Some of the Most Amazing American Race Cars

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

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

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

The Best Car Show Ever

I recently attended what may be the best car show I’ve been to yet.  It was called Concorso Ferrari, and it was held in sunny Pasadena, California.  My uncle’s friend is a judge for Concorso Ferrari, and was kind enough to let me shadow him as he judged the Ferrari 360 Modena class.

There were 160 cars in attendance, and my uncle’s friend and two other incredibly nice judges were there to judge eight cars.

Some of the cars that I was able to watch being judged were beyond flawless, while two were daily drivers.  The owners of the daily drivers were fine to tell the judges that.  Their theory is that a Ferrari is meant to be driven, and it would be a waste of money to let it sit in the garage to only come out for shows.

While 160 cars doesn’t sound like a lot, you have to remember that they took up three blocks, with cars parked at the curb and in the lanes.  I’m not sure exactly how many people were in attendance, but it was well over three thousand.  To say that it was crowded would be an understatement.

If you told me to pick just one highlight from the show, I couldn’t.  It was a truly amazing experience, and I urge you to come down to Pasadena next year to experience it for yourself.  You probably won’t be invited to shadow a judge, but you’ll be able to see truly beautiful cars, meet nice people, and get expensive merchandise (the hat and mug I got cost around $80).

Enjoy the pictures I took.

This is my uncle's friend's 2008 Ferrari F430. It's a deeper red than you'd see on a typical Ferrari, but it looks absolutely stunning.
This is my uncle’s friend’s 2008 Ferrari F430. It’s a deeper red than you’d see on a typical Ferrari, but it looks absolutely stunning.
I hope this gives you some idea as to how large the event is.  This was taken from the top end of the show, and I couldn't even fit the rest of it into the frame!
I hope this gives you some idea as to how large the event is. This was taken from the top end of the show, and I couldn’t even fit the rest of it into the frame!
This car is the incredibly rare Ferrari Sergio. It's named after Sergio Pininfarina, the man who led the legendary Italian design firm for 40 years. It's a truly beautiful car, and it was apparently a mess when it came to Beverly Hills Ferrari. It supposedly needed a repaint. That can't be cheap!
This car is the incredibly rare Ferrari Sergio. It’s named after Sergio Pininfarina, the man who led the legendary Italian design firm for 40 years. It’s a truly beautiful car, and it was apparently a mess when it came to Beverly Hills Ferrari. It supposedly needed a repaint. That can’t be cheap!
I'm pretty sure that this is a recreation of a vintage Ferrari Formula 1 car, as cars from that era didn't have coil-over shocks (not visible in this picture). Either way, it's still cool.
I’m pretty sure that this is a recreation of a vintage Ferrari Formula 1 car, as cars from that era didn’t have coil-over shocks (not visible in this picture). Either way, it’s still cool.
This was the only Ferrari F40 at the show, which surprised me. Anyways, the F40 was the last car that Enzo Ferrari had personal control over in development. It's an incredible car, and I've always wanted one. Seeing one in person was an incredible experience that I will never forget. Hearing it fire up, and hearing that gurgling V-8 with the whistling turbochargers still sends shivers down my spine.
This was the only Ferrari F40 at the show, which surprised me. Anyways, the F40 was the last car that Enzo Ferrari had personal control over in development. It’s an incredible car, and I’ve always wanted one. Seeing one in person was an incredible experience that I will never forget. Hearing it fire up, and hearing that gurgling V-8 with the whistling turbochargers still sends shivers down my spine.

I have more pictures, but they’re basically all of the cars shown above.  I have attached the album link on Facebook for you all to drool over.  https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.917013121670207.1073741830.692811890756999&type=3

Also, if you are on Facebook and haven’t already liked my blog, please do so!  I’m really pushing to get more likes on the page(I will post pictures, you can comment, etc.).  You can be part of a movement!

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 Cars that Deserve a Stripped-Down Track Version

Some cars are just born to be demons on the track.  The track doesn’t necessarily need to be a road course – it could be off-road also.  These are the cars that deserve to be stripped down to the basics for maximum fun.

