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Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
10/20/14 2:52 p.m.

A big segment of the sports car-collecting hobby is moving toward keeping things perfectly stock. It’s becoming unfashionable to change an original paint color or even eliminate hubcaps in favor of aftermarket wheels.

Sure, the resto-mod craze is raging in the American muscle segment of the market. In our world, there are pockets of protest from the Outlaw Porsche 356 and Porsche RS groups.

The attitudes of Tiger owners are changing, however. These enthusiasts used to be the first ones to flare fenders and add monster motors to their cars. The fact that Tigers weren’t worth much and were rather unimpressive in stock form probably led to a lot of these modifications. Another factor: American hotrodders were attracted to the cars’ light weight, cheap prices and American V8 engines.

Now that prices are rising for cars like Tigers and Porsches, things are different. It’s now considered sacrilegious to modify them.

Times may have changed, but I’m not sure I have changed much. I’m trying to get into concours restoration and am going that route with our Mini Cooper. I have no intention of modifying the 1965 Mercedes-Benz 220 SE B coupe that I just bought either.

That said, I recently acquired a 2.8-liter engine for the 1966 Mercedes sedan I’ve been writing about on these pages. I asked the guys at the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center what they thought of the swap. As staunch supporters of originality, they pooh-poohed the idea–big time.

I didn’t listen to them. For $600, I picked up the 2.8-liter, single-overhead-cam engine from a 1970 Euro coupe. I’d heard from some friends that the swap wouldn’t be that hard, and I guess I wanted to see if I could do it.

I am a strong subscriber to the theory that if you buy the car, you can do whatever you want with it. Though I cringe when I see a Sunbeam Tiger with big flares and sidepipes, I understand that it’s every enthusiast’s right to modify his own car as he pleases.

Of course, I prefer a more subtle touch of the artist’s brush. I like to perfect what the factory started. Quite honestly, when it comes to modifying old cars, two bits of reality are at play.

First, most old cars aren’t that good. They were designed in a different era, without the aid of computers. We talk about the good old days, but a lot of the old cars we play with lack the quality of the cars those same companies make today. If my old Mustang were made as well as the new Ford Fusion I drove the other day, I would have the best car in the world in that Mustang. Sadly, the Mustang rattles a bit more and the ergonomics are not nearly as good.

Second, there are just so many more ways to fix and improve old cars today. From message boards telling me how to swap the 2.8-liter into my Mercedes to Wilwood brake kits for my Mustang, there are so many solutions available that it’d be a damned shame not to take advantage of some of them.

So when it comes to modifications, what is okay and what is not okay? Well, that depends on what you’re doing with your car, what you’re willing to spend, and whether you ever want to be able to sell that car again. It also depends on what you’re starting with.

In the case of my Shelby Mustang, what I did was probably ill advised. That is a very rare car, and I just had to mess with it. But I didn’t start with a clean, original car. I started with a worn-out rat that was missing much of its original engine. Under these circumstances, the cheapest and quickest way to go was to use a crate engine. As you’ll read in the next issue, I also fixed the handling and the power steering. The car now drives so much better and is twice as fast as an original Shelby Mustang.

I now have it the way I want it and have no plans on selling it. I’ve wanted one of these cars since I sold my first one in 1982, and finally I’ve found the car of my dreams.

As for the Mercedes, the reality is that it’s essentially not a very valuable car. I found it in terrible condition, and against my own good advice I decided to restore it. I’ve already modified it with a disc-brake rear end, a limited-slip differential and a color change, so why not add a little more motor? The newer engine has seven main bearings instead of five, so it’s a lot smoother and stronger. And if you’ve ever driven one of these cars, you’ve probably asked yourself why Mercedes spent all that time and energy on safety, handling and comfort and none on putting some ponies under the hood.

So out comes the old engine and in goes the new engine. It will look exactly the same but theoretically give the car much more power.

Modification is a double-edged sword. You can quickly go too far and ruin a car, making it edgy, rough-riding or just unbalanced.

I don’t think anyone would argue against my swapping one of HVDA’s five-speed conversion kits into my Triumph TR6. Even at auction, where originality is paramount, this mod would be considered a plus. Switching from a black vinyl interior to tan leather wouldn’t cause many purists to raise an eyebrow either: Tan was an original interior color, and it’s much cooler than black in the Florida sun. Plus, everyone likes leather.

But would it also be okay that I switched to the optional wire wheels? That may fly, but the purists–at least the ones who knew what they were looking at–could get weak in the knees if they noticed the upgraded front anti-roll bar, the later TR6 dual exhaust, and the twin SUs that replaced the very crappy Strombergs.

Of course, we’re heading down a slippery slope here, and along the way we’d probably notice that aftermarket console and the great leather-wrapped Moss Motors steering wheel.

Taste is personal. If you want to paint your BMW 507 jet jet-black with pink stripes, go ahead, but plan on keeping it forever. I would suggest modifying in more subtle ways and keeping in mind that most of us aren’t engineers–it’s easy to go too far. Most of all, I recommend getting out and enjoying your car, whether it’s stock or modified. I know I will, especially when I get that bigger engine installed.

Read the rest of the story

Keith Keplinger
Keith Keplinger contributor
12/9/14 3:55 p.m.

I just bought a '73 Spifire - It already had the 'Spit/Six' conversion done, including the O/D trans and the better rear suspension, so I considered that a plus in my decision to buy it. Unless you're trying to get rich flipping cars ;-), have fun with them. IMHO.

bosswrench
bosswrench New Reader
12/9/14 4:58 p.m.

Modify the sucker! As long as the owner does not exceed his skill-set in design or actual work, it's his to play with. IMHO anyone that buys a car with resale value in mind deserves everything that happens...

TR8owner
TR8owner HalfDork
12/9/14 7:41 p.m.

The word is not "modifications" but should be termed "improvements". Let's not forget that back in the day you could buy performance parts over the counter at most dealerships and improving your car was actually encouraged. British Leyland is a good example. I hotted up my Mk.III Spitfire on the street before converting it to a race car, all initially with over the counter parts from the dealership using the official factory competition manual.

I'm all for improving stock classics, but absolutely insist that any mods should be period correct. IMHO an improved period correct classic car is a much better car than stock and often more desireable. I'd much rather have a fatted out 1960's 1275 Cooper S than a box stock one. If you're talking about a classic Rolls Royce, then not so much. So it depends on the car. Some cars - mini's, 240Z's, Tigers, etc just are begging to be improved.

I agree about Sunbeam Tigers. Back in the day when I was into them the owners we're a lot of hot rodder types. Nowadays they're much more anal.

All three of my TR8's have been improved BTW.

NOHOME
NOHOME SuperDork
12/10/14 11:14 a.m.

I believe that we are privileged custodians of these cars. I am a staunch supporter of keeping cars 100% original as the day they came from the factory! Hot Rodders are evil!

Oh, wait...I could not even keep a straight face long enough to type the above!

Rupert
Rupert HalfDork
12/10/14 2:35 p.m.
NOHOME wrote: I believe that we are privileged custodians of these cars. I am a staunch supporter of keeping cars 100% original as the day they came from the factory! Hot Rodders are evil! Oh, wait...I could not even keep a straight face long enough to type the above!

I just read something that works well here. "Agree to disagree."

VClassics
VClassics Reader
12/10/14 3:28 p.m.

I'm sure there are many cases where a company came up short in realizing the designers' concept due to financial and/or manufacturing constraints. I make my living primarily by building engines and doing other performance mods to old Volvos, and the P1800 series definitely falls into that category. There are a number of straightforward mods that completely transform the car that Volvo could have done at the factory, but didn't. I think I'm just finishing the job for them.

AngryCorvair
AngryCorvair UltimaDork
12/10/14 4:27 p.m.

when they're done right, they're upgrades for sure.

i make reversible improvements and keep the original parts in case the next guy wants to return it to stock. EFI, overdrive, disc brakes, big bars, wider wheels with stickier tires. what's the point of having a car that's a turd to drive?

rconlon
rconlon HalfDork
12/10/14 4:32 p.m.

Yes it is up to the owner but, the car also tends to sway which way to go by it's nature. There is room for both originality and modification/upgrade in the same garage and maybe even in the same car. Owners who prefer to modify or preserve or restore usually purchase examples that are suitable to their purpose.

maseratiguy
maseratiguy New Reader
12/10/14 10:22 p.m.

I am mostly in the modify them camp, (rare cars being the exception). One of the reasons I contemplate selling my Merak is that there is precious little you can do to tweak it. All you can do is make it the best Merak as it was supposed to be. you can not make it stop much better, handle much better, or accelerate much faster without re engineering it. Now take a lot of other makes, Alfa's, to Volvo's and there are aftermarket suspensions, and engine parts, there is a big online knowledge base of what works, there is room to make it slightly unique, make it handle, stop, and go with many of todays cars.

wlkelley3
wlkelley3 SuperDork
12/10/14 10:40 p.m.

In my mind, it depends on what you started with. If you start with a complete car then straying to far from original would be a no-no. Only minor mods that would make it more usable and all easily undone. If you started with a hulk then fair game. Anything you want to do. Possible exception to this would be an extremely rare high dollar car but if you had one of those it wouldn't cross your mind anyway.

Examples: I got my 70 Opel GT as a complete all original car. I pretty much kept it that way. Only mods are mostly hidden, easily undone and made it more reliable and better to drive. Pertronix, Weber, 14" BMW BBS Basketweaves and European Opel GT brake master cylinder. My 63 MG Midget I bought for $50 and is mainly a restorable body only. No seats, interior or engine. Open for anything I want to do. Granted, neither of these are valuable cars but you get the point.

