Safety precautions all classic car owners ought to take

If you're looking for a classic, luxurious convertible, If you're looking for a classic, luxurious convertible, your car of choice might be a 1962 Lincoln Continental. Photo Credit: Ford Motor Company

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Lots of newcomers to the hobby rely on me for advice about exactly what kind of car they should buy. I always advise them that by answering three simple questions, they will be well on the way to an answer of their own. 1. What do you like? 2. What are you going to use it for? 3. How much do you want to spend?

Make believe that youre in the market for a collector car, and try answering these questions. Youll see. It works.

Lets say that you try this exercise and you answer the questions in the following way. 1. I like big luxury convertibles. 2. I want to use it to take my family of five and our 150 pound dog to the beach. 3. I have $25,000 to spend. Theres a pretty good chance that your car of choice might be an early 1960s Lincoln Continental convertible.

As far as American luxury cars of the era, this car was state of the art. It was certainly good enough back then. But is it good enough now? That depends on how you define good enough.

If you define good enough as a car that you can drive regularly with a good level of performance, dependability and comfort, then yes, by all measures it is good enough. After all, when the car was new it was most likely driven on a daily basis in all seasons and in all kinds of weather.

But what happens if we include safety in our definition of good enough? Suddenly this early 1960s Lincoln might not be good enough. Contrary to many of our parents beliefs, having their child drive a car that is built like a tank will not make them safe. Especially on todays roads when mingling with modern cars.
So when Im asked by a newcomer to the hobby if a car is good enough, my answer is often No.

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I always emphasize that unless a buyer intends to have their car judged at the highest levels where originality is of the utmost importance, modifications in the name of safety are always a good idea. Especially if you keep the original parts.

There are two things that I virtually insist on. The first is seat belts. They became mandatory standard equipment on a state by state basis back in the 1960s, so many collector cars are not equipped with them. The current law in most states only requires that your vehicle have the safety equipment with which it left the factory, so if your car did not come with seat belts, it is not mandatory that you have them. But there is no reason not to. There are quite a few manufacturers that make seat belts that can be installed in your classic car. There are even a few that make them with period correct webbing and buckles so that they will look like original equipment.

Installation is not particularly difficult, but it is important that it is done properly in order to enjoy the maximum benefits in case of an accident.

My second recommendation is to replace the single reservoir brake master cylinder with a dual reservoir master cylinder. Many people are not aware of the potential danger that the single reservoir unit poses. The problem with a single reservoir master cylinder is that it controls hydraulic pressure to all four wheels. Therefore a loss of pressure anywhere in the brake system will most likely result in a complete failure of the brakes. With a dual reservoir master cylinder, each reservoir controls pressure to two wheels. If there is a loss of pressure somewhere in the system, you will most likely lose braking ability on two wheels, but the two others will still work.

The swap from a single reservoir to a dual reservoir master cylinder is relatively easy, but should be left to a mechanic to assure it is done properly. However, if youre up to the task, kits are available for many cars that make the modification straightforward and inexpensive. While youre at it, this would be the time to add power brakes and/or disc brakes if your budget allows.

My final recommendation involves the use of radial tires in place of the original bias-belted or bias-ply tires. They are simply safer. I realize that they have the tendency to alter the look of the car somewhat, but even that can be mitigated to some degree as many original style tires are now reproduced as radials.
Safety was not a big concern in the early 1960s. Ill leave you with this thought.

Somewhere in my collection of automotive literature, I have an advertisement from the early 1960s for the latest, greatest innovation designed to protect children occupying the back seat of a car in the event of an accident. It is nothing more than a net that separates the front seat from the rear seat.

Safety has come a long way.  

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