  • Audi TT:  The Audi TT has always been a decent sports car, but it’s always cried out for more power and aggression.  This is why it deserves to have the sound-deadening materials yanked out.  Audi being Audi will never do this, but who’s to say that some very smart person won’t?  In my humble opinion, I think it is perfectly sized for rallycross, which is like autocross in dirt or gravel.  It’s awesome.  Just add a vented hood, a spoiler, more power, beefy tires and suspension, and a rollcage, and you’re good to go.  Audi has a history of legendary rally cars, so it seems fitting to me to introduce it.
  • Chevrolet Corvette:  Yes, the new Corvette ZO6 is truly a monster at the track, but it also weighs more than it should.  I love supercharged engines, but they end up with heat soak after about 20 minutes, and then what?  If Chevy put the C7.R endurance race car’s engine in, it would weigh less and have as much power.  My idea of a ‘Vette track special would borrow heavily from the C7.R parts bin, and would utilize carbon fiber and titanium.  It wouldn’t be cheap, but it would beat just about anything this side of a race car.
  • Jeep Wrangler:  Jeep needs to build a pickup again.  Several aftermarket companies will sell you a kit to turn your Wrangler into a regular cab pickup.  It’s time for Jeep to do that…from the factory.  If Jeep put the 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 under the hood, the Wrangler pickup could actually tow and haul.  Better yet, Jeep could put the 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 under the hood.  Now, that would be something that would sell like crazy!  It would be big enough to haul dirtbikes, an ATV, firewood, camping gear, and other important off-road items.  If Jeep offered a toolbox where you could store stuff, that would be awesome.  I’m starting to get carried away with this now.  I’m going to let your imaginations continue your dream Jeep pickup.
  • Chevrolet SS:  The Chevy SS is Chevy’s big performance sedan.  It has the LS3 V-8 from the Camaro, and it comes with a stick!  It’s a stealth tire shredder, but it’s not very fast around corners.  If Chevy put the trick suspension and computer electrickery from the Camaro Z/28 or ZL1 in, talk about a real sleeper!  It really doesn’t need more power – it just needs less weight.
  • GMC Canyon/Chevrolet Colorado:  The new Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon are great little trucks.  The Canyon just doesn’t stand out all that much from the Colorado.  Here’s my idea:  Make a street brawler version of the Colorado available only in 2WD (jam the 5.3-liter EcoTec V-8 from the Silverado in, along with the Corvette’s 8-speed automatic), and make an off-road monster version of the Canyon that would compete with the Jeep Wrangler and Ford F-150 SVT Raptor.  It would be about the same size as the Wrangler, yet have more utility.  It would also come with the V-8, but it would be the big Duramax diesel V-8 and Allison 6-speed automatic from the heavy-duty pickups.  It would be loud, and have the perfect gearing for bombing around the desert or rock crawling, thanks to the big tranny.  
  • Jaguar F-Type:  The Jaguar F-Type is already a holy drifting terror.  If you go onto YouTube and find hotlap videos of it, you’ll see what I mean.  It’s too much engine and not enough tire.  Jaguar should start a Formula Drift team with this car.  If they put on less-sticky tires, increased the steering angle, and put in super high gearing, they would have a drifting beast.  I would buy it.
  • Ford Mustang:  It’s the first mass-produced Mustang to come from the factory with independent rear suspension.  Recent reviews haven’t been exactly kind to it, however. They say that it’s chassis is still slightly hairy.  Well, let me tell you something, grumpy overworked people:  GET OVER IT!  This is one of the best Mustangs to come out of the factory doors in recent years.  If Ford irons out the suspension kinks, the Mustang will be a much better car.  I know, I’m harshly critical too, but the Mustang desperately needs to impress.  It’s already got plenty of power from it’s 302 cubic-inch V-8, which I might add, is the second most-popular crate engine sold in America.  I would take it out and put out Ford’s 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6, which has twin turbos, but turbos do not a car make, Fast & Furious fanboys.  The reason I would choose this engine is that it is much lighter than the V-8, can easily be tuned to make as much, if not more power, and meets smog requirements with ease.  Oh, and I can mention that it has a race pedigree in endurance racing.

