Modify by all means but please keep it sensible


Author: Martin PortPublished:

I recently spent time with another classic car owner and enthusiast whose ambition (or so it seemed) was to rip the heart out of a good proportion of the classics he came across and fit something ‘better’.

By that, I mean something that is better on fuel and perhaps a bit more powerful – nothing necessarily wrong with that, but what concerned me was the fact that in all of the cases mentioned, he was talking about modern diesel BMW lumps (or similar) that could then be ‘chipped’ to get the most out of them.

Now before you call me a ‘stick in the mud’ or accuse me of being all fuddy-duddy, I’m not against modifications. If there is something that will make your classic a little more reliable or usable then fine: electronic ignition is just one case in point that I have fitted to most of my classics.

But, would I ever consider putting a diesel engine and six-speed gearbox out of a rep-mobile into a Morris Minor? In a word, no.

Of course, this is just an example, and I don’t even know if you could make that particular combination fit, but I personally would struggle to entertain any mod that changes the original character of a classic beyond recognition and by default, creates a completely different driving experience.

Back when I had my Morris Traveller, fitting various Morris Marina components was the done thing in order to gain a bit more oomph.

A Fiat twin-cam engine in the front was also commonplace for a bit more power. However, even though now these modifications come across as sounding ‘fairly’ suitable, at the time I baulked at such ‘savagery’. Why buy a Moggie at all if you didn’t want to watch the world go by at a stately pace while relishing that delightfully light gearchange?

Back to the modern day though, and I seem to have spent an awful amount of time looking at Series I Land-Rovers for sale. Every time eBay pings up a new listing though, it seems to have the dreaded ‘hybrid’ word attached to it. In this instance it nearly always means that what should be a lovely original-looking Series I, is instead half a Series I body plonked atop a coil-sprung chassis and running a huge V8 or a TD5 diesel.

I won’t dream of arguing against the fact that it may ride better, go faster and be more efficient than the original 1.6 litre four-pot, but if I want to buy a Series I, then I don’t want it to ride and sound like a Defender or Discovery!

For me, classic cars are all about character – the good bits and the bad bits. When I had the gearbox on my old ’67 MGB rebuilt, it was presumed I would like to introduce syncromesh on first gear until I insisted that it was kept original. I kind of liked the quirkiness of having to come to a stop before engaging first gear, or learning the art of double-declutching in order to drive the car ‘properly’ and for me, the car would have lost a little charm if that had been eradicated in the rebuild.

Of course by writing this I am fully aware that I sound like a ‘rivet-counter’, but I’m not. I’m also impressed by people such as the enthusiast mentioned at the start who have the ability and ingenuity to explore the engineering possibilities and who, without doubt help to keep the classic car movement alive just as much as someone who restores cars to concours quality, but I’m afraid that on a personal level my heart sinks when the bonnet is lifted and I find a turbocharged Nissan motor in the front of something that looks 40 years older on the outside.

It may be rather bold to suggest, but I think that sometimes people are far too quick to jump to the dramatic ‘solutions’ when it comes to modifying their classic in order to make it perform differently. Most cars will have a whole history of period mods just waiting to be exploited – from engine tuning right down to different wheel combinations, all of which could transform the car without throwing the character out of the window at the same time.

Of course, when I finally buy another Series II Landie it should really have a 200TDi engine under the bonnet so that I can afford to run it and (almost) keep up on the motorway, but I don’t think I can do it. After all, I don’t want to open the bonnet and stare at a plastic covered lump where I can’t even see the oil leaks!



I agree with Martin's comments to a certain degree and I guess I am lucky in that I have two classic Alfas. One is a 1972 2000 Spider which is completly restored to original specification except for electronic ignition, it rolls a bit round corners but is otherwise a great driving experience (featured in C&S 2005/6). My second Alfa is a 1969 1750 GTV which I bought with the intention of competing in sprints and for track days, it is modified to the extent that it runs a more modern 150 bhp 75 twin spark engine with fuel injection, purists might be shocked but the power increase is some 40% over the original unit and it uses the same block design as the 1750 GTV which mates to the standard drive train. I cannot afford the cost of rebuilding the standard unit to the same power level, but have kept the original engine should any new owner wish to convert it back. The car behaves and drives as a period race car on its lowered stiffer springs but returns 35mpg.
Christian Brewer

Simon Charlesworth

Have become deeply distracted by that splendid Special Tuning Marina 1300. (If I had to guess, I'd say it's fitted with Dunlop Formula D3s.)

Simon Charlesworth

Pre 80s TVR

Firstly I have to applaud the bravery anyone who is daft enough to drag race what appears to be a V8 engined Bond Minicar.

Your comments are interesting, and I have to agree with them to quite an extent. The Ford Escort boys seem to be the major culprits here, with YBs and Zetecs galore going into the Mexicos and RS2000s I lusted over as a kid. This is just starting to hit the early TVR market, we have several Sierra Cosworth powered Vixens and Ms, plus a few Zetecs and a VAG diesel powered M series a few years ago. The theory is that they are getting better performance and economy plus better handling due to the lighter engine, and a Zetec/Duratec can be picked up from a crashed Mondeo much cheaper than the cost of rebuilding a Kent or essex engine. In many TVRs cases, they can be put back to standard pretty easily, and in any case if the car began life as a kit it may have started out with an engine TVR didn't intend it too - there was at least one Daimler V8 engined Grantura hillclimbing in the 1960s.

