Why Europe Should Be Worried About the Runaway Success of the Ford Mustang

The 2016 Ford Mustang is a great car, especially in the supercar-slaying GT350/GT350R form. It’s relatively fast, affordable, and can be easily modified. It turns out that the Yankee muscle car is now the most popular sports car in Germany. Why should they be worried?

In March, the Ford Mustang outsold the Porsche 911, Porsche Cayman and Boxster, and the Audi TT. It’s not that it’s inexpensive in Germany – a Mustang GT with no options costs about 50,000 Euros, while it costs $32,395 here in the U.S.

The Internet loves to trash talk the typical Mustang owner. A spike in high-profile crashes at car club meets doesn’t help with the Mustang’s PR either.

One of the problems that I have found about the Mustang is that the 1979 “Fox body” Mustang and it’s immediate successors were immensely popular and somehow durable. What does that mean? There’s a ton of them around, and used Mustangs are cheap horsepower. In 1979, there was a Dodge Challenger, which was a re-badged Mitsubishi Galant Coupe intended for the Japanese domestic market. The Challenger/Galant had a lifespan of five years at most, so it’s safe to say that your microwave has some Mitsubishi DNA in it!

Because the Mustang is so inexpensive, various misconceptions about the Mustang are out there. There’s nothing like a Porsche 911 or BMW M3 owner looking down on your ragged-looking Mustang GT with a set of Bilstein coilover shocks on it. Those owners have nothing better to do than look down at the lowly Mustang owner. Show up to a track day in a brand-new Mustang GT, and you’ll hear this kind of trash talk: the Mustang is heavy, it wallows, it doesn’t turn or stop very well, the rear end is uncontrollable, and you’re going to end up taking somebody else out when you spin. None of that is really true.

While the Mustang isn’t exactly light, the GT350R comes within 100 pounds of the BMW M4, a direct competitor to the GT350R. The steering in the GT350R is, according to pro race car drivers, worlds better than the M4. Don’t like the way it stops, even with the available massive Brembo brakes? That’s OK; the aftermarket will give you brakes that are IMSA (endurance racing) spec for less than half the cost of a single Porsche 911 GT3’s brake disc. You can walk into any Ford dealer, walk out with a Mustang in 45 minutes, and have a ton of fun. The GT350 (non-R model) is in a league of it’s own among four-seat performance cars. What about the Mustang being a tail-happy crash magnet? Well, the previous generation is notorious for that. It has a live rear axle, which wouldn’t be out of place on a Conestoga wagon, and couple that with 400+ horsepower, a driver who doesn’t know how to handle that much horsepower, and you know where I’m going. It’s mostly due to user error that there are so many Mustangs crashing. There have been a good deal of BMW M4 crashes as well. Trust me, it’s the same thing with Porsches.

If you haven’t driven a Mustang in a while, or your opinions are based on the old Mustangs with the live rear axle, I strongly encourage you to go down to the local Ford dealer and take a Mustang for a test drive. Any Mustang will do. Your expectations will be shattered.

Inside the Mustang, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The fit and finish holds up against whatever Germany and Japan have to offer. The interior is both classic and modern. The seats hold you in a bear hug, but are incredibly comfortable for any person. The infotainment systems are easy-to-use, and you’ll never really want more out of them. You’ll get plenty of feedback from the steering wheel, and all of the controls feel like Ford pulled them out of an Audi.

While the Mustang might be a large car, it feels perfectly comfortable on small back roads. You know exactly where the car is, what it’s doing, and how much gas you can give it. The overall driving experience feels like something Mercedes-Benz and Audi would co-develop. The only real differences between any current Mustang and a BMW 4-Series are the high door sills in the Mustang…and the availability of a manual transmission with every engine!

But, don’t take my word for any of this. I’m just an 18-year-old car enthusiast who does all of his automotive homework. Just ask any German car enthusiast. Clearly there’s something amazing about the Mustang, or there’d be a spike in Audi TT sales. Don’t get me wrong – all of the major automotive magazines have given rave reviews of the TT. It’s just you get a whole lot more car for the money out of the Mustang. Even in it’s home country, the Porsche 911, Cayman, Boxster, or BMW M4 is a rare sight. Why? Because they’re really expensive to buy and maintain. While it’s true that the Porsche 911 GT3RS will leave the Mustang (and most cars) far behind at any race track, the 911 GT3RS is a very rare and expensive sighting.

Of course, most German car enthusiasts will say that this article is a load of garbage. Why? Because the March sales are an “isolated incident.” It’s just inventory availability, rebates, and the same occasional fascination with American novelty that sends so many European tourists to the U.S. to ride rental Harley-Davidson motorcycles along Route 66. But, what if it’s not an isolated incident? What if it’s a perfectly reliable indicator of things to come?

After all, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi have spent the past 15 years engineering any semblance of character and authentic heritage out of their vehicles. The same industry that introduced so many to wonderful cars like the air-cooled Porsche 911, the Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, the E39 BMW M5, the Audi Quattro, the E30 BMW M3, the AMG Hammer, and the Porsche 944, has abandoned those wonderful examples for 5000-pound SUVs making gobs of horsepower from high-tech twin-turbocharged engines, put down to the ground through fragile AWD drivetrains, all controlled by hundreds of pounds of self-destructive electronics meant to save them from doing just that.

Let’s imagine that this isn’t just an isolated incident. Maybe the Germans are tired of driving expensive, self-destructive, massive transportation pods. They want something that reminds them of their dad’s AMG Hammer, their grandpa’s Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, their uncle’s Audi Quattro. They want something different. Something real. The Mustang will continue to sell in droves. Soon, the mighty roar and scream of the Dodge Challenger Hellcat will be heard across the Atlantic on the last unrestricted sections of the Autobahn. Trails once populated by Nissan Patrols and Mercedes-Benz G-Classes will be filled to capacity with Jeep Wrangler Rubicons. You’ll hear the bellowing shriek of the Corvette Z06 at the Nurburgring and the Hockenheimring. What’s that massive hulking truck taking up the tiny country road? Is it really a Ford F-250?

OK, I’m going to start to wrap this up. What does this all mean? No matter what happens, there is a very important lesson to be heard. American automakers got lazy during the late 1970s through the late 1980s. This in turn allowed German automakers to bring us incredible cars. Can you imagine picking a Lincoln Versailles over a BMW 528i, or picking a Cadillac DeVille over a Cosworth-powered Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 (2.3 is the engine size in liters, 16 is the number of valves)?

If German car enthusiasts are buying a Ford Mustang over a BMW M4 or a Porsche Cayman, that should be a message ringing loud and clear in automotive executive boardrooms all over Europe. The last time something like this happened, it was in 1989 with the Lexus LS400. That sent BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and Lincoln scrambling back to their drawing boards. In turn, that gave us such gems as the BMW 740i, a wonderful crisp, clean cruiser plagued by electronic maladies, and the Lincoln Town Car, which was a great car held back by the fact that it had a horrific drivetrain. The Lexus LS400 also inspired hideous cars like the early 1990s version of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, which had so many electrical problems it was a miracle if the door opened.

It seems like it might be America’s turn. The German Big Three put peanut butter on their homework and gave it to their dog. America did the same thing 30 years ago, but they have made massive strides with their cars.

All of this is not to say that the BMW M4, Porsche 911, Cayman, Boxster, and Audi TT are horrible cars. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. They are all incredible performance cars that many of us would love to own, or at least go for a spirited drive in. This is a golden age of automotive performance, and the performance cars put out by various manufacturers (American or otherwise) are fantastic.

 

The Cars Best Suited for Just One Task

A lot of time, cars will try and be good at everything, and fail miserably. They end up being great at nothing. The cars I’m going to list all aimed for one specific thing, and completely dominate it.

