The Best Older Muscle Car Engines Ever!

The best engine ever would be free, make gobs of horsepower and torque on demand, be the easiest thing in the world to work on, sound amazing, look good (so good that you’d HAVE to take the hood off), and have a legacy that makes people pray to it for guidance (sorry God!).  Those are some pretty strict criteria, but with those in mind, let’s go into depth of the engines that really are just THAT good.  Since everybody has their own ideas of which engine goes where on the list, I’m simply going to do them as bullet points and let you all squabble in the comment section as to what engine goes where.  Have fun!

This is going to be the first in a series of blog posts for different types of cars:  Economy cars, trucks, vans, etc.  This post is dedicated to the cars that just begged us to floor it – muscle cars!  In all of these posts, I will have a YouTube video of these engines revving for pure aural trauma.

  • 1961-1980 BOP General Motors V-8 (215 c.i., 300 c.i., 340 c.i., 350 c.i.):  BOP stands for Buick-Oldsmobile-Pontiac.  GM originally invented this small-block all-aluminum V8 for their “advanced” line of “compact” vehicles for 1961- the Buick Special/Skylark, the Oldsmobile F-85/Cutlass, and the Pontiac Tempest.  That path went off of a cliff in 1963, but the tiny 215 c.i. engine soldiered on to become the cast-iron 300, 340, and 350 c.i. V-8 engines that powered the full-size Buick’s until 1980.  England’s Rover bought the rights to manufacture the engine in 1966, and mass-produced it as an aluminum engine until 2005.  Today, the lightweight 215 c.i. V8 is a popular engine swap for small British sports cars, flatfender Jeeps, Chevrolet Vegas, and other small, lightweight vehicles.  It’s light, reliable, fuel-efficient, and can take one hell of a beating.  Oh, and Sir Jack Brabham won the 1966 Formula 1 world title with a Repco-modified BOP V-8; the only American V-8 to ever accomplish that title!  It’s got some performance potential, it’s somewhat historically significant, it looks halfway decent, it’s something that can be built on something of a budget, it’s relatively easy to work on, and it’s pretty cool.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VxYcT1lZzc
  • 1968-1984 Cadillac 3rd-Generation V-8 (368 c.i., 425 c.i., 472 c.i., 500 c.i.):  When Cadillac’s redesigned V-8 arrived on the market in 1968, it was America’s largest engine displacement at 472 c.i., yet was somehow overlooked by hot rodders.  Why?  Ford, other GM manufacturers, and Chrysler all offered smaller, less expensive V-8’s with more performance potential.  The big-block Cadillac V8 was largely overlooked until the mid-late 1980’s, when budget-minded hot rodders saw the big-inch V-8’s sitting in junkyards.  As the age of the big Cadillac’s declined through the early 1980’s, so did the displacement.  It shrunk from a whopping 500 cubic inches to a still-gigantic 368 cubic inches.  Some cool facts:  Cadillac apparently wasn’t content with a big ol’ V-8, so they were developing a V-16 for what would become the Eldorado.  Alas, cooler heads at Cadillac management prevailed.  The 500 c.i. V8 remains to this day the largest-displacement, production-line, passenger-car V-8 ever.  What about the Chevy/GMC 502 c.i. V-8 of the early 2000’s?  That was trucks only.  It’s got some performance potential, it’s got some historic significance, it looks decent enough, it’s somewhat affordable, it’s easy enough to work on, and all you need to know is that Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top built CadZZilla in 1989 with a Cadillac 500 c.i. V-8!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZvRrO_KF7o
  • 1949-1964 Oldsmobile Rocket V-8 (303 c.i., 324 c.i., 371 c.i., 394 c.i.):  Introduced alongside the Cadillac “nailhead” V-8 in 1949, Oldsmobile’s “Rocket” high-compression V-8 took advantage of the high-octane fuel refining technology developed during WWII.  In 1957, the legendary 370-371 (it depends on who you ask – a hot rodder or a mathematician) cubic inch J-2 V-8 debuted with 312 horsepower, three vacuum-operated, two-barrel carburetors, and quickly became a legend in NASCAR and the gasser wars.  We often think of this engine as a show-car engine, but it was definitely a show-stopper engine when an old 1941 Willys gasser idled up next to you.  It’s got some performance potential, it’s fairly historically significant, it looks nice, it’s something you can build on a large enough budget, it’s easy enough to work on, and beware of it if you see a gasser!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adRWaLKkpL8
  • 1953-1966 Buick “Nailhead” V-8 (264 c.i., 322 c.i., 364 c.i., 401 c.i., 425 c.i.):  “Nailhead” was never an official factory designation for Buick’s first in-house V8, but it certainly stuck like the first nail in the coffin.  It’s got one of the most recognizable engine shapes ever, thanks to it’s completely vertical valve covers, and quickly became one of the most popular engine swap choices ever.  It offers plenty of cubed inches in a somewhat light, narrow package.  Power was somewhat limited due to the flimsy valves that had a tendency to break apart, and a rather unusual valvetrain placement, but that certainly didn’t stop drag racing legend TV Tommy Ivo and road racing legend Max Balchowsky from being the winners multiple times.  Because of the valve problems, you can’t get that much power from the engine, it’s got a lot of historical significance, it looks really cool, it’s pretty affordable to work on with a normal budget, and it won’t cause wrench throwing and cussing – at least not THAT much…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQPKBnS0rOE
  • 1965-1990 Oldsmobile V-8 (260 c.i., 307 c.i., 330 c.i., 350 c.i., 400 c.i., 403 c.i., 425 c.i., 455 c.i.):  One of the most legendary engines from the muscle car era was the 455 “Rocket.”  The smog-happy 307 cubic inch V8 was introduced in 1973, and stayed in production until 1990.  Chances are, if you had an Oldsmobile sedan or station wagon, or even a Buick, it had a 307.  When this whole series of engines was introduced in 1965, it used the latest thin-wall casting techniques, as well as the somewhat revolutionary saddle-style rocker arms.  These V-8’s were used by every GM division except for Chevrolet during GM’s corporate V-8 period, during which time the Pontiac Trans Am used an Olds 403 cubic inch V-8.  Wanna know a cool song fact?  Kathy Mattea wrote a song called “455 Rocket,” which sung the praises of a 455-equipped Oldsmobile.  It’s got a great deal of performance potential, it’s got some historical significance, it looks like a big-block V8, you can build a good one on a budget, it will cause some wrench throwing and cussing, but so does every engine.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQ29D-Zlpok
  • 1964-2003 Chrysler LA Series V-8 (273 c.i., 318 c.i., 340 c.i., 360 c.i.):  Very loosely based on the LA Series (LA stands for Light A in Mopar lore), the LA V-8 displaced a somewhat skimpy 273 cubic inches when it debuted in the Dodge Dart in 1964.  However, stroked versions of this V-8 followed.  This engine was used in everything from trucks, vans, cars, and motorhomes.  It can be found in many Chrysler, Dodge, or Plymouth products from 1964-2003.   It’s one of the longest-lived American V-8’s ever, having lived a couple of years into the 21st century as the slightly revised 5.2 and 5.9-liter Magnum V-8’s.   The most famous cars to utilize the LA V-8’s?  Undoubtedly the Dodge Challenger T/A and the Plymouth Barracuda AAR.  They both used a 340 cubic inch LA V8 with three two-barrel carburetors (hence the Six Pack moniker).  It became wildly popular among street and strip enthusiasts, thanks to the largest cylinder bore of the engine group.  It’s got lots of performance potential, some historical significance, looks OK, it’s relatively affordable to build, any gearhead can work on it, and it offers muscle-car power in a small, convenient package.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfmClbUX4fM
  • 1967-1976 Buick Big-Block V-8 (400 c.i., 430 c.i., 455 c.i.):  Buick’s big-block V8 shares essentially a basic engine block shape with a Chevy big-block V-8, but that’s where the similarities to any Chevy big-block V-8 end.  It first appeared in 1967 as the successor to the “nailhead” V-8 that had enjoyed hot-rodding success for many years.  Designed to give lots of lugging torque on demand, not high revs, this engine showed little to no performance potential until the 455 c.i. Stage I and II muscle car versions arrived in the Skylark packages in 1970, surprising just about everybody.  This engine has been shown to keep up with the legendary 426 HEMI in match races that began in the 1980’s and continue today.  It makes 510 lb-ft of torque at about 3500 RPM, which means that you really don’t need to floor it to get power.  It’s got a lot of performance potential, some historic significance, it looks like another big engine, you can build one on a budget today, and yeah, you’ll probably wreck a few tools as you scream at it.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NgH1BwMPqZI
  • 1968-1997 Ford 385 Series V-8 (370 c.i., 429 c.i., 460 c.i.):  This big-block Ford engine was designed for three things in mind:  1) Beat the 426 HEMI in NASCAR and drag racing 2) Be easy to stroke out 3) Be easy to work on.  This short-skirt, thin-wall engine design V-8 moved in to replace the legendary FE and MEL series V-8’s of the early-mid 1960’s.  Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln land yachts used the gigantic 460 c.i. V-8 throughout the 1970’s, before being replaced with the smaller, more fuel-efficient 370 cubic inch V-8.  The 460 Ford V-8 was used in trucks and vans through 1997, so finding engine cores is relatively easy.  These under appreciated engines can easily be stroked out to 514 cubic inches.  The biggest 385 series V-8 one can get is 828 cubic inches, which is popular in Top Fuel drag racing.  They can make cheap, easy power.  The best of this engine series?  Unarguably the Boss 429, which powered the Ford Mustang Boss 429, and was a hemi-headed design based on the 385 series engine architecture was Ford’s big-block warrior during the NASCAR wars of the 1970’s.  It’s got so much performance potential I don’t know where to start, it’s got some historical significance, it looks like yeah, another big engine, it’s somewhat affordable to work on, and you’ll probably bust a few knuckles working on it.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9ZGx4YtYf0
  • 1997-Present Chevrolet LS Series V-8 (4.8L, 5.3L, 5.7L, 6.0L, 6.2L, 7.0L):  In much the same way that the original Chevrolet small-block V-8 turned the performance industry on it’s head in 1955, the LS Series V-8’s that replaced the old small-block revolutionized the affordable performance industry.  In 1997, one could easily believe that the American V-8 had reached it’s maximum performance potential.  Had it?  Not even close.  The LS Series engines redefined the words state-of-the-art for pushrod V-8 engines.  It’s been shown time and time again that an LS V-8 is the go-to choice for most hot rodders.  It’s got a lot of performance potential right out of the crate, it’s got some historical significance, it looks like a new V-8, it’s affordable enough to work on, and you don’t need to do much to it to get performance right out of the wood crate it comes in.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpQlD-FLZMU
  • 1970-1982 Ford 335 Series V-8 (302 c.i., 351 c.i., 400 c.i.):  While this engine series shares the same bore and head-bolt patterns with the much-loved Windsor V-8 that it replaced, but that’s where any similarities between the two engines end.  The key difference is that the Cleveland V-8, as the engine is known as, has specially canted valve covers.  While production of the most coveted Cleveland V-8 ended in 1974, two much less popular variants (the 351M and the 400 c.i.) stayed in production until 1982.  Australia built a 302 c.i. version of this V-8 that is rarely seen here.  It’s got a lot of performance potential, some historic significance, it looks good enough, it’s relatively affordable to work on, and it’s going to cause wrench throwing and cussing.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KX_lVHoBnh8
