There’s been a trend in the market the past few years that leaves me totally confused.

Owners are taking vintage cars and updated or backdating them to perform better than they did when new. These resto-mods are often selling for six figures. This can be more than a nicely kept original.

Even more confusing to me, these bastardized old cars often bring more than a similar, three-to-five-year-old late model car.

I just don’t understand.

Without question, a stock 1967 1600-cc Alfa GTV on its skinny 155×15 Pirelli Cinturatos is a flawed car. It doesn’t accelerate, handle or stop very well. I would argue that those deficiencies are a part of its charm. It requires a deft touch to extract its performance. Standing on the brakes or smashing the gas pedal are not going to save you from driver errors.

Let’s talk Porsches. A few decades ago, I owned a stock 2-liter 1968 911L. I think I paid $8,000 for it and sold it a year later for the same amount after I drove it on the 600-mile Monte Shelton Northwest Classic.

What I recall most about the car is its light and nimble feeling. Was it tail-happy? I don’t know, as I never drove it that hard. I recall it was fun, and much more powerful than my 1300-cc Alfas.

Since then, I have owned a Porsche Boxster S, a 996 Twin Turbo and a 996 Carrera. In terms of performance, all of them were vastly superior to the 911L. But it is that car that I remember. I had to work to get it to work for me. My skills were necessary to get it to hustle on a back road.

The newer cars required less from me to do more.

So, I ask, why mess with a good thing? If you want modern performance, why not buy a modern car? It will be better and safer in every way, and often cost less than an updated resto-mod. This is true with Porsches and faux-GTA Alfas from Alfaholics.

I see 911s from the 1970s with 3.2-liter and larger engines stuffed in them. Plus, massively upgraded brakes, and altered suspensions and more modern gearboxes.

Especially confusing to me are the Land Rovers from Arkonik. With their six-figure price tags, I would guess that the chances of them being driven in challenging off-road situations are slim. My own off-roading experience with a D90 200 Tdi has taught me that rarely does more power benefit you. Absent computerized nanny-aids, driver skill is the ultimate determinant of progress. Further, scratches and dents are part of the game; a perfect Rover resto-mod is not well-suited to this environment.

So that’s this week’s question: For the same money, why would you choose a vintage car that has been resto-moded to increase its capabilities over a nicely kept original?

I know what my answer is. What’s yours?



  1. I completely agree. The charm of the older cars, imho, is the way they drive. I won’t do something that will modify the original driving feel. I’ve owned and driven some of the newer supercars, and love them as well. But they have a different purpose.

  2. Definitely agree! Whether is an old Alfa spider or a mid-80’s Volvo turbo or the underpowered Jaguar Mk2 2.4 liter, they all provide immense pleasure to drive just as they were designed to do! I have owned high horsepower BMWs, but driving an old Mini “on the edge” is the best experience!

    • Robert Piacentini

      I put the original skinny tires and wheels back on my 67 Alfa GT Junior. Now it feels much more enjoyable. It tracks better, doesn’t bump steer and gives a nice predictable and gradual cutoff point to adhesion. However, I’m going to rebuild the 1300 and keep it on the shelf for the next owner along with the short rear end. I just need a little more zoom and taller gears to keep up with modern freeway traffic in Southern California which is often 70 to 80 mph. For an old 1300 Alfa with the short rear end, that equates to about 5000 RPM. The 1750 with the 4:11 LSD should make a good driver.

  3. If the modifications make the experience more enjoyable for the owner, and they are reversible, where’s the harm? The pool is big enough for more than one approach to any particular classic car. I own a ’65 Porsche 356. It’s been my four wheeled side kick for over 20 years. Together, we have accumulated over 150k of road trips, daily commutes, and blasts around Sauvie Island. I am giving serious thought to an EV conversion should the money gods allow. There are many personal reasons for me to do this, and if I ever longed for that boxer ICE, I can always change it back. I feel life is way too short to not experiment around with my hobby.