  • Alfa Romeo 4C: Putting Italian car reliability concerns out the window, let’s talk about what a wonderful car the Alfa Romeo 4C is. It’s the perfect dance partner for winding mountain roads. The sensible money would go to the Porsche Cayman. The Cayman is a wonderful car – don’t get me wrong there. It’s got fantastic power, an interior that would make any car proud, and is relatively affordable. Look at the Alfa Romeo 4C on paper. It looks like an awful car to own. Four-cylinder engine, manual steering, few creature comforts, and some interior trim pieces wouldn’t look out of place in a Chevy Spark. Drive it in the city, and you’ll want to stop it in traffic and run after the bus. But, take it out on a winding back road and you’ll never want to stop driving it. It’s got a guttural four-cylinder with a whooshing turbocharger, a quick-shifting dual clutch transmission, and who needs navigation or a radio for back road blasting? 
  • Dodge Viper ACR: All it takes is one quick look to realize that the Dodge Viper ACR is probably one of the worst cars to drive on a daily basis. It’s got a massive rear wing, a thundering exhaust note that you can hear from a mile away, and it’s just a big car. It would be intriguing to see someone try to daily drive one, but my spine says let them do it! This car is built to keep up with racecars on the track, and set records. That’s exactly what it does. So far, it’s set lap records at 13 different tracks. Yes, 13 different tracks. Few street cars, save for hypercars (even those would have a serious run for their money), could have any chance of touching this car. The exhaust note might sound like it’s right out of a tractor, but tractors sound nice to me!
  • Dodge Challenger Hellcat: How can you not love 707 horsepower for around $60,000? If you expected Dodge to turn it’s burnout machine into some sort of corner carving demon, you should just press ALT + F4 right now. It’s got no interest in chasing Viper ACRs and McLaren P1s around tracks or canyon roads; no this car is the best for burnouts and drag racing (it ran 10.80 seconds in the 1/4 mile on street-legal drag slicks).
  • Jeep Wrangler Rubicon: The Jeep Wrangler has always been one of those vehicles that even non-car people love. It makes you feel instantly cooler, no matter what job you have, even if you never take it off-road. This is especially true in Rubicon form. Just promise me that you’ll take it off-road, because that’s where you WILL be cool. You don’t need to do anything to it to go just about anywhere in it. Just put some gas, friends, and a cooler full of cold drinks and some snacks, and you’re good to hit the trails.
  • Mitsubishi Lancer Evo: There used to be a time when the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo was one of the most desirable cars out there. It had cutting-edge technology that made it feel like you were blasting down a rally stage, even if you were just going to work. Today, unfortunately, that’s far from the case. With Mitsubishi’s announcement that they are going to be ceasing production of the Evo, and no significant updates to the car since it’s launch in 2008, it feels, like well, a car from 2008. However, that all changes when you get less traction. It doesn’t matter how old the car feels; it just feels right at home. That’s where all Evos have shined, and this one is no exception. Taking one for a spin down a dirt road will put a gigantic grin on your face.
  • Nissan Versa: Many people think that the Mitsubishi Mirage is the cheapest new car sold in the U.S., but they are wrong. The Nissan Versa starts about $1,000 lower than the Mirage. If you’re paying $60,000 for a luxury sedan, $1,000 is pretty insignificant. With a $12,000 car, that’s a lot. Then again, you don’t get much of anything for that price. You get air conditioning, ABS, and traction control, and a radio. That’s about all of the major things on the car. Still, it’s the best at being the cheapest new car sold in the U.S. Yes there are dealer wars to see who can sell the car for the least amount of money, but that’s always been the case.
  • Ram ProMaster: If all the cargo you carry home is takeout from Domino’s, then chances are likely that you don’t need a Ram ProMaster. But, if you haul a bunch of stuff around all day, every day, then the Ram ProMaster is a great choice. It’s got an incredibly low loading height, and a lot of space. With all the stuff you can carry in it, you’ll be catching a bunch of nasty looks from UPS and FedEx drivers.
  • Rolls-Royce Phantom: Set aside it’s hefty price tag for a minute. It weighs nearly 6,000 pounds. It’s far from a driver’s car. Even though it has a 6.8-liter V12, it’s far from a fast car. But, the Phantom chucks all of those notions out the window. It’s not concerned with any of those petty things. No, it’s by far the most comfortable car you could ever be in. It’s sumptuous leather seats have only the finest hides sourced from the finest tanneries in the world. It’s whisper-quiet. It’s also astronomically expensive.
  • Toyota Prius: Yes, I know what you’re thinking. I lost my mind a very long time ago! The Toyota Prius is the ultimate car for fuel economy. The new Prius is more fun to drive than the previous generation, but it’s no sports car by any stretch of the imagination. If you go with the Eco model, you’ll get an incredible 58 mpg city and 50 mpg highway. It also looks worlds better. The Prius has been a ground-pounder in terms of paving the way for every other mainstream hybrid.
  • Pagani Huayra: For outright beauty, the Huayra is untouchable. It’s also stonking fast, but there are few cars that you can just sit and stare at for days at a time. It has so many beautiful little details that you really have to look for. It’s the brainchild of the absolutely brilliant industrial designer Horacio Pagani, the man who helped revolutionize carbon fiber technology back in the late 1980s.
  • Ford F-550: This behemoth pickup truck is one of the heavyweights in the towing/hauling ring. It’s basically a step below an International TerraStar. It can tow up to 26,000 pounds, which is absolutely mind-boggling. The insane part is that it does it without really breaking a sweat. It also costs a lot of money, but if you tow and haul lots of heavy stuff around all the time, there is no better option. All you need is a Class C driver’s license, which is the same one for passenger cars.
  • Mazda Miata: For cheap thrills, nothing beats a Mazda Miata. It’s cheap, fights far out of it’s class, and wins. It’s slow in a straight line, but few cars can catch it in the curves. It’s also really nice to go for a late-night cruise with the top down in your Miata. 
  • Dodge Grand Caravan: Like hauling people around, but don’t need a 12-passenger van? The Dodge Grand Caravan is your ticket. It’s got a powerful V6, lots of space, a nice interior, and is easy on the wallet. It’s probably one of the best vehicles to pile your friends in, and go for a long road trip in. Even the third row is usable for adults! 

Tell me what your favorite cars at one specific task are!

What to Look for When Buying Used Engine Parts

Used engine parts can be a great deal, if you know what you are looking for. They can also kill your engine. Here’s what to look for in used engine parts. Most of the places that you’d go engine parts hunting are swap meets. Bring a cheat sheet of engine codes and casting numbers with you, or you might end up with a completely different part than you need.

