The Perfect Balance of Street and Track in a Corvette

Some of you might know how the “Grand Sport” name for the Chevrolet Corvette. If you don’t, let me explain. In 1963, Zora Arkus-Duntov was hoping to build 125 lightweight, high-power homologation-special Corvette Sting Rays so Chevrolet could qualify for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. GM smashed that plan to smithereens after Chevrolet had built just five of the so-called Corvette Grand Sports. All five were quickly spirited under the table off to legendary racers with last names like Penske, Foyt, and Hall. All five cars were raced without any factory support.

Since then, Chevrolet has revived the Grand Sport name twice – once in 1996 and once in 2010. Both of those times, the badge meant special editions with beautiful bodywork, but no massive performance gain, unlike the 1963 Grand Sports. The 1996 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 and 2010 Z06 would still outperform the Grand Sports. Of course, the 2010 Corvette ZR1 was still the most serious Corvette of that generation of Corvette.

Of course, Chevrolet’s engineers went hog-wild with the C7 Stingray Z06. It’s a combination of a massively powerful engine that has been described as one of the best-sounding engines ever (I agree), absolutely brilliant suspension, and enough computing power to sequence the human genome. Yet, it’s so approachable for the average driver that it’s truly mind-boggling. It also costs around $80,000. It’s a true giant-killer, especially with a professional driver. Even without a professional driver, this is not a car you want to tangle with.

The Z06 is also quite unlike the Corvette Racing C7.R that competes in one of the highest echelons of motorsports – endurance racing. The C7.R’s that quite simply walked away with the win at this year’s 24 Hours of Daytona actually make less power than the Z06 you can get on your dealership’s showroom floor. There’s no supercharged 6.2-liter LT4 V8 shrieking under the hood of the race-winning C7.R – those drivers have to make do with a 5.5-liter V8 sucking air through a restricted air intake the diameter of a garden hose. Because power is handicapped by a rule book (which didn’t stop NASCAR legend Smokey Yunick), the Corvette Racing team wins races with unworldly grip and highly aggressive aerodynamics. Let’s put it this way – their strategy works well.

It’s interesting that the new Grand Sport, which is the mid-range model, lives up to the “street-legal race car” cliche. It’s got some of the best street tires in the world, aggressive aerodynamics enhancements, and stock engine. Oh, and it comes with a warranty, something most race cars can’t brag about.

Let’s start off with the tires – Michelin Pilot Super Sports are standard tires, or even stickier Pilot Sport Cup 2s with the Z07 high-performance option package, which are the same tires you can get on the Z06. They’re much wider than the standard Stingray tires (40 mm wider up front, 50 mm wider out back), which means that Chevy had to put the Z06’s massive, bulging fenders to clear the massive tires.

GM’s truly brilliant Magnetic Ride Control is standard equipment, as is the highly advanced electronic limited-slip differential, as are the Z06-derived chassis sports custom stabilizer bars and springs. You can pair the brilliant 460-horsepower, 465 lb-ft, dry-sump LT1 V8 with a fantastic 7-speed manual transmission or a pretty darn good 8-speed automatic, both of which come with the Stingray and Z06. What does the Z07 package add? Carbon ceramic brakes, and even more aggressive aero, mostly.

Now, let’s move onto the beautiful bodywork. It’s mostly borrowed from the Z06 part bin. However, it’s got Grand Sport-specific front fender vent inserts. What about from the Z06? It’s got the Z06’s wider track (how far apart the wheels are from each other), an open-mouth front grille, and big differential cooling vents on the rear fenders. The Grand Sport has a Z06-spec front splitter, front splitters, and wickerbill rear spoiler, all of which are finished in carbon fiber in the Z07 trim. Chevy claims that they all create downforce, but the Z06’s clear plastic Gurney flip isn’t available on the Grand Sport. Oh, and then there’s a Heritage package, which adds the traditional front fender hash marks, which are now connected in a horseshoe shape. I somehow forgot to mention that Chevy has more than the entire rainbow’s worth of body, hash, and full-length racing stripe combinations.

