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Towing Classics

Towing Classics Published: 30th Aug 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Towing Classics
Towing Classics
Towing Classics
Towing Classics
Towing Classics
Towing Classics
Towing Classics
Towing Classics
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Tempted by towing? Don’t worry about putting your classic to work with these tips

While the majority of owners treat their classics like a baby, some aren’t afraid to make them work for their keep, such as towing a trailer or caravan. And why not? That’s they were designed for when new so why act differently now particularly since certain classics do it better than a modern motor thanks to their much simpler make up.

You can’t beat a traditional heavy rearwheel drive old school classic for towing because a long wheelbase is helpful for straight line stability, while a shortish rear overhang (that’s the body projecting past the rear wheels) is also beneficial to prevent a tail-down attitude and resultant wallowing at speed.

A good power-to-weight ratio is essential when towing, but low-rev torque rather than high-revs bhp is the real key. This is where classics with their big lazy slogging engines score over today’s 16-valve screamers that may well and truly fly when given the boot, yet typically can’t pull the skin off a rice pudding below 3000rpm which is right where most of the driving – and towing – is done. The inherent lowly gearing employed on most oldies is another, often forgotten, bonus to make the most of all that pulling torque. So why not give it a go?

Top tow cars

Usually, you can tow a trailer up to the kerbweight of your car, although there are many examples of cars with much higher or much lower towing capacities than their kerbweights. In addition, there are a number of older cars where there is no stated towing capacity at all.

Generally a high torque, heavy classic is the ideal. Anything with a Rover V8 in will pull like a train – Range Rovers, P5Bs, P6Bs etc – as will Jaguars, old Humbers, Zodiacs, Crestas and the like. Ditto, thanks to that lusty Ford V6 it was said that around half of all Reliant Scimitars GTEs sported a tow bar at some point.

Cortinas, Capris, Alpines, TRs and MGBs can haul happily successfully but it depends on what you need to tow. A normal trailer, jet ski and the like is fine but modern caravans – with conveniences that mirror your home, such as aircon, may not be due to their whopping weights which is why so many caravan enthusiasts use big 4x4s and SUVs to cope. Your handbook will give you the precise weights of your car (or your car club can help) and many later vehicles may have a max weights plate under the bonnet, but bear in mind that despite what the law says, it’s far preferable and safer (especially for towing novices) to stick to the industry’s recommended 85 per cent rule (i.e. you only haul up to 85 per cent of the car’s kerbweight). In fact, we’d hover around the 75 per cent region in deference to an old car’s condition and value.

Sporting types on the pull

Sports classics are known for having real pulling power in more ways than one, but they are usually a no-tow area – ironic since a Dodge Viper, set a world speed record at almost 130mph a decade ago! But there’s no stopping you from using a classic sports car – if you can sort out a suitable tow bar and car that is.

By law, vehicles made after 1st August 1998 must have EEC Type Approval including an endorsement for towing from the car makers and apart from few exceptions, such as the BMW Z3 (which has a 3 Series chassis), most don’t qualify. This means you need to resort to having a bespoke bar made. Herts-based Watling Engineers (01727 873661/http://www.watlingtowbars.”> http://www.watlingtowbars. has been making bespoke bars for well over half a century.

You can certainly pull in a two-seater, but what can you actually pull with one? Don’t expect to haul a twin-axle six-berth around due to their lightweight nature; a Mazda MX-5 is quoted as little as 955kg – around the same as a Fiesta for example. Also, the accepted 85 per cent towing rule should be regarded as the maximum; reckon on 66-75 per cent for added safety and car reliability. Expect to pay in the region of £500 plus fitting charges on most classic sports cars.

Taking the strain

Which brings us on to the most important thing – is your classic up to the task? As you’d rightly expect, towing places added strain on any car, irrespective of its age, and this will amplify on a well-worn classic; the transmission, engine and suspension being the hardest hit components.

