Owning and driving a classic car is easier now than it ever has been. You can find parts for all but the most esoteric models, thanks to the internet. And it’s easier than ever to get advice on finding a mechanic or fixing things yourself. Still, classic cars have special needs and as someone who’s had a few — currently (and likely forever) my W108 Mercedes-Benz — I’ve found some of the best products to help keep your classic going.
These are all products that I’ve personally had experience with (except for the halon fire extinguisher, knock on wood-paneled dashboard) and have found to be helpful in a variety of situations from breakdowns to basic weekend afternoon car care.
Having old and dried-out rubber trim and seals on a classic car is no fun. It lets in all kinds of water and wind and generally looks like crap. Gummi Pflege, despite being a silly thing to say out loud, works well to help rejuvenate old rubber and keep it looking better longer.
Keeping your interior clean is important, and doing it with a product that not only smells nice but which adds real UV protection to surfaces is a bonus. That’s why NextZett’s Cockpit Premium is my go-to interior product, especially for dashboards, and unlike Armor All, it doesn’t leave behind any greasy or shiny finish.
Unless you have a rat rod, owning a classic car means keeping it clean inside and out. For many people, that means washing it carefully with a hose and bucket. That can be a bad move though, since introducing water to a rust-prone classic is generally a bad idea, especially if your rubber seals aren’t in tip-top shape. Waterless car wash is a great alternative. It’s a lot like a detail spray, but with even more lubricants in it to help keep your paint safe from scratches. This is the only way I wash my car anymore. Bonus points for conserving water!
Lots of classic cars — European and Japanese classics in particular — make use of raw-finish aluminum or magnesium under their hoods. These finishes can develop some nasty-looking corrosion over time, which can bring the whole appearance of the engine bay down as well as being a pain to clean. The solution is Gibbs Oil. This is kind of like a supercharged WD-40 that seeps into the metal and prevents corrosion. I learned about it from some wise old air-cooled Porsche fanatics who used it on their magnesium engine fans, and now I’m telling you.
So while the Gibbs Oil is great for protecting metals and keeping a more natural finish, sometimes you want something that offers a bit more shine or restorative power. Adam’s two-step metal polish is perfect for that. This is what I use on my chrome grille surround, my emblems, my chrome wheel beauty rings and especially on my polished and anodized aluminum window and door trim. It takes a bit of elbow grease to apply manually, but if you’re fancy (or impatient) it’s suitable for machine application too.
What goes into your classic car is important too. Old cars have special needs when it comes to motor oils and Brad Penn is perfect for meeting them. Many old cars were designed with flat tappet camshafts, which depend on anti-wear additives like zinc in the oil to increase their lifespan. Modern oils don’t offer a lot of zinc because it’s bad for catalytic converters, but if your old car doesn’t have a cat, then you should think about using a high-zinc semi-synthetic oil such as Brad Penn to help keep wear and noise down.
It’s also great for air-cooled cars, since this oil takes heat like nothing else I’ve found.
Carrying tools with you in your classic car is a necessity, even if you don’t work on your own car as a habit. Emergencies exist and being able to nip up a screw or bolt on the side of the road can mean the difference between a flat bed tow or enjoying the rest of your drive. The trick is that many classics, especially sports cars, don’t offer much space for extra stuff. So getting a comprehensive tool kit in as small a package as possible is key. Enter the Wera Tool-Check Plus. It’s got bits and sockets, a ratchet and a bit driver and even an extension — and it’s tiny. Even better, the tools are all great. I never leave home in my Benz without it.
The tool kit so nice, I had to mention it twice — only, you know, with Imperial sockets for ‘Merican cars and the like. Seriously, this kit is brilliant.
OK, so you’re a conscientious classic car owner and you already keep a fire extinguisher in your ride. Good for you. But did you look at it when you bought it? If it’s a cheap-o unit you got from Walmart, it probably uses powdered chemicals as its fire-retardant agent. This will definitely work from a practical standpoint, but once the fire is out, your problems will just be getting started. Those chemical powders get into everything and cause corrosion like crazy. If you have an under-hood fire, it’s game over for your engine most likely too.
That’s why halon fire extinguishers are awesome. They’re not cheap, granted, but they don’t leave behind any chemicals or residues so once you get the blaze under control, that’s the only damage you’ll have to worry about. This should be considered a must-buy for people who care about their classics.