  • Intake Manifolds: Most factory performance air intakes are fairly easy to identify because there is a casting number and date code on them. Cast iron intakes are virtually indestructible, but are fairly heavy. Aluminum intakes offer better performance, but are more susceptible to problems. Look at the thermostat’s counterbore, as it is common for that area to get rusted and corroded on aluminum intakes only. If it’s not too badly eaten away, any good machinist can repair it. If it’s badly eaten away, look for another one. If you really want it, however, the bad area can be cut out, and a new piece can be welded on and machined to the original shape. It’s common to see other problems, and if it looks like it’s been modified, make sure that it was done well!
  • Pistons: Careful with these. Most new pistons are relatively inexpensive, but you can score a good deal on them at a swap meet if you know what you’re looking for. If there’s a full set of them and they’re still in the box, you’ve got a great deal. Get them if they fit your car. If they are used, be sure to clean off all of the carbon deposits from the tops and inspect them thoroughly. Also, check for ring lands and grooves on them – this means that something was wrong with the engine that they came out of, and that they are damaged. DON’T buy those! If they don’t fit your engine, they make great pencil or screw holders.
  • Connecting Rods: Used connecting rods are very difficult to evaluate without the proper equipment. Yes, it’s easy to bead-blast and hone an old pair, but you need to take them to a good machinist to make sure that they are good to put into your engine.
  • Camshafts: If it’s unused, in it’s original box, and has full documentation from day one, you can definitely consider it. When buying used camshafts, it’s very difficult to tell whether it’s a stock, weak camshaft or a high-performance camshaft. Plus, modern camshaft technology has advanced so much in the past 50 years that it’s worth it to just buy a brand-new camshaft. It’ll be easier to get one that’s essentially tailored for your driving style.
  • Exhaust Manifolds and Headers: Exhaust manifolds are sturdy parts, but can be abused and broken. It’s not uncommon to find a broken stud in an exhaust manifold. Luckily, they are fairly easy to remove. Used headers can be a great deal or a massive head ache. Ask the seller what they fit, rather than, “will they fit on my Challenger?” Check the welds and flanges on the headers – if the flanges are warped, they will not seal against the head, resulting in exhaust leaks. You don’t want to be like Freiburger and Finnegan from Roadkill. Also inspect headers for dents and scratches that could have come from bottoming out or from hammering them into place.
  • Carburetors: Have a carburetor cheat sheet on hand when you go looking for carbs. You can determine it’s original application and CFM rating. The overall appearance of a carburetor is a good indicator of it’s health. Rebuild kits are available for nearly every carburetor under the sun, so it makes it a good deal less risky to buy a used carburetor.
These are aluminum intakes for Chevy big-block V-8s.
These are aluminum intakes for Chevy big-block V-8s.
People will try to sell you pistons in conditions far worse than this. They don't even make good pencil holders!
People will try to sell you pistons in conditions far worse than this. They don’t even make good pencil holders!
These are brand-new connecting rods for a Chevy small-block V-8. You can luck out if you know what you are looking for at a swap meet.
These are brand-new connecting rods for a Chevy small-block V-8. You can luck out if you know what you are looking for at a swap meet.
This guy lucked out and found a camshaft for his Dodge pickup with the Cummins diesel engine at the Pomona swap meet.
This guy lucked out and found a camshaft for his Dodge pickup with the Cummins diesel engine at the Pomona swap meet.
This is what you'll see when you go in search of headers at a swap meet.
This is what you’ll see when you go in search of headers at a swap meet.
This is the sight you'll see when you go to a swap meet to find carburetors.
This is the sight you’ll see when you go to a swap meet to find carburetors.

The Vehicles That Forever Changed the Automotive Landscape

These are not the best cars ever made.  Rather, they are the cars that have shaped modern cars.  I hope that you enjoy my list.  Please share any corrections if you feel necessary.