  • 1932-1953 Ford Flathead V-8 (221 c.i., 239 c.i., 255 c.i.):  This is the one that started it all.  John Lennon once said, “If you wanted to give rock and roll a name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry.'”  If you wanted to give hot rodding a name, it might be Ford flathead V-8.  Henry Ford’s L-head V-8 was the engine that started the 1940’s hot rodding frenzy.  Flathead experts like to differentiate the engines by the 21-head stud 1932-1937 flathead V-8’s from the 1938-1953 24-head stud flathead V-8’s.  These engines use two water pumps, which were located in the cylinder heads until 1936, when they were moved into the V of the engine block.  It became obsolete in the early 1950’s with the advent of overhead-valve engines from GM and the early hemi engines from Mopar, but it is still the go-to choice for many classic Ford enthusiasts.  It’s got some performance potential, it’s one of the most historically significant engines around, it looks really cool, anybody can build one on a budget, and it’s going to bust a few knuckles.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-IevaW2lLY
  • 1958-1976 Ford FE Series V-8 (332 c.i., 352 c.i., 360 c.i., 361 c.i., 390 c.i., 406 c.i., 427 c.i., 428 c.i.):  Ford’s legendary FE Series V-8 made it’s debut in 1958 as the 332 c.i. V-8 found in the 1958 Ford Fairlane.  Some oddball FE engines included the 361 c.i. V-8 found in the Edsel and the 410 c.i. V-8 found in fullsize Mercury’s from 1966-1967.  Undeniably king of the hill was the 427 cubic inch single overhead cam engine introduced for NASCAR in 1964, and known as the S.O.H.C. (sock) or Cammer.  However, the most famous FE engine was the 427 Carroll Shelby stuffed into the Shelby Cobra in 1964-1965.  One version of the Cammer had a 6-foot-long timing chain and hemispherical combustion chambers, and was outlawed from NASCAR, but became a big winner in drag racing in the late 1960’s.  It’s got gobs of performance potential, almost as much historical significance, it looks pretty darn cool, it’s going to need a big budget to build up, and it’s somewhat of a knuckle-buster.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-Q8PBknCDc
  • 1955-1981 Pontiac V-8 (265 c.i., 287 c.i., 301 c.i., 303 c.i., 316 c.i., 326 c.i., 347 c.i., 350 c.i., 370 c.i., 389 c.i., 400 c.i., 421 c.i., 428 c.i., 455 c.i.):  This gigantic series of V-8’s from Pontiac might just be the most versatile V-8 to ever come from GM.  It was produced in even more displacements than the small-block Chevy V-8!  Other manufacturers have based their engines off of multiple “small-block” and “big-block” platforms, but all of these Pontiac V-8’s have the same 4.62-inch cylinder bore, meaning that finding speed parts for any one of these engines is not going to be a massive headache (hem, hem 1996 GMC Yukon).  The cars that carried these engines are the ones that made them famous – the Super Duty factory drag cars of the early 1960’s, the Pontiac GTO, and the Bandit-era Pontiac Trans Am.  Talk about performance potential to the nines!  These engines can be built any way you like them, they are pretty historically significant, they look nice, you can build one on a decent budget, and it’s somewhat of a wrench-thrower.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e26LT5DkGeQ
  • 1951-1958 Chrysler/Dodge/DeSoto Hemi V-8 (331 c.i., 354 c.i., 392 c.i.):  The 331 cubic-inch Hemi-headed V-8 Chrysler introduced in 1951 was their first overhead-valve V-8 engine.  This was the original Mopar Hemi.  The Hemi name came from the hemispherical shape of the combustion chambers.  The trade name was FirePower.  I’m going to avoid any Buzz Lightyear jokes.  After a few years, drag racers found out that these engines worked really well huffing nitrous oxide and burning nitromethane.  A new kind of drag racing sprang into being.  It’s hard to imagine Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars without a Chrysler Hemi V-8.  These engines have remarkable performance potential, you’ll be hard-pressed to find other engines that radically changed drag racing so much, it looks really, really cool, you can build one on a small enough budget, and they are easy enough to work on.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGXMh_8p3n8
  • 1958-1965 Chevrolet W Series V-8 (348 c.i., 409 c.i., 427 c.i.):  These Chevy V-8’s are more of a historical footnote than anything else, but they have three good things going for them:  1) Their cool valve covers that form a shape somewhat resembling a W 2) The song that immortalized this engine, 409, by the Beach Boys.  Once you listen to it, you’ll never get it out of your head.  For those of you who have watched the Nicholas Cage movie, Bringing Out the Dead, remember that scene when he had the paradoxical reaction to the “Red Death” drug?  That’s gonna be you…3) The W Chevy motor could really make a car haul, especially with the 409/409 horsepower mill.  It had a four-speed manual, dual four-barrel carburetors (dual quads), a Posi-traction rear end, and a good, big engine.  The 1963 Chevrolet Z-11 Impala with the 427 cubic inch V-8 that pumped out a massively underrated 430 horsepower as a drag-strip special didn’t hurt either.  These engines were technological dead ends for Chevy, but they are forever immortalized by the Beach Boys.  Nowadays, there is a lot of power you can squeeze out of them, they are almost too historically significant (thank you Beach Boys!), they look really cool, you can build one on a budget in your garage, and they are definitely not the easiest engines to work on.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iLkMMkK_a1s
  • 1958-1977 Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouth B/RB V-8 (350 c.i., 383 c.i., 400 c.i., 413 c.i., 426 c.i., 440 c.i.):  Chrysler’s first entry in the big-block muscle car wars was a 350 cubic inch V-8 in 1958.  Of course, the best-known Chrysler big-blocks are the 383 c.i. and 440 c.i. V-8’s, as well as the 426 c.i. Max Wedge HEMI engines that ruled NASCAR and the drag strips well into the 1970’s.  The Max Wedge HEMI is so easy to squeeze power out of that it’s not uncommon to see them make 900 horsepower with mostly stock internals.  Check them out on YouTube.  These days, the smog-era 400 c.i. V-8 is the most prized engine, thanks to it having the largest cylinder bore of the group (4.340 inches) and their low deck height.  This means that these engines can be easily stroked out to 500 c.i. and above.  The engine one step below the 426 HEMI “Elephant Motor” is the 440 Six-Pack V-8, which has three two-barrel Holley carburetors, an Edelbrock intake manifold, and other speed goodies from the factory.  These engines have some of the biggest performance potential out there, they have almost as much historical significance as the 409 Chevy, they look really cool, they can be built on a budget, and wrench throwing will ensue.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGLkn66h66U
