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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Cars that Could Make You a Millionaire!

We all like to make money.  All of you like cars (me included!).  Ten cars could (theoretically) allow you to make a cool $1,000,000 – most of them NOT by themselves.  Anybody who has been buying/selling old cars knows that the classic car market has been taking a crash course on Wall Street.  It’s either boom or bust.  Bust happened in 1990 when a hyper-inflated Ferrari market crashed in the time frame of a year.  In 2007-2008, the market for Mopars with Hemi engines crashed, with many cars losing 2/3 of their value within 18 months.  The basic premise of this blog post is to tell you what cars you can buy for not too much money, and sell for a hefty profit.  Well, there are a few exceptions to that rule, but I think you’ll agree with my decisions for those cars.

However, that’s not to say that the market is dead.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  The market is globalized in a way it couldn’t have been just 10 years ago.  Only 20% of Russia had internet access in 2007, but now almost 80% have access.  Now that Russians have more money to spend, they are looking for ways other than cheap economy cars or an old Mercedes-Benz with 300,000 miles on the odometer to get around.  Cars continue to be more accepted as investments among those who wouldn’t care about them otherwise.  Sure, one could consider it a bubble, but until then, here are some cars, erm, investments, that I would buy with my tiny fortune.

  1. 1962-1965 Shelby Cobra.  The original Shelby Cobras are what I am referring to (Shelby makes continuation Cobras).  It’s quite possible that prices for the Cobra have already priced, as prices for these things are literally enough to make a Wall Street investor empty their bank account in a few short minutes.  The MkI and MkII (260 and 289 cubic-inch V8 Cobras) will run you about $800,000.  Forget buying a 427 Cobra – those are at least $1 million!  For the small-block Cobras, prices are up from $500,000 just five years ago, and that was up from $150,000 in 2003.  Yikes.
  2. 1970-1973 Datsun 240Z.  Remember when you could buy a Datsun 240Z for $4,000 in 2004?  Well, the average sale for 2013 was $19,000.  People who wanted one when they were young now (hopefully) have the discretionary income to buy one.  Plus, the Z looks timeless.  It’s like a more mature, cheaper Toyota 2000GT.  It’s great, easy and cheap to own, and a hoot to drive.  That won’t change.  What will likely change are the prices.  If the Datsun 240Z is any indication of the rising market demand for 1970s Japanese sports cars, expect prices to rise dramatically in the next few years.  If you want one, get it NOW!
  3. 1970-1971 Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet.  Nobody really thought that any regular-production, post-300SL Mercedes-Benz would be worth anything.  I didn’t for a while.  Nobody thought much of them because they were designed to last forever.  How can a car become more valuable when it never changes?  Then, three 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolets sold last August at the RM Monterey Auctions for a whopping average price of – brace yourselves – $265,833.  In 2010, the average transaction price was a still-high $94,000.  It’s hard to think that this extreme inflation will continue for much longer.  But, it’s not showing any signs of stopping.  Time to re-mortgage the house if you want one of these!
  4. 1976-1981 Ferrari 512BB.  Most of the male readers of this blog likely had posters of this car on their bedroom walls.  Combining absolutely timeless bedroom-wall-poster looks with the exotic, screaming power of the Berlinetta Boxer’s six-carburetor, vee-crank flat V12, you can’t go wrong.  Prices haven’t changed much since 2007, with prices staying right about $140,000.  However, you can still find one for under six digits.  For about $95,000, you can buy one for the price of what a grey market car would have cost you 35 years ago.  If that’s not a deal, I don’t know what else is.  Buy two and wait patiently.  Time to sell the house!
  5. 2009 Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione.  Alfa Romeo is back into the U.S. with the 4C.  It’s a great car.  It’s better looking than any new Ferrari, it’s faster than anything from Japan or America on a race track, and I want one.  The 8C was an amazing one-year blip in Alfa Romeo’s 19-year absence from the American car market.  The price now?  Hard to tell, as they were about $250,000 new, and only 84 were ever sold in the U.S.  Nobody is letting go of them, either, so yeah, good luck finding one.  Most are being held in private collections, but it’s going to be a challenge to start a market for them if nobody sells them.
