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!

NHRA Makes Biggest Changes to Pro Stock Class Since 1982

The National Hot Rod Association, or NHRA, recently made the most sweeping rule changes to the Pro Stock class since 1982, when they abandoned the pounds-per-cubic-inch format.

The NHRA’s rule changes are a two-phase process. The first phase of the rule changes will be implemented at next weekend’s race at Sonoma Raceway, where the NHRA Sonoma Nationals are to be held.

The changes effective from Sonoma onward are designed to increase spectator appeal, and to enhance the overall pit experience for fans.

NHRA mandated that teams must back the cars into their respective pit spots with the engines uncovered for better visibility for the fans. Crew members can no longer touch the cars during burnouts. The final change is that it is now mandatory for teams to create automobile manufacturer identification headers on the windshield of the car (not to be confused with exhaust headers) that can be sized between 4.25-4.5 inches high.

Starting January 1, 2016, all Pro Stock teams will be required to equip their cars with electronically-controlled throttle body fuel injection. This will make the engines more relevant – some engines still use carburetors. To reduce and control the costs for the race teams, the NHRA is mandating a 10,500 rpm rev limiter be attached to the fuel injection systems.

In addition to this, the NHRA has required all Pro Stock teams to remove the hood scoops, and to shorten the length of their wheelie bars to a length that is specified by the NHRA Tech Department. These changes are designed to make the cars look more like their factory counterparts, and to boost spectator appeal with the unpredictability of the class, due to more “wheels-up” launches.

The NHRA has promised to work with their new TV partner FOX Sports to improve coverage of Pro Stock races, as well as team, driver, and technical features.

“Pro Stock racing has a tremendous history with NHRA and proves each weekend by the close side-by-side finishes that it is one of the most competitive forms of racing in all of motorsports,” said Peter Clifford, NHRA president. “Through these changes we hope to provide a platform so the Pro Stock class can evolve from a technological standpoint, yet reconnect with its roots by generating more interest and appeal among spectators.”

NHRA Pro Stock 1 NHRA Pro Stock 2

The Evolution of Crazy

Pro Street is a popular form of hot rodding nowadays.  It’s also incredibly easy to define, unlike rat rods or Pro Touring.  Pro Street is classic cars with the rear wheeltubs dramatically enlarged for insanely wide tires.  However, defining Pro Street gets a bit more difficult from there.  Is it a fairgrounds car with big dirt tires?  A street-optimized race car? A race-optimized street car?  Or is it a full-on race car?  It can be any and all of those.  Pro Street has evolved throughout the years from essentially fairgrounds cars to street-optimized race cars.  I’ve taken the pleasure of outlining important years and cars in the evolution of Pro Street.  While your idea of Pro Street might differ, or not be there, I hope this helps.

1972: Grumpy Jenkins Pro Stock Vega:  Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins essentially ushered in Pro Street with the advent of his groundbreaking NHRA Pro Stock tube-chassis Chevy Vega in 1972.  Nobody had ever seen massive tires tucked under a production body before. Yes, the extreme Funny Cars had been using the look for a few years prior, but they had fiberglass body shells, so let’s not count those.  Grumpy went all-out groundbreaking by using a completely tubular frame, which allowed him to run those massive 14-inch-wide and 32-inch-tall drag slicks previously reserved for Top Fuel.  Every single Pro Stock car borrows heavily from that groundbreaking Vega in 1972.

Grumpy Jenkins Chevy Vega

1979: Scott Sullivan’s 1967 Chevy Nova:  No, this beautiful 1967 Chevy Nova was not the first Pro Street car.  Not by a long shot.  However, it was the first car to get massive attention past a small magazine feature on it.  It thundered onto the scene in 1979, just a year after the Car Craft Street Machine Nationals were launched to tire-burning success.  It created the perfect test-and-tune environment for Pro Street.  Sullivan has been known for setting hot rodding trends with just about every car that he builds.  His 1967 Nova was no exception.  It may not have been as innovative as his other cars, but it doesn’t make it any less beautiful, thanks to it’s highlight stripe and color-matched bumpers.  It even had the perfect stance.  Sullivan sold the car in 1984 to Pro Mod racer Ron Iannotti.