Those are the cars that I think really need a track makeover.  They are all amazing cars in their own right – you should own or drive at least one of them before you die.  Let me know what you think deserves to give other cars a beating on the track.

 

 

The Most Affordable Project Cars!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Vehicles That Forever Changed the Automotive Landscape

These are not the best cars ever made.  Rather, they are the cars that have shaped modern cars.  I hope that you enjoy my list.  Please share any corrections if you feel necessary.

  • Ford Model T:  This was the car that made the production line possible.  It was also the car that made cars affordable to the American public.  Ford produced well over 15 million of them before production ended in 1927.  They are fairly simple to own, and they can keep up with city traffic if you want.  With so many built, there are many clubs and associations for the Model T all over the country.  Just look up “Ford Model T club <insert your area here>” on Google.  I can practically guarantee you that there is at least one club that you can join if you are the new owner of a Model T.  People drive them all over the place on tours.  You can take one into Alaska if you so please.  There are always plenty for sale anywhere between $10,000-40,000.  If you want to daily drive one, all you need is a good arm to crank-start it, and some adjustments to the timing.  Just retard the timing a big, be gentle with the gas, and you’ll have a car that gets up to 35 mph.  That’s plenty good for most city driving.
  • 1916 Cadillac Type 53:  Every single modern car owes a lot to this Caddy.  It was the first car EVER to come from the factory with an electric starter and a modern control layout, both of which we take for granted today.  The Type 53 wasn’t popular with Americans or the world, mostly because of it’s price (about $3,000).  However, the Austin Seven copied the Caddy and set the die for all cars to come.  Yet, I still credit the Cadillac.
  • 1932 Ford:  This was the first affordable car available to the American public with a V-8 engine.  It had a flathead V-8 making a whopping 85 horsepower.  Today, that’s comparable to a car making 500 horsepower from a V-6 (not unheard of).  Anyhow, it was affordable to some Americans.  It became known as “The Deuce,” as did the third-generation Chevrolet Nova.  It was the fastest affordable car of it’s day, which is why it was the escape vehicle of choice for Bonnie and Clyde.  It’s unclear how many were made, but it’s estimated that well over 1.5 million were sold.  Remember that Ford was selling these cars in 1932, right before the peak of the Great Depression!  It became one of the most popular cars to hot rod.  I want one, and we can call ourselves lucky that there are reproduction steel bodies, chassis (yes, that is plural and singular), and used engines aplenty.  How’s that for cool?  You can build your very own reproduction Deuce for about $20,000.  It’s going to be so much more fun than that Corolla you’ve had your eye on.
  • Willys/Bantam/Ford Jeep:  WWII veterans say that the Jeep was the vehicle that won WWII.  They are right.  It can still embarrass most purpose-built vehicles on a dirt road or in mud.  It was the first 4X4 to be sold to the American public en masse, and it proved to be popular.  After WWII, Willys decided to market the Jeep as an alternative to a tractor for farmers.  Chrysler still rakes in hundreds of millions on new Jeep Wranglers every year.  It’s truly an iconic vehicle.
  • 1948 MG TC:  This little wood-framed British roadster is what allowed such amazing cars as the Lotus Elise, Mazda Miata, and even the mighty Shelby Cobra to be.  Every single great American racing legend – Carroll Shelby, Phil Hill, Richie Ginther, and many others got their start in an MG TC.  On a winding road, this little car that only made 55 horsepower and 64 lb-ft of torque would simply run away from any American car, regardless of power output.  Much of what we hold dear as an automotive enthusiast was started by this little car.  It’s influence on every single sports car from 1948 on is immeasurable.  It’s still fast enough to embarrass a modern Chevy Camaro Z/28 on a windy road.  That’s pretty damn fast for a car that makes 450 less horsepower.
  • VW Beetle Type 1:  It’s the single most-produced car in history.  It’s an elegantly simple design that has stood the test of time better than most cars produced at the same time.  It was the foundation for the legendary Porsche 356, Meyers Manx dune buggy, and VW Transporter bus.  It was FWD, came as either a convertible or a coupe, had a tiny rear-mounted four-cylinder engine, and cost far less than any new American car on the road.  It became extremely popular with people of all ages and demographics.  Many new parents went out and bought a Beetle, and it would serve millions of families around the world faithfully for 20 years or more without major problems.  Most new cars can’t say that.  In the hippie movement, it became extremely popular.  Once the off-roading community got their hands on one, the legendary Baja Bug was born.  It is still fast enough to keep pace with a modern Trophy Truck in the horrible dirt roads of Baja, or the sand dunes of Pismo Beach.  Almost every desert town in the world will have at least several Baja Bugs running around.  It’s fast, sturdy, and capable, yet can be driven around town without complaining.  And the best part is you can build yourself one for about $5,000!  That’s not including a starter vehicle, by the way!  My grandparents owned one.  You probably know somebody who’s owned one.
  • Toyota 2000GT:  This was the car that put the Japanese automotive industry on notice with the world.  It was a more expensive alternative to the Jaguar E-Type, Chevrolet Corvette, Ford Thunderbird, Porsche 911, and the like.  It’s achingly gorgeous, and only a handful were built.  It’s also achingly expensive.  Toyota proved that they could hang with whatever Europe happened to build.  James Bond drove one.
  • Lamborghini Miura:  It’s not the quintessential Lamborghini – that goes to the equally-amazing Countach, but it set the standard for supercars.  It came around because Ferrucio Lamborghini wanted to build a better Ferrari.  When Lamborghini was going to debut the Miura concept car at the Geneva Motor Show in 1965, they didn’t even have a body!  They had a chassis with a V-12, a transmission, and wheels.  That was it.  However, the Miura looks absolutely stunning.  It’s one of the most beautiful cars ever built, and every single supercar owes a lot to the Lamborghini Miura.
  • Citroen DS:  When it debuted in 1955, it was the most technologically-advanced car in the world.  It had hydraulic suspension, a streamlined fiberglass body shell, four wheel disc brakes, a twin-cam V6, and many other technological innovations.  It was one of the first truly modern cars.  One can compare it to the Tesla Model S.  That’s how revolutionary it was.
  • 1955-1957 Chevrolet 210/Bel Air:  The Tri-Five Chevrolet’s are some of the most beautiful cars ever produced.  My personal favorite is the 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air coupe.  The 1955 Chevy became forever immortalized with Two Lane Blacktop and American Graffiti.  Yes, the sinister ’55 is the same car in both movies!  The 1955 Chevrolet introduced the revolutionary Chevrolet small-block (Mouse motor) V-8 to the world.  The 1957 Chevy Bel Air with the 283 cubic-inch V-8 and Rochester mechanical fuel injection became legendary on NASCAR tracks and dragstrips around the country.  It was as fast the Jaguar E-Type 10 years later.  I’m still wanting one!
  • Austin Mini:  Alec Issigonis sketched it on a bar napkin.  He never knew that it would become one of the most popular vehicles of the 20th century.  Let’s forget that it’s a cultural icon for a moment.  It was the first FWD car to come with a transversely-mounted engine (the engine was mounted sideways), which means that it’s the template for most FWD cars on the road today.  It became a motorsports icon in everything from endurance racing to rally racing.  It also became iconic in several movies – The Italian Job, The Bourne Identity, Mr. Bean, and Goldmember.  It’s also a major cultural icon.
  • Ford Explorer:  This was the vehicle that kicked off the SUV craze of the 1990s-today.  It was based off of the lowly Ranger pickup, but had a comfortable interior and the second generation had good looks.  It’s still a best-seller today.  It’s popular with the off-road community because it’s a Ranger with more space for people.  My parents owned one.  You probably know somebody who’s owned one.
  • Shelby Cobra:  Yeah it’s an obvious one for this list.  Carroll Shelby took a British roadster, and put a small-block Ford motor from the Mustang into it.  Then, he went hog-wild and put a big-block Ford into it.  That catapulted the Shelby Cobra into automotive fame.  Anybody who knows something about cars knows of the Shelby Cobra.  It could hang with anything.  It could beat a Chevrolet Corvette with the coveted L88 big-block V-8 in the curves and straightaways.  It dominated endurance and road racing for a glorious 3 years before Shelby stopped production of it.  It also dominated the NHRA Pro Stock drag racing class for a few years.  Today, there are at least 20 different companies who will sell you a Cobra replica.  Get a Factory Five replica.  It’s Shelby of North America licensed, and it comes with modern mechanical parts, yet can still hang with a modern hypercar.  