Inside the Grand Sport, there is badging depicting the 1963 Grand Sport #002 (the only roadster out of Zora Arkus-Duntov’s original five Grand Sports) on the floor mats, headrests, and on a dash plaque directly ahead of the shifter. The brushed aluminum halo on the right of the center stack has a subtle racing stripe, which is created by rotating the brushing pattern on the metal 90 degrees during the polishing process.

Chevy says that the Grand Sport will hurtle it’s way to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds, and blast through the quarter mile in 11.8 seconds. I’m going to say that’s probably because the Grand Sport has much better tires than the Stingray does.

The Grand Sport weighs in at 3,252 pounds, which is 98 pounds lighter than the Z06. Because there’s no gigantic supercharger, the hood is lower, affording much greater visibility of the road.

Even with the windows up, the A/C on full blast, and the engine contentedly burbling along at 1500 rpm in one of the Grand Sport’s many overdrive gears, you’ll still easily pull over 1 g without the car breaking a sweat. You won’t either.

We’ll move onto the price now. The Grand Sport coupe starts at just a freckle under $66,500, which is a $5,000 premium over the Stingray. It’s also about $14,000 cheaper than a Z06. If you want to drop the top on any Corvette, plan to shell out an additional $4,000. Do you want the Z07 package? Give Chevy $8,000. Even if you buy the Grand Sport convertible with the Z07 package, that still gives you about $2000 to get some accessories, or haggling wiggle room.

The Z06 is a great car – don’t get me wrong. However, the Grand Sport was designed with a different purpose in mind. The Z06 is powerful in a way that you’ll rarely be able to enjoy. 650 horsepower is more than you’ll ever be able to use on the street – with one quick stab of the gas pedal, you’ll be well on your way to jail. On the track, it goads you into probing it’s incredibly high limits, all the while serving a main course of absolutely brilliant chassis tuning and suspension, with a side of driver aides for that moment when you push it too far. To do that on public roads, you’d better have a top-notch lawyer, a very good health insurance plan, and a glovebox filled with bribe money. OK, you can forget about the last part. Cops really don’t like it if you try and give them $20,000 in $1 bills…

The Grand Sport does something truly incredible. Chevrolet designed this car to have the same absurd limits as the Z06, but never leave you feeling like it’s a waste of horsepower because you can never floor it. While grip, balance, and power all work together, which is what makes low-power sports cars so fun, they become magical when you turn the dial up to 11.

What would happen if you put the optional Z06-spec Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires to your Corvette Stingray Z51? It’s obvious that sticky tires are key to making a good car handle well. However, good tires won’t work as well unless the chassis and suspension are dialed into those tires. Even if you somehow figured out how to make those tires fit under a stock Stingray Z51’s seductive bodywork (remember that the Z06 is three inches wider in the back), you still would have a lot of work to do. The ABS system wouldn’t be properly calibrated. Stability control intervention would be much more sudden, and the brakes would slow you down almost instantly because the Z51’s brake calibration is designed for less sticky tires. That means it would apply more brake than necessary. The electronic limited-slip differential wouldn’t perform as well, either. The suspension would also be woefully undersized relative to the massive amounts of grip that the tires generate, which would make the car feel sloppy.

What does this all boil down to? It’s more than a sloppy badge job, far more than a Corvette with some random Z06 parts, and more than a throwback to a legend. It’s the real deal, folks. This car isn’t tuned to within an inch of it’s life (and yours). This is a race car for the…wait, I don’t endorse illegal activities here.

Some of the Most Amazing American Race Cars

Racing is in America’s blood. We started off racing horses, which is still one of the most profitable forms of betting to this day. We also love boat racing, whether it be sailboats or motor boats. We also love racing planes. It should only seem logical that we decided to race cars when they came out.

Our country has created some of the boldest, most successful and boldest racecars in history. These cars are some of my personal favorites, and they only scratch the surface of America’s storied racing heritage.

