Recently I have been involved in numerous discussions about whether our classics should be kept original or should be updated to be used regularly. As we hire our cars out, our approach may be a little different to that of people that own classics just for their own pleasure. Our customers are buying a 1960s or 1970s classic car experience, so we can’t change things too much or the experience won’t be right.
We make a few sensible upgrades to our cars but confine these to ones that will affect safety and reliability. The most obvious one is that as long as the car has seat belt mountings in the right places we will fit modern inertia reel seat belts. Although brakes are pretty crucial to safety we don’t make too many changes to the braking system. We won’t fit a servo if one wasn’t part of the original specification, but we run all cars on green stuff brake pads and replace the rubber brake pipes with braided ones.
The rest of our upgrades are made to improve reliability and usability as we prefer not to leave our customers stranded in the middle of nowhere, or even worse, a couple of miles from their wedding. The first change is to fit electronic ignition and we have tried both the Lumenition and Magnetronic type that fits completely inside the distributor. Following one instance where our TR4A battery died in Liverpool as it couldn’t cope with headlamps, wipers and heater fan all going at the same time, if we buy a car with a dynamo we replace it with an alternator.
Sorting out our Healey would upset the Positive Earth guys as installing the alternator and electronic ignition meant we had to switch it to negative earth.
Everyone thinks that classic cars look great with chrome wire wheels, as indeed they do. If you own one classic and only take it out on dry days they are easy to keep pristine. But if you own a set of cars that go out in all weathers, then cleaning them three or four times a week isn’t fun. A few years ago, the wire wheels on our TR4A started to look a bit tatty and rather than sort them out we bought a set of Minilites and new tires. Not only did this improve the look of the car but it transformed the ride and handling. I had always thought that the car rattled because it was just old, but as soon as the new wheels went on it, most of the rattles and vibrations disappeared and the handling was much improved. Basically the local tyre company was able to balance the wheels properly which they never seemed to do with wires and the difference was so substantial that we now put period looking alloys on all our cars – Minilites on most and D-Type copies on the E-Types.
The other usability change is more for the comfort of our customers rather than our benefit and that is the other wheel – the steering wheel. Our cars are driven by people of all sizes and shapes and some of the chunkier customers couldn’t get in our E-Type, TR4A or Healey if they were still sporting the original full sized steering wheel. We have replaced them with smaller MotaLita steering wheels which give more room and generally being thicker make it easier to wrestle round corners.
Recently we have made two unexpected upgrades. An increasing number of customers don’t seem to fully grasp the concept of going back to the 60s and 70s and expect their SatNav to work. Bit difficult if there isn’t a cigar lighter to power it, so I am working through the cars finding space on the dashboards to install one.
The other upgrade was prompted as a result of a customer driving our Healey. We advise drivers to be careful, particularly over sleeping policemen as the exhaust is very low, but one guy managed to puncture the sump.. Fortunately while he was parked up he noticed an oil slick forming under the car and didn’t drive it anymore. Had he not parked, all of the oil would have leaked away and as the oil pressure gauge is now obscured by the driver’s left hand on the small steering wheel, he wouldn’t have noticed the pressure drop to zero. The first he would have known about it would have been when the engine seized. Installing a sump guard was much cheaper than risking a 3 litre engine.
All these minor changes clearly haven’t changed the character of any of our cars as virtually all our customers return our cars really appreciating the technology they have installed in their modern cars: power steering; servo-ed brakes, MP3 players, air-con etc – the wimps.
There is one other modification that I fancy doing to one car. Moss now offer superchargers to fit MGs and Triumphs and I rather fancy fitting one to either an MGB or to a US spec TR6 to replace the twin Strombergs. This would have nothing to do with safety, reliability or usability, I just fancy having a play. You know what they say about the difference between men and boys?