Don’t forget the body and chassis either. The strength of the chassis members to which the towbar is attached is critical – so make sure you eradicate any rust and weld in new metal anywhere the original has been signifi cantly weakened due to age and corrosion.

If any part of the car is suspect, make good or even beef it up. The rear suspension on most classics will be too soft and need uprating with heavy-duty springs and dampers (plus even spring assisters) to combat a nose-up stance. The engine’s cooling system must be tip-top at all times. Many classics are prone to overheating and the added strain of towing will surely have it hot and bothered. Have the radiator re-cored or fl ushed through, replace any dodgy hoses and, if it still runs too hot, get the bore and engine block descaled and flushed through. Also consider using one of the new types of cooling additives which makes the car run cooler such as Wetter Water and Evans Waterless Coolant which can’t boil and works a treat.

Adding an electric cooling fan is worthwhile, or failing this you may be able to fit an uprated design from an ‘export’ version of your car. Automatic transmissions may demand an oil cooler fitted if not already installed to keep the working temperatures down. We covered cooling system modifications last month – back issues still available!

Another reason why classics can run excessively hot is due to unleaded fuel, which isn’t strictly compatible with older engine designs. Under severe loads, such as towing, valve seat recession can occur or even piston burn out in the case of cars designed to run on good old five star. Special lead substitutes (and octane booster) additives are an answer, although if the cylinder head ever has to be removed, then it is preferable to have specially hardened valve seats installed.

It goes without saying that the engine should be in top tune, plus it might be worth considering raising its game to cope with towing better and make cruising (which is now 60mph incidentally) easier. Torque is key so don’t go wild here with high lift camshafts etc. Instead concentrate on better breathing (carbs, head etc, perhaps from the GT version) or even a larger engine if one was included in the range such as 1500 instead of a 1300 or 2-litre over a 1.6. If your car’s transmission is wearing, then consider an overhaul, with at least a new clutch (perhaps a heavy duty alternative) fitted for added reliability. Overdrive is beneficial, especially if you can twin it with a slightly lower axle ratio (usually from an estate or van derivative) to provide better acceleration yet not make it too fussy at speed either.

Towing the line

There are two legalities for trailers (which includes caravans) which you must adhere to. An unbraked trailer can’t weigh any more than 750kg or half the kerbside weight of the towing vehicle – and that’s including its load, of course. Unbraked trailers must be marked with its year of manufacture and maximum gross weight. A braked trailer can be heavier, but should still not exceed the vehicle maker’s maximum permitted towing weight.

Check that your driving licence legally covers you! If you passed your test after 1/1/1997, you cannot legally tow a trailer whose maximum allowed weight exceeds the unladen weight of the towcar, or a combination of which the maximum allowed weight exceeds 3.5 tonnes, without passing a further test.

Just to be on the safe side, you should inform your insurer particularly if your vehicle wasn’t designed to tow in the first place… It’s better to be safe than sorry!

An unbraked trailer must weigh no more than 750kg or half the kerbside weight of the towing vehicle – and that’s including its load, of course. A braked trailer can be heavier, but should not exceed the towing vehicle manufacturer’s maximum permitted towing weight. On more recent vehicles, that’s on the VIN plate, but for most classics you’ll have to check the original handbook. Some may never have recommended one, but on classics you should be fine provided the maximum allowed weight of the trailer does not exceed the unladen weight of the car.

On newer trailers, the maximum allowed weight should be stated on the frame. Aim to have the trailer on the ‘nose heavy side’. This is called the nose load on the ‘jockey wheel’ and should ideally be around 50kg; domestic bathroom scales can be used to check this). The maximum load may be listed in your car’s handbook but this should never be exceeded.

Four-wheel trailers, incidentally, may be towed better by front-wheel drive vehicles: they generally balance their weight on their own wheels and over uneven surfaces may sometimes tend to lift the back of the tow car, so the towing vehicle needs as much of its own weight as possible over the driven wheels. Don’t exceed the load capacity of the trailer tyres: heavier duty commercial tyres are ideal and less prone to snaking – consult a trailer specialist.