Rupert
Rupert HalfDork
12/11/14 1:32 p.m.
maseratiguy wrote: I am mostly in the modify them camp, (rare cars being the exception).

Ah!! You just touched on the crux of the issue of all these arguments over modifications! Define rare!

When I destroyed a perfectly innocent '53 Starliner Coupe it was just a used car. And I only got it so cheap because almost no one wanted one. Today Lowery designed cars fill spots in museums. And if I hadn't destroyed it, that Starliner Coupe might have been one of those on display.

That's why I now always try to "improve" my rides in ways that can be reversed. And I try to save every original part I remove as well. However, I don't argue with those who choose something else to do with their ride. After all, they own it.

TeamEvil
TeamEvil HalfDork
12/11/14 3:32 p.m.

" I have no intention of modifying the 1965 Mercedes-Benz 220 SE B coupe that I just bought either."

Sweet ride, congratulations ! !

jr02518
jr02518 Reader
12/11/14 9:57 p.m.

I have a 1994 BMW 325is, M-Tech. The car is one of 150 built as a pre run of the 1995 M3's. All are Alpine White with cloth sport seats, 3.15 LSD, 17" rims and body trim that ended up on the M. Mine does not have the original M50 motor, but is still a 2.5 stocker. But I do know were a fresh '95 M3 motor is sitting on an engine stand, just incase. So, it would end up, enhanced. This is Southern California after all.

maseratiguy
maseratiguy New Reader
12/11/14 10:03 p.m.

Rupert, I see your point and maybe you are right. However, If you hadn't destroyed it would it still necessarily be around? I guess it depends on what "destroying it" means.

Rupert
Rupert HalfDork
12/13/14 11:41 a.m.

In reply to maseratiguy: I made one of the most oft repeated errors I know of. I removed a perfectly fine original engine and dropped a small block Chevy motor in its' place. And in the process made several "modifications" to the firewall, transmission tunnel, etc.

Would it still be around today? Maybe, maybe not. That being said, SoCal. doesn't have nearly the rust issues other areas have.

Whether the car might still be around or not, most of the real value went out of the car when I did all that cutting. If I had done a more careful "mod." and also saved the old parts, the next owner could have returned it to stock.

wspohn
wspohn HalfDork
12/13/14 1:42 p.m.

I tend to modify every car I have ever owned (except the Lamborghini - not much you would want to do to it). But I also try to do things reversibly if possible, not necessarily because I want a future owner to be able to reverse the mods, but because I like a sleeper where the car hasn't been hacked about horribly (and before anyone pints it out, my Jamaican bodied MGA wasn't hacked by me, I bought it pre-bastardized, which gave me license to go further in that direction).

There are lots of improvements one can do without horrifying the purists (not that I particularly care what they, or anyone else for that matter, thinks about my cars). Modest engine swaps or upgrades (my MGAs normally get MGB engines, my MGC has a ported tricarb head, my Solstice coupe has magically 'grown' its 290 bhp to around 380 bhp, as did my Fiero, with an added turbo) don't require chopping a car up, normally. I have no problem with a Bugeye owner wanting to run the original 948, but I also have no issue with him sticking in a 1275 for more power AND more reliability/longevity.

I will admit that I don't like seeing MGs and such with Ferrari or Cobra noses and big flared wheel wells, but I do respect the right of their owners to do stupid (by my way of thinking) things to their own cars.

cdowd
cdowd HalfDork
12/15/14 12:51 p.m.

I agree with the reversable modifications. Our Jaguar xk-120 OTS has a later 150 motor, but I have the origional that could be swapped back someday. My Alfa Romeo 63 Giulia spider had a 68 Veloce motor. I have always like completely stock looking modifications with more power or reversable suspension improvements.

racerdave600
racerdave600 SuperDork
12/15/14 2:45 p.m.

I'm not really an originality only type person, so I may not be the one to ask. But, I do think there are certain cars you would not want to modify for investment sake, even though I hate that term.

To me though, any car for the most part can be made more enjoyable. The Shelby example is a good one I think. You take a car that Shelby modified to start with from a standard Mustang, so would Mr. Shelby mind if you made it better with the latest technology? I think not. Personally, I'd take your car over a nice 100% original any day. It's one I could actually drive and enjoy.

Same is true for me for 356 Porsches. I want one I can drive and enjoy. There are places for museum cars, but not in my garage. The way I see it, if a mod makes a car more street-able, it will get more use, and isn't that what the hobby needs anyway?

Now to randomly start cutting up a car and adding big flares, etc., I'm not so much into that, but some are, and I think that's OK for something they own. Cars are not public commodities.