  • Chaparral 2E: Chaparral’s 2D was a very successful racing chassis, the 2J earned immortality thanks to it’s snowmobile-engine-driven suction fans. The 2D was better than both combined. It ushered in the aerodynamics era thanks to it’s driver-adjustable rear wing (which was adjusted via a pedal in the cockpit) and it’s side-pod mounted water cooling system. It was pure Texan ingenuity. Every modern race car owes at least something to the Chaparral 2E.chaparral-2e-03
  • 1967 Gurney Eagle-Weslake Mk. 1: Dan Gurney was a true American racing pioneer. This is what I view to be his masterpiece. He also won a Formula 1 race in this car. That’s about as good as it gets, but I still love this car to pieces. The tiny 11,000 RPM V12 and styling that looks like a shark and torpedo are just icing on the cake.gurneyeagleweslakemk1
  • Lotus 56: It’s not just another turbine-powered IndyCar. It was a car that solidified the basic shape of most high-level race cars from 1967 on out. It sent the cigar shape packing. It also had a one-speed automatic and AWD. While turbines and AWD would be banned from future IndyCar seasons, the shape remained and evolved. Even though it’s got a Lotus name and Peter Chapman modifications, it’s still basically an all-American STP-Paxon car.lotus56
  • 2016 Ford GT GTE: There was no doubt in any car or race fan’s mind when this car rained on every other car’s parade at the Detroit Auto Show this year. It’s 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 has been proven in the TUDOR Championship series, Chip Ganassi Racing has had lots of success racing Fords and is ready for a new challenge, and what might be most important to those automotive fans who like to cook (like me) is the fact that the rear diffuser is big enough to chiffonade an acre of potatoes without trying. The fact that it is dressed up in a very patriotic livery makes it just that much more amazing.fordgtgte
  • Dodge Viper GTS-R Mk. 1: The original Dodge Viper GTS-R immediately proved that a big V10 is an essential asset in endurance racing. On it’s third outing at Le Mans, the SRT Motorsports team took a class win in 1998. Again in 1999 and 2000. You can’t forget the overall wins at the Nurburgring, Daytona, Spa, and the five (yes, five) FIA GT and two ALMS championships. Plus, the fact that it was incredibly intimidating helped.dodgevipergtsrmk1
  • Corvette Racing’s C5.R, C6.R, and C7.R: For 17 years, The Corvette Racing team has put three generations of increasingly amazing Corvette race cars on the track. All have had an “.R” designation, except the first, which was a “-R.” They have proved themselves multiple times. 1999 marked the first year of the C5-R, which snatched three class wins at Le Mans (among many other wins). The C6.R took seven thundering liters of American muscle around the world, and won many races. The C7.R just grabbed the GTE Pro class win at Le Mans, and that was one of it’s first races!corvettec5-rcorvettec6.rcorvettec7.r
  • Panoz LMP-1 and LMP07: Many, many years before Nissan’s GT-R LM caused folks to scratch their heads as to why a front-engine endurance race car is a good idea, Panoz’s LMP-1 Roadster S and it’s less successful sibling LMP07 proved to the world that an endurance racing prototype does not need to carry their engine behind the driver. Neither car was wildly successful, but the LMP-1 certainly got into a few good battles with the BMW V12 LMRs and Ferrari 333 SPs to snag the 1999 ALMS team championship.panozlmp-1panozlmp07
  • Ford 999: Henry Ford should go down in the history books as a stark raving lunatic (for several reasons) because he took the crude, incredibly dangerous 18.9-liter Ford 999 racecar to 92 mph (the equivalent of somebody taking a car to 300 mph today) – a world record – on a frozen lake. The frozen lake was the only place large enough to get the car up to that speed. It made a whopping 80 horsepower, a lot of noise, and had killed a man a year before. It was a brutish, outrageous car that put Ford on the map, even if he became known for utilitarian and economical Model T’s and the now-legendary 1932 Ford.ford999
  • DeltaWing: No other American creation has so upset the normality of what race cars should look like as the Ben Bowlby-designed, Panoz-managed, Gurney’s All-American Racers-built DeltaWing. The car drastically reduced frontal area to reduce drag and fuel consumption. It worked, and even sparked a copycat (the Nissan ZEOD RC), even though it didn’t achieve any incredible success.deltawing
  • Cadillac ATS-V.R: Cadillac attained massive success for ten years with the CTS-V.R in the Pirelli World Championship Series. Now it’s the turn for the ATS-V.R to take the reins. It’s got some big shoes to fill. It’s got a twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V6 making somewhere around 600 horsepower that sits somewhere between the massive fender flares and the huge extractor hood. Between this car and the Ford GT GTE, it looks like most, if not all, future American race cars will have forced induction engines.cadillacats-v.r
  • Swift 007.i: The year 1997 was a lucky year. The team owned by Paul Newman and Carl Haas stopped running a Lola chassis, and switched to a chassis made by the American company Swift. The car had a Ford Cosworth engine, Goodyear tires, and an all-American driver in Michael Andretti. I should probably mention that it won it’s first-ever race outing. Talk about coming in with style. Oh, and I was born that year.swift007.1
  • Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe: This is quite possibly one of the most beautiful cars ever made, as well as one of the most successful. Carroll Shelby needed to make the already-successful Cobra 427 faster, but that meant he needed a more aerodynamic body. He brought on legendary designer Peter Brock, who helped design the 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. Brock designed a flowing, muscular body that still looks like nothing else on the track. The result was a smashing success. The car won the 24 Hours of Daytona, Le Mans, Spa, and countless other races.shelbycobradaytonacoupe
  • Dodge Daytona/Plymouth Superbird: Mopar’s “Winged Warriors” made aero cars illegal in NASCAR. That should be telling as to how good those cars were. They packed quite the punch with their 426 HEMI engines and special aerodynamics packages. NASCAR outlawed aero cars after 1970. Buddy Baker campaigned a Daytona through 1970, and Richard Petty had one of his most dominant years in 1970 with his Superbird. It’s also one of the most iconic race cars ever.dodgedaytonaplymouthsuperbird
  • 1966 Chevrolet Corvette: The 1966 Chevrolet Corvette is one of the best race cars Chevrolet ever had. It had a walloping punch with it’s 427 cubic-inch big block V8, with the code-name L-88. This engine made any car it was in a true monster. It’s still fast enough to show a modern NASCAR stock car how it’s done on a road course. It’s like carving a statue with a hydraulic shovel. 1966chevroletcorvettel88

