The Cursed Blessing of the Death of Scion

When Toyota started Scion in 2001, nobody expected it to do much of anything. It didn’t. Well, yes, the original xB was an all star smash hit, and the tC was a great combination of bulletproof reliability combined with an astonishingly low asking price, but everything else they did, let’s be honest here, was a massive flop.

The 2001 xB was an excellent car. It was fun to drive, affordable, and instantly lovable. It was, in my eyes, the modern version of the original VW Type 1 Beetle. It was originally marketed towards Gen X, but everyone from teenagers to seniors bought it. It was just that kind of car. Every 10 years or so, there’s a car like that. It comes out of nowhere, sells like cocaine in the 1980s, and is fondly remembered by many. The “toaster,” as it was affectionately called wasn’t fast – it was far from it. It was safe, it had almost as much space as a minivan, thanks to its boxy shape and was easily customizable – from the dealer!

It’s cute, right? I really love the original xB. Can you see why?

Yes, you could walk into a Toyota dealership that sold Scions (I’ll get to that in a bit, I swear), and get a Scion xB, then go over to their customizing desk, and decide how you wanted to customize your xB, all within 20 feet of each other! There were so many options, you had to fill out a questionnaire so the customizing agent could help you out! The great part about this was that you could customize the car to your specific taste, not worry about voiding the warranty and walk out within two hours.

The 2001 Scion xB was the car that kicked off the dealer accessory craze. It was a great marketing tool for many brands. Want a roof rack? You had a choice between Thule and Yakima, and between the two, literally 50 different roof racks to choose from. Want a wrap on your xB? The techs could slap it on in 20 minutes. The list goes on. All these accessories were affordable – you could walk out of the dealership with a Scion xB, customized the way you wanted it, with a good warranty, fully registered and insured, for $22,000.

That’s what the appeal was. As I said, everyone from teenagers to seniors, and everyone in between bought the car. It shocked Scion’s marketing team, and even Toyota. Nobody predicted so many cars would be sold.

Unfortunately, Scion failed to deliver with the second-generation xB. It had gigantic shoes to fill, but it had baby feet. It was heavier – almost 500 pounds heavier. It was more expensive; to the point that people walked over to the Toyota sales desk and bought a Matrix. It used to be that the Matrix was just a hatchback Corolla (the xB was too), but it was kind of like trying to differentiate between twins. The Matrix was cheaper, but it didn’t have the instant customizability that the xB had. The difference showed in sales – Scion still had all their repeat buyers, but the Matrix was just a better car overall. Buyers went to the Matrix, until Toyota killed it in 2013.

Onto the tC. It was a perfectly fine car, but by no means was it on the same level as the Mazda 3 or the Honda Civic. The build quality was great, no doubt about that. It just left something to be desired. But, it was cheap. Dirt cheap. That’s why every 8th car you see on the road is one. Well, maybe not that many, but it sure seems like it. It wasn’t as easily customizable as the xB, but it certainly had it’s benefits. It was cheap enough for those starting to get into the automotive scene to modify it like no tomorrow, but drive it to school or work every day. The Mazda 3 could do that too, but was more expensive. It was also marketed towards college students and above.

The original Scion tC was a smash hit. The second generation wasn’t as wildly popular, but it certainly sold a lot.

Let’s talk about the stupidity of selling Scions next to Toyotas that were similar in price. Seriously, who at Toyota, when they were planning Scion, thought that was a good idea? It’s like selling candy bars next to each other. You can’t choose the right one. That’s what happens when there are too many options. Scion sales would go sky-high for a couple months, then Toyota compact car sales would overtake them like you wouldn’t believe. It was just a constant game of tug-of-war.

Imagine walking into an Armed Forces recruitment center, with all the recruiters standing there, all trying to give you “the best deal you’ll get.” The truth is, they all offer the same thing, but they disguise it well. Just choose the one you like best and the others will find somebody else.

This was Scion’s ultimate downfall in my eyes. They simply couldn’t compete with the elephant in the room.

Yes, they had other problems. Their other cars were practically carbon copies of Toyotas. Why buy a Toyota Yaris hatchback when you could buy a Scion xD? The Yaris was cheaper, and had essentially the same things going for it. The xD had a bit more power, but the Yaris at least looked halfway decent. The xD looked like someone chiseled a block of concrete with an ax, slapped wheels and a price tag on it, and pitched it to Scion.

What might have been the best car Scion made, apart from the 2001 xB, was the FR-S. It was cheap, which was Scion’s main selling point. It was an incredibly fun car to drive, and the perfect one for the budding autocrosser or track day enthusiast. It’s biggest downfall is that Subaru and Toyota sold the exact same car, but with different badges. Yes, I know it was badge engineering, but why buy the Scion when you could buy the Subaru? That was the dilemna many prospective owners faced. It offered more utility and just as much fun as the Miata, but it was a price difference of $2000 between the Scion and the Subaru.

So, what was Scion’s downfall? Poor sales after the redesign of the first-generation xB, offering similar, if not identical products, and no dedicated dealers. Will I miss Scion? Yes. I will miss the magic that the 2001 xB brought to the automotive world, the affordable performance the FR-S brought wailing and burbling into the automotive world, the instant and easy customizability that any Scion brought, and the ferocious sibling rivalry between Toyota and Scion.