There are numerous other pitfalls for the unwary, such as the requirement for trailers over 750kg (built since 1968) to be fitted brakes on all wheels. Braked trailers must also have a securely attached breakaway cable that operates the brakes if the main coupling becomes detached while unbraked trailers must be marked with year of manufacture and maximum gross weight – though there are waivers for the specific purpose of towing a broken down vehicle to a place of safety.

Bar talk that makes sense!

Fitting a towbar to a typical classic is fairly easy and a DIY job – unlike moderns of the past 20 years where their complex wiring and computer systems like Electronic Brake Distribution, Traction Control and trailer assist mean that plumbing in the towbar’s wiring is a professional job or you run the risk of damaging the wiring or much more! Wiring is basically plumbing in the 7 pin (12N) electrical socket to the vehicle’s light circuits. ‘Twin’ (12N & 12S) sockets are for caravan purposes where the car’s engine also charges the caravan’s battery on the move and more involved.

Tapping into the vehicle’s signal lighting circuit, both sides, is also complemented with a special ‘bulb out’ bleeper warning device that, by law, must be fitted. Obviously, accuracy and a quality installation is important as is the security of the towbar. It’s as well to remember that this is part of the MoT test, so you must keep it in serviceable condition.

You can pick up old towbars at autojumbles but, it’s back to the MoT hassles again. Also is it complete as many owners simply remove the highly visual crossbar? We feel safer with a new one, after all they last a lifetime. Watling Engineers stocks towbars for cars dating back to the 1950s and also supplies many of the owner’s clubs and parts specialists.

On the rack

Classics running around with roof racks attached with ‘mock up’ luggage is becoming increasingly popular with youngsters – but why not put it to proper use? A Mini used to take just 35lb on the roof, but a typical classic saloon can take around 100lb with some big old Humbers and Jags rated at 150lb! However, watch it on some fastbacks like the MGB GT and GT6 where only 50lb is recommended, that’s the same as most boot racks will take. Incidentally, 100lb in weight is around 25-30 domestic bricks…

Position the rack in the centre of the roof to aid stability although on estates it is permissible to locate it at over the rear suspension. As a loaded roof rack dramatically affects performance, economy and handling, it’s really a last resort. And use it for bulky rather than heavy items which are preferably, packed down low in the car to aid stability. Also, if you can, try to make the loaded rack as aerodynamic as possible (larger items to the rear, for example) and protect it with a cover or tarpaulin to also aid airflow.

Advice on all aspects of towing can be found at the ever popular Camping and Caravanning Club and go and

Oldies on the pull

Stuart Bladon’s top towing tips – and classics

The best tow cars are inevitably those with four-wheel drive, but rear drive brings benefts for towing because the weight of the caravan on the draw-bar helps to grip the road and avoids the tendency to wheelspin which is always a nuisance with front drive cars on slippery surfaces. Another factor for stability is that of weight or more to the point the distribution of weight in the caravan; as much as possible forward of the wheels. Torque has tended to be sacrifced in recent years in favour of maximum power, so older cars again bring benefit. Electrics can bring problems if your car has the older type of ‘positive earth’, since modern caravans are designed for negative earth, and power cables on caravan sites are invariably negative earth. A polarity mix-up can be disastrous, as I found when on a small site in France. The best way round this problem might be to convert the car to negative earth. Suitable classic tow cars? Big Vauxhalls, Fords, Jaguars and Triumphs are all good starting points.

Split Decision

So you don’t become a drain

If you want to power extra items without draining the vehicle’s battery, split charge power distribution units, such as these new designs from Autosparks allow you to run multiple lights, power points etc from a leisure battery. Simply connect to the vehicle battery, the leisure battery and then wire your power feeds up using the supplied plug. There’s various types with a DIY unit, from under £100, right up to the pictured one that comes with two switched outputs for LED lighting.

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