6 easy adjustments to change any car’s performance character
We all like to play pretend and be race-car drivers, even when we actually are race-car drivers. Adding a little more aggressive feel to your car’s handling can really enhance the experience of driving, whether you have a modern, four-cylinder boringmobile or a vintage car that you would like to elevate from stylish to focused.
Regardless of your candidate, here are six great places to start dialing up the fun factor of the driving experience. They range from pretty cheap to medium money plus large time investment. Give them a read, and you might just find your next winter project.
Production cars balance efficiency with stability, but with a few turns of their tie rods, you can give one a more aggressive personality. Whether you’re looking for quicker turn-in or more stability at high speed, the vast majority of production cars have enough built-in adjustability to accomodate you.
Research how the three options for front-end alignment influence driving feel. (Brush up on the terminology here.) Then contact an alignment shop to get your car dialed-in to your custom specs. The nice thing about this option? The changes are easily reversed.
Much of engine tuning is based on safety. Not preservation of the occupants’ lives, but the wellbeing of pistons and valves. Factory specs may be conservative, but know that if you push too far on timing it can be an expensive adventure. Proper timing can give you more power, so optimize the ignition timing for your engine modifications. This is especially easy for distributor-equipped engines, but learning to tune with a laptop is not nearly as scary as some would lead you to believe. Classes and tutorials are out there for various programs tailored to modern performance cars.
Eliminating play or slop in the pivot points of your suspension will really tighten up the feel of your car. It will also dial the noise, vibration, and harshness up significantly. Fresh rubber bushings go a long way into making a tired car fresh again, and stepping up to polyurethane bushings will produce an even stiffer ride. Be careful here: You may be tempting to put poly bushings everywhere, but those may be overkill for your project or simply ill-suited to your driving habits and local roads. Every type of modification is a compromise; this is one that can be a pain to undo.
Shocks and/or springs
Minimize the body roll of your car and suddenly your car feels ready to take on Le Mans. Well, almost. Many modern cars accomodate bolt-in coilovers that allow for heaps of adjustment and tuning after the fact. For classic rides, you may have to commission custom coil or leaf springs, but the good news is that the work is often more affordable than you might fear. Combine fresh springs with a good set of shocks, and you will find yourself seeking out on-ramps and curvy roads with more confidence than ever.
We all want more power—more faster is more better, obviously—but before you flash a moon tune onto your car’s ECU, consider the simpler principle of mechanical advantage. Unless you are at the track regularly, you likely could stand to sacrifice top speed in exchange for better acceleration. Changing the final drive ratio is a prime way to achieve that and is especially straightforward on vintage stick-axle cars. Go ahead and add Positraction while you are in there for extra traction when you need it most.
Last one, easiest one. A lot of folks will be familiar with the Colin Chapman quote about simplifying and adding lightness, but they may not think about applying it to a car that’s already assembled, and by someone else. If you can tolerate additional NVH (that’s noise, vibration, and harshness in engineer-speak) you can shave pounds by removing insulation or additional fluff from your car. I removed the back seat from my Chevrolet Corvair to shed a little weight. Ounces make pounds, and fewer pounds means faster cars. You can probably keep the Sawzall in the toolbox, though.