Will Scions keep their value? Who knows. Only time will tell. The resale value of the 2001-2007 xB has certainly held up, and likely will for a while. They are cheap, but the price hasn’t gone up or down, like most cars. The tC, a fantastic car in it’s own right, may hold up. It’s hard to tell with that one. The FR-S? Maybe, maybe not. It was a worthy Miata competitor, but it’s identical siblings, the Subaru BR-Z and Toyota GT86 (non-North America markets only), will still be in production.

The FR-S/BR-Z/GT86 was a failed design opportunity. They had a golden opportunity to make a stunning car, and the result is, quite frankly, kind of meh. It doesn’t look like much. Sure, it looks nice, but you don’t point at one and know exactly what it is, like you do with the 2001 xB.tf

I am saddened that Scion couldn’t clean up their act, but they obviously weren’t competitive. Their market went away. They had a nice run though, and there are certainly other choices.

The Best Way to Make a Mazda Miata Faster

Say you have a Mazda Miata. It doesn’t matter what generation Miata you own – there are many options to make your Miata into a track monster, a daily driver with some oomph, a canyon carver that will hang around with a Porsche 911 GT3, and anything in between. If you don’t have a Miata, I highly encourage you to get one. Hop onto Craigslist, type in “Mazda Miata” and see what comes up. You can get one for $1,000, but I wouldn’t recommend that, unless you know what you are going to do (i.e. yank out the engine, put on new bodywork, etc.). If you know what you want to do, get one for cheap. Otherwise, my rule of thumb is get the nicest one you can get. Paying a few thousand dollars more for one that’s been taken care of, has a paper trail, and no accidents will mean less of a headache for you down the road.

The Miata was designed with extreme abuse in mind, so keep in mind it’s pretty hard to break them. They are durable cars, and will hold up to more abuse than many new cars.

Here are some options:

  • Monster Miata: Ever wanted to stuff a V8 into a tiny roadster just for the hell of it? That’s exactly what Monster Miata did. The overall structure of the Miata is more than capable of holding up to the massive stress of a V8. It’s almost as if the Miata was built for it! Monster Miata certainly has the expertise – they have done over 100 conversions in the past 20 years. You can have Monster Miata do the conversion for you, or you can do it yourself through their incredibly detailed instruction manual. You can buy the kit (not including a motor) for $3,995, which includes everything you’ll need to shove a Ford 302 V8 into one. You can find a Ford 302 V8 from a 1980s-1990s Mustang for $1,000. Throw in the fact you can get well over 400 horsepower without having to put a supercharger or turbocharger onto the engine, figure about $1,000 for everything. What do I mean by everything? The car, the kit and the engine. That’s a really good deal, especially because the Monster Miata cars are designed to be daily drivers, but track cars, autocross cars, and weekend warriors all in one package. Check them out at monstermiata.webs.com Doesn’t look like it’s going to fit, does it?
  • Flyin’ Miata: Flyin’ Miata started modding Miatas when they came out in 1989. They have everything from V8 conversion kits to turbocharger kits. Flyin’ Miata stuffs GM’s wonderful LS-series engines into the tiny engine bay of the Miata. The car gains less than 200 pounds, 1/3 of which is on the rear wheels. Road & Track tested one in 2013, and it hit 60 mph in 3.8 seconds. That’s Porsche 911 territory. Automobile Magazine compared it to the Shelby Cobra. A Flyin’ Miata will be a bit more expensive, but it’s well worth it. Monster Miata only does NA generation Miatas (first generation) conversion kits. Flyin’ Miata does V8 conversion kits for all generations of Miata. I’d go for an NC generation Miata (third generation), just because I like them the most. Oh, you can also buy used ones from Flyin’ Miata. Don’t worry about repairing them – any engine, transmission, or rear end part can be bought at any GM dealer, and most other parts can be bought at your local Mazda dealer. Want to keep the little four banger but want near LS engine power? Not a problem! You can get a turbocharger from Flyin’ Miata, as well as all the necessary parts. It’s literally a bolt-on process.

    This Miata is Flyin’ Miata’s test bed. They call it “Atomic Betty.” Several magazines have likened it to the Shelby Cobra 427.

Now, some of us might not have that kind of money. Don’t worry if you don’t – there are still plenty of options to make your Miata a speed demon!

  • Tires, tires, tires: I can’t say enough about how a good, sticky set of tires will dramatically improve the handling characteristics of your Miata. Get a set of really sticky summer tires, and if you daily drive your Miata, get a set of all-season tires that will last a while. This will mean a couple of sets of wheels, which I’ll talk about in a second. Just keep this in mind: the right summer/track tires can make the difference between winning and losing a race, but they come at an expensive price. Tires aren’t exactly the cheapest things on the planet, and considering that the Miata is a small car, you probably won’t have room to put four wheels (with tires on them), plus a cooler, tools, and whatever else you bring to the local autocross or track day. Think about towing the car if you can, or get a really small trailer. Lots of grassroots racers do that. Also, ask your friend if they will loan you their truck for a day, or ask a racing buddy who has a truck and is going to the same event if they can grab your tires.
    These might be all-season tires, but they are sticky all-season tires, along with wheels designed for the Miata.
    • Wheels can also make a big difference. A carbon fiber set of wheels will shave a good 20-30 pounds off the weight of your car. It might not sound like a lot, but consider this: lighter wheels + stickier tires = more smiles per mile. There are a lot of options for wheels, and tires.

