The Best $40,000 SUVs You Can Buy

Until about 2012, one could easily delineate between a luxury SUV and a mainstream SUV. It’s different now. Big players in the luxury SUV market (BMW and Mercedes-Benz) have started to move some vehicles down market in the hopes of snagging sales that would typically go to a mainstream manufacturer. Mainstream heavy hitters like Kia, Hyundai, Honda and Mazda are moving up market in the hopes of wooing buyers from the luxury brands. Let’s say you want an SUV but have a budget of $40,000. This can get you a lot of car. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for a luxury SUV or a mainstream SUV. There are many good SUVs to choose from. Here are my picks.

  • Mercedes-Benz GLA250/GLA250 4Matic: While it might look like a hatchback with a body lift, it’s really more than that. Some of us might remember the Mercedes C230 crapback of the early 2000s that was about the same price. Man, was that thing awful! The GLA250 starts at $32,225, and the GLA250 4Matic (AWD) starts at $34,225. That’s a lot of wiggle room for options. You can get the Multimedia and/or Premium packages, both of which give you such goodies as navigation, a Harman Kardon audio system, a rearview camera and heated front seats. That’s a pretty good deal. Throw in the fact that it’s a sporty little crossover, and you’ve got a good deal. You’ve got a mini crossover that is posh and carries the Mercedes-Benz cache. 
  • Audi Q3: The Q3 is another mini crossover, but it’s a very good one. It starts at $34,625 with FWD, and starts at $36,725 with AWD. A good deal for a Q3 would be a FWD Q3 Premium Plus, which starts at $34,625. You get such goodies as HID headlights with LED accents, a panoramic glass roof, leather seats and upholstery, heated front seats and keyless entry/start, all of which are standard. At this point, you can still easily add the Technology and Sport packages without cracking the $40,000 mark. If you need AWD, add on $2,500.
  • BMW X1 sDrive 28i/X1 xDrive28i: The BMW X1 is the cheapest BMW sold in America. It starts off at $32,195 for the sDrive28i and $33,995 for the xDrive28i. It’s a bargain BMW. The result is that you can get a lot of options for less than $40,000, especially with the RWD sDrive28i. You can even get the Sport Line, Technology, Lighting and Driver Assistance packages without cracking $40,000.
  • Land Rover Discovery Sport: Even though the Land Rover Discovery Sport SE starts off at a hefty $38,065, it comes with a lot of bang for the buck. Maybe it won’t break down a ton. It comes standard with a nifty AWD system, an 8-inch infotainment screen, a 5-inch TFT screen for the driver, Bluetooth connectivity, a rearview camera with backup sensors, four (yes, four) USB ports, 18-inch alloy wheels and dual-zone climate control. Throw in navigation ($800) and Jaguar Land Rover’s InControl smartphone apps ($430), you’ll have a sticker price of $39,745.
  • Lexus NX 200t: The NX 200t starts off at $35,405 with FWD, and $36,805 with AWD. It’s a really well-priced crossover for the money. However, you can’t get very many options, because just about everything is bundled into some sort of package. The best deal for the NX 200t would be an AWD NX 200t with the Navigation Package, which includes Lexus’s Enform apps, and it will even stay below $40,000.
  • Lincoln MKC: This is Lincoln’s newest entry into the luxury world. For the past five years or so, they’ve been blundering around the woods with a bag over their heads. None of their cars have been successful lately, and that’s a problem for them. They hope to change that with the MKC. It starts off at $33,995 for FWD models and $36,490 with AWD. It has a lot of standard features including an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, two USB ports, rear parking sensors, a rearview camera and Bluetooth connectivity. There’s even more wiggle room with FWD MKCs, and for a touch under $39,000, you get navigation, a panoramic sunroof, leather and a hands-free liftgate.
  • Lincoln MKX: Yeah, I know. Two Lincolns in a row. Yowza. The MKX is larger than the MKC, but it’s still a good buy, even if it costs $39,025. You won’t have any wiggle room with this one, but that’s OK. You get the Ford/Lincoln SYNC infotainment system, a rearview camera, a 10-speaker high-quality audio system and keyless entry/start. Just because you go for the base model doesn’t mean that you will be sorely lacking in power. The standard engine in the MKX is a 3.7-liter V6 that is expected to crank out 300 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. It’s the same engine that’s in the base-model Ford Mustang.
  • Acura RDX: Acura has long been a heavy hitter in the bargain-basement fun-to-drive luxury segment. Even though the RDX has gone up in price, it’s still an incredibly good buy. It comes standard with LED headlights, a premium ELS sound system, a power liftgate, a rearview camera and Bluetooth connectivity, all for just $36,190 with FWD models. AWD models are a tad more at $37,690. Even getting the Technology Package will keep the price below $40,000 in FWD models. If you buy an AWD model, you can get the AcuraWatch safety features. The problem is that you can only get one or the other, as getting both packages will crack the $40,000 mark regardless of whether you have FWD or AWD.
  • Volvo XC60 T5 E-Drive/XC60 T5 AWD: Volvo has long been known for their bang for the buck. Their best-selling crossover comes standard with many great features such as City Safety automatic emergency braking, a 7-inch infotainment screen, Bluetooth connectivity and 18-inch alloy wheels. The FWD T5 E-Drive starts off at $37,395, while the AWD T5 AWD starts off at $38,895. The XC60 is right at the same price as many other comparable luxury crossovers. You won’t be able to get many options in the XC60, unfortunately, as many options are bundled into expensive packages that will send the sticker price well over $50,000.
  • Volvo XC70 T5 E-Drive/XC70 T5 AWD: The Volvo XC70 was one of the first crossover wagons to go on sale. Since then, it’s been a staple in the Volvo lineup. It starts off at $38,095 for the T5 E-Drive and $39,595 for the T5 AWD. It doesn’t come with a ton of standard or optional features. It’s also not the best-seller in Volvo’s lineup, as it’s showing it’s age. Volvo has tried to spice it up with a recent refresh and new powertrain options, but buyers would rather buy an SUV than an aging wagon.
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee: The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a great value. It starts off at a cheap $30,990 for RWD models and $32,990 for 4WD models. It offers a great combination of luxury and proven off-road capability. It comes standard with Fiat Chrysler’s amazing UConnect infotainment system, keyless entry/start and a 7-inch TFT display. Because it starts at such a low price, you can buy gadgets and goodies, or step up to higher trim levels. If you want navigation or the optional turbodiesel engine, be prepared to fork out more than $40,000. The navigation system doesn’t come with a package. You have to step up a couple of trim levels. Oh, and it’s built like a gigantic LEGO set. You can easily swap in better suspension, wheels, and just about anything you could think of.
  • Jeep Renegade: The Jeep Renegade is the replacement for the awful Compass and Patriot. It starts off at $18,990 and goes all the way up to $26,990. While it might be the cheapest new Jeep, it’s also in Wards Auto’s 10 Best Interiors for 2015. A fully loaded Renegade won’t even come close to $40,000, which is a good incentive for value-oriented buyers. It offers class-above equipment, a very nice interior and the Trailhawk models have decent offroad capability.
  • Buick Enclave: It’s certainly not the newest three-row crossover on the market, but it’s a very good one, despite having been introduced all the way back in 2008. You can get it in base model form for $39,975. Standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels, Buick’s IntelliLink infotainment system, a rearview camera, remote start and a power liftgate. I’m speaking from experience when I say you should seriously consider it. It’s quick, quiet, and incredibly comfortable for every passenger. It has a lot of space, and gets decent fuel economy for something so large.
  • Buick Encore: Despite being tiny in size, the Encore is a pioneer in the subcompact luxury crossover market. It was also the first of its kind in the segment. It starts off at an incredibly affordable $24,990, and even fully loaded falls far short of the $40,000 mark. It’s got a quiet interior for the segment. It’s a good choice for large city dwellers who need a car, but need it to have space but be small.
  • Ford Edge: Even though it doesn’t have that luxury cache to it, the Ford Edge offers plenty of luxurious amenities. Even if you don’t want to spend more than $40,000, you can get an Edge Titanium with AWD and gadgets such as SYNC with MyFord Touch, navigation and a Sony audio system. You could also get a sparsely-optioned Edge Sport with it’s twin turbo V6 and navigation if you want more power.
  • Ford Explorer: You don’t need to get the Ford Explorer Limited to be well-equipped in one. While the Explorer starts off at $31,645 for FWD models and $33,645 for AWD XL models, your best bet is the $34,345 XLT, which has many more standard features than the XL. Getting the XLT nets you rear parking sensors, keyless entry/start and a 10-way power driver’s seat. You can also get navigation, SYNC with MyFord Touch, remote start, a nine-speaker audio system and heated front seats without coming close to $40,000.
  • Nissan Murano: The 2016 Nissan Murano has a design that certainly isn’t for everybody. It’s aggressive and daring. You can make it even more daring with vibrant paint colors. Even though it looks upscale, you don’t need to go for the range-topping Platinum model to have a well-equipped Murano. The base model Murano starts off at $30,445 with FWD and $32,045 with AWD. Both the SV and SL models offer plenty of conveniences and gadgets including navigation, NissanConnect apps, remote start and two USB ports. While an AWD Murano SV will set you back $39,435, you get a lot of good stuff with it. You get all of the standard SV features, plus Nissan’s Around View camera feature, a premium Bose audio system, leather upholstery and seats and adjustable ambient lighting. That sounds like a good buy to the adventurous, but value-oriented buyer.
  • Nissan Pathfinder: It’s no longer the rugged offroader that it used to be. It’s now more of a mall-roader. It starts off at $30,515 for FWD models and $32,205 for AWD models. The SL trim is the best out of the vast range of models, due to its standard remote start, a power liftgate and leather seats and upholstery. However, other tech goodies will be out of reach, due to the fact that they are stuck in expensive packages.
  • Hyundai Tuscon: The 2016 Tuscon is completely redesigned. In every trim, especially the Limited model, the Tuscon offers value, class-above features and a dizzying array of electronic wizardry in one incredibly stylish package. Regardless of drivetrain choice, the Tuscon Limited doesn’t even come close to $40,000. If you check each and every option box, you will have everything from a 4.2-inch TFT display to navigation to such safety features as automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection.
  • Hyundai Santa Fe Sport: Hyundai has long been known to pack immense value into their SUVs. The Santa Fe Sport is no exception. It starts off at $25,845. Regardless of whether you get it with FWD or AWD, or different engines, it’s still a very good buy. You can check just about every option box and still not be close to $40,000. For anywhere from $30,000-38,000, the Santa Fe Sport will give you an Infinity Logic 7 audio system, navigation, a panoramic sunroof and a hands-free power liftgate. That sounds like a lot of value for not very much money to me.
  • Hyundai Santa Fe: The Santa Fe is just the three-row version of the Santa Fe Sport. It remains a very compelling buy in its segment. It starts off at $31,295. It comes with a host of standard features including blind spot warning, keyless entry/start and a hands-free power liftgate. Those come with the $36,545 GLS model. However, you can’t get navigation with the GLS, as that comes with the expensive Ultimate Package, which crakcs $40,000.
  • Toyota Highlander: The wildly popular Toyota Highlander is a good buy. It starts off at $30,650. The $37,870 FWD XLE and $38,935 AWD XLE models are the best buys. The XLEs come with the Entune infotainment system, which includes navigation, an 8-inch touchscreen, keyless entry/start and heated front seats thrown in for good measure. Throw in the legendary Toyota reliability and you’ve got yourself one helluva good deal.
  • Kia Sorento: Kia and Hyundai both are well-known for their value injections in every vehicle. The Sorento is the sister to the Santa Fe. The Sorento starts off at a reasonable $25,795. You can get a nicely optioned Sorento EX with either FWD or AWD, or a V6 or turbocharged four cylinder. The standard features on the EX are many, so I’ll just list a few. You get a nifty 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, navigation, a panoramic sunroof, a 7-inch TFT screen, an Infinity Logic 7 high-quality audio system, keyless entry/start and leather seats and upholstery.
  • Honda Pilot: The newly-released 2016 Honda Pilot looks promising to me. It’s got more space than before, better looks than before, and has more features than any other Honda SUV. It starts off at an affordable $30,875 to boot. For the best bang for the buck, go with the EX-L trim with navigation, as you will get the LaneWatch system, Honda Link with an 8-inch main screen and a power liftgate for just a tad under $40,000, even with AWD. That sounds like a good deal to me. 
  • Mazda CX-3: Talk about something that really punches far above it’s weight! It starts off at an incredibly affordable $20,840, but even fully loaded, won’t go past $30,000. The best one to get is the range-topping Grand Touring model. It has a beautiful interior filled with white/black leather/suede upholstery, an amazing infotainment system and a delightful Bose audio system. Throw in some fun driving dynamics for good measure, and you have a winner.
  • Mazda CX-5: The Mazda CX-5 is basically the sports car of the compact SUV segment. It brings goodies that were previously unobtainable to the average person into reach. These goodies include a neat infotainment system and LED headlights. A base model CX-5 starts off at $22,675. While a fully-loaded one won’t come close to $40,000, a $33,655 compact crossover is a bit pricey. But, you will get such safety aids as automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control. Many of the CX-5’s competitors don’t even offer these gadgets. Don’t get the smaller 155 horsepower 2.0-liter four cylinder (it’s a great engine), rather, go for the more powerful 184-horsepower 2.5-liter four cylinder. The smaller engine doesn’t have much of a noticeable fuel economy advantage over the bigger engine.

Those are the best SUVs and crossovers you can buy for under $40,000. They are all great choices, depending on what you are looking for. Of course, I highly recommend you test drive at least some of them before you settle on one!

I apologize for the extreme delay in posting. I’m just crawling out of the pit that is midterms.

What the OPTIMA Search for the Ultimate Street Car is Really About

It all began at the SEMA show in 2004 or 2005.  OPTIMA’s Director of Product Development and Marketing, Cam Douglass, was in awe of all of the pro-built cars being shown, and couldn’t help but wonder if there was more to these cars than just having brand name parts and looking cool.

It took him a few years of talking to people and a whole lot of planning, but then Douglass met Jimi Day, and the idea became a reality.  It went from the SEMA show floor to the nearby track, Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch.

As expected, Pro-Touring cars were all over the headlines.  I mean, how could they not be when iconic cars like RJ Gottlieb’s Big Red Camaro and Steven Rupp’s Bad Penny Camaro were competing?  In fact, they continued to grab headlines because Gottlieb and Rupp were more than willing to push both themselves and their cars to the absolute limit.

In the first year alone of OUSCI (OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational), there were some well-performing cars in the field.  There was a 2004 Porsche 911, a brand-new Pontiac G8, a Lincoln MKX of all things, a new Dodge Challenger, and several late-model Corvettes.

Why such a diverse field of cars?  Because otherwise, how would you determine what the “ultimate” street car really was?  The whole point of OUSCI is to see if SEMA show cars could perform as well on the track as they could look good at a show.  There never were, and never will be limitations on the year, make, model, or build style of the cars. Otherwise there would be no real valid way to determine whether the winner was the ultimate street car.

The OUSCI field is the most diverse it has ever been, with cars like Jonathan Ward’s 1948 Buick ICON Special to Dieter Heinz-Kijora’s 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG, and more than 100 cars in between those extremes.  Yes, Pro-Touring cars are still a big part of the mix, but anybody who owns a street-legal car or truck has a chance at getting to the invitational.  Just ask Thomas Smith about his 120,000 mile daily-driven 2005 Subaru WRX STI.

If you’re interested in going to a qualifying event to just watch, or to try and get to the invitational, they happen all over the country.  I’ve attached a link for you, where you can register for a qualifying event if you’re interested at http://driveusca.com/events/

Every vehicle that makes the cut is placed on display at SEMA for a week, before heading out to the OUSCI at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

This is 2010 OUSCI competitor Mike Musto's 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona replica.  He's a host for the /DRIVE network on YouTube, which I highly recommend, and this is one of the coolest cars I've ever seen.
This is 2010 OUSCI competitor Mike Musto’s 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona replica. He’s a host for the /DRIVE network on YouTube, which I highly recommend, and this is one of the coolest cars I’ve ever seen.
This is just a beautiful picture from Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  It was taken at the end of the 2014 OUSCI.
This is just a beautiful picture from Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It was taken at the end of the 2014 OUSCI.
This is Bob Benson's totally cool 1972 De Tomaso Pantera from the  2013 OUSCI.  It's just epic looking, isn't it?
This is Bob Benson’s totally cool 1972 De Tomaso Pantera from the 2013 OUSCI. It’s just epic looking, isn’t it?

 

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

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!

 

The Most Underrated Muscle Cars Ever

Muscle cars get a bad rap for being fast in a straight line, uncomfortable, pig-like vehicles.  It’s deservedly so for some of them.  Some of them are just so good at what they do that you can’t help but love them, faults and all.  Then, there are the good ones that are underrated.  Some of the overrated ones are the modern Camaro ZL1, Mustang GT500, and the modern Dodge Charger.  Here are the muscle cars that should be overlooked less:

  • 1970 AMC Rebel Muscle Machine:  How can you not love a car that is called the “muscle machine,” has a red, white, and blue paint job, and a 390 cubic-inch V8 (6.3 liters)?  It was a seriously fast car, and it’s sister car, the Javelin wore the same paint scheme in the Trans-Am racing series of the 1970’s for a few years with some success.  However, picking a fight with the Rebel Muscle Machine meant that you’d better have a stonking fast car to beat it.  It was relatively light, made a lot of horsepower (340 stock, but could easily get boosted to well over 450), and looked like nothing else on the road.  Some people bought the car, painted it it all white, and simply wreaked havoc on the streets of America in a car that looked unassuming.
  • Ford Torino GT:  Ford took their full-size Torino, stuffed their biggest motor available into it, and turned it into what may be one of the best cars for cruising on the highway or up and down a drag strip.  The big Ford Torino was one seriously fast car that could take the family in comfort.  While it wasn’t exactly a looker, it came with a big black hood with a functional air scoop.  It also came with a four-barrel Holley carburetor, an Edelbrock air intake, a BorgWarner four-speed overdrive transmission, and Ford’s legendary 9-inch rear end with 4:11 gears.
  • Jensen Interceptor:  Ok, maybe it’s not a true muscle car because it was marketed as a GT car, but it’s the spirit of the law, not the letter of the law for this blog post.  It’s timeless Carrozzeria Touring design makes it look Italian.  Plus, you could get it with a Dodge 440 cubic-inch V8 and a Chrysler Torqueflite 4-speed automatic.  That definitely makes it a British muscle car in my eyes.
  • 1991 GMC Syclone:  It should have been called the Psyclone, not the Syclone.  This turbocharged mini truck was a force of nature.  For just $26,000 in 1991, you could easily embarrass a Ferrari 348, a car that commanded a price of almost $180,000.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t very truck-like, even with a bed, as it was only rated to carry and tow 500 pounds.
  • AMC Gremlin Randall 401-XR:  While the AMC Gremlin may have been a terrible economy car designed on an airline barf bag, it sold in droves.  But, when you turned some over to Randall Engineering, magic happened.  Randall Engineering ripped out the turdy big inline-six-cylinder engine, and stuffed a massive 401 cubic-inch V8 (6.5 liters) into the tiny engine bay.  The car ran high-13-second 1/4 mile times at about 90 mph.  And, you could get the car for just $2,995 in 1972.  And that included a donor car.  Options included a four-speed manual transmission or a Chrysler Torqueflite 4-speed automatic transmission, stainless steel headers, a “Twin Grip” differential (a fancy name for a limited-slip differential), four-wheel power disc brakes, a cam kit, and a high-rise intake manifold with a four-barrel Holley carburetor.
  • Shelby Ford Maverick:  This is quite possibly the rarest Shelby ever.  Only 300 were ever sold in Mexico only.  There are only a handful of pictures of the car, all of which can be viewed at http://www.maverick.to/shelbydemexico.php.  They were Brazilian-made Ford Mavericks with Mustang 302 cubic-inch V8’s (5.0 liters), cool paint, and some extra Shelby odds and ends.
  • Studebaker Super Lark:  Studebaker supercharged their 302 cubic-inch V8 (5.0 liters), and put it into their stunning Lark coupe.  The car made an impressive 335 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque way back in 1963.  The car weighed in right around 3,000 pounds, so it was fast.  It was luxurious enough that it was called the “businessman’s hot rod.”  I agree.  It was also one of the first true muscle cars.  It came out in 1963, about a year before the much-loved Pontiac GTO.
  • Mercury Cyclone:  While nobody will ever really lose sleep over the Ford Fairlane, it will be harder to lose sleep over it’s interestingly-styled brother, the Mercury Cyclone.  It came with Ford’s high-performance 428 cubic-inch (7.0 liters) Cobra Jet V8, and it took a mere 5.5 seconds to hit 60 mph.
  • Dodge Demon/Plymouth Duster:  While the Dodge Demon and Plymouth Duster were certainly not the fastest nor most powerful muscle cars of the early 1970’s, they were plenty capable of smoking a larger muscle car.  They were powered by Dodge’s 340 cubic-inch V8 (5.6 liters), which was a mid-lineup engine in the larger Challenger and Barracuda.  That, coupled with their relative light weight, meant that they were able to be pretty darn quick in the quarter mile.
  • Buick GS 455 Stage 1:  510 pound-feet of torque.  That’s all you need to know.  Not really, but this was the most powerful motor sold in America for a few years.  It was big, big, big, but very fast.  It was also really comfortable.  This is one of the best cars in the world for cruising the interstates.  I want one.

And, then there’s this…

 

The Greatest American Turbocharged Cars

Many people think that turbochargers belong in heavily modified import cars.  Well, that’s partially true.  Europe has turned out some impressive turbocharged cars, as well as the US of A.  Here are America’s greatest turbocharged cars.

  • Ford Mustang SVO:  The 2015 Ford Mustang has a 2.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, just like the SVO Mustangs of the 1980’s.  The first turbocharged Ford Mustang showed up in 1979 with a 135-horsepower, turbocharged, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine.  It was an alternative to the downsized 4.2-liter V8 found in the Mustang GT.  But, it wasn’t until Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations (SVO, now known as Special Vehicle Tuning or SVT) got their hands on one that it became anything noteworthy.  It came with a factory-installed Hurst short-throw shifter, revolutionary Koni adjustable shocks, ABS disc brakes at all four corners, a limited-slip differential, and a screaming, turbocharged 205 horsepower.  Drivers even had the cool option of flicking a dash-mounted switch that allowed the car to run on lower-grade fuel for a certain amount of time.  When it ended it’s production run in the late 1980’s, it was something to be feared.  It looked especially menacing in grey.
  • 1965 Chevrolet Corvair:  Believe it or not, the Corvair actually had a go-fast option.  It had two, in fact.  One was the Crown Corvair, which used a mid-mounted 283-cubic-inch Corvette V8, and the other was a turbocharger bolted onto the engine.  From the factory.  It made 150 horsepower initially, but by the time the Corvair died, it made 180 horsepower.  Unlike many other turbocharged cars, the turbocharged Corvair did not use a wastegate, the internal exhaust flap that opens at higher engine speeds to prevent over-spinning the turbine.  Instead, Chevy engineers simply built enough backpressure into the exhaust system to prevent overboost and serious engine damage.  Very few Corvairs with the turbocharged engine were ever made.
  • Oldsmobile F85 Jetfire:  Oldsmobile was one of the early adopters of turbocharging technology.  It released the powerful F85 Jetfire in April of 1962, and the car was something of a small success.  It took the fabled 3.5-liter high-compression “Rocket” V8, cranked up the boost, and let it rev.  It made a screaming 215 horsepower, and it was easily quicker than many naturally aspirated cars of 1962.  Plus, owners got an ashtray-sized boost gauge in front of the shifter.  The engine had problems with detonation, which is the process where the hot air-fuel mixture under pressure spontaneously ignites before the spark plug has a chance to ignite it.  So, the Turbo-Rocket engine was fed a mixture of methanol alcohol and water (the same stuff fed to dragsters).  This allowed the mixture to not ignite as quickly and get a higher octane level.  Today, water/alcohol injection is commonplace in high-performance tuner car applications, but isn’t it cool that F85 Jetfire owners had to periodically fill their “Turbo Rocket Fluid” reservoir?
  • Buick GNX:  If there’s a poster-child for American turbocharged cars, the Buick GNX wins, hands-down.  The all-black, tire-smoking, Ferrari Testarossa-beating, quarter-mile waltzing Buick GNX was and still is a force of nature.  Buick initially started turbocharging it’s anemic 3.8-liter V6 in 1978 for the Regal and the LeSabre, introducing the fast Regal Grand National line in 1982.  It culminated with 1987 with the GNX.  Buick purposefully underrated the crank horsepower at 276 horsepower, but dyno tests showed that the car made at least 315 horsepower at the wheels.  This means that the car made somewhere close to 360-370 horsepower at the crank.  It even beat the twin-turbo Callaway Corvette that I featured on my blog a couple of months ago in the quarter mile.  The GNX would go through the quarter mile in the low 13-second range at around 125-130 mph.  Just 547 GNX’s were built in 1987, each specially massaged by AMC/McLaren.  Today, the turbo Buick’s are something of a legend, and many go for upwards of $30,000.  The car was so successful on the street the Buick entered a naturally-aspirated V8 version of the car in NASCAR’s Grand National series (now known as the Nationwide Series), where it was extremely competitive.
  • 1989 Pontiac 20th Anniversary Turbo Trans Am:  The all-white Pontiac Trans Am picked to be the pace car for the 73rd annual Indy 500 was completely different than the first turbocharged Trans Am, which was all mustache and no Burt.  This 1989 force-fed pony car was something completely different.  I liken it as the Pontiac storm trooper to the Buick GNX Darth Vader.  Pontiac subcontracted an engineering firm to swap Buick GNX engines (made by Buick for Pontiac) into the Trans Am.  But, the story doesn’t (and shouldn’t) end there.  Anniversary-edition Trans Am’s got better-flowing heads than the GNX, stainless-steel headers, GNX-sized Eaton intercoolers, a cross-drilled Comp Cams crankshaft, and their own engine tuning higher up in the powerband.  The net result was a car that officially produced 250 horsepower at the crank, but made closer to 320 horsepower at the crank.  This marked a return to the horsepower-underrating days of the muscle car, started by, you guessed it, Pontiac.  It was the fastest pace car ever in the history of the Indy 500, which is impressive, given the fact that many fast cars have been chosen since then.
  • Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe:  The Beach Boys made the T-Bird famous with the line, “fun, fun, fun, until her daddy takes it away.”  The T-Bird was fun until Daddy (the EPA) introduced emissions regulations that took the fun out of the T-Bird.  By 1982, the T-Bird was a horrible, anemic shoebox of a car.  Happily, 1983 saw the rising of the phoenix.  It’s beak-like hood had twin nostrils that meant that there was a turbocharged engine underneath that pointy hood.  Other than the amazingly 1980’s-FILA edition, the T-Bird Turbo Coupe was at it’s peak in 1987 and 1988.  That was when stick-shifted version of the Fox-bodied T-Bird came equipped with a whistling 190 horsepower, four-wheel ABS disc brakes, and a limited-slip differential.  Those nostrils on the hood, by the way, are functional, as they feed air directly to the top-mounted intercooler.
  • Shelby GLHS:  It’s hard to find a car that has a shape that’s more square than the Dodge Omni.  The blocky Omni had all of the sporting pretensions of a worn-out water shoe.  Then, you hand the Omni over to Carroll Shelby.  Early Omni GLH (unofficially Goes Like Hell) cars weren’t turbocharged, but by the mid-1980’s, America was becoming obsessed with the turbocharger.  So, by the mid-1980’s, the Omni GLH had enough punch to beat any VW GTI of the era.  For the 1986 model year only, 500 cars were further tweaked by Shelby to become the Omni GLHS (Goes Like Hell S’More), which was a 175-horsepower breadbox with more boost, better suspension, and factory options like a roll cage and heavy-duty oil cooler borrowed from the Ram 250 with the Cummins Diesel.  Quite possibly the best part of the GLHS:  The uprated top speed of the GLHS was too much for the regular 85 mph speedometer of the Omni, so Shelby simply added a sticker to the bottom of the gauge with increments up to 135 mph.
  • Shelby CSX-VNT:  Another Shelby creation was the CSX-VNT, which was based off of the homely Plymouth Sundance and Dodge Shadow.  Initially, the CSX-VNT packed 175 horsepower, and like the earlier GLHS, went like a bat out of hell.  Shelby built a small run of 1,001 cars for the Thrifty rental car company with slightly less power.  In the final year of CSX-VNT production, 1989, the CSX-VNT included some new, unique technology previously only seen on race cars – variable turbine geometry.  Computer-controlled vanes moved to direct the hot exhaust gas stream to improve spool-up time.  While it’s power rating remained the same at 175 horsepower, it had dramatically better response time in the low end, virtually eliminating turbo lag.  The next time this technology would show up in the U.S. market would be in 2011, with the 997-generation Porsche 911 Turbo.  That was more than 15 years later.
  • GMC Syclone:  In 1990, Gale Banks Engineering cracked the 200-mph mark at the Bonneville Salt Flats in a compact GMC pickup truck with no turbocharger or supercharger.  In 1991, the streetable version of that high-powered pickup showed up on dealer lots.  It’s 4.3-liter Vortec V6 engine was turbocharged with the help of Gale Banks himself.  It came standard with ABS and AWD, neither of which were options on the S15 Sonoma.  You couldn’t haul much with the Syclone, unfortunately, as it was only rated to haul 500 pounds.  Too bad, but you could still fill the bed with the egos of every single Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati driver on the road.  This all-black, one-year-only mini-truck was the fastest-accelerating production vehicle in America for a few years, easily getting off of the line, thanks to the torque-rich engine and AWD.  It got to 60 mph somewhere in the low 4-second range.
  • GMC Typhoon:  A spin-off of the one-year-only Syclone, the Jimmy-bodied Typhoon was officially rated at 280 horsepower, though dyno tests showed that it made at least that at the wheels, meaning that it made somewhere around 320 horsepower at the crank.  It could easily beat a Ferrari 348 off of the line and up to about 70 mph, when the 348 really got into the powerband.  Just under 5,000 Typhoons were made between 1992-1993, and unlike the black-only Syclone, could be bought in a variety of colors.  In fact, Clint Eastwood used to drive a Forest Green Typhoon around in his Dirty Harry days, where he would pull up to a stoplight and ask punks if they felt lucky. Most thought they were going to beat some middle-aged guy in his SUV with their Mustang or import car.
  • Dodge Neon SRT4:  In 2003, Chrysler/Dodge’s Street Racing Technology (SRT) team got hold of the friendly-faced Neon subcompact car, and built what is still the car to beat for bang-for-your-buck performance.  A frog-eyed four-door sedan with a functional front-mounted intercooler peeking out of the grille, the tiny Neon made mincemeat out of everything from a Porsche Boxster to a Nissan 350Z.  Dodge claimed 230 horsepower, though dyno testing showed that the car made at least that much, if not more at the wheels.  This means that the engine was making close to 280 horsepower at the crank.  Something else that is cool about the Neon SRT4 is the fact that it doesn’t have a muffler on it.  This allows it to have vastly better turbo flow.  Resonators keep the volume semi-sane, but the Neon really makes a lot of noise when you give it some go-juice.
  • Chevrolet SS Turbocharged:  Initially available only as a supercharged coupe, the Cobalt SS was always OK in performance testing, but it wasn’t going to set any records.  Starting in 2009, the Cobalt SS came as either a sedan or coupe with a turbocharger bolted onto a small four-cylinder engine.  It made 260 horsepower.  Should you want a cool sleeper, if you aren’t afraid of the ignition recall, you can get a Cobalt SS, take the badges off, swap the big chrome rims for something more discreet (like the regular Cobalt rims), and you’d have the makings of a good sleeper.  It had a no-lift-shift system – just keep your right foot floored so that you don’t loose boost – and you’ll see the quarter mile fly by in under 13 seconds, and will keep up with a Porsche 911 on a road course.  Take it out to the twisties out on the road, and you’ll be able to keep up with a motorcycle, thanks to the tiny size of the Cobalt.

1986 Ford Mustang SVO 1986 Shelby Omni GLHS 1988 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe

1989 Shelby CSX-VNT 2004 Dodge Neon SRT4

 

1962 Oldsmobile F85 Jetfire 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Spyder Turbo

1987 Buick GNX

1989 Pontiac Trans Am 20th Anniversary Edition

1991 GMC Syclone 1992 GMC Typhoon

 

The Top Movie/TV Show Cars

Many movies have cars that we love.  Famous cars with famous actors – it goes together.  Le Mans had a Porsche 917 and a Ferrari 512LM with Steve McQueen doing all of the driving in the 917.  It also had a Porsche 911 Carrera S that went for $1.75 Million dollars at auction last year.  The Ronin remake had Robert De Niro, a Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, a BMW M5, and a nitrous-huffing Audi S8.  Vanishing Point had Barry Newman, a 440-powered Dodge Challenger R/T Magnum, and a Jaguar E-Type V12 Convertible.  Well, you get the idea.

While I know that last weekend was Oscars weekend, I still thought that the cars from famous movies deserve a proper recognition.  Enjoy my list.  I have also attached videos of the cars in the movies that they were in.  I hope you enjoy the list and the videos!

  1. 1968 Dodge Charger “Bullitt”:  While it’s a shame that I haven’t seen Bullitt yet (one of these days!), I’ve seen the epic car chase scene on YouTube countless times.  I know.  It’s not the same.  The 1968 Dodge Charger from Bullitt is undeniably one of the most iconic cars ever to be used in a movie.  Anybody, I repeat, ANYBODY, can watch the chase scene and then see a 1968 Charger in real life, and say, “I saw a car that looks similar to that one in Bullitt!”  The two cars that really defined the words “muscle car” tore up the streets of San Francisco for real (no CGI, just a couple of sped-up shots).  Both the Ford Mustang GT with the 390 cubic-inch V8 and the Dodge Charger R/T with the 440 cubic-inch V8 needed some modifications for the chase scene.  Ex race-car builder Max Balchowsky modified both cars for film use.  The Highland Green Mustang needed a TON of mods for the chase scene.  The Charger, however, only needed heavy-duty shocks and springs to cope with the jumps.  Both cars used prototype Firestone tires, but it’s possible to see different width tires multiple times on the Charger.  According to Balchowsky, the Charger with it’s big 375-horsepower 440 cubic-inch V8 outgunned the 325-horse 390 cubic-inch V8 Mustang (pun not intended) so much that it required the stunt driver to slow down the car so that McQueen’s ‘Stang could keep up.  Score for Mopar!  While (spoiler alert!) one of the cars met a fiery demise at the end of the movie and was subsequently scrapped, some say that the other Charger is still around…somewhere.  I’d sure like to think so!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Lbs_nYW3-o
  2. 1955 Chevrolet 150 “American Graffiti”:  Arguably one of the most iconic cars for hot rodding, let alone movies, the 1955 Chevrolet 150 from American Graffiti remains the benchmark for modified ’55 Chevy’s.  Three 1955 Chevrolet 150’s were used for the filming of the movie.  Two of said cars were used in 1971’s Two Lane Blacktop.  Transportation supervisor Henry Travers picked the two cars up from the Universal Studios lot and painted them black.  One car was a fiberglass shell, and it was used to film exterior shots and the actors inside the car.  The other car, the stunt car, was used for the climatic drag race crash.  Travers, who drove the car stunt Chevy for the Paradise Road finale couldn’t roll the car as directed by George Lucas – the car had to be heaved onto it’s roof by the crew.  A third, non-running 1955 Chevy was picked up, spray-painted black, and a fake B-pillar was welded on to resemble to other two cars.  It was burned to film the crash’s aftermath.  The burn car was returned to the junkyard – it would have been impossible to get the car in running condition!  Only the main camera car remains today.  It has traded hands a few times and some dubious modifications have been made to it.  In 2012, it was sold privately to a private buyer who plans to restore the car to it’s original American Graffiti appearance.  Prior to the deal, the buyer apparently barely avoided acquiring his own burn car, built by George Barris.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOgqUHk-zDY
  3. 1976 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 “Ronin”:  While the chase scene from Bullitt deserves lots of ink, the multiple chase scenes from the 1998 remake of Ronin make the leaping American stallions chase scene look about as exciting as a segway tour of Los Angeles.  John Frankenheimer, the same speed junkie who directed the 1966 movie Grand Prix, directed Ronin.  He hired a gaggle of stunt drivers, including F1 champion Jean-Pierre Jarier and sports car champion Jean-Claude Lagniez, and let them loose throwing muscular German sedans around Paris, Monaco, and parts of Souther France at opposite lock drift angles and mind-blowing speeds – on closed-off public roads.  An Audi S8 and BMW rightfully grab a lot of attention in the movie, with Frankenheimer cleverly using right-hand-drive cars with fake left-side steering wheels so that the actors including Robert De Niro and Natascha McElhone could “drive” while one of the Frenchmen terrified them just a couple of feet away.  Not to be outdone are the guys from Mercedes-Benz who sent a 1976 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, arguably the first German muscle car.  Robert De Niro “drives” for a while, while French actor Jean Reno actually drove.  The absolute mayhem begins with a Rockford pulled off in the Benz, and then De Niro and Reno chase down the bad boys who happen to be driving a Peugeot 406.  The Peugeot and and Benz hurtle through the French countryside at speeds well over 100 mph, and then De Niro stands up in the sunroof and blows the 406 to smithereens.  Post-explosion, the 450SEL 6.9 hurtles into the seaside village of Villefranche-sur-Mer, an outskirt of Monaco, where a good half of the movie was filmed, where it hurtles through tiny city streets trashing market stalls and cafe tables in search of whatever is locked inside of that mysterious locked case everybody wants.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMaG5WAmHvY
  4. 1980 Lamborghini Countach “The Cannonball Run”:  If you can, keep your eyes ON the car, not IN the car!  It sounds easy, but Tara Buckman and Adrienne Barbeau are inside.  When Hal Needham and Brock Yates (arguably one of the most iconic auto journalists ever) thought up the plot for The Cannonball Run, a highly fictionalized version of the illegal cross-country Cannonball Run races of the 1970s, they knew that only one car could keep a teenager’s eyes off of Buckman and Barbeau – a 1980 Lamborghini Countach.  The entire opening sequence of the movie focuses entirely on the Countach.  The V12 shrieks up and down through the gearbox, and the two ladies stopping just long enough paint an “X” across a 55 mph speed limit sign before the car screams off onto the American prairie highway again.  The car taunts a police cruiser by coming up extremely close in the rear view mirror, pulling alongside, and then disappearing into the horizon.  No wonder this movie, which Yates himself calls “a pretty lousy picture!” grossed more than $72 million dollars – in the U.S. alone!  Of course, Burt Reynolds and Victor Prinzim are the official stars of the movie with their fake ambulance, but don’t tell that to any teenage boy who saw the movie in the 1980’s.  After filming, the car was used by Hawaiian Tropic as a promotional vehicle for 28 years.  Then, a private collector in Florida bought the car in 2009, and restored the car to factory condition.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nh9L6LrpmTQ
  5. 1970 Porsche 911S “Le Mans”:  Most of Le Mans focuses on a frenzy of screaming prototypes, howling sports cars, furious air wrenches, and cheering crowds of adoring fans.  Not for the opening sequence, though.  Before reaching the Le Mans circuit, McQueen’s character, troubled racer Michael Delaney, gently pushes his 911S across the French countryside and a quiet village.  Soon, he will strap into a howling Porsche 917 for 24 hours of 240+ mph battle against a Ferrari 512LM.  But, for now, it’s just the man and his steed.  The Slate Gray 911S stands out in it’s timeless, understated elegance.  Kind of like McQueen himself.  It’s no wonder that he took the machine back with him to California to join his rapidly growing sports car and motorcycle collection.  Since he owned a nearly identical 1969 model, the 1970 911S was soon sold to a Los Angeles-based attorney who kept the car hidden away for the better part of 30 years.  The car changed hands two more times before going up for auction at RM Auctions Monterey, where it fetched a tidy $1.375 Million dollars, the most EVER paid for a 911 at auction.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JlyQsWXrqA
  6. 1966 Jaguar XKE V12 Convertible “Vanishing Point”:  Most people my age today probably wouldn’t understand the tagline from Vanishing Point: “Tighten your seatbelt.  You never had a trip like this before.”  But in 1971, the phrase fell on plenty of knowing ears and cars.  Enter Barry Newman as Kowalski, Congressional Medal of Honor Winner, ex-cop, ex-istentialist, as well as ex-race-driver.  His mission is the stuff of any Hollywood movie legend, or any car buff’s legend – drive the car from Denver to San Francisco in record time.  Hollywood being Hollywood, Kowalski encounters everything from rattlesnakes to sun-hardened old-timers, pre-“Bette Davis Eyes” Kim Carnes music, and deranged religious prophets.  But, his most memorable meeting was against a goggles-wearing, giggling desert rat hell-bent on some hoonage in his Jaguar XK-E V12 Convertible.  Said Jag driver literally begs for it – he even bangs his car into the Challenger to get Kowalski’s attention.  Since this is Hollywood, Kowalski takes the bait.  Big time.  It’s wire rims against mag wheels, Dover Sole versus Alaska Salmon, tea cakes versus beefcake.  A one-lane bridge looms ahead.  Kowalski gives the big 440 full throttle, fender swipes the Jag, and the Jag flies off the road in a splendid, um, horrifying fashion.  After several barrel rolls and a gigantic drop, the Jag ends up on it’s side in a mud-caked riverbed.  Since the driver of the Jag was a stunt driver, he’s OK.  Kowalski gives him a quick check, and is back on his way.  I can’t say the same for the Jag – it ended up as a total write-off.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBTup5WH0a0
  7. 1963 Apollo 3500 GT Thorndyke Special “The Love Bug”:  When was the last time you saw The Love Bug?  It’s a cute movie, and the support vehicles are, well, spectacular.  In any given racing scene, cute little Herbie the Love Bug is surrounded by all sorts of cars you’d expect to see at a period SCCA road race, from Triumph TR6’s to Shelby Cobra’s to MG TC’s.  The most memorable supporting vehicle is the black and yellow car driven by that crook Peter Thorndyke in the final El Dorado race.  Thorndyke drives everything from a Jaguar E-Type to a Ferrari 250GT (a replica car that long ago disappeared) Tour de France on his way to campaigning the Thorndyke Special.  The Thorndyke Special is, for all of it’s Italian looks, is an Apollo 3500GT.  It may have Italian styling, but it was made in Oakland California.  The Apollo cars started life in Italy, where the bodies and chassis’ were made by Intermeccanica.  They would then be shipped to Oakland, where the engines and transmissions would be installed.  Most of the engines were 350 cubic-inch Buick V8’s mated to either a Muncie M-22 “Rock Crusher” transmission or a Buick three-speed automatic.  42 cars were built between 1962 and 1964, when the company ran out of money and closed.  Max Balchowsky specifically modified two cars for the movie with their well-known paint scheme.  At least one car still exists today, with the restoration in Toronto, Canada started many years ago.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCmUQo2r33g
  8. 1969 Lamborghini Muira “The Italian Job (1969)”:  For us car lovers, the opening scene of the 1969 The Italian Job starring legendary British actor Michael Caine is beautiful and haunting.  An orange 1969 Lamborghini Muira P400 is making its way through the beautiful Swiss Alps with the actor Rossano Brazzi behind the wheel, cigarette dangling like they are in commercials.  He’s wearing driving gloves, a perfect suit, and designer sunglasses.  Matt Monro crooning “On Days Like These” accompanies the scream of the 3.9-liter V12 of the Muira.  What could go wrong?  Everything, as the Muira enters the tunnel at high speed, and comes out crumpled in the bucket of an earth mover at the other end.  A roadblock set up by the bad guys takes the blame.  And, the once-raging Muira is dropped over 100 feet into a river.  Was the orange Lambo actually destroyed?  Yes and no.  Two Muira’s were used for the scene.  The running and driving one was not wrecked, as it was a press car for Lamborghini; that honor goes to a crash-damaged frame of a Muira with new bodywork and no engine.  Rumor has it that when the crew came down to the river the next morning, not a single piece of the wrecked Muira was to be found.  Creepy.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQIRbV_noi8
  9. 1964.5 Ford Mustang GT Convertible “Goldfinger”:  While the Aston Martin DB5 seems to get all of the credit (rightfully so – it’s AWESOME!), the first Ford Mustang ever in a movie co-starred with the Brit.  Tilly Masterson’s gold 1964.5 Ford Mustang GT Convertible was a preproduction model, and was run off of a Swiss mountain after Bond’s tire slicing hubcap sticks out.  Ford REALLY wanted the Mustang to be part of Goldfinger, and had originally specified for a fastback to be used in the film.  Unfortunately, the fastback Mustang would start production too late in 1964 for filming purposes.  Ultimately, the Goldfinger Mustang fastback was built with special gold metallic paint, and it featured a roof panel with 007-inspired switches.  It was used as a promotional vehicle for both Bond and Ford for many years, and it still survives in private ownership.  As for the Mustang GT Convertible used in the film, it is believed but unknown by either Ford or anybody that it was sold after the film and repainted and currently with somebody.  Who that somebody is beats Ford and everybody else.  I’d sure like to know.  Other Ford vehicles were used in Goldfinger:  A 1957 Ford Thunderbird was used by Secret Service agents, a 1964 Lincoln Continental was driven to the junkyard and crushed by Oddjob, Goldfinger’s lethal assistant, and a 1964 Ford Ranchero was used for Oddjob to drive away from the junkyard with the crushed Continental in the bed.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLuNstLjP1c
  10. 1967 Ford Mustang GT500 “Gone in 60 Seconds”:  The menacing-looking 1967 silver-grey Ford Mustang GT500 from the 2005 remake of Gone in 60 Seconds is a 1967 Ford Mustang GT Fastback.  It has body panels and GT500 badges to make it look like a GT500.  It had a hopped-up 390 cubic-inch V8 made up to perform and sound like the 428 cubic inch Cobra Jet V8 found in the GT500.  Three cars were made for filming, and one was scrapped.  The other two survive in private ownership.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMv-X0tG2KQ

Does the New 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 Have What it Takes to Rule It’s Class?

Let me know in the comments section if you think that the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 can become the car that can rule the uber-luxury class.  I think it can, but then again, Mercedes usually does!

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class can sometimes go seven or eight years beforeinstituing a major refresh, redesign, or mechanical overhaul.  But, it usually leads in terms of sales and looks.  The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class upholds that tradition, and it will likely be sold in droves – for a while.  Then, all of the competing automakers will make newer, nicer, and possibly better cars.  This segment is competitive.  Currently, the S-Class, Lexus LS460, and Cadillac XTS are the segment sales leaders.  The S-Class is likely to blow all of it’s competitors out of the water.  It is just that good.

It is loaded with features that will make your jaw drop.  This car isn’t yet another ordinary businessperson special with a cave-like interior.  It will drive itself.  Really, it will!  It won’t drive itself completely, but it is semi-autonomous!  It uses stereo cameras to guide it along the road.  The name is awesome, as well:  Traffic Jam Assist.  No, it won’t send all of the rubberneckers to the grave.  Only their own stupidity will do that.   To activate this marvelous system, simply hold the brake pedal down while stationary, flick the Distronic (MBZ speak for cruise control) lever down, and give it gas.  It will take you up to 37 mph.  The cruise control is then set for up to 37 mph.  It will follow the car ahead of you simply, smartly, and efficiently.  It will do that until your speed increases or you take control of the steering wheel and pedals.  Above 37 mph, it will still guide itself.  Kind of.  It will handle itself up to 125 mph, and it can bring itself to a complete stop at any speed if need be.  Those stereo cameras are also able to read the lines in the road, and keep the plump S-Class in between those lines without any driver input.  Above 37 mph, if you keep your hands off of the steering wheel for more than 10 seconds, then a loud BEEEEEP will sound, along with a flashing graphic instruction, until you place your hands on the wheel.  But, that’s just Mercedes-Benz’s lawyers telling you to be a good driver.  As long as you don’t take the S550 on any places where there aren’t any lines in the road (i.e. tracks and gravel roads), this car will take a person places where he/she has never gone before, all by itself.

