower ratio in the steering boxes, when compared to the automobiles manufactured today. Combine all these elements and you have a much slower responding steering system in a much heavier vehicle.
You can make the easy swap to a quicker-ratio steering gearbox to help combat some of these issues, which is great. There are many of these available in todays market. Doing such a swap will not affect the original designed steering geometry and will not affect the amount of travel in the steering system.
Aftermarket partsmakers Flaming River, Classic Performance Products, and Borgeson offer several bolt in boxes for many of the popular classic cars.
You can also change out the giant steering wheel in that classic of yours to a smaller one if you wish. There are many great aftermarket steering wheels available in many different styles to fit your particular application.
Other than your suspension, theres nothing in your classic car\s chassis that moves as much as your steering linkage. This means that there is a lot of wear n tear put on the stering system so you will want to make sure that it is in good condition at all times.
Make sure that your ball joints, drag links, tie rod ends, and pitman arms are in good condition to give your classic car that smooth steering feeling when cruising down the road.
Replace/Upgrade Your Suspension Bushings
This is often one of the most neglected items on classic cars that claim to be restored.
I see it all the time…..a nice looking classic car cruising down the street, with original bushings still on the car. No matter how tight your steering is and how well the suspension system is, if you do not have quality bushings installed your ‘ride’ will be compromised.
I would personally recommend that you START with the bushings when replacing suspension & steering parts in your classic car. Trust me, you will thank me later when your sweet ride is smooth and squeak-free and performing at its best once the new suspension parts have been installed.
I would personally recommend using polyurethane bushings in your classic car. They offer a nice combination between comfort and performance that you just cant beat for a classic cruiser.
Below is a great video explaining the benefits of switching over to polyurethane suspension mounts & bushings.
Your classic car can have a beautifully upgraded suspension and braking system, but if your tires aren’t quite up to par, then you will still have issues with your braking and handling.
All the horsepower in the world doesn’t mean a thing if your classic car cannot translate that power to the street properly via a good set of performance tires. A proper set of performance tires will also help improve your ability to stop faster, when needed.
In fact, I would suggest planning the suspension system upgrades together with the style of tire that you would like to run on your ride. Competition tires and Street tires require different suspension specifications to help optimize their benefits (to optimize performance).
These performance tires are rated for treadwear using a number system to determine how ‘sticky’ they are (and how fast they will wear). The lower the number, the more ‘sticky’ the tires will be. But that also means that the tires will wear faster.
I personally recommend going with a tire that is rated no lower than 200 for your classic car. That assumes that it’s mainly used for cruising, with a little bit of performance driving every now and then.
IF you are building a car for autocross, then you could look at a set of tires rated lower than 200 to help with traction. Of course, you would then plan your suspension & steering setup differently to optimize the level of performance required for such an aggressive driving style.
As a rule of thumb – generally wider is better when it comes to tires. The wider tires give you more traction and the extra grip will help with handling curves in the road at higher speeds (and cornering).
Wheel rim selection is very similar to tires selection when consider the whole “wider is better theory”. OF course, with wider rims, you cant fit wider tires.
Upgrading to larger diameter rims will allow more room for disc bake upgrades, which is a huge bonus. It also opens up a lot of options for more aggressive performance tires that are more commonly available in the larger diameter rim sizes.
There are MANY more available performance tire options for a 17” and larger diameter rim than there are for the more common 15” & 16” rim diameter tires that are more commonly found on classic cars.
Wheel rim weight is also something to consider. Going with a lighter alloy wheel helps reduce overall vehicle weight, which of course, helps with performance. The lighter wheels also are easier for your brake system to stop.
Springs & Shocks
Springs and shocks are one thing that you should decide upon when planning the tires & remainder of the suspension setup.
If you are looking for a low stance, aggressive suspension system, then you would be looking to get springs that are lower profiled with increased spring rate. This will help prevent the transfer of weight to one side of the car during cornering and evasive maneuvers.
The theory behind it is fairly simple to understand. It is a lot easier to control a car when the weight of the car is not shifting back and forth during aggressive driving maneuvres. The stiff low profile springs help achieve this.
This type of setup helps keep all 4 tires on the ground at all times to maximize traction – which is very important when you drive like this.
Equally important to the springs is to make sure you select a good set of shocks that can help dampen the action of the spring during the weight transfer process.
I wont go into too many details about sway bars.
Simply stated, a stronger (thicker) sway bar setup will also help maximize the traction & handling during aggressive driving times.
The use of a nice strong sway bar will help prevent too much weight transfer when cornering or maneuvering. This helps keep as much weight as possible on the tires on both sides of the car.
There are a variety of aftermarket sway bar kits to help you get the correct level of performance you want out of your classic car. The manufacturers have done a lot of calculations and testing to make sure they offer various sway bars for different levels of performance.
These are also quite an affordable upgrade, which cant always be said for a lot of classic car aftermarket parts, haha.
In this article we have discussed the following ways in which people are modernizing classic cars:
- Disk brake upgrades
- Subframe conectors
- Steering upgrades
- Suspension bushings
- Shocks and springs, and
- Sway bars
Some of these items are often overlooked when planning the restoration of a classic car.
More often the engine, transmission, and paint color are the main concerns of many when talking about classic car restoration.
Taking some time to plan out the above aspects of your restoration will benefit your ‘build’ in many ways!
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