As I was out and about running errands, I saw something you rarely get a glimpse of in the wild – least of all sitting outside a Walmart. It was an exotically colored ’72 Plymouth Road Runner that surely must have escaped the confines of its garage to enjoy a little freedom.
From the looks of it, the car was in good shape and mostly original except for a few performance and comfort upgrades which made me wonder whether or not it would make a good daily driver. I know I’m not the only one. Most of us have an older car or truck that we enjoy driving but wonder if its reliability and performance will keep pace with our hectic schedule.
With a few key enhancements in modern tech and creature comforts, you can gain the dependability you need out of your car to make your decision a rewarding and successful one. Most modern technology upgrades can be installed without ruining the classic feel you like so much while giving you a safer and more reliable driving experience.
Let’s see what it takes to roll old school on a daily basis.
Perhaps the biggest change you feel when hopping out of your late model car and into your classic is with the braking and steering. Those of you who’ve ever had to stop short because some idiot pulled out in front of you know what I mean – the lane you start in isn’t necessarily the lane you end up in.
Depending on the year and make of your car you’ll either have drum brakes just in the rear or all the way around. Although they provide effective stopping power through a larger braking surface against the drums, they require frequent adjustments as they wear down to keep the vehicle from pulling left or right.
If you do have drums up front, one of the first upgrades you should consider is a front disc brake system. It’s one of the best investments you’ll make especially if you’re planning on or have already done other performance upgrades that would benefit from added stopping power and steering control. Too often, enthusiasts put a lot of effort into boosting horsepower only to realize they can’t unleash the full potential of their power upgrades against the limitations of their original suspension and brake system.
In addition to safety, the other perk of transitioning to a disc brake system is maintenance. Disc brakes are much easier to work on than drum brakes and parts are more widely stocked at retail parts stores.
Older cars like many built before the 60s had a single master cylinder which means that if you develop a leak in the system or a brake line gets damaged, you can wind up with zero braking ability. Today’s dual master cylinder separates the operation of the front brakes from the rear so a malfunction will only ever affect one set. In this scenario, you’ll have less stopping force but you’ll at least be able to stop the car.
If you end up doing a front drum to disc brake conversion there’s a good chance you’ll have to replace your master cylinder anyway as part of the kit you get. But even as a stand alone modification, peace of mind goes a long way to making your drive more enjoyable.
One of biggest obstacles your older vehicle will face is getting stuck in traffic. It’s kryptonite for mechanical fans. This is because they rely on how fast the motor is spinning to cool down the engine and when you need it most, like while sitting in traffic at idle on a hot day, it’s not going to be spinning very fast. Having to base your schedule around avoiding rush hour so your engine doesn’t overheat is rather inconvenient.
As bad as this problem sounds, the fix is surprisingly easy and relatively inexpensive. There are a number of bolt-on electric fan options for nearly every car or truck. Some even come with a new aluminum radiator as part of a set. Electric fans cool the engine based on a pre-determined temperature that you set so no matter whether you’re sitting in traffic, taking a long road trip, or blowing off steam at the track, your fan will always be working towards maintaining that optimum operating temperature. It will also free up some horsepower that was getting lost in driving the belt system of the mechanical system for you to put down on the asphalt.
Incorporating a classic into your busy lifestyle means the engine has to have that reliability you can count on. You don’t want to blow an afternoon or be late for work trying to figure out why your car won’t start or the engine isn’t running smoothly on the highway.
Many cars up until about the mid-70s came with a points ignition system which needs constant cleaning and adjustment to keep your engine starting and running smoothly. Ignition points are a set of electrical contacts that switch the coil on and off at the proper time. The problem is that these contact points deteriorate over time and have a serious effect on your spark voltage, resulting in poor high-speed performance, incomplete combustion and other timing problems.
Switching your points ignition with an electronic ignition system replaces your contact breaker points with a module that you can set and forget. It only takes about an hour to do yourself – not a bad trade for better reliability, quicker starts, more top end power and a little gas mileage boost.
The older your car, the more basic your gauge cluster tends to be so problems like overheating or inefficient charging can go unnoticed until it’s too late. Replacing your cluster with a set that gives you a better ability to monitor more systems will help you identify potential problems as soon as they creep up. Temperature and charging are the most important to monitor so even if you don’t want to change out your cluster, you can simply add these under the dash or even hide them in the glove box so you can can maintain your car’s originality but still take a peek to confirm everything is normal.
Having to use a little muscle to turn my truck comes in handy when I’m feeling guilty about skipping my work out. For the kind of driving I do locally, it doesn’t pose much of an inconvenience. The difficulty comes in when going downtown and having to maneuver into tight streets and parking spaces. Not many people appreciate my piece of automotive history when they have to wait through a 20-point turn and I’ve learned a glossary of colorful language as a result.
If power steering isn’t equipped on your car or truck, there are conversion kits that can add power steering to your original setup to increase your maneuverability. The cost and types of aftermarket kits available depend on your car or truck and the options that were available when it was new. Those that had power steering as an original option are the easiest to upgrade.
If you live where it’s hot most of the year, then air conditioning isn’t just another option – it’s a necessity. Even if your car or truck already comes with factory-equipped A/C, it’s not as efficient as its modern counterpart. There are two primary options when it comes to upgrades: 1) refurbish your existing system to use the new refrigerant, R134, or for not that much more 2) use a direct fit or universal replacement kit. The modern kits have better cooling capacity with very little engine drag while also uncluttering the area under your dash, cleaning up your firewall and opening up space in your engine bay.
Hopefully we’ve been able to give you some food for thought if you’ve been on the fence with whether or not to make your classic a daily driver. Regardless of your decision, the best thing you can do to keep your older car running strong is to drive it, and drive it often!
Photo credit: dave_7