Can I make a classic car (slightly) safer?
April 3, 2008 10:49 AM   Subscribe

Can one install a shoulder harness on a '65 hardtop Futura with minimal fuss?

A part of my California dream has been to own a classic American car, something that leans towards "fun and irresponsible" a little more than the austere compact cars I've always owned. I've been car-free since 2002, so I've decided that if I don't have a "dream car" at this point in my life, I probably never will. I'm finally in a position to buy, and I've got what I want pretty well narrowed down. Now it's just a matter of finding the right '65 Falcon Futura (hey, to each his own!).

Browsing the craigslist ads yesterday, something occurred to me that hadn't before: old cars don't come with shoulder belts. This puts a damper on my enthusiasm. Does anyone have any tips or experience with adding shoulder belts to cars that weren't meant to have them?
posted by missmobtown to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total)
I would check in with your local SCCA (or Sports Car Club of America) chapter and find out where members with vintage race cars go to have their required modern safety equipment installed - You don't need a 5-point harness or a fire supression system, obviously, but I'm guessing the same shops could advise on shoulder belts, etc. Keep in mind, though, given potential liability issues, this work may be more extensive/expensive than you think. Good luck!
posted by jalexei at 10:57 AM on April 3, 2008

There's aftermarket makers of retrofit belts. Here's one, with a link to their installation guide. Here's another. Google "retrofit seat belts".

It can be difficult to find a shop which is willing to install them for you, most don't want to accept liability if the belt should fail to completely protect you during an accident.

Also, your '65 might not come with rear seat belts at all. My '64 Ford didn't have any.
posted by jamaro at 11:04 AM on April 3, 2008

Best answer: One of the problems is the Futura is a 2DRHT, the roof structure isn't a good tie point for the stresses of a seat belt. The retrofit kits that attach below the window make it a pain in the ass (literally sometimes) to enter the rear seating area and you run the risk of compressing the crap out of your spine in an accident if the mount point is much below the top of your shoulder

If you are ok will non stock seats a very easy and straight forward route is to replacement with a seat with an integrated shoulder belt. For example I'm planning on swapping the seats in my 75 dually with those out of a Sebring convertible.
posted by Mitheral at 11:14 AM on April 3, 2008

Response by poster: These are all great suggestions and resources, thanks! Mitheral, can you give me a ballpark on how much swapping in those newer seats cost you?
posted by missmobtown at 12:15 PM on April 3, 2008

Along the lines of Mitheral's post, I would suggest searching some of the Futura or old Ford forums. I have a 68 Mustang and have pondered this as well, but I am lucky in that 68 was the first year shoulder belts where available, so there is a mounting point under the headliner.

Not to make you worry more, but there are several other safety issues with older cars that you should be aware of. They are most likely low-back seats, so there is nothing to protect your head/neck from whipping to and fro. Also the steering column is rigid, which becomes a large chest projectile in the event of a bad accident. There are no crumple zones, air bags either.

My point with this isn't to scare you away, becuase we drive these old cars becuase they are fun and give you a sense (for me anyway) of being young again. The lack of safety features is a bummer, but you can do things to mitigate the danger. Two of the easiest are the seat upgrade and the addition of disc brakes.

I've been in several small accidents and one big one (totaled!) and never had any injuries. YMMV!
posted by Big_B at 1:26 PM on April 3, 2008

missmobtown writes "can you give me a ballpark on how much swapping in those newer seats cost you?"

The seats cost me $50 each plus around $50 for the wiring. I haven't got them in yet but I can weld so getting appropriate seat rails will run less $50 in my case. Call it $200 total. However my price on the seats is on the low side, you'll probably end up paying more. Their are lots of GM products with this kind of seat if you don't mind something fully manual they'll be not bad on price.
posted by Mitheral at 1:40 PM on April 3, 2008

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