The Most Unlikely Off-Road Cars Ever!

Why should you buy a Jeep, a Toyota Land Cruiser, or a Subaru for off-roading pleasures when you could have one of these machines?

  1. Rolls-Royce Corniche: This car competed and finished the 1981 Paris-Dakar Rally! While it wasn’t exactly stock, it was still cool. It had a custom tube frame, a GM small-block V8, a Toyota Land Cruiser 4WD system and an 87-gallon fuel tank. It’s quite possibly the coolest Rolls-Royce ever.rollsroycecornicherallycar
  2. Bentley Continental GT Speed: This car might handle itself like a proper British touring car when celebrities and the upper elite drive it around, but when Top Gear” got their mitts on it, everything changed. They put rally driver Kris Meeke in the driver’s seat and Captain Slow (or James May) in the passenger seat. This meant that the car’s full potential was finally untapped. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrNzPInDja0bentleycontinentalgtspeedtopgear
  3. Aixam Mega Track: Yeah, the name is weird. They probably could have thought of a better one. Aixam built “world-famous” economy cars. Out of the blue came this monster. It was a 400 horsepower, four-seat rally/supercar/absolute beast of a car. Yes, it was unexpected, but it was a gift from God.aixammegatrack
  4. Ferrari 308 GTB: Yeah, you heard me. A Ferrari was a rally car. A very successful one at that. It made the podium 20 times at rallies across Europe in the early 1980s. Unfortunately, Ferrari’s rallying and winning shenanigans were put to an end when the FIA dissolved the legendary Group B batch of rally cars.ferrari308gtbrallycar
  5. Ford Galaxie: Anybody who has bombed down a dirt road in an old muscle car knows that they make the best rally cars. This Ford Galaxie races alongside other intensely cool old cars in the Baja peninsula. The governing body is called the National Off Road Racing Association, or NORRA. This heavily modified Ford Galaxie shows us how it does business, in a very good scary way!fordgalaxienorraracer
  6. Lotus Esprite: Yes, really. The classically-unreliable British sports car actually did a very good job off road. After watching the “Top Gear” episode where they took this car off road, I am still in awe of how well this car performs off road!lotusesprittopgear
  7. Geo Metro: Yeah, you heard me. The tiny, crappy economy car actually performs well off road. There’s a guy who actually LIVES out of the thing! Well, not living IN it, but he’s gone a lot of places in the tiny little car!geometrocampingguy
  8. Ducati 1199 Panigale TerraCorse: This motorcycle is already a great track bike, but a Ducati dealer wanted to take it a step further. He simply adjusted the stock suspension parts, swapped the tires and brakes out, gave it an amazing paint job, and fabricated a skid plate. This bike turned into a holy terror on dirt roads. Watch out BMX bikes!ducati1199panigaleterracorsa

Of course, there are many more that I could mention. However, these are some really cool unlikely off-roaders. If you’ve ever owned an unlikely off-roader that I didn’t mention, let me know in the comments section!

Why You Should Buy a Classic Station Wagon

Most Americans over the age of 40 grew up waging hell in the backseat of a station wagon. Most of those station wagons were Buicks, Fords, Oldsmobiles, Chevys, and Mercurys. Some might have even been Pontiacs.  Here’s why they could turn into the next collector cars.  Those Americans who grew up turning the backseat into a war zone fondly remember them.  That same generation fondly remembers the Smokey and the Bandit Pontiac Firebirds (the one with the “screaming chicken” on the hood), so they buy them.  Station wagons from the 1970s and 1980s are now being bought more.  Prices are going up for these massive beasts.

The collector car market is going crazy right now.  People have more money to spend, and they want to enjoy an older car with their family.  They tend to buy cars that they remember fondly.  That’s why Chevy Blazers, “screaming chicken” Firebirds, and station wagons are starting to creep up in price.  Now is the time to buy them.

For all those people who say that station wagons are dorky and stupid, here’s a response:  station wagons have as much, if not more utility than most modern crossovers, and some SUVs, look better, and are far more fuel efficient.

Some station wagons are already highly sought-after collector cars.  They include the Chevrolet Nomad, antique woodies, and high-performance Pontiacs from the 1960s. However, there are still plenty of station wagons that can be enjoyed.  Here are some classic, and new wagons that you should consider buying.