Scott Sullivan 1967 Chey Nova

1980: Some Tubbed Street Machines: Many street rod builders of the late 1970s became brainwashed by Scott Sullivan’s beautiful 1967 Chevy Nova (see above), and completely redid their cars.  Just about every car from this era had the back half of their chassis tubbed, and many builders simply moved the leaf springs far inside the chassis to fit the massive drag slicks.  Seeing a car with a Roots blower sticking out of the hood was a must well into the 1990s.

Pro Street Pontiac GTO

1985: Fully Tubbed Street Rods: The cover of the July 1985 ‘Hot Rod’ magazine announced the “Fat Attack” of fully tubbed street rods.  One of the cars on the cover was “Fat Jack” Robinson’s 1946 Ford coupe, painted in a vivid Coast Guard orange.  The car was tubbed like a true Pro Street car, but it was intended to thunder down the drag strips of America.  His car was the result of the first round of the nostalgia drag racing scene of the time.  His car inspired several other pre-1948 fully-tubbed cars.  Those cars on the cover of ‘Hot Rod’ showed how the Pro Street look merging into the vast world of street rods.  It wasn’t long before you’d look around at a hot rod show and see a bunch of 1940s Ford coupes sporting massive rubber.  Unfortunately for Fat Jack Robinson, his car ended up being totaled in a crash at Fremont Drag Strip.

Fat Jack Robinson 1946 Ford Coupe

1992: Trailer/Fairgrounds Queens: Dick Dobbertin’s nutso Pontiac J2000 Pro Street car arrived on the scene in 1986.  You’re probably wondering why I said 1992.  That’s because the trend of taking a lowly late-model FWD car being converted to a fully-tubbed, RWD car started then.  It made it OK to build an over-the-top Pro Street car that only looked good, which have now been dubbed Pro Fairgrounds.  Why Pro Fairgrounds?  The show venue was the only place where these cars could really shine.  I mean, who would really want to drive a car with more than 1,000 horsepower and a short wheelbase down a dragstrip?  If you want that kind of crazy, buy a vintage Fuel Altered car.  This radical Pontiac J2000 started the Dare to be Different movement in the automotive world, by starting battles to see who was able to build a bonkers Pro Fairgrounds car that nobody else had built yet.  Soon thereafter, builders came to their senses and started the Dare to be the Same movement, which leads us to our next section.

Dick Dobbertin Pontiac J2000

1992: C.A.R.S. Camaro: Many of the builders of Pro Fairgrounds resented building cars they couldn’t drive.  They wanted truly functional rides, not simple street rods with a big block, but cars that had gigantic rubber, big wheelies, and low drag strip times.  Detroit and Ohio even started a large movement to build cars that were all-steel-bodied, fully tubbed, go eight seconds in the quarter mile, dress them up with bumpers and various trim pieces, cruise them up and down the iconic Woodward Avenue in Detroit with license plates, and then race them head-to-head all weekend.  One of the first cars featured in magazines was the C.A.R.S. Inc.-sponsored Chevy Camaro of Rick Dyer and Danny Scott.  That iconic Camaro served as the main inspiration for the ‘Hot Rod’ 1992 Fastest Street Car Shootout.

Rick Dyer Chevy Camaro

1993: Mark Tate’s Chevy Camaro: That little Fastest Street Car Shootout gained so much popularity so quickly that it couldn’t sustain itself.  The heavyweight champs, the Pro Street cars, were losing to flat-out Pro Stock-chassis cars.  Those Pro Stock chassis cars were never meant to be driven on the street, unlike the Pro Street cars.  Mark Tate joined the fray in 1993 with his stock-bodied Pro Stock-chassis 1967 Chevy Camaro.  Then it was Tony Christian’s 1957 Chevy 210.  After Christian, it was Bob Reiger and his radical Pro Stock Chevy S-10.  Appeal for Pro Stock/Pro Street cars started to wane.  These weren’t cars you could build in the garage for $10,000 anymore.  These were cars racking up bills well over $100,000.  People wanted fast cars that they could drive on the street for not much money.

Mark Tate 1967 Chevy Camaro

2011: “Modern Pro Street:” This is a total niche created in the Pro Street world by those wanting a fast car with all of the modern mechanicals.  Cars of this look have a Pro Fairgrounds look, street machine behavior, and sometimes a late-model body.  These cars usually have the newest engines, turbos, EFI, and the wheels are usually gigantic with incredible tread.  The beautiful Mustang shown here is the 2007 Ford Mustang from Fastlane Motorsports.  It has a 2010 5.4-liter V-8 with an old-school Weiand 6-71 blower showing out of the hood.

