8 DIY projects to make any car feel more luxurious
Not all of us can afford luxury cars. Heck, some of us can’t even afford nice versions of plebeian cars from 50 years ago. But even a tight budget doesn’t mean we can’t have nice things, though, and luxury is in the eye of the beholder. Instead of replacing your current ride with a luxury vehicle, you’re probably best served by making whatever you already own into the best version of itself.
Some enthusiasts may not think of DIY projects beyond those necessary to keep a vehicle running and drivable. Branching out into cosmetic and functional improvements is both fun and less stressful than the highly mechanical nature of projects under the hood.
Tackle a few of these eight ideas to add a little more comfort to your ride—and have the fun of accomplishing a new project, too.
Often, a luxury car is one of the vehicles most disconnected from the road. Take, for instance, its lack of road noise. The difference between the sound of a door closing—a tin-can sound, in a tired economy car, or the bank-vault whump of a luxury car’s—is just the start.
With just a few sheets of stick-on sound-deadening like Dynamat or Kilmat can eliminate a surprising amount of noise for minimal effort. Remove door panels, stick sound deadener to the sheetmetal surfaces, reassemble, and off you go, quieter than ever.
You don’t need to cover every square inch of metal to notice the effects: you’ll actually experience diminishing returns past 60 percent coverage. Plan to add sound-deadening at least 25 percent of your interior sheetmetal to hear a difference. That 60 percent coverage will often remove 95 percent of the noise you want it to, so save a few dollars and some effort by not going too crazy.
Leaks are not luxe, whether they’re admitting wind noise or water. New weatherstripping can be fitted easily on the vast majority of cars and can make a dramatic difference in how the car feels. Doors shut tighter, windows seal better, and trunks are weathertight again.
New weatherstripping often also makes doors, windows, hoods, and trunks close better and more solidly. It can also get rid of rattles around windows and doorframes. For the effort it takes to put new foam rubber in place along the seams, the return is huge.
Refinished (or new) steering wheel
There are really only three touch-points in a car for the driver: seat, pedals, and steering wheel. Replacing upholstery can be complicated and expensive, and refreshing pedals is even more work, but changing a steering wheel is not bad.
Removing a vintage wheel is likely to require special tools but those can often be easily borrowed (with a deposit) from chain auto-parts stores. Even just sanding down, filling cracks, and painting a wheel can go a long way. Be sure, if you do this, to use the appropriate paint and clearcoat. You want durability and proper feel, neither of which is likely to come out of a traditional rattle can.
Fixing torn seats
Only five sentences ago I said re-upholstery can be difficult, but for the right DIY person, it is absolutely doable. New foam under original covers, or new covers alone, transform a seat and make driving enjoyable again. Having seat foam cling to your pants after you arrive at cars and coffee is not luxurious, after all.
Removing seats and dropping them off at an upholstery shop is DIY enough to qualify for this list, but if you are feeling adventurous, we encourage you to research doing seats yourself. Get those hog-ring pliers out and make that interior one that not only looks good but becomes something you can point at with pride.
Look into OEM+ mods
This term came into my life from the man who is better at it than anyone else: Sajeev Mehta. Simply put, OEM+ upgrades use parts that were built for your model but not installed on your particular car at the factory. For modern cars, think nicer stereos, or steering wheels with radio controls. For more vintage cars, a logical OEM+ changes could be switching your vintage bumpside Ford truck’s rear suspension to lighter duty leaf springs, because it isn’t used for work anymore and the factory-installed 3/4-ton leafs just make for a harsh ride.
Or maybe change from a two-barrel carb and manifold to a factory-spec four-barrel for period-correct fit and finish—and easy assembly, since you can follow the factory service manual. Beat that, aftermarket.
Weighted shifter/short shifter
So maybe I lied earlier when I said that a driver only has three touch-points. Some enthusiasts prefer four, since they want a transmission that requires manual persuasion to shift gears. If that’s your thing, than an upgrade to the shifter can totally change the driving experience.
I went OEM+ by using a three-speed shifter on a four-speed transmission in my Corvair, which equated to a short-throw unit and factory fit, but not everyone is so lucky. Your DIY upgrade could be as easy as a weighted shift knob in modern cars, or adding a new Hurst T-handle to your muscle car. Whatever it is, this could be the easiest bit of wrenching that will change how your car feels from the driver’s seat.