  • 1991 Audi 200 20V Turbo Quattro Avant:  There is no point in going into the details of the 1986 60 Minutes debacle that came close to killing Audi.  There were some good cars that came out in the company’s darkest days, and one of them is the marvelous 1991 200 20V Turbo Quattro Avant.  This one-year-only package is incredibly rare.  Only 1,000 four-door sedans and about 200 station wagons got this package, and it was standard equipment on the two-door hatchback.  It’s a close cousin to the 1986 sedans that Audi used to dominate SCCA Trans-Am racing.  The twin-cam, 20-valve engine has five cylinders and goes through a five-speed manual to all four BBS wheels.  Maintenance is going to be a wee bit tricky, but enjoying this car won’t.
  • 1950-1991 Ford Country Squire:  This behemoth of a station wagon is what many Americans grew up in.  Early Country Squires are the expensive, sought-after woodies from the early 1950s.  Avoid them unless you have serious money and plans to upgrade just about everything on them.  However, starting in 1960, the Country Squire became the familiar family hauler.  They’ve covered millions of miles, millions of Americans remember them fondly, and they have starred in multiple movies.  They came with a Ford small-block V-8 (usually the 351 Windsor V-8 found in most Fords of the 1970s through the 1990s) and a mushy automatic transmission.  If you get a pre-1976 model in California, you can upgrade it to make the ultimate family hauler.  Just put in a modern Ford Coyote motor (the same engine as the Mustang), a Ford T-5 five-speed manual transmission, and some better suspension pieces and you’ll have the ultimate road trip/family hauler.  They are fairly reliable cars to begin with, and Ford made a lot of them, so finding one isn’t the challenge of the century like the Audi mentioned above.
  • Volvo V60 Polestar:  OK, who wouldn’t want a 345-horsepower station wagon that looks really cool?  Speak now or forever hold your peace.  While a mere 120 cars scheduled to come to the US over this summer isn’t a lot, it’s enough to make it a true collector car.  It’s a fast car, and Volvo has a rich history of deceptively fast station wagons.  It looks really cool with the big wheels, low-profile tires, blue paint, and it’s somewhat-bulbous styling.  Get one while you can, and enjoy it!  This is a car that’s meant to be driven, so drive the wheels off of it.
  • Saab 9-2X:  Why buy a re-badged Subaru WRX because GM said so?  Because it’s a more comfortable, tame early Subaru WRX.  For Saab faithful, it was too Subaru, even though it wasn’t nearly as blasphemous as the 9-7X “Trollbazer” which was just a Chevrolet Trailblazer with different wheels and badges.  For the rest of us automotive folks, it’s a more refined version of the spunky Subaru WRX.  Unlike the WRX, it doesn’t turn the wheels 90 degrees when you floor it.  Unlike other Saabs, you can get same-day service on it by simply going to a Subaru dealer.  It’s a far better car than the sales charts show.  Owners love it, and others snap them up.  They aren’t very big, and are more of a hatchback than a station wagon, but they are fun, reliable little cars that can really take a beating.  That’s something that most other Saabs can’t claim.
  • Morris Minor Traveller:  This cute little station wagon is based off of the popular Morris Minor.  Sir Alec Issigonis started his automotive success career with this car. The Morris Minor coupe and convertible debuted in 1948, and the Traveller station wagon followed suit in 1953.  It came to our shores through 1967. When other station wagons were ditching real wood for fiberglass and vinyl, the Traveller had real ash wood from the tailgate all the way to the B-pillars.  Not only does it look great, but it’s also the superstructure for the back half of the car.  That means you’ll have to sand and re-varnish periodically, but that’s going to be the extent of your automotive woes with this car.  Parts are cheap and easily sourced, and it’s an incredibly reliable car.  Not something you can say about most British cars.
  • Buick Roadmaster/Chevy Caprice:  Yes, they may have been the final gasp of GM’s RWD land barges, but who doesn’t want something that seats eight people, has a (slightly detuned) Corvette engine, and is gigantic?  These behemoths were the final iterations of the big American station wagons that so many Americans grew up in. They are still available and cheap for us to thrash around and haul kids around with.  You don’t need to do much to unlock the true potential of these engines – you just get the Corvette’s ECU, as the engines in these cars were the same as the Corvette’s LT1.
  • Cadillac CTS-V:  OK, most of us would LOVE to own a 556-horsepower station wagon that comes with a six-speed manual.  Look no further than the previous-generation Cadillac CTS-V wagon.  I know that this implies that there is another one coming, which we can only hope for, but this is probably the ultimate family burnout/drift/autocross/trackday/hoonmobile.  Period.  My friend Jonny Lieberman of Motor Trend had one as a long-term car for a year, and I’m still feeling the pangs of jealousy.  It has a detuned Corvette engine, but 556 horsepower is still plenty to rage through the quarter mile.  It would make the ultimate backup car for your local autocross/track day, and it would be a fun daily driver to boot.

