Another Day at The Office: Making Your Car Fit You

Click Here to Begin Slideshow There's an important science used in Detroit (and other places) that employs dozens upon dozens of engineers, technicians and probably a few psychologists.  It's called "ergonomics".  Loosely defined, ergonomics involves the study of how man fits the machine.   Although the term might seem bizarre, the science of ergonomics is really quite interesting -- especially from a vintage car or race car perspective. In the case of the vehicle manufacturer, companies have to design automobiles that fit a broad range of human physical properties:  Tall people, short people, skinny people, fat people, people with long legs, people with short legs, people with long arms, people with short arms.... and the list goes on.  In fact, the products of these ergonomic designers are often compromises between the various "forms" of individuals expected to buy the vehicle in question.  And because of the wide range of individual features, the car companies include a considerable amount of "adjustment" in controls such as the steering column and seat(s).  So where does that leave us, particularly if we have a vintage car or race car that has a distinct lack of ergonomic delights?  In a pretty good position actually.  For the most part, you have control over the way many components fit in the car and how they integrate with your own physical attributes.  But just as important, there are ways to "adjust" both the aftermarket hardware and the OEM stuff so that it works better for your personal application.  Essentially, your car is most likely designed for one person:  You.  And if you're comfortable in the car, it just makes sense that you can enjoy the car more or make the car easier to drive when making a pass at the local dragstrip. How tough is it to "re-engineer" the office of a vintage car?  You might be surprised at the amount of "adjustment" and control over component placement you have in your own vehicle.  As a case in point, I’m using my 1970 Nova as the basis for the photographs.  Clearly this car was most definitely built before ergonomics became a serious science in Detroit.  The car doesn't have power anything.  In fact, it has few creature comforts, but there is still a considerable amount of adjustment available.  We'll show you how the adjustments can be accomplished with ease.  Just as important, this custom fit scheme applies to any musclecar.  Check it out: Seat Adjustment:  Standard seats move forward and back.  We all know that.  But there is one other adjustment that can help to make you more comfortable in the car.  It's the seat back angle. Perhaps the seat angle is too far to the rear or the seat back is too upright.  Most late model cars have a lever adjuster for the back angle, but early models don't.  But even on vintage iron, the seat angle can be easily adjusted.  If you need more "rake" in the seat back, trim the rubber snubbers that hold the seat-back upright.  If you want less rake, shim the snubbers.  Once the seat back rake is adjusted, take the time to find the ideal fore-aft location of the seat.  And in the case of a car that sees regular duty on a drag strip, once you have found it, bolt the seat firmly to it's tracks.  The track officials will appreciate it and so will you, especially if the seat becomes loose in the adjustment tracks during a pass down the track. There’s something else to consider with seats.  The actual location of the seat on the tracks should be such that you have good leverage on the shifter (this is quite critical on stick shift vehicles).  In the "old days", before clutchless transmissions became the norm in professional drag racing, the shift-for-yourself four speed was king.  And as expected, some drivers were better at wheeling a four speed than others.  One of the secrets of the good drivers was the relationship between the seat and the shifter.  Although it isn't quite as comfortable for cruising, movement of the seat one or two notches closer to the steering wheel (and consequently closer to the shifter) can improve your chances of grabbing the gears quickly and cleanly.  This works especially well for conventional shifters.  You'll note that  race-inspired shifters such as the Hurst Super Shifter or various inline examples move the mechanism further back, higher and slightly to the left of a standard manual shifter.  This puts the shifter in a position of better leverage.  Moving the seat forward accomplishes almost the same thing (aside from potentially cramping your legs!). Throttle Pedal:  You might be surprised to find the feel of the throttle is important.  Yes, a capable throttle return spring (or pair of springs) is very good idea, but some cars are actually "over sprung".  In fact, some cars have so much return spring that it's almost impossible to crack the throttle wide open.  When working with return springs, make sure that the spring is not mounted in a binding (angled sideways) position.  Some carburetors have considerable internal springs.  Because of that, they require very little "assistance" to close the throttle blades.  In addition, you just might find that the factory return spring location is often best suited for most applications.  Try out different spring rate combinations until one feels "right".  It might make the difference between enjoying your car and cursing every time you slide behind the wheel.  Tachometer:  When it comes to tachometers, bigger is always better.  