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Ten Points to Vintage Automobile Safety

Admit it, you drive Vintage cars because you get a rush from driving a small piece of history. The idiosyncrasies of classics are all part of the experience. So why am I writing about safety in something you will continue to drive no matter what? Because you and your passengers need to be safe and, despite rumours that all drivers in the civilized world are perfect, there are some drivers who do not pay attention and do not care. No check written out by an insurance company can give you that sensation of delight that avoidance will. Without further delay, I give you the BMC 2011 Vintage Safety list:

  1. ‘Skills’

  2. Fuel

  3. Mirrors

  4. Driveline

  5. Tyres

  6. Suspension

  7. Shocks

  8. Headlamps

  9. Parking and Brake Lamps

  10. Brakes


Good Driving Skills

Yes that horrid little thing we want to say everyone else is worse at and we are perfect.

Going to the extremes - If you drive hard, don’t drive foolish. Remember, this may be your weekend warrior but children share the road with you! If you drive cautiously, remember to stay out of the way. Slow drivers and those driving under traffics speeds have been found most often to be the Actual cause of accidents. Commonly not getting in the accidents because others behind them were kind enough to avoid them but that does not make the cautious driver in the right.

The safest driving I have found is neither offensive nor defensive but somewhere in the middle. When in a smaller vehicle or a vehicle of older standards, it’s best to leave your lights on in the daytime and drive like you mean to pass- this gets peoples attention and they are less likely to merge into your side; Just ask a motorcyclist about slight aggressive driving vs. defensive. Defensive stays off to the side and ready to move out of peoples way- which is a good way to be run off the road.


Clean Fuel

Without clean fuel, a car will run about as good as a turtle on a lazy afternoon. As this may not sound like an item that should make the list, it is one of the most common issues we deal with at BMC for collector vehicles. Generally speaking, these cars run poor or don’t even leave the confines of the garage because of this problem. Also, please make special note that you should EAT your corn, not burn it; I am not going into detail here but use non-oxygenated fuel in classic cars. It stores better and it is less harsh on older fuel systems found in classic cars.


Reliable Mirrors

Here is a strange one that most don't consider: Cars going down the road with vibrating mirrors. Maybe that officer isn't going to notice your mirrors vibrate like a large scale earth quake, but you know you can’t see through them! Maybe just as bad, mirrors that won't stay adjusted or the travel on the mirrors don't work from years of use. Some try to make due with low quality replacement parts but find they end up 'making due' with something that 'sorta works'.

Mirrors: Check Moss Motors or other suppliers for quality mirrors for your British car.


Reliable Engine and Driveline

Nothing makes you feel as silly as a poor running driveline that has not been maintained. Luckily, most people determine if they have issues and have these taken care of quickly. If this list was for classic aircraft such as used in WWII, this might make one of the top three since you might have a tendency to fall out of the sky. Luckily, we just get stuck in traffic on I94 during rush hour awaiting someone to swerve and hit us.

Although BMC British Automobile is a great company for giving you a reliable vehicle, we understand that you may not be able to drive all the way from California in February or Ontario in July to have your service. May we offer you a second solution and check with your local British Motor Trade Association member.


Reliable Road Rubber- ‘Tyres’

There are plenty of reports out on tires that have passed their due date. I admit that I am one to avoid replacement until there are signs that they need it. That said, there are plenty of people such as myself that have ended up bedridden for life, or if it’s possible, worse. To say the least, check the date codes and watch for any bubbling or cracking of the sidewalls. Remember- old rubber is hard rubber and that does not grab very well and will slide when coming to an emergency stop. New rubber is generally soft rubber. To save a life, watch where the rubber hits the road!

BMC offers tyre services through an associated company for local installs. For national installs, check with your local BMTA North American member or other sites such as dicount tire, Coker tire and other national and local suppliers. Remember- original type wire wheels require a special hub for balancing which many of the BMTA members will have access to.


Reliable Suspension

This is everything but the shocks. Some cars have suspension rubber bushings, king pins or other fulcrum points that are so worn that hitting a bump can make the front end move left and right in a circular like motion. Many people that have worn systems have learned to live with it believing that this is ‘the way old cars work’ which is simply not true! A fine example of this would be an Austin Healey 3000 with worn rear suspension. The car will go down the road at 70 MPH and the tail will ‘wag’ or move back and forth in a rather alarming way. I know! A Healey with worn rear suspension has potential to travel down the freeway swapping ends going backwards at speed whereas many other cars with worn front suspension are likely to jump the road when going over a railroad track... And you were worried that a train might jump the track!

Let me recommend Moss Motors and other suppliers. I do not recommend ‘original type’ rubber as the modern replacements are not very good and I question the original compared to modern equivalent. I suggest something in the generic thought of soft plastics. Red Prothane bushings would certainly be in this area of recommendations.


Good Shocks

The largest suspension problem I see in a car of any era is bad shocks or struts. Historic vehicles are no exception. Bad shocks on coil springs show up as very bad whereas leaf springs may have poorly operating end-of-life shocks that most individuals do not realise they are in need of rebuild or replacement. It would be good to mention that ‘modern’ shocks do not mean better, it only means newer technology that for modern cars can drop the OEM factory installation time and cost. Depending on the car and the project, some do better with the standard shocks. Bad shocks can also hop or allow the rubber to disconnect from the road for a milliseconds on again-off again during a panic stop making your stopping distance increase.