  • 1962-2001 Ford 90-Degree V-8 (221 c.i., 255 c.i., 260 c.i., 289 c.i., 302/5.0L c.i., 351 c.i.):  Better known to hot rodders and Ford enthusiasts as the Windsor V-8, the 90-degree V-8 is the blue oval’s most popular small-block engine offering.  The K-Code High Performance 289 c.i. engine (1963-1967) was the first of these engines to really make a dent in the high-performance world.  The first Shelby Cobra’s first used Ford 260 c.i. V-8’s and then 289 c.i. V-8’s.  Today, these engines are nearly as common as a small-block Chevy V-8 on the street-rod scene.  However, it was the advent of the fuel-injected 302 c.i. Mustang that really got the attention of enthusiasts and hot rodders worldwide in 1986.  Those Fox-Body Mustang’s created one of the biggest marketplaces for performance parts, and Fox-Body Mustangs always seem to make up at least a third of the field at any given drag strip weekend or autocross event.  There are so many performance parts for these engines that you could spend months picking out what parts you want!  So, they have lots of performance potential, they are almost as historically significant, they look like another small-block engine, you can build one up for some money, and they are pretty easy to work on.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfcuyUpI0W8
  • 1964-1971 Dodge/Plymouth 426 HEMI (426 c.i.):  Among enthusiasts, it’s known as the “Elephant Motor.”  Dodge and Plymouth engineers were searching for a way to produce more horsepower during the NASCAR and drag racing wars of the 1960’s, Dodge and Plymouth’s engineers decided to update the original Hemi head design from earlier in 1964 and update it to the short-block Max Wedge V-8 engine.  This is how the 426 HEMI was born.  It was the most powerful engine of the muscle car era, dominating the tracks and the streets until 1971, when rising gas and insurance prices shot the elephant dead.  I definitely think it’s the best looking engine of the muscle car era – nothing looks quite like it.  It’s defining moment was it’s 1-2-3 finish at the 1964 Daytona 500, with Richard starting 2nd and coming in 1st.  It’s got probably as much, if not more performance potential as a big-block Chevy V-8, it’s probably the most significant engine of the muscle car era, it looks drop-dead-gorgeous, it’s not at all affordable to build (not only due to it’s rarity, but due to the fact that too much power makes it go boom), and it’s nowhere nearly as easy to work on as a Chevy V-8.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b9JiN6qlcnw
  • 1965-2009 Chevrolet Big-Block V-8 (366 c.i., 396 c.i., 402 c.i., 427 c.i., 430 c.i., 454 c.i., 496 c.i., 502 c.i.):  While people often call Chevy’s W-Series motors talked about earlier here the first big-block Chevy V-8’s, but the big-block Chevy (BBC) as we know it first appeared as a 396 c.i. V-8 in the 1965 Chevrolet Chevelle.  It appeared in various Chevelles and Corvettes that same year, but my personal favorite is the 1967 Chevrolet Chevelle SS396.  It’s got an understated elegance to it, and it’s really muscular at the same time.  Yes, I’m still a fan of the 1970 El Camino SS454, LS6.  Chevy’s official name for the engine was the Mark IV V-8, but it quickly picked up nicknames like Porcupine, Rat, semi-hemi, or big-block.  I like Rat.  Ever since it’s inception, it’s been a fan favorite of the go-big-or-go-home crowd.  If you’re going to build a super-powerful 454, look for one that was based off of a truck 454 – it’s made out of forged steel, so it’s better than bulletproof.  It’s got nearly as much performance potential as the 426 HEMI, it’s almost as historically significant, it looks almost as cool (talk about a show engine – for looks, quality, and affordable performance), you can build one for a few grand, and it’s extremely easy to work on.  If you want to build one on a budget, go to a junkyard and look for a heavy-duty Chevy truck or van.  It might have a 454 in it, and you can take it home, rip the smog stuff off of it, and buy quality parts for it, and make whatever car you have waiting for it a total sleeper.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIJstg1Jwx4
  • 1955-2003 Chevrolet Small-Block V-8 (262 c.i., 265 c.i., 267 c.i., 283 c.i., 302 c.i., 305 c.i., 327 c.i., 350 c.i., 400 c.i.):  Affectionately known as the “Mouse” motor (I prefer to call it the rat baby!) among enthusiasts, the Chevrolet small-block V-8 is probably the most versatile engine in hot-rodding.  It’s been said by many that it’s been produced in greater numbers than any other V-8 in history, and it’s been raced everywhere from the high banks of Talladega to the Brooklands corner of Le Mans to the rectangular shape of Indy.  While it’s just a legendary V-8 today, the small-block Chevy was ground-breaking when it was introduced in 1955 in the Corvette, Bel Air, and the Cameo/Apache pickups in Chevrolet’s lineup.  Why?  It was cast upside-down, and it’s rocker arms were made out of sheetmetal.  The last production version of this engine rolled off of the production line in a Chevrolet cargo van in 2003.  That same engine will undoubtedly power a street rod sometime in the 22nd century.  The fastest V-8 in the world is a heavily-modified Chevrolet small-block!  The king of the hill for production small-blocks is certainly the 327 c.i./375 horsepower L-84 with Rochester mechanical fuel injection offered in the 1964-1965 Chevrolet Corvette.  However, many say that the 1970 LT1 with 350 c.i., 11.0:1 compression, 370 horsepower in the Corvette, as the best.  I think both are great.  My personal favorite Chevy with a small-block V-8 is the 1967-1969 Camaro Z/28 with the 302 c.i. V-8.  It blends power with style, light weight with muscle car 1/4 mile numbers, and it’s still a formidable car on the race track in stock form.  It’s got tons of performance potential, almost as much historical significance as the 426 HEMI, it can look pretty good, it’s incredibly affordable to build today, thanks to masses of cars/trucks/vans all over the place, and it’s something that anybody can work on.  I have a 1996 GMC Yukon with a 350 c.i. V-8 that’s blown.  How much does an engine cost, one might wonder?  About $1,500.  If I had a Dodge Polara with a 426 HEMI, it would be about $16,000.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZDAHMPmIAk

If your favorite muscle car engine from this era wasn’t mentioned here, tell me what it is.  I’d love to know, and I would be happy to do a Part 2, if needed!  The next in this series will be diesel engines!  They are built to take more than a huge beating, so you can tune one to within an inch of it’s life without worry.  Remember that the Forum is coming up on Friday!  Come up with some questions!

 

Who Was Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins?

For those of us who grew up watching drag races in the 1960’s-early 1980’s, the name Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins should sound more than familiar to you.  It would be like asking a politics addict who was the president at the time of the Watergate scandal.  Grumpy Jenkins is just that legendary.

While Grumpy Jenkins may have won ONLY 13 NHRA titles as a driver during his lengthy, legendary career, you’ll be hard-pressed to find somebody who had a more lasting impact on Super Stock and Pro Stock drag racing.  He was voted the 8th-best driver in the NHRA’s Top 50 list, because “no other individual has contributed more to the advancement of normally aspirated engines for quarter mile competition.”

William Jenkins was born in Philadelphia on December 30, 1930.  Bill quickly got his start turning wrenches on a neighbor’s tractor after his family moved to the more bucolic city of Downingtown, Pennsylvania.  By the time he reached high school, he was running the occasional drag race at the local drag strip, but it was more pastime than passion for him.  After graduation, Jenkins studied mechanical engineering at Cornell University, but dropped out after only 3 years in a 4 year program, after his father died.  By his own admission, he wasn’t much of a student.

While he may have lacked an aptitude for test-taking, it is eminently clear that he learned quite a bit during his time at Cornell.  When the Chevy small-block V8 debuted in 1955, it didn’t take long for Bill to realize that the engine had tons of potential for drag racing.  By the early 1960’s, he’d developed something of a cult following back east.  East coast drag racers knew that a Jenkins-built car with a Jenkins-built engine practically guaranteed you going home with a big, nice, shiny trophy strapped into the seat next to you.

His talents weren’t overlooked by GM, either.  In 1963, Bill and his partner, Dave Strickler, received the first factory lightweight Z-11 427 cubic-inch V8 Chevrolet Impala.  Carrying the same Old Reliable nickname worn proudly by the team’s previous Ammon Smith Auto Company-sponsored Chevrolet, the Jenkins-tuned Impala helped deliver a big, shiny trophy home in the Little Eliminator class at the 1963 NHRA Nationals.  The team’s relationship with Chevrolet likely would have given Chevrolet more trophies if it weren’t for the 1963 corporate ban on motorsports.  That ended what likely would have been an extremely-promising career with GM for Bill Jenkins and Dave Strickler.

