Picking Period Correct Accessories for Your Classic

Photography by David S. Wallens

[Editor's Note: This article originally ran in the September 2008 issue of Classic Motorsports]

We have come a long way since Bosco’s Collapsible Rubber Driver. This turn-of-the-century antitheft device was incredibly simple and elegant in its design: It was merely an inflatable dummy that was placed in the driver’s seat when the car was vacant. As the ad so noted, “No thief ever attempted to steal a car with a man at the wheel.”

While the next hundred years have seen the car security business flourish into a huge market, other car accessories have also vied for our disposable income. Extra lights have delivered better nighttime illumination, trunk racks have increased our carrying capacity, and speed parts have made us, well, faster.

Like cars themselves, these accessories have changed over time. What was fashionable 40 years ago might not look appropriate on today’s latest and greatest. Likewise, today’s modern accessories tend to look a bit awkward on a chome-bumpered classic. 

Whether tackling a full restoration or just adding some spark to a driver, a few period-correct accessories can add a personalized touch to your classic. And don’t worry—it doesn’t take a Bosco dummy to set yourself apart from the crowd. 

Personalizing your car has come a long way since Bosco’s Collapsible Rubber Driver. For fans of ’60s-era machines, there’s so much to choose from. For starters, it’s hard to go wrong with the right auxiliary lights and some grille badges.

Auxiliary Lights

Lucas spots, whether originals or repros, are perfect for your British sportster.

Today’s auxiliary lights can put the sun’s power on your front bumper, but they’re not going to look right on a chromed-bumper classic. Lots of vintage lights are out there, so use this rule of thumb when choosing a set: Most cars came sporting lamps from their own countries of origin. Lucas lights went on British cars, Italian machines carried Carellos, and German cars could go with Hella or Bosch. For some reason, though, lights from French companies Cibié and Marchal seemed to go well with anything.

Where you shop today is as important as what you buy. We recently scored three NOS Carello lamps via a Mini message board for $175 delivered. We’re convinced that they would have gone for much more if advertised to Ferrari owners. Daniel Stern Lighting advertises NOS Cibié and Marchal lighting, by the way, including the legendary Super Oscar lamps.

Modern pieces that sport retro styling are also available, as Moss Motors offers reproductions of the Lucas SLR and SFT lamps. Prices range from about $100 to $150 each.

Steering Wheels

Decades after their introduction, two of our favorite aftermarket steering wheels, the Nardi Classic and Momo Prototipo, are still in production. The three-spoke Nardi Classic line gives customers several choices: 330mm, 360mm or 390mm rim diameters; black, polished aluminum or satin aluminum spokes; and wood, black leather or black suede grips. 

Prices for new wheels run in the $300 to $400 range, and lots of used ones are out there. As a testament to the wheel’s staying power, the Nardi Classic has become very popular among today’s younger enthusiasts. In other words, don’t be surprised to find a Nardi dealer who also carries parts for Hondas, Toyotas and Nissans.

The Nardi Classic line also includes the Replica Anni ’50 as well as the Replica Anni ’60. Both wheels measure 380mm across. The Replica Anni ’50 features exposed rivets in the rim, while the Replica Anni ’60 gets guilloche detailing on the spokes. (The Anni ’60 is very similar to the wheel first fitted in the original Ferrari GTO.) Prices for these replica wheels are close to $700.

The Momo Prototipo gained popularity as the wheel of choice for Porsche’s racing cars of the ’70s, and it works well with other midyear classics. This leather-wrapped, 350mm-diameter wheel is available with black or silver spokes at a list price of $255. 

The Momo Prototipo, above, and Nardi Classic have been with us for decades and still look great. Interestingly, both wheels have been embraced by fans of late-model Japanese cars, meaning there’s plenty of demand to warrant a healthy supply.

Shift Knobs

Thirty years ago, Amco shift knobs were the gold standard. NOS and used ones can still be found, while several of the big supply houses—Moss, Victoria British and the like—offer worthy replicas.

At one point Amco was one of the biggest names in aftermarket shift knobs, and their catalog covered items for just about every marque. While they offered their knobs in both walnut and vinyl for popular makes like MG, Triumph, Porsche and Alfa Romeo, they also catered to some of the less popular brands like Subaru, Sunbeam and Saab. Depending on the application, the cloisonné badge would vary between the brand’s logo and the shift pattern. 

We have seen prices for NOS knobs ranging from about $20 to more than a hundred depending on the application. Amco is no longer with us, but new replicas can be found today for about $25.

Grille Badges

Whatever your poison, passion or preference, it can be captured by a grille badge. Two threaded studs on the backside of each badge allow for simple installation.

It’s amazing how some chrome and cloisonné can instantly tell one enthusiast so much about another: favorite race track, car club affiliation and even heritage. Most badges are round and a little less than 4 inches in diameter, but there are lots of variations. In fact, the first purported badge was the all-brass model handed out to Automobile Association members starting in 1906. Their purpose was to help club members avoid speed traps. 

