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.

One response to “On Modifying Vintage Racecars for Safety”

  1. Jon says:

    In my opinion, race cars are living beings, constantly being modified from they day they were born. There are (or should be) very few “original” race cars, if their purpose in life is to be fulfilled. That purpose is to race. They weren’t built to be historical — they were built to race, and in the process maybe became historical. That doesn’t change their original destiny.

    Think of it this way: would you think twice about modifying a 10 year old race car to meet current regs? Me either. Back in the 1960s, nobody made a big deal about modifying a 1950s Ferrari racer, because it’s a race car. These days, people would freak out if you modified a 1950s Ferrari racer. But why? It’s purpose was to race, and if that means modifying a roll bar or something, big deal.

    Now, if the car is historical, and didn’t go racing until later in life, that’s a different story. You’re then making into something it was never intended to be, thus destroying any history of it’s former life.

    Long story short: if it started life as a race car, feel free to modify it as needed.

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