NOHOME
NOHOME SuperDork
12/15/14 5:57 p.m.
VClassics wrote: I'm sure there are many cases where a company came up short in realizing the designers' concept due to financial and/or manufacturing constraints. I make my living primarily by building engines and doing other performance mods to old Volvos, and the P1800 series definitely falls into that category. There are a number of straightforward mods that completely transform the car that Volvo could have done at the factory, but didn't. I think I'm just finishing the job for them.

Could not agree more; a few minor touches should transform the car

On a more serious note, while I have never driven a stock P1800 ES, I expect it to be much like the MGB GT that I have and not really be suitable for real driving. The drivetrain parts are just to old and fragile as a group to ever be reliable, especially when combined with the poor quality spares that are available to the MG crowd.

I figure that a 25 year technology jump for the chassis and a low stressed 302 should take care of that concern with the P1800 ES. Or it could just entertain me for a few years while building it and turn out to be expensive scrap metal. Then I would feel bad for killing two of them.

maseratiguy
maseratiguy New Reader
12/15/14 10:07 p.m.

I am kinda' all over the board on this issue and it makes little sense, so I can't defend my views, it's just how I feel. On one hand I don't like the idea of making drastic changes to the drive train on some cars. Example: putting a sbc/sbf into everything that rolls. I've seen them in Maserati's Jags, Alfa's Volvo's etc. (it seems to me that it is changing the very heart of the car).Yet putting a Rover V8 into an MGBGt seems like a good idea to me. Or putting a IRS and disc brakes into an early Mustang or even a Box Nova seems ok.

bradyzq
bradyzq Dork
12/17/14 10:29 a.m.

I'm firmly in the modify it camp, no matter what the car is.

But if you modify it, do it well. Reversible or not, a hatchet job doesn't improve anything.

wspohn
wspohn HalfDork
12/18/14 7:35 a.m.
NOHOME wrote: much like the MGB GT that I have and not really be suitable for real driving. The drivetrain parts are just to old and fragile as a group to ever be reliable, especially when combined with the poor quality spares that are available to the MG crowd.

While all repro spares are of variable quality, the MGB is suitable for just about anything - easy to keep running and dependable.

Just because it is old doesn't mean it is falling apart, not if it has been maintained. I've driven many thousands of miles in cross country travel with my old MGs and Jensens - it doesn't take an engine swap to make them reliable.

You do them an injustice and it isn't supported by the experience of many owners of older MGs.

Tom Molter
Tom Molter New Reader
12/22/14 1:00 p.m.

I'm a little late to the party, but this is a great topic that has broad room for interpretation.

I recently purchased a '78 Mercedes 450SLC for cheap that I would like to turn into a SLC rally tribute car-i.e hot rod an SLC. The only way to do this on the cheap requires taking hundreds of pounds of weight off of the car and making a couple of simple performance mods. My problem is that even a high mile SLC like mine is still a beautiful car, and unlike American and Japanese cars of the era, it was really well built in the first place. I can choose to keep it stock and just drive it, or I can hack into it and make it a hot rod. Either way, I won't lose much money as these cars are terribly undervalued and there are plenty of them around. I think that as long as the production numbers are high, it's not a big deal to make modifications.

It's also not a big deal if a guy wants to make his car safer with disc brakes or dual cell master cylinder, seat belts etc, especially if you're going to drive it in rally's and club events etc.

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
12/22/14 7:19 p.m.

In reply to NOHOME:

Well, we've had this discussion before, but I have driven an essentially stock 1800ES. A lot. Other than the lack of power steering and a bit more wind noise, it is a remarkably modern-driving car. It does feel a bit like an MGB with more rigidity. And the transmission feels a bit "truckish" compared to modern cars, but overall it's quite nice. Personally, with a few moderate upgrades one would definitely still work as a daily driver today.

Now regarding modifications - I'm all for them. I have 4 classic cars. A '64 Mini, a '72 GT6, a rusty '73 1800ES and a '79 Spitfire. Of these, the GT6 is the most original. The previous owner had the car since 1978 and was very careful to keep it as original as possible. It had one repaint in the original color sometime back in the 80's, but otherwise it's pretty much the same as when it left England. Of course, I can't leave things alone, so I have a T-9 to install and I've been toying with a R160 and CV conversion as well.

The Mini and Spit will likely receive moderate upgrades as time goes on to make them more enjoyable for me to drive.

The Volvo is the tough one... it's very rusty and most wouldn't consider it worth restoring. But the value of these cars keeps climbing and it's getting closer to the point where I could restore it to stock and possibly break even cost-wise. Or - I restore and build the 1800ES I've always wanted, taking my experience with the ex-g/f's very nice, but original car and adding changes that bug me about original 1800's. If I do the latter, I'll have the car until I die, so I don't care about the value. In the meantime, I'll keep saving up for one of VClassic's engines.

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