Most vintage and current grille badges fetch about $20 to $30 each. These ornaments have been with us for a hundred years, and new ones are still being produced. Arnie Brown’s Automobilia makes custom ones, and the minimum order is 40 pieces.

Mirrors

Side-view mirrors didn’t become a federal requirement until the 1968 model year, so up until then owners and dealers got to make their own choices. Among the higher-end sports car set—think Ferrari, Porsche, Tiger, Shelby, Mercedes-Benz, Lotus and the like—one of the most popular options was the bullet-shaped Talbot. They’re still in production, and Aardvark International is the U.S. importer. The Junior model is better suited for smaller sports cars—figure almost $200 each in brushed aluminum and about $250 per piece in chrome over brass.

Looking for something even more racy? Carroll Shelby favored the spun-aluminum Raydyot mirror (at left) for some of his race-spec machines, and replicas can generally be found for less than $70 each. (Truck-Lite now owns the assets of Raydyot, and we couldn’t find any racing mirrors in their latest catalog.)

British sports cars tended to sport a simple Lucas mirror on the front fender—it was basically a chrome stem supporting a chrome-backed mirror. Replicas are available today for less than $20 each.

Stickers

While we love the vibe that old stickers give, reality can get in the way. If they’re not already stuck to something, then there’s a chance that the adhesive has long since dried up. Reproductions are out there, however. Some are professionally printed and sport crisp color separations for a genuine look. Others are a bit fuzzy and have more of a home-done look to them.

Wind Wings

When the weather grows colder, a pair of wind wings can be your best friend.

We have seen wind wings on just about every kind of open car, from Model A Fords and prewar touring cars to Cobras, Triumphs and Healeys. Want some new ones for your classic? Budget about a hundred dollars for a pair.

Trunk Racks

Whether sourced from Amco or the dealer, chrome-plated tubular steel trunk racks have helped make many weekend getaways possible. While neither source can help you much today, replicas are currently available for many popular classics, including the MGB, TR6 and big Healey. The going rate is usually somewhere around $300 to $400 for new racks; in some cases, used pieces can go for less than a hundred.

License Plates and Frames

Your vintage classic is running a year of manufacturer license plate, right? In some states—including our home state of Florida—the DMV allows pre-1976 vehicles to run state license plates that coincide with the year of manufacture. The plates must be authenticated by the state, but we have found the process to be fairly quick, painless and even inexpensive—as in less than $40, including a yearly renewal. As far as the plates themselves, we have bought ones in good condition for as little as $5.

On a related note, nothing looks tackier than a modern, plastic plate frame on a classic car. Chrome-plated vintage dealership frames can be found nearly anywhere these days, from swap meets and online auctions to the darkest, most spider web-encrusted corners of many garages and attics.

Aero

Whether adorning a Datsun 510 or a Triumph TR6, a simple chin spoiler can be an appropriate modification.

Just about every new model introduced these days has spent considerable time in the wind tunnel. Go back 30 or 40 years, and that wasn’t quite the case. Still, the manufacturers designed several front spoilers back in the day to help our classics better cleave through the air. The Triumph TR6 got a factory front lip starting with the 1973 model year, while the 1980 MGB LE was also so equipped. Both of these factory-designed pieces can be retrofitted to earlier cars, and replicas are still being made.

Peter Brock was one designer who knew airflow, and his BRE Datsuns helped bring aftermarket spoilers to the masses. Motorsport Auto offers their take on the BRE 240Z aero pieces—figure on spending a little over a hundred dollars for the front and about $160 for the rear.

Speed Equipment

Some enthusiasts are all about period-correct speed equipment—a subject that could easily fill volumes—and a Judson supercharger is often a prized find. Between the late-1940s and mid-1960s, Judson Research and Manufacturing of Conshohockon, Pennsylvania, produced more than 60,000 superchargers for a wide range of cars: MG, Triumph, Volkswagen, Austin-Healey and even Corvair. 

While the company claimed a 50-percent increase in power, Carl Heideman’s testing on an MGA has provided some more favorable numbers. While horsepower gains were modest, the torque went through the roof—at 2500 rpm he saw a 95 percent increase. Complete kits start at around a thousand dollars these days, and George Folchi can help with rebuilds and parts. Judson wasn’t the only game in town, however, as Wade, Shorrock and Marshall-Nordec also made aftermarket blowers for many classics.

Koni dampers have been popular bolt-ons since the sports car scene began, and many of their old applications are still in production. Koni’s traditional red Special as well as their black Classic shock absorbers are still available for a wide range of older performance cars from Porsche, Triumph, MG, Ferrari, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Mini, Jaguar and even Morgan. 

Magazine ads have touted aftermarket exhaust systems for years, and popular brands for our favorite sportsters have included Ansa, Monza, Peco and Abarth. Can’t find a used one worth installing? Ansa, Monza and Peco are still open for business.

Superchargers are designed to get more air into an engine, while performance exhausts are made to get air out. Judson and Peco were both leaders in the field of telling air where to go.

