If you’re old enough, you’ll remember sitting in your dad’s lap to steer a car, riding in the bed of a pickup truck, and driving without having your seat belt buckled… or even without having factory installed seat belts in the car. Automotive safety standards have come a long way in the last fifty years, at least for new cars, but what about for your classic? When considering the purchase or modification of a classic car, a lot of us want originality above all else. But, it’s often smart to find a balance between originality and safety, even if you only drive your classic car a few times a year.

When you’re driving a classic car, the soccer mom in the modern minivan thinks you can start, stop, and maneuver just the same as she can. People who don’t drive classic cars simply don’t know or understand how different they are from modern cars. (It’s a similar situation for motorcyclists and cage dwellers.) This can make driving a classic car much more dangerous than it should be. Still, in Pomona we believe classic cars should be driven. They’re incredible machines that inspire and delight everyone who sees them, and there’s no reason they should be confined to the garage except for show weekends… so long as they have some very important safety upgrades:

1. Seat Belts

The biggest improvement you can make is also one of the simplest: seat belts. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seat belts are the most effective way to save lives and reduce injuries in a crash. They’re also relatively easy to install, and they can often be hidden during car shows if you don’t want to ruin the original look of your car. While a three-point belt will offer you the most safety, an old school lap belt is still better than nothing. So even though most states only require a vehicle to have the safety features it was manufactured with, which means most cars from the 1960s and before aren’t required to have them, we believe installing seat belts should be one of the first upgrades you make to your classic car.

2. Tires

Another easy safety upgrade has to do with your tires. Yes, you should absolutely get new tires if the tires on your classic car are more than 3 years old or if they don’t have any tread left, but you should also consider changing your tire type. We might get some stick from the hardcore show crowd for saying that you should trade out your bias ply tires for radials, but we’ll just say you should try Coker Tire’s American Classic Bias Look Radials – if keeping the original look of your car is important to you. The belt construction of radial tires offers better handling, a smoother ride, and longer tread life than old school bias ply tires. If your classic car is a true driver, and not a trailer queen, it just makes sense to put a set of radials on. (For help help selecting the right tires for your classic car, check out Lucas Classic Tires on Road 20 at the next Pomona Swap Meet!) 

3. Brakes

A more involved, but very important, modification takes a little more mechanical know-how. Improve your brake system by replacing your single reservoir master cylinder with a duel reservoir master cylinder. It isn’t terribly difficult or costly to do, and there are kits available for many classic cars if you’re comfortable doing the work yourself. With a single reservoir master cylinder, the brakes for all four of your wheels are linked together with a hydraulic fluid circuit that provides pressure to both your front and rear brakes. That sounds okay, until the master cylinder fails and you lose ALL of your stopping power! With a dual reservoir, your brake system is split between the front and the rear brakes so even if pressure is lost in one circuit, you won’t experience a total loss of stopping power so you can still stop your car safely. It’s why dual master cylinders have been required by law since the late 60s, and why we think this is such an important upgrade for any classic car. Of course, while you’re down there (and if you can afford it), you might also consider converting your old drum brakes to discs! (Click here to learn more about modern brake systems.)

Remember, no matter what you do to your classic car, it’s never going to be as safe as today’s cars, with modern seat belts, airbags, and crumple zones that are designed to absorb energy in a crash. Keep your classic car running strong, and make it as safe as possible. You’ll drive it more, which means you’ll enjoy it more!

Photo Credit: Impala by Barbara Eckstein (CC BY SA 2.0).

Join us at the next Pomona Swap Meet & Classic Car Show to find all the parts and accessories you need to upgrade your classic car!