Updating Your Street Rod With Today’s Modern Technology

Decades after electricity was first put into regular use by man-kind, modern technology has become a runaway train. Technological advancements are being expanded to the far reaches of our imaginations right before our eyes, every single day. The new cars sitting at a dealer lot near you are no different. They come with so many new goodies that make our daily lives incredibly easy and more efficient; Henry Ford would be flabbergasted.

Take for instance power steering and brakes; now a standard feature that we take advantage of on a regular basis. Seems to be just a few years ago we had to pay extra for them if they were even available as an option. Cutting edge companies are pioneering the way in both the aftermarket and O.E. worlds of the automotive industry with new tech and ways to adopt existing tech into our retro rigs. We’ve featured quite a few high-end street rods here that all have their fair share of modern tech weaved throughout the build. But you don’t have to have a half-million dollar car to take advantage of these modern day conveniences in your daily classic or custom.


Recently, we featured Gil Losi’s 1961 Chevy “Under Pressure” and it got us thinking about which modern tech we would most likely include on one of our own in-house project builds, like Project: Flat Out. Whether we want to admit it or not, digital has taken over and analog is dead. Although, of course “traditional” and period builds still get our hearts skipping a beat, most tend to want to enjoy their vehicle on long road trips and with the years of dependability and reliability that comes along with upgrading to some modern advancements. Follow along as we explore the top 10 electronic gizmos that will add a modern spin and higher level of tech to your classic or Street Rod build.

Get Your Cruise On // Cruise Control

The Dakota Digital CRS-3000 Cruise Control System works great for vehicles with an electronic speedometer or Dakota Digital’s Instruments. Also available is part number CRS-2000 for mechanically driven speedos.

Quite possibly one of the biggest contenders for the crown of driving convenience is Cruise Control. Many newer vehicles come off-the-line with Cruise Control built right in as a standard option. With Dakota Digital’s Cruise Control kits, you can get your classic bumped up in no time at all. Fully motorized by electronic servos, there is no need to deal with vacuum lines to power the system. Kits are available for mechanical cable-driven speedometers as well as electric transmissions/speedometers.

Nearly any vehicle can utilize one of these kits. Each kit comes with your choice of switch; dash mounted switch panel, multiple choices of turn signal levers, O.E. looking screw in stalk and a universal cut-off stalk that slides over an existing stalk then secured with screws. No matter what transmission you have tucked under the belly of your beast, Dakota Digital has the right kit to get an accurate speed signal to the remote mounted control box. The control box is relative in size to many O.E. cruise control units and can be mounted in many places.

How Fast Was I Going Officer? // GPS Speed Sensor 

With so many possible modifications that can be done to a street rod, dialing in a speedometer can be a pain. Even more so if you frequently swap tires out that are different sizes, like pulling your street tires off to burn some slicks down the track. The easy solution is to ditch the speedo gear entirely and drop a GPS Speedometer into your gauge cluster.

“The new GPS Speed Sensor from Dakota Digital is an incredible way to ensure your speedometer is accurate at all times”

The new GPS Speed Sensor from Dakota Digital is an incredibly easy way to ensure your speedometer is accurate at all times.

Dakota Digital builds a ton of direct fit gauge clusters that are up to the task for a more typical digital speed sender but the newest unit that compliments them is a GPS interface that updates speed information 10 times per second via satellite.

Inherent gaps in GPS usage such as bridges, mountain areas, and heavy tree cover are all circumvented with proprietary technology developed by Dakota Digital. Inside this powerful little box is the GPS device, built in accelerometers and an omni-directional antenna for a wide range of installation flexibility. Each unit provides two speed signal outputs and a cruise control output that works great with the Dakota Digital Cruise Control kits. No longer will you wonder if your speedo is really accurate, even if you still don’t want to tell the police officer how fast you were really driving, you’re secret’s safe with us.

Get In Gear // Gear Position Indicator 

Knowing what gear your automatic transmission is in happens to be a vital bit of information that your brain needs to process quickly and efficiently while cruising or racing. Dakota Digital’s Universal Gear Shift Sending Unit and Gear Position Indicators are a perfect example of refined technology being brought to classic rods and customs. A full range of selections are built in; Park, Neutral, Reverse and up to 4 forward gears. Also included is a modern style Neutral Safety Switch function to help prevent accidental start up while in anything but park or neutral.

