On Modifying Vintage Racecars for Safety

I’m of two minds on racecar modification.

There’s the “ownership” school of thought. It belongs to you. You can add a rollbar, five point harness, strengthen crossmembers for impact safety. Hell, you can burn it to the ground if you want. It’s an understandable point of view, you bought this thing.

Then, there’s the “caretaker” point of view. These are objects, yes, but they have intrinsic historical value that supersedes the owner’s impulse to modify. You don’t “own” a Targa Florio winning Porsche 908-3 any more than Accademia di Belle Arti Firenze “owns” David, or the National Gallery “owns” Belshazzar’s Feast. There is a tendency to consider that while, legally, these objects have clearly defined owners; culturally and historically, they belong to everyone. Traditionally, I tend to favor this perspective of stewardship.

Now, it does seem reasonable that to compete with your car, you must meet some minimum safety standards, and that is why we see rollbars increased in height, puncture resistant fuel cells, improved safety harnesses, and arm restraints. For some reason, these mandatory modifications for competition haven’t been applied to pre-war cars. Until today, I’ve appreciated that. I wouldn’t want to add a rollbar to a Bugatti 35. But this video shot during a VSCC event at Oulton Park makes me reconsider.

I should point out that, despite appearances, this driver escaped with nothing more serious than a broken collar bone.

Now I’m wondering if rollbars, or at least seat belts, aren’t a good idea for pre-war cars—if not as a mandatory, then at least something that more individual drivers might consider adding. I’m curious to hear what Chicane readers think about this, so let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.

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