Sunday Column: Peter Griffiths – Everything in Moderation.

Houses are huge and expensive things which I do not yet fully understand. Having lived in a very old house for most of my life, and which my parents still inhabit, I’ve an idea of the kinds of problems which can arise. Damp is an issue, creaks and leaks in the roof, and more recent subsidence which is fairly inexplicable given the one-hundred-and-thirty years it’s been stood in the same place. It’s a lovely old place though; pretty plain, square and bold to look at but chimneyed up to the maximum, excellent sash windows and a big-stone exterior.

The place’s in which we live decay and develop knocks and rattles in the same way as we know our old cars do but with very much more expensive repair bills. You do repair them though, and you certainly do not look back to the technology of the time and replace (unless dictated to by listed status) like for like. You don’t replace the roof structures with the same flimsy arrangements, and you don’t put lead guttering back up (mainly because the Horsefair will just nick it) because it’s stupidly heavy, poisonous, and just plain out-dated.

So this week it’s all about what I’ve found to be a touchy subject. Or is it just a touchy subject depending on who you talk to? Modification. Upgrading. Speccing-up. The process of changing parts on your car from cosmetic to infrastructural is something that everyone considers at one point or another. There are of course two paths to go down if you’ve any sense. The third, which requires no sense, involves lexus-lights, chrome gearstick knobs, stupid alloy wheels, and mock-metal plastic petrol filler flaps. If you like that sort of thing then please feel free to get back to your microwave dinner and can of throw-away lager.

No, to my mind there are only two courses of action: OEM or upgrade and this may or may not be a dilemma to the classic car owner depending on how sentimental you feel about the thing. I am torn, personally, and would ideally prefer to have two examples of the model to work with so that one could be restored to concours condition and the other to upgrade with current tech. That way covers the best of both worlds but not many people’s budgets or interest would stretch to that course of action. I’m a realistic purist.

Do you wonder, as I do, how your old car which you love would have felt to drive as new? You imagine the engine would sound so smooth and sweet, that the ride would be that more secure and comfortable, and that the tailgate wouldn’t quite squeak as much as a mouse under interrogation for cheesy terrorism. It is entirely possible that they were not as perfect as we imagine them to have been when new but they’d have been at least a little nicer than they are now.

There are of course cars which you would modify and improve and cars which would be totally sacrosanct. In the course of thinking about this article the Triumph GT6 cropped up over and over as an example of a possible point of division. It’s quite an old car now and a fine example of great British style which is only going to increase in value now since prices were quite low in the mid-Noughties. It is very much a child of the E-Type Jaguar which is firmly in the concours camp as far as this writer is concerned – keep them original and preserved.

The GT6 is also a great example of a car which would greatly benefit from modern upgrades such as an appropriate suspension set-up to replace the ridiculous leaf-springs in the mk1 at least, modern brakes, and perhaps some modifications to the engine although I would advocate keeping the drivetrain pure. Purity is a tricky word in this context though.

The way to differentiate between the drivetrain and the suspension and braking set-ups on these old cars is to think about it in terms of what their designers may have thought of them during their inception. Did they prioritise the engine and drivetrain in the development while the unsprung and suspension bits were not? Were these old Triumphs the pinnacle of technology at the time or not? I think not. Which is why I would advocate looking at the engine and what would be appropriate and subtle in terms of fettling. No carbon air-boxes or luminous hoses.

Frankly I don’t care about the underpinnings of the Triumph GT6 because they’re old, heavy, and under-designed. The thing is that it isn’t hard to imagine the original designers agreeing with that point if they were alive today and this is the point. Even the original designers of the E-Type might wonder… might. So I’d have no hesitation in retaining the looks of the GT6 with the squat rear over some period wheels with modern tyres, even the chrome highlights look good behind that bonnet and the arches leaping towards the next horizon with all the assurance which the modern underpinnings provide. It’d look like an original GT6 but it would be sensitively upgraded to be what it always should have been, a great British sportscar.

The GT6 sticks out as a classic with an opportunity to become much more

When you think of your own car now, whatever it is, would you replace the engine with the same sort of engine but with lower mileage, would you put a more recent iteration in but still from the same manufacturer, or would you bust your imagination out and use an engine from a completely different manufacturer? Personally my old BMW would see as up-to-date engine as possible and other mechanicals completely replaced, given the chance and the budget, but I have received some criticism along the lines of being too obvious. I say keep it in the family and recoil at the thought of anything other than a BMW powerplant in there despite lusting after a motorbike engine in the rear of an original Mini. Humans are weird, eh?

Everyone is different in this respect and what you would do perhaps might illicit curses from others lips. Rest assured that a lottery win would see my trusty Touring go to BMW Classic for a ground-up restoration and a second Touring bought for the full S85 treatment. That V10 has some sort of primal pull for me which is indescribable.

To bring it back to the good old boys such as the aforementioned GT6 and its like it’d be great to see these things going around with the modern gubbins occupying the spaces underneath but only acting as a support to the good old stuff which makes it what it is. If you imagine these mods as being the opposite of celebrities getting plastic surgery then it makes a bit more sense. It is obvious to all but the celebrity in question that the boobs will end up looking like they’ve a salt-block stuck in there, their faces will end up looking like they’ve been embalmed while still alive, and they will not just look old – they will look undead.

If done properly then, any decent update of a cracking old motor will not be obvious it will be respectfully done, and it will be indistinguishable from the original and it will help the old thing to last for many many more years onwards. There are companies which will refresh your XJS, your E-Type, and your DB5 but they all cost a mint, including the incredible Singer Concept 911. There must be a more realistic way to do things and there are some enterprising and extremely able souls out there who are doing just that.

This Bristol 411 was restored from the ground up and was kept faithful to the original

What would you do though? No-one can tell. It’s your car, your money, and your mood which dictates your decision. From me you’d get one of each, but realistically it’s only metal in the end and you’re more likely to get the updated model which you would struggle to differentiate from the original. The British man is not prone to showing off or enquiring about wealth and status which means we look to the Q-Car for our pleasure, the car which looks either quaint and old like the GT6 or just plain and nice like the Rover 600ti or the Lotus Carlton.

Q car pleasure from the Lotus Carlton is certainly one choice

Whichever way it comes it would be great to drive around in an unassuming car in the knowledge of its capability while the pretenders are screaming around in their trash. Whichever way you modify your car, either back to original or subtly updating to new greatness, the most important thing is that you have done it your way. Just don’t do the original bit to your house unless you live in a castle, thatched cottage, you want it to fall down or just destroy your resale values.


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