What Makes the Monaco Grand Prix So Special?

Monaco has been called the casino capital of the world.  It’s got a lot of wealth squeezed into just 499 acres.  For reference, that’s almost five times the size of Disneyland.  It’s also the oldest circuit of Formula 1, having been a track since 1929.  The route is essentially the same as it was in 1929, which gives you a unique opportunity to see cars with nearly 1000 horsepower blasting around for first place.  It’s also one of the few tracks where race cars get to run through the tight streets of a city.

For those of you who watch motorsports, you’re likely going to agree with me that the reason that people are drifting away from watching various races is that it doesn’t seem as exciting anymore.  I think it has to do with the fact that the tracks are wide (they can usually take well over three cars at even the narrowest corner), and that the cameramen are getting pushed further away from the action.  This last fact might seem trivial and stupid to you, but think about it for a second.  Thanks to GoPros (I have nothing against them), automotive enthusiasts are getting used to punching in a search term into YouTube (again, nothing against it) and seeing POV videos of some motorcyclist or crazy driver blasting their way through traffic.  You can put a GoPro on just about any surface on a car or motorcycle so that everybody can see the action.  That’s all fine and dandy, but we need to do this in the professional racing world.

Many Formula 1 races are actually quite exciting, but they don’t seem like it on your TV. The tracks are so wide that it’s nearly impossible to get a cameraman close to the action.  It just doesn’t seem quite as exhilarating as hearing that unearthly shriek coming towards you, the whirs and pops from the turbocharger, and the crackling downshifts sending flames shooting out of the back of the car.  There’s only so much action a camera can capture when it’s 100 feet away from the action, instead of ten feet away.

I look forward to Monaco for this reason: it’s one of the few races left where I can feel like I’m right there, even if I’m several thousand miles away from the action.  It’s the closest we can get to seeing a modern car whip around one of the most historic tracks in the world.

I feel that Formula 1 has turned into what NASCAR used to be.  Think of NASCAR as the WWE Raw TV show, while Formula 1 is like watching a street fight.  I know this might seem ridiculous, but if you were into watching wrestling, would you want to see a scripted and pre-ordained fight, or would you want to watch a fight where nothing is scripted or agreed to other than the fight itself?