I’m sure that many of my readers have some fun memories of being in station wagons as kids…let’s here them!

 

 

1991 Audi 200 Avant

 

1967 Ford Country SquireVolvo V60 PolestarSaab 9-2XMorris Minor Traveller1992 Buick Roadmaster WagonChevy Caprice WagonCadillac CTS-V Wagon Drifting

The Duntov Letter

This was the letter that forever changed hot rodding.  The most popular hot rodding engine ever would never have come around if it weren’t for this memorandum from Zora Arkus-Duntov.  He was the father of the Chevrolet Corvette and infamous Chevrolet small-block V-8.  His 1953 memorandum to Maurice Olley, Chevrolet’s Director of Research and Development changed hot rodding forever.

Duntov was new to Chevrolet, but he wasn’t new to hot rodding.  Before coming to Chevrolet, he’d developed an overhead-valve conversion kit for the also-infamous Ford flathead V-8.  His conversion kit was called the “Ardun.”  Today, it is one of the most coveted hot rodding parts ever made.  The Ardun was a cylinder head that moved the valves about a half inch above the cylinder.  It’s hard to explain.  Here’s an outside photo, and then an cutaway.

Back to the subject.  His 1953 three-page letter, simply known today as the “Duntov Letter,” he leveraged the power of hot rodding (it was referenced nine different times in the letter) in the hopes that he could do for Chevy what the flatheads and lakebeds did for Ford.

The Duntov Letter turned 61 a few days ago.

To: Mr. Maurice Olley
From: Mr. Z. Arkus-Duntov
Subject: Thoughts Pertaining to Youth, Hot Rodders, and Chevrolet
Date: December 16, 1953

The hot rod movement and interest in things connected with hop-up and speed is still growing. As an indication: the publications devoted to hot rodding and hop-upping, of which some half-dozen have a very large circulation and are distributed nationally, did not exist some 6 years ago. From cover to cover, they are full of Fords. This is not surprising then that the majority of hot-rodders are eating, sleeping, and dreaming modified Fords. They know Ford parts from stem to stern better than the Ford people themselves.



A young man buying a magazine for the first time immediately becomes introduced to Ford. It is reasonable to assume that when hot-rodders or hot-rod influenced persons buy transportation, they buy Fords. As they progress in age and income, they graduate from jalopies to second hand Fords, then to new Fords.



Should we consider that it would be desirable to make these youths Chevrolet-minded? I think that we are in a position to carry out a successful attempt. However, there are many factors against us:



1. Loyalty and experience with Ford.


2. Hop-up industry is geared to Ford.

3. Law of numbers thousands are and will be working on Fords for active competition.

4. Appearance of Ford’s overhead V-8, now one year ahead of us.



When a superior line of G.M. V-8s appeared, there where remarkably few attempts to develop these and none too successful. Also, the appearance of the V-8 Chrysler was met with reluctance even though the success of Ardun-Fords conditioned them to the acceptance of Firepower.

This year is the first one in which isolated Chrysler developments met with success. The Bonneville records are divided between Ardun-Fords and Chryslers.

In the non acceptance of G.M. V-8’s and very slow beginning of Chrysler, cost must have played a part.

Like all people, hot-rodders are attracted by novelty. However, bitter experience taught them that new development is costly and long and therefore are extremely conservative. From my observation, it takes an advanced hot-rodder some three years to stumble toward the successful development of a new design. Overhead Fords will be in this state in 1956-1957.



The slide rule potential of our RPO V-8 engine is extremely high but to let things run their natural course will put us one year behind and then not too many will pick Chevrolet for development.

It seems that unless by some action the odds and the time factor are not overcome, Ford will continue to dominate the thinking of this group. One factor which can largely overcome this handicap would be the availability of ready engineered parts for higher output.

If the use of the Chevrolet engine would be made easy and the very first attempts would be crowned with success, the appeal of the new will take hold and not have the stigma of expensiveness like the Cadillac or Chrysler, a swing to Chevrolet may be anticipated. This means the development of a range of special parts – camshafts, valves, springs, manifolds, pistons and such which will be made available to the public.