  • Chevrolet El Camino:  In it’s first generation, it was quite a looker.  Chevy didn’t sell too terribly many of the Impala-based ute, but you’ve probably seen a few driving around your town/city.  The second generation proved to be much more popular.  It was based off of the massively popular Chevelle, and you could get one with the rare, coveted LS6 V-8.  I remember reading an article about an owner of an LS6 Elco (a nickname for the El Camino), and he said that he has to drive it around with sandbags in the bed to keep it from spinning out.  That’s what happens when you have a massively-underrated 450 horsepower and no weight over the rear tires.  If you could get it to hook up, it would go through the 1/4 mile in 13 seconds flat at 125 mph.  That’s about as fast as a modern sports car.  I’ve heard driving one isn’t any different than driving a Chevelle, except for throttle modulation.  Flooring it from a stop, even with the still-powerful 327 cubic-inch V-8 will give a glorious burnout.  I want one.
  • 1968-1970 Dodge Charger/Charger 500/Daytona:  The second-generation Dodge Charger is one of the most beautiful cars ever built.  It’s got muscular elegance.  It had curvy “Coke Bottle” styling, and a plethora of engine choices.  The base engine was the “poly” 318 cubic-inch small-block V-8 that stayed in production in one form or another from 1959-2004.  The next step up was the 383 cubic-inch “Commando” big-block V-8.  After that, it was the 440 “Super Commando” big-block V-8.  One rung above that was the 440 Six Pack – a 440 with three two-barrel Holley carburetors.  The top of the ladder was the mighty 426 HEMI “Elephant Motor” big-block V-8.  The Charger 500 was designed for NASCAR, so it had a rear window flush with the body, along with other small aero modifications.  The Daytona was truly legendary.  Only 503 were sold to the general public, only 70 of which had the 426 HEMI.  The rest had the 440 Six Pack.  It was designed for NASCAR superspeedways, and it truly dominated.  It looked comical with it’s 19-inch long nose cone and nearly two-foot tall rear wing.  The only reason the wing was so high is that anything shorter and the trunk wouldn’t close! The Charger was catapulted into fame by The Dukes of Hazzard for one generation, and for the millenials, they were captivated by the supercharged 1968 Charger used in Fast & Furious.
  • Datsun 240Z:  This little Japanese sports car wasn’t a smashing success, but it certainly left it’s mark on sports cars.  It was light, looked drop-dead gorgeous, had a reliable, powerful engine, and a five-speed manual transmission.  Very few cars at the time had a five-speed.  All of that combined meant that it was a serious threat on a windy road.  Today, they are becoming collector cars, which is a shame, as they are built to be driven.  That’s not to be said that you can’t find a cheap one – you still can.  Hot rodders who are enamored by Japanese cars, but love the power of an American V-8 put a Chevy small-block V-8 and some suspension bits in, and have one hell of a ride.  My grandparents and dad owned one.
  • Audi Quattro:  This AWD notchback with a turbocharged 5-cylinder engine was so successful on the rally circuit that AWD was banned from the sport for about 10 years.  Stock, it’s not at all reliable (except for the first two years of production), but upgrading the engine internals will give you a strong, reliable, fast, and cool daily driver.  It’s truly an all-weather car.  I chose this car because of the impact that it had on rallycross and rally racing.  Any car with AWD past 1985 would have been much worse if it weren’t for the Audi Quattro.  My uncle owned one.  He should have kept it and given it to me.
  • Ford Mustang:  This was the car that started the ponycar craze.  No matter how much Ford hypes it as a muscle car (and Chevy with the Camaro), it IS NOT and never will be.  It is a pony car.  The Dodge Challenger is a muscle car.  Sorry Ford, but I’m just stating the truth.  Don’t shoot the messenger.  That being said, Ford introduced a whole new type of car to America.  Buying a Mustang with the base six-cylinder engine meant that you were carefree but had to watch your cash.  Getting it with the V-8 meant that you were carefree, but who cared about money – you only live once!  Getting it as a convertible only reinforced that.  The Shelby GT350 Mustang of 1965 was part of a deal with Hertz where you could rent the car on Friday, drive it to the racetrack on Saturday, race and win, go again on Sunday and win, and then drive it back to the rental lot.  It was somewhat streetable, but it really did well on the racetrack.  Carroll Shelby originally didn’t want to do it – he told Lee Iaccoca that “Lee, you can’t make a racehorse out of a mule.”  Yet that so-called mule became a massive racing success.  It’s still in production 50 years later.  Many American moms went from a station wagon to a Mustang and never looked back.
