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.

The Best Way to Make a Mazda Miata Faster

Say you have a Mazda Miata. It doesn’t matter what generation Miata you own – there are many options to make your Miata into a track monster, a daily driver with some oomph, a canyon carver that will hang around with a Porsche 911 GT3, and anything in between. If you don’t have a Miata, I highly encourage you to get one. Hop onto Craigslist, type in “Mazda Miata” and see what comes up. You can get one for $1,000, but I wouldn’t recommend that, unless you know what you are going to do (i.e. yank out the engine, put on new bodywork, etc.). If you know what you want to do, get one for cheap. Otherwise, my rule of thumb is get the nicest one you can get. Paying a few thousand dollars more for one that’s been taken care of, has a paper trail, and no accidents will mean less of a headache for you down the road.

The Miata was designed with extreme abuse in mind, so keep in mind it’s pretty hard to break them. They are durable cars, and will hold up to more abuse than many new cars.

Here are some options:

  • Monster Miata: Ever wanted to stuff a V8 into a tiny roadster just for the hell of it? That’s exactly what Monster Miata did. The overall structure of the Miata is more than capable of holding up to the massive stress of a V8. It’s almost as if the Miata was built for it! Monster Miata certainly has the expertise – they have done over 100 conversions in the past 20 years. You can have Monster Miata do the conversion for you, or you can do it yourself through their incredibly detailed instruction manual. You can buy the kit (not including a motor) for $3,995, which includes everything you’ll need to shove a Ford 302 V8 into one. You can find a Ford 302 V8 from a 1980s-1990s Mustang for $1,000. Throw in the fact you can get well over 400 horsepower without having to put a supercharger or turbocharger onto the engine, figure about $1,000 for everything. What do I mean by everything? The car, the kit and the engine. That’s a really good deal, especially because the Monster Miata cars are designed to be daily drivers, but track cars, autocross cars, and weekend warriors all in one package. Check them out at monstermiata.webs.com Doesn’t look like it’s going to fit, does it?
  • Flyin’ Miata: Flyin’ Miata started modding Miatas when they came out in 1989. They have everything from V8 conversion kits to turbocharger kits. Flyin’ Miata stuffs GM’s wonderful LS-series engines into the tiny engine bay of the Miata. The car gains less than 200 pounds, 1/3 of which is on the rear wheels. Road & Track tested one in 2013, and it hit 60 mph in 3.8 seconds. That’s Porsche 911 territory. Automobile Magazine compared it to the Shelby Cobra. A Flyin’ Miata will be a bit more expensive, but it’s well worth it. Monster Miata only does NA generation Miatas (first generation) conversion kits. Flyin’ Miata does V8 conversion kits for all generations of Miata. I’d go for an NC generation Miata (third generation), just because I like them the most. Oh, you can also buy used ones from Flyin’ Miata. Don’t worry about repairing them – any engine, transmission, or rear end part can be bought at any GM dealer, and most other parts can be bought at your local Mazda dealer. Want to keep the little four banger but want near LS engine power? Not a problem! You can get a turbocharger from Flyin’ Miata, as well as all the necessary parts. It’s literally a bolt-on process.

    This Miata is Flyin’ Miata’s test bed. They call it “Atomic Betty.” Several magazines have likened it to the Shelby Cobra 427.

Now, some of us might not have that kind of money. Don’t worry if you don’t – there are still plenty of options to make your Miata a speed demon!

  • Tires, tires, tires: I can’t say enough about how a good, sticky set of tires will dramatically improve the handling characteristics of your Miata. Get a set of really sticky summer tires, and if you daily drive your Miata, get a set of all-season tires that will last a while. This will mean a couple of sets of wheels, which I’ll talk about in a second. Just keep this in mind: the right summer/track tires can make the difference between winning and losing a race, but they come at an expensive price. Tires aren’t exactly the cheapest things on the planet, and considering that the Miata is a small car, you probably won’t have room to put four wheels (with tires on them), plus a cooler, tools, and whatever else you bring to the local autocross or track day. Think about towing the car if you can, or get a really small trailer. Lots of grassroots racers do that. Also, ask your friend if they will loan you their truck for a day, or ask a racing buddy who has a truck and is going to the same event if they can grab your tires.
    These might be all-season tires, but they are sticky all-season tires, along with wheels designed for the Miata.
    • Wheels can also make a big difference. A carbon fiber set of wheels will shave a good 20-30 pounds off the weight of your car. It might not sound like a lot, but consider this: lighter wheels + stickier tires = more smiles per mile. There are a lot of options for wheels, and tires.

