We Can Make Classic Cars Outperform Today's "SuperCars": Why Not Vintage Audio?

If you spent $2M on a modern "Supercar", you’d arrive at the end of a quarter mile 2 football fields behind the quickest highly-modified "street legal" cars from the muscle car era. You could show up at an Autocross event in your late model "track ready" sports sedan, and be embarrassed by a lady pushing a 1986 Monte Carlo between the cones.

There’s a lot of resources and talent in the automotive aftermarket. Many of the brightest minds earned weekly paychecks in their "past lives" at major auto manufacturers. There are various disciplines involved including complete engine and drive train replacements, serious add-on/mods to existing components, bigger/better brakes, track-ready suspensions, etc. They can even slide a complete new high-performance rolling chassis underneath popular models.

So, why not vintage audio? Well, we do dip our toes into this a bit. There are popular speaker crossover replacements for the DYI crowd. But, these fall sonically short of their contemporary "high end" counterparts. The automotive equivalent of replacing a 2 BBL carb on a cast iron manifold with a 4 BBL carb on a cast iron manifold -- while keeping the original single exhaust system intact. We can do simple mods to improve the sonics -- like upgrading an original power cord that you wouldn’t want to use on a 2-splice toaster, much less a high-current amplifier. The really smart guys need to come to the rescue for true audiophile grade solutions.

Understandably there has to be a "high give a s--- factor" related to this. The speed parts industry is fueled by a wildly enthusiastic crowd while vintage audio owners are, like: "whatever". So, the chances of a superb $5k amp/preamp module that drops into a Marantz 1060 chassis and slays any modern gear near it’s price point may not be coming to a town near you anytime soon.

I think this can be incremental if we put our minds and wallets to it. You "car guys" know there are 3 basic types of collector cars. "Showroom stock" represents as close as possible the vehicle as it rolled off the assembly line. "Personalized" generally follows a stock appearance with performance and cosmetic improvements. Generally speaking, the car can be reverted to showroom stock at some point the future. All the original parts are carefully cataloged and placed in safe storage. "Modified" has the appearance of a race car, and performs like one. Often modifications to metal are performed, and in some cases there’s no going back. We can follow similar guidelines as well. We understand the motivation to keep things "stock". We can also understand the audiophiles that love their vintage gear would be open to the concept of a significantly better listening experience while maintaining a stock appearance and functionality. Chopping up an Auburn is a really bad idea. But, upgrading the input terminals on an integrated amplifier may be highly palatable for those cherished collectables.

I also get it that the ROI would be questionable. An amp that has a current market value of $2k with $5k worth of mods might still be worth $2k -- or less.

What say you?


Today’s super cars smoke the super cars of yesteryear. One has to look at overall performance, such as laps on a track, to compare. Even going in a straight line, today’s cars are faster. As for what can be accomplished by modding, the times at any NHRA National are faster in all categories than two decades ago.


New semiconductor designs, new capacitor designs, new precision resistors, new wire designs, better understanding of micro phonics and vibration control, etc. etc.

In no way can older cars compete with the newer "super" cars. Same, I say, with audio although the difference in this realm is not as great as in the automotive. 

@jkf011 @holmz I love the smell of hot rebuttals in the morning. Those "WTF" and "nonsense" moments pair well with coffee.

Unapologetically using yet another car analogy for a moment, maybe we should downshift and drop our speed down a bit before we reach the apex?

Here’s the car->audio connection. Maybe? Cars are relatable to most of us on this forum. We’re familiar with the exotics, and not-so-exotics. And, we’ve gotten up close and personal with vintage cars. Some of us drove them off the showroom floor back when we had hair. We also know there’s a healthy automotive aftermarket that can, quite literally, make a race horse out of the jackass -- in some cases. (Okay, I’m bracing for the "jackass" comments coming back at me).

There is little debate that cash, talent, resources and "newer thinking" can radically improve the performance of vintage/dated classic cars. When presented with a specific objective accompanied with "best in class" hardware/brainware, we can propel a old chunk of metal down the track pretty well. This is measurable, and well-documented.

Tossing a comensurate amount of cash, talent, resources and "newer thinking" at vintage audio can produce stunning sonic improvements that can be heard -- and measured. The issue here is not a technical or ideological one, but rather a lack of interest and/or economic viability. In otherwords, the interest level is low for serious aftermarket products & services, and sonic bang-for-buck may be questionable. Particularly, with a "collectable" piece who’s value would drop considerably if someone took a nibbler to the back panel.

The point of the discussion was to introduce the concept that the "audio performance aftermarket" is immature (at best) and there is latent stellar performance potential inside those chassis, or speaker boxes. I’ve spent a fair amount of time doing this at our shop. We expect highly predictable improvements in "A". "B" and "C". Most often, we get these in spades, along with unexpected improvements in "D", "E" and "F". (Yes, I’m ready for the "F" grade from you guys on this topic, too). I’d like to see real engineering and resources thrown at this. I’ll probably be waiting a while longer.

I consider myself very fortunate to have grown up around high performance cars and great audio equipment. I enjoy my cool/fast cars (modern and vintage) just as much as my cool stereos (modern and vintage). And, coffee.

Thanks for participating. Your comments are very much appreciated.

Tom Bailey’s "street legal" ’69 Camaro ran a best of 6.73 @ 210.83 MPH in the 1/4 mile last year at Hot Rod’s Drag Week, and he drove the car home. The Bugatti Chiron runs a (very impressive) 9.4 @ 158 MPH in the same distance. Using the 1/4 mile to 1/8 calculator, the Camaro clicked off 4.2 seconds @ 160 MPH at the 1/8th mile mark compared to the Bugatti’s 5.9 @ 128 MPH. This puts the Camaro a minimum of 1.7 seconds ahead when the Bugatti reached this point. Calculating the speed and distance of the Camaro at 160 MPH, that’s approximately 250 feet per second x 1.7 seconds or 425 feet ahead at the half way point. This is a conservative number based on the fact that when the Bugatti reached this point the Camaro would have been traveling much faster than it did at the 1/8 mile mark. At the 1/4 mark, the Camaro was traveling 210.83 MPH or about 316.25 feet per second. Approximately the length of a football field every second. The Camaro reached the 1/4 mile mark less than one second after the Bugatti reached the 1/8 mile mark. Therefore, it appears that a "2 football field lead" is a plausible claim. I might be a few centimeters off, but I think the estimate is pretty close.

Nice  example.  Tom's Camaro is a beast.  I have been into classic cars and hot rods since the 90s and always got a kick out of how much faster a well built hot rod is than whatever the current supercar is.  Supercars just aren't that fast on the drag strip, especially considering the cost.  It's pretty easy to build something faster for a fraction of the cost.  Tom's Camaro is an extreme example.  You can do it far easier and cheaper with just about any vehicle.