TVR also built 15 Spitfire 1300 engined cars in the early 1970s, these were reviled from new and almost all have been re-engined, mostly with crossflows like regular Vixens. I do have a friend who bought one, it was in an awful state and had a 2500 Triumph engine by then, and he rebuilt it using a Nissan Silvia turbo lump - so I did have to stifle a laugh at the Nissan turbo comment. But it looked standard and flew, and I believe it is still in regular and reliable use.

I think as long as people aren't chopping up rare and valuable cars and altering the original character of the cars then it is OK. TVRs have always had a bit of a kit aura to them and attract owners who will change things, we just need to hope there are some original cars left over.


TVR Car Club Pre80s Editor


Martin - some of the 911's featured in the mag a few months ago could be contenders. I love the look of the early cars but when you realise that underneath its a mid 80's model, something just doesn't seem quite right. It's a bit like cheating I think.

Oliver - agree about the Escort boys, never driven a "modernised" one but part of the character must get lost in the modification.

Being a slave to originality can be a painful experience though, you have to find the right balance. However, one has the right to do whatever one wants with ones own car, and if that's chopping the roof off, painting it bright orange and dropping a Chevy V8 in it then fine if that's your thing.


I cannot for the life of me understand the blokes who take a perfectly good classic and perform so many"improvements" that the car no longer drives or feels like the original.Sure in the day we dropped cortina engines in Anglias and tuned Minis as far as we could,but inflicting modern tuniing to get say 200bhp from a TR or 400+ from a Jaguar 6 cylinder is to me losing the plot.Just go and buy a decent modern sports car and keep a standard(ish) classic for the sensation of driving and owning a period piece.Plus if you do fall off at high speed in a modern you might survive the experience more succesfully!!!

John C

I'm not entirely sure that I agree with all of this. Speaking as someone who has a Tdi-powered Series Land Rover and has just spent a year building a Discovery/Series III hybrid, I should point out that a 200 Tdi engine in a Series IIA does not require a plastic cover on the engine - it has an alloy top like many other engines so, on opening up the bonnet it looks very like any othe rdiesel Land Rover. The 200 Tdi goes in so neatly that, so long as the plumbing and wiring is neatly done, it looks like a factory job.

The DVLA regs are such that any Discovery, Defender or RR Classic hybrid panelled up as any Series Land Rover should use the V5C of the donor chassis not the panels. The hybrid Land Rover has an interesting history all its own; back when there were few Ninetys/90s about there were lost of rusty RR Classics and doggy Series LRs on rotten chassis. It was straightforward to combine the two - that's pretty much what LR did to ugrade to coil springs for its utility models. This was encouraged by the competition regs of the Association of Rover Clubs that allowed coil-sprung 80in Land Rovers to compete even though there had never been such a thing from the factory. My own hybrid is subtle - the aim has been to make something that people will walk past without realising that it's not a real Land Rover - others are less so and we all know that you can any kind of junk on eBay - you will have seen some of the 'project' classic cars...

In general terms I believe that modified classics are as valid a part of the scene as anything else but people love them or hate them. C&SC has plenty of modified classics within its pages in the form of racers and more. Some people want the classic experience on Sundays, some people use their old cars everyday, some people like the modified cars. Personally I love the 'street rod concept' of modernised old cars - had a 1275cc Minor with discs and stuff years ago, got my Tdi-powered Land Rover now and so on. I also love the more modified hot rods - nothing cooler than a '32 ragtop - one day - but, as with everything in life, the quality of workmanship, ideas of taste and more affect the finished machines. There's room for everyone.

John Carroll


Car choice is such an emotive and individual choice. The majority of classic car owners are either enthusiasts wishing to preserve and enjoy a piece of automotive history or investors/ collectors looking for a more interesting way of keeping their money. It takes all sorts though ,hence one persons nirvana is an early 2cv and another's is a 1990's itallian exotic. In the extreme people are prepared to spend 10's of thousands on new Mgb's, Jensen interceptors and E type's that whilst looking like classic cars, neither sound, feel, smell or drive like the original cars - completely pointless to me but everyone is different and providing it's not a one of a kind rarety, should be entitled to do whatever they wish to their own car, even if it turns out to be the motoring equivalent of stone cladding a regency house.


Martin Port

As I mention in the blog, the views are just my own and of course there is room for everyone in this industry/hobby. JC - I take your point about the lack of plastic engine cover on a 200TDi, but I think you can see what I'm trying to say.
I'm not against modifying - it is something that has been going on since the dawn of motoring and as has been rightly pointed out, there are plenty of modified vehicles within the pages of C&SC, but as I say, I do struggle with the far ends of the spectrum. Struggle, not in terms of accepting that it may make sense, or that it has been executed well, or that it may be exactly what someone else is searching for in that particular classic, but struggle in terms of not being able to see and experience what was originally created. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I would get more excited if someone opened the bonnet of their 'modified' classic to show a triple Weber conversion, ported heads, tubular manifold etc than if they opened it to reveal a BMW 7-series engine (or something like that). I'd still have respect for what they have done and how they have done it, but my heart would be beating slightly slower I'm afraid!

Art Editor, C&SC


what happened to the icons for imaging on comments or are pictures out now ?



Completely agree with this article. There is no point of collecting classic cars if you change the character and charisma. You might make your own one-off car if you customize it, but that would be ridiculous. It's like thinking yourself as a celebrity even if you're just posting yourself singing on You Tube. If you want to make your car as fast as a jet fighter, why not buy something more mainstream and tune it, some cars should be preserved well because there's a lot of people who want the chance to buy (Or at least drive) their dream car/the car they always wanted to drive in original condition when they have the money. By modifying their dream car means there is less chance for them to drive the car they wanted to drive in original condition as you just make the population shorter, especially rare cars.

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