Dakota Digital’s various Gear Position Indicator read-outs can complement nearly any interior and the GSS-2000 Sending Unit can connect to nearly any Automatic Transmission.

You’ll also find a back-up light circuit to power up the reverse lights. Several Gear Position Indicators are available to suit your needs, some of which have extras built-in like turn signal indicators, high beam indicators and an extra light that can be wired in as a check engine light, cruise control, security or anything else needed. The Gear Shift Sending Unit can also be plugged into any Dakota Digital Instrument System.

Hot Or Cold // Digital Climate Controller

Many new cars utilize a digital HVAC read-out to allow precise cabin temperature adjustment. After adding a Vintage Air Gen IV A/C system to your street rod, adding in a Digital Climate Controller by Dakota Digital will provide the same modern-day convenience. Dakota Digital specifically built two different units that complement their various Instrument Kits perfectly. Each piece is built to the same footprint as the Vintage Air control and with direct plug-in connections so installation is a breeze. An intuitive rotary encoder makes for simple operation and the entire Climate Controller makes for an extra level of detail for the finishing touch to your build.

Digital Climate Controllers can bring your Street Rod into the modern age with a very high-tech feel.

Gettin’ Shifty // Paddle And Bump Shifters 

Racing has inspired the automotive aftermarket since the very first racecar was built. Competition drives necessity and necessity is the mother of invention. Paddle shifters brought racing to the next level by allowing the driver to keep his or her hands firmly planted on the steering wheel for more consistent vehicle control. MasterShift brought this Formula 1 technology to the hot rod and street rod world with their own line of paddle shifters that feature a patented OneWire technology. This allows a digital signal to be sent via an existing horn wire to the shifter control unit. The current shift mechanism is eliminated and no internal modifications are required inside the transmission. 

MasterShift covers all the bases for utilizing race technology in just about every Street Rod application.

MasterShift covers all the bases for utilizing race technology in just about every Street Rod application.

Paddle shifters allow you to get manual performance out of your automatic while keeping a clean and sophisticated look. Also available is the MasterShift Bump Shifter for a more traditional appearing shifter. MasterShift Auto Shifters currently support many of the popular street rod transmissions with a standard rotating shift shaft such as Turbo 400s, Ford AODs, 700r4s and late model GM transmissions. Manual shift automatic transmissions can also utilize these shifters for the ultimate set up.

Each unit features Overdrive Control and Protection, Neutral Safety, OneWire installation and more. Available as an option, a Gear Display can be added to ensure the driver knows what gear they are in at all times. Depending on your application, a standard paddle shift may not work for you. Airbags and other late model equipment can get in the way. MasterShift also offers an RF (Wireless) Paddle assembly to control your transmission in the same way as a standard PaddleShift kit.

Wiring Kits

All of us know that our vintage cars aren’t getting any newer. Often times in the rebuild process, we find that the wires are better suited as a rats nest rather than powering the car. Ron Francis has the custom build solution with their EXPRESS Wiring Systems. Each kit is specifically built to the customer’s application and features every wire their car needs.

Wiring is included for the complete car; starter, alternator, full gauge sets, points or aftermarket distributors, neutral safety switches and every factory function available. High temperature and color coded wires are used with the circuit clearly printed on each one and comes with the proper connectors and terminals. Each kit comes with a unique serial number that provides very specific technical support to the original purchaser as well as any future owners down the road.

Wiring kits from Ron Francis are extremely thought out works of art.

Wiring kits from Ron Francis are extremely thought out from start to finish.

Another wiring option from Ron Francis is the newly engineered ACCESS 24/7 fuse system. 24 fuses and 7 relays laid into a unique fuse panel that can be pulled out from under the dash to check a fuse or service the panel. Adding additional wires or a new accessory is also super easy as four of the relays are initially unused by the standard kit and are there for extra options. A quick release magnet system holds the panel under the dash and provides up to 18 inches of free movement when pulled down for easy access. 34 years of wiring has culminated in precision-built harnesses available for any application.

iStart Keyless Ignition System 

Top-end luxury cars as well as many race cars have been utilizing a push button starter for some time now. Ron Francis took that technology further and turned it into a full security enabled system for nearly any vehicle. The touch sensitive starter system cycles through the standard key operated functions; Off, Accessory, On, Crank, and Run. A quick jump to Crank and Run can be made by pushing and holding the button.

The iStart Keyless Ignition System by Ron Francis allows the driver to carry a key fob that activates the start button and allows push-button start features and more.

Each system includes a security module with built-in proximity sensors to know when you are walking up to unlock the doors (provided you have power door locks already) and will also lock the doors when you walk away. The vehicle accessories, such as your radio, are kept live for 10 minutes after ignition is turned off or until the door is opened. When purchased with a Ron Francis wiring kit, portions of your iStart Keyless Ignition System will be pre-wired for additional ease of installation.

LED Lightning

Lighting is an important necessity on any vehicle. Standard incandescent bulbs meet the minimum requirements but with the faster speeds of cars today, usually the original lights aren’t quite up to the typical standards we use today. Light refraction and lens technology has come a long way since most of our classics rolled off the assembly line. To get the benefits of modern technology and lighting, turn to Billet Specialties. Billet Specialties offers a full line of L.E.D. taillights, turn signals and interior lights that match your vehicle’s custom styles perfectly. Each piece is built from 6061-T billet aluminum and is 3D machined with thousands of tool paths for an edgeless fluid look. These Made in the USA units feature one-piece cast acrylic lenses specifically designed to provide superior lighting.

L.E.D. lighting by Billet Specialties adds a fine detail to your Street Rod. In a very subtle way, these lights add that perfect detail while still providing improved lighting.

Touch Start Steering Column 

A steering column is a basic necessity for every car on the road today. In many restorations, the steering column requires replacement to tie in multiple new technologies or when worn out components need to be replaced or upgraded. Flaming River is an industry leader when it comes to Steering Columns as well as other steering and street rod products. With their 3rd generation Keyless Ignition Systems, your Street Rod can rocket into the modern age.

The Touch Start system is available for floor shift as well as column shift applications and is feature packed. Each kit comes with a new steering column, an Ignition Fob with docking station and 4 door lock actuators. Every standard key motion is duplicated at the push of a button built into the column. All wiring and relays are provided and the brain of the system can be mounted nearly anywhere in your vehicle. The kit is also available in a dash mount configuration if you’ve already updated your steering column. The Keyless Ignition and Keyless Entry system is the perfect way to ensure security, ease of use, and style stay matched throughout your build.

Flaming River’s Keyless Ignition and Keyless Entry System effectively eliminate the need for a key. Door actuators and a key fob handle the door locking and a multi-positional button handles the ignition.

Electric Power Steering 

Power Steering didn’t become a standard option in many vehicles until years after many popular street rods were designed. On a day-to-day basis, driving a manual steering car can get tiresome. If your ego won’t be bruised too much to admit that power steering is a simple luxury we’d all like to have, Flaming River has just the kit for you. Using a Motorsports Electric Power Steering kit avoids the pitfall of the pump and bracket situation on your motor as well as keeping all the horsepower your mill is making without the parasitic drag of another pulley. Multiple kits are available to suit your needs, a bare-bones style kit without the computer as well as an all-inclusive setup.  Driver fatigue can be a huge detriment while on the street or track, avoid the stress and get your Rod steering easy.

The Motorsports Electric Power Steering by Flaming River is an elegant way to add the luxury of Power Steering to nearly any vehicle without hindering the engine with another pulley to spin.

That’s A Wrap

With products like these, your street rod can benefit from modern day technologies and help make showing and cruisin’ a bit more enjoyable. Taking your rig out for a cruise no longer means sacrificing and leaving the luxuries at home. Your build doesn’t necessarily have to have most of the current tech and all the bells and whistles, but there’s plenty that will certainly make it more of a pleasure to drive further than just the local sunday cruise. And who knows, once you see the open road and enjoy clocking some miles, you might find a way to permanently leave that trailer behind.


Article Sources

About the author

Jake Headlee

Jake's passion started at a young age wrenching on cars with his Dad. Obtaining that glorious driver's license sparked his obsession with grease and horsepower, and the rest is history. Soon, he was a general mechanic and suspension specialist, and currently designs and modifies products for the off-road industry. Jake enjoys rock crawling, desert racing and trail running, and writing in his spare time.
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