Fastlane Motorsports 2007 Mustang

2012:  Larry Larson’s Chevy Nova: This is where Pro Street is now.  Larry Larson owns a stunning 1966 Chevrolet Nova that has truly incredible performance.  He’s run 6.90 seconds at well over 200 mph in the quarter mile after driving 80 mph on the highway all day.  How does he do it?  Modern technology.  He’s got a bored and stroked Chevy big-block motor with twin turbochargers, EFI, and lots of other amazing technology.  He’s able to drive it all day to a drag strip, run incredible times, turn around and go home without killing his car.  He’s had a LOT of experience in the drag racing world, so he only uses the best parts.  If Grumpy Jenkins were alive today, his mind would be absolutely blown.  Mine is.

Larry Larson 1966 Chevy Nova

That’s where Pro Street is, and where it’s come from.  These cars have state-of-the-art technology, and they are actually quite streetable cars.

What are Bore, Stroke, Porting, and Relieving?

You hear car guys throw around the terms, “bore” and “stroke” all the time.  Most of us don’t know what that means.  I do.  Here’s what they mean, and how to identify them.

Bore:  Cylinder bore is the measurement of the diameter of the cylinders in an engine.

Stroke:  Stroke is the amount of movement a piston can move up and down.

A bored engine happens when you machine out the block.  For example, taking a 400 cubic-inch Chevy V-8 and boring out the cylinder walls to make the engine displace, say 500 cubic inches.

A stroked engine is simple to build.  You just pull out the current internal moving parts, and put in bigger ones.  Because bigger is better.  An infamous example of this is Chevy’s 302 cubic-inch V-8 from 1967-1969.  Chevy took their garden-variety 283 cubic-inch V-8 engine block, and put the bigger 327 cubic-inch V-8 internals in.  Voila.

An easy way to put into perspective just how thirsty an engine can be is to remember that a 302 cubic-inch engine will theoretically inhale and exhale 302 cubic inches of air and fuel in two revolutions of the crankshaft.  If you punch that engine out (slang for stroking it) to 347 cubic inches, then you’re going to have a more powerful engine.  That 347 stroker engine is popular with drifters – it’s based off of Ford’s capable 302 cubic-inch V-8.  A 347 cubic-inch engine is 14.9% larger than a 302.  So, that 350 horse 302 will have 402 horsepower.

Just stroking an engine for more power won’t solve your problems entirely.  A cam (or more nowadays) pushes on the intake and exhaust valves.  If you’ve got a bigger crankshaft and pistons, upgrade the cam!  You’ll have a far more reliable engine.  Upgrading the cylinder heads is also smart.

The nice part about stroking an engine is that the engine remains the same size externally.

Porting:  A ported engine refers to enlarging the intake and exhaust ports of an engine.  This makes for better and more airflow.

Porting is common in drag racing, especially with the use of nitrous oxide (yes, the same stuff that is used to push out whipped cream from the can).  It just makes more room for the air to go in and out.

Relieving:  No, the engine is NOT using the bathroom!  That would be relieving itself.  A valve seat is where the valve is attached to.  It’s usually a small mound of metal, but it doesn’t need to be.  Relieving just removes the extra metal to make more room for bigger valves.

Here are some pictures of the different kinds of engine enlarging.

This is a bored Chevy big-block V-8 engine block.  It’s been bored out from 454 cubic inches to 489 cubic inches.  That’s 35 cubic inches more air and fuel this engine will hork down.

This is a stroked Chevy small-block V-8 engine.  It displaces 383 cubic inches, rather than 350.  Instead of 350 horsepower, it makes 425 horsepower.  You can buy this engine from Summit Racing.

This is a close-up of a beautifully-ported Ford 302 cubic-inch V-8 from a 1987 Mustang GT LX 5.0.  The larger port is the exhaust port.  The small hole is the valve seat.

This is a relieved Ford 221 cubic-inch flathead V-8.

 

The Most Affordable Project Cars!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What Era of Motorsport Was the Best?