      Like these wheels? How surprised would you be if I told you they were the stock wheels plasti-dipped, and with the center cap removed? That’s probably a modification under $100 for all four wheels.
  • Cold air intake: Want a bit more power out of your Miata, but not so much? A cold-air intake is a great investment. It works as a kind of ram-air system. They draw cold air from outside the car into the engine. Because of this, combustion requires less heat and fuel, which means a more efficient burn. Acceleration will increase, not dramatically, but you certainly will notice it. Your fuel economy will also increase, no matter how hard you drive the car. The engine note will be louder and more aggressive. It won’t bring the cops to your house at 1:30 a.m. when you’re revving it (good ones won’t), but it will have more of a roar then before. Get one from a reputable brand like: K&N (who promise, and deliver an extra 15 horsepower or your money back), Injen, Volant and Airaid. This is a great modification, and it’s pretty cheap too! One from, say, K&N, will cost about $300-400.

    Here’s an example of a cold-air intake on a Miata. Saves a lot of space in the engine bay and boosts performance!
  • Bigger brakes: If you’re planning on seriously autocrossing or tracking your Miata, invest in bigger, better brakes. You don’t need to go all-out and get massive 14-inch disc brakes – when you hit the brakes, the car will literally catapult you out of it! Step up about an inch or two in rotors, and don’t go above four-piston calipers. I’d go for EBC brakes. They provide great stopping power at an affordable price.

    EBC Brakes is a British brake company. Think of them as the working man’s Brembos.
  • Upgrade the suspension: Get adjustable coilover shocks, better struts, etc. They will make the ride a bit stiffer, but if you’re serious about driving the car hard, the added stiffness will pay off.

    Here’s an example of a suspension upgrade kit. This one is from Flyin’ Miata, and has just about all you need to keep your car a daily driver and be truly flyin’ at the track.
  • Racing seats: Most tracks will not allow you to track the car without a racing seat, a HANS device (I’ll explain that in another post), a five-point harness, a track suit, gloves and a helmet. Those are all great investments, and I’ll get to them in another post. They are a bit too much to explain how to get in this post. But, a racing seat is a great investment. Look at Corbeau, Recaro, and Sparco. They are all incredibly comfortable, and you can keep the stock seatbelts in the car, so you don’t have to buckle up into a five-point harness every time you have to go to get milk.

    Here’s a good example of a Recaro in a Miata, but just be careful of hitting the convertible top with the seat. Some seats are quite tall, and then it’s a bunch of hacking the floorpan to make it fit. The stock seat is the passenger seat, which the builder left in the car for comparison.
  • Rollcage: If you are going to track the car, definitely get one of these. A rollcage will protect you when you flip over at the track. Airbags will only do so much to save you. Not to say they aren’t great, because they are, but they won’t help very much when you flip going 110 mph. That’s where a rollcage will. The car will be damaged, but you should be able to walk away with only minor injuries. Go to a trusted and highly recommended fabricator. It should be a piece of cake for them. You should also get it padded, because a rollcage will seriously injure you if you’re driving without a helmet on. Most of the time, the padding can be removed if the track safety officials won’t allow it.

    This is a padded rollcage for a Miata, but it still allows the convertible top to go up and down.
  • Less weight: Never really used the air conditioning in your car? Rip it out and there goes about 30 pounds. Keep the heater core and all of the defroster stuff. Rip out the soft top and get a hard top. There goes another 30 pounds. Remove the spare tire and jack from the trunk, and that’s probably a good 30 pounds. This will free up trunk space, and you can get a tire repair kit. That right there is 80-90 pounds.

    Ever wondered what a stripped-down Miata interior looks like? This. It’s still perfectly functional, but all the heavy carpeting is gone.

All of these options are great. You will love the added performance bonuses all of these options give you. Think about it this way: if you don’t want a massive V8 in your Miata, all of the cheaper options I listed will total about $10,000, which is about the same price as one of the V8 conversion kits (before the engine). Excuse me, I have to go onto Craigslist and find a Miata to do all of this to. As always, donations are gladly accepted. I have always wanted one, after all…Why not go all out and get one with a V8?

Why You Should Buy a Classic Station Wagon

Most Americans over the age of 40 grew up waging hell in the backseat of a station wagon. Most of those station wagons were Buicks, Fords, Oldsmobiles, Chevys, and Mercurys. Some might have even been Pontiacs.  Here’s why they could turn into the next collector cars.  Those Americans who grew up turning the backseat into a war zone fondly remember them.  That same generation fondly remembers the Smokey and the Bandit Pontiac Firebirds (the one with the “screaming chicken” on the hood), so they buy them.  Station wagons from the 1970s and 1980s are now being bought more.  Prices are going up for these massive beasts.

The collector car market is going crazy right now.  People have more money to spend, and they want to enjoy an older car with their family.  They tend to buy cars that they remember fondly.  That’s why Chevy Blazers, “screaming chicken” Firebirds, and station wagons are starting to creep up in price.  Now is the time to buy them.

For all those people who say that station wagons are dorky and stupid, here’s a response:  station wagons have as much, if not more utility than most modern crossovers, and some SUVs, look better, and are far more fuel efficient.

Some station wagons are already highly sought-after collector cars.  They include the Chevrolet Nomad, antique woodies, and high-performance Pontiacs from the 1960s. However, there are still plenty of station wagons that can be enjoyed.  Here are some classic, and new wagons that you should consider buying.