  • Pontiac GTO:  Originally offered as a package on the mid-size Tempest in 1963, the GTO took the thundering 389 cubic-inch V-8 from the Le Mans and shoved it into the considerably smaller Tempest.  It was a smashing success, so Pontiac decided to turn it into it’s own model in 1964.  It was much more popular that way, and the ultimate model was the 1969 Judge Ram Air IV.  It came with the then-new 455 cubic-inch V-8 and a functional Ram Air hood (the Ram Air package came in four stages), a Muncie M-22 “Rock Crusher” transmission, and bodywork that let you know that you really were king of the street.  It was truly stunning, especially in green.  It went dormant for 20+ years before appearing as a rebadged Holden Monaro in the US.  It wasn’t very popular.  It’s probably because Ford launched the retro-styled S197-generation Mustang right around the same time.  The 2004-2006 GTO looked nothing at all like any other GTO.  It didn’t look very good.  Nowadays, the modern “Goat” is popular with hot rodders who want to have all of the modern conveniences and glorious power.  Some even take the body off of the GTO and put on a classic car’s body.  Voila, you have a car that looks like a classic, but handles and drives like a new car.  Plus, they are easy to put bigger engines in.  Drifters are starting to find them.  Beware.
  • Lexus LS400:  This big Lexus was the car that sent Germany scrambling back to the drawing board.  The LS400 competed with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7-Series.  The German cars were stodgy cruisers that were heavy, large beasts on the street, but smooth on the highway.  The Lexus took that trademark Japanese agility and feeling of being a smaller car, threw in a buttery-smooth engine and transmission (the ads showed a champagne flute on the hood while the engine revved.  The champagne never overflowed – or came close to that!), a sumptuous leather interior, and made it a fun car to drive.  Lexus kept it in production from 1989-2000 in one basic form or another.  It sold well, and is a completely bulletproof car in terms of reliability.
  • Chevrolet S-10:  OK, I am a bit biased on this, but hear me out.  The Chevrolet S-10 replaced the dismal LUV pickups of the 1970s in 1982.  It came with an underpowered 4-cylinder engine or a more powerful 2.8-liter V-6.  In 1988, Chevy added their new 4.3-liter V-6 to the S-10.  It literally doubled the towing and hauling capacity, as well as making it a far more enjoyable truck to drive.  My S-10 is a 1989 Tahoe model.  That means that it was top of the line.  It has a cloth interior, an AM/FM radio, air conditioning, and it has fuel injection (the 1988 model had a carburetor).  You could get it as a regular cab or an extended cab.  Bed sizes were a 5-foot bed or a 6.5-foot bed. That’s not huge, but for somebody in a crowded city who needs a pickup, it’s perfect.  You could get it in 2WD or 4WD.  Mine is 2WD.  It was wildly successful, and you can still see a lot on the road.  Some people are taking modern Chevy LS3 E-Rod engines (smog-legal V-8’s) and stuffing them into an S-10.  They’re quite the sleeper.
  • Porsche 911 Turbo:  When it first debuted in 1975, it was a total animal of a car.  Lift off of the gas going into a corner, and you’d hit the guardrail with the backside of the car.  You had to keep your foot in it.  It made an underrated 276 horsepower (think closer to 350), had no ABS, a clutch that was so stiff that some had to literally push their leg down to depress the clutch, and a 5-speed manual transmission.  It was a total monster of a car that dominated the racing circuits, but was completely and totally unstreetable.  But, put one on a windy canyon road, modulate the throttle, and you had a recipe for speed.  Porsche still makes it.  However, it now makes a ridiculous 520 horsepower, and is truly the ultimate all-weather supercar.
  • Ford GT40:  This was the car that dominated endurance racing during the 1960’s.  It was the result of Enzo Ferrari refusing to sell his company to Ford in 1964.  Henry Ford II decided to beat Enzo Ferrari at his own game on his own turf.  Talk about owning a bully.  The GT40 was aerodynamic, muscular-looking, and was built for racing.  Ford built about 20-40 for the street (it’s unclear how many).  The first models came with a Shelby-tuned 289 cubic-inch V-8 that made 300 horsepower via a tri-power (three two-barrel carburetor) setup and forged internals and an Isky cam.  This engine was so durable that when Ford disassembled the engine after the season was over, it looked brand-new.  Later models came with Ford’s mighty 427 cubic-inch FE-Series “Cammer” engine.  This engine was the same one in the Shelby Cobra.  It made about 500 horsepower.  Both engines were mated to a four-speed manual.  The GT40 simply dominated the 24 Hours of Le Mans and 24 Hours of Nurburgring.  It was insanely fast, and it could be heard from over a mile away.  It beat Ferrari at their own game for years, before the FIA changed the rules, and both Ferrari and Ford had to comply.  Ford pulled out of Le Mans endurance racing for 20+ years and let Ferrari dominate.

