Can I Make My Classic Safer To Drive? Yes, Here's How

They'll Never Make The IHS Top Safety Pick, But There Are Mod's Worth Considering

In a previous post, we reviewed a few of the safety shortcomings associated with driving Classic cars. In this article we are going to cover some of the things you can do improve safety while enhancing the enjoyment of driving.

The #1 Objective is Avoiding a Collision
Older cars, even those from the '80's, were never engineered to offer the kind of crash protection we expect in current models. And frankly speaking, there is nothing you can do to fix that. It's unlikely, that as a driver, you've never had a close call while in your commuter car. 
It used to be a freshly restored '65 Mustang
But if not for the capabilities of the brakes, suspension, steering and tires, you would have had to rely almost completely on modern crash protection. You may be the most cautious defensive driver on the planet, but because so few people understand the limits of your Classic any ride can result in a close call or an accident. Therefore the goal is to improve your odds.

Brakes, Suspension, Steering, Wheels, Tires and Belts
These are the six items we're going to focus on in this post. Modernizing these features is not necessarily cheap, nor are they insanely expensive. But unless all you do is drive your Classic once around the block every couple of months, you should seriously consider most if not all of these up-gradable systems.

Average cost 4 seats - $200 plus installation

"Three of five people killed in car accidents would have survived if they were wearing a seat belt"

This is the easiest and least expensive safety upgrade a Classic car owner can complete. There are numerous retro-fit suppliers to choose from and despite what you may have heard in the past, there are kits to install a three-point system in almost any Classic (even convertibles). Again, some will cry "sacrilegious", which is fine until you hit another car or do a face plant into the dash or steering wheel. The Hagerty website also made note,

"As far as we're aware, there is no collector car club or car show organizer that will deduct points for the installation of seat belts in a vintage car. Most hobby organizations encourage the installation of seat belts as a way to save lives. "

It's important to keep your seatbelt secure across your hips at all times to avoid "submarining". This when a loose belt allows the occupant to slip out below the belt. If a three-point system is chosen, keep it snug across your chest. Retractable three-point systems will lock the shoulder harness, much like modern cars. There may be some additional items to consider, even if you've already added seatbelts. Our favorite is called the "CG-Lock" a device that allows the user to "pre-tension the lap belt to hold you from sliding across the seat.

Suspension Component Upgrades
Average cost - $200 and up plus installation depending on the car and level of modification
Even when in like-new condition, yesteryear's suspensions were not made to offer the best control. They were designed to deliver a smooth ride. A worn out suspension system is even worse. Every time you hit the brakes, the nose dives downward and if the wheels are turned the entire system is overtaxed. Add to that worn out steering components and you have created a recipe for disaster.

Watch the other videos to learn more. As always, we have no affiliation with this company, nor do we receive any compensation. Shocks: Springs: Bushings: Balljoints: Swaybars:

Fifty year old springs have outlived their useful lifespan. Replacing them with factory spec springs will not help much besides raising the car back up an inch or two. A good replacement to consider are variable rate coil springs or leaf springs designed to do the same. There are many suppliers and some offer complete kits.

Next would be all the things that hold the suspension together; bushings, links, ball joints. If these items are very worn, they will decrease your ability to maintain control. Lots of choices here too. Some items are available to improve control, while stock replacements are just that. There are some suspension items that control steering. like tie rod ends, idler arm and even the steering box. If these need replacement or repair, add them to your list.

Last in this group would be shocks. As with variable rate springs, there are numerous variable rate shocks (e.g. Monroe-matic) which act much in the same way. When cruising along, the amount of dampening is limited, but during harsh or sudden suspension changes, they increase the dampening force to improve control. A good set of shocks will add significant control to your Classic.

As the saying goes, "choose wisely grasshopper" as the amount of work needed to tackle a suspension upgrade is extensive and should not be undertaken by someone with inadequate experience.

Disk Brake Upgrade
Average cost - $900 and up plus installation
"The initial drum brake test resulted in 60 to 0 distances of 197 feet. They also pulled to one side."

After adding in the average reaction time of 60 feet, the total is 257 feet, about 100 feet longer than an average modern car. If you've been following our posts featuring Jay Leno's Garage, in nearly every case he installs front disk brakes and a dual circuit hydraulic system on every one of his cars for this very reason. Plain and simple, drum brakes suck and if a single circuit master cylinder fails, you have no brakes.  

He, like us, will make note purists may have a very hard time accepting the installation of a disk brake upgrade, but in most cases (and providing you retain the stock parts) the upgrade is fully reversible. 

This can be a daunting upgrade, but with proper skill, tools and
patience far from overwhelming. As with suspension, there are enough choices to make you dizzy. But the results can be extremely rewarding. After completing a disk brake upgrade, the 60 - 0 braking distance of the car referred to in the above quote, the total stopping length of 128 feet. That's about ten car lengths shorter. There are kits that allow the use of factory wheels as well as kits for larger wheels. We even found a kit for Ford's Model A.

Tire and Wheel Upgrades
Average cost $1,000 and up
A common issue with Classic cars is the use of bias-ply tires. They

are like drum brakes. They reduce handling capabilities and can increase braking distances. If you have bias-ply tires on your Classic, consider upgrading to radials. There are even radials designed to look like period correct bias-ply tires. 

But, according to NHTSA not all factory wheel rims are compatible with radial tire designs. In simple terms, radial tires move to keep a large contact patch. They can place additional stress on the lip of the rim. If you have upgraded to radials but installed them on 50 year old rims, you should check for signs of cracking at the edge of the rim. Based on the results of our search efforts, replacement steel rims made today meet requirements for the use of radials. There are also differences of opinion on this subject.

In Conclusion
All of these upgrades can add significant levels of safety to your Classic. Some of the upgrades should be left to experienced professionals, but as noted your individual mechanical capabilities may preclude that requirement. So just as is the goal to improve the safety of your Classic, you must keep in mind your own safety while preforming mechanical repairs by yourself.  

Stay Safe and Happy Motoring
The Garagistry Team