In 1964 with GM out of the picture, Jenkins and Strickler turned to Dodge and their newly-released 426 HEMI.  They delivered Dodge a win at the 1964 Nationals at the A/FX class.  Jenkins then backed this up with an S/SA class win of his own at the 1965 Winternationals, behind the wheel of the Black Arrow, a 1965 Dodge that marked his transition from tuner to driver.  When he approached Chrysler in 1966 to extend the deal, neither party could come to terms with each other on a deal, so he returned to drag racing a Chevrolet (specifically a 1966 Chevrolet II) for the 1966 season.

Since GM still wasn’t sanctioning motorsports, Jenkins funded the effort on his own, via whatever sponsorships he could scrounge up.  The car was the first to carry the Grumpy’s Toy moniker.  It wasn’t long before his efforts came to the attention of Chevrolet’s Vince Piggens, then the head of Chevrolet’s performance efforts.  Racing was still forbidden fruit, but nothing in the company’s rulebook prohibited Piggens from financially assisting Jenkins in the name of “Product Promotions Engineering.”

His Chevy II was a four-speed manual car, which meant that Jenkins had to turn his engineering prowess towards improving shifting and getting the power to the ground.  As he explained to the audience at his Top 50 induction, “We applied a lot of slick-shift technology to the transmissions and made good use of the slapper bar style of traction device originally used by Stahl and Frank Sanders. By the end of the year, I could dump the clutch at 6,000 RPM when most of the other guys had to feather the throttle on the seven-inch tires that we were restricted to.”

Such innovation became a hallmark of Jenkins-built cars and engines, and it was often said that he was happier winning races as a constructor and tuner than as a driver.  By the late 1960’s, he was active on both fronts, fielding as many as four team cars while driving a car of his own (usually a Camaro), and heads-up match races against drivers like Ronnie Sox and Don Nicholson became so popular with spectators that the NHRA created the Pro Stock category for the 1970 season.  Out of the gate, Jenkins won against Sox at the Winternationals and Gatornationals, but Chrysler closed the gap and became the brand to beat in the 1/4 mile.

When rule changes in 1972 allowed cars with small-block wedge engines to run at far lower weights than before, Jenkins was the first embrace the rule change.  He built his first Pro Stock Chevrolet Vega, which turned out to be the car to beat.  By the end of the 1972 season, Jenkins had won 6 out of 8 NHRA national events.  Factoring in race winnings and sponsorships, Jenkins earned $250,000 in income that year, rivaled only by NBA star Wilt Chamberlain.  This feat was good enough to earn Jenkins coverage in Time magazine, and suddenly the sport of NHRA drag racing had gone mainstream.

His second Vega, a 1974 Vega, dubbed Grumpy’s Toy XI, didn’t enjoy nearly the same success as his previous Vega, but went on to have a far more lasting impression on drag racing.  It featured Pro Stock firsts such as a full tube chassis, a dry sump oiling system, rack and pinion steering, and a MacPherson strut front suspension that added weight transfer to the rear tires, and it became the car that most Pro Stock cars are based off of today.

Accepting that he gained greater satisfaction as a constructor than as a driver, Jenkins hung up his Nomex in 1976 to focus on research and development. He remained a team owner through the 1983 season, but then shifted his attention to his Jenkins Competition business full-time, where he and his crew built engines for motorsports ranging from drag racing through stock car racing. Even into his mid-70s, Jenkins was said to be active building engines, undoubtedly running younger employees ragged with his focus and determination to address every detail, no matter how small. Eventually, even Jenkins’s tank ran dry, and he died of heart failure in March 2012 at the age of 81.  The nickname “Grumpy” came from a summer intern who called him the nickname because of his all-work, no-play attitude.

For me, it’s hard to imagine somebody who’s more legendary in that area of drag racing.

What to Look for in Collector Cars Part 1

Collector cars are often daily drivers for years that were driven into the ground – literally.  They were often parked for a reason (i.e. the transmission, engine, or something major went out and the owner never got around to fixing it) in a garage or barn, and then never restored to their former glory.  They are sometimes cars that somebody bought to fix up and enjoy, but never was.  Collector cars were once the pride and joy of somebody else, so when you go to buy the car, don’t make jokes about the car or tell stupid stories about a similar car that you once owned.  It’s just a bad idea.  Here’s a quick list of what to look for, should you decide to buy one.