My general recommendation is for rebuild shocks. If your Classic has Lever Action shocks, my super secret shock supplier is World Wide Auto of Madison Wisconsin. I do not choose them because they are close but because they are the Best!


Headlamps That Work

If you cannot see, you should not go. A small history lesson on headlamps from 1880 to present can be read at these two sites:


Cutting through this to just look at the timeline of headlamps from 1950 through present might be easier, but if you understanding the evolution of light over time in both lumen output and beam spread helps to give a clear picture of what is defined today as safe for the road! Many headlamps in 1960’s era cars were still Lucas or replacements. Three problems I see with these:

  1. The reflectors yellow over time giving a lamp that is already yellow and dim compared to modern bulbs and even more unfair disadvantage.

  2. The tungsten or other element inside has stretched/sagged because they have had their time of use already and are commonly within the end of their completed life span.

  3. The amount of power actually reaching the lamp is nothing close to what modern cars receive because there is no relay in the system with wires that are too long and an overloaded switch.

Shall I mention that modern cars also have the benefit of alternators that put out maximum charge a few hundred RPM above idle and about two or three times the potential charge? The repair a few years ago was to simply switch the bulbs to Halogen. Although this is the easiest and quite needed, it is even better if relays can be installed in the system. If your willing to update a bit more, better light fixtures can be installed fairly affordably. Lights like this are everywhere. The most common for any type of 1940’s through 1980’s vehicles are the seven inch round headlamps. Some vehicles continued to carry these in to the 1980’s and 1990’s such as some American consumer trucks and cars such as the Austin Mini. Where was I in all this? Oh yeah- use a better headlamp that matches your requirements along with relays to power the headlamps up best possible and please take note that LED headlamps are going to be the next big thing. Expensive but lower power requirements and bright.


Brake and Parking Lights

If you frequent our site often, you knew I was going to say this: Safety is a big deal. So is speed but safety even more so! Please understand- rear brake and parking lamps, just like headlamp technology, has changed and your vehicles brakes lights are not obsolete. Not yet anyways. Look around next time your on the road- within 2 or 3 model years, all 1156 and 1157 type Edison technology will be completely obsolete. No more wires that burn red hot inside a ballooned up piece of glass deprived of oxygen but a type of gas to keep the tungsten from burning itself up. Now a panel of diodes that emits light at 85% lower power requirements and a lifespan that can exceed the vehicles life. Did I mention brighter? Two, three and even four times brighter.

Rather than saying- ‘Poppycock! My classics don’t need the upgrade because I say so’, remember, your doing the braking but your NOT the emotional 16 year old girl (Not politically correct but no one ever accused me of that) text messaging about her EX-boyfriend to her girlfriends while travelling down the road in her dad’s SUV that keeps her eyes (at Stock ride-height) about four Feet above YOUR tail lamp level and on top of that, no third brake light. She can Not see you and will not react in time. Bam!!

Improved brake and parking lamps do two things:

  1. For you it cuts your power usage down which is a plus for old wiring harnesses, switches, dynamo powered cars or cars with lower amp alternators (under 40 amps) give the car an advantage. It also allows less power to be pulled through the parking lamp switch which may give a couple percentage points (tenths of voltage) to the headlamps for intensity- albeit minimal it is measureable on some cars.

  2. For the sixteen year old girl or anyone else behind you, the lights come on instantly and need not ‘warm up’ to come on and show an average of 3 times brighter. You could say this is an ATTENTION GETTER! For many of the tail lamp designs on cars (such as MGB) that have tail lamps that are split into sections such as separate turn and separate brake, the entire tail lamp is tastefully filled with LEDs on a PCB that allow for more lighting area which also gives relevance to the driver behind. Although LEDs will not stop you from having a $2,751.71 invoice for bumper and rear bodywork repair/replacement, it will lessen the likelihood and/or potentially give that driver behind you a little more time to stop with that much less overall damage.

We provide LED Products for British cars on our website. Please note- if you do not see it, email us with details and we’ll see if we can help.



If brakes haven’t been beaten into your head, where have you been? Brake upkeep is usually all it takes, big brake kits are cool and seldomly required; More of a bragging point but never a bad thing IF set up properly. If not, you can get yourself in trouble. On older vehicles with four wheel drum brakes, it is very important to adjust everything up on a very regular basis. On cars with front disc brakes, it is less often but still required on rear brakes on many of the cars we see. The common culprits would be the rear wheel cylinders, rubber hoses and master cylinders that go bad. Commonly, the steel lines are in okay shape for the first 40 years or so- not always but often. Commonly, front callipers are still in working shape. The brake issue is large and reading above you can see suspension and other items that effect your stopping distance which is highly important. I leave you with this homework- look for information on why brakes are the Most important item for your car and what you can do to improve them.

BMC British Automobile offers brake maintenance and updates along with many other repairs and upgrades.

Other repair facilities: