Kids These Days
My primary concern, other than having a running car, was to make it faster. I never gave a second thought to brakes, steering or suspension. Kids these days seem to just want to bolt or weld on a noisy muffler.
In hindsight I had it all backwards. Now if I could impart any knowledge to the young generation it would be get the brakes, steering and suspension up to snuff before you worry about going faster, sounding great or looking cool.
I think about some of the wrecks I used to drive. My uncle told me one was an accident looking for a place to happen and that I should jack up the radiator cap and drive a new car under it. He was right.
Brakes? Unless there was a horrendous screeching, scraping, metal-on-metal sound they were okay. If they pulled to one side or the other you just compensated for it. Half the time if they needed to be adjusted or had air in the system you just learned to "pump them up" as you braked.
The steering was something that either worked or it didn't. Most of the cars I had had so much play in the steering that I probably looked like one of those guys in the movies sawing away on the steering wheel while going straight. I did learn tricks to get a car through the state inspection. I remember one guy with an older car with king pins; he took out the zerk fittings and tightened a screw to take the play out. It worked to get it through inspection.
Remember coil spring expanders, those metal things you "screwed" into a coil spring to keep the coils from collapsing? That's what we used to level out the car in the front. Cheap coil overs that went over the rear shocks worked in the rear.
If I was doing it all over again the engine would be about the last thing I tackled (body work would be the absolute last). I'd go through the entire brake system, replacing or rebuilding wheel cylinders and calipers, replacing all flexible lines, replacing the master cylinder, flushing the system and all new shoes and pads.
The suspension and steering would get a complete inspection. All worn parts replaced. If the steering gear was adjustable it would be done.
Then I'd get some new tires. I used to go through the scrap pile wherever I worked and take the best pair of scrap tires. You wouldn't believe some of the tires I "fixed" and drove on. I was lucky that I only had one blowout when I was a kid. Now I'd go for the best tires I could afford.
If you've got a young 'un at home and he/she wants a car make sure they take care of the basics before they put in that stereo or big chrome muffler. Hook them up with an auto shop class so they can learn how to do some repairs without hurting themselves and get that car safe before anything else is done to it. Not everyone is as lucky as I was.