Tunes

A modern head unit with an iPod input might be just the right thing for a road trip, but it’s hard to beat the charm offered by early car audio hardware. Prices for period gear are very reasonable, too.

Today we associate the Motorola name with cell phones, but in 1930 they were one of the first firms to successfully install a radio inside an automobile. When it comes to imports, other popular names from the transistor era of car audio include Philips, Newmatic and Blaupunkt. Delco had a lock on GM products, while Fords often came sporting a Philco. Despite the fact that many of these old units have been replaced by newer ones, prices are still reasonable, with many fetching less than a hundred dollars.

Rally Clocks

Halda’s clocks and odometers were the gold standard throughout the ’60s. That’s a highly accurate Twinmaster odometer mounted above a Speedpilot rally clock. While no longer in production, Halda units can still be serviced.

Today we can buy GPS-driven navigation computers for just a couple hundred bucks. Back when that technology was merely the fruit of sci-fi, mechanical rally clocks and odometers kept us on time. 

Halda’s Tripmaster, Twinmaster and Speedpilot rally computers were good enough for Paddy Hopkirk as well as the rest of us. Budget about a grand to buy an early metal-case Tripmaster today.

Halda stopped making their mechanical odometers and clocks in the early ’70s and totally left the rally market in 1993—they now only produce fare meters for taxis—but these devices can still be restored and serviced. Martin “King Cog” Jubb is the sole agent for Halda mechanical rally instruments and can supply parts, including those needed for calibration. His restoration prices vary depending on the model and parts needed, but figure that a Tripmaster service starts at 35 euros. (According to his Web site, sometimes he’ll trade his services for rare Fleetwood Mac and Kate Bush albums.)

Heuer also had a line of dash-mounted timepieces, and models included the Auto Rallye, Monte Carlo and Rallye Master. Check out OnTheDash.com for photos and details.

For those who’d rather go with new than used, check out Brantz’s meters. In addition to gear designed for today’s rally competitor, they also offer retro units appropriate for vintage competition. Checkpoint Racing advertises the RetroTrip 2 Classique unit for $429. It features a pair of electromechanical clicking digits. It’s not necessarily a rally clock, but Formotion makes some easy-mount, retro-styled timepieces suitable for any flat surface.

What About Wheels?

There are so many choices when it comes to period-correct wheels—both older models as well as today’s retro designs—that we’ll be covering this topic separately at a later date. Some advice until then: With so many wheels available, there’s no reason your car should sport a set from the wrong era. If in doubt, the classic eight-spoke mags look good on anything and everything. 

Key Fobs

The cheapest, most basic ring will do a fine job of keeping your keys together, but doesn’t your classic deserve something with a little more style? Cloisonné and leather key fobs are still available in hundreds of designs. Whether NOS, used or brand-new, most are still less than $15 each.

Shopping

Even though some of our favorite classics have gone out of production 20, 30, 40 or even 50 years ago—back when they were served by since-gone sports car supply houses like Amco, MG Mitten and Vilém B. Haan—the bits needed to personalize them are still very much available. You just have to do some looking.

For those who prefer to shop face-to-face, one of our favorite sources for classic accessories is the Carlisle Import-Kit/Replicar Nationals held each May in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Can’t wait that long? There are several automobilia sales in and around Monterey, California, each August, including Automobilia Monterey and Concorso Italiano.

The Internet has totally revolutionized the way we shop for anything, including parts for our cars. Auction powerhouse eBay can be a one-stop shop, but be aware that shopping experiences can range from superb to downright frustrating. 

Finally, many of the larger vendors offer a healthy selection of period-correct accessories for the brands that they service. Cobra Restorers, Mid-America Corvettes, Mini Mania, Moss Motors, Victoria British, XKs Unlimited and others carry a nice selection of automotive doodads for their chosen marques.

Amco and MG Mitten were two favorite suppliers of sports car accessories back in the day. Today, we have swap meets, automobilia shows and, of course, eBay.

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Comments
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sir_mike
sir_mike New Reader
10/13/20 3:49 p.m.

Great article...I have 2 very early SpeedPilots and a Twinmaster.One note on Martin Jubb...he passed away 3/27/2011...

gedupont
gedupont
10/13/20 11:52 p.m.

So where's the 8 Track casette tape?

keithedwards
keithedwards Reader
10/14/20 5:16 a.m.

My '54 Austin-Healey 100 had an "original" radio. It was AM, had tubes, and a single speaker built-in. The '40 Buick that was on the farm I grew up on had a strange box, about the size of car battery, that I was told was a radio.

Andrewsky
Andrewsky New Reader
10/14/20 6:39 a.m.

I'm still imagining old cars built with our latest machinery at disposal running at incredible speed though. 

wspohn
wspohn Dork
10/14/20 11:54 a.m.
keithedwards said:

My '54 Austin-Healey 100 had an "original" radio. It was AM, had tubes, and a single speaker built-in. 

Let no one make fun of that. If nuclear war ever came, all those modern radios will be out of action from the EMP while yours will play on (assuming there is anything being broadcast....)

I still use tubes in one of my hifi systems.

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