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?


Some things on vintage cars can’t be changed such as aerodynamics and built-in technology and safety devices.

This is not at all true.  People have been building cars that perform equivalent to supercars out of vintage vehicles for years now.  All of the things you mentioned above can be implemented into older/classic platforms.  Just for a taste, go read up on "pro touring" cars.



“The planet is warming at an even more alarming rate than the climate models predicted”.  


Please provide your strongest evidence for that statement.  

I have two relevant examples of modding old gear to make it better.


1) My beloved Marantz Model 7. It dulled the leading edge too much, I thought as a 19 year old. What to do? Saul Marantz very kindly sent me suggestions, notes on a copy of the circuit diagram, which I scrupulously followed. I put in a full-wave rectifier bridge in the power supply. I replaced the electrolytic capacitors in the phono section with solid tantalums (this was 1976…best capacitors I could get then). Replaced the paper coupling capacitors with Mylars (Cornell Dubliers, as that what was in the Audio Research SP3A). Replaced all resistors with metal film types. Finally, used GE 5751s in the phono section. Did it sound better? Hell yes…far more focus, tighter bass, huge sound stage. Nonetheless, 5 years later I replaced it with an SP6B, much better. My current Cary SLP05 with ultimate upgrade is vastly superior to both; it has better components and design.

2) I had my GAS Ampzilla, which I built in 1975, rebuilt changing out virtually all transistors (replaced 15 amp Motorola output transistors with 20 amp Toshibas), and replaced most of the capacitors with modern low-leakage types. It’s now pretty decent, much better than before. But in Mr. Bongiorno’s own words to me, new transistor designs available now, along with new capacitor types, allowed him to do things he could not dream of before. As good as my rebuilt Ampzilla is, my SST Son of Ampzilla II is substantially better…more refined…in all regards.


 I totally get the car analogy, especially wrt weight. But the electronic controls of modern engines are pretty amazing, as is the improvements in chassis stiffness and suspension control and tires. A modern Corvette will kill a late sixties Corvette. Although I am not an electric car guy, they have phenomenal acceleration, even faster than Andy Granatelli’s gas turbine powered Corvette!

To me, the joy of a vintage car is the more visceral experience, road feel at the wheel, handling, not straight line acceleration. A modern Econo-box, especially tricked-out, can outperform a lot of vintage sports cars, but I guess it is what your benchmark is for high performance.

I’d much rather have a real pre-war Buggati than that Volkswagen atrocity which bears the marque today. I don’t think either car, from Modena or Sant’ Agata Bolognese, is even offered with a stick today. The gated shifter was part of the experience-- the click, clack as part of a ballet of clutch, brake, accelerator.

How does this relate to audio components? Not really very well in my estimation. Maybe you can say some vintage speakers, horn loaded, will have a different character to the bass than a modern "Uber-speaker"--in terms of value, there are some modifications that are probably acceptable to buyers/collectors (they are often both), but unmolested would be the way to go to preserve value.

Once you are in the world of DIY, these are really "one-offs" but I come back to what criteria you are using for evaluation--and what the particular application requires--

I use relatively low powered tube amps because I like how they sound and they work well with extremely efficient (over 100db/meter) speakers. That type of amp may not be suitable for playing Black Sabbath at stadium levels with massive bass.

Oh Pooh… should there be a day for me I’ll stuff Electric into a classic car suspension and comfort included, that effort can be said for most audio as well !! Selectively purchase restore, upgrade electronic if possible and or available. Most of the time a person finds high-quality vintage is considerably better made inside due to material cost and human time factor. Both hobbies certainly won’t rank the highest but it’s a guarantee that it’ll be considerably cheaper and rewarding to boot. I’m there and I’m sure there’s many others. 🏎 🎼 😎