  • Ford Model T:  This was the car that made the production line possible.  It was also the car that made cars affordable to the American public.  Ford produced well over 15 million of them before production ended in 1927.  They are fairly simple to own, and they can keep up with city traffic if you want.  With so many built, there are many clubs and associations for the Model T all over the country.  Just look up “Ford Model T club <insert your area here>” on Google.  I can practically guarantee you that there is at least one club that you can join if you are the new owner of a Model T.  People drive them all over the place on tours.  You can take one into Alaska if you so please.  There are always plenty for sale anywhere between $10,000-40,000.  If you want to daily drive one, all you need is a good arm to crank-start it, and some adjustments to the timing.  Just retard the timing a big, be gentle with the gas, and you’ll have a car that gets up to 35 mph.  That’s plenty good for most city driving.
  • 1916 Cadillac Type 53:  Every single modern car owes a lot to this Caddy.  It was the first car EVER to come from the factory with an electric starter and a modern control layout, both of which we take for granted today.  The Type 53 wasn’t popular with Americans or the world, mostly because of it’s price (about $3,000).  However, the Austin Seven copied the Caddy and set the die for all cars to come.  Yet, I still credit the Cadillac.
  • 1932 Ford:  This was the first affordable car available to the American public with a V-8 engine.  It had a flathead V-8 making a whopping 85 horsepower.  Today, that’s comparable to a car making 500 horsepower from a V-6 (not unheard of).  Anyhow, it was affordable to some Americans.  It became known as “The Deuce,” as did the third-generation Chevrolet Nova.  It was the fastest affordable car of it’s day, which is why it was the escape vehicle of choice for Bonnie and Clyde.  It’s unclear how many were made, but it’s estimated that well over 1.5 million were sold.  Remember that Ford was selling these cars in 1932, right before the peak of the Great Depression!  It became one of the most popular cars to hot rod.  I want one, and we can call ourselves lucky that there are reproduction steel bodies, chassis (yes, that is plural and singular), and used engines aplenty.  How’s that for cool?  You can build your very own reproduction Deuce for about $20,000.  It’s going to be so much more fun than that Corolla you’ve had your eye on.
  • Willys/Bantam/Ford Jeep:  WWII veterans say that the Jeep was the vehicle that won WWII.  They are right.  It can still embarrass most purpose-built vehicles on a dirt road or in mud.  It was the first 4X4 to be sold to the American public en masse, and it proved to be popular.  After WWII, Willys decided to market the Jeep as an alternative to a tractor for farmers.  Chrysler still rakes in hundreds of millions on new Jeep Wranglers every year.  It’s truly an iconic vehicle.
  • 1948 MG TC:  This little wood-framed British roadster is what allowed such amazing cars as the Lotus Elise, Mazda Miata, and even the mighty Shelby Cobra to be.  Every single great American racing legend – Carroll Shelby, Phil Hill, Richie Ginther, and many others got their start in an MG TC.  On a winding road, this little car that only made 55 horsepower and 64 lb-ft of torque would simply run away from any American car, regardless of power output.  Much of what we hold dear as an automotive enthusiast was started by this little car.  It’s influence on every single sports car from 1948 on is immeasurable.  It’s still fast enough to embarrass a modern Chevy Camaro Z/28 on a windy road.  That’s pretty damn fast for a car that makes 450 less horsepower.
  • VW Beetle Type 1:  It’s the single most-produced car in history.  It’s an elegantly simple design that has stood the test of time better than most cars produced at the same time.  It was the foundation for the legendary Porsche 356, Meyers Manx dune buggy, and VW Transporter bus.  It was FWD, came as either a convertible or a coupe, had a tiny rear-mounted four-cylinder engine, and cost far less than any new American car on the road.  It became extremely popular with people of all ages and demographics.  Many new parents went out and bought a Beetle, and it would serve millions of families around the world faithfully for 20 years or more without major problems.  Most new cars can’t say that.  In the hippie movement, it became extremely popular.  Once the off-roading community got their hands on one, the legendary Baja Bug was born.  It is still fast enough to keep pace with a modern Trophy Truck in the horrible dirt roads of Baja, or the sand dunes of Pismo Beach.  Almost every desert town in the world will have at least several Baja Bugs running around.  It’s fast, sturdy, and capable, yet can be driven around town without complaining.  And the best part is you can build yourself one for about $5,000!  That’s not including a starter vehicle, by the way!  My grandparents owned one.  You probably know somebody who’s owned one.
  • Toyota 2000GT:  This was the car that put the Japanese automotive industry on notice with the world.  It was a more expensive alternative to the Jaguar E-Type, Chevrolet Corvette, Ford Thunderbird, Porsche 911, and the like.  It’s achingly gorgeous, and only a handful were built.  It’s also achingly expensive.  Toyota proved that they could hang with whatever Europe happened to build.  James Bond drove one.
  • Lamborghini Miura:  It’s not the quintessential Lamborghini – that goes to the equally-amazing Countach, but it set the standard for supercars.  It came around because Ferrucio Lamborghini wanted to build a better Ferrari.  When Lamborghini was going to debut the Miura concept car at the Geneva Motor Show in 1965, they didn’t even have a body!  They had a chassis with a V-12, a transmission, and wheels.  That was it.  However, the Miura looks absolutely stunning.  It’s one of the most beautiful cars ever built, and every single supercar owes a lot to the Lamborghini Miura.
  • Citroen DS:  When it debuted in 1955, it was the most technologically-advanced car in the world.  It had hydraulic suspension, a streamlined fiberglass body shell, four wheel disc brakes, a twin-cam V6, and many other technological innovations.  It was one of the first truly modern cars.  One can compare it to the Tesla Model S.  That’s how revolutionary it was.
  • 1955-1957 Chevrolet 210/Bel Air:  The Tri-Five Chevrolet’s are some of the most beautiful cars ever produced.  My personal favorite is the 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air coupe.  The 1955 Chevy became forever immortalized with Two Lane Blacktop and American Graffiti.  Yes, the sinister ’55 is the same car in both movies!  The 1955 Chevrolet introduced the revolutionary Chevrolet small-block (Mouse motor) V-8 to the world.  The 1957 Chevy Bel Air with the 283 cubic-inch V-8 and Rochester mechanical fuel injection became legendary on NASCAR tracks and dragstrips around the country.  It was as fast the Jaguar E-Type 10 years later.  I’m still wanting one!
  • Austin Mini:  Alec Issigonis sketched it on a bar napkin.  He never knew that it would become one of the most popular vehicles of the 20th century.  Let’s forget that it’s a cultural icon for a moment.  It was the first FWD car to come with a transversely-mounted engine (the engine was mounted sideways), which means that it’s the template for most FWD cars on the road today.  It became a motorsports icon in everything from endurance racing to rally racing.  It also became iconic in several movies – The Italian Job, The Bourne Identity, Mr. Bean, and Goldmember.  It’s also a major cultural icon.
  • Ford Explorer:  This was the vehicle that kicked off the SUV craze of the 1990s-today.  It was based off of the lowly Ranger pickup, but had a comfortable interior and the second generation had good looks.  It’s still a best-seller today.  It’s popular with the off-road community because it’s a Ranger with more space for people.  My parents owned one.  You probably know somebody who’s owned one.
  • Shelby Cobra:  Yeah it’s an obvious one for this list.  Carroll Shelby took a British roadster, and put a small-block Ford motor from the Mustang into it.  Then, he went hog-wild and put a big-block Ford into it.  That catapulted the Shelby Cobra into automotive fame.  Anybody who knows something about cars knows of the Shelby Cobra.  It could hang with anything.  It could beat a Chevrolet Corvette with the coveted L88 big-block V-8 in the curves and straightaways.  It dominated endurance and road racing for a glorious 3 years before Shelby stopped production of it.  It also dominated the NHRA Pro Stock drag racing class for a few years.  Today, there are at least 20 different companies who will sell you a Cobra replica.  Get a Factory Five replica.  It’s Shelby of North America licensed, and it comes with modern mechanical parts, yet can still hang with a modern hypercar.  
  • Chevrolet El Camino:  In it’s first generation, it was quite a looker.  Chevy didn’t sell too terribly many of the Impala-based ute, but you’ve probably seen a few driving around your town/city.  The second generation proved to be much more popular.  It was based off of the massively popular Chevelle, and you could get one with the rare, coveted LS6 V-8.  I remember reading an article about an owner of an LS6 Elco (a nickname for the El Camino), and he said that he has to drive it around with sandbags in the bed to keep it from spinning out.  That’s what happens when you have a massively-underrated 450 horsepower and no weight over the rear tires.  If you could get it to hook up, it would go through the 1/4 mile in 13 seconds flat at 125 mph.  That’s about as fast as a modern sports car.  I’ve heard driving one isn’t any different than driving a Chevelle, except for throttle modulation.  Flooring it from a stop, even with the still-powerful 327 cubic-inch V-8 will give a glorious burnout.  I want one.
  • 1968-1970 Dodge Charger/Charger 500/Daytona:  The second-generation Dodge Charger is one of the most beautiful cars ever built.  It’s got muscular elegance.  It had curvy “Coke Bottle” styling, and a plethora of engine choices.  The base engine was the “poly” 318 cubic-inch small-block V-8 that stayed in production in one form or another from 1959-2004.  The next step up was the 383 cubic-inch “Commando” big-block V-8.  After that, it was the 440 “Super Commando” big-block V-8.  One rung above that was the 440 Six Pack – a 440 with three two-barrel Holley carburetors.  The top of the ladder was the mighty 426 HEMI “Elephant Motor” big-block V-8.  The Charger 500 was designed for NASCAR, so it had a rear window flush with the body, along with other small aero modifications.  The Daytona was truly legendary.  Only 503 were sold to the general public, only 70 of which had the 426 HEMI.  The rest had the 440 Six Pack.  It was designed for NASCAR superspeedways, and it truly dominated.  It looked comical with it’s 19-inch long nose cone and nearly two-foot tall rear wing.  The only reason the wing was so high is that anything shorter and the trunk wouldn’t close! The Charger was catapulted into fame by The Dukes of Hazzard for one generation, and for the millenials, they were captivated by the supercharged 1968 Charger used in Fast & Furious.
  • Datsun 240Z:  This little Japanese sports car wasn’t a smashing success, but it certainly left it’s mark on sports cars.  It was light, looked drop-dead gorgeous, had a reliable, powerful engine, and a five-speed manual transmission.  Very few cars at the time had a five-speed.  All of that combined meant that it was a serious threat on a windy road.  Today, they are becoming collector cars, which is a shame, as they are built to be driven.  That’s not to be said that you can’t find a cheap one – you still can.  Hot rodders who are enamored by Japanese cars, but love the power of an American V-8 put a Chevy small-block V-8 and some suspension bits in, and have one hell of a ride.  My grandparents and dad owned one.
  • Audi Quattro:  This AWD notchback with a turbocharged 5-cylinder engine was so successful on the rally circuit that AWD was banned from the sport for about 10 years.  Stock, it’s not at all reliable (except for the first two years of production), but upgrading the engine internals will give you a strong, reliable, fast, and cool daily driver.  It’s truly an all-weather car.  I chose this car because of the impact that it had on rallycross and rally racing.  Any car with AWD past 1985 would have been much worse if it weren’t for the Audi Quattro.  My uncle owned one.  He should have kept it and given it to me.
  • Ford Mustang:  This was the car that started the ponycar craze.  No matter how much Ford hypes it as a muscle car (and Chevy with the Camaro), it IS NOT and never will be.  It is a pony car.  The Dodge Challenger is a muscle car.  Sorry Ford, but I’m just stating the truth.  Don’t shoot the messenger.  That being said, Ford introduced a whole new type of car to America.  Buying a Mustang with the base six-cylinder engine meant that you were carefree but had to watch your cash.  Getting it with the V-8 meant that you were carefree, but who cared about money – you only live once!  Getting it as a convertible only reinforced that.  The Shelby GT350 Mustang of 1965 was part of a deal with Hertz where you could rent the car on Friday, drive it to the racetrack on Saturday, race and win, go again on Sunday and win, and then drive it back to the rental lot.  It was somewhat streetable, but it really did well on the racetrack.  Carroll Shelby originally didn’t want to do it – he told Lee Iaccoca that “Lee, you can’t make a racehorse out of a mule.”  Yet that so-called mule became a massive racing success.  It’s still in production 50 years later.  Many American moms went from a station wagon to a Mustang and never looked back.
  • Pontiac GTO:  Originally offered as a package on the mid-size Tempest in 1963, the GTO took the thundering 389 cubic-inch V-8 from the Le Mans and shoved it into the considerably smaller Tempest.  It was a smashing success, so Pontiac decided to turn it into it’s own model in 1964.  It was much more popular that way, and the ultimate model was the 1969 Judge Ram Air IV.  It came with the then-new 455 cubic-inch V-8 and a functional Ram Air hood (the Ram Air package came in four stages), a Muncie M-22 “Rock Crusher” transmission, and bodywork that let you know that you really were king of the street.  It was truly stunning, especially in green.  It went dormant for 20+ years before appearing as a rebadged Holden Monaro in the US.  It wasn’t very popular.  It’s probably because Ford launched the retro-styled S197-generation Mustang right around the same time.  The 2004-2006 GTO looked nothing at all like any other GTO.  It didn’t look very good.  Nowadays, the modern “Goat” is popular with hot rodders who want to have all of the modern conveniences and glorious power.  Some even take the body off of the GTO and put on a classic car’s body.  Voila, you have a car that looks like a classic, but handles and drives like a new car.  Plus, they are easy to put bigger engines in.  Drifters are starting to find them.  Beware.
  • Lexus LS400:  This big Lexus was the car that sent Germany scrambling back to the drawing board.  The LS400 competed with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7-Series.  The German cars were stodgy cruisers that were heavy, large beasts on the street, but smooth on the highway.  The Lexus took that trademark Japanese agility and feeling of being a smaller car, threw in a buttery-smooth engine and transmission (the ads showed a champagne flute on the hood while the engine revved.  The champagne never overflowed – or came close to that!), a sumptuous leather interior, and made it a fun car to drive.  Lexus kept it in production from 1989-2000 in one basic form or another.  It sold well, and is a completely bulletproof car in terms of reliability.
  • Chevrolet S-10:  OK, I am a bit biased on this, but hear me out.  The Chevrolet S-10 replaced the dismal LUV pickups of the 1970s in 1982.  It came with an underpowered 4-cylinder engine or a more powerful 2.8-liter V-6.  In 1988, Chevy added their new 4.3-liter V-6 to the S-10.  It literally doubled the towing and hauling capacity, as well as making it a far more enjoyable truck to drive.  My S-10 is a 1989 Tahoe model.  That means that it was top of the line.  It has a cloth interior, an AM/FM radio, air conditioning, and it has fuel injection (the 1988 model had a carburetor).  You could get it as a regular cab or an extended cab.  Bed sizes were a 5-foot bed or a 6.5-foot bed. That’s not huge, but for somebody in a crowded city who needs a pickup, it’s perfect.  You could get it in 2WD or 4WD.  Mine is 2WD.  It was wildly successful, and you can still see a lot on the road.  Some people are taking modern Chevy LS3 E-Rod engines (smog-legal V-8’s) and stuffing them into an S-10.  They’re quite the sleeper.
  • Porsche 911 Turbo:  When it first debuted in 1975, it was a total animal of a car.  Lift off of the gas going into a corner, and you’d hit the guardrail with the backside of the car.  You had to keep your foot in it.  It made an underrated 276 horsepower (think closer to 350), had no ABS, a clutch that was so stiff that some had to literally push their leg down to depress the clutch, and a 5-speed manual transmission.  It was a total monster of a car that dominated the racing circuits, but was completely and totally unstreetable.  But, put one on a windy canyon road, modulate the throttle, and you had a recipe for speed.  Porsche still makes it.  However, it now makes a ridiculous 520 horsepower, and is truly the ultimate all-weather supercar.
  • Ford GT40:  This was the car that dominated endurance racing during the 1960’s.  It was the result of Enzo Ferrari refusing to sell his company to Ford in 1964.  Henry Ford II decided to beat Enzo Ferrari at his own game on his own turf.  Talk about owning a bully.  The GT40 was aerodynamic, muscular-looking, and was built for racing.  Ford built about 20-40 for the street (it’s unclear how many).  The first models came with a Shelby-tuned 289 cubic-inch V-8 that made 300 horsepower via a tri-power (three two-barrel carburetor) setup and forged internals and an Isky cam.  This engine was so durable that when Ford disassembled the engine after the season was over, it looked brand-new.  Later models came with Ford’s mighty 427 cubic-inch FE-Series “Cammer” engine.  This engine was the same one in the Shelby Cobra.  It made about 500 horsepower.  Both engines were mated to a four-speed manual.  The GT40 simply dominated the 24 Hours of Le Mans and 24 Hours of Nurburgring.  It was insanely fast, and it could be heard from over a mile away.  It beat Ferrari at their own game for years, before the FIA changed the rules, and both Ferrari and Ford had to comply.  Ford pulled out of Le Mans endurance racing for 20+ years and let Ferrari dominate.

 

 

 

Yes, that is a young Harrison Ford standing next to one of the most iconic hot rods ever.  It’s a 1932 Ford Hi-Boy (the body was lifted off of the frame so the frame could be tweaked).  It has a Chevy 283 cubic-inch small-block V-8 with crackling sidepipes.  This was the car that made me appreciate the little deuce coupe.

This is a fuelie 1957 Chevy Bel Air.  It became known as the “Black Widow” because it only came in black with white tape stripes, a black-and-white interior, and the red center caps on the wheels.

This is a gasser.  Gassers got their name because of the drag racing class they were in (B/Gas or blown/gas).  They had big engines with no supercharger, or smaller supercharged engines.  Look up “Roadkill Blasphemi” on YouTube for the build and cross-country blitz of one of my favorite cars – “Blasphemi.”

This is probably the ultimate Shelby Cobra.  It’s called the “Super Snake” because it has twin superchargers on top of an already-powerful engine.  Bill Cosby almost bought one, but took it on a test drive and thought he was going to die.  Carroll Shelby bought it.  Only two were made, but it was incredibly fast.  It’s rumored that in testing the car hit 210 mph – in 1966!  To me, it’s the ultimate factory hot rod.

This is a 1969 Dodge Daytona replica made by a host of the /DRIVE Network, Mike Musto.  It’s one of my favorite cars ever.  He took a 1969 Charger and turned it into a Daytona.  It’s the ultimate cross-country cruiser.  Just looking at it sends shivers down my spine.

The only stock part about this Mustang is the roof, A-pillar, and C-pillar.  It’s the latest creation from the brilliantly mad folks at RTR and Hoonigan.  Ken Block had it built.  It’s got a stroked NASCAR-spec engine that makes 850 horsepower that goes to all four wheels.  That’s right, this car is AWD.  You need to watch “Gymkhana 7” if you haven’t already.  It’s simply amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Elephants Still Rule

The 426 HEMI is one of the best engines around.  It’s made already-good cars spectacular.  It also sounds splendid.  The level of aural trauma one receives just listening to this car is incredible, but it’s well worth ear surgery!  It also is one of the best-looking engines out there.

One can argue that the best Dodge to come with the 426 HEMI (or the Elephant Motor) was the 1969 Dodge Daytona.  It was built to rule NASCAR.  It did.  In fact, it did so well that NASCAR banned aero cars after the Daytona and it’s sister car, the Plymouth Superbird, dominated NASCAR in the 1969 and 1970 seasons.

However, I think that a second-best Dodge is the Challenger R/T with the 426 Street HEMI.  Yes, they had to have a street tune for this engine!  That should give you an idea of how good this motor is.  The Challenger R/T is relatively rare, powerful, and really represents the muscle car craze of the 1960s and early 1970s.

The new Challenger is a throwback to the original.  Dodge made the original Challenger to be something that you could pack the family into and drive on a daily basis, yet take to the drag strip and dominate.  It’s still that way today.

