Tinkering With A Dream

As one who detests the wind-tunnel design of modern cars, and one who truly loves older cars, I have to admit to a secret desire:  to take a favorite older car, and somehow get it up to modern standards of build and reliability.  To mention but two, I want an electrical system that will work pretty much all the time and not only if it’s not raining, and a body that doesn’t rust after a single rainstorm or, for that matter, having been just garaged next to a damp chamois cloth.

A couple of people have done that, of course, most notably the guys at Eagle Motors in England, who took the basic E-type and turned it into what Jeremy Clarkson once called “absolute perfection”, featuring a 4.7-liter straight-8 12-pack instead of the original 3.8-liter 6.

Basically, it’s the E-type that Jaguar could have built back in 1961, had they had access to modern technology and not been constrained by wanting to price it far below the Ferraris of the time.  They are now, of course, filthy expensive — Russian oligarchs, American tech billionaires and Arab oil magnates only need apply;  but man, I’d love to own one.

Speaking of Ferrari, Longtime Readers will know of my fondness for the brilliant Dino 246GT of the late 1960s, because it is one of the most beautiful cars ever built — my #1, and pretty much in everyone’s top 5, for sure.

As much as I have always loved the look of the Dino, I’ve actually driven one and it’s a bit of a pig:  the clutch is stiffer than a teenage boy reading a nudie magazine, and the gearbox is kinda clunky.  The engine is still wondrous, though:  Fiat’s original 2.4-liter V6 creation (history is here, and Iain’s followup Dino exposition is here) was perfectly tuned at Maranello, and its power and top end quite acceptable…

…for the time.  Nowadays, it might need a little more poke, and Jay Leno shows how it’s done, courtesy of Ferrari fanatic David Lee (“This is the car that Ferrari should have built” — a paraphrase of the opinion I have about the Eagle E-type, above.)

And I want this car as much or more than I want one of those Eagle Speedsters.  (Just in red, not on that horrible David Lee black, and without the “flares”.  The above pic says it all.)  A bored-out 3.6-liter F40 engine?  Have mercy.

Thus, in the “Dream Cars” pantheon of my “When That Powerball Comes In” fantasy, the above two beauties are #1 and #1a (depending on my mood).

Any others?

Silly rabbits;  of course I have one:

1956 Mercedes 300 SC 

That’s my tourer.  Frankly, apart from putting in better electricals (lights, wiring, soft-top motor etc.), I may not mess with anything else beyond perhaps the suspension or steering if needed, because the mid-1950s 300s were built with only the best engineering, not just for the time but for any time.  I would never put in a modern Merc engine because computers.

There may be more I could add as I think about the topic a bit longer, but for now, these three are absolutely perfect.

What would you pick to resto-mod?  Remember:  you get to keep the shape, but other than that, it’s an open field.


  1. A 1969 El Camino with modern running gear would be a lot of fun.

    Or a similar-year Triumph Spitfire with new hardware. I had a ’69 Spit with a personally-updated electrical system that was fun as hell to drive until the differential blew out. Slap a modern engine and a good transmission/rear end into one, and it would be amazing…

  2. The specs you list on the Jag have me a bit confused (not hard). The pictures of the engine show six exhaust pipes and I’m not aware of any modern high performance straight 8 engines. They were pretty common around the time of WW2 but most if not all have gone away. Some quick early morning research discussed a straight 8 that was used in some British armored cars in the 1950s but that’s all I could find. Boring out a 3.8 or dropping in a V-12 would be lots easier

    I like the Mercedes. Lacking a computer you’ll be one of the few guys running when the sun goes rogue or the North Koreans set off an EMP bomb. I know that you have enough guns and ammo to keep it out of undeserving hands.

    My restomod choice has always been a new/old Dodge power wagon. Nothing “sporty” there but in my dotage I want a vehicle I climb up into and won’t need to keep a chiropractor on staff. You can get the Dodges with modern gas or diesel engines, automatic transmissions, air conditioning, and all the good stuff in a good looking old school body. Much more practical than those hulking Hummer gun trucks. I chose the Dodge partly in memory of my late dad who drove a WC-54 ambulance across Europe while working for Uncle Sam. I’ll bet if money was no object – which it wouldn’t be – a guy could figure out a way to make the Dodge EMP proof.

  3. Nissan is still making the Z-cars. The new ones are a bit pricy, but if you want a rebuild there are plenty of old ones around.

    Personally, I’d just buy a Miata.

