Journal: Does Technology Make Classic Cars Better?

Does Technology Make Classic Cars Better?

By Michael Banovsky
August 28, 2015
14 comments

Photography by Afshin Behnia & David Marvier

I realize how the headline reads, but after all, we’re an online-only publication that relies on technology to tell great stories. It’s natural for us to check build threads for inspiration, or scroll through hundreds of Instagram pictures for the perfect shot. But is technology helping car enthusiasts in a more fundamental way?

An article about technology was recently shared in our team Slack channel that brought into focus some ways that technology has benefitted classic car owners. The Jalopnik story, “People Are Paying For Car Tech They Aren’t Even Using”, was about owners of modern cars who end up paying much more for features that end up unused. It makes sense: who fires up a car’s self-parking or network router functions every time they go for a jaunt?

As the discussion continued, Jonathan WC Mills said it best, with an equation that looked something like this: “Classic car + cell phone = perfect”.

He’s right: we went through a list of things we’ve done here in the office, and it’s staggering. With a phone in your pocket, you’re not only able to watch our videos (thanks!), but film your own, connect with your insurance provider, send photos of restoration troubles to an expert, call for roadside assistance, scan and store your receipts(getpatina.com), navigate to a well-hidden road, gauge the accuracy of your speedometer using GPS, rent a classic car, purchase one at auction, buy parts, look up the finer points of importation procedures (Try explaining a VIN-less 1985 Citroën 2CV to Canadian customs.–Ed.), track lap times, catch up on Monterey Car Week

Texting and driving and other improper use of cell phones is abhorrent, of course, but do you think that technology has improved classic car ownership? 

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Edward Levin
Edward Levin
6 years ago

Sometimes technology improvements are so gradual and so ubiquitous that we don’t even think to include them in a discussion like this. But I’d argue that modern synthetic lubricants and modern spark plugs are two of the most significant technology improvements for a classic–regardless of whether it’s stock or highly modified. Both are fundamental to operation and performance, and both are light years better than they were 30 or 40 years ago.

Antony Ingram
Antony Ingram
6 years ago

As some have said, a smartphone doesn’t exactly make a car itself better, but it undoubtedly adds an extra dimension to classic car ownership. While there’s perhaps an element of narcissism about it, I do like being able to hop out of a car, take a few photos and instantly share them with people.

A few years back I took a big road trip to the U.S. It was blissful getting away from my PC for a month, ignoring emails, avoiding most social media feeds… but my one concession was uploading photos to Instagram. It wasn’t just fun at the time, but the dozens of shots I took out there are always fun to return to, and – thanks to the wonders of geotagging – I know exactly where I shot them if I ever want to go back.

Technology that makes a car itself better? It depends how specific you’d like to get. Disc brakes are a reasonable technological addition to any vehicle that doesn’t come with them to start with. And depending on where you are, air conditioning is nice too – though it’s arguably more necessary in better-insulated modern cars that don’t seem to let heat escape as easily as classics do!

JB21
JB21
6 years ago

Call me sissy…an efficient, working A/C would be nice, especially in a hot, humid, misty summer days…

Eduardo Palandi
Eduardo Palandi
6 years ago
Reply to  JB21

+1 for a good A/C. living in Brazil, it is hard to live without it.

Wayne Strawbridge
Wayne Strawbridge
6 years ago

OK – I like originality. I like to see the way that a car was designed, especially where the original design had some beauty, but as I like to actually drive my cars, I’m also a keen advocate of adopting technology where it makes a big difference. For example – no matter what classic I have owned it MUST have electronic ignition. No more cold starting issues for me! And yes where possible I’ll hide it from sight within the existing distributor or a near replacement. I very often add a modern stereo, because I like my life to have a soundtrack, and because once you have a modern stereo you can integrate a smartphone and live a proper modern life, (i.e. do business, find your way to somewhere new without multiple stops to consult the map etc), without having to compromise your choice of wheels. My only other technology, (if practical), is fuel injection – cause I like reliable and I like some fuel economy, to go with my performance.

Antony Ingram
Antony Ingram
6 years ago

Two great examples in electronic ignition and a modern stereo there – the latter particularly if you spend a little extra to have a company gut a classic unit and fit modern features.

Stow a USB port out of sight somewhere and it’s a neat trick, playing your own music through what looks like a period head unit.

Mack Pollenstein
Mack Pollenstein
6 years ago

I love technology in my 73 Bimmer.

