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Summary
  • You can improve a classic car’s performance by installing a fuel injection system, upgrading the engine, and investing in performance chips.
  • To improve safety, you can change the seat belts and add backup cameras. Replacing drum brakes with disc brakes and installing ABS also goes a long way in improving braking performance.
  • For smoother and more comfortable rides, upgrades that boost suspension, handling, air conditioning, and sound system are must-haves.

Many collectors view classic cars as an excellent investment with good reason. Most cars start to lose value the moment they’re driven off the dealer lot, but that doesn’t hold true for the classics, which get more valuable over time. At their best, these cars, especially the rare ones, are works of art that have stood the test of time.

However, while they’re pleasant to look at, most classics simply can’t keep up with the vehicles today. This is a big reason why some owners look for upgrades to match the ever-demanding needs of modern driving. If you’re in the same boat, there are a lot of improvements you can make.

Engine and Performance Upgrades

While some classic cars are powerful in their own right, some need a boost to perform as well as modern vehicles. Upgrading the fuel injection system, engine, and adding performance chips and tuners can help you get more power out of your vehicle.

classic car performance upgrade
While some classic cars are powerful in their own right, some need a boost to perform as well as modern vehicles.

Fuel Injection System

The fuel injection system uses different sensors and computers to precisely measure the amount of fuel needed to be injected into the combustion chamber. This makes the engine more fuel efficient since it eliminates unnecessary fuel burning.

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Installing a fuel injection system on classic vehicles improves fuel economy, making them more affordable to drive. One way to do this is to change the gas tank to include a return line and adding a fuel injection intake system.

Engine

A classic and pre-owned car will likely have an engine that’s run for thousands of miles and is nearing the end of its lifespan. Thankfully, you can prolong any classic or modern car by replacing the whole engine with a more modern unit.

You can also add a turbocharger or supercharger for added performance.

Performance Chips and Tuners

Lastly, you can install performance chips and use tuners to improve your classic car’s performance.

Performance chips give cars more power and torque while improving ride and fuel economy.

On the other hand, tuners are more specialized if you have a specific goal in mind.

To install performance chips, follow the steps below:

  • Step 1: Start the vehicle.
  • Step 2: Locate the OBD-2 port under the dashboard and remove any dirt and dust.
  • Step 3: Plug in the performance chip and wait at least 15 seconds.
  • Step 4: Press and hold the SYNC button on the front of the chip for 15 seconds and drive at least 150 miles to complete the remapping of the fuel-air exchange.

Safety Upgrades

While they’re relatively safe, you can improve a classic car’s safety features by upgrading seat belts and installing backup cameras and parking sensors.

Seat Belts

Upgrading the seat belts on classic cars is an effective way to reduce the risk of injuries during crashes. They’re also easy to install on classic cars, especially those that have retaining points because you don’t need to drill holes to get anchorage points.

In addition, you can hide the seatbelts if you don’t want to ruin the original look of your vintage ride. It’s recommended to use a three-point belt for added safety. In fact, the three-point belt is estimated to have saved over a million lives since it was invented over 50 years ago.

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Backup Cameras and Parking Sensors

Backup cameras and parking sensors make it easier to park, especially in tight spaces. The cameras assist you in checking the rear of your vehicle when you’re going in reverse. Meanwhile, the sensors alert you if any obstacles might make it tricky to park.

One of the best things about these two is they won’t ruin the overall aesthetic of classic vehicles since they’re small enough for you to hide.

Braking System Upgrades

Upgrade your classic car’s braking system by installing disc brakes and ABS (anti-locking braking system).

Disc Brakes

Upgrading from drum brakes to disc brakes is a significant improvement in terms of braking. Disc brakes improve braking power, making it more effective in stopping vehicles at high speeds. They also lower the chance of failure from overheating due to the open-air design.

ABS

For this one, it’s important to note that installing ABS is expensive as you’ll have to swap out the entire body harnesses and some electronics, among other things. In addition, not all classic cars are suitable for ABS retrofitting.

However, if you have the appropriate vehicle and are willing to splurge a bit, an ABS is useful as it helps prevent the wheels from locking up for safer steering.

Suspension and Handling Upgrades

Installing coilover suspension kits, sway bars, and strut bars helps improve a classic vehicle’s suspension and handling to make for more comfortable rides.

Coilover Suspension Kits

Coilover shocks greatly improve a classic car’s suspension, as they fine-tune a vehicle’s response to the road. It offers a wide range of adjustability since coilovers combine a shock and performance spring that allows lowering with fine tune shock adjustments.

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This enhances the center of gravity, stance, and handling. And if you’re itching to race, a coilover upgrade improves lap times.

Sway Bars and Strut Bars

Sway and strut bars are good upgrades to improve your classic car’s suspension. Sways control the side-to-side weight transfer while allowing the suspension to normally move forward to back. Meanwhile, struts protect the platform on which the suspension is built.

Interior Comfort and Convenience Upgrades

classic car with sound system
It’s never bad for a car to be more comfortable and convenient.

Lastly, it’s never bad for a car to be more comfortable and convenient. Do this by installing or improving the air conditioning and sound system.

Air Conditioning

Let’s face it. Air conditioning systems today are superior to the ones used back then because of the ever-evolving technology and access to data. If you’re looking for a more comfortable drive, it might be in your interest to upgrade your classic car’s A/C system.

Do note that it could cost a lot. Installing a new A/C on popular models should cost between $800 and $1,000, while expect to pay somewhere around $1,700 or more for rare vintages.

Sound System

Driving with entertainment blaring in the background has become the norm. Whether it’s listening to your favorite tunes or the next episode of your favorite podcast, a good sound system has become a necessity when traveling.

And while the sound of retro car speakers adds to the overall appeal of classic cars, they don’t quite have the same power as newer sound systems. If you’re looking for better aural experiences, then modern speakers are worth the purchase.

About The Author
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The CarParts.com Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by CarParts.com's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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