    1. There’s a whole lot right about the Miata. Mazda did some outstanding engineering on that beast.

  4. There’s been multiple outfits doing basically that with real AMERICAN cars and trucks, all it requires is a great deal of money. I know Dodge/Chrysler will sell you a modern 5.7 liter Hemi modified to run off a carburetor and old fashioned ignition so that no computer system is needed. Thus you can take your 1968 General Lee Charger and put in a modern engine/tranny for enhanced reliability. All sorts of suspension and braking upgrades are available for almost any classic car, again all it takes is money money money.

    I’m a Dodge man, so I’d pick something like a ’68 Charger or maybe a ‘Cuda, along with a Powerwagon cause if I won the lotto I’d certainly be able to afford two vehicles.

  5. I second the rugged reliability of the Dodge Power Wagon, with my version of choice being the 1957 Power Wagon W100 Town Wagon.

    For a motoring weekend with the Fetching Dr. Topcat, a luxury tourer such as this delectable 1965 Mercedes 220SEb, sorted with some modern bits, would suffice.

    Lastly, for pure GT enjoyment, the 1967 Iso Grifo, with a few power and braking updates, would be the sporting gentleman’s choice.

  6. Since you asked:

    First generation Ford Mustang — 1965 through 1968 preferred. Not a fastback. Those were ugly. Put in a modern drive-line including a 3+ liter turbocharged V6, limited slip differential, and a five or six speed manual transmission.

    1. I’m with you on the Mustangs.
      Specifically, a 1967 GT (no fastback), but gut the original mechanicals and keep just the body and frame, replacing everything from power train to suspension to steering.
      I’m not particular to exactly what to drop in. It doesn’t have to be competitive on the track with the 700 HP monstrosities recently offered. Just bring it up to what a currentish factory car can do.
      My other current wish list car is, frankly a chick car, but I remain unabashed on this one, because it simply looks fun to drive. A Pontiac Solstice. Small econobox 2.1L 4 cylinder motor paired to a proper rear wheel drive coupe chassis, with a turbo and manual transmission. It wouldn’t win any races whatsoever, especially not with me at the wheel, and it’s for certain that I’d look stupid driving one, but I won’t care; with the top down, cruising winding mountain roads, and actually driving the car instead of merely piloting it, I would be having far too much enjoyment to bother with whether or not I looked silly. No modifications necessary on that one, either.

  7. The 4.7 liter engine mention above is a Jag 12 cylinder – not a staight 8 .

    Those top 2 example have been done in a perfectly acceptable manor and would be nice to have in any collection as fun cars. But most Resto-Mods that I’ve seen are just wrong. Either they are a modern car that has been rebodied to sort of look like a 60 year old version of the earlier model or they are redone original cars that have been into some Frankenstein version that is not good at being either a modern car or a vintage car.

    So, yes, I’d welcome either or both of the top 2, and the eagle is more a updated full restoration than an actual Resto-Mod since they mostly retain the original engine, and to me a Resto-Mod has a modern engine. but I prefer the unmolested restoration.

  8. A resto-mod Eagle would be great, the Speedster absolute heaven – and an updated XK 6-cylinder is still one of the best engines ever designed (it did win LeMans five times, after all) – though I might want to add a trio of Weber’s to give it an even better sound at WOT.

  9. 1971 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda Convertible. I’d actually love to do a replica rest-mod, since there are only 11 originals available, and with a recent sale at $3.5 million, and another recent no-sale at around $6 million, there’s no chance short of the Lotto. Modern suspension and engine, good wheels and tires and audio, Nash Bridges yellow over white with no billboards.

  10. If that billion dollar lottery had come my way, I could see a reliable rebuilt classic car getting onto my buy list.

    A car guy I knew wanted something like an MG and had several in the 60s and 70s. When he was in the market for another one in his mid-life crisis, he decided to get a Mazda Miata because he didn’t want to deal with a tempermental MG for a fun drive.


  11. You love the Dino, but Clarkson kept making fun of Hammond for buying one on their budget super car race.

    “It’s not a real Ferrari!”

    1. Well, Ferrari didn’t want to accept it as a Ferrari until they had to. Clarkson’s badinage aside, and apart from the Fiat-designed engine, it was as Ferrari as Maranello.

  12. The E-type and the Mercedes both float my boat, but in addition I’d like to have an updated 1953 Studebaker Loewy coupe.

  13. Having the Elan S2 as an inspiration to guide the design was not a bad idea.

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