It's a simple fact of life that a large tachometer face is both easier to see and easier to read with some degree of accuracy.  Because of that, the best place for the tach is right in front of your nose.  Naturally, a tach mounted on top of the dash is the preferred location. Unfortunately, it isn't always possible to have the tach perched on top of the dash.  In the case of the writer’s Nova, I simply mounted the tach to the steering column, rotating it so that it was as high as possible without blocking the rest of the instrument cluster.  The big AutoMeter tach also has a super bright LED shift light and as a result, knowing when to grab second gear is pretty easy.  And of course, with most modern ignition buzz boxes, they’re a rev control to ensure engine speed doesn’t get out of hand.  Gauges:  Like tachometers, gauges also follow the bigger is better plan. Larger instruments are easier to read, and due to the larger area between markings, more accurate.  While huge gauges are a likely possibility (and now available), the mounting location should also be considered.  Because of this, gauges like the 2-5/8-inch mechanical Autometer units shown in the accompanying photographs probably represent the outer limits for many applications. With most cars, mounting gauges is an exercise in compromises.  The requirements of mechanical instruments preclude a number of mount locations.  Usually, the associated lines require large swooping bends instead of a tight radius.  Furthering the mount problem is available dash panel space.   It is possible to mount the gauges on the cowl, but in this location, they are vulnerable to theft, vandalism and of course, to Mother Nature.  Given this set of circumstances, the only probable location in an old car like mine is under the dash panel.  Unfortunately, this also makes the gauges tough to read.  Your eyes have to leave the road (or the track) in order to monitor them.  If the under-dash location proves to be the only option, then be sure that the gauges are big, uncomplicated and easy to read. When plotting out instrument locations, be sure to "test fit" the gauges before you starting drilling hose and routing sender capillary tubes or wiring.  Sit in the "normal" driving position you’ve established in your car and have someone move the gauges slightly.  You might be surprised to find that a bit of angle on the mount hardware can make under-dash gauges much easier to read.  Similarly, it might be easier to view the gauges is they are actually moved away from the shifter instead of being position closer to the driver.  With this set up, you might be able to view the gauges by moving your eyes instead of your entire head.  The result is less time taken away from watching the road or the track. Switches:  When hanging accessory switches inside your musclecar, give some thought to the switch quality, the switch location and type of switch.  In most cases, some sort of toggle switch will be used.  Instead of buying a garden-variety jobber switch, have a look inside the cockpit of a road racecar.  Aircraft safety switches are used almost exclusively.  These switches require two separate actions to flick them on, but in an emergency, you can just swat the big red switch cover from any angle and the switch will click off.  Aircraft switches are available in countless configurations and ratings, but best of all; they're top-notch components and only cost pennies more than the run-of-the-mill pieces. Before you decide on a mounting position for a switch or series of switches, seat yourself in the "office" and buckle up the seat belt and/or shoulder harness.  The switch should be accessible when you are belted in.  If not, it won't do any good in an emergency. Roll Control Lamp: Roll controls (line locks, stage locks, etc.) always have an "on" lamp included with the assembly.  The lamp is normally wired into the system by way of a wire that goes to the valve assembly.  Whenever the system is engaged, the light comes on.  Simple as that.  Unfortunately, some people don't bother to include the warning lamp during an installation.  This is a mistake, especially from a safety perspective.  With a roll control system, there is a remote possibility that in a panic situation, you might click the button on while braking hard.  When you release the brake pedal, you could still have you sweaty fingers wrapped around the roll control button.  The result?  Locked front brakes.  Rather than using the stock bulb mount, try mounting the "on" lamp in a gauge panel.  The lamp looks more integrated and since it's in a place that you normally "monitor", it won't go unnoticed in a forgettable panic scenario. By the way, I regularly swap the lamp for super bright LED job (aircraft supply houses are a good source). Shifters & Handles:  When the time comes to pick a handle for a stick shift application, don't make the selection based upon what looks best.  Instead, try one of each.  The majority of shift knobs aren't expensive.  You just might find that one style fits your "style" better than the other.  Of course, the location of the shifter can also have an effect upon the feel.  With something like an automatic, it's a good idea to spend a bunch of time mounting the shifter in a spot where you can reach it and where you’re comfortable. As you can see, there are quite a few considerations when it comes to ergonomics.  And we’ve only scratched the surface.  Another day at the office?  Might not be that bad if you make the car fit you. Click Here to Begin Slideshow