Fixing little rattles and squeaks
That loose piece of trim should be annoying: there is no reason for it to be loose. Items like this can be low-hanging fruit, and transform a beater into a vehicle to be proud of. Having a rattle- or squeak-free driving experience immediately changes your perception of any car, so taking the time to track down and properly affix or lubricate small parts and pieces is well worth your time.
A quick tip: The most common cause I’ve seen for squeaky suspension is when people tighten all the suspension bolts while the suspension is hanging. Many suspension bolts and fasteners should be tightened with the weight of the car on the suspension. Get everything snug, set the car down, and only then break out the torque wrench.
Last but not least is an upgrade that is easier than ever to hide. Vintage cars have vintage audio, but modern speakers can be fit behind original speaker grilles, and Bluetooth receivers and amplifiers can be hidden in glove boxes or under seats. Totally stock appearance with modern or upgraded sound is attainable and not nearly as expensive as it once was.
Combine that with a few other items on this list and your car is going to feel nearly new, or at least a little more luxurious than what you are used to.
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Okay, okay, OKAY! Sheesh. Quit nagging me, willya? I’m gonna get that new weatherstripping project done before Spring, I swear! 😆
I will have to write an article in the summer called “Has DUB6 finished the weatherstripping yet? Because I mean COME ON already” 🙂
😳 Dang – the pressure’s on!
You don’t need to cut the dash on a vintage car to install a modern stereo. Retro-Sound head units from Retro Manufacturing offer modern features such as Bluetooth and SirisXM and auxiliary / USB connections with a vintage look using the trim that you select. Perfect for any car with the classic two-shaft fit.
me too ! OK already, stop nagging me. Just because I started this project 5 years ago does.nt mean I wont do it.
Replace sensors. I have a 1985 Pontiac and I replaced all the sensors las summer and found it to drive so much better.
These sensors can degrade slowly and the car will not drive as nice as it once did but you neve notice the up grade.
In my case it made the car shift much better and the engine to smooth out even more.
What sort of sensors are you referring to? This sounds like an expensive undertaking, given that I’m sure that you are referring to OEM or equivalent quality replacements.
Addressing the rattles and squeaks is probably the biggest thing in improving your driving experience and view of the car
One of the biggest things with stereos is getting the right speakers in the right places. Typically the factory original locations are not ideal. Tweeters can generally be snuck into a-pillar trim and subwoofers in the trunk without disfiguring your classic. Midranges in the doors go a long way too but that may re quire some surgery. Even if you are not into bassy music, the presence of a subwoofer will go a long way to increase the richness of the sound, and tweeters that are actually pointed at your ears go a long way for clarity
There are so many great single and multiple rechargeable Bluetooth speaker systems out there that you never have to butcher your dash or fill your glove box ever again. I use use one or two in my 60 convertible Karmann Ghia or Turbo Corvair and even with the top down cruising at speed the units are plenty loud only turned up to 8 (No need to go up to 11) and they last all day at that volume. They link to each other and to my phone wirelessly and sound tremendous. The tech is advancing swiftly.
I highly recommend a Hurst shifter upgrade. Made a huge difference on my vintage Mustang
If u own or drive a classic muscle car, u know how 40-50 yrs of use/abide can lead to rattles/noise/body metal flex. If u restore or upgrade the interior, sound deadening can make a definite difference on ride comfort & stereo listening pleasure. But for amazing sound & heat deadening, use both the lizard skin products on floor, interior sides, inside roof, trunk, and inner fender panels. U will achieve even greater temp & sound reduction, inside & out, than any stickon product. Once done, u can compare the metallic ping sound of a tap on a regular stock roof with the muffled thump of a riff only coated with lizard skin inside(sounds like a Rolls Royce car dr closing). But make sure u cover drain & bolt/mounting surfaces before applying or it’ll be a challenge to clear then later…cause it goes on thick & adheres like its welded.
I have a 1984 Dodge Rampage in excellent condition except for a nagging leak some where on the passenger side. Where in the world can I find window sweeps or what ever they are called! The seals between the outside of the door and the roll down door windows. Any ideas?
Check with Steele Rubber Products, they might make “dew wipes” that are universal fit. Oftentimes the universal stuff can be modified to work on any window arrangement.
My project for this article is to replace the hot-rod muffler the PO installed with something quiet. Doing anything with a sound system at this point would be a total waste of money.
