Making a Retro a More Attractive Daily Proposition in 5 Steps


In almost most circle of friends or someone the pub you will hear someone say “Classics are terrible to run as a daily ; they rust, they don’t start, they only take special fuel and I just like to drive my car.  They are just all worn out wrecks”.  If I got a pound for everytime an Top Gear watching armchair enthusiast said the above I would be a very wealthy bloke long before now!

That is not to say that the above is entirely false however.  Yes, a number of classics do rust badly without car, and admittedly many have been bodged through interesting ways throughout the years to make life interesting both behind the wheel and to work on!

With the above said however the old motors do somehow get under your skin; there is a character, a smell, the noises, the querks and simply a charm about them which leaves you yearning to drive your retro more when things are going great with the car!  Indeed, for years I have been attempted to not have a retro.  However, it seems that I have failed as the below pic of most of my previous cars shows:

Birthday Portrait

OK, not quite all of those are classics but they still make up more than half of the cars I have owned over the years.  Many of the older cars however were daily drivers, giving me differing degrees of reliability and patience testing!

However, I am not here to ramble on about which cars were reliable or not.  What I want to talk about is how you can make your own car reliable and easier to live with in 5 simple steps.  And here we are:

1. Electronic Ignition

“I’ve heard this one before” I have heard many people say now.  “If points have been fine for years leave ’em” is something else I hear.  Years ago you would have been right.  However, with the appalling rubbish that retailers sell as spares this is no longer the case.  Failing plastic heels and shorting condensers result in new parts that make your car even more unreliable!  How is this possible?  How can you get around this?

This part is dead simple.  Change the points (or contact breaker ignition system) for an electronic ignition kit.  It is not like they are expensive either.  From a number of specialists like M&M 4×4, PowerSpark and H&H Ignition to name a few you can get an ignition kit that takes no more than 30 minutes to fit and tune to your car.  The results?  Better starting on those cold damp mornings, more accurate timing and improved dwell angle consistency (that’s the coil charging time for those wondering).  And of course it is one less thing to adjust on the car since there are no moving parts present.  A win win surely, especially when kits are out there for less than £50 for most cars!


2. New Tyres

It never ceases to amaze me how people are willing to spend over £50 on cleaning products on cars yet are happy to roll around on tyres that are older than Noah’s Ark, and have more cracks in them than a poor road in a developing country.

Ok, it is great that your car has low mileage and your 20 year old tyres prove the point, but why?  Besides a safety aspect of having perished tyres hiding behind a plethora of tyre shine the grip levels are much reduced, especially in wet conditions where the car will have a mind of its own.

Indeed on my own classic car where I changed the tyres from 10 year old 1500 mile old Toyos to something new the difference in handling was staggering!  This was from driving the car away from a wet junction to a marked improvement in braking response ; the previous owner of the car was shocked at the improvement in all round handling when I took him out in his old car!

Let’s look at this another way ; would you be glad that you saved £200 on not buying tyres if you went into someone due to not being able to stop or by simply having a car driving all over the place due to a lack of grip?


3. Electronic Flasher Relays

This point is more for the cars still running bimetallic flasher units like the ones shown below:

Often failing after a year of use and generally leaving you to think about indicating long before you even reach the junction due to their slow response time.  That is before I get to them not working well when the engine is turned off.  Not great when you park up somewhere briefly when you pop into a shop for your bread or worse still are broken down in your classic car, where your hazards may not be working in the best state.

What if I told you that you could have your indicators and flashers working at a constant rate, and working from the moment you flicked the indicator stalk and with a clear clicking noise?  Furthermore let’s say that your flashers would no longer be affected by small voltage changes in the electrical if say, your headlamps were put on?  Am I lying?  Not at all.

The fix is simple.  Get a set of Electronic flasher relays.  With an earth wire required to be added to them they are generally speaking a simple item to fit to all classic cars.  Most specialists now sell these items through their websites or eBay but they are simple to get hold of.

4.  Electric Fuel Pump

This again is optional ; a number of classics did come with these.

Why spend an age cranking your engine on a cold morning when it can be avoided?  I am not referring to dousing the engine in Easy Start either in an attempt to fire it up!  What I am talikng about is converting the car to use an electronic fuel pump.  As soon as the ignition is turned on the car will begin to prime the fuel system, and within a few seconds will allow your car to fire up near enough on the first turn of the key ; I know my MGBs and my MG Midget on an electronic fuel pump certainly did.

My favourite is the good old SU pump, but I can appreciate that it is not for everyone.  There are again a number of good fuel pumps out there, but some may require the use of a fuel regulator depending on your carburettor setup.


5. Buy Good Quality Parts and keep the car maintained

This is a tricky one I would say, and almost certainly a case of easier said than done.  With most specialists not necessarily selling the best quality parts as a result of customer demand or what the customer is willing to pay it can leave the classic car owner in a pickle.

Indeed, many have told me that Triumph Stag brakes are appalling.  When I came to look for brake pads from specialists it was easy to see why ; almost nothing of a decent quality was available!  In the end I tracked some pads down through my long suffering motor factor.  Most people who have driven my now sold Stag commented on the effectiveness of the brakes.  The same goes for suspension parts and other miscellaneous items, where is seems quantity is being put in front of quality by many suppliers.  Rubber components being scrap after a year anyone?

No one likes spending a fortune including me, but you have to ask yourself the question? Would you rather be driving the car more or fixing it more?  I know what my answer would be.

The same can be said for maintenance.  A good service, and brake fluid change does wonders for your classic, both in terms of car longevity and responsiveness and safety of the car.


Final Word

It can be said that the above is obvious but it still surprises me that it is not to many or not all are aware of such modifications that can be undertaken to older cars.  Certainly for me the above went a long way in improving the enjoyment of my classic car experience.  I can only hope that it does the same for you guys out there.


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