How many of our loyal readers enjoy getting behind the wheel of their favorite vehicle to spend the day going for an extended drive? Plenty, I suspect. Of course, it helps to have something to pilot that offers at least a modicum of rolling motion entertainment.
Typically, the most fun vehicles to drive on an all-day cruise have been my Corvettes, Camaros, and Mustangs, with their quick-ratio steering and firm-but-responsive suspensions. Other fun-to-drive rides include my life-long interest in hot rod coupes and roadsters and the occasional sports cars that find a home in my garage.
The challenge to build a custom vintage truck that handles well and is a joy to drive is a formidable one, but it can be done, and done without a complete chassis swap or mega dollars invested. Modern automotive technology has introduced countless innovations in the past several decades, many of which have been in the form of improved suspensions of multi-link, and, of course, the air- and non-air types of springs and 'bags. Street rod and classic truck magazines have been publishing OEM front clip installs for decades, and there are plenty of aftermarket clips as well that add ventilated disc brakes and power steering to your antique truck. Added benefits to these modern clips are the motor mounts and radiator core mounts for late-model drivetrains. Lately we're seeing more Jaguar sedan and Chevrolet Corvette IRS and IFS components finding their way under vintage custom rides, and trucks are ideal candidates for these high-performance suspension components.
One important piece of information that can impact your truck's modified-suspension performance is the amount of weight on each axle. Taking your custom vehicle to a truck scale (to be measured for the exact amount of weight on each wheel) can play an important role when deciding what stiffness of springs and how heavy of shock rates to use. Other factors that impact suspension performance include un-sprung weight, the total weight of the wheel/tire combination. Obviously, the less wheel/tire weight bouncing about, the less vibration will be transmitted to the chassis of your truck. Be sure to maintain the proper tire pressure in each tire.
Excessive NVH, also known as noise, vibration and harshness, are the three primary influences to creating an uncomfortable extended driving experience. For this reason, we feel it's most important to maintain the frontend alignment in good condition, as well as the front- and rear-suspension insulation that is under your truck chassis. Don't forget, the insulation in the cab of your truck is equally important to eliminating unpleasant distractions. A fun driving experience can be greatly enhanced by eliminating excessive noise, cold, or heat. Of course, this means keeping the rubber insulation around the doors and door glass in good condition, also. Speaking of glass, my pet peeve is any blemish or crack in windshield or door glass; I simply can't tolerate any distractions between my eyes and the constantly changing view outside. Cracks and pits also degrade the overall quality of your truck, and nobody wants that kind of criticism.
You might ask yourself, "What's the most annoying thing about my truck?" Then focus on the problem that causes this particular annoyance. Does your truck stop, steer, and sound pleasant or reasonably quiet when operating at freeway speeds? Yes, it's nice to hear a performance exhaust note emitting from the tailpipe, but few of us want to shout to carry on a conversation in the cab of our cruiser.
Neither do we want a seat that doesn't offer some adjustability to help relieve fatigue. If you're still plopping your behind on a 50-year-old bench seat, it's doubtful you are enjoying an extended drive. The options for an upgrade are almost infinite: from salvage-yard seating to multi-adjustable and heated aftermarket items that offer side bolsters with different density foams and backrest panels with adjustable lumbar support. A good seat is perhaps the foundation of enjoyable motoring. Next to a good seat, I feel a padded steering wheel of leather promotes a pleasant driving experience.
Last but not least, can you see behind your truck equally as well? Rear visibility is a critical part of safe and comfortable driving. Mirrors, both inside and out, are significant to changing lanes and merging with other traffic on the road. I learned this lesson the hard way while driving my '33 Ford roadster. Originally, the outside mirrors were attached to the convertible top frame. While the top was off, the mirrors were off as well. I changed this situation after a short period because of the extra attention my red roadster got from admirers who positioned themselves in my blind spot.
One additional factor that can make driving extended distances enjoyable is a quality sound system that includes a CD player. Primarily, it helps pass the time more pleasantly when traveling, especially cross-country where radio stations come and go. This information may be obvious, but it helps to consider the individual details when assessing the performance of your vintage truck. Now fill up the tank and head to the road less traveled.-Rich Boyd