  4. But that GTV of yours had a 1750 and. 4:10 rear end as well as 6×15 Panasports with bigger tires. My Giulia Super had a 2 liter and close ratio as well as a 4:10 rear….didn’t your Super have a 2 liter as well?
    Thats how a lot of these modded cars started out. I agree that as stock they are great fun to drive, but a little extra HP makes it a lot easier in traffic. Just rode in.a friends ‘56 Giulietta with a 1400 and upgraded cams, and it really went well. My ‘70 GTJr was a bit of a slug with its 1300 and heavy flywheel(hydraulic clutch) but will be much more enjoyable with its 1750, short 5th and 4:10 gears. My ‘65 TI will be a bit of a hot rod, but should be lots of fun! I think there is room for both, tastefully done.

    • Good for you Stu…I was wondering which silverback would call Keith out on this. My ’57 has had everything from a 750 1300 to a 2-liter in it over 40 years. When I had to do the “caldecott crawl” everyday in commute traffic down in the bay area The extra torque of a 1750 made it possible. When we wanted to try a 2 liter it made a lot of sense to have the 4:10 LSD. We had to at least try to keep up with Jim and Mark Ashton in the 2 liter sprint on the tours. It even wore a watts linkage for a while with that. It made a great everyday driver that way. Eventually It got a 1600 again with some really light pistons, wild autodelta cams and forged rods and the 5:12. While it reclaimed only most of the “liveliness” of a 1300 veloce, It is still a far more enjoyable car to drive. But it doesn’t see daily duty anymore sadly. For the 40 years I’ve had it, It was my only car for ten or so and driven daily for another 20. Very few Alfas that were ever used as transportation remained bone stock in the Giulietta/Giulia era. The original tunnel case column shift 4spd and 750 ser 1300 normale were chucked by Conrero before it ever reached the states in 1959 In favor of a 1400 kit and cams/webers and a floor shift. Tower braces and better motor mounts and Guibos happened because the stock Alfa ones just disintegrated happily every 3000 miles or so. Copper head gaskets and better valve seals and gapless rings happened because we finally figured out how to stop all the smoke and blown head gaskets. “Purist” wasn’t a word we ever heard until old Alfas became worth something, and came to fill a very different set of desires from a very different set of owners. Back then we just loved them , drove the bejeebers out of them and wanted them to be as quick and trick as they could be. Though the Alfaholics GTA’s are an extreme example. Their existence implies that some are willing to pay the cash instead of doing the work…I can still see a spot for this kind of car. Tiger Destefani’s “Strega” isn’t a pure North American P-51 either but “why, instead of a modern bizjet?” isn’t a meaningful question. Thought provoking, maybe, but easily answered with “because it has some soul”….”And we like Soul”.

  5. Alfisto Steve Patchin

    I drive a 32-year-old Euro spec 1990 Alfa Romeo 164QV and a 1991 USA spec 164B both are considered red-headed stepchildren by RWD purists. They are the 17th and 18th ones that I have owned since I bought my first new one in 1991. The QV pretty is much as delivered from the factory but had to replace mid and rear mufflers and replace electric struts with Konis while I get ready to hopefully rebuild those OEM electric ones. Have set of 16″ 916 spider rims/wheels with Pirelli P4 tires and set of 15″ 164QV/164S wheel/rims (pepperoni slicers) also with Pirelli P4 tires which I can switch between the two 164s. I have Sterbo rear on QV and cat back Sterbo on the 91 B model. I have had a thing about the 164 12v V6 Busso engine and the slick Pinin penned saloon body. I tried the Spica Spider, GTV6 and Milano 2.5L all after I bought the first 164 after owning 75-82 Fiat Spiders, 74-87 Bertone X1/9s and a few Lancia Beta coupes before I got the 164. Check out the our 164 Ship of Fools at: Ciao!