All of the hype surrounding the new Challenger Hellcat has me thinking how the old Challenger stacks up against the new Challenger.   Here goes.

The most astute Mopar fans among us will likely call the Hellcat a cheater against the 1970 Challenger R/T.  Yes, Dodge is using a big supercharger to squeeze 707 yowling ponies out of the Hellcat’s 6.2-liter V-8, while they used natural aspiration in the 1970 R/T.  I think for a fair comparison, the Challenger SRT8 is a good car to compare it to.  It’s got a 485-horsepower 6.4-liter V-8 (392 cubic inches), the option of an 8-speed automatic or a standard six-speed manual, and lots of performance goodies.

Why include the Hellcat?  Because right now, it represents the pinnacle of the Challenger line.

Let’s go back 44 years to when the Challenger was new.  In 1970, you could walk into any Dodge dealership, and special-order a Challenger R/T with the 426 c.i. HEMI  V-8 engine.  To do so, you had to start with a Challenger R/T.  This set you back $3,266.  The E74 426 HEMI was an additional $778.75.  However, checking the option box for the Elephant Motor meant you had to get the A34 Super Track Pak (4.10:1 rear end ratio, a 9-3/4 Dana rear end, a Sure-Grip differential, a seven-blade Torque Drive fan [essentially a serpentine belt-driven fan], a high performance radiator with a fan shroud, and power four-wheel disc brakes) for $236.65, a four-speed manual transmission (the A727 Torqueflite transmission was available for a higher cost) for $194.85, and a collapsible spare tire for $12.95.  And that’s before add-ons.  This bare-bones Challenger would have set you back $4,488.20, about the same price as a Corvette with the L-88 Tri-Power (427 cubic-inch solid-lifter V-8).  That’s the equivalent of $27,559.63 in today’s money.

The car would have weighed 3,402 pounds as optioned above.  Add on air conditioning, an automatic transmission, and other such luxuries, and you’d be looking at about 3,600 pounds.

Performance-wise, you were hard-pressed to find something faster than the Challenger R/T.  It could get up to 60 mph in under 6 seconds (the Subaru WRX does it in 5.5), and rumble through the quarter mile in about 14 seconds at 104 mph.  And that was before you slapped a pair of drag slicks on.  I wasn’t able to find any information on how well it gripped, but quite frankly, those interested in going around corners in a Challenger would have picked up a Challenger T/A.  Fuel economy?  Let’s be honest here – if you don’t have a heavy right foot, are good at short shifting, you would be lucky to eke out double digits.  This isn’t made for beating a Prius in fuel economy.

Warranty-wise, the Challenger R/T came with a 12-month, 12,000 mile powertrain warranty good for the original owner only, instead of the standard five-year, 50,000 mile powertrain warranty.

Let’s go back to the present.  $40,485 is the minimum price of admission for any Challenger carrying the SRT badge.  The weight has ballooned 800 pounds (mostly safety equipment and electronics) to 4,231 pounds.  Horsepower has gone up to 470, but torque has dropped from 490 lb-ft to 470 lb-ft.

When accelerating, the big Challenger will thunder to 60 mph in about 4.9 seconds, on its way to a very-respectable 13-second quarter mile on it’s sticky Pirelli P Zero tires.  Despite all of these impressive numbers, the Challenger will return 23 mpg on the highway.

In terms of the powertrain warranty, it’s a five-year/100,000 mile deal, but Dodge can and gladly will void the warranty if it is deemed that the car was used for “competition purposes.”

What about the Hellcat?  By January or February, you can walk into any SRT-approved Dodge dealer, plunk down $60,500, and say, “I’d like a Challenger Hellcat, please.”  Just remember, that’s before price gouging and options.

The Hellcat is heavier than the naturally-aspirated Challenger, tipping the scales at a monstrous 4,488 pounds.  But, it does come equipped with a 707-horsepower Hemi V-8.  It will sound like nothing else on the road for 3.6 seconds as you get to 60 mph, and then obliterate the quarter mile in 11.7 seconds at 126 mph on street tires.  Slap on a pair of drag slicks, and you’ll see 10.80 seconds at about 137-14o mph.

The massive supercharger requires 80 horsepower to keep it spinning, but it gives about 70 back when driving air into the engine.

To keep things semi-sane on the street, the car is limited to just 500 horsepower (you can even drive it with 300 horsepower), unless a special “red key” is put into the ignition.

To sum it all up, this may very well be the golden age of muscle car performance.  It just depends on how you view it.

Should I happen to be blindfolded and have to point at either a 1970 Challenger R/T, an SRT8 Challenger, or the Hellcat, I’d hope that I pointed at the Challenger R/T.  That’s not to say I’d be unhappy with the Hellcat or the SRT8 – I’d rather just have the 1970 Challenger R/T.  It’s not stupendously quick, safe, or conspicuous.  But, that’s why people buy them.  It’s just something that you will get thumbs up in everywhere.

If I had all three of said Challengers, I would use them as follows:

  • Challenger SRT8 for daily driving
  • Challenger Hellcat for scaring the life out of everybody on the road and road trips
  • Challenger R/T for weekends and road trips

THIS is HEMI Orange.  This is the car that I dream about.  This is the car that I will own before I die.  This is a legend.

This is the new HEMI Orange.  I’m still waiting for that matte black speed stripe on the hood.  Hmmmm…I see some slight modification work to do…

What’s that modification work?  The chrome bumper around the grille and headlights, a black roof, and some mag wheels.

This is under the radar…until you hear it!  I heard one at speed recently, and there’s no real way to describe it.  It’s just the loudest thing I’ve ever heard.  If you want it to be louder, get a set of Cherry Bomb mufflers – they’re smog-legal, and they make more noise than anything this side of a Bonneville landspeed racer.

Bad Boys: Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Vs. Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

Chevrolet’s had the 5th-generation Camaro ZL1 out for a couple of model years now, and it’s only real muscle car competition was the now-defunct Ford Mustang Shelby GT500.  The GT500 is now out of production, as the 2015 Mustang will go into production soon.  Dodge’s heavy Challenger SRT8 is a great car for cruising the boulevards and highways of America, it’s just not a handling muscle car like the ZL1.  The ZL1 is meant to be a car that you can take to your local track day without a trailer, win, and drive home.  Dodge desperately needed a competitor to the ZL1, so they rolled out the awesome Challenger Hellcat.  The Hellcat is the most powerful stock American V8 ever.  It makes a thundering, throaty, screaming, 707 horsepower.  That’s right.  However, a dyno test by Motor Trend showed that the Hellcat actually makes more than that.  Back to that later.  The Hellcat is meant to be a car that you can drive to your local drag strip, win against other bone-stock cars, and drive home.

The Camaro uses a detuned LS9 6.2-liter supercharged V8 that pumps out 580 horsepower.  It puts the power down to the ground through either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission.  Plus, you can get it as a convertible, which would eliminate most of the visibility issues associated with the 5th-generation Camaro coupe.  While the Camaro may make far less horsepower than the Challenger Hellcat, it makes up for it in a trick suspension and 400 fewer pounds than the Challenger Hellcat.  Sometimes less is more.  Besides, the Camaro beat the 662-horsepower Mustang GT500 in it’s last shootout.