  • 1991 Audi 200 20V Turbo Quattro Avant:  There is no point in going into the details of the 1986 60 Minutes debacle that came close to killing Audi.  There were some good cars that came out in the company’s darkest days, and one of them is the marvelous 1991 200 20V Turbo Quattro Avant.  This one-year-only package is incredibly rare.  Only 1,000 four-door sedans and about 200 station wagons got this package, and it was standard equipment on the two-door hatchback.  It’s a close cousin to the 1986 sedans that Audi used to dominate SCCA Trans-Am racing.  The twin-cam, 20-valve engine has five cylinders and goes through a five-speed manual to all four BBS wheels.  Maintenance is going to be a wee bit tricky, but enjoying this car won’t.
  • 1950-1991 Ford Country Squire:  This behemoth of a station wagon is what many Americans grew up in.  Early Country Squires are the expensive, sought-after woodies from the early 1950s.  Avoid them unless you have serious money and plans to upgrade just about everything on them.  However, starting in 1960, the Country Squire became the familiar family hauler.  They’ve covered millions of miles, millions of Americans remember them fondly, and they have starred in multiple movies.  They came with a Ford small-block V-8 (usually the 351 Windsor V-8 found in most Fords of the 1970s through the 1990s) and a mushy automatic transmission.  If you get a pre-1976 model in California, you can upgrade it to make the ultimate family hauler.  Just put in a modern Ford Coyote motor (the same engine as the Mustang), a Ford T-5 five-speed manual transmission, and some better suspension pieces and you’ll have the ultimate road trip/family hauler.  They are fairly reliable cars to begin with, and Ford made a lot of them, so finding one isn’t the challenge of the century like the Audi mentioned above.
  • Volvo V60 Polestar:  OK, who wouldn’t want a 345-horsepower station wagon that looks really cool?  Speak now or forever hold your peace.  While a mere 120 cars scheduled to come to the US over this summer isn’t a lot, it’s enough to make it a true collector car.  It’s a fast car, and Volvo has a rich history of deceptively fast station wagons.  It looks really cool with the big wheels, low-profile tires, blue paint, and it’s somewhat-bulbous styling.  Get one while you can, and enjoy it!  This is a car that’s meant to be driven, so drive the wheels off of it.
  • Saab 9-2X:  Why buy a re-badged Subaru WRX because GM said so?  Because it’s a more comfortable, tame early Subaru WRX.  For Saab faithful, it was too Subaru, even though it wasn’t nearly as blasphemous as the 9-7X “Trollbazer” which was just a Chevrolet Trailblazer with different wheels and badges.  For the rest of us automotive folks, it’s a more refined version of the spunky Subaru WRX.  Unlike the WRX, it doesn’t turn the wheels 90 degrees when you floor it.  Unlike other Saabs, you can get same-day service on it by simply going to a Subaru dealer.  It’s a far better car than the sales charts show.  Owners love it, and others snap them up.  They aren’t very big, and are more of a hatchback than a station wagon, but they are fun, reliable little cars that can really take a beating.  That’s something that most other Saabs can’t claim.
  • Morris Minor Traveller:  This cute little station wagon is based off of the popular Morris Minor.  Sir Alec Issigonis started his automotive success career with this car. The Morris Minor coupe and convertible debuted in 1948, and the Traveller station wagon followed suit in 1953.  It came to our shores through 1967. When other station wagons were ditching real wood for fiberglass and vinyl, the Traveller had real ash wood from the tailgate all the way to the B-pillars.  Not only does it look great, but it’s also the superstructure for the back half of the car.  That means you’ll have to sand and re-varnish periodically, but that’s going to be the extent of your automotive woes with this car.  Parts are cheap and easily sourced, and it’s an incredibly reliable car.  Not something you can say about most British cars.
  • Buick Roadmaster/Chevy Caprice:  Yes, they may have been the final gasp of GM’s RWD land barges, but who doesn’t want something that seats eight people, has a (slightly detuned) Corvette engine, and is gigantic?  These behemoths were the final iterations of the big American station wagons that so many Americans grew up in. They are still available and cheap for us to thrash around and haul kids around with.  You don’t need to do much to unlock the true potential of these engines – you just get the Corvette’s ECU, as the engines in these cars were the same as the Corvette’s LT1.
  • Cadillac CTS-V:  OK, most of us would LOVE to own a 556-horsepower station wagon that comes with a six-speed manual.  Look no further than the previous-generation Cadillac CTS-V wagon.  I know that this implies that there is another one coming, which we can only hope for, but this is probably the ultimate family burnout/drift/autocross/trackday/hoonmobile.  Period.  My friend Jonny Lieberman of Motor Trend had one as a long-term car for a year, and I’m still feeling the pangs of jealousy.  It has a detuned Corvette engine, but 556 horsepower is still plenty to rage through the quarter mile.  It would make the ultimate backup car for your local autocross/track day, and it would be a fun daily driver to boot.

I’m sure that many of my readers have some fun memories of being in station wagons as kids…let’s here them!

 

 

1991 Audi 200 Avant

 

1967 Ford Country SquireVolvo V60 PolestarSaab 9-2XMorris Minor Traveller1992 Buick Roadmaster WagonChevy Caprice WagonCadillac CTS-V Wagon Drifting

Why Legislation A.B. 550 Matters to Car People

California has recently proposeda new legislation.  While that might not mean all that much to us, it should.  Legislation A.B. 550 would allow for the owner of a motor vehicle subjected to the rigorous California smog check program to pay a $200 smog abatement fee instead of having to go to the trouble of smogging the car.

This bill would require the payment to go to the Air Quality Improvement Fund.  The measure will be considered by the Assembly Transportation Committee.

Currently, the smog check program requires an inspection of all motor vehicles when the car is initially registered, then biennially upon registration renewal, transfer of ownership, and various other circumstances.  You can find all of that on the DMV’s website.

The law currently exempts all cars manufactured prior to 1976, and certain other vehicles.

What’s so special about A.B. 550 is that it would allow the owner(s) of a motor vehicle that is required to take a smog test to pay a 200 dollar smog abatement fee IF the car meets the following criteria:

  • The motor vehicle is 30 model years or older
  • The motor vehicle was manufactured during or after the 1976 model year
  • The motor vehicle fails a smog test
  • The motor vehicle fails a subsequent smog test after necessary repairs were performed

This could mean a lot to hot rodding.  Newer cars are easier and cheaper to insure, parts are more plentiful and cheaper, and, since newer cars have the necessary smog equipment, hot rodders can start to build killer smog-legal street cars.

It’s extremely important to me and many others in the automotive industry that we (as in auto enthusiasts) contact the California Assembly Transportation Committee to voice your opinion of A.B. 550.

Here’s how to do it.  Email Steve McDonald at stevem@sema.org a copy of your letter. Also, send this to your automotive enthusiast friends! The more people who voice their opinions, the more likely the bill is to pass.

Here is a (very) long list of the committee members’ contact information:

Assemblymember Jim Frazier (Chair)
Phone: (916) 319-2011
Email: assemblymember.frazier@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Katcho Achadjian (Vice Chair)
Phone: (916) 319-2035
Email: assemblymember.achadjian@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Catharine B. Baker
Phone: (916) 319-2016
Email: assemblymember.baker@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Richard Bloom
Phone: (916) 319-2050
Email: assemblymember.bloom@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Nora Campos
Phone: (916) 319-2027
Email: assemblymember.campos@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Kansen Chu
Phone: (916) 319-2025
Email: assemblymember.chu@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Tom Daly
Phone: (916) 319-2069
Email: assemblymember.daly@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Bill Dodd
Phone: (916) 319-2004
Email: assemblymember.dodd@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia
Phone: (916) 319-2056
Email: assemblymember.eduardo.garcia@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez
Phone: (916) 319-2051
Email: assemblymember.gomez@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Young O. Kim
Phone: (916) 319-2065
Email: assemblymember.kim@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Eric Linder
Phone: (916) 319-2060
Email: assemblymember.linder@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Jose Medina
Phone: (916) 319-2061
Email: assemblymember.medina@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Melissa A. Melendez
Phone: (916) 319-2067
Email: assemblymember.melendez@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian
Phone: (916) 319-2046
Email: assemblymember.nazarian@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell
Phone: (916) 319-2070
Email: assemblymember.odonnell@assembly.ca.gov

Thanks for listening to my rambling about how this could turn the hot rodding hobby around.  If the bill passes, there will be people who abuse the system, but they already do that.  I wouldn’t worry that much about it.

I think these cars that are only slightly customized could greatly benefit from A.B. 550:

This bone-stock 1976 Camaro could benefit from an LS-motor swap.  Chevy Performance even offers an LS3 E-Rod engine that is smog-legal in all 50 states.  You just install the engine and slap on a couple of stickers that let the smog guys know.  These second-generation Camaros are popular among hot rodders, and one could throw on aftermarket suspension pieces and nobody would notice.

This is a simply tasteful C-10 stepside.  The wheels go well with the dark blue/black paint on the truck.  The big visor over the windshield is a cool touch from the 1950s.  It would be even better if the owner could put a thundering big-block with EFI on it.

This 1985 Fox-Body Mustang is an early Saleen Mustang.  It looks better than the flashier late-model Saleens.  It was a performer in the day, but my Mazda3 could beat it to 60, through the quarter mile, and in just about everything but looks.  If somebody bought a Fox-Body, got a body kit (Saleen rip-off body kits are common in drifting), put in an EcoBoost V-6 found in the Taurus SHO, this would look amazing, and go like stink.  If there was an aftermarket suspension kit on it, even better.  This would be a holy terror at autocross and track day events.  Plus, it would be a fun daily driver.  OK, I’m going to rein myself in now…

The last car on this little list is one I really want.  It’s a Chevy C3 Corvette.  Let me explain. It has stunning good looks, and would be quite the performer with a modern LS engine under the hood.  It’s already been done, and that’s the car in the picture.  It’s got an LS3 E-Rod under the hood, and even though it’s a 1972, one could very easily do the same thing to a 1976 or later model.

The Most Affordable Project Cars!

If you’re a classic muscle car fan, but don’t have anywhere between $35,000 and $100,000 to spend on that perfectly restored Chevy Camaro, don’t worry!

It’s always possible to find a project car for your budget, even if it’s not a Hemi ‘Cuda, Mustang Boss 302, or a Camaro Z/28.  But, who says it has to be one of those to be the coolest person on the block?

These are my choices that have been proven to be total street/strip demons for not a lot of money (you could buy a new Camry for the price of a well-built one).

I’ve always thought that the most important part of the hot rod building process is buying. The better the car, the less work you’ll have to do.

Obviously, there are far more choices than the cars listed below, but if you’re new to hot rodding, start with one of these!  You’ll thank me later.

  • 1979-1993 Ford Mustang:  Yes, there are always a good dozen of them at the local dragstrip, autocross, or drifting event.  But, that’s why people choose them – you can build a killer “Fox” for under $10,000.  Getting a car made after 1987 is what I would go with – they have sharper styling, more powerful engines due to better airflow and more fuel flow.  They are light, dirt cheap, don’t look too terribly bad, easy to work on, and have more aftermarket support than any other car on this list.  You can buy one from $1,500 to $5,500.  If you own one and want a massive supporting community, check out foxbodyforum.com
  • 1965-1970 Chevy Impala:  Yes, a behemoth is here.  In 1965 alone, Chevy sold a whopping 1 million cars.  Only the top-of-the-line Caprice had more options than the Impala.  They look good, but they have performance to back it up:  They had the infamous 409 cubic-inch big-block V-8, as well as the 396 cubic-inch big block V-8 and thundering, coveted 427 cubic-inch L-88 big-block V-8.  In 1970, the 454 cubic-inch big block took over from the L-88.  These big bruisers also came with a host of small block V-8s.  Though they may not be a canyon carver, there is a thriving aftermarket.  Expect to pay $1,500 to $10,000 for a non-L-88 car.  A good website is impalas.net.
  • 1971-1977 Pontiac Ventura:  The less-popular version of the Chevy Nova is a good way to get into hot rodding.  That being said, get a Nova.  While it’s a badge-engineered version of the Nova, it’s less popular and harder to find parts for.  Early Camaro suspension parts are interchangeable, but other than that, not much other Chevy stuff but engines and transmissions are interchangeable.  Paying somewhere between $3,000 and $12,000 is what you should expect.  
  • 1973-1976 Chevrolet Laguna:  This land barge is one of my favorites.  There’s a guy in Sonoma County who’s trying to sell one.  It was famous way back when for it’s wins in NASCAR (it came in right when the HEMI cars went out).  You can do literally anything to a Laguna.  The big engine bay can accommodate a big block, big headers on a small block, or a stroker engine.  The stock fenders can take very wide tires, which make it a good choice for drag racing or road racing.  Expect to pay $1,500 to $6,000 for one.  A good website is g3gm.com.  
  • 1970-1974 Ford Maverick:  When the Mustang’s rampant sales numbers killed the Falcon, Ford introduced the Maverick.  It directly competed with the Chevrolet Vega, but was more fun to drive with an optional 302 cubic-inch small block V-8.  Next to the Chevy small block, the Ford 302 small block is one of the most popular engines in America, making the modifications nearly endless.  Want to make it turn?  Turn to Global West, who makes tubular control arms for the Maverick, making it handle like a true goose (sorry for the Top Gun joke – I couldn’t help it!).  Pay between $1,500 and $3,500 for one.  Go to fordmaverick.com for a community.  
  • 1971-1977 Chevrolet Vega:  Yeah, this was next on the list.  It only seems logical to put Chevy’s offering below the Ford (it doesn’t have a V-8 stock, so it’s below the Maverick).  It was a glimpse into the future with it’s all-aluminum, overhead-cam four cylinder engine.  It also came with an electrical fuel pump and standard front disc brakes.  The suspension, punchy engine, and light weight means that it can be quite the performer with a modern engine.  If I were you, I would get the 3.6-liter V-6 offered in many of GM’s cars today.  It’s plenty powerful, and coupled with a car that weighs 2,300 pounds, will make this car a rocket ship.  Pay between $1,500 and $6,000.  Go to vega-world.com for a community.  
  • 1965-1973 Plymouth Fury:  If you want a stock big block in the 1965-1973 Fury, get a 1970 Fury Sport GT.  It’s got a 440 cubic inch big block topped with six carburetors.  That being said, you can easily drop just about any engine made by Mopar into one of these without a lot of work.  Go to stockmopar.com for a community.  
  • 1967-1973 Mercury Cougar:  Essentially just a Mustang with better styling (in my humble opinion) and a 3-inch longer wheelbase, the Cougar is an excellent cruiser.  It fits in at just about any motorsports scene, and is a crowd favorite at shows.  Pay between $1,000 and $6,000 for one.  Visit mercurycougar.net for a good website.  
  • 1968-1970 AMC AMX:  AMC’s much less popular competitor to the Camaro and Mustang never really caught on, which is a shame.  Yes, it sat two, so it really competed with the Corvette and lighter European sports cars.  They can be somewhat hard to find, due to their low production numbers.  They are more of a collector car, as their owners take pride in them.  Pay between $3,000 and $15,000 for one.  Get a more expensive one – it will be in better condition.  Go to theamcforum.com
  • 1972-1974 Dodge Challenger:  The reason I chose the 1972-1974 version is that the 1970-1971 models are more coveted and expensive.  Swapping a modern 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 under the hood is a popular, economical choice.  If you want to go over the top, shove a Viper V-10 under the hood.  Most buyers choose to restore them rather than radically modify them, so you likely won’t need to spend a lot of money on paint, trim and interior parts.  Pay $2,000 to $15,000 for one.  A good website is cuda-challenger.com
  • 1971-1972 Dodge Demon:  This car was very nearly called the Beaver.  It came as a fastback only, so you could tell it apart from the other drab cars of the era.  While it never would beat a HEMI Charger, it could hold it’s own against a big block Camaro.  The V-8s available are popular with racers today, as they can easily rev to 8,000+ RPM with very little modifications.  They are the Mopar version of the Fox-Body Mustang on this list.  Pay between $1,500 and $5,000 for one.  A good resource is valiant.org
  • 1963-1965 Mercury Marauder:  This car is the Mercury version of the Ford Galaxie.  It’s an entry-level version of the Monterey, and it only came with V-8s – the same engines as the Galaxie.  It came with a fastback roof like the Galaxie, as it helped this big bruiser win in NASCAR.  Pay between $4,000 and $15,000 for one.  A good resource is mercurymarauder.org
  • 1960-1970 Ford Galaxie:  The first-year Galaxie had all of the bling of the 1950s.  It’s a pretty car, but in 1960, it didn’t quite cut.  So, Ford redesigned it.  Halfway through 1963, Ford decided to improve it’s aerodynamics to get the upper hand in NASCAR.  This new slope-back style was called the Sports Roof or Scatback hardtop.  Ford also introduced the mighty 427 cubic-inch V-8 that is legendary in drag racing.  In 1968, Ford replaced the 427 with the 428 Cobra Jet designed for drag racing.  It also got better styling.  In terms of suspension, there isn’t much.  However, you don’t need much to go fast – a 427 Roush crate motor, drag shocks, big drag slicks, and a 9-inch rear end are all it needs for speed.  It’s not meant to be a canyon carver.   Pay between $800 and $9,000 for one.  Go to galaxieforum.com for a community.  
  • 1975-1980 Chevy Monza:  A derivative of the Vega, which was produced two years into the Monza’s production span, the Monza replaced the aging, terrible Vega.  Unlike the Vega, the Monza came with a standard V-8.  This makes it very easy to find speed parts for one.  They even have some race breeding in them, as they competed in the IMSA GT series.  You’ll also see many at the drag strip or in standing mile events, as they are fairly aerodynamic.  Pay $1,000 to $3,000 for one.  Go to v8monza.com for a community.
  • 1967-1976 Plymouth Valiant:  The first generation of the Valiant had a look right out of the 1950s.  1967 gave it a redesign that made it look relevant to the 1960s.  Finding a pre-1973 model is the best, as they don’t have the federally-mandated rubber bumpers.  Plus, they are lighter.  In 1974, it was essentially just a rebadged Dart.  This is good because there are twice the parts available.  One of the most common Valiant models you will see is the Valiant Scamp – it accounted for more than half of Plymouth’s sales that year.  Pay between $1,000 and $8,000 for one.  Again, valiant.org is a good resource.  
  • 1973-1976 Chevrolet Nova:  The Nova is a very popular choice with hot rodders because it is cheap, light, and shares parts with the first-generation Camaro.  Many Novas came with a small block Chevy V-8 stock, but they can easily accept big block Chevy V-8s.  In 1973, the government made every automaker put horrible rubber bumpers on their cars.  However, Chevy put an aluminum cover on the bumpers to minimize the horrible look of rubber.  So, the damage is relatively minimal.  The Nova is one of the most popular cars in the autocross and drag racing circuit, as they are cheap, easy to modify, and are light.  Pay $1,500 to $4,500 for one.  A good resource is chevynova.org
  • 1979-1986 Mercury Capri:  The Mercury version of the Ford Fox-Body Mustang is a love-it or hate-it affair for enthusiasts.  Mercury made multiple versions of the Capri, but they are all cheaper than the Mustang, and share the same parts.  Pay anywhere between $1,500 and $3,000 for one.  A good website is foureyepride.com
  • 1963-1969 Mercury Comet:  The first year of the Comet came with a weak 260 cubic-inch V-8.  In 1964, Mercury saw that people wanted better looks and more power.  The Comet was light, and Mercury made 50 cars that did well in the NHRA Super Stock drag racing class.  The next batch of Comets were true comets, with the powerful Ford small block and big block engines.  The sister cars to the Comet open up an aftermarket for it.  Pay $2,000 to $7,500 for one.  Go to cometcentral.com for a community.  
  • 1982-1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme:  This is the Oldsmobile version of the legendary Buick Grand National.  GM sold a lot of these cars, so finding one is easy…and affordable.  You can buy one for $500 to $3,500.  They might not be the best choices for canyon carving, but they are a cheap way into bracket class drag racing.  Go to oldsmobileforum.com for a community.  
  • 1964-1974 Plymouth Satellite:  This was the luxury mid-size Plymouth.  It was the only version of the Plymouth Belvedere to come with a V-8.  You could even get the 426 HEMI in it!  They can get pricey, but are fun cars to cruise around in.  Pay about $2,000 to $13,000 for one.  Go to bbodiesonly.com for a community.

This post took a lot of research, and I hope that you enjoy it.  Don’t take the Internet verbatim.  Even what you think is common knowledge should be double-checked.  I recommend getting books on muscle cars.  One of the best out there is the Encyclopedia of American Cars:  A comprehensive history of the automakers and the cars they built, including every major American automobile and scores of minor makes.  It’s a good read, and an even better research.  0912phr 45 O+20 Affordable Project Cars+american Cars Book

 

The Best Way to Get Into Racing

Hi wonderful readers, I’m back!  I’ve had a wonderful vacation – I hope you have too!  I have a post planned about our rental car – you’ll get a kick!  Anyhow, here’s a good post to start the new year off with.

Autocross.  It’s easy to do.  Just find a big, empty parking lot, put down a lot of traffic cones in any configuration you want, drive around it as quickly as possible, and have a friend time you.  If you spin out, so be it.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a Ford F-550 or a Ferrari LaFerrari.  Any car can do an autocross.

I can practically guarantee you that there is at least one big parking lot in your town/city/area.  Go to the Home Depot and get $50 worth of traffic cones.  It doesn’t matter what size they are.  Even those little ones they use at soccer games work.

Go to that big parking lot with some friends, a stopwatch (or an iPhone), some food and cold drinks, and have a fun afternoon/morning.  Take your friend’s car out for a spin, and vice versa.  Have fun.  You’ll be surprised at how well your car can handle.  Go as fast as you are comfortable with, and work up from their.  Even professional race car drivers sometimes have trouble finding a car’s limits.  You won’t – probably.

When you get bored with the course, redo it.  There are infinite possibilities for autocross courses.

Also, look online at local car clubs to see where they will be doing an autocross.  They will do cones and white chalk lines.  Go and watch.  It will be professionally done, you will meet great people, have fun, likely join the club, and learn what parts to put on your car.  If you’re interested in doing it with them, join the club.  It will probably be in your price range, and if not, they will find a way for you to be a member.

Here are good cars to use.  You can use your daily driver by simply putting on summer tires, better shocks, and other stuff.  Use the internet to find parts.  Somebody will have made an autocross warrior out one similar to yours.

  • Honda CRX:  OK, this one is going to generate a lot of controversy, but I’m prepared to take it.  It’s popular in the modified car world, which means that Honda fans don’t like it much.  It can be difficult to find an unmolested example, but there are some out there.  It’s worth the effort to track one down.  It’s light and agile – it tips the scales at about 1,800 pounds.  It came with a multitude of engines, the best of which was a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine sending 150 horsepower to the front wheels.  Yes, the infamous VTEC system helped.  The combination of a light body and decently-powered engine make it a perfect beginners car for the autocross.
  • Toyota MR2:  This was the last Toyota sports car until the Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ/Toyota GT86 trio came out a couple of years ago.  When you look at it, it becomes immediately clear that this car is an autocross weapon waiting to happen.  It weighs 2,195 pounds, has an all-aluminum engine making 138 horsepower, has a limited-slip differential, and has a low center of gravity.  It’s a college kid’s version of the Porsche Boxster.  They aren’t very well loved by the general public, but autocrossers love them.
  • Mazda Miata:  Ever since it debuted in 1990, this cute little roadster that took what we love about classic British roadsters, and added reliability.  It’s been a smash hit ever since.  Each generation weighs about 2,100 pounds, and with anywhere between 89-167 horsepower available, they are a true rocket on racetracks and autocross courses alike.  It’s got perfect weight distribution, RWD, a limitless amount of aftermarket parts, and thousands of cars up for sale on eBay, classified ads, you name it.
  • Ford Focus SVT:  This is the car that started the performance Focus craze.  It’s got a 2.0-liter Cosworth-tuned 4-cylinder engine making a respectable 170 horsepower.  It’s also got the same bulletproof six-speed manual found in the Mini Cooper S of the same era.
  • Subaru Impreza WRX/STi:  Unless you’ve been in a coma for the last ten years, you’ve heard of the Subaru Impreza WRX/STi.  They have an impressive history in WRC rallycross, so it only seems natural that a car that requires so much finesse on dirt and gravel would be at home on asphalt.  It is.  The 2015 STi has been described as a “305 horsepower merry go round.”  The earlier models (2003-2007) are best suited for autocross duty.  They have permanent AWD mated to a burbling 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder and a tricky 5-speed manual.  The STi models are faster, but more expensive.  Stick with the WRX for better bang for the buck.
  • BMW E30 3-Series:  This car is truly legendary in every arena of motorsports.  Rally, stock car racing in Europe, IMSA, DTM, WTCC, BTCC, you get the idea.  It came with a lot of engines, all of which are good.  The four-cylinder may be down on power compared to the inline six, but it gives a far better weight distribution.
  • Mitsubishi 3000GT:  It’s certainly fair to say that it’s one of the most underrated sports cars of the past 25 years.  You get AWD, active four-wheel steering, active aerodynamics with self-adjusting front AND rear spoilers, and electronically-controlled suspension.  It was the first real electronic sports car.  So, why aren’t people buying these?  Well, the electronic systems, which help make it a great drivers car, often fail.  They aren’t cheap to replace or fix.  Become an automotive electrician if you buy one.  If you’re willing to take the reliability risk into hand, you’re going to find yourself behind the wheel of an immensely capable car that will absolutely dominate an autocross course.
  • Chevrolet C10:  This is a wild card, but hear me out.  There are many pro-touring shops and companies out there who will build you a killer truck for about $20,000.  You can haul all of your spare tires, parts, etc. to the track.  You can even haul your other toys out to the track and dominate at the autocross.  Using a Chevrolet small-block V-8 will mean that you can squeeze a lot of power out of it for a few thousand dollars, give you reasonable fuel economy, and will be simple to work on no matter what you put on it.

Overall, autocross is a cheap, simple way to have a lot of fun with your friends on the weekend.  Taking an EVOC course through your local Sheriff’s office will help your driving skills enormously, and you will have fun doing it.  Most of the instructors autocross, so ask them which club is best.  Also, join a big sanctioning body like SCCA or NASA for autocross.  Once you start autocrossing, you’ll get hooked.