For my 1964 Imperial, I can’t locate weatherstripping which is too bad because I am sure it would definitely quite things down. On the positive side, every time I get a lube job my suspension gets quieter for 1000 miles or so, it really makes a difference.
Try Steele Rubber website. I looked without your specifics and found some 1964 Chrysler Imperial weatherstripping bits. https://www.steelerubber.com/
Try Steele Rubber website. I looked without your specifics and found some 1964 Chrysler Imperial weatherstripping bits. https://www.steelerubber.com/
I have a ’97 Jag XK8. It needs nothing, thank God, so, for now, I can do nothing!
Great tip on the suspension!
A buddy of mine upgraded all his worn rubber suspension bushings to polyurethane.
He made sure to grease the poly bushings before tightening everything up WHILE THE CAR WAS UP ON JACKSTANDS.
Within a few months his suspension was noisy and loose.
When he inspected under the car to figure out what the problem was, he discovered that all of his newly installed poly bushings had been destroyed from being twisted and ‘preloaded’ once he had lowered the car back to the ground after their install.
Yes, it is ideal to preload suspension, but not always possible for everything. Even with a drive-on lift, if you have a low-riding car, it’s really hard to get to all suspension components. If the jackstands are all under the axles, control arms, etc., then it’s better. But the biggest thing are the shocks, since they use rubber bushings molded to the eyes, and they can twist when not preloaded. BUT none of those poly bushings should have been ruined if he used the correct grease, which is specially made for poly and very sticky. If that was done, the parts would be able to shift inside the bushings without ruining them. It sounds like he did more than one thing wrong when doing the job.
I agree with only adding partial stick-on sound-proofing inside doors, etc, but would add – avoid horizontal top edges that can hold condensation or window leakage. And – if using spray foam or similar, but sure not to obstruct drain holes.
For me an easy one is to clean the car top to bottom inside and out… a really clean car will improve your overall experience. When I want to trade in my 2011 4runner for a new fancy ride, I clean it really well and remind myself it has been paid off for many years, is presentable, 4×4, and has great future resale value.
My ’86 Benz has been undergoing a lot of “quality of life” repairs/upgrades in a bid for me to use it more this summer.
Little differences add up. I fixed a least a dozen underhood issues that all added up to rough running and a lack of power. I also tracked down interior upgrades. An un-cracked dash (I plan to overhaul the HVAC system while the dash is out, get that 80s auto climate control working like new), and seats from a later model year are really adding that “premium” feel back to the car.
Somehow the sound deadening escaped me, I’ll be sure to add that to the list of things to address what the seats are out and the door panels are off. Great article!
Upgraded radio and speakers are a great addition.
Please do not cut up an original dash or doors to do it.
Hide them somewhere.
I am trying to keep my 69 Firebird fairly original. I installed with my in dash stereo, a subwoofer under the seat, an amplifier under the other seat and two 6×9 speakers in boxes that lay on the back seat. No cutting!
I’ll also add that aftermarket solutions for problematic factory parts make for excellent upgrades. For instance, the Monovalve is a much loathed section of the HVAC system on 80s era Mercedes. A company makes a drop-in replacement valve that’s completely redesigned and works better/more reliably than the factory unit.
While I cried at the price ($280USD vs $14 rebuild kit) it has solved the issue once and for all, making for more enjoyable drives with reliable heat.
One more tip on steering wheels: If you add or replace with a leather covered wheel, start using driving gloves. Oils and dirt on your hands (even though unseen) will take the luster off leather and make the wheel look worn. It may take 10-20 seconds to put on gloves but, after 21 years of experience with my roadster the wheel still looks brand new.
My improvement list includes new suspension bushings and dampers. Steering box adjustment is also important, and can make a car feel new again. A tune up is also a good way to get back to original performance.
On my own car, I added a set of factory headers, and covered a non standard wood dash with original equipment vinyl (which cost only about $9, and there was enough left over to cover the interior around the frame rails. I would do weather stripping, but the car doesn’t have any.
BTW, if you have a Domestic car, check out Steele Rubber Products for weather stripping. They have everything. For an import, especially an Italian or French machine, ReOriginals. They were able to find the original window track for my R5Turbo Renault, from the OEM.
Sound deadening and a stereo doesn’t hold my attention. I have an excellent system at home, and I really like the sounds of my classics and street racers, which were usually stripped out for lightness at the factory.
One often overlooked activity to make any vehicle seem nicer is a very deep detailing especially getting the windows really clean.