7 simple modifications to enhance your driving season
Unless you are fortunate enough to live in a part of the country with year-round fair weather, odds are that your vintage car enjoys its time in the sun on a seasonal basis. Naturally, that means you are taking major advantage of driving season right now, and there’s no experience quite like the open road in an older car.
It could always be better, of course. We all love driving our cars enough that we overlook their faults and idiosyncrasies, but these seven upgrades can make getting behind the wheel that much more safe, enjoyable, and convenient—for not a lot of money or effort. It’s already driving time, so get out of the garage and aim toward the horizon!
There are—or should—only be four points that connected your car to the pavement. Each is vitally important to ride, acceleration, braking, handling, and safety. Bad tires make for a bad driving experience, whether that is due to the additional noise, ride harshness, or sub-par performance. Fitting properly sized and appropriately rated tires is one of the best things you can do for your car. It’s also downright easy for most of us, since a shop can turn around a tire mount and balance within a day. Even if you think yours are fine, or if they look, fine, consider checking the date code each year. Tire age, even if the rubber is just sitting, can result in dry rotting and reduced performance. Most manufacturers recommend replacing tires after about eight years, regardless of condition.
Who doesn’t love a car that has some character to the exhaust note? Swapping out a muffler is not just simple but easily reversible, so you don’t need to worry about the future value proposition of your car. In these modern times, too, there are sounds clips of just about any muffler and engine combination available on YouTube, so you can sample what you should buy or how to have it installed. If you have a welder at home this can be a fun little DIY project, but for everyone else it’s more than likely a drop-off-at-the-shop type deal. Be sure to tell them you want to keep your original muffler.
Our beloved classics are most often driven sparingly and thus, we sometimes don’t even notice as they age, wear, or fall out of spec. Steering gear and alignment is a prime example. Slow degradation of ball joints and tie rods is guaranteed, but many owners assume that since their car is driven lovingly and only on the weekends that they are somehow immune to this reality. Nope! A trip to your local alignment shop will bring things back to spec and make your ride drive like you haven’t experienced in years. Bonus points if you call ahead to give the shop a heads up that it’s a vintage car, bring your shop manual, and do some research to locate the alignment specs that are almost definitely not listed in their fancy computer.
Maybe the muffler suggestion up above is not your style. You prefer sound over noise. That’s great! Go ahead and look into a radio or speaker upgrade. Adding Bluetooth connectivity has never been easier, and it allows you to expand your listening options beyond the local AM stations or your own 8-track collection. Replacing aged, worn speakers is often even easier than upgrading your radio, and that alone can provide massive leap forward in sound quality without any notable modifications. A seasoned audiophile will not find this up to snuff and will prefer a more comprehensive approach, but that shouldn’t stop you from upgrading those blown-out paper cone speakers.
Are you really going to include basic maintenance on this list about modifications? Yeah, we are. Giving your ride an under-hood once-over is a smart idea. Sometimes even minor adjustments can provide a noticeable change in character. When is the last time you put new spark plugs in your car, anyway? Plugs, cap and rotor, air filter, oil change, and maybe even plug wires are all things that can not only be changed but upgraded. Upgrade to platinum plugs and an electronic ignition system for a car that runs smooth as the day it rolled off the assembly line and likely will for a long time. If electronic is not your thing, at least properly gap your points and double check your ignition timing.
You, the driver, only have three (four for a manual transmission, but we’ll get to that) touch points where you interact with the car: the pedals, seat, and steering wheel. The pedals are what they are unless you are into heavy modification, and seats can be a big undertaking depending on the style you like. That leaves the steering wheel, which can often be easily changed for something smaller, larger, more cushioned, more aggressive—whatever your heart desires, really. Oftentimes just about any wheel you like can be adapted to your steering column, and when you use the proper steering wheel puller to get everything apart it ends up being a simple project. This, too, is an easily reversible upgrade, so no reason to not try something different for a bit.
Shifter or shift knob
Think about the actual touchpoints of your car that you experience while driving. The things with which you interact. If you have a manual transmission, your hand is as familiar with the feel of the shifter as it is with the texture of the steering wheel. Why not have a shift knob that feels great in your palm? With a spin of the wrist you can thread on just about anything. The classic 8-ball is a great choice, but let you imagination run wild and try whatever comes up. If you want to take this one to the next level, upgrade you shifter to a short-throw shift kit or one with a fresh linkage or bushings. Improved shift feel is always welcome, and as with alignment, we often don’t notice the slow degradation in shift quality over time.
Think we missed any low-hanging fruit for modifications that improve driving experience? Leave them down in the Hagerty Community below.