I’ve got a subtle phone dock, wired direct to amp and hidden speakers with a volume dial behind an dashboard switch that I no longer use. I’ve removed the ill-fitting radio from the dash and replaced it with a trio of gauges. When the phone is in the dock, I have sat-nav, a GPS speedo in case mine goes wonky, streaming music, traffic updates, lap timer and a dash cam. When I take the phone out, I have a clean, period dash.

I’ve also got bright headlights thanks to an updated harness with relays; bright tail lights and turn signals that work properly regardless of voltage fluctuations, thanks to LED bulbs and an electronic flasher; and ignition that always starts first time thanks to points replacements that fit inside the original distributor.

Wayne Strawbridge
Wayne Strawbridge
6 years ago

Yeah actually I forgot about LED lights – I almost put LEDs in my 73 Alfa GT Junior because the interior lighting was next to useless and LEDs use next to no current and therefore don’t harm the deteriorating 40+yo wiring harness. Good call – and because they can’t be seen I would consider them in indicator/brake lights etc as they also came on far faster, (at 100km/h LEDs give the car behind approximately 10m = 2 car lengths extra notice that you’re stopping!), are brighter and use less energy.

John Roth
John Roth
6 years ago

Some of the joy of the classic car experience is the possibility of trouble and the know how and can-do attitude that perseveres when it comes. That said I want my classic to charge, run cool and have rock solid ignition. I willing to modify the car to get each of those things. I think I’ve persevered enough though the years.

Simon Gharibian
Simon Gharibian
6 years ago

The short answer is “definitely”!
Information: I have used forum sites like AlfaBB and SpyderClub for invaluable advice, information, inspiration, and encouragement. I can’t imagine building a Spyder replica or owning a GTV without either!
Materials: TXL/GXL/SXL wire, the latest in corrosion conversion/encapsulation/prevention, low amperage LED lighting, resilient carpet, waterproof insulation, advanced adhesives, AGM batteries, tank sealant… the list is endless!
I love being able to show that I can make a 40 yr old car as reliable as my new one.

Benjamin Shahrabani
Benjamin Shahrabani
6 years ago

A cellphone is great, but I don’t even count that as “technology” that makes a car better. It certainly makes the experience better, more worry free, and potentially safer.

However, adding technology to a classic car like changing out potentially troublesome points in an ignition to an electronic ignition does (for an example), in my opinion, make them better (and more useable).

So my short answer is yes!

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger
6 years ago

On point one .. errr … as long as you leave the thing off until its absolutely needed * .. well then it does make some things better … though in all honesty it strips any semblance of so called ‘ Authenticity ‘ every seems to be clambering for ’round these parts … taking one from ‘ authentic .. to electronic baby sitting in a single swipe . But as long as you’re not trying to make any claims towards authenticity [ as so many here try in vain to do ] … it can make things … not so much better … as … errr … allowing for a boatload of either fear , ignorance , unpreparedness , mechanical inaptitude not to mention a complete lacking of adventure etc .

On point two … y’all know my stance on this one . ” Stock is a Can of Beans on a Shelf ” … the whole purpose of a car … any car is to drive it …. not spend hours by the wayside fixing all the past ills created by a lack of technology and metallurgy can and will cause . Fact is … y’all know I for one wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to go way beyond what Mr Shahrabani is suggesting in order to make the driving experience more enjoyable .. e.g. disc brake conversions .. upgrades to the suspension … complete drivetrain replacement etc … as long as it doesn’t include any onboard techno babysitters

So my long answer(s) are Yes – No – Maybe and It All Depends .

In other words …. they aint no clear cut answer on this one … and to each his own

*[ full discloser … mine and my wife’s iPhone’s are always off unless we absolutely need them and we don’t do no stinkin Texting/Twitter/FaceBook/Linkeden etc either ]

Tom DesRochers
Tom DesRochers
6 years ago

Agreed that cellphones don’t count because they don’t install in the car.

As for updating the tech in the car, it most definitely improves the usability of the vehicle. Especially when dealing with the Malaise era. Unless it’s a matching numbers 74 Superduty Pontiac, I say yank the smog engine and three speed trans. Install a later EFI version of one of the engines the car originally offered. Also swap in a transmission with overdrive. Maybe change the rear axle ratio and add limited slip.

William J Sisti
William J Sisti
6 years ago

Of course it does. I’m on the side of the road and something is broken. Let me google it….Oh, i just need to do X to fix it or “I better call a tow truck”.