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Thread: The best of both worlds?

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    The best of both worlds?


    Old cars, like older homes, have unique charms. They've got history - and personality. They stand out from the crowd. You won't see one just like yours at every traffic light. And they're fun to take to weekend cruises and get-togethers with fellow hobbyists.

    But old cars also have their downsides - the automotive equivalent of bad plumbing and obsolete wiring. Out of date technology - and the wear and tear of 20 or 30 years - can make even a $400 per month new car payment seem appealing.

    The good news is that just like fixing up an older house with discretely added modern amenities, you can transform an older car into a reliable, fun-to-live-with daily driver by updating it with modern car technology. The result is the best of both worlds: a neat old car that runs as well as a new car - but which is still simple, relatively inexpensive and easy to maintain yourself.

    So, what upgrades do the trick? Here's a quick survey of some key areas to consider:

    * Overdrive transmissions - Few cars built before the early 1980s had overdrive transmissions, which improve drivability as well as lower fuel consumption and wear and tear. They do this by cutting "cruise" engine speeds in top gear by as much as 1,000 RPM. In a high-performance car with an aggressive axle ratio that would otherwise be turning 3,000 RPM (or more) just keeping up with highway traffic, swapping in a modern overdrive transmission will leave you with a car that's just as comfortable at lower speeds as it is at high speeds. If your old car is a high-performance car, you can run a 3.90 axle (or higher) and enjoy '60s-era brutal 0-60 and quarter-mile runs - yet lope along at 75 mph on the highway with your SS 396, 426 Hemi or 455 HO engine barely turning a fast idle. Just like a new Corvette. And whether you're driving an old muscle car or a Vista Cruiser, you'll get much better fuel economy, too.

    The swap itself is typically pretty easy to do - and the aftermarket now supplies a variety of overdrive transmissions (manuals and automatics) to retrofit virtually any older vehicle - even those with engines long out of production. Best of all, the change is "invisible" - as far as the appearance of the car is concerned. But the difference in terms of how the car runs and drives will astonish you. It's probably the single most noticeable functional upgrade you can make to an older vehicle.

    * Rolling stock - It wasn't uncommon in years past to see large, heavy cars riding on 15 (and even 14) inch steel wheels - with skinny tires that by today's standards would be considered totally inadequate, if not dangerous. But it's even easier to swap on modern (and larger/wider) wheels and tires than it is to bolt in a modern overdrive transmission. Some "old school" wheels (for example, the Rally wheels used on many GM vehicles in the '60s and '70s) are even being remanufactured in larger sizes, such as 15x8 inches vs. the original 14x7 and 15x7 - which allows for the use of meatier tires than came on the car originally. Wider rubber (and modern tire compounds) significantly improves both handling and braking, since the "contact patch" is larger and the available traction has been increased.

    * Brakes and suspension - Another glaring deficiency of most older cars is in the stopping (and handling) department. In addition to borderline marginal drum brakes, some older cars built in the early '60s and before also have single-reservoir master cylinders. If there's a leak in the system, you don't just lose the front brakes or the rear brakes, as with a modern car that has a dual-reservoir master cylinder. You lose all braking power. Upgrading to four-wheel-disc brakes (and a dual-reservoir master cylinder) will bring even a 40-year-old car up to modern car standards in terms of stopping power - and safety. It's also possible to update many older cars with modern suspension components - such as much-improved shock absorbers, bolt-on anti-sway bars (especially rear anti-sway bars, which many older cars did not come equipped with), chassis stiffeners (subframe connectors, etc.) and even whole "front ends" that can be subbed out for the original stuff while retaining an outwardly stock/factory appearance.

    * Lights/electrical system - Simply replacing the original-style sealed-beam headlights that older cars often came with from the factory with higher-output halogen headlights can make an older car more enjoyable - and safer - to drive at night. Halogen replacement headlights are available for most cars built during the '60s and '70s and are "plug-ins" that don't require any special modifications. On cars built in the early '60s and before that have 6 volt electrical systems, upgrading to a modern 12 volt system is well worth doing if the car's ever in for a major rehab. The extra juice will let you run higher-output lighting systems - as well as modern audio equipment.

    Updates such as these can make an older car feel like a much newer car - yet don't take away the charm of driving a car that might be older than you are. Even better, these mods don't affect the underlying simplicity - and ease of repair and upkeep - of the older car. There's no ECU, no miles of complicated (and multiplexed) wiring - no myriad sensors to deal with. The engine compartment's not a crowded warren of plastic overs and impossible-to-get-to bolts. No jacking up the engine to reach a spark plug. You won't need an OBD scanner to do a tune-up. And there's no "check engine" light to worry about. When something isn't working properly, it's still as easy to find and fix it as it was back in 1975. And you can usually keep an older car running indefinitely - whereas modern cars reach a point (usually after about 15 years) where the cost of upkeep (especially, replacing small parts) becomes prohibitive - and the car becomes fodder for the crusher.

    Best of all, lunlike a new car - which loses value with each day you drive it - most any older car has long ago reached the low end of its depreciation curve. It increases in value with each passing day.

    The smiles and waves you'll get are no-cost extras.


  2. #2
    Senior Member Kwozzie1's Avatar
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    Re: The best of both worlds?