  6. Por que no? Good ol’ hot rodding!

  7. Bottom line- most modern cars bore me! Sports cars are far faster than I will ever want to go, and have capabilities that far outstrip mine. Take a new Corvette for one of dozens of examples. Fantastic looks and performance at a reasonable price compared to the competition. But no third pedal and not easy to get in and out of. But a resto-mod 1958 Corvette like the one I owned 59 years ago, but with a modern frame, engine, and brakes- oh yes. And many others

  8. Keith, where is the line drawn between updates and resto-mods? Here’s an example: my 1957 Corvette has later Chevrolet Camaro front disc brakes, plus a dual-master-cylinder braking system. It has a modern wiring harness, because the old one was a conflagration waiting to occur. It has an MSD ignition system, underneath the factory engine ignition shielding. It has the steering column from a 1958 C1 vette, which moves the wheel about 2 inches away from me- making the car much easier to get in and out of, plus much easier to drive. The new wiring harness required an alternator instead of a generator- so, at considerable expense, an alternator which looks like an old Chevy generator was fitted. And as old Vette mods go, this was all quite mildIs my car a semi-original ’57 with a few updates, is it a resto-mod, or is it in yet another category? Everything we did was in the way of making the car run a bit better and be (much) safer, especially the brakes. Is there is fact a line, and where does it get drawn? Asking for a friend LOL

  9. EV conversions inflicted on classics are just automotive necrophilia. Many resto-mods are obviously silly, but I’m not particularly offended by ones created from badly rusted and incomplete cars. If a car is close to stock and complete, discarding its authenticity to make a classic-shaped commuter is the act of a philistine. But if you have a used-up shell and a stash of more recent parts that could make it into something enjoyable without spending more than a reference restoration would cost? Why not. Just don’t make it an EV. It is bad enough that authoritarians who think the middle class is ruining their planet are using EV mandates to take freedom of travel from people who work for a living. There are already more EVs than the planet needs, or people want. Drive one of them if you’re so inclined.

  10. i think its part of this current collecting environment which is manic. i am stunned everyday at the prices seen on bat. backdates, restomod jeeps and internationals, the constant flow of modern super and hypercars. broncos, gt350s. prices moving way above what seems to me to be rational. i see it in the watch market–insanity over almost any rolex?! why?? the estimate for a basquiat on offer next month is over $100M! inflation? flight to hard assets? too much money sloshing around? they cant all be ‘good’ investments. or an investment at all, really. jeff

  11. No fun driving a car without the risk of a breakdown!

  12. I have a ‘67 Jag 420 and an ‘07 BMW Z4 coupe.Both have engine and exhaust mods but look totally stock.
    Since there is increased power,, I’ve upped the brakes and suspension on both. I’ve tried to do this and keep the feel and driving experience that they had stock. I converted the 420 to a 4 speed/overdrive as well. Vastly improved the fun quotient!

  13. Upgrades -> Hot rodding -> Resto Mods. I get it but for me the point of these older cars is that they’re older. Its to experience it as it was. If the prince of darkness Lucas electronics aren’t failing, is it really a British sports car? 🙂

  14. Hi Keith,
    Thoroughly understand your thoughts and fully respect them. I did “breath over” the restoration of my ‘69 911S Coupe. My conviction was since the cars needed a full nut & bolt restore, why not upgrade technology to a few key areas that would improve the drive while keeping the spirituality intact. Believe me, I was very restrained. At the end of the day, I had a very nice new old car for my stable. Some key areas were electrical and brakes. Electrical was a no brainer. A fresh wiring harness free from glitches gave stronger interior and exterior lighting. Brakes were upgraded to 930 brakes to keep the system modern and less prone to failure. The engine was fully rebuilt to check on wear and tear parts. During breakdown some key friction points were discovered along the way which could become problematic during my stewardship. Lastly, clutch was upgraded to a 930 system to keep stress at a minimum. Headlamps were upgraded to new generation European Systems. One can never have enough light when away from Interstate driving. Did a similar restore on my ‘70 914/6. Again, preserving as much spirit as possible. Am very happy with both cars and wouldn’t question if either were entered in driving events, thinking of less chances for breakdown.

  15. Absoutely disagree with the originality doctrine that permeates, stagnates and mortifies the culture of classic car enthusiasm. Give me an Alfaholics GTA any day over the brilliant original that I drove in the 1960s. Give me a Rod Emory outlaw, any day rather than the 356s I drove in the early 60s. Give me a Singer rather than the original 911. Give me a Jaguar Lightweight by Courtney Smith, or an XKSS by Tempero or Lynx or Realm rather than an original. I can drive the restomods, while I would have to coddle an original. Restomods are for drivers who enjoy the dynamic properties of their cars. Originals are for collectors who place these objects of art upon pedestals as though they are icons to be worshipped rather than driven, raced and liberated from the isolation chambers.