  6. 1972-1974 BMW 2002 tii.  The BMW 2002 was a great car.  All of the automotive magazines said it was better than any muscle car out there.  It was nimble, light, and deceivingly fast.  The most desirable 2002 is the fuel injected version, called the 2002tii.  It was light, potent, reliable, and it favored fun over everything else.  Like the Datsun 240Z, they weren’t worth much of anything for a very long time due to their abundance.  In 2004, a nice 2002tii was carrying about $10,000.  Now, prices have blown past $20,000, and people are really only beginning to appreciate them.  Yeah, BMW only made 38,000 of the 2002tii, but an awful lot of them were used up.  Even if you buy one and it doesn’t go up in prices, you’ve still got one helluva car.  It’s a win-win situation.  Basically, for the price of a smallish shapeless blob painted silver, you can get a reliable daily driver that will get you thumbs up all over the place, and a tidy look.  Why not buy one?
  7. 1944-1986 Willys CJ.  The Willys CJ is one of the record holding cars for being in production.  It remained in production basically unchanged for 42 years.  The older models are pretty cool.  Parts are abundant for them, and there is a thriving after market for them.  They look cool, can go literally anywhere, and are so reliable that it makes any Honda or Toyota’s reliability look like a joke.  Plus, any old Willys CJ will be a barrel of fun.  It may not make you a million bucks, but you can buy one for a relative song right now.  Prices for these cool little vehicles that helped win WWII are cheap.  You can buy a really nice one for about $15,000, but where’s the fun in something that’s been restored by somebody other than you?  Get one that needs some work for about $7,500.  If you want to get even more on the cool factor, get a genuine Willys military Jeep.  That’s about $7,500.
  8. 1970-1974 Dodge Challenger:  The Dodge Challenger was one of the cars that lost 2/3rds of its value in 2007-2008, but prices are once more on the rise.  The R/T models with the 426 Hemi “Elephant” engine are the most desirable.  If you can’t swing one with the 426, get one with the massive 440 cubic-inch V8 (that’s 7.2 liters!) Six Pack.  That has six carburetor throats feeding gas and air into those wonderful sounding 440 cubic inches.  Even the models with the 383 cubic-inch V8 are fun.
  9. 1955-1957 Chevrolet Bel Air:  The Tri-Five Chevy’s are great cars.  They are fun, beautiful, reliable, and the prices are always climbing.  Now is the time to get one.  My personal favorite is the 1957 Bel Air convertible.  It looks like a Cadillac.  If you want one to be a pro-touring car, a drag car, or a show queen, there is no shortage of parts availability for these cars.  The 1956 models are the cheapest of the three years, but they are still pretty expensive.  If you get one now, enjoy it, show it, do burnouts, and have fun with a priceless piece of Americana.
  10. 1970-1972 Chevrolet Chevelle SS454 LS6:  This is probably one of the most iconic Chevrolet’s ever.  It’s got a massive Chevrolet 454 cubic-inch V8 (7.4 liters) with the legendary LS6 code name.  It makes a thundering 450 horsepower in LS6 form.  In the lesser LS5 form, it makes a still-impressive 360 horsepower.  If you can’t swing the climbing prices of the LS6 Chevelle, go for a still-mighty Chevelle SS396.  It’s still going to be a lot of fun, and it will handle better, thanks to less weight on the front of the car.  Plus, you can yank out the 396 and put a crate 454 underneath.  If you want more power, you can put a 468 cubic-inch V8, a 489 cubic-inch V8, a 572 cubic-inch V8, a 598 cubic-inch V8, or a 632 cubic-inch V8.  I would go for the 468 stroker motor, as it doesn’t add too much weight to the front, but it adds far more power.  Nelson Racing Engines (nelsonracingengines.com) makes a 600-horsepower 468 that sounds just about right for a Chevelle…

That’s all that I have to offer you, but I’m sure that you have your own suggestions.  Let me know in the comments section.

 

What Makes Last Week’s Sprint Car Tragedy So Special?

There’s no denying that last week’s tragedy at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York is horrific.  For those of you who don’t know, Tony Stewart, a very good sprint car and NASCAR driver, had an on-track collision with a fellow sprint car driver, Kevin Ward, Jr.  Ward’s car spun out, hit the wall, and suffered a flat tire.  Ward then proceeded to climb out of his car and stride down the track pointing his finger at Stewart.  As Stewart’s car went by, Ward was struck by the rear right wheel of Stewart’s car, sending him flying a good 20 feet down the track.  Health officials said that Ward was killed on impact.  The result?  A massive internet phenomenon where just about every internet user has become an “expert” on sprint cars overnight.  While I’m not a sprint car expert either, I do find them fascinating.  The reason for this post being almost a week behind the tragedy is that I wanted to put some time behind the incident to gather more information and let everybody cool off.