Another Day at The Office: Making Your Car Fit You

Click Here to Begin Slideshow

There's an important science used in Detroit (and other places) that employs dozens upon dozens of engineers, technicians and probably a few psychologists.  It's called "ergonomics".  Loosely defined, ergonomics involves the study of how man fits the machine.   Although the term might seem bizarre, the science of ergonomics is really quite interesting -- especially from a vintage car or race car perspective.

In the case of the vehicle manufacturer, companies have to design automobiles that fit a broad range of human physical properties:  Tall people, short people, skinny people, fat people, people with long legs, people with short legs, people with long arms, people with short arms.... and the list goes on.  In fact, the products of these ergonomic designers are often compromises between the various "forms" of individuals expected to buy the vehicle in question.  And because of the wide range of individual features, the car companies include a considerable amount of "adjustment" in controls such as the steering column and seat(s). 

So where does that leave us, particularly if we have a vintage car or race car that has a distinct lack of ergonomic delights?  In a pretty good position actually.  For the most part, you have control over the way many components fit in the car and how they integrate with your own physical attributes.  But just as important, there are ways to "adjust" both the aftermarket hardware and the OEM stuff so that it works better for your personal application.  Essentially, your car is most likely designed for one person:  You.  And if you're comfortable in the car, it just makes sense that you can enjoy the car more or make the car easier to drive when making a pass at the local dragstrip.

How tough is it to "re-engineer" the office of a vintage car?  You might be surprised at the amount of "adjustment" and control over component placement you have in your own vehicle.  As a case in point, I’m using my 1970 Nova as the basis for the photographs.  Clearly this car was most definitely built before ergonomics became a serious science in Detroit.  The car doesn't have power anything.  In fact, it has few creature comforts, but there is still a considerable amount of adjustment available.  We'll show you how the adjustments can be accomplished with ease.  Just as important, this custom fit scheme applies to any musclecar.  Check it out:

Seat Adjustment:  Standard seats move forward and back.  We all know that.  But there is one other adjustment that can help to make you more comfortable in the car.  It's the seat back angle. Perhaps the seat angle is too far to the rear or the seat back is too upright.  Most late model cars have a lever adjuster for the back angle, but early models don't.  But even on vintage iron, the seat angle can be easily adjusted.  If you need more "rake" in the seat back, trim the rubber snubbers that hold the seat-back upright.  If you want less rake, shim the snubbers.  Once the seat back rake is adjusted, take the time to find the ideal fore-aft location of the seat.  And in the case of a car that sees regular duty on a drag strip, once you have found it, bolt the seat firmly to it's tracks.  The track officials will appreciate it and so will you, especially if the seat becomes loose in the adjustment tracks during a pass down the track.

There’s something else to consider with seats.  The actual location of the seat on the tracks should be such that you have good leverage on the shifter (this is quite critical on stick shift vehicles).  In the "old days", before clutchless transmissions became the norm in professional drag racing, the shift-for-yourself four speed was king.  And as expected, some drivers were better at wheeling a four speed than others.  One of the secrets of the good drivers was the relationship between the seat and the shifter.  Although it isn't quite as comfortable for cruising, movement of the seat one or two notches closer to the steering wheel (and consequently closer to the shifter) can improve your chances of grabbing the gears quickly and cleanly.  This works especially well for conventional shifters.  You'll note that  race-inspired shifters such as the Hurst Super Shifter or various inline examples move the mechanism further back, higher and slightly to the left of a standard manual shifter.  This puts the shifter in a position of better leverage.  Moving the seat forward accomplishes almost the same thing (aside from potentially cramping your legs!).

Throttle Pedal:  You might be surprised to find the feel of the throttle is important.  Yes, a capable throttle return spring (or pair of springs) is very good idea, but some cars are actually "over sprung".  In fact, some cars have so much return spring that it's almost impossible to crack the throttle wide open.  When working with return springs, make sure that the spring is not mounted in a binding (angled sideways) position.  Some carburetors have considerable internal springs.  Because of that, they require very little "assistance" to close the throttle blades.  In addition, you just might find that the factory return spring location is often best suited for most applications.  Try out different spring rate combinations until one feels "right".  It might make the difference between enjoying your car and cursing every time you slide behind the wheel. 

Tachometer:  When it comes to tachometers, bigger is always better.  It's a simple fact of life that a large tachometer face is both easier to see and easier to read with some degree of accuracy.  Because of that, the best place for the tach is right in front of your nose.  Naturally, a tach mounted on top of the dash is the preferred location.

Unfortunately, it isn't always possible to have the tach perched on top of the dash.  In the case of the writer’s Nova, I simply mounted the tach to the steering column, rotating it so that it was as high as possible without blocking the rest of the instrument cluster.  The big AutoMeter tach also has a super bright LED shift light and as a result, knowing when to grab second gear is pretty easy.  And of course, with most modern ignition buzz boxes, they’re a rev control to ensure engine speed doesn’t get out of hand. 

Gauges:  Like tachometers, gauges also follow the bigger is better plan. Larger instruments are easier to read, and due to the larger area between markings, more accurate.  While huge gauges are a likely possibility (and now available), the mounting location should also be considered.  Because of this, gauges like the 2-5/8-inch mechanical Autometer units shown in the accompanying photographs probably represent the outer limits for many applications.

With most cars, mounting gauges is an exercise in compromises.  The requirements of mechanical instruments preclude a number of mount locations.  Usually, the associated lines require large swooping bends instead of a tight radius.  Furthering the mount problem is available dash panel space.   It is possible to mount the gauges on the cowl, but in this location, they are vulnerable to theft, vandalism and of course, to Mother Nature.  Given this set of circumstances, the only probable location in an old car like mine is under the dash panel.  Unfortunately, this also makes the gauges tough to read.  Your eyes have to leave the road (or the track) in order to monitor them.  If the under-dash location proves to be the only option, then be sure that the gauges are big, uncomplicated and easy to read.

When plotting out instrument locations, be sure to "test fit" the gauges before you starting drilling hose and routing sender capillary tubes or wiring.  Sit in the "normal" driving position you’ve established in your car and have someone move the gauges slightly.  You might be surprised to find that a bit of angle on the mount hardware can make under-dash gauges much easier to read.  Similarly, it might be easier to view the gauges is they are actually moved away from the shifter instead of being position closer to the driver.  With this set up, you might be able to view the gauges by moving your eyes instead of your entire head.  The result is less time taken away from watching the road or the track.

Switches:  When hanging accessory switches inside your musclecar, give some thought to the switch quality, the switch location and type of switch.  In most cases, some sort of toggle switch will be used.  Instead of buying a garden-variety jobber switch, have a look inside the cockpit of a road racecar.  Aircraft safety switches are used almost exclusively.  These switches require two separate actions to flick them on, but in an emergency, you can just swat the big red switch cover from any angle and the switch will click off.  Aircraft switches are available in countless configurations and ratings, but best of all; they're top-notch components and only cost pennies more than the run-of-the-mill pieces.

Before you decide on a mounting position for a switch or series of switches, seat yourself in the "office" and buckle up the seat belt and/or shoulder harness.  The switch should be accessible when you are belted in.  If not, it won't do any good in an emergency.

