1. Carburetor vs Fuel Injection. In today's world, we get in our modern cars, turn the key, and the engine starts and idles perfectly. For a Classic Car, you may have 1 or more carburetors on your engine. Typically, you will need to pump the gas pedal 1-2 times, possibly pull a choke cable, and attempt to start the car. If the car will not start, repeat step 1. Once the car is started, you may need to keep your foot on the gas pedal and give it a little gas to keep it running, and as the engine warms, adjust the choke. If this wasn't enough, some engines require constant manipulations to both choke, idle and air adjustment. The carb will act differently on cold starts vs warm starts, and altitude can affect the air/fuel mixture. Carburetors often need to be rebuilt on a regular basis as rubber components break down causing a loss in performance. Overall a carburetor, once fine-tuned can perform very well.
2. Bias-ply vs Radial tires. All cars manufactured before 1969 came with Bias-ply tires. In 1982 all cars manufactured in the U.S. had Radial tires. What's the big deal? Bias-ply tires wore out quickly, were rough riding until they warmed up, and were not as safe. Can a classic car use radial tires? Yes, and it should be noted that all 4 tires should be radial tires, as mixing radial and bias-ply tires is not recommended. For a high performance, classic car, you have the advantage of running speed rated tires, or tires with special compounds for your specific application. Can you still buy bias-ply tires? Yes, and many manufacturers provide period correct tires.
3. Seat belts. In 1885 a seat belt may have been found in a horse drawn carriage to stop ejection. It was not until 1964 that all cars sold in the U.S. came standard with seat belts. Several manufactures offered seat belts as an option, but they were thought to hamper sales by many. Can seat belts be added to my classic car? Yes, and several styles are available from a simple lap belt, to a 3-point system.
4. Electrical. Most cars prior to 1954 used a 6-volt battery. The 12-volt battery allowed large engine displacement cars to start easily. The VW Bug still used a 6-volt system into the 60's. A Classic car can be converted to 12 volts, but a purist would expect the car to be 6 volts. If you run a 6-volt system, then correct lightbulbs, and headlights are essential. Note, that many older cars were positive ground vs negative ground.
5. Generator vs Alternator. Alternators were used in WW2, but the 1st production car to use one was the Chrysler Corporation Valiant in 1960. The advantages of the alternator were less weight, less expensive, and more rugged. Can you put an alternator on your classic car? Yes, with a few simple modifications, you can convert your vehicle to a modern alternator, and get the advantage of matching your vehicle electrical demand to the alternators capacity.
6. Radio. A classic car may have been equipped with a radio, but depending on the year, make, and model it was probably an AM radio. It may have been push button, or have a wonderbar (a channel search feature). Can you change to a modern radio? Yes, and many aftermarket companies make radios that will retrofit into a classic car. Many dashes have been cut and modified over the years to accommodate a modern radio, but the purist will want an uncut dash. With blue tooth, and USB connectivity, the options are abundant.
7. Points vs Electronic Ignition. Classic cars came with points. In its simplest form, it is basically two contact points that make contact as the distributor rotates. Electronic ignition employs an electronic eye that uses optical sensors to pick up a signal. The advantages are many, but, reliability is number one. Points require replacement as the contacts wear, and often involve frequent adjustment. Can you convert your classic car to electronic ignition? Yes, and many companies make retrofit kits, or complete replacement units. These components often simplify and clean up the appearance in the engine compartment.
8. Fuel Injection. Fuel injection was a very rare option on a few select vehicles. Fuel injection will allow a car to run more efficiently, and adjust to the current environment. Air, fuel, altitude all affect the atomization of gasoline as it enters the intake manifold. Can my Carbureted Classic car be converted to fuel injection? Yes, and this is becoming more common as the kits are less expensive now, and the controls are simpler. Many units mount in the same location as the carburetor.
9. Synchronized Transmission vs Non-Synchronized. A synchronizer does exactly as the name suggests. It equalizes its speed with that of the next gear to be engaged, allowing a smooth, crunch-free selection. Modern synchronized manual transmissions are of the “constant mesh” variety. This means that idling (free spinning) gears on a main shaft are in constant mesh with a corresponding set of gears, machined as one single component and forming a second “lay shaft.” In the early 1950's cars were often synchronized in 2nd and 3rd, but not 1st-2nd gear. Many manufacturers stated in their manual to come to a complete stop, then put it in 1st gear. In the early 1960's, most vehicles were synchro meshed. What does this mean? If you buy a classic car built before 1960, you may need to learn how to drive an unsynchronized transmission, which will involve double clutching to bring the gears together. Not a deal breaker, just a new skill you must learn.
10. Independent Suspension. We take for granted our modern smooth riding, superior handling cars of the 21st century. In the early days, we had solid axle front and rear suspensions. As time went on, we saw the independent suspension on the front axle, but the rear remained solid. Eventually the rear suspension became independent on most passenger cars. What does this mean? Ride quality, and handling will be a lot harsher than we might like. Cornering will not be that great, and overall safety will be reduced. What can you do? You can leave the car original, or modify the suspension by upgrading with numerous aftermarket parts. Look for words like street rod, or resto mod to describe cars that generally have suspension upgrades.
Written by Gary Hatch, an avid collector of classic cars. Production manager at RoadReadyInspections.com