Here’s what happened – Tony Stewart grew up driving sprint cars until his mid-20’s, when he became heavily involved in NASCAR and IndyCar.  He still drove sprint cars for fun.  After he got out of IndyCar around 2005, Stewart went full-time into NASCAR.  He went into NASCAR’s prestigious Sprint Cup Series, where he won three Cups.  He has won many, many races in NASCAR, sprint cars, and IndyCar.  He may have a reputation for having a temper, but he’s calmed down in the last few years.  According to those who know him and have interviewed him, the man has a heart of gold, but can act impulsively.  When Danica Patrick came to Stewart-Haas racing, Tony personally started coaching her.  He’s been a driving force in sprint car safety measures ever since he suffered a severely broken leg last year in a sprint car race in Iowa.  His broken leg was so bad that it forced him to go around in a mobility scooter for a good 4 months.  He had to miss the rest of the NASCAR season, making him ineligible for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

This year, Tony’s been back with an eye on the prize.  He’s already gotten one pole at a race, and started in the Top 5 4 times.  But, the death of Kevin Ward, Jr. last weekend shook him.  He was scheduled to race the next day at Watkins Glen International Raceway for the Cheez-it 355, but decided not to race after the tragedy the night before.  On Thursday, he released a statement saying that he will not be racing at Michigan International Speedway, and that Jeff Burton will continue to drive his No. 14 Chevrolet SS for the indefinite future.

Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle both grew up driving sprint cars on dirt tracks.  Many drivers like Stewart have humble beginnings on short tracks, or start off in go-karts.  Mostly in NASCAR, it’s the former.  For Tony Stewart, driving sprint cars is just a fun hobby that he does for fun occasionally.  However, he does have a couple of drivers driving sprint cars under his direction from Stewart-Haas Racing.  It’s like Ivan “Ironman” Stewart (no relation to Tony Stewart), who is still an off-road motorsports legend.  Ivan grew up riding motorcycles, and he enjoys riding them across the country with friends when he’s not helping Toyota Racing Development (TRD) with new off-road race trucks.  Back to Tony Stewart.  The tragedy obviously shook him to his core, and I think that he just needs to take a break from racing all together for a while to reorient himself.  I don’t think that he will ever recover from accidentally killing a fellow driver, especially a 20-year-old.  I don’t think that anybody can.

In the aftermath of the tragedy at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, NASCAR has released new on-track protocols for drivers following a wreck.  In a nutshell, drivers are not supposed to exit their car after a wreck unless instructed to by a safety official.  Drivers are prohibited from going onto the track or towards other cars under all circumstances unless it is a safety vehicle.  The reason for this is that some NASCAR superspeedways like Daytona, Talladega, Michigan, Charlotte, Texas, and Homestead-Miami are big enough for cars to reach speeds in excess of 200 mph.  When a caution happens in NASCAR, drivers are only supposed to let off the gas and coast until the pace car comes on the track.  If a driver exited their car at Daytona and started striding towards another car, the result could be disastrous.  Drivers are safer inside of their cars.  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars are built to withstand multiple impacts of 200 mph or greater, and still allow the driver to live.  The driver might have an injury like a broken leg or arm, but they will be far better off than dead.  These rules might seem foolish, but they are really only common sense.  There is no logical reason for a driver to approach another car on foot.

Now, let’s talk about sprint cars.  These little things that look like they belong on a WWII fighter plane are tricky and super cool.  Sprint car racing is different than midget car racing.  Midget cars are essentially go-karts with semi-powerful engines (usually a Ford flathead V8 or a GMC “Jimmy” inline-six-cylinder) and dirt or asphalt tires.  They are freakishly fast and unsafe.  Sprint cars are the next step up from that.  These cars define insanity.

There are a couple of different classes of sprint cars:  The craziest class is World of Outlaws, started in 1978.  These cars use a 410 cubic-inch naturally-aspirated V8 (6.7 liters) that can produce anywhere from 900-1,100 horsepower.  These cars do not have a starter, transmission, clutch, or battery.  This means that these cars must get a push from a start truck to get going.  They simply use a driveshaft directly from the engine to the rear axle.  Their left rear tire is 335 millimeters wide (that’s as wide as the rear tires on a SRT Viper!), and their massive right rear tire is 380 millimeters wide.  The class that Tony Stewart races in is called the United Racing Company.  These sprint cars use a 360 cubic-inch V8 (5.9 liters) that is based off of a Dodge/Plymouth design.  That’s where the similarities to the Big 3 end.  These engines are capable of producing anywhere from 700-900 horsepower.  Again, these cars don’t use transmissions, clutches, batteries, or starters.