      Like these wheels? How surprised would you be if I told you they were the stock wheels plasti-dipped, and with the center cap removed? That’s probably a modification under $100 for all four wheels.
  • Cold air intake: Want a bit more power out of your Miata, but not so much? A cold-air intake is a great investment. It works as a kind of ram-air system. They draw cold air from outside the car into the engine. Because of this, combustion requires less heat and fuel, which means a more efficient burn. Acceleration will increase, not dramatically, but you certainly will notice it. Your fuel economy will also increase, no matter how hard you drive the car. The engine note will be louder and more aggressive. It won’t bring the cops to your house at 1:30 a.m. when you’re revving it (good ones won’t), but it will have more of a roar then before. Get one from a reputable brand like: K&N (who promise, and deliver an extra 15 horsepower or your money back), Injen, Volant and Airaid. This is a great modification, and it’s pretty cheap too! One from, say, K&N, will cost about $300-400.

    Here’s an example of a cold-air intake on a Miata. Saves a lot of space in the engine bay and boosts performance!
  • Bigger brakes: If you’re planning on seriously autocrossing or tracking your Miata, invest in bigger, better brakes. You don’t need to go all-out and get massive 14-inch disc brakes – when you hit the brakes, the car will literally catapult you out of it! Step up about an inch or two in rotors, and don’t go above four-piston calipers. I’d go for EBC brakes. They provide great stopping power at an affordable price.

    EBC Brakes is a British brake company. Think of them as the working man’s Brembos.
  • Upgrade the suspension: Get adjustable coilover shocks, better struts, etc. They will make the ride a bit stiffer, but if you’re serious about driving the car hard, the added stiffness will pay off.

    Here’s an example of a suspension upgrade kit. This one is from Flyin’ Miata, and has just about all you need to keep your car a daily driver and be truly flyin’ at the track.
  • Racing seats: Most tracks will not allow you to track the car without a racing seat, a HANS device (I’ll explain that in another post), a five-point harness, a track suit, gloves and a helmet. Those are all great investments, and I’ll get to them in another post. They are a bit too much to explain how to get in this post. But, a racing seat is a great investment. Look at Corbeau, Recaro, and Sparco. They are all incredibly comfortable, and you can keep the stock seatbelts in the car, so you don’t have to buckle up into a five-point harness every time you have to go to get milk.

    Here’s a good example of a Recaro in a Miata, but just be careful of hitting the convertible top with the seat. Some seats are quite tall, and then it’s a bunch of hacking the floorpan to make it fit. The stock seat is the passenger seat, which the builder left in the car for comparison.
  • Rollcage: If you are going to track the car, definitely get one of these. A rollcage will protect you when you flip over at the track. Airbags will only do so much to save you. Not to say they aren’t great, because they are, but they won’t help very much when you flip going 110 mph. That’s where a rollcage will. The car will be damaged, but you should be able to walk away with only minor injuries. Go to a trusted and highly recommended fabricator. It should be a piece of cake for them. You should also get it padded, because a rollcage will seriously injure you if you’re driving without a helmet on. Most of the time, the padding can be removed if the track safety officials won’t allow it.

    This is a padded rollcage for a Miata, but it still allows the convertible top to go up and down.
  • Less weight: Never really used the air conditioning in your car? Rip it out and there goes about 30 pounds. Keep the heater core and all of the defroster stuff. Rip out the soft top and get a hard top. There goes another 30 pounds. Remove the spare tire and jack from the trunk, and that’s probably a good 30 pounds. This will free up trunk space, and you can get a tire repair kit. That right there is 80-90 pounds.

    Ever wondered what a stripped-down Miata interior looks like? This. It’s still perfectly functional, but all the heavy carpeting is gone.

