Should I install a paper air filter?

July 1, 2017 | By Staff


I have a 1958 Meteor (Canadian Ford) that was given to me by my grandfather. It has its original air filter, but a friend tells me I should get a more modern paper filter or a cold air filter for better performance, fuel economy and ease of maintenance. I know that some racecars use no air cleaner at all, but I am guessing that would be a mistake for the street. Can you recommend a modern paper filter and cold air duct that would be an improvement?


The answer is no. It is true that after-market paper filters are easier to maintain because you can just pitch the old one when it gets dirty, and install a new one, but it will not offer you noticeably better performance, it will be a little more noisy, and it won’t clean the air going into your engine any better than the one that came on the car.

It is true that oil bath air filters have to be serviced fairly frequently by dumping the old oil out of them and then cleaning them before putting in new oil up to the recommended line in the pan of the filter, but they do an excellent job of cleaning the air and they also eliminate carburetor noise, which is something an after-market paper filter won’t do.

As for a cold air ducting, I wouldn’t think you would want to do that to a daily driver in Canada because while it might give you a little more power on warm days, it might well be a curse in the winter. Moisture could condense on the filtering element and freeze up, just as it used to do on old aircraft engines at altitude.

You should also understand that if your stock original air filter is in good shape it would be worth a couple hundred dollars to restorers who want to keep their cars original, so don’t just pitch it. The auto manufacturers didn’t go to replaceable paper filters because they were better. They did it because they were cheaper and easier to service. Have you ever noticed how many big eighteenwheelers on the highways still have huge oil bath air filters hanging off of them? It is because they do such a good job, and they don’t restrict airflow unnecessarily.

A paper filter might be as efficient as an oil bath filter when it is new and fresh, but it will clog and become a lot less efficient with time. The only air filter I would even consider as an alternative if you don’t care about originality is a K&N type that still would need to be cleaned and oiled periodically, but would give you virtually the same performance as running without a filter at all. It won’t help with noise though.

If you do go to a K&N you may need to readjust the carburetor slightly, because with no air restriction it will run slightly leaner. But if your engine is stock, I wouldn’t waste my money if I were you. The increase in performance you might achieve would be virtually unnoticeable, and the same is true for exhaust systems with highperformance mufflers. Your 1958 Meteor was a well-engineered car to begin with, and to improve on it significantly will take a fair amount of knowledge, effort and money.

I would say just keep that car up and enjoy it. You’ll come out way ahead in the end.