This idea is simple:  What era of motorsport was/is the best?  What drivers were/are the best?  What motorsport was/is the best?  What cars were the best?  What track was the best?

For me, I can’t choose just one.  1960s Top Fuel drag racing was the best of the 1960s.  There were plenty of big names competing against smaller names, many of whom have been lost to the sands of time.  Some of those names we are familiar with – Don “Big Daddy” Garlits, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen (anybody who’s ever had a large collection of Hot Wheels has/had models of their cars).  Their cars were spectacularly fast (Garlits was the first to break 200 mph in his Top Fuel dragster), and they always put on one hell of a show.  I’m going to say that Lions Drag Strip in Long Beach, CA was the best.  While I never visited it (it closed in 1972), it is rumored to have been one of the best drag strips ever.  If you’re into Facebook, look up “THE GLORY DAYS OF DRAG RACING.”  It’s a closed group, but they will let you in.  It’s got a lot of great vintage photos.  Read their rules before posting something.

Another great one for me was 1980s Formula 1.  Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Mario Andretti, and the late Clay Regazzoni.  It was a fierce era of turbocharged cars with well over 1,000 horsepower duking it out on the fastest tracks on the planet.  BMW had cars with 1,400 horsepower and manual transmissions (yes, you had to take your hand off of the steering wheel in a tight corner in a powerful car to shift).  Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost simply dominated the sport until the tragic death of Senna in 1994.

Finally, I’m going to say that 1980s-current off-road racing is great.  I mean, who doesn’t like watching Ivan “Ironman” Stewart bombing around Baja in his Toyota trophy truck?  Or for those American car fans, how about Robby Gordon and his HUMMERs from a long time ago?  To me, it’s the most entertaining form of motorsport, and I’ve been hoping to travel to Baja to watch the Baja 1000 for a while.

Here are some of my favorite pictures to prove it.

Who Was Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Differences Between Circuit Racing, Drag Racing, and Oval Racing

My mom recently asked me what the differences were between circuit racing, drag racing, and oval racing.  For those of us who aren’t race freaks, this may prove helpful.  I know that it will prove helpful for my mom.

Drag racing is for all essential purposes, putting a big, powerful motor into a lightweight car, and adding other go-fast goodies to it, and then going to the drag strip and winning.  Ok, I wish it was that simple.  Many of the fast drag racing cars that you see going hundreds of mph down a straight 1/4 “drag strip” are purpose built.  The fast, cool cars that everybody loves are the Top Fuel dragsters.  Those are the long, huge-engined cars that blast down the drag strip in just 5 seconds.  But, there are also street-legal drag racers that are almost as quick.  Hot Rod Magazine puts on an event every year called Hot Rod Drag Week.  The fastest cars there in the Unlimited class consistently run low 7-second passes.  It’s truly mind-boggling to watch a steel-bodied 1965 Chevrolet Nova II blast down the drag strip at 6.94 seconds.  I have attached a video explaining the history of street legal drag racing, and I found it informative and fun.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TccUZOHuJuI

Circuit racing can mean two things.  One is oval racing like NASCAR or IndyCar, which is not how I view it.  The other is what they call “road-racing.”  Road racing is essentially a twisty track paved with concrete, not sticky asphalt.  It’s usually very fast, and it requires a lot of effort and concentration to wrangle a car around said track.  Formula 1 runs many road courses every season, and NASCAR runs two road courses (Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen).  But, the most well-recognized road race is the 24 Hours of Le Mans, as well as other endurance races.  Road racing is taxing on the engine, transmission, suspension, and the driver.  Darrell Waltrip (yeah, he’s the guy with the world-famous “Boogity, boogity, boogity) once said of Sonoma Raceway, “Floor the gas, upshift, mat the brakes, downshift, repeat.”  That can be said for many road courses around the world.  It’s not easy.

Oval racing is sometimes called circuit racing.  I don’t know or care why.  I just know that oval racing is NOT circuit racing.  If you find out or know why, tell me.  Anyhow, oval racing is NASCAR and IndyCar.  It’s extremely fast, and it’s taxing on the driver.  With NASCAR, pit stops are often between 8-20 seconds!  Famous oval tracks are Daytona International Speedway, Talladega International Superspeedway, Bristol Raceway, and Darlington Raceway.  Not only are all of those oval circuits fast, but they can have deadly consequences if you can’t get out of the way.  Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s 2001 death at the Daytona 500 was a shock to the racing community, but it only highlighted just how deadly NASCAR is.  Speeds reaching 200+ mph are common on these oval tracks.  Bill Elliott once hit 210 mph at Talladega, which is a record that stands to this day.

Since I’m onto the different kinds of racing, I might as well do other kinds of racing.

Top-speed racing is kind of the thing nowadays.  Standing mile events are common in several states, but the big top-speed races are at the Bonneville Salt Flats and El Mirage (El Mirage is a large dry lakebed in Southern California).  The fastest run at Bonneville was 763 mph back in 1997, with Andy Green driving Thrust SSC.  Not only did that break the sound barrier for the first time in a car, but Green is planning to hit 1,000 mph with Team Bloodhound SSC next year.  Back to top-speed racing.  It’s fast, and can be deadly.  I have attached a Roadkill episode showing Freiburger and Finnegan chasing a top-speed record at Bonneville in a 1981 Chevrolet Camaro.  It’s fast, funny, and surprisingly informative.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEcbwvNaxE8

Drifting is where you take a RWD car, pull the handbrake, and break the rear end loose.  Professional drifters include Vaughan Gittin, Jr., Ken Gushi, Tanner Foust, and Ken Block, just to name a few.  Drifting originated in Japan in the mid-1970s, and it’s become a popular sport ever since.  Typical drifting machines are RWD vehicles with either a GM LS-Series engine, or a turbocharged Toyota engine.  Drifters are people who like to make lots of tire smoke and dial in a lot of opposite lock into the steering.  Drifting a RWD car should be simple:  If it’s a new car, defeat the traction and stability controls.  Then, find a big, open space (without curbs or trees!), floor it, pull up on the handbrake, and the rear end will hopefully break out.  If and when it does, steer INTO the drift!  Steering away from the drift will spin the car and make you look like an idiot.  Steer into the drift, and apply more steering and throttle as needed.  If you feel uncomfortable, tap the brakes enough to get the rear end of the car to step back into line a bit.  Also, make sure that you don’t have expensive tires on.  Drifting eats up the treads surprisingly quickly, and you probably know that Pirelli P Zero Corsas aren’t exactly cheap.  I have attached yet another video done by the Motor Trend Channel talking about turbos vs. V8s and drifting.  It gives a unique perspective into drifting, and it’s got a TON of tire smoke!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3H8ItG5SK9o

Rallying can mean a couple of things.  One is where you are given directions and you drive your car on public roads to a destination.  The kind of rallying that most of us are familiar with is WRC and GRC (World Rally Cross and Global Rally Cross).  Those rally machines look stock, but don’t be fooled!  Ken Block and Tanner Foust are both professional drifters and rally drivers.  They both happen to be very good.  Ken Block’s Ford Fiesta looks like a stock Fiesta with aggressive tires, and a wild paint job, and a loud exhaust note.  It’s got a lowered, heavy-duty suspension, a 650-horsepower twin-turbocharged four-cylinder, and a six-speed manual.  It is FAST!  Ken also is a cool, nice guy who loves dogs.  Especially Alaskan Huskies.  His two Huskies’ names are Yuki and Bentley.

Autocrossing is often sanctioned by the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America), and it involves weaving a car in between traffic cones.  It’s fast, and it’s demanding on the suspension and tires.  Yet, people flock to it year after year.  It also is hard on the driver.  Some cars happen to be extremely good at autocrossing, and the Meyers Manx dune buggy in the late 1960s-1970s was very good.  It was light, fast, and it stuck to pavement like nothing else.  Nowadays, the Mazda Miata is the go-to choice for autocrossers.  I’ve attached the most recent Roadkill episode, where Freiburger and Finnegan attempt to beat a Kia Rio5 with all of their cars that still run.  I won’t spoil which cars win for you.  I’ll let you watch and laugh as they spin and throttle the Crusher Camaro, I’ll even let you watch and grimace as Finnegan blows up the parking assist pin in his wife’s 1969 Chevrolet El Camino, and watch as God-knows-what comes flying out of their 1968 Dodge Charger.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=II3z353OZWA

I think that I’ve covered just about everything here.  If you find anything else that you can think of, let me know in the comments section.  I will do another blog post on the different types of racing.  I would love to, as it would help me immensely.