Classic Car Restoration Cannot Make Old Technology Modern
Restoration will not give fifty year old technology modern reliability. A restored vehicle will still need the same level of maintenance as it would have when new.
The owner of a 1962 Austin-Healey was agonising over which supplier he could trust to refurbish his shock absorbers. His concern was that an unscrupulous outfit might just bodge the seals; give them a coat of paint and in six months they would be leaking again. The car enthusiasts he was talking to, laughed out loud, and asked him why he expected them to be more reliable than when they were new?
Old Technology: Restoration and Refurbishment
It raises interesting questions about what can be expected of restoration and refurbishment especially when trying to keep a classic as built. For example; cars like the Austin-Healey, and indeed the popular MGB, have lever shock absorbers which can be replaced with brackets and conventional dampers at the cost of not being entirely original – unacceptable to many owners. Staying original means refurbishing old components.
There may be limited opportunities with some parts for internal improvements such as better seal or gasket materials but at the heart is, perhaps, forty years or older technology with matching levels of wear. So, at best, the lifetime of refurbished parts will not be significantly longer than when new and may be much worse.
Longer Service Intervals for Modern Parts
Modern car owners are spoilt. Cars now have two year and 20,000 mile or longer service intervals. Engines, gearboxes and, indeed, shock absorbers can last well over 100,000 miles with minimal attention.
For most classic vehicles the service life of components was many times shorter than modern parts. Typical service intervals for cars built in the late 1940s and early 1950s were around 500-1500 miles, weekly or monthly servicing and always before long journeys!
Well into the 1960s, service intervals were only 3,000 miles and still with grease points needing attention every 500miles. Many drivers of the period would carry a comprehensive tool kit and a grease gun if travelling very far from home.
At that time it was not uncommon for engines to need significant overhaul, or at least decoking(de-carbonisation), at 25,000 miles or so. By 50,000 miles it was often time for a complete reconditioned engine and/ or gearbox.
So, to the point about the useful life of dampers that caused so much amusement. In the 1960s six months exuberantly sporting motoring would take shock absorbers close to the end of their useful life. So the restorer’s expectation of getting more was being set by modern standards and, therefore, overly optimistic.
Go Back in Time: Historic Car Maintenance
Owners of historic cars should remember that, even after a full restoration, a classic vehicle will need constant maintenance. Just as it did when new.
The restorer has to put his thinking back to the era of the car and put aside today's expectations of reliability and service needs. A well restored car that is used frequently should be maintained as described in the original service manual. If it is only used occasionally it should be more often and, definitely, before any trip out of town.
But, after all, it gives the enthusiast the excuse to tinker - that is part of the fun for many; sometimes giving more pleasure than the driving!
First appeared on Suite101