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Should classics be left as standard or are tuned and improved ones more your style? We look at the pros and cons of each Published: 30th Apr 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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You could well argue that we are all driving around in modified classics. After all, unless you are able to fit genuine parts from the era your car or van was made, then any later replacements, by nature, such as tyres, brake pads, are improved – and so your classic is effectively modified.

However, we’re talking about much more than this, and more than fitting electronic ignition and modern tyres – both alterations that are widely approved of.

No, we’re looking at buying a tuned or customised classic that a previous enthusiast has put his or her mark on. Perhaps you thinking of doing something similar for profit as well as pleasure. Are they good buys, or classics to avoid?


Before we look at modifications, it’s best to remember that there is a move towards converting certain classics back to standard, for value and drive-ability reasons.

The Triumph Stag is a classic example; thanks to that once untrustworthy V8 engine. Because of its lack of reliability, as early as the mid 1970s it became the done thing to fit an alien engine for dependability and the Rover V8 lump was the obvious choice – if for no other reason that Triumph even pondered on the same idea itself!

Initially, nobody had anything to say but good about the conversion because it gave Stags dependability their owners yearned, and paid, for. Yet little was actually spoken about how a converted car drove. A good one that had been developed by specialists was usually fine and didn’t detract from the car’s basic pleasure – but a lot of others, especially homespun efforts, were poorly executed with the front suspension neglected to take into account the lighter Rover lump. As a result they handled badly.

With the Triumph engine now nicely sorted the trend is to covert back to standard spec and, as a result, these cars are worth around 25-30 per cent more than if they were Rover or Ford powered. Big Healeys are going the same way says Rawles Motorsport, although it’s okay to fit the 3-litre engine where the 2.6 used to reside on 100/6s. Also, a TR6 converted from fuel injection to carbs is not only acceptable, but positively beneficial.

What about converting a ‘cooking’ car to a GT or suchlike, such as a Mini into a Cooper or Cooper S, a Capri 1600 to GT or even 3-litre V6? All were popular tricks in their day and still doable now, if you can find the parts and complete the job 100 per cent, although many owners can’t or won’t.

However, such classic counterfeiting can be counter-productive; invariably the vehicle can never be classified, or sold, as the real thing, nor command the same values. A proper V6 Savage Ford Cortina will always be worth more than hybrid conversions simply because of the name and heritage, for example.


Even sticklers for originality admit that some alterations from factory specification are not blasphemous. Front disc brakes (which on many classics became a fitting at some point in their production run) have to be a good thing, as a case in point, although that said, a well-serviced drum, but with better modern linings, is adequate if most of your motoring is sedate.

Anybody who has driven seemingly identical classics but one equipped with a five-speed gearbox conversion always comes away impressed. That extra cog certainly transforms high-speed driving, cutting revs to reduce fatigue, noise, fuel consumption and engine wear. And, depending on the ‘box used, better intermediate ratios come as an added bonus, as any MGB, MGA and Morris Minor owner will tell you.

But whether or not it’s worth ditching a perfectly adequate overdrive system is debatable, as on some vehicles the gear lever’s location is altered, which may hurt the car’s value. And we like to see an original gear lever employed, other than the Ford Sierra joy-stick that many strangely owners stick with. It looks out of place…

Retro-fit power steering conversions are catching on, now that properly designed kits or those based upon modern electric power steering set ups can be adapted.

There’s several EZ power steering conversions that can be used on an increasing number of vehicles. It costs some £1500-£3500. Contact: 01626 770400/07967 439596 .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). It works really well and transforms many cars, such as the heavy going Big Healey, adds Rawles.


Involved modifications need some thought before you go ahead. During the 1960s and 1970s it was common for tuning firms to launch dedicated go-faster kits for specific cars and, without doubt, these will add to a classic’s value if you stumble across one.

Well known names include Broadspeed, Downton, Janspeed, Aquaplane, Speedwell, Blydenstein (Vauxhall), Willmet, Jeff Uren, Superspeed (both Ford, including full blown, tailored V6 and V8 conversions to Escorts, Cortinas and Capris) as examples and their wares can still be found on eBay, autojumbles and via owners clubs.