The association of Chevrolet with hot rods, speeds and such is probably inadmissible. But possibly the existence of the Corvette provides the loop hole. If the special parts are carried as RPO items for the Corvette, they undoubtedly will be recognized by the hot rodders as the very parts they were looking for to hop up the Chevy.

If it is desirable or not to associate the Corvette with the speed, I am not qualified to say, but I do know that the in 1954, sports car enthusiasts will get hold of Corvettes and whether we like it or not, will race it. Most frequent statement from this group is “we will put a Cadillac in it”. They are going to, and I think this is not good! Most likely they will meet with Allard trouble that is breaking sooner or later, mostly sooner, everything between the flywheel and road wheels.

In 1955, with V-8 engine, if I needed to they will be still outclassed. The market-wise negligible number of cars purchased for competition attracts public attention and publicity out of proportion to their number. Since we cannot prevent the people from racing Corvettes maybe it is better to help them to do a good job at it.

To make good in this field, the RPO parts must pertain not only to the engine but to the chassis components as well. Engineering-wise, Development of these RPO items, as far as the chassis concerned, does not fall out of line with some of the planned activity of our group. Use of light alloys, and brake development composite drums, disc and such are already on the agenda of the Research and Development group already.

As I stated above, V-8 RPO engine has a high power potential it is hard to beat inches, but having only 80% of cubic inches it has 96% of square inches of Pittston area of the Cadillac. In my estimation, the power output comparable to the Cadillac can be obtained not exceeding 270 ft.lb. of torque at any point. (323 ft.lb. of Cadillac)*. The task of making powertrain reliable is therefore easier. 

 These thoughts are offered for what they are worth: one man’s thinking aloud on the subject. 



Z. Arkus-Duntov
December 16, 1953

* The comparison pertains to a special type of Cadillac

As we all now know, the Duntov Letter changed hot rodding forever.  The legendary Chevy “Mouse Motor” small-block V-8 was born in 1955.  It made more than double the power of the Ford flathead V-8.  It took a couple of years to catch on, but when it did, oh my.  It stayed in production for an astonishing 45 years, before being replaced by the small-block-based LS-series engines.  It is still one of the best engines ever.  It sounds good, weighs as much as a V-6, and has found it’s way into just about every car imaginable.  Hot rodders love it.  It’s small enough to fit into a 1932 Ford engine bay.

Today it’s been replaced with the LS-series engines.  The only big-block LS motors are the LS7 (found in the C6 Corvette ZO6 and 2014 Camaro Z/28) and LS2/LQ4 (found in the C6 Corvette and GMC Sierra HD/Chevy Silverado HD).

Here is a list of the Chevy small-block motors and what cars they were used in.  I have also included what years that engine was made:

Chevrolet Small Block V-8:

  • 262 C.I. V-8 (1975-1976).  Used in Chevrolet Monza, Nova, Pontiac Ventura.
  • 265  C.I. V-8 (1955-1957).  Used in Chevrolet Bel Air, 3100-series pickups, Suburban, Corvette.
  • 283 C.I. V-8 (1957-1967).  Used in Chevrolet Bel Air, 3100-, 3600-, and 3800-series pickups, Corvette, Impala, Checker Taxi (1965-1966).
  • 307 C.I. V-8 (1968-1973).  Used in GM A-Body cars.
  • 302 C.I. V-8 (1967-1969).  Used in Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.
  • 327 C.I. V-8 (1962-1970).  Used in GM A-Body cars, Chevrolet Impala.
  • 350 C.I. V-8 (1967-2000).  Used in Chevrolet Camaro, Corvette, Chevelle, Pickup Trucks, El Camino, Nova, Pontiac Firebird, Pontiac Ventura, Chevrolet Blazer, GMC Pickups and Jimmy, Chevrolet/GMC Suburban, Cadillac Brougham, Buick Roadmaster, GMC Vandura, Chevrolet Caprice 9C1, Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser, AM General HUMMER H1, Cadillac Escalade, GMC Yukon, Chevrolet Tahoe.
  • 400 C.I. V-8 (1970-1980).  Used in GM A-Body and B-Body, GMC/Chevrolet Suburban, GMC Jimmy/Chevrolet Blazer.
  • 305 C.I. V-8 (1976-1992).  Used in Chevrolet Camaro, Chevrolet Caprice/Caprice Impala, Chevrolet Corvette (1980 CA only), Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Chevrolet Malibu, Chevrolet Monza, Chevrolet Nova, Chevrolet/GMC Trucks/Vans, Buick Regal, Buick Skylark, Cadillac Brougham, Checker Marathon, Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser, Oldsmobile Omega, Oldsmobile Cutlass, Pontiac Catalina, Pontiac Bonneville, Pontiac Firebird, Pontiac Grand Prix, Pontiac Grand Le Mans, Pontiac Parisienne, Pontiac Parisienne Safari, Pontiac Sunbird.
  • 267 C.I. V-8 (1979-1982).  Used in GM F-Body, GM G-Body, GM B-Body, Checker Marathon.

Which of these engines saw the most work?  Well, the 350 has found it’s way into just about every car made.  People have built Smart Car drag cars with them.  The 350 is a reliable engine that can have just about anything slapped onto it and be fine.  It can be built into a holy drag strip terror by simply stroking it and shoving a big cam in.

The 305 is the engine everybody complains about.  It took a 283 block, but had the crankshaft and internals of the 327.  This means that you can pick up a lot of horsepower by simply adding forged 327 internals.  It’s also extremely reliable.

The 400 was the biggest Chevy small-block to come from the factory.  All Chevy did was bore and stroke the 350.  This means that it is more powerful than a 350 with a cam, but only weighs about 20 pounds more.  Oh, and it’s externally the same size.  That helps a lot with hot rodders who want the power and reliability that they know a Chevy small-block V-8 will provide, but need the compact dimensions of a smaller engine.

The 283 is a great engine.  It doesn’t rev high, but it revved higher and better than the 265 that preceded it.  Interestingly, when you put fuel injection on top of it instead of a carburetor, it revs 1,000 RPM higher.  It also makes 283 horsepower.  Back in 1957, anybody who had a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air with the fuel-injected 283, not only did you have a beautiful car, but you had a car that could keep up with sports cars ten years down the road.  Today, it is one of the most coveted cars ever.  I will own one before I die.

Chevrolet still lets Mercury Marine make the 305, 350, and 327 for marine applications.  They are popular in offshore powerboats.  Drag boats use heavily massaged Chevy big-blocks.  Offshore powerboat engine builders take a Mercury Marine 350, pull it apart, add a couple of turbochargers, and forged internals, and shove it into a really cool boat.

You can check out Mercury Marine at https://www.mercurymarine.com/en/us/

Chevrolet Performance still makes small blocks that they sell to the public.  You can check out their website at http://www.chevrolet.com/performance/overview.html

On another note, I will be taking a few weeks off for the holidays.  Look for a new post sometime in mid-January.  Happy holidays to my faithful readers – you are amazing!

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Cool Classic

A while ago, my dad introduced me to one of his business partners who just happened to happen to own a 1960 Jaguar MK9.  Hmm…Maybe I just needed to see it…Well, I’m happy to report to you that it is, without doubt, one of the most breathtaking cars that I have ever laid my eyes on.  Not only does the beautifully patina’d maroon and good paint look absolutely stunning.  Oh, and if stunning looks and a spotless beige leather interior complete with Grey Poupon jars (you never know who might need them!) aren’t enough, this car used be Ike Turner’s car.  So, this car isn’t just ANOTHER Jaguar MK9…

The story behind the owner of the car is an interesting one in itself.  My dad’s business partner, Michael Page, used to be the bassist for Iggy and the Stooges, which was a band that opened for the Rolling Stones.  Mike also played for Chuck Berry and other bands in the 1970’s.  Mike now runs a small studio down in Southern California.  When I asked Mike if he still played musical instruments, his reply was, “Naw, I’m content to listen to it now.”

The story behind how the car ended up being in Michael’s hands is an interesting story itself.  During Ike and Tina Turner’s long divorce, Ike parked the Jag on blocks in a back lot of Paramount Pictures for somewhere around 17 years.  One day when Mike was walking in the back lot, he saw the Jag, was absolutely smitten, and made an offer on the spot.  It was accepted.  He then proceeded to, as he put it, “I stood on my head for about an hour with the guy from Paramount just trying to figure out what kind of engine was in it.  Eventually, I saw a label that said ‘Chevrolet 350 C.I. V8.'”  That means that the engine is a Chevrolet 350 cubic-inch small-block V8.  The Chevy 350 V8 is a popular choice for engine swaps in Jaguars.  It requires very little work to install, it has decent power stock (a LOT when it’s tuned), and it’s an extremely reliable engine.  That can’t be said about any Jaguar engine.  Just ask my uncle or grandmother.  As a whole, a 1960 Jaguar is a pretty sturdy car.  It’s made all out of steel (the only aluminum is inside), it’s got glass that could probably stop a bullet, and the tire treads wouldn’t look out of place on something destined to go off-road.