  16. I have never and will never understand the resto mod movement. To me part of owning and driving an old car is being transported back in time. Old cars are a product of the technologies available when they were new, as well as the limits of the marketplace they were sold in.

    Once a car has lost its original components it has lost its soul in most cases.

    Let’s see you want an old but expect it to handle and perform like a C 5 corvette-just go buy a C5 corvette.

  17. My MGB GT has a five-speed conversion, modern starter, alternator, ignition, upgraded lighting with relays and a GPS speedometer. I love it because it’s still an MGB but totally reliable and moves with modern traffic flow. I don’t have room in my life for a museum piece and definitely don’t see the pleasure of sitting on the shoulder of a busy highway sorting out issues. The other thing is, I don’t see this car as an investment; it’s an MGB, after all but it’s definitely more interesting to drive than anything modern.

  18. I would argue that this process of upgrading is no different than the US hot rod – taking a stock car and making it better in all ways, drivetrain, brakes, engine, interior, paint. It’s fun, simply put.

  19. I would have to say restro-rod to a point. I have modified my cars so I can drive them in the cities I live in. For example my 69 vette had the M21 4sp with 411’s in the rear. This was great at the stop lights, but a pain on the freeways, however now I have a Richmond 6sp with an original shifter, and with that I also changed my gears and now can cruise at 80mph at 1800-2000rpms while getting over 20mpg. Of course with those crazy low gears I still get that take off. So, I try to make improvements to allow me to feel comfortable in my environment, but also try to preserve the original styling and uniqueness that drew me to the car in the first place.

  20. anatoly arutunoff

    some of the comments remind me of that wonderful brockbank caption–never mind the illustration, i just love the words>. another case of money getting into the wrong hands! elitedly yours. toly arutunoff. p.s. it’s your car and your money! you’re FREE! do what you want!

  21. Keith I understand your point and don’t disagree. However, I think upgrades to enhance safety, maintainability and reliability are perfectly fine and don’t necessarily detract from the “experience” of driving an older car.

  22. I am mechanically inept and only have one car (17 Giulia) which has to do everything for me. I have given it a mild tune, better non-run flat tires, and an uprated audio system. I tried an exhaust and hated the sound. So I have mildly hot rodded it and it is no candidate for a resto mod. I agree with Michael Carmichael on restomods, though it is a moot point due to cost. Since I am the last person who could fix a breakdown with baling wire, I have to appreciate classic cars as things of beauty only.

  23. Originally with tasteful (and reversible) mods such as disc brakes with a dual master cyclinder over drum brakes with a single master cyclinder.
    Are a “no brainer” from my point of view…

  24. Hey, I am not a resto mod fan at all. The beauty of a classic car is not just the extrinsic beauty but it’s intrinsic beauty, the way it drives and handles just as it did 60 or more years ago. My first car, a 1949 Pontiac Chieftan, cost me $40 and my mother and I drove that car all over Colorado for the 3 1/2 years we lived there. My next car, a 1958 Volvo that closely resembled a black stink bug, always had mechanical quirks but I loved it and it took me to my SAT exam to get into college. And so on…I now drive a 1975 Ford Ranchero that my father in law purchased new with a 351 engine in it 2BBL. Love driving that truck-today it has only 40,000 original miles on it. I kept it in the family for sentimental reasons. The feel of the weight of that big, long hood and that heaviness in the front end as I drive down the highway or the local 2 lane roads, and the big steering wheel in my hands letting me feel every response of the machine as I drive. A true pleasure. Disc brakes on the front wheels that will put you through the windshield if you don’t know how much pressure to put on that brake pedal, don’t drive it on a rainy day as there isn’t much weight in the back end and you are taking a big risk on slick roads. Knowing all of these little quirks make it a real driving experience, just what I enjoy.

