5 must-have mods for your vintage ride

Kyle Smith

Our beloved cars and trucks were perfect the day they left the assembly line. Well, sort of, if you consider how manufacturing has improved decade after decade. Yes, time marches on, and everything from engineering to materials science moves forward with it. Originality is one thing, and preservation for many is a worthy pursuit, but practical upgrades can go a long way to making an older car more enjoyable. Tasteful tweaks to aid the reliability, durability, and fun factor of your vintage ride might well make you more likely to keep driving it often. We asked the Hagerty Community what modifications are just downright too handy to pass up. Here were your top five answers:

Electronic ignition

Adjusting and maintaining a set of ignition points is not a difficult task, but is downright tedious compared to the “set and forget” of most electronic ignition systems. The maintenance simplicity might be what most folks use to justify their purchase, but electronic ignitions also provide a more stable spark thanks to the modern sensors employed to trigger the system. Electronic ignition provides a more consistent and accurate spark across the engine rev range. The best part? Oftentimes, an electronic ignition module can be hidden underneath a stock distributor cap. Better function, same looks, best of both worlds.

Upgraded brakes

Model T disc brakes
Kyle Smith

Cruising speeds have gradually risen over the years, which means most vintage cars are under-braked for average road conditions. Remember—stopping the same vehicle traveling twice as fast takes three times the distance. Adding braking power helps, yes, but the real determination comes down to tires. You can only stop as fast as your tires will let you.

dual master cylinder
Kyle Smith

Assuming your tires are healthy and fresh, it is not hard to wear out a set of aging brakes. Modern disc conversion give more stops before fading which helps in traffic. Drums can be—and are—a perfectly safe design, hence why they can still be found on some vehicles in production. However, if a disc conversion makes you feel safer and allows you to enjoy your car the way you want to, there’s no reason to cling to your drums. Regardless, seriously consider upgrading to a dual-circuit master cylinder. This setup separates the front and rear braking circuits and retains braking power if a problem were to occur with one line or fitting.

Electronic fuel injection

Holley Sniper EFI
Holley Performance Products

Carburetors had their day in the sun, and there is no doubt that they lend a degree of character and mechanical simplicity to any vehicle. At their best they are finely crafted machinery, but at worst they are little more than a point of frustration. The efficiency and drivability gains are nothing to scoff at when ditching your old-school carb and bolting on a computerized fuel injection system. And, self-learning systems wipe out the need for advanced programming skills. Hide a four-barrel look-a-like under a nice air cleaner and enjoy cruising more with better throttle response, fuel mileage, and sometimes even a bit more power.

Charging system

Corvair alternator
Kyle Smith

Modern drivers demand more amperage than any vintage generator was built to produce. Between charging devices, running headlights and taillights all the time, and big-watt electric fans to keep engines safe, it becomes tough to keep a charge in a battery. Judicious use can keep a generator happy, but the conversion to an alternator is often easy and removes any worry from the driver’s mind.

Alternators are more efficient and thus can create more current at low rpm—like when cruising main street traffic with that big electric fan running. There are even rebuilder specialists who can take your generator and convert it to an alternator to keep a stealthy stock appearance.


dynamat installed in corvair
Underneath that carpet is Dynamat insulation. Can’t see it? That’s the goal. Kyle Smith

Cars today spoil drivers and passengers by nearly completely isolating them from the outside world. Vintage audio and air condition systems were less robust, which means they can use all the help they can get to make the most of what they’ve got. Adding insulation under carpets or behind door panels helps keep interior noise down and also help the heater or A/C keep the occupants comfortable. It’s tough to find a drawback to adding a dash of comfort.

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