There’s other zany technology stuffed into this car.  Take the badly named Magic Body Control that is an optional active suspension feature.  If you choose to order this, then the four-wheel air suspension goes away, and is replaced by oil-over-coil shocks.  The “magic” part of that is that those same stereo cameras scan the road ahead to see if there is a pothole, a speed bump, or some roadkill.  Given the right situation, the Magic Body Control is effective in a way that is quite simply effective, in a spooky sort of way.  The result is one of the smoothest rides out there, this side of a Citroen or an old Buick Roadmaster.  When you put the car in “Sport” mode, Magic Body Control is switched off, so you can hurtle around curves and crash and bang over the smallest road imperfections.  But, that’s what makes the car so enjoyable to drive.

In the unlikely event that you will be in an accident, you will survive just about any crash.  For those of you riding in the backseat (the place to be), there are inflatable seat belts.   When the rear door is opened, the seat belt buckle receiver visibly rises.  This is probably because most customers (think China) don’t wear their seat belts in the back seat.  Once they buckle up for safety, the buckle will retract a few inches into the seat, therefore cinching the seat belt across their hips so they do not slide under the seat belt in a crash.  Speaking of accidents, there’s a feature that will make any safety-conscious parent happy.  It’s called Pre-Safe Plus.  It actively and automatically prepares the car for a rear-end collision.  What the car does when it’s about to be rear-ended (it has seven rear-facing cameras), it tightens all of the seatbelts (even if they’re not in use), applies the brakes completely, and, BAM.  Applying the brakes for a full-ABS stop seems counter-intuitive, but it’s safer to not be moving when you’re hit.  It can also “see” pedestrians and other cars.  It reacts differently to both.  When it sees a car cutting in front of it, the brakes are applied for a full-ABS stop.  When it sees a pedestrian, the brakes are applied much earlier and gentler.

Even though it’s got enough technology in it to make a computer scientist have a heart attack, one of the best advances is in the interior.  It’s truly the first German interior to really stand out from the British luxury brands (Bentley, Rolls Royce, Jaguar).  Leather and wood gracefully snake their way throughout the stellar cabin.  The interior designer said that these designs were influenced by swan wings.  Let’s call this new technique “swanning,” okay?  If You own the outgoing generation of the S-Class, you will know about those four rectangular vents on the dashboard.  Six neat, circular vents have replaced them.  Combine that with the clock, and the seven circles (vaguely) resemble the pearls on a woman’s necklace.  I don’t ask.  The head designer of MBZ’s interiors said that from now on, all vents in a Mercedes-Benz car will be round.  I find it odd that the car that will be starting the round vent trend still has rectangular vents in the back.  One other fun interior flourish are the speaker grilles for the Burmester audio system.  They are covered in an impossibly complex pattern of tiny holes of varying sizes.  If you have trypophobia, don’t look at it.  For me, it becomes ever more fascinating when I look at the pictures.

The mechanical parts of the car are relatively unchanged.  The seven-speed automatic is still their, as is the 5.5-liter, twin turbo V8.  Power, however is better.  It has been uprated from 429 horsepower to a more powerful 455 horsepower.  Torque is the same at 516 lb-ft of torque.

Overall, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 is the car to be measured against for full-size luxury.  It’s powerful, it’s loaded with technology that will take it’s competitors years to catch up with, it’s beautiful, and it’s got German engineering.  And German reliability.  I want one.  I won’t ask my readers.  I know the answer.  And it’s not yes.

110 Years, 11 Special Cars, 11 Special Highlights

In honor of its 110th anniversary, Buick is celebrating as much as it possibly can.  In light of this momentous anniversary, Buick recently released 11 photos of 11 influential cars that helped transform Buick, or gave a lasting a impact on the brand.  Along with the photos, Buick selected 11 highlights from its 110 years of making cars.  I will share the highlights and the cars for you.

Highlights

  • Through the end of 2012, Buick has sold 43 million cars.  That’s the equivalent of every vehicle sold in the U.S. in the past three years alone!
  • The 1938 Buick Y-Job is regarded as the world’s first concept car.  It’s waterfall grille can still be found on modern Buicks, and its futuristic technologies were not seen until the 1970s.  These technologies were power windows, high-performance cylinder heads, and an aluminum engine block.  The car was built in honor of Harley Earl, the legendary GM designer.  Harley Earl drove the car himself for more than 15 years.
  • The 1963 Buick Riviera is regarded as one of history’s most beautiful cars.  It will be turning 50 this year.  The powerful sports coupe is said to have been inspired by a Rolls-Royce that GM head of design, Bill Mitchell, saw through a fog in London.  It was powerful, fast, and astonishingly pretty.
  • Buick is also steeped in motorsports history.  Buick has proved its mettle on racetracks since times as early as 1908.  Buicks have served as pace cars for the Indianapolis 500 six times.  They also have won two NASCAR Manufacturer Championships – in 1981 and 1982.
  • After almost 30 years of engineering, a Buick hit 100 miles per hour!  They appropriately named it the Buick Century.
  • The fastest stock Buick is the 2012 Buick Regal GS compact luxury midsize sedan.  It hit 162 mph at the 2012 Nevada Open Road Challenge.  This achievement was set by Road & Track
  • The quickest Buick to 60 mph was also one of the rarest.  Car & Driver recorded a speedy 4.6 seconds for the 1987 Buick GNX.  547 of these dark sleepers were built.
  • Powertrain innovation is part of Buick.  Today, their 2.0 liter, direct-injected, 4-cylinder engine produces a ridiculous 259 horsepower (estimated).  Displacement, however, was king in the 1970s.  The largest Buick engine that ever went into a Buick was a 455 cubic inch (7.5 liter) V8.  It was introduced in 1970.
  • The Buick Electra 225 nameplate was introduced in 1959.  The “225” stood for the length of the car – it was 225 inches long!  But, the 1975 Buick Electra was the longest Buick ever built.  It was 233.7 inches from bumper to bumper.
  • The first Buick, the 1904 Model B, was also the shortest.  It rode on an 83-inch wheelbase.  The 2013 Buick Encore isn’t that small.  It is the shortest Buick since the 1912 Buick Model 34 (90.7 inches).  It rides on a 100.6-inch wheelbase.
  • Throughout its history, Buick has made many cars with seats for two, four, and six.  However, only two vehicles have been made that can seat eight:  The 1991-1996 Buick Roadmaster Estate and the 2008-present Buick Enclave.

That’s a history lesson in itself.  Some of these cars are truly beautiful.  Go onto Google Images, and look for the 1938 Buick Y-Job.  It is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful cars ever built.  It also happens to be technologically advanced.

Buick has offered some amazing cars over the years.  Happy anniversary Buick!