All of these options are great. You will love the added performance bonuses all of these options give you. Think about it this way: if you don’t want a massive V8 in your Miata, all of the cheaper options I listed will total about $10,000, which is about the same price as one of the V8 conversion kits (before the engine). Excuse me, I have to go onto Craigslist and find a Miata to do all of this to. As always, donations are gladly accepted. I have always wanted one, after all…Why not go all out and get one with a V8?

The Best Cars for This Holiday Season

Yes, this is a holiday tradition for me. I love picking out cars that are perfect for this holiday season. I know that none of you will run out to the dealer and order one as soon as you’ve finished reading this post, but I can keep wishing, right?

  • Ford Focus RS: If you want a hot ticket into the performance car world, this is it. It’s got AWD sending somewhere around 350 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels through a six speed manual transmission, this car is definitely going to be eating Corvettes and Honda sportbikes all day long in the canyons and some race tracks. It’s going to be one fun ride. Car & Driver was lucky enough to take a ride in one, and I’ll be a tad bit jealous at them for a while. They said it’s an experience few cars can replicate.

    It looks like a legitimate rally car without all of the stickers, doesn’t it? The fans will be right behind you, don’t worry about that!
  • Chevrolet Colorado: Any version of the 2016 Chevrolet Colorado is going to be one of the best trucks on the market. It won the 2016 Motor Trend Truck of the Year award. I should also mention it won the 2015 Truck of the Year award as well. The engine that I would recommend is the 2.8-liter four-cylinder Duramax diesel engine. It gets 26 mpg combined, according to Motor Trend’s “Real MPG” testing procedures. That’s almost as good as my Mazda 3! According to the Real MPG program, a Colorado with any of the available engines (a 2.5-liter four-cylinder and a fantastic 3.6-liter V6) will have class-leading mpg. That’s really saying something. If you go for the Duramax, it will tow 7,600 pounds, and will get better mileage than any other Colorado engine. Oh, and it will be much smoother and rewarding to drive. The Colorado, and it’s GMC twin, the Canyon, both received a “Good” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Chevrolet designed the Colorado to be a daily driver for any kind of driver, so it should come as no surprise that it drives like a fullsize sedan with a light rear end. If I was going to recommend any one truck, this would be it.

    It looks really sharp, doesn’t it? This is the Trail Boss model, which adds knobby tires, a lightbar, and skid plates.
  • Volvo XC90: Some of my older readers will remember and love the Volvos of the 1970s and 1980s. They were big tanks of cars, designed with utility rather than sexiness, yet they were so exquisitely built that people bought them over a Mercedes-Benz. Something as simple as the XC90’s key shouldn’t be worth mentioning, yet this one is wonderful. It is made of the same Nappa leather that covers it’s three comfortable rows of seats. Volvo is a really small player in the U.S. Toyota made nearly three times as many Priuses as Volvo sold cars. BMW sells seven cars for each one that Volvo sells in the U.S. You might be surprised to hear that the only engine that you can get with the 2016 XC90 is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Before you get up in arms about that, just know that it cranks out 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. How does it do that? A gigantic turbocharger and a small supercharger that steps in when the turbo is spooling up. It gets 22 mpg combined, according to the EPA. It’s far quieter than the also-new Honda Pilot, which has a screaming V6 that will scare the deer off the road. AWD is standard. Right now, the only powertrain upgrade is to the T8 model, which Volvo claims to be the first seven-seat plug-in hybrid. It makes 313 horsepower from the same engine, but has an electric motor powering the rear wheels, bringing total power output to 400 horsepower. It has some seriously long gearing (80 mph in 3rd gear). Yeah, Volvo is still going after hauling families over hauling some butt. The XC90 has a gigantic touchscreen that Motor Trend called “almost Tesla-like.” A Volvo wouldn’t be a Volvo if it didn’t have more safety features than a crash cart in a hospital. All seven seat belts have pyrotechnic pretensioners, and the front seat frames have energy absorbers to cushion vertical forces during impact. It has a bunch of really great features, but I’m going to skip over most of them. One final safety feature worth mentioning is that the XC90 will automatically activate the brakes if the driver attempts to make a left turn into oncoming traffic. You’re on your own if you somehow make a right turn into oncoming traffic, though. Just like the Tesla Model S was a pivotal car for electric cars in 2013, the Volvo XC90 is a game changer, a moonshot for SUVs.