Roll Control Lamp: Roll controls (line locks, stage locks, etc.) always have an "on" lamp included with the assembly.  The lamp is normally wired into the system by way of a wire that goes to the valve assembly.  Whenever the system is engaged, the light comes on.  Simple as that.  Unfortunately, some people don't bother to include the warning lamp during an installation.  This is a mistake, especially from a safety perspective.  With a roll control system, there is a remote possibility that in a panic situation, you might click the button on while braking hard.  When you release the brake pedal, you could still have you sweaty fingers wrapped around the roll control button.  The result?  Locked front brakes.  Rather than using the stock bulb mount, try mounting the "on" lamp in a gauge panel.  The lamp looks more integrated and since it's in a place that you normally "monitor", it won't go unnoticed in a forgettable panic scenario. By the way, I regularly swap the lamp for super bright LED job (aircraft supply houses are a good source).

Shifters & Handles:  When the time comes to pick a handle for a stick shift application, don't make the selection based upon what looks best.  Instead, try one of each.  The majority of shift knobs aren't expensive.  You just might find that one style fits your "style" better than the other.  Of course, the location of the shifter can also have an effect upon the feel.  With something like an automatic, it's a good idea to spend a bunch of time mounting the shifter in a spot where you can reach it and where you’re comfortable.

As you can see, there are quite a few considerations when it comes to ergonomics.  And we’ve only scratched the surface. 

Another day at the office?  Might not be that bad if you make the car fit you.

Click Here to Begin Slideshow

Another Day at The Office: Making Your Car Fit You

You might be surprised to find that a "not-so-comfortable" forward seating position works better when grabbing the gears at your local drag strip. In many applications, moving the seat forward provides more leverage on the shifter and at the same time, creates a better angle between your hand and the handle. The result? Quicker and more accurate gear changes.

Another Day at The Office: Making Your Car Fit You

Another critical adjustment is the seat back angle. While late model cars often have a provision for changing the angle, that isn't the case with vintage automobiles or race cars. The solution is rather simple. These rubber seat bumpers can be trimmed to increase the angle and if you need a more upright seating position, simply add shims under the rubber snubber.

Another Day at The Office: Making Your Car Fit You

The "feel" of the gas pedal is also important when it comes to comfort. Some modified carburetor/intake manifold packages are over sprung and change the throttle pressure dramatically. In addition, be careful with carpet and accessory mats - in many cases, they bunch up under the pedal and don't allow wide-open throttle.

5Another Day at The Office: Making Your Car Fit You

The key in obtaining a satisfactory throttle feel is the return spring. You need a system that doesn't bind, isn't over-sprung and is easy on your ankle. At the same time, you need a return spring that is safe and absolutely pulls the throttle closed when your foot leaves the "go" pedal.

Another Day at The Office: Making Your Car Fit You

When it comes to tachometers, bigger is always better. Unfortunately, there are some situations where you just can't (or don't want to) stick a huge tach on top of the dash. Here, a steering column mount works great.

Another Day at The Office: Making Your Car Fit You

Supplementing the big AutoMeter tachometer in the application shown is an extremely bright shift light. You just can’t miss it when it comes on, even when backlit.

Another Day at The Office: Making Your Car Fit You

Like tachs, gauges should be big and readable. Unfortunately, there isn't much room in many instrument panels for eye level gauges. Because of this, you often have to take your lumps and mount them wherever it's convenient. Of course, a larger gauge makes it easier to read -- even if they are buried under the dash.

Another Day at The Office: Making Your Car Fit You

This fuel pump switch requires two separate actions to flick "on". But in an emergency, the big red handle can easily be swatted to click it off. Commonly found in aircraft, the road race set uses these switches on a regular basis. When mounting switches, be sure you can reach them while buckled in.

Another Day at The Office: Making Your Car Fit You

Obviously, there are any number of shifters out there. Couple that with just as many mounting locations and you can see, the location process can prove a bit complicated. In some drag cars, the shifter is pedestal mounted so that it’s easily accessed when strapped in.

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