After Mike had owned the car for a couple of months, he decided to take it out for a spin on the freeway.  When he got up to 55 mph, the engine was screaming at something close to 5,000 RPM, and he was playing tag with a bunch of tractor-trailers and grandparents.  Not exactly my (or his) definition of fun.  He got off of the freeway and went to the local transmission shop and had them install an overdrive.  Now, the RPM’s are cut down to 2,500 RPM (most modern cars turn 1,800-2,000 RPM’s on the highway), and he can go up to 70 mph without worrying about killing the engine.  The overdrive, Chevy small-block V8 and Turbo 350 transmission are the only parts that didn’t come with the car.  That is, other than the tires!

Speaking of tires, the tires are modern Coker radial tires with big, tall whitewalls on them.  If whitewalls are put on the right car, they can turn a show-stopper into a car that will literally make people’s heads turn right off their neck!  That’s what my dad’s business partner did with this Jaguar.  The whitewalls make this classic Jaguar look better than it did when it rolled off of the Jaguar assembly line in Coventry, England, in 1960.  Not many cars can pull that off.  Plus, the engine, transmission, and overdrive give a car that wasn’t really driveable before the engine/transmission swap driveability.

In terms of driveability, Mike says that it drives like a wallowy, new car.  It’s got suspension technology from 1960, so it’s not the best choice to throw around a road course.  With the stock engine and transmission sans overdrive unit, the Jaguar MK9 isn’t easy to drive unless you toodle around town.  The stock engine was designed for people to take a slow, scenic drive of the British countryside, not for freeway cruising.  Bring a car like that to America where there are vast expanses of freeways, and you’re essentially got a death wish.  Mike essentially said the same.  The stock three-speed manual has a stiff clutch, according to Mike, and three short speeds aren’t going to do you any favors when you’re cruising.  The Turbo 350 transmission greatly improves the driveability factor.  The Jag doesn’t have power steering, but it tips the scales at about 3,400 pounds, so you’re really not having to put THAT much effort into turning it.  It does, however, have power brakes, so that does make it easier to stop it, even though there was no such thing as ABS back then.  With the Chevy engine and transmission, plus the overdrive unit, Mike could easily drive across the state of California if he so wished.

His Jaguar doesn’t have thousands of man-hours put into restoring it to #1+ condition.  It doesn’t have ABS, cruise control, or satellite radio like most modern cars.  It’s a survivor car.  Trust me, the Jag is perfectly fine that way.  It’s got absolutely gorgeous looks before the paint, which accentuates the car’s looks even more.  It has beautiful walnut wood varnished to an almost matte look.  It doesn’t need to have hundreds of thousands of dollars to get best-of-show at every car show.  These old Jaguars have a certain charm to them that very few other cars, classic or modern, can duplicate.  They’re not absolutely cute like a Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite nor do they look like they were hewn from a block of stone like a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro.  They have an understated elegance to them, plus that cute British charm.  With the right paint colors on them, like gold and maroon, they can be quite a looker.

If you have a self-esteem issue, buy a Jaguar MK9 NOW!  Nobody really lusts after them, so they cost far less than a 1960 MK2, which is also a good car for those with self-esteem issues.  People will want to take pictures of themselves standing in or next to the car (#selfie), and Mike says that whenever he goes out, he literally has to either leave an hour just to talk to people, or park the car and run.  I’d leave an hour.  Running’s not my thing…

I’ve attached some photos of the Jag for you to literally drool over.  As I’ve previously said, it’s one of the most beautiful cars that I’ve ever seen.  It really looks stunning, especially with some light, but not too much.  I’ve never seen it at sunrise or sunset, but I can only imagine how beautiful it is at those times.

 

Badges are awesome - just ask this car!
Badges are awesome – just ask this car!

 

Grey Poupon is a requirement for British cars, I guess...
Grey Poupon is a requirement for British cars, I guess…

 

Sorry about the view - it was the best that I could get!
Sorry about the view – it was the best that I could get!

Editor’s note:  Mike actually played with Chubby Checker, NOT Chuck Berry!  My apologies!