Classic Corvettes are happy to be driven really hard. So there’s no reason why they should ever sit out a season of driving — or even year-round use in non-blizzardy climates.

Of course, while a 1956, 1966 or 1976 Corvette was contemporary in its time, the technology of 40 to 60 years ago borders on antique today. This means that no matter how nice they may be, all old Corvettes have room for improvement to approach current levels of versatility, reliability and safety.

Old Corvettes will never match a new car in any of these arenas, but certain improvements can change your experience with the vehicle without hurting originality or degrading value. Here are 11 modern bolt-on mods to consider — and in every case, keep all the components you remove so you can return the car to stock easily.

Nose coat

Patina is great, but not everybody with a show-quality Corvette wants to see it on the front of their car. To reduce this worry, try a layer of 3M Paint Protection Film applied to forward-facing or lower body surfaces.

When properly applied, this transparent film is practically invisible and does a spectacular job of deflecting flying sand and gravel that can easily blemish expensive paint. And best of all, it’s removable whenever you want to show the car in earnest.

Crate engine

Small-block crate engine from Chevrolet Performance

Luckily, most Corvettes have plenty of poke in stock form. However, if you want a power upgrade along with such niceties as a powertrain that’s oil- and fuel-tight, and with a more vigorous charging system, shop for a ready-to-go crate motor like the ones from Chevrolet Performance.

For scarcely the cost of an engine rebuild, you can slide in fresh new ponies, with choices up to 572 cubic inches and even electronic fuel injection. Then store that precious original engine after servicing, freshening or rebuilding.

Aluminum radiator

Versatility means being able to use your car in a wide variety of circumstances — including the hottest days of summer. While you may be able to suffer overheating in the cockpit with the help of a floppy hat and a cold drink, your engine will love the assistance of a Griffin or similar aluminum radiator when you’re idling through traffic.

Done creatively, such an installation needn’t compromise underhood looks, and represents a highly useful addition that expands usability of your hot-blooded hot rod.

Carb and ignition

A funky old carburetor with a choke that works approximately right, plus an iffy old ignition that dislikes condensation and rain, can add up to hard starting, misfires and rough running. Fix those problems permanently by installing an Edelbrock Performer or similar carburetor and an MSD Internal Module Distributor — with no detriment to the Corvette (except during NCRS judging!).

Overdrive gearbox

American Powertrain Tremec 5-speed gearbox kit

When was the last time you heard a C6 or C7 owner talking about their rear-axle ratio? Never is right, because modern 6- to 8-speed transmissions offer a huge overdrive advantage that the old 4-speeds just don’t have. Instead of changing the differential gears to a higher ratio for highway use, consider fitting a Tremec T-5 or TKO 5-speed gearbox from American Powertrain. It will preserve all the quick-accelerating goodness of your original 4-speed while adding an overdriven gear on top.

Radial tires

For the first 20 years of production, Corvettes exclusively used bias-ply tires. And while they look great on the cars, modern radials in the correct sizes to fit your rims and wheelwells do everything better — including acceleration, cornering, braking and ride quality. So if you’ve got them, to expand your driving enjoyment put those bias plies on the shelf — or even find a replacement set of rims — and mount a set of appropriate radials. You’ll radically improve your driving experience without hurting a thing long term.

Disc brakes

Summit Racing disc-brake conversion

Disc brakes have almost fully replaced drums in new cars for a reason — they work way better. So if you own a 1964 or older Corvette, adding a bolt-on disc-brake- conversion kit (at least in front) is a way to get more stopping performance without devaluing the car. This will significantly improve braking performance, adding to driving enjoyment and safety. Naturally, the swap is reversible if you ever want to return the car to stock form.

Seat belts

Vintage seat belts make your car look complete and authentic. But will their old webbing really secure you in a crash? No one can say. Therefore, the safe bet is to box up those old belts and replace them with a pair of wide Simpson lap belts using the standard mounts. Or at least replace them with a new set of Paragon Corvette Reproductions replacements. Either way, if you get in a shunt you’ll be at least as well protected as you’d be with the original items — maybe way better.

Fire-suppression system

Summit Racing disc-brake conversion Disc brakes Disc brakes have almost fully replaced drums in new cars for a reason — they work way better. So if you own a 1964 or older Nothing messes up a nice Corvette like a fire, and old gas lines are a great way to invite one for a visit. If the worst happens, a handheld extinguisher is better than nothing, but you may not even be able to open the hood if the fire is severe. So the best answer is an under-hood halon system like that from FireBottle, activated either by the driver or automatically by a thermal head that detects excessive heat. Careful work can mount the halon bottle in the trunk and run the line to the engine bay, affording you and your car significant protection from a nightmare scenario.

Emergency transceiver

While you’re out chasing after the endless summer in your ragtop, let those wondering (or worrying) about you back at Tranquility Base keep tabs on you with a GPS-enabled tracking system. As one option, the SPOT Gen3 transceiver rides along with you, sending periodic messages about your location, while the SPOT Global Phone can connect to friends, family or emergency services from virtually anywhere. Another product, Spot Trace, can even track a stolen vehicle.

Towing insurance

Nothing adds road-trip confidence like having a safety net in case your fuel pump, generator, brakes or tires go into “not run” mode while you’re 100 or 1,000 miles from home. The out-of-pocket cost of any flatbed rescue is pretty heavy (ask me how I know), and when you’re in a real jam it only seems to gets worse. So acquiring comprehensive flatbed “towing” coverage — whether through an auto club or insurer, can be more than worth it. Coverage and prices are all over the map, so as Smokey Robinson sang, “You better shop around.”

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