Old School, New Technology: How to Get Modern Performance out of Your Classic Muscle Car

Classic cars may be beautiful, but they're also far less refined than most contemporary vehicles. If you want your muscle car to perform as well as it looks, there are a number of upgrades you can make to modernize its driving characteristics.

The most obvious upgrade is swapping out your old-school drive train for a modern engine and transmission. Fuel-injected engines are generally more reliable than their carbureted predecessors, while also being much more fuel efficient. Likewise, most modern transmissions will shift quicker and smoother than their old-school counterparts, and they also incorporate more gears for improved efficiency and acceleration.

However, there's much more to your muscle car than what's under the hood. If you want truly modern performance out of your classic ride, braking and handling characteristics are equally as important as acceleration.

Disc Brake Conversion

A lot of classic cars were equipped with four-wheel drum brakes. Even performance-oriented muscle cars with front-wheel disc brakes still used drum brakes in the rear more often than not. While drum brakes can offer adequate performance, they lack the stopping power of a modern disc brake system. Before you try squeezing more horsepower out of your muscle car, it's a good idea to perform a rear-wheel disc brake conversion so that your ride stops as well as it accelerates.

Even if your car has factory-equipped disc brakes in the front, you should consider swapping out the discs and calipers for a modern performance system. The increased surface area of larger discs will decrease your stopping distance and help dissipate heat so that your brakes don't fade under heavy use. Upgrading to multi-piston calipers will give your brakes more bite, which will further improve performance.

In 1983, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported about a study on automobile accidents after factory-equipped front disc brakes became the norm. The study concluded that the use of disc brakes had prevented 10,000 accidents a year. So not only will disc brakes make your vehicle perform better during bouts of spirited driving, they'll also make your classic car much safer to drive in traffic.

Other Brake Components

Discs and calipers aren't the only brake components you should upgrade. Swap out your factory rubber brake lines for braided steel units. Braided steel lines will be much less likely to crack and leak over time. They also flex less, which gives you a more consistent brake pedal feel.

You should also swap out your factory master cylinder for an upgraded unit. The master cylinder is what pumps fluid through your brake lines to actuate the calipers, so upgrading to a heavy-duty unit will complement your upgraded calipers and give you even more stopping power.

Springs and Struts

How well your car handles corners is just as important as how well it accelerates. Unfortunately, a lot of muscle cars came from the factory equipped with clunky leaf-spring suspension systems. Swapping out your leaf springs for a coil spring and strut system will dramatically improve the way your car handles.

Even if you're lucky enough to have a classic car equipped with factory coil springs and struts, a performance coilover system will do wonders for your car's handling characteristics. As an added bonus, many performance coilover systems offer customizable ride height and shock rebound settings. These will allow you to lower your car's center of gravity and choose different rebound settings for optimum performance depending on road conditions.

Other Suspension Components

There are numerous other suspension components you should also consider upgrading. If your chassis has a bit too much flex when cornering, install performance anti-roll bars in the front and rear. Anti-roll bars horizontally connect your wheels together. Performance units are thicker and more rigid than factory units, so installing them will tighten up your chassis and reduce body roll.

Control arms serve a similar purpose by linking each wheel hub to the chassis. Upgrading to performance control arms will further tighten up your chassis and suspension to improve cornering performance. Another smart upgrade is an anti-bump steer kit. Most classic muscle cars are equipped with a solid rear axle, which makes the wheels prone to bouncing on uneven surfaces. An anti-bump steer kit will reduce that behavior and make your car handle safer and more predictably.

It's almost impossible to make a classic muscle car feel as refined as a contemporary sports car. Nevertheless, revamping your ride's brake and suspension system will improve its performance immensely and make it much safer to drive on public roads. Go to websites like this one to learn more about auto parts for your classic car.