Best accessories for your classic car
|Classic car accessory||Product||Price||Purpose||Application|
|The best way to keep your rubber trim soft||Gummi Pflege||$11.94||Keeps rubber seals soft and pliable||All cars|
|Best interior cleaner and protectant||Cockpit Premium||$12.00||Cleans and UV protects interior surfaces||All cars|
|Best waterless car wash||Drought-Buster car wash||$49.99||Cleans car exterior with minimal moisture||Cars with bad rubber seals, cars prone to corrosion|
|Best protectant for raw aluminum and magnesium||Gibbs Oil||$26.50||Removes and protects against corrosion on raw aluminum and magnesium||Raw porous metals|
|Best metal polish||Adam’s Metal Polish||$33.99||If it’s metal, it’ll make it shiny again||All metals|
|Best classic car motor oil||Brad Penn (case of 12)||$87.00||High-zinc partial synthetic oil keeps old motors happy||Pre-catalytic converter cars|
|Best small metric tool kit||Wera Tool-Check Plus (Metric)||$77.88||Super compact tool kit||European, Japanese and late-model American cars|
|Best small SAE tool kit||Wera (Tool-Check Plus (SAE)||$79.75||Super compact tool kit||Older American vehicles|
|Best automotive fire extinguisher||H3R halon fire extinguisher||$188.99||Puts out fires without leaving a corrosive mess||All cars|
Classic cars have special needs and special problems
This isn’t a definitive classic car survival guide — it’s one based on my own experience. The products I’m recommending each have specific benefits and all of them, except for the fire extinguisher, are available for under $100.
If you live in a hot and dry climate, with lots of UV exposure, the Gummi Pflege will be super useful for keeping your rubber seals soft and healthy. If you live somewhere like Michigan, where your classic is only outside for pleasure cruises a handful of times a year, then it’s less likely to be a game-changer but it’s probably still useful as a just-in-case.
The same is true for the waterless car wash. My 50-year-old Mercedes is a lifelong California car. This means that there isn’t any rust, but my rubber seals are all cooked. The Gummi Pflege helps, but I still don’t want to introduce a lot of water into the car by washing it conventionally. The waterless wash is perfect for me because it allows me to safely remove the dust and gunk that I get from storing and driving my car in Los Angeles without flooding my doors or soaking my carpets.
The NextZett Cockpit Premium is useful for anyone, and any car, whether new or old. Having a clean and UV-protected interior is awesome. Getting those benefits without having a gross shiny or greasy finish on surfaces or increasing the risk of dash cracks is even better. Plus, it doesn’t smell terrible, which is a bonus. Once you try this, you’ll never look at Armor All again.
Adam’s metal polish has tons of uses. I’m a fan of using it on the chrome portions of my Mercedes’ wheels and grille and the polished and anodized but not actually chrome trim around my doors and windows. It’s also good for shining up metal stuff around the house — I’ve used it on old hi-fi equipment with surface corrosion with great effect.
The Brad Penn oil’s benefits are huge but will depend on your car’s technology. If you have a car that was built before the advent of catalytic converters, and which has flat tappet camshafts, you’ll appreciate the excellent anti-wear properties that a high-zinc oil like Brad Penn can offer. If you have a catalytic converter, then high-zinc oil is a bad idea, because it will poison your converter.
The Gibbs Oil is something that you’ll likely find a ton of uses for. I’ve successfully used it on unprotected aluminum to help prevent surface corrosion. It’s especially great for magnesium — like on air-cooled Porsche fans, for example — to help prevent the growth of that weird, scabby barnacle-looking corrosion. If you have anodized aluminum or painted metal, it’s not going to help preserve those finishes.
Finally, the tool kits and the fire extinguisher are great for everyone but have special significance for old car owners. We’ll start with the fire extinguisher because it’s the most expensive thing on the list, and you are probably thinking that nearly $200 for an extinguisher is a lot, when you can grab one for a tenth of the price at Walmart. It is, but a Halon extinguisher has benefits that present themselves once the fire is out.
Specifically, many cheap fire extinguishers use powdered chemicals to snuff out a conflagration. While they’re super effective in most cases, that powder is ultra-fine and gets absolutely everywhere and into everything. What’s even worse is that they are often highly corrosive and cause rust to form with shocking rapidity. That’s not great for old steel.
If you have an engine fire that you’re trying to put out and get some powder inside the motor — which is likely if the engine is running — kiss that motor goodbye. Sure, you extinguished the fire but damaged the hell out of your pride and joy. A halon extinguisher, by comparison, uses only gas to extinguish a fire. It’s clean, so if you can quickly get the fire under control, then the fire damage is the only damage you need to worry about.
The tool kits are just tool kits, but their extremely compact nature means they’re easy to tuck away into even a small classic sports car, which doesn’t always have the kind of space you need for even a modest conventional kit of tools.
Even if you don’t work on your own car, sometimes all you need is to tighten down a bolt or hose clamp to get you on your way after a breakdown. There are few automotive situations more embarrassing than having your car towed to your mechanic and seeing the look on their face when they fix your problem in 30 seconds.
Honorable mentions for the list would include a jumper pack, for which we’ve already compiled a best-of list as well as a tire pressure gauge. My favorite comes from a company called Longacre and while they’re designed for racing, they’re great for normal cars too, being both accurate and sturdy.will set you back around $21 and should last for eons.
Hopefully you give this stuff a try, and you can let me know if it works for you as well as it’s worked for me.
This 1971 Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5 Cabriolet is the antidote to gloomy weather
See all photos