The Challenger uses an all-new 6.2-liter supercharged Hellcat V8 that pumps out a claimed 707 horsepower.  It puts all of those raging ponies down to the ground through either a six-speed manual or a quick-shifting 8-speed automatic adapted from the ZF 8-speed slushbox found in many cars nowadays.  It also comes with a trick suspension adapted from the Viper, and a variety of cool driving modes (like Valet Mode, which lowers the horsepower to 300, limits the revs to 4,000 RPM, and turns all of the nannies on).  Plus, it comes with more street appeal than just about any other new car on the market.  Well, with the exception of the Pagani Huayra…

If you want to kill them with consistency in the acceleration department, go for the ZL1.  It thunders to 60 mph in just 3.9 seconds.  It then goes on to slaughter the 1/4 mile in a stonking fast 12.2 seconds at 116.6 mph.  Whatever way you look at it, that’s pretty fast.  Enter the Hellcat.  It makes the Camaro feel slow.  That’s not surprising.  What makes it’s times even more impressive is the fact that it puts 707+ horsepower down to the ground through relatively skinny 275 millimeter-width tires.  Granted, the tires are Pirelli P Zeroes, but that’s a lot of power going to the ground through not very much tire.  This, of course, makes the Hellcat a difficult one to launch.  Even with launch control enabled, the Hellcat’s best 0-60 run was “just” 3.7 seconds to 60 mph.  It’s probably best to launch the Hellcat in 2nd gear, as that much power can get the Hellcat up to speed quickly, plus it eliminates a time-sapping gearshift.  It then goes on to absolutely embarrass the ZL1 in the 1/4 mile by doing a crazy-fast 11.7 second at 125.4 mph run.  That trap speed won’t only embarrass a Camaro ZL1 owner – it will embarrass a Porsche 911 Turbo S AND a Nissan GT-R Nismo in the 1/4 mile.  America for the win.

Then, you go onto a skid pad.  This is where the intended functions of these two cars show.  The Camaro ZL1 pulled 0.99 G’s on the skidpad.  This is probably thanks to the cool Delphi magnetic shocks, and the quick steering in the ZL1.  While the ZL1 may behave like a sports car, the Hellcat doesn’t.  As Motor Trend‘s Scott Evans put it, “The Challenger handles just like a Challenger.  Understeer into the corner, oversteer out.”  The Hellcat may handle like a boat, but it sticks.  Just ask the 0.94 G’s pulled on the skidpad.  The Challenger may not be the best choice for corner carving on a tight, windy race track, but it will put to shame many well-tuned drift cars as it shreds its skinny rear tires.

I literally couldn’t stop laughing when I heard this, but it’s 100% true.  Motor Trend‘s Kim Reynolds said that the Camaro felt like something developed by Infiniti’s Red Bull Racing Formula 1 team or McLaren’s Formula 1 team.  The Hellcat, on the opposite side of the spectrum, “feels like it was developed by HOT ROD’s Freiburger and Finnegan.”

Should you choose to road-trip either of these two cars, invite me or some friends along!  The Camaro has visibility akin to a solitary confinement prison cell at Abu Grahib, but it’s V8 hums along, the cool shocks absorb anything any road can throw at it, and it’s got a great sound system.  The Challenger Hellcat is THE ultimate road trip car.  I’ve heard that it’s ride is a bit busier, but it keeps you more alert than the quiet, subdued Camaro ZL1.  It’s seats are something that you’ll want in your living room.  The supercharged Hellcat Hemi has an absolutely demonic supercharger whine when you step on it – batten the hatches when the Hellcat comes to town!  The 8-speed automatic transmission is found in almost every new Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep/Ram/SRT product these days, and it is more beefed up in the Challenger Hellcat to handle the crazy power numbers.  The Hellcat’s engine note when you step on it sounds like somebody supercharged Roadkill’s Blasphemi 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air gasser.  It sounds absolutely spectacular.  The best part is, Dodge has released a Hellcat Hemi engine note ringtone.

Inside, the Challenger is definitely the car of choice.  Aside from the crazy powerful engine and the sinister sheetmetal that looks straight out of 1970, the Challenger is really quite the ticket to being comfortable.  It’s got one of the best interiors in the segment, which it has had since day 1, an intuitive infotainment system, an even better Boston Acoustics sound system, plenty of room for five adults, and a stunningly low entry price of $60,995.  Then, the Camaro ZL1 enters the room.  Sure, it’s got Alcantara all over the bloody cabin, and snug, comfortable Recaro bucket seats, but you can tell Chevy cared more about what was under the hood.  Dodge didn’t have to try very hard to update the cabin in the Challenger.  If you can’t swing $60,995, no worries.  Chevy has a great Camaro ZL1 with your name on it for just $57,650.

While these two cars have traded blows in straight lines, in the curves, and elsewhere, street appeal is definitely part of what muscle cars are all about.  In a nutshell, the Camaro looks like just another Camaro with big black wheels and a vented hood, while the Challenger looks like it just stepped out of the Trans-Am racing series.  It just looks like pure evil.

This is America.  Just like basketball (and many other ball sports), there are NO ties.  There are only winners and losers.  In my humble opinion, the Challenger Hellcat will always come out on top.  It’s got a focus on power, presence, and straight-line performance define what a muscle car is supposed to be.  It shows that the boys over at Dodge know how to make a world-class muscle car after years and years of being pushed around by Ford and Chevy.  While I like the ZL1 as a capable and well-balanced sports car, it just doesn’t really seem like as good of a muscle car of the Challenger Hellcat.  Like the muscle cars of the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Challenger Hellcat is built to dominate the streets with some serious power under the beautifully sculpted hood.  The Hellcat proves to me that the ultimate muscle car wasn’t built in the 1960’s or 1970’s – it is now, and here to stay.

Now for the dyno results.  The Challenger Hellcat is rated by the SAE (Society of American Engineers) at 707 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque at the crank.  Dodge is lying through their teeth.  This engine is almost as powerful as an engine in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series.  The Hellcat Challenger puts down 635 horsepower and 591 pound-feet of torque at the wheels.  Factor in a 12% driveline loss (automatics are getting more and more efficient every year), and the Challenger Hellcat makes about 722 horsepower and 672 pound-feet of torque at the crank.  Both of those are more than advertised.  Some other cool things about the Challenger Hellcat:  When Motor Trend did their dyno test at K&N Air Filter’s Riverside, CA dyno shop, the Hellcat was the fastest car ever strapped down to the massive rollers there.  The speedometer topped out at 202 mph, but the Hellcat accelerated to 225 mph, which is the fastest the dyno can possibly go there.  While the Hellcat will never, ever get up to 225 mph stock (a brick goes through the air better), it’s cool to know that the SRT team of engineers didn’t bother fitting a speed limiter to the car.  Not only is it the fastest, but it’s also the hottest.  The Hellcat took five industrial fans pointed at it to keep it cool for it’s dyno pull.  An interesting fact to know about the Hellcat is that it will suck all of the air out of a 10 X 13 foot room in just one minute at full throttle.  It will also drain all 19 gallons of it’s fuel tank in a minute at full throttle.

Now on to the Camaro ZL1.  The ZL1 makes only 580 horsepower and 556 pound-feet of SAE-rated torque.  The car that Motor Trend tested made just 472 horsepower and 482 pound-feet of torque at the wheels.  K&N noted that that’s about 20 fewer horsepower than they are used to seeing from a stock Camaro ZL1.  Assuming a 10% driveline loss for the Camaro, it’s making a still-impressive 524 horsepower and 536 pound-feet at the crank.  That’s almost 60 horsepower than rated.

Why did the Hellcat need five industrial fans pointed at it?  Well, the Hellcat needs a LOT of air to operate optimally, and superchargers throw off lots of heat.  This 2.9-liter supercharger shoves 11.9 pounds of boost into the engine.  This supercharger is common in tuned muscle cars, and it’s not uncommon to see more boost out of it.  However, I just think that the Hellcat’s engine can’t easily make more power before it presses the self-destruct button.  It’s like the Nissan GT-R, where the engine has been tuned so much that Motor Trend found in a test last year that the engine kept loosing 5 pounds of boost from the two massive turbos.  That’s a lot of boost, so you’ve got to wonder if engines this powerful are tuned to within an inch of their life.