  25. Toly gets it! Right on!

  26. Toly gets it! Right on!

  27. I like to keep my cars strictly stock. Though I do run with radial tires! Restomods are not in the least appealing to me.

  28. I own and drive Sunbeam Tigers. When you attend a national Tiger event, you are asked to put your car in 1 of 3 classes – stock, personalized, or modified – with guidelines provided for each. That way, when you autocross, the stock 260/164 HP guys with the skinny 13 inch tires are not competing in the same class as those with a 347 stroker/400+ HP with big sticky tires. Ditto on the concours. Its a small community and there is room for everyone at the table.

  29. I’ve owned eight previous Alfas -all stock. I’m doing a full-on resto-mod of my 76 Alfetta, with all the tricks and toys I want. Why? Because I have the time, imagination and means to do so. I appreciate the beauty and purity of originality, and I also love when people make changes. Sure, there are some that I feel are over-done, and many of you will say that about mine. I observe that other continents are more accepting of mods than we are in North America, and that’s sad, in my opinion.

    One more thing… as a result of my undertaking, I’ve learned body-work, painting, transmissions, noise reduction, electrics and more. I’ll have a beautiful mid-70’s classic car with modern conveniences. Sometimes, it’s the journey more than the destination…

  30. Ok, II can rant about this…
    have both kept a car “original”, and have modified another of the same model with period factory performance parts, as one would if prepping the car for competition (vintage racing, say…). Sometimes, if one drives the car and enjoys it, there is a need to improve the machine for ease of maintenance, or incremental increase in performance. This might mean installing a remote oil filter (say, on a Renault R5Turbo, where the oil filter is hard to reach, and occasionally hard to find a replacement) , or adding a larger, more modern radiator to a Morgan +8 to ensure safe running in So Cal 100+ temps. I am guilty of both crimes… Do I feel bad about it? NO. Heck, Jaguar E Type owners understand this better than anyone.

    I often install remote filters to R5Turbos for other owners with “original” cars, making it easier to enjoy them, as it reduces oil change time by over an hour, with a filter available at WalMart.. I also install heim jointed shift linkage because the original plastic ball/sockets will fail, with replacements unavailable. Also shifting is better. Excellent, even.

    So, if this is OK, where does it end? My early Moss box+8 has a 4bbl carburetor instead of the SUs and the complex cold start system, along with a better radiator, and a Morgan branded set of stainless steel headers. I get another 20+ HP for my trouble, a better running +8, cooler starter and brake master cylinders, and, from the current pricing, no penalty for the ‘”lack of originality”. ‘One of the reasons that I purchased the car in the first place.

    As for the statement that an Alfa from the 60s on narrow tires doesn’t handle well… That depends on whether you are talking about the car’s contemporaries, or current, like machines, such as a Subaru BRZ. Not really a fair comparison. ‘Great cars then and still great now, for the feel of the narrow tire chassis setup, the responsive engine and the incredible joy of driving a toss able light sport car. ‘The same reasons that we bought those cars when they were new are still valid.

    Now, with the interchangeability of Alfa parts between the Giulia type chassis, you can make whatever it is that you might want (I did that with a Berlina that I owned for nearly 40 years converting it to Euro spec and adding some handling enhancements that were available during the time that the car was new). The cool part about that is that it is likely someone will also want such a machine (as memories of the Alfa GTAs of the Trans Am are hard to forget), and pay for the privilege. 2 liter? Wider tires, Cams and Webers, LSD? Why not? All Alfa, right? And, all the parts work together. The Factory did it. Why can’t I?

    Over the last year, I have restored a Renault R5Turbo, that was a 34 year storage barn find, maintaining its originality, save for improvements to service parts, better dampers (as the originals are NLA, and were leaking) and an NOS factory performance kit as offered by the factory when the car was new. I also lowered it slightly. It’s value is insane, and it drives beautifully, as it did when it rolled out of the factory. Should the value be ruined because I made it a bit more useful, using factory parts?

