Classic Car Watch
What You Need to Have a Daily Driver Classic

NOTE: This column displays cars I have found on the Internet. I am not selling them. Please follow the links if you are interest in a car. Be mindful of the date this article was published. For an explanation why I do this read the original column here.

October 1, 2015
By Scott Lewis

This month is going to be different. I am NOT going to show you any cars. Instead I am going to layout a plan for what it would take to be able to use a classic car as daily transportation. After all, the ultimate goal for [me] having a classic is to be able to drive it all the time. Let's not kid ourselves, it would actually be a NEAR Daily Driver. To keep it nice I would not drive a classic in bad weather and such.

I plan to cover what NEEDS to be done as well as what I WANT to be done. I will also cover the order in which those things should be done to get on the road as soon as possible (after purchase). This assumes we have a classic car that is in decent looking condition. It does not have to be a show car by any means. Looks are not required for daily driving, but it helps if you are not embarrassed to drive your "ratty old car."

Remember, most classic cars were daily transportation at one time. And the classics that I gravitate toward are mid 60s to mid 70s American cars, which were designed for highway driving before the dreaded 55 MPH national limit. So, technically, any car from the late 60's forward should be able to drive in modern traffic.

This article is about upgrading a classic car so it handles and brakes close to (or exactly like) a modern car, and has enough creature comforts to make long drives enjoyable. As I see it the following items are needed/wanted:

4 Wheel Disc Brakes (needed)
Wheels and Tires (wheels may be needed, good tires are needed)
Air Conditioning (needed in Texas, wanted elsewhere)
Suspension Upgrades (some needed, more wanted)
Interior (wanted)
Modern radio (wanted)
Drive train (wanted)

That list is close to the order I would perform the upgrades. Better braking is mandatory for a daily driver. However, there can be problems. Wheels! Larger disc brakes might dictate new wheels to fit over those brakes. Also, suspension upgrades may also dictate something with the brakes and wheels as well. What if a suspension package requires different spindles, but you already put new brakes on the old spindles? So, you really need a good plan on the major brake and suspension components you want before you do anything.

I am not looking for race car levels of performance. I just want to match a base Camaro or Mustang (not even the GT or SS). Once we know what suspension and brakes we are going to buy... we can determine if the brakes can be done first, without the suspension. This is likely for a mildly modified car. So we should be able to buy our brakes and wheels first.

With the brakes taken care of I would start driving the car. At this point, we could also just buy a quality rebuild kit for the stock suspension. They sell kits that will replace virtually all the wearable suspension parts (bushings, shocks, ball-joints, tie-rods, etc.) for a few hundred dollars. This WILL make a huge improvement to a car with really old parts on them. And it could get you on the road a lot sooner than saving up for major suspension pieces. It could also make for a fun 2 or 3 weekend project. This is likely the path I would take.

Air condition is right after brakes. I live in South Central Texas and A/C is mandatory. So a quick call to Vintage Air is right after the main safety parts are taken care of.

With the required comfort item, and basic safety taken care of we can drive the car A LOT. And will likely start driving it occasionally to work.

Next up would be suspension upgrades. This is as much for safety as enjoying the driving of the car. Mild or wild... this is where the majority of your money will go (well maybe the engine, but only if you replace it). They sell entire front clips that have it all (why you need to plan everything out first). My first check would be to see what package Hotchkis has for the car in question. I would likely avoid an air system. They usually don't handle as well, but that could be a personal preference based on the level of performance I am considering.

After the suspension is sorted the car should be enjoyable to drive. So we want to address the interior next. For me this means making sure it has good sound deadening material, which means pulling up the carpet. So replacing the carpet would happen as well. You would be surprised how much this can do to the interior of an old car. Obviously replacing seat covers is done if needed... or... regardless and having a little extra bolstering put into those seats before they get covered. I would also put in modern gauges. I want something that looks close to what the factory might have done if they had better technology in the day. I would NOT put in digital gauges. But modern electronic gauges with classic looks and a little custom touch... that's what I want.

Of course, we need sounds. I would see what Custom Autosound is up to these days. They make custom radios that are styled and made to go into a classic and look like a factory item. Yet they have modern conveniences like USB and iPhone connections. Bluetooth may even be easy to do.

Once all this is done it would be time to think about the engine and drive train. OK. I said the suspension would be the most costly above. The engine could cost more. Hard to say. It depends on what direction you go. I am not a purist, and have no trouble changing engines. I am thinking along the lines of a quality crate motor, with a late model overdrive transmission, and maybe fuel injection. All in the name of better performance AND lots of reliability. But if the engine is sound, you could just swap some aftermarket aluminum heads, a new intake, camshaft and a nice carb or fuel injection system. The drive train could be done cheap or super expensive. It all depends on your goals.


That's the overall plan. The next time I take a look at this topic I will try to setup a budget for a specific car, and list prices for as many parts as I can think of to create a daily driver classic.