  • Small Animals:  Small animals, remnants of them, or their excrement are not uncommon in collector cars.  Most of the time, the cars were parked in a barn or a garage and not touched for many years.  In barns, rats, mice, and the like often make nests in the engine bay, trunk, or interior.  This is a big, smelly pain to get rid of.  However, don’t be afraid to tackle getting rid of the poop.  All you need is protective eye and mouth wear, a good shop vacuum, and a good few hours or so.  These small critters will often have gnawed their way through the firewall, into the interior, eaten up the seat cushions, and made nests in their.  Don’t worry.  Most of these collector cars are going to need a new interior anyways.  I’ll talk about interiors later.
  • Rust:  Lots of classic cars rust.  It’s a sad fact, but it’s the unavoidable truth.  Even concours-worthy cars have had rust at some point in their life.  Really, don’t be daunted by rust.  There are so many NOS (not original stock), OEM (original equipment manufacturer), and reproduction parts around that you don’t need to look far for new body panels, floorboards, etc.  I’ll do another post on where to find reproduction body panels and parts soon – there are too many to list in a relatively short post like this!
  • Seized Engines:  Most collector cars that were daily drivers were often parked for a reason.  It could be that the engine went boom, the transmission went bang, or something else major.  With a seized engine, don’t worry.  If something, say a piston, went through the valve cover due to a blown crankshaft or connecting rod, you might want to look into getting a modern crate engine.  If the engine had something smaller, like a bad timing chain, any gearhead who has a good repair manual, a couple of friends, some beer, a full tool set, and a replacement part can do that fix in a couple of days.  Do something fun like invite your buddies over for a bratwurst party, or something else fun, and then go out to the garage/workshop/man cave and fix the car.  You’ve probably read a story or three about how a guy invited a couple of friends over to his house to replace a transmission and ended up restoring the car in his garage with his buddies.  Be one of those people.  It gives you creds in the car world, and it’s fun to hang out and work on something that was built to be enjoyed.
  • Failed Transmissions:  Sometimes transmissions fail.  It’s an albeit expensive part of life, but it happens.  Most of the time, it’s better to get a new transmission in a classic car unless it was a custom-built transmission for an old race car or something like that.  Gearstar transmissions (gearstar.net) offers overdrive-equipped transmissions that come in a crate ready to be bolted in.  If you want to add an overdrive to a stock transmission, check out Gear Vendors Overdrives (gearvendors.com).  These transmissions and transmission parts will last you a long time, increase the reliability and efficiency of your pride and joy, and make it more fun to drive.
  • Body Damage:  Don’t worry about body damage.   You can easily find a new replacement body part online (again, I will do a blog post on where to find new body parts) or at a swap meet.  If it’s something simple like a ding, it might be worth it to take it to a body shop and let them fix it for a couple of days.  Or, you can find out how to do it online.  The internet is a great place to go for advice.  Just don’t rely on it for everything.
  • Brakes:  Braking systems wear out over time.  It’s scary and bad when brakes go bad.  Don’t fret.  Classic cars often come with drum brakes, which don’t really stop a car that well.  Most classic cars have manual brakes.  If you want more comfort and driveability in your car, consider going with power brakes.  Master cylinders should be rebuilt, replaced, or fixed if needed.  If a car has been sitting for a long time, think about cleaning out the master cylinder and testing it before you drive the car.  It is worth it to buy a brake bleeder kit.  Should you decide to go for bigger, better brakes in a restomod or pro-touring car, or just want better performance, Wilwood Brakes (wilwood.com) is one of the best in the business.
  • Suspension:  Lots of old cars aren’t exactly known for their handling.  If you have an old muscle car and live in an area where there are a lot of curves, think about getting Koni adjustable shocks (koni-na.com) or Hotchkis Suspension (hotchkis.net).  These suspension systems will greatly improve your car’s performance and driveability, and will make it even more enjoyable for you to drive.  With the Koni shocks, you can adjust the shocks to your liking with a screwdriver!
  • Exhaust:  The exhaust system in a car can fail quite easily.  It can get holes in it, the muffler could have gotten dented beyond repair, and the exhaust pipes could have a leak.  Exhaust leaks can be deadly.  Exhaust from cars contains large amounts of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and many other bad gasses.  Don’t ever hesitate to replace them!  If you have something that needs to be smogged, consider going for a Flowmaster Muffler (flowmastermufflers.com).  It gives a great sound while helping keep your baby on the road.  If you do need to smog it, always tune up the engine before taking it in.  It will be much less of a headache.  If you don’t know what Flowmasters sound like, look them up on YouTube.  They sound far better than stock while looking stock.
  • Wheels:  Wheels take a lot of abuse.  Most of you have probably accidentally scraped the curb with them or gotten them scratched somehow.  Don’t worry – I have too!  There are so many aftermarket wheel manufacturers that they are a 3-piece blog post – at least!  Go for a reputable name!  Cragar Wheels (cragarwheel.com) is a leading manufacturer in wheels.  They are well-known, look great on old muscle cars, and you can find really cool old ones for sale too!
  • Tires:  Think about it.  The only thing keeping your car attached to the road is about four square inches at four corners of the car.  That’s not a lot.  Get good tires.  Don’t get bias-ply tires unless your car is a trailer queen that is only driven to it’s place at the lawn on Pebble Beach.  Coker Tires (cokertire.com) offers vintage-looking radial tires for not too much money, and last a long time.  If your car is built for the drag strip, Firestone makes vintage-looking “cheater slicks,” as well as Mickey Thompson and Goodyear.  All of these tires are good drag slicks, and most are street-legal!  Get good tires that won’t go bald quickly!

I think that’s enough for you to digest right now, so I’ll leave the rest for another time.

Out and About in Sonoma County

A member of the editing staff saw what is quite possibly the most ugly BMW ever while out on assignment…for something completely unrelated to ugly BMWs.  The ugly BMW in question?  The BMW i3.  It’s essentially a Prius for the visually impaired wealthy.

BMW i3

Every time I see a BMW i3, I immediately think of a HUMMER H2 that took the ugly economy car pill.  I think you’ll agree with me…

California Man Accused of Stealing the Same Ferrari Twice!

Cars are stolen a lot.  It’s an unfortunate reality, but it’s life.  It’s just pretty much unheard of when the same person steals the same car twice.  But, that’s what apparently happened recently in Fontana, CA.

I don’t know what his motives were, but Earnie Hooks stole a certain black 2014 Ferrari 458 Italia Spider.  According to police, Hooks was intoxicated when he pulled up to a roadside checkpoint.  When the police ran the plates, they found out that the car was reported stolen.