    I don’t care what people say about it – I think it looks really nice for something it’s size.
  • Subaru WRX: This list wouldn’t be complete without a Subaru on it. Of course I chose the WRX. While Subaru doesn’t make it as a hatchback anymore, which is a true shame, it doesn’t make the WRX any less spectacular. It’s got that wonderful Subaru boxer engine growling howl, and is probably the perfect all-weather car. It can handle it’s own on just about any surface. Good luck keeping up with one with summer tires on a racetrack, or one with winter tires in inclement weather. It’s a stylish jack-of-all-trades.

    It doesn’t look like much, but I can tell you it looks mighty intimidating with that gaping hood scoop and wailing four-cylinder.
  • Audi A3: It starts off at nearly $31,000, so the opening bid itself is a good proposition to buy one. It’s a good-looking car by all means, but it doesn’t advance Audi’s design at all. The car gets more fun to drive as you add on the speed. It just gets really expensive, so keep that in mind when you pile on the options.

    See what I mean? It looks nice, but it’s no huge design advancement for Audi.

That’s it for this list. I know it’s shorter than ones in years past, but I think these are all solid choices. You can’t go wrong with any of them. I wish you all a wonderful, safe and happy holiday season. As always, I will be taking a week off about next week, but I’ll update you on Friday about that, don’t worry!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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10 Cars That You Just Have to Love, Even if They Were Lemons

Lots of cars are reliable.  Lots of cars aren’t reliable.  A lot of British and German cars fall into the not-so-reliable category.  My uncle can attest to that with the fact that his 2001 Jaguar XK8 has spent about half of its life in the shop.  On the other side of reliability, another one of my uncles had an Audi Quattro for something like 10 years, and he never had any reliability issues.  My dad’s had trouble with his 2003 GMC Sierra 2500 HD with the Duramax diesel engine.  My 2003 Chrysler Town & Country is just a few hundred miles away from hitting 200,000 miles, and it’s been one of the most reliable cars that I’ve ever seen.  Anyhow, the basic premise of this blog post is to tell you the top 10 cars that we all love, even if they were (or still are) lemons.