NASCAR used to hold a special magic for me, and I only watch it at Watkins Glen and Sonoma Raceway now, as most of the drivers are inexperienced on road courses.  I’ve talked to several friends about the boring, pre-ordained spectacle that NASCAR has become, even though it’s got just enough reality to make it somewhat worth following.

Formula 1 now holds that magic for me.  NASCAR and Formula 1 used to be the bleeding edge of technology, and now it’s up to Formula 1 to do that.  NASCAR today is this: you have a larger-than-life personality, put the pedal to the metal, and let Dale Earnhardt., Jr. or Jimmie Johnson take the win.  It was a shocker to me when Kevin Harvick became the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.  It was completely unexpected, and it helped me somewhat re-kindle my interest in NASCAR.  Formula 1 is now truly a test of a driver, his team, and their car.  If you want to make a big splash in the racing world, become a Formula 1 driver.  I know that what I’ve said has been repeated by many automotive journalists, but it’s worth rehashing.

One last thought (promise!): Monaco is a place that should be high on the bucket list of every automotive and racing fan.  It’s incredibly high on mine.  I’ve always wanted to do a road trip through Europe of all of the great European tracks (Brands Hatch, Silverstone, Goodwood, Le Mans, Nurburgring, Hockenheim, Monaco, Monza and Imola) in a Pagani Huayra.

I’d love to hear your experiences of NASCAR/Formula 1, and why you agree or disagree with me on this.  If you watch another form of motorsport that holds this kind of magic for you, please tell me in the comments section.  I enjoy watching all of the off road racing in Baja and the desert.  It’s entertaining, and it’s truly a test of a driver.

One of my friends from school wrote an excellent article about the loss of magic in NASCAR for him, and it’s worth a read, as well as this article. http://www.theoakleafnews.com/sports/2015/05/12/is-nascar-fading/

Monaco 2011

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Travis Kvapil’s Car Found

Last night, I reported on Travis Kvapil’s car being stolen early yesterday morning.  Well, it’s been found.

The theft of the car forced Kvapil and his team to withdraw from Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The truck and trailer that were stolen, along with the car, drove out of the parking lot of the hotel about 5:30 a.m.

The car was found about 20 miles outside of Atlanta, off the road leading into a suburb. The car appears to be undamaged.  The truck and trailer are yet to be recovered.

View image on Twitter

Even though the car has been found, Kvapil still cannot race this weekend – he missed the mandatory Friday inspection, and was forced to withdrwa from the race.  Bummer.

Have You Seen Travis Kvapil’s NASCAR Stock Car Recently?

Travis Kvapil, a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver, was forced to withdraw from this weekend’s race after his car and hauler were stolen from his hotel near Atlanta.

A trailer with his red number 44 Chevy SS stock car was hitched to his black 2004 Ford F-350 dually.  The truck and trailer were parked outside of his hotel room in Morrow, Georgia, about 15 miles outside of Atlanta.

Surveillance camera video shows the truck and trailer being driven out of the parking lot at around 5:30 a.m, officials said.

The trailer is all white with no markings.  The thief probably didn’t realize that the racecar was inside.  They probably thought that it was lawn equipment or something else that could be easily sold.

The 2015 Chevy stock car is valued at $250,000, according to a police report.  Also inside the trailer was a spare engine valued at $100,000, as well as tools valued at about $18,000.

A spokesman for Kvapil said that the team has withdrawn from the race this weekend, due to the lack of a back up car.

If you have any information on the stolen car, please call the Morrow Police Department at (770) 961-4006.  If you see the truck and trailer on the road, both have New Jersey plates.

The F-350 is a black crew cab dually.  The trailer is a plain white bumper hitch dual-axle trailer.

View image on Twitter

Here’s a picture of Kvapil’s car:

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If you see the truck and trailer on the road, call 9-1-1.  They’ll tell you what to do.

If you see the stock car on the road, good luck catching up to it!  It can hit about 200 mph, and will withstand a crash far better than whatever you drive.  It’s also pretty hard to miss. Oh, and it’s really loud!  That being said, you probably won’t see it out on the road, especially back east!  Those big slicks won’t do it any favors in the snow…

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which Modern Ponycar is the Best?

Modern ponycars have progressed a lot in the past 50 years.  While the Ford Mustang started the ponycar craze, the Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger have caught up (and surpassed it) in many ways.  If you are looking for a new ponycar, I hope that this post will help you.

2015 Ford Mustang:  The 2015 Ford Mustang is pretty groundbreaking.  It’s the first Mustang to come from the factory with fully independent front AND rear suspension.  Most Mustangs that had IRS (independent rear suspension) were factory hot-rod specials (Mustang Cobra, SVO, etc.).  Not any more.  The 2015 Mustang comes right off of the assembly line with IRS in any iteration.  Previous generations of Mustang used an antiqued live rear axle circa 1964.  Going over a bump or around a curve was not for the faint of heart.  Axle hop is scary, especially if you happen to be going at a high rate of speed.  Motor Trend recently tested a 2015 Mustang GT, and found that it weighed a whopping 196 pounds heavier than the previous generation.  While this certainly isn’t Ford’s first foray into IRS with the Mustang, the rear end bobbling around while on the gas is not fun, and neither is massive understeer when the gas is let off.

However, that’s NOT how most Mustang drivers are going to drive their car.  IRS pays off big time when you’re cruising in any car.  The IRS is worlds better than a live axle when you’re cruising.  In previous generations of Mustang, one small bump was enough to make you think that the semi in the lane next to you would be the last thing that you’d see.  Think about how much you drive on the freeway.  It’s a lot, right?  Heavier is often better on the freeway.  Not for fuel economy, mind you, but for cruising.  You just feel more planted to the ground.

Powering the Mustang is Ford’s fabulous (and famous) 302 cubic inch V-8 (5.0 liters).  It’s lightweight, aluminum, and it’s got a lot of power.  It’s got 435 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque, thank in no small part to the previous-generation Boss 302’s valves, springs, connecting rods, and crankshaft.  Part of what makes this engine so fun is the fact that it loves to rev.  It doesn’t rev high, but it revs better than a pushrod V-8 has any right to.  A big part of a muscle car is driving around with the windows down and listening to that sweet thundering bellow that these engines make.  Ford’s 302 sounds good…once you put an aftermarket exhaust system on it.  I’m going to hedge a safe bet that 2015 Mustang owners will go straight to the muffler shop right after the warranty runs out.  Putting that power to the ground is either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic.  Go for the manual.  It automatically makes a car more fun to drive.  Trust me.  I drive a stick.

The base engine is a high-revving 3.7-liter V6 borrowed from the Interceptor Utility.  It’s a good engine, but my first choice is the 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine.  It’s small, but it’s got a turbocharger on it.  I know that a turbocharger does not a car make, but it does in this case.  Here’s why you should get the Mustang EcoBoost:  Lower weight, better fuel economy, and 320 lb-ft of torque.  Getting the EcoBoost Mustang also shaves a massive 96 pounds off of the front of the car.  Listening to the EcoBoost Mustang is fun, thanks to an amplified exhaust note.  It’s got a series of growls and pops, and when you pop the hood, you hear whooshes and whistles from the twin-scroll turbocharger.

Stopping the porky Mustang is a set of big Brembo slotted disc brakes.  Brembo makes probably the best brakes in the world.  They never overheat or lose stopping distance.  The brakes on the Mustang are almost 15 inches tall, and they work great, stopping the overweight pony in just 107 feet.  By no means is the EcoBoost Mustang meant to be a replacement for the Mustang GT – the Mustang GT is a completely different car.  It’s just meant to be a fun alternative to it.  