 

 

 

Yes, that is a young Harrison Ford standing next to one of the most iconic hot rods ever.  It’s a 1932 Ford Hi-Boy (the body was lifted off of the frame so the frame could be tweaked).  It has a Chevy 283 cubic-inch small-block V-8 with crackling sidepipes.  This was the car that made me appreciate the little deuce coupe.

This is a fuelie 1957 Chevy Bel Air.  It became known as the “Black Widow” because it only came in black with white tape stripes, a black-and-white interior, and the red center caps on the wheels.

This is a gasser.  Gassers got their name because of the drag racing class they were in (B/Gas or blown/gas).  They had big engines with no supercharger, or smaller supercharged engines.  Look up “Roadkill Blasphemi” on YouTube for the build and cross-country blitz of one of my favorite cars – “Blasphemi.”

This is probably the ultimate Shelby Cobra.  It’s called the “Super Snake” because it has twin superchargers on top of an already-powerful engine.  Bill Cosby almost bought one, but took it on a test drive and thought he was going to die.  Carroll Shelby bought it.  Only two were made, but it was incredibly fast.  It’s rumored that in testing the car hit 210 mph – in 1966!  To me, it’s the ultimate factory hot rod.

This is a 1969 Dodge Daytona replica made by a host of the /DRIVE Network, Mike Musto.  It’s one of my favorite cars ever.  He took a 1969 Charger and turned it into a Daytona.  It’s the ultimate cross-country cruiser.  Just looking at it sends shivers down my spine.

The only stock part about this Mustang is the roof, A-pillar, and C-pillar.  It’s the latest creation from the brilliantly mad folks at RTR and Hoonigan.  Ken Block had it built.  It’s got a stroked NASCAR-spec engine that makes 850 horsepower that goes to all four wheels.  That’s right, this car is AWD.  You need to watch “Gymkhana 7” if you haven’t already.  It’s simply amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which Modern Ponycar is the Best?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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