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Classic Batteries

CELL MATES Published: 24th Apr 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Classic Batteries
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Why classic batteries and car engine bays go hand-in-hand

Andy Williams sung “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” describing Christmas. But for many of us, that time is when we can dig our classic out of hibernation and start using it. Sadly that dull thud of the starter hitting the ring gear signifi es that your classic needs a late Xmas present – a new battery!

So off you trot to the likes of Halfords and buy a new one? Open the bonnet of most immaculate oldies and the first thing that hits you likely to be the battery because many modern batteries are brightly coloured, covered in stickers and look totally out of place in a classic engine bay.

It’s amazing how many go to great lengths to fit the right hose clips, the correct air filters, the right rocker box colour… then give up when it comes to the battery! Classic batteries are a bit like classic oils insofar you can have the best worlds, in this case a period-style exposed lead bars between each cell-style box of sparks that packs modern technology and starting power.

Okay to be fair, ultimate technology is not the same as modern batteries (which in the case of the latest AGM (Absorbent Glass Mat) are extremely technical and even need their own special chargers) so you cannot expect quite the same performance. However a good classic battery is still a lot better than they were back in the 1960s and 70s!


In the vast number of cases just a straight forward like-for-like replacement is adequate but you can go one better and opt for   extra plates: nine plates were standard but you can go to 11 or 13 to improve cold starting performance. This is a very good idea because classics often sit around for long periods. A good classic battery maker such as Lincon of Essex will use envelope sets for the lowest resistance where originally batteries would have used leaf separators which are made of a papery material and posses significant resistance.


Originally batteries used a rubber casing but moved onto plastic during the 1960s. With the rubber casing, you inevitably get some impurities in the case which does not happen with plastic, so you can get a higher self-discharge as a result. This means that the battery will probably need charging at least every two-three months and if is left standing for longer and left uncharged it will certainly sulphate and will be reluctant to take or hold a charge again.

Dried out plates will crack and break up and you’re wasting your time trying to revive the battery if this is the case although you can buy ‘wonder pills’ which you drop into each cell. Even cheaper, if you have any, is trying a teaspoonful of good old Epsom salts in each cell, then charging at a low rate for a couple of days.

If your classic has a real rare battery type that’s virtually unobtainable then fear not; most leading classic battery makers can even rebuild your existing one. If you buy batteries on-line then beware as by law they must be dispatched ‘dry’ and the acid added later. And remember to dispose of your old one in a responsible manner; most council refuge sites will gladly accommodate spent batteries.


A battery is only as good as the charging system its connected to so spend some time and money here before simply fitting a new box of sparks. Ratty old battery leads will create high resistance and lead to sluggish battery performance; MGBs with their quirky six volters mounted at the rear are prime candidates. Change them if suspect. Have the generator checked if you feel it’s not doing its job. On dynamo systems, a separate voltage regulator is usually fitted. These can fail but sometimes just a simple re-adjustment and cleaning the contacts helps. You can also boost the charge rate but overdo it and you’ll cook the battery; see a good old fashioned auto-electrician first.

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