2015 Chevrolet Camaro:  Ever since it made a big splash in the ponycar segment in 2010, the Camaro has been an entertaining car.  In SS form, it comes with a free-revving LS3 6.2-liter V-8 making 426 horsepower.  It’s got visibility akin to a ski mask, but the burbling, rumbling engine note is almost enough to forgive the visibility.  However, an engine does not a car make.  The SS without the 1LE package understeered my dear friend at Motor Trend, Jonny Lieberman, right off of the track at Willow Springs International Raceway.  That would be traumatizing for anybody.  Not Jonny!  He’s driven just about every current-generation Camaro, and the best he’s driven is the fire-breathing Z/28.  I’m still jealous.  For us mere mortals that don’t have $75,000 to spend on a Chevrolet Camaro, the SS 1LE is almost as good a driver’s car.  It’s simply unflappable.  You’re going to make a mistake before the car does, let’s put it that way.  Why is that?  Well, it’s got specatcular magneothermal shocks borrowed from the Corvette ZR1 and Camaro ZL1.  This is the Camaro to (almost) end all Camaros.  Jonny’s fallen in love with this car – for good reason.  It’s just one of those cars that begs you to go faster around the next corner.  I would kill for a Z/28 Camaro, but until then, my faithful readers will have to get me a SS 1LE.  

2015 Dodge Challenger:  The big news about the Challenger is the Hellcat.  For about $60,000, you can have THE most powerful factory muscle car ever.  It’s not as powerful as the current bunch of hypercars, nor is it as fast.  But, it’s far, far cheaper.  I mean, who doesn’t want 707 horsepower?  If you can’t afford the Hellcat, it’s all good.  You can get the Challenger Scat Pack.  You can get a car with 485 horsepower for under $40,000!  The problem with the Challenger is weight.  It’s simply not a small car.  It’s big, wide, loud, powerful, and it soaks up anything the road can throw at it with ease.  It’s also 400 pounds heavier than the Camaro 1LE.  You won’t notice the weight in a straight line because it’s got more horsepower than it’s rivals.  The Challenger isn’t something you want to take in tight, windy roads.  It’s just too big.  It is, however, the car that you would want to tour the country in.  The Hellcat is insanely loud – I’ve heard one at speed, and it sounds about as loud as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car.  It’s that loud.  Dialing the Challenger back into the realm of sanity is the Challenger Scat Pack.  It’s got the 6.4-liter HEMI V-8 from the Challenger SRT8, and it just howls and revs to the heavens.  It sounds like a mini Hellcat, minus the blower whine.  Speaking of blower whine, the Hellcat got it just right.  The engine was so loud that they had to put an amplifying cooling chamber in the supercharger itself to make it be heard.  A job well done, Dodge.  The Challenger is the car you want to take on a road trip.  It’s big, comfortable, it can take two large coolers and luggage in the trunk, and it can take the kids, or two buddies easily in the back.  Driving this with the windows down is the only way to drive it.  You can just sit back and listen the the burbling, howling, crackling exhaust note that sounds right out of a vintage Trans Am race.  Want to know what the Hellcat sounds like?  It sounds like NASCAR, a Ferrari V8, a plane, and a Top Fuel dragster, with blower whine mixed in.  It’s a haunting, addictive melody.  It’s the car that you just want to cruise around in, revving the engine and doing burnouts and donuts in empty parking lots.

Overall, which car would I take?  That’s hard to say.  The Mustang EcoBoost is certainly a good choice, but you just can’t hear the engine itself very well.  The Camaro Z/28 is an excellent choice, too, but it’s a stripped-down track toy that’s not meant for daily driving (case in point:  air conditioning is an option).  The Camaro 1LE is good, too,  so I’d probably get the 1LE Camaro.  The Challenger?  Hellcat, Hellcat, Hellcat!  It’s just the very definition of muscle car.  It’s so powerful that when you’re going straight with ALL of the nannies on, it will still go completely sideways.  Think of another modern car that can do that.  I certainly can’t.

If I had to go with just one of these cars, I’d get the Hellcat.  It’s the very definition of affordable performance, and even a tuner car Mustang with 800 horsepower won’t be the same.  The most powerful Camaro offered is the 580-horsepower ZL1, which handily beats the 435-horse Mustang.  Just go with the Hellcat and let me know when you get it!  I’ll feature you, sing praises about the Hellcat (it shouldn’t be too hard), and never stop saying thank you.

P.S.  Ford made the Mustang Cobra Jet (a factory drag-strip only special) until August, but there are some to be found at various racing dealerships or classifieds.  I’ve even seen a few in Hemmings Motor News.

P.P.S.  Chevrolet makes the COPO Camaro (also a factory drag-strip special).  It’s got more engine choices than the Cobra Jet, and it looks pretty darn cool.