Hooks managed to evade the police (given the car at his disposal, probably not too hard to pull off) and later abandoned the car, which was found and taken to impound.  However, about 3 a.m. the next morning, a special somebody broke into the impound lot and stole the car…again.  He was found five days later in Studio City, still driving the stolen Ferrari.  The LAPD arrested him, and Hooks somehow found the gall to plead not guilty to both the charges of car theft and resisting arrest.

Twice Stolen Ferrari

Here’s the Ferrari after Hooks was arrested.  I guess that if you’re going to steal something, go for the nicest possible car in sight…

Twice Stolen Ferrari

Here’s Hooks.  I don’t know where he got so banged up, but my best guess is during his arrest.

All I can say about this is wow.  For somebody to steal a Ferrari while drunk, evade police, BREAK INTO the impound lot, steal the car, and drive it around Los Angeles for 5 days and not be noticed is pretty amazing.  Don’t do this, kids.

 

Goodbye Productivity, Hello Hilarious Nurburgring Crash Videos!

We’ve all heard of the notorious Nurburgring in Germany.  It’s almost claimed the life of many famous drivers, including Niki Lauda, Sir Jackie Stewart, and many others.  It’s one of the most crash-prone places in the world.  I literally see pictures and videos of test mules crashing, catching on fire, etc. at the “Green Hell” every day.  It’s also one of the fastest places in the world.  It’s on many automotive enthusiasts’ bucket lists.  I wanna go, Mom!

This vintage footage of hysterical and nail-biting crashes at the Nurburgring dates back to 1970, when the F1 field, led by Sir Jackie Stewart, boycott the Green Hell in favor of the slower, safer, and saner Hockenheimring.  That certainly didn’t stop the weekend racers.

I’ve never, ever seen somebody fall out of a VW Bug, but Germans lead everything, right?  You can fast-forward to 7:08 for that madness, but then you’d miss the other crashes.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWlF4sT0HWs

The crashes keep coming and coming.  All of this footage is pulled from a four-VHS collection called Rhapsodie in Blech.  It advertises 100 crashes.  I believe them.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtmEcNV-z8A

Crank up the volume.  The music is pretty good.  So are the crashes.  They make NASCAR road course races look like a bunch of kids playing tag badly.  Tell your boss something equally unproductive…

The Car Forum!

Hi all, I hope that you’ve all had a good week.  I’ve had a good one.  It’s time for that monthly Q&A for cars.  Here we go.

Forum user Sherry has two questions.  We’ll go one at a time.

  1. “What is a Johnson rod and what do I do if Zayz tells me it is dragging?”  First of all, there is NO such thing as a Johnson Rod!  Good try, Zayz!  Ignore him – you have nothing to worry about unless your drive shaft is dragging.  In that case, you won’t be going anywhere!
  2. “Okay, seriously.  What is wrong with your transmission when your back wheels go forward?”  There are many things that could cause this.  One likely possibility is that it may be your differential, not your transmission.  The differential is what puts the power down to the ground.  Bring this up to your mechanic if this happens.  If you have a manual transmission in your car, it could be that you need a new clutch.  If it is, in fact, your transmission, it’s most likely you’ve stripped the gears, so the car can’t go forwards.

Forum user Zayzee has two questions here.  I’m sensing a theme here…

  1. “What is the total cost in dollars to build a Humvee, ship it to Iraq, watch it fall into the hands of ISIS, then send a plane to bomb and destroy it?  I assume that a question re a Humvee falls within your guidelines of being a car related question.”  I guess it does, technically.  HUMMER stopped making the HUMVEE back in 2010 when GM killed the brand.  HUMVEEs were made by AM General, an also-defunct company.  The cost of an unarmored HUMVEE was $65,000, and the price of an armored HUMVEE was $140,000.  I don’t know the exact price of how much it would cost to send one to Iraq, but I’m guessing it’s in the vicinity of $10,000 or so.  Sending a plane with a bomb to destroy it is ridiculously expensive.  Most bombs designed for that kind of damage are about $100,000 each, and the cost to fly a plane/drone to find and drop the bomb is probably close to, if not $100,000 as well.
  2. “What are the two most popular car colors of 2014…first and second?”  Well, Zayzee, 2014 isn’t up yet, but so far it seems that black and white are.

Forum user Papa has a good question:  “Now that the Lincoln Town Car is discontinued, what is the most popular car used for Livery?”  There are a couple of popular vehicles for livery service now.  The Cadillac XTS, Lincoln MKS, Lincoln MKT, Lexus GS, and the Chevrolet Suburban round out the top 5.  Cadillac came out with the XTS right about the same time the Lincoln Town Car went out of production, so many livery services use the XTS for it’s fuel economy, space, and gadgetry.  The Lincoln MKT is good for it’s generous space, just like the Suburban.

Rounding this good salvo of reader questions is a tricky one from forum user Grandma.  She wants to know, “If someone shoots your car with invisible ink, what is the best way to get it off?”  Wow, that’s a tricky question.  I really don’t know the answer to that.  I’d call a paint/body shop and see what they recommend.  I’m guessing you’ll have to take it in and let them do their magic.  I’ve never heard of that before, and I couldn’t find anything on any car forums out in the vast expanses of the internet.  Sorry that I couldn’t help with that question.

I hope you have a nice weekend!