    Why is it I wish I still had one or two of my cars from way back
    Rex
    On the Sunshine Coast, in the Sunshine State Queensland (QLD), Australia

  3. #3
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: The best of both worlds?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kwozzie1
    Why is it I wish I still had one or two of my cars from way back
    The same reason the rest of us feel the same way!

    I often regret having sold my '64 Corvair - esp. as I did so after I fixed it up.

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    Re: The best of both worlds?

    I owned two cars with Borg-Warner OD in the 1953-1957 time frame. The free-wheeling might be a bit disconcerting to modern drivers, who expect engine braking--but I got used to clutchless shifting as long as I was tooling around town at 25 or less.

    Then I had a Triumph TR-3A 1959-1961 which had a Laycock de Normanville OD. The positive engagement/disengagement of the OD with power on was nice to use, turning a 4 speed into an effective 5 speed. But I don't think a Laycock unit was strong enough to handle a typical American V8.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Kwozzie1's Avatar
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    Re: The best of both worlds?

    Quote Originally Posted by pgranzeau
    I owned two cars with Borg-Warner OD in the 1953-1957 time frame. The free-wheeling might be a bit disconcerting to modern drivers, who expect engine braking--but I got used to clutchless shifting as long as I was tooling around town at 25 or less.

    Then I had a Triumph TR-3A 1959-1961 which had a Laycock de Normanville OD. The positive engagement/disengagement of the OD with power on was nice to use, turning a 4 speed into an effective 5 speed. But I don't think a Laycock unit was strong enough to handle a typical American V8.
    My Dad's first Jag MK1 2.4 had overdrive. It was a little clear plastic switch on the dash.

    He also had a Triumph 2000 Mk 1 (facelift) which had overdrive on 3rd and 4th. That was a nice car to drive and the overdrive was great to disengage for overtaking


    I owned a 1990 Volvo 740 Turbo and it had overdrive on 4th. I couldn't understand why not a 5 speed gearbox
    Rex
    On the Sunshine Coast, in the Sunshine State Queensland (QLD), Australia

  6. #6
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    Re: The best of both worlds?

    II like the ideas for making the older cars more pleasant to drive. I would like to add one glaring deficiency of the older cars - ball type steering. If I had, say an old Firebird, I wold replace the box with a Rack and Pinion. Much better settering feel, fewer moving parts and more direct steering precision are the benefits of the rack and pinion assembly.

    The only thing about older cars that I liked was their styling, simplicy and lack of safety nonsense. Their engines had a nice feel as well. As for their suspensions and transmissions, they were junk. Lack of overdrive transmissions was inexcusable, even during those times. The crappy suspensions were horrible and bias ply tires were rolling garbage.

    I find it incredible that people actually were able to drive with crappy tires like that Keeping a car on teh road with bias belted tires was too demanding even for a driving enthusiast such as myself. Bias belted tires were unpredictable and dangerous.

    It should be noted that during the energy crisis of 1974, radials were sold as gas saving options on some cars. I believe that radials had a definite role in saving lives and property in the years to follow.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Kwozzie1's Avatar
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    Re: The best of both worlds?

    Quote Originally Posted by swamprat
    bias ply tires were rolling garbage.

    I find it incredible that people actually were able to drive with crappy tires like that Keeping a car on teh road with bias belted tires was too demanding even for a driving enthusiast such as myself. Bias belted tires were unpredictable and dangerous.

    It should be noted that during the energy crisis of 1974, radials were sold as gas saving options on some cars. I believe that radials had a definite role in saving lives and property in the years to follow.
    From memory I think I would be right in saying that my Dad was very enthused when he got his fourth Jag...... A Mk2 3.8 it had 4 wheel disc brakes and radial tires. A big improvement over the Mk's1 2.4 and 3.4 as well as the Mk7 the dealer gave him while awaitng the Mk2. They wanted the trade-in, as the new car ahd been delayed by shipping and strike as I recall. On cross-plys thehe Mk 7 used to wallow around compared to the Mk 1s
    Rex
    On the Sunshine Coast, in the Sunshine State Queensland (QLD), Australia

  8. #8
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: The best of both worlds?

    The stock suspension/steering used in mid-late '70s Trans-Ams is actually pretty good. With a few updates (for example, polyurethane subframe bushings and subframe connectors) these cars can deliver close to 1 g onthe skidpad. Ride quality may be a bit harsh - but the handling is excellent. Later models also had good steering boxes, too.

    I feel I can offer testimony here as I have such a car - and have been able to compare its cornering ability, etc. with similar modern cars. I have no doubt my '76 Trans-Am could keep up with (if not beat) a new Mustang GT on a road course if I swapped out my 15x7 rims (which I keep for the look) with wider rims and tires comparable to the tires used on the GT.

    Also - with the 2004R tranny, my TA's engine is barely turning 2,200 RPM at 70-75 mph ! (This with 3.90 gears out back)

  9. #9
    MikeHalloran
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    Re: The best of both worlds?

    Quote Originally Posted by swamprat
    I wold replace the box with a Rack and Pinion.
    I wouldn't necessarily do that. Beginning in the 70s I think, at least some GM cars had power steering boxes of traditional construction, except that the sector was not circular. They had slow steering on center, that got progressively faster off- center. I rather liked the combination.

    Also about that time, Ford, and maybe GM too, stopped using replaceable bushings for the Pitman shaft; when the cast iron box bore got oval, the whole box was toast. Bean counters run amok.


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