What about the ZL1?  Was it a dud car, or has GM just been radically overrating their engines?  Who knows?  Dyno results range anywhere from far more than what the manufacturer says to far below.  It depends on the dyno itself, the way the car is strapped down, if it has enough air going into the engine, the temperature of the air, and what gear the car is in.  There are literally thousands of different factors in dynoing a car.  It probably wasn’t in Motor Trend’s best interest to dyno two powerful cars with heat-making superchargers in the end of a SoCal summer in Riverside.  While Dodge does say that the Hellcat will last 20 minutes in 100 degree heat at a track and get consistent results, one has to wonder if the Challenger can really last that long without overheating.  Time will tell (pardon the pun) the reliability of this powerful engine.

The engine technology in the Hellcat Hemi goes back to 2002.  That’s a really long time for a cylinder head design to be around in one basic form or another.  Granted, that design works – really well, but Ford and Chevy have definitely stepped up their engine game.  The Mustang GT500 used an aluminum block, which took off 100 pounds off of the front of an already-heavy car, and a bunch of other really cutting-edge engine technology.  Chevy’s LS9 and LSA V8’s are really beasts of engines, but obviously not in the ZL1 dynoed by Motor Trend.  The Hellcat engine block was originally going to be aluminum, but was vetoed at the 11th hour by a Dodge executive.  It’s a shame.  The aluminum engine block would have shaved at least 100 pounds off of the front of a nose-heavy car, bringing it’s curb weight down to about 4350 pounds or so, which would be almost 100 pounds heavier than the also-chubby Camaro.

When it comes to transmissions, the ZF 8-speed automatic is the best transmission in a muscle car now.  Chevy’s six-speed automatic doesn’t like to downshift, even when told to.  Ford didn’t offer an automatic transmission in the GT500, but it used a TREMEC TR6060 six-speed manual.  This is a great six-speed manual.  It’s used by Ford, Chevy, and Dodge.  It’s also common in road-racing cars.  It’s beefy, reliable, and has good gearing for almost any engine.  The fact is, the Hellcat with the 8-speed ZF transmission is probably the best combination.  It’s going to be hard for even an experienced driver of a manual transmission to put 635 horsepower and 591 pound-feet of torque down to the ground.  That’s why Dodge offers 3 power settings – 300 horsepower, 500 horsepower, and 700+ horsepower.  In daily driving, the most power anybody will ever really need is 150 horsepower and about 200 pound-feet of torque.  Plus, the Hellcat with the automatic transmission will get 24 mpg on the highway.  The Camaro only gets 21.  The Mustang only got 22.

If you get a Hellcat, please, please, pretty please, let me know!  I will feature you on my blog, but ONLY if you either take me for a ride, or let me drive it!  If you do either of these, I will interview you, take wonderful pictures, and wax poetic about being in a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat for the rest of my life.

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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 World’s Fastest Electric Car!

Don Garlits is a drag racing legend.  It’s why he’s known as “Big Daddy.”  Garlits has set records, not only for the amount of wins, but also for eclipsed times, trap speeds, etc.  He’s been active in the drag racing world for the better part of 60 years.  Many credit him for actively starting to make Top Fuel drag racing safer.  He’s learned the hard way on how unsafe old nitromethane dragsters are.  His favorite engine is the 426 Hemi that propelled him to many a victory.  Now, at age 81, he’s trying to set yet another record.

The eerie silence of electric vehicles is a bit creepy to some.  Nowhere is it more apparent than a 1/4 mile dragstrip.  Top Fuel dragsters make 8,000 horsepower, shake your body to the core, and easily hit 150 decibels.

Big Daddy’s Swamp Rat 37 isn’t what he usually drag races.  This is evidenced by the fact that he went 323 mph six years ago.  He regularly drag races a 2009 Dodge Challenger Drag Pak (Dodge’s equivalent of the Ford Mustang Cobra Jet and Chevy COPO Camaro, except it’s got a 600 horsepower Viper V10 under the hood).  Anyhow, Swamp Rat 37 isn’t nearly as quick as other cars he’s sailed down the 1320 feet of a quarter mile in.  But, his new record proves that electric dragsters aren’t slow, either.  According to Wired, Garlits and Swamp Rat 37 just went 7.258 seconds at 184.01 mph at Brandenton Motorsports Park in Florida.  That’s a little bit short of the 200 mph Garlits is aiming for, but he still went 24.16 mph faster than the previous record.

Very few electric cars make supercars look slow, though the Tesla Model S does come close – very close.  However, Big Daddy’s dragster makes every supercar look slow.  Swamp Rat 37 has six 7.5-inch DC electric motors.  Total output from those motors is 1,500 kilowatts, equivalent to about 2,000 horsepower.  Power for those motors is provided by four lithium-ion battery packs that store 420 volts and 3,600 amps.  It’s a little bit more powerful than sticking your finger into an electrical outlet.  Since he’s living his life 1320 feet at a time, there’s no such thing as range anxiety.

Big Daddy built up to full power over the course of several runs, turning in a 10.9, an 8.75, and on his fifth run, he hit 178.42 mph.  His sixth run was the record-shattering run.  For me, the most striking noise is not the whir of the electric motors, but the tires.  The noise of the tires is always drowned out by the thundering engines used in Top Fuel dragsters.  For some,  this may devalue electric dragsters forever, but Big Daddy has shown the world that there’s potential in everything.

Enjoy the video of Garlits setting the record.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ea4igN8Thtg

Dodge Revives Classic Shaker Hoods and Scat Packs!

While it’s been a couple of months since the 2014 SEMA show in Las Vegas, I only recently heard about the legendary Shaker Hoods and Scat Packs returning to Mopar!

Since the 2014 Dodge Challenger looks like it’s 1970 ancestor, it seems fitting that the Challenger should have the legendary Shaker Hood.  Like the original Challenger, the 2014 Challenger can also be fitted with a hood that has the air scoop directly attached to the engine.  This Shaker Hood isn’t just a useless piece of retro jewelry, either.  It provides cooling air to the thirsty HEMI engine under that beautiful hood.

What makes the Shaker Hood even more accessible to enthusiasts who want a 2014 Challenger is the fact that it comes as its own special model!  It’s called the 2014 Dodge Challenger R/T Shaker, and it comes with it’s unique graphics, a period-correct Satin Black Shaker Hood, plus the optional Super Track Pack performance package and a few other cosmetic changes.  It also comes with a spectacular creamsicle-orange color that is a must!

Also returning for 2014 is the Scat Pack.  The last time the Scat Pack was seen on the 1968 Challenger, Charger, and Dart.  Back then, it was called the “Scat Pack Club” package, and it collectively referred to all of the performance models, and it also encouraged camaraderie among enthusiasts and owners.  This time around, however, Dodge is using the moniker as a performance package for, you guessed it, the Dart, Charger, and Challenger.

Each Scat Pack package is available in three stages, with each stage offering additional performance enhancements for the mighty 5.7-liter HEMI V8 on the Charger and Challenger and the turbocharged 2.4-liter four cylinder on the Dart.

These performance enhancements include enhanced ECU tuning, and freer-flowing intake and exhaust systems.  The V8 cars come with more serious modifications:  Not only do they come with what’s mentioned above, but they get new Iskendarian camshafts, and ported-and-polished cylinder heads – in the upper levels.  The Dart has to make do with brake and suspension enhancements.  All three Scat Pack cars come with cool graphics and custom interiors done up with Katzkin leather.

The Challenger R/T Shaker and the Scat Pack Challenger, Charger, and Dart will arrive in dealers by mid-May 2014.