    So, what of perfect restorations, or a perfectly preserved original car? The problem is that they are only orginal once, and often, they lack simple rust prevention measures, and may have trouble areas of corrosion that were factory installed, such as steel and aluminum in contact with one another, or places where even a few drops of water might bore a hole right through the steel floor. Ding the original paint? How do you fix it? When will it finally give up and start to crack? How can one actually use such an over valued car in confidence? I ran into this problem with my own “perfect” original car that I purchased new, and kept for nearly 40 years. The value was crazy, and if I kept enjoying it, well, it could not remain “original”, as it would eventually need a repaint (due to normal deterioration, stone chips or maybe a ding), maybe other changes, using replacement parts rather than original parts. The service requirements would eventually become excessive, should I continue to use the thing for anything other than a museum piece. My car didn’t suffer from old oil seals, old brake parts, tired leaky dampers… all part of “original” cars that are perfectly preserved and seldom driven. In the end, things are going to be replaced, and often with better parts, especially if the car is to be enjoyed as it was meant to be (driven) and not as a garage queen, to be looked at and admired, but never actually driven beyond the show field.

    In the end, with what was a perfect original car, properly serviced, I had to make a decision. It’s value was high. Too high to enjoy it as I had for the previous nearly 40 years. I didn’t want to park it. So, I made a decision to get another car that I have wanted for 40 years which I could improve and enjoy without worrying about irreplaceable parts, or unmatchable original paint. In the end, when this one goes, it will pay for my daughter’s college education, when they take away my keys.

    What I don’t get, is how something like a Fox body Saleen Mustang Convertible sells for over $230K (a Ferrari 550M AND an Aston V8 Vantage) when it is just a Fox convertible, with a few Ford factory performance parts bolted on… A car that didn’t handle well, even when compared to its contemporaries… I owned one myself, for 16 years (in the rare “sedan” body). I modified the hell out of it with factory parts. ‘Loved it, but more than $200K for a car that I built 6 replicas of in my garage, without a lift? Go figure. .

  31. Well, I agree for the most part, however safety enhancements make total sense. As a classic car dealer and appraiser, my thinking is that period correct modifications are perfectly acceptable. In fact subtle and unique mods plus trim, aftermarket or factory option features ad character to the old gems. They become interesting conversation pieces and tell a story about the car and the owner. Lets Ride!

  32. I like Grey’s answer. It’s good old hot rodding! When we are not driving, we are fiddling, wrenching, not just buffing! I know I probably shouldn’t have put that 2.5 L Subaru and transaxle in my 1.3 L Lancia Fulvia, but it’s been a great car, lots of mountain rallies here in Colorado, and I keep up with everyone!

  33. I have a 1959 Alfa Romeo 2000 Spider that I bought in 2004 with the engine pieces mostly in the trunk and on the jump seat area behind the seats. The engine had been apart since 1973 — and not well-stored. The previous owner had always intended to restore the car so he kept the car and its pieces intact…in a barn in Richfield Utah ostensibly as a condominium for mice and lizards. The car needed restoration but had “good bones.”
    I’ve had many Alfas, but have never been a fan of the cast-iron stuff. I see it as the last gasp of Alfa’s pre-war technology.
    I made the decision to acquire and install a 2L Twinspark from an Italian 75 (called Milano here). I retained all of the factory Bosch Motronic engine management peripherals, and used all Alfa parts for the conversion of the various systems (e.g., used a radiator and coolant bottle from a series 4 Spider.)
    I have never regretted the change, as the enhanced reliability and power make me much more comfortable using the spider for tours, etc.
    It is still four cylinders, still 2L, still all twin-cam Alfa — just 150lbs lighter over the front wheels and has 35 more bhp.
    So, my position on the question is: It depends. This Alfa, in its original form, wasn’t a great driver’s car, and will never be especially valuable. The engine was big and heavy, but produced anemic power and had awful stinky Solex carbs. The steering was heavy requiring muscle to crank the big wheel. The styling was exquisite to my eye, at least. Now my spider feels very similar to my 1971 GTV1750’s lightness and power since it lost the weight and gained the bhp. And I think the body gets more beautiful each time I see it sitting in my garage or at a local car show.
    To this car, I would do it again. To a different car, maybe not.