Their rarity always ensures high prices, however, particularly factory-developed parts such as British Leyland Special Tunning and Ford Motorsport. Today you’re looking at the likes of AMG (Mercedes), Hartge and AC Schintzer (BMW) plus John Cooper Works (Minis) for modern classics.

Second-hand tuning gear needs to be checked over very carefully as, by nature, it’s led a harder life. Cylinder heads will possibly require full reconditioning (some are prone to cracking due to the increased loads) as will carburettors while fabricated exhaust manifolds often fracture.

If you’re buying a tuned classic, you need to ascertain how much work was done. Obviously receipts are invaluable, as are power figures for the engine as too many tuning efforts fail to give their on-paper promises. Finally, you need to like the finished effort on the road. It’s all very well buying a tuned classic that goes like stink but if you don’t like the way it performs there’s no point in purchasing it.


Hot rods, V8-engined Morris Minors, zany paint jobs… welcome to the world of custom cars, which used to be mega back in the 1970s. Some were wonderfully done by professionals and DIY owners alike, but of course it’s all a matter of taste and certainly these classics are harder to move on because they will only appeal to a particular buyer – are you one of them?


Established classics embracing modern mechanicals is the way to go, according to younger enthusiasts who like the look and character of older cars (and the VED exemption!) if not how they drive. Anglias, Escorts, Dolomites, Golfs… have real potential for improving, in the case of VAG and Ford products simply by fitting more up to date mechanicals. For example, Anglias and Escorts go terrifically well with a Mondeo engine and dedicated fitting kits are available. Lotus specialist Spyder Engineering (01733 203986) has been offering Elans (and now Europas) with the same engine plus Sierra transmissions and rear axle/suspension assemblies for a number of years. For the cost of a proper Twin Cam rebuild, it forms the basis of a superior car to the original plus ensures turn-key reliability original Elans rarely had.

Hoyle Engineering of Surrey (020 8393 3555) offers a raft of improvements for MGs, which include a Ford independent rear suspension upgrade. The company also made a hybrid MGA featuring a Honda engine with six-speeds that Hoyle says goes sensationally, yet is also so usable.

Plus, you can’t forget the MGB LE 50. Frontline Developments, of which Ken Costello was involved in at some point in the past, makes this hybrid based on a fully rebuilt shell featuring a highly potent 215bhp 2.2-litre Mazda ’Duratec’ engine fed via a six-speed ‘box with an up to date chassis to suit – yours for £50,000!


This brings up nicely onto valuations and how much a modified classic is worth which is certainly unlikely to be the amount the previous owner shelled out on it.

The LE 50 is a case in point. At £50K it’s way beyond many MGB fans and, short term, residuals are uncertain. But because it feels a thoroughly well-honed product from a major car maker we reckon long term they will prove a wise purchase. Still on MGBs, the popular ploy of turning a rubber bumper model to the earlier preferred chrome look may not add value to a car. Done properly it can cost well over a grand because it’s not a straight bolt off-bolt on operation. And, according to some specialists we’ve spoken to, it doesn’t necessarily make the model more valuable or easier to sell.

Sydercars’ Elans cost around £35,000, which is the going rate for top originals, but values of the latter will always be higher, and specialist Paul Matty reckons the £50,000 Elan isn’t far away if original.

Mad cap Mazda MX-5s have been fitted with V8s in the US and you can imagine what they perform like, if properly done, that is! But you’re probably better off going for the factory approved BBR turbo kit.


By nature, modified classics are easier to insure than a contemporary repmobile, where insurers go mental at the very thought of mods. Classic car insurers understand the need to ‘modify’ specifications to keep oldies on the road – but there is a limit to their benevolence!

Really souped-up stuff will need careful documentation, and perhaps even an independent inspection report, before cover is approved. It’s not purely performance mods either. Take a fancy custom paint job; if this gets damaged and you haven’t informed the insurance company, then all you may receive as a result is a part repair to standard spec and not the full monty.

So, it pays to be honest with them.

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