The truth about building parts for classic cars

Making parts sounds easy. You make parts, you sell parts, you keep buying bigger trucks to take the money to the bank.

But as I was recently reminded, it’s not always so simple. Case in point: Does the world need a carbon-fiber driveshaft for an Alfa Romeo Spider?

This predicament started with a call from Joe Cabibbo, owner of Alfa Romeo supply house Centerline International. We’ve become friends since I drove our Spider cross-country a few years back. 

I know, I know, when you try to drive an Alfa across the United States, you’ll land on a first-name basis with your parts guy. In all honesty, despite a few minor issues, that trip went quite well and I would do it again in heartbeat, especially now that the car is fully sorted.

Anyway, Joe called to tell me about this new carbon-fiber driveshaft for an Alfa Spider or GTV that he has made by a company called Vintage Customs. Where the stock piece weighs about 22 pounds, this one checks in at 16–not nothing. He asked me if I would try it out and see what I thought.

I got the thing a few weeks later and took it out of the box. It was a thing of beauty, replacing the front guibo with a CV joint while the rest was masterfully built out of carbon fiber. The single-piece construction eliminates the center support. It’s all balanced to 20,000 rpm.

But why? Unless you’re racing, why would anyone go through the trouble and expense of designing and building and all-new driveshaft for a 134-horsepower Alfa Romeo Spider?

And what if it introduces some NVH? Will the average owner accept that trade-off, or is there going to be much complaining in the public square?

After installing the piece and driving the car, I saw the dilemma: Along with seemingly quicker acceleration, I now had a buzz in third gear. Long-term, would the upside outweigh the downside? 

Joe seemed to agree that it’s not for everyone. Some customers, he said, even seem offended that he even tried to offer something new. 

He also suggested an easy remedy for the buzz: Shim the transmission mounts and possibly bend the parking brake bracket a bit. His advice solved the issue, and everyone who has since driven the car noticed the improved performance. 

But this is not a story about a driveshaft–although you can now find that carbon-fiber driveshaft in Joe’s catalog, complete with detailed fitting instructions.

This is about how companies–lots of companies–work their butts off to design and build products that make our old sports cars better, safer and more fun to drive. Still, not everything is plug-and-play like a K&N filter or fancy shift knob.

A few big points here:

  • First, support your marque experts. They can only help if you support them. 
  • Second, do your research before pulling out your credit card. And if the installation sounds beyond your skill set, either don’t buy it or get a shop involved.
  • Third, some parts are subpar. That’s just a fact of life.

We often try to evaluate new parts. This is something we love to do, as it helps both our readers and advertisers. Maybe we can provide some feedback to the seller, and maybe we can help a reader better evaluate that next purchase. 

Enjoy this issue and please share your experiences with me. What parts have transformed your classic, and which ones have been real duds?

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CrustyRedXpress (Forum Supporter)
CrustyRedXpress (Forum Supporter) New Reader
12/23/22 3:38 p.m.

I'm always amazed at the passion that some of these manufacturers brings to a pretty niche markets. 

3/8/23 5:27 p.m.

The most impactful modifications to my GT6 (Convertible!) Resto-Mod had to be:

1 - Electronic Ignition.  Not just the distributor, but also a Capacitive Discharge/Multi-Spark box.  These truly made the engine much more stable and driveable, despite a street cam and higher compression.

2 - Hi-Torque starter motor.  Spins the engine effortlessly despite the higher compression.

3 - 5 Speed transmission.  Lower first gear; higher fifth gear.  Quicker off the line and more relaxed on the highway.  Hard to argue against that if your car didn't originally come with five (or more) gears.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
3/9/23 9:16 a.m.
CrustyRedXpress (Forum Supporter) said:

I'm always amazed at the passion that some of these manufacturers brings to a pretty niche markets. 

But thankfully they do, right? I look at all of the little trick bits that I have touched over the years. Someone had to have the vision and ability to put it into production. 

bosswrench New Reader
5/27/23 2:19 p.m.

And some "fixes" aren't.  My son's '74 Alfa  roadster  was the famous '4abuck' car. If you haven't heard, the thing had early SPICA injection and stopped running. It had been abandoned by a woman's son in her driveway for years, then he disappeared. She just wanted it gone but was afraid if she gave it away it would be an issue on her CA taxes. So the Bill of Sale was for $1.00.

My son spent three days on the SPICA and got the thing running well enough to drive it 75 miles to Laguna Seca, where it became the 'Pace Car' for a motorcycle race! But he replaced the troublesome SPICA for higher performance Webers. He used a cheap fuel pressure regulator to drop the EFI fuel flow from 50 psi to about 5 for the carbs. 

Bad suggestion: with 90% of the fuel pressure blocked, the pump overheated on trips of over 10 miles so the engine often quit. He had to wait for the pump to cool off  before the engine would restart. Adding a carburetor fuel pump fixed that annoying little problem. He eventually restored the car but the SPICA remained in a box.

Coupefan Reader
8/13/23 11:53 a.m.

The peak for aftermarket performance parts for most of my cars seems to be about 15 years ago or so.  The last item I remember were tubular A-arms with a  trick lower removable shock mount.  I don't think I've seen much of anything new, except for some modern alloy wheel reproductions.

GrizwoldsZ New Reader
4/11/24 11:20 p.m.

I just installed some new headlight buckets for my 240Z from dapper lighting. They are elongated in the rear to allow for more modern LED lights. 3d printed so they fit well on all the S30's. Also got some tool covers for my series one Z from Resurrected Classics. Perfect fit and really nice match to the old originals.

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