How Many Mods to Your Collector Car?

bd6810439746b409a3342c80795e163d

As I shepherd the SCM fleet through its never-ending process of repair, restore and improve, I am constantly making judgment calls about when to upgrade and when to leave things alone.

For instance, I just delivered the 122S to Guy Recordon at Guy’s Interior Restorations to have the front seats restuffed and rebuilt.

While it’s there, should I have him uprade the seats with inflatable lumbar supports and seat heaters? In theory, because the Volvo will be a four-seasons car, having the seat heaters would make sense – and it would be under $400 installed for the pair.

I had Guy put seat heaters in our 1989 Range Rover Classic and found myself using them nearly every day in the winter. (The stock seat heaters had long ago ceased to function.)

But when Guy rebuilt the seats in the Alfa GTV, I had the lumbar supports and the heaters installed, and I have barely used either.

I realize that this isn’t exactly a life-or-death question, but these are the kinds of decisions we have to make as we take these old cars and bring them back to a functional life.

Springs, Shocks and Bars

As a matter of course, I replace all the shocks in my old cars with Bilsteins and install sport springs. When appropriate, I install a thicker front sway bar and put in a rear bar. I’ve done the springs, shocks and bars to all five Alfas and now to the 122S.

It lowers them slightly and gives them, to my eye, a more aggressive look. Plus, it improves the handling immensely, while not noticeably degrading the ride.

But now they are no longer stock. Should I have left them alone? Isn’t part of the goal here to experience these cars as they were when they left the factory?

Engine Upgrades

And then there are engine, transmission and rear-end upgrades. Both my Super and my GTV have had their stock 1,600-cc engines replaced with 1750 units. This was done before I acquired them – I wouldn’t make that switch myself, but I’m not about to source 1600 engines and retrofit them.

All my Alfa engines have had upgraded cams installed, and the 1958 Giulietta Sprint Veloce also has a period-style 1,400-cc kit in it now, with 10.3:1 compression pistons. “While we were in there,” we installed 2-liter 9-tooth gears into the oil pump, replacing the 7-tooth gears that were there. The result: fantastic oil pressure across the entire rev range. But again — it is no longer stock.

The GTV and the Super both have 4.1 limited-slip rear axles in place of the stock 4.5 open diffs, and the Duetto has an LSD from a later car (although with the stock 4.5 gears). Are these upgrades acceptible when considered as “modifications in period style” — i.e., are they things we would have done when the cars were relatively new?

I do understand the value of keeping a car completely stock, leaving it at its original ride height and with its original rear axle ratio. In fact, the diff in the Sprint Veloce needs to be rebuilt, and Jon Norman of Alfa Parts recommends that we source a 2-liter LSD.

However, this car is so original (except for the cams, pistons, springs, shocks, sway bar and oil pump (!)) that I have elected to have the original 750-series diff rebuilt, even though that will cost significantly more, and parts will be harder to source.

So here’s the question I pose to you and to myself: When you decide to restore a car as one that you will drive on rallies and tours, which upgrades should be considered “in the spirit of driving,” and which ones are degrading to the original mechanical and cosmetic condition of the car?

Since I really do use my cars, I have a definite opinion of how I want them to perform. But as steward of cars that might stand as examples for future generations, I’m not sure that I’m making the right decisions.

What do you think?

Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market and bi-monthly American Car Collector magazines, has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and has his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity.

Posted in Keith Martin