Ten “improvements” commonly made to old cars

I like lists.

I also like cars, particularly old ones which are a bit sporty or weird. The trouble is, by the time they’ve reached a sensible price, i.e. less than a grand, they’ve often been in the hands of what can only be termed ‘boy racers’, who have a somewhat skewed idea of what can improve a vehicle beyond its original design specifications. Done well, with care, skill and money, these can be real improvements. But at the sub thousand pound level, they almost never are. Here, for your edification and caution, are a list of “improvements” you really should avoid:

1. The ‘big bore’ exhaust. Yes, all Subaru Impreza WRX rally cars come with a wide bore exhaust to improve throughflow and performance. No, attaching one to a Nissan Sunny 1.1L will not have the same effect.

2. The ‘sports’ steering wheel. Old cars, particularly front wheel drive ones, often have rather heavy steering, particularly when not blessed with power assistance. This is why they have steering wheels of a diameter sufficient to pilot the Queen Mary. Obviously, then, it’s not the best idea in the world to fit a sporty steering wheel with the diameter of a tea plate. This will render any kind of steering effectively impossible to anyone with arm muscles slightly smaller than Arnold Schwarzenegger.

3. The stiffened suspension handling kit. Most sporty cars – Golf GTIs, Astra GTEs etc – have fairly stiff suspension to begin with. Fitting a cheap ‘handling kit’ will not make them go round corners any faster. What it will do is render an already bumpy ride uncomfortable beyond all imagining.

4. The suspension lowering kit. Because nothing looks cooler than scraping your exhaust off at the first speed hump you encounter.

5. The aftermarket spoiler kit. All the disadvantages of the above, plus the aesthetic beauty of hideously moulded bits of plastic badly attached with rivets, ill-sanded filler and touch up paint that blends into the original colour like Samuel L Jackson at a Klan gathering.

6. The rear spoiler. A gargantuan device shaped to look like a whale’s tail, most often bolted somewhere onto the rear of the car where it can have absolutely no effect in countering wind resistance but will make rearward vision impossible.

7. Ill-fitting and mismatched bucket seats. Trust me, Alec Issigonis  never intended the Morris Minor to be fitted with these. And the racing harnesses will look a bit silly in a car that rarely exceeds 75 mph.

8. The novelty gearknob. Actually, Volkswagen have only themselves to blame for this one, with their oh-so-amusing golfball shaped attachment to the gearstick on Golf GTIs. Like all of the aftermarket tat, this may look good (although it usually doesn’t), but its chief effect is to cause severe bruising of the hand after driving, say, five miles.

9. Gigantic chromed alloy wheels that leave room for a tyre with a profile of less than an inch. Yes, your car is old. Yes, it probably needs a respray. What better way to throw this into sharp relief than by fitting the most ridiculously reflective wheels that you can find? For added discomfort, the cushion of air provided by the low profile tyres will be so tiny as to render the effects of the suspension nonexistent.

10. The furry dice. Actually, these have been around for so long that they’ve transcended embarrassment to have an air of retro kitsch to them. If you can just find some way of convincing your friends that they’re only attached ‘ironically’…

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