  1. 2001-2005 Porsche 911 and Boxster:  The 996-generation Porsche 911 was the first Porsche to ever have a water-cooled engine.  For Porschephiles, that’s the equivalent of the Pope converting to Buddhism.  The 2001-2005 Porsche 911 and Boxster had a teeny, weeny, little problem with their engines where the faulty intermediate shafts could fail, turning a fine sports car into a very expensive paperweight.  Even after enough owner complaints, Porsche started fixing the problem, but only on a case-by-case basis, which meant that many owners were left out to dry unfairly.  It’s easily one of the largest black spots in Porsche history, which is a true shame, because these cars were otherwise some very nice drives.
  2. 2001-2003 Subaru WRX:  The first Subaru WRX to be offered in the U.S. had a massive problem with the transmission.  The five-speed manuals were extremely fragile, and the tuner-friendly engine often meant that the tiny boxer four-cylinder engine was tuned to within an inch of its life.  All Subarus have problems with their head gasket, but the 2001-2003 WRX often gave its head gasket up before it even reached 100,000 miles.  I can forgive all of this, because aside from these two problems, it’s a reliable daily driver that’s a LOT of fun.  The purity of these WRX’s means that your inner Swedish rally driver fantasies can come true.
  3. 1993-1995 Mazda RX-7:  One of the last rotary-powered cars (the last was the Mazda RX-8), the Mazda RX-7 was a true driver’s car.  However, apex seal failure hangs over every owner’s head like a cloud.  Apex seal failure means a complete engine rebuild or replacement if the car is not maintained at the proper intervals.  The massive amounts of premium fuel and oil going into the engine didn’t help matters, either.  Still, the 3rd-generation Mazda RX-7 is an amazing driver’s car.  Plus, many owners say that there’s  truly nothing like spooling up the second sequential turbocharger.  Mazda had made the RX-7 with two turbochargers – one for the lower rev range only, and the other for the upper rev range only.  It’s been a long, long time since the last RX-7 was built, and I really hope that Mazda gets their act together and builds an RX-9.
  4. 1999 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra:  This was a one-model-year special put on by Ford, and it was supposed to be a drag racing special for the street.  However, it didn’t  take long for enthusiasts, mainly drag racers, to figure out that it was making WAY less than the 320 horsepower that Ford advertised.  Ford traced the problem to aluminum residue in the intake and exhaust systems.  Ford did well by fixing the problem free of charge.  However, the public snafu on Ford’s part caused Ford to drop production of the SVT Cobra after just one model year.  The upside is that there are no other reliability problems with the SVT Cobra Mustang.  Because it’s a single-model-year special-edition Mustang, it’s got potential to be a future classic.  Don’t be intimidated if you see one for sale with lots of modifications – Ford designed this car to be tuner-friendly.  Just make sure that there’s good documentation of the car.
  5. 2008-2010 Nissan GT-R:  Like many supercars, the Nissan GT-R came with launch control.  The difference was that the launch control function could potentially blow up the transmission and void the warranty, leaving the unlucky owner with a $20,000 repair bill.  Nissan settled a class-action lawsuit in Decemer 2010, and the launch control was dialed back on 2011-up models.  It’s impossible not to love the GT-R and it’s mind-altering ability to be an absolute freight train on race tracks of any kind, just avoid the hard launches.
  6. 2001-2006 MINI Cooper S:  Anybody who was (or is) an owner of the 2001-2006 MINI Cooper S felt more like a beta tester for a video game than anything else.  Here’s the relatively short list of, uh, ‘bugs:’  Electric power steering pumps that could catch fire, supercharger failure after just 80,000 miles, and head gaskets that seemed to be timed to blow up as soon as the warranty expired.  Despite it being a sub-$20,000 car new (and used), it’s got maintenance costs of a 2001-2005 Porsche 911 or Boxster (see #1 on this list for reference).  If you can forgive those faults, the handling is some of the best this world has ever seen.
  7. 2010 Ferrari 458 Italia:  Most mid-engine Ferrari’s have a wholly undeserved reputation for spontaneous combustion.  However, with the 2010 Ferrari 458 Italia, the argument was valid.  The adhesive bonding between the wheelwell and the engine heat shield would melt and catch fire.  Reports vary, and if Ferrari is to be believed, only 11 cars were affected by this.  All 1248 Ferrari 458 Italias sold until that point were recalled.  Ferrari still claims that this only happened during hard driving, but asking owners of Ferraris to not drive their car hard is laughable.  After the concerns of owners becoming BBQ, the Ferrari 458 Italia once again ascended to its rightful place as the best mid-engine car the world has ever seen.
  8. 2003 GMC Sierra 2500HD:  These things are supposed to be bulletproof, right?  Think again.  The fuel injection systems on the Duramax diesel-engine trucks are notorious for the fuel injectors cracking.  My dad has a 2003 GMC Sierra 2500HD, and the engine’s been rebuilt something like 4 times.  If you buy one of these vehicles, make sure to get it with the LQ4 6.0-liter V8.  The Allison 1000 heavy-duty transmissions will go over 150,000 miles without trouble.  Just DON’T get it with the Duramax!  Not only are engine rebuilds expensive, but they are frequent.  If you buy one, make sure you find one with good documentation, as many of these were used for hauling and towing, both of which put phenomenal stress on the engine and transmission.
  9. 1996-2005 Volkswagen Passat:  This was the infamous era of VW unreliability.  The B5-generation of the Passat had steering problems – the rack-and-pinion assembly was prone to stripping, which means no steering.  When it stripped, it would burn out the power booster, which means that other parts are brought into the mix.  Volkswagen made a lot of these cars, and some of them are good.  Other family sedans are good choices.
  10. 2003 Land Rover Freelander:  This is quite possibly one of THE most unreliable vehicles EVER!  It was quite simply bad.  The engine was bad, the cheap interior fell apart after just a few thousand miles, and forget replacing parts for it.  The replacement parts were usually just as bad as the stock parts.  Avoid this car at ALL costs!