In recent years, sprint car safety has greatly increased.  Roll cages are now mandatory, as well as fully tubbed chassis’.  Fuel tank bladders prevent fuel leakages, and alcohol-infused fuel is now used.  Six or seven-point safety harnesses are now standard, and drivers are now required to wear a 2-layer fire suit and Nomex gloves.  Full helmets, arm restraint devices, right headrests, and a 1/8 inch-thick rock/debris screen on the front of the roll cage.  Plus, World of Outlaws and United Racing Company require head and neck restraints (HANS devices).

Winged sprint cars are much safer than non-winged sprint cars, due to the fact that the aluminum wings are capable of absorbing a good deal of impact.  When crashes happen, they are often violent, and debilitating injuries in non-winged sprint cars are commonplace.  The safety of winged sprint cars was shown in 2013 when Tony Stewart’s sprint car flipped and hit a safety fence before hitting the ground upside down.  Tony was able to walk away from the crash with only a severely broken leg (okay, maybe hop away).

Any sprint car is capable of reaching speeds of 140 mph or more.  With winged sprint cars, the wings add hundreds of pounds of downforce at speed, making the car easier to control.  Surprisingly, sprint cars are easier to control at higher speeds, thanks to the added downforce.  Sprint cars are mainly steered with the throttle, which is why they are almost always sideways.  They are built to turn left 99% of the time, and side visibility is almost nothing.  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Greg Biffle also grew up driving sprint cars, and he has said multiple times in interviews that sprint cars need to have better side visibility.  The wings on the sides go down to about head level of the driver, and shorter drivers have no problem with visibility.  What needs to happen with sprint cars is simple:

  • Drivers should NOT exit their car unless it’s on fire.  This would alleviate any repeats of the Ward/Stewart tragedy.  When a car spins out or hits the wall, a caution is called.  Drivers let off the gas, but they still are travelling pretty fast.  Tony Stewart was going about 40 mph when he hit Kevin Ward, Jr.  Even if he was in a street car, Ward would still be dead.  Safety officials can be anywhere on a track like Canandaigua in seconds.  Watch the video, and you’ll see that the safety truck was at the site where Ward was killed in under 10 seconds.  The truck was heading out to help Ward’s car get back to the pits when the accident happened.
  • The wings on the side NEED to be raised about 6-10 inches higher for better visibility.  It won’t make the cars more unstable.  Look at Can-Am McLaren’s of the 1960’s and 1970’s – their wings got higher and higher.  It actually HELPED the car’s stability and downforce!  Sprint cars could benefit from that.  Plus, it will make the cars safer, as there will be more space between the wall/catch fence/ground and the driver.
  • Drivers need to wait until after a caution to talk to race officials about who was at fault in the accident.  It was clear in the Ward/Stewart incident the lap before Ward was killed that Ward bumped Stewart’s car and hit the wall as a result.  Ward was clearly at fault in the accident, but Stewart also used his car to shove Ward’s away from his so that both cars didn’t spin.  It’s a simple maneuver, yet it proved to be ultimately fatal.  Race officials know who did what when, and they will assign points and/or penalties accordingly.  I know that drivers become furious when their car is wrecked, but walking towards the car that wrecked yours is simply not a smart or good way to take your anger out.

I think that in the coming months, many sanctioning bodies of various motorsports will enact rules telling drivers to not exit their vehicles until told to do so by safety officials.  Let me be perfectly clear:  Crew chiefs and spotters are NOT safety officials.  They are there to make sure that you stay out of accidents and win a race.  They are not a track safety official telling you to get out of the car.  I know that humans make mistakes, but Kevin Ward, Jr.’s mistake proved fatal.  There’s no taking back what happened that night, but we can prevent it from happening again.  It’s sad, and my thoughts go out to Kevin Ward, Jr.’s family and to Tony Stewart.  I can’t even begin to fathom how sad Tony Stewart must feel about what happened that night.

I have attached the video of Tony Stewart killing Kevin Ward, Jr.  Please do not watch this video if you felt at all uncomfortable reading this post.  I had trouble watching the video, but I feel that it is important for you to see it.  Viewer discretion is advised when watching this video.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5JNNXXdqM4

Ferruccio Lamborghini – a Biography of the Man Who Wanted a Better Ferrari

When you see a Lamborghini for the first time, you are probably wondering if an alien owns it.  It looks otherworldly.  This blog post is going to delve into the story behind the man who created Lamborghini Automