What to Look for in Collector Cars Part 1

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

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

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

The Greatest American Turbocharged Cars

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

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

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

1989 Shelby CSX-VNT 2004 Dodge Neon SRT4

 

1962 Oldsmobile F85 Jetfire 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Spyder Turbo

1987 Buick GNX

1989 Pontiac Trans Am 20th Anniversary Edition

1991 GMC Syclone 1992 GMC Typhoon