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Cars: 1969 outside, 2006 inside

Collectors can now buy classic American car bodies stuffed with all the latest technology.

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney.com staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- There's something people often forget about those great cars Detroit put out during the 1950s and 1960s.

They were mostly horrible to drive.

For those spoiled by modern cars with features like steering wheels that steer, brakes that stop in less than "eventually" and engines that don't require repair and adjustment before each start, actually living with a "classic" car can be a bit of a bummer. They're great to look at and to be seen in, but they're often less fun to drive than you might remember.

These are problems that can be fixed with a little modern technology, though.

Now, if the car is a valuable collectible like, say, a 1970 Hemi Cuda, better not to touch it. A car like that, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, needs to be kept original with factory-correct parts. Adding a better engine and suspension would be like painting a friendlier smile on the Mona Lisa.

But if it's one of the many thousands of far less valuable cars that happen to share body styles with more valuable siblings -- a 6-cylinder Barracuda, perhaps - why not make a few improvements?

If anything, the changes, if well done, will increase the car's values in today's market. A lot of muscle car collectors are looking for cars they can drive comfortably and easily. Cold air conditioning and a six-disc CD player wouldn't hurt either.

At Time Machines, Inc., a Florida company specializing in "resto-mods" - a term that's equal parts "restored" and "modified" - about half the customers bring in an old car they just want upgraded. (Photos of 5 resto-mods)

"I want it to drive like the Lexus I drive every day," said Mike Staveski of Time Machines, describing a typical customer's desires.

Customers typically pay between $150,000 and $250,000 for the restoration and upgrades, he said.

Craig Jackson, president of the Arizona-based collector car auction company Barrett-Jackson brought his own 1969 Camaro to Unique Performance, a Texas company, to have it made into a more livable daily driver.

"After scaring myself a few times by not handling through the corners I decided to resto-mod the car," he said.

Unique replaced the car's suspension and steering components with up-to-date performance parts and eventually replaced the engine, as well.

Full-service operation

Some buyers don't want to have to hunt around for a collectible and then deal with the upgrading. For them, there are off-the-shelf solutions.

Time Machines, for example, is offering a series of 1970 Plymouth Barracudas with engines, transmissions and suspensions from modern V10-powered Dodge Viper sports cars.

Carroll Shelby himself, famous for the Shelby Cobra sports car and Shelby line of modified Ford Mustangs from the late 1960s and early 1970s, has lent his name to a line of newly modified 1967 to 1969 Mustangs that look, from the outside, just like Shelby Mustangs of that era.

Unique Performance starts by finding ordinary, often non-running, Mustangs of the appropriate vintage. As long as the bodies are structurally sound and in good shape, that's all that's needed.

"The only thing that's ever utilized on these cars is the shell of the car with the original [vehicle identification] number," said Douglas Hasty, president of Unique Performance.

Outside, the cars are turned into exact likenesses of original GT350 and GT500 cars. (The GT500 is best known for its appearance as "Eleanor" in the 2000 remake of the movie "Gone in 60 seconds.")

Underneath the exterior, there's no attempt to replicate exactly the original cars mechanically. The concept is the same but the technology is modern. The 325-horsepower engine has electronic fuel injection. The cars even have 10-disc CD changers. (A 10-disc DVD changer is available as an option.)

The company has also recently introduced a line of 1969 Chevrolet Camaros and 1970 and 1971 Dodge Challengers upgraded and modified according to designs by car customizer Chip Foose.

Baldwin-Motion, a company formed from the reunion of two famous muscle car tuners of the classic era, offers custom-modified 1969 Camaros that have all modern performance machinery underneath. Engine options include supercharged V-8s that produce about 750 horsepower.

Many of the people who purchase these cars also collect carefully restored "numbers matching" cars, said Hasty of Unique Performance.

"Now they have the means to reward themselves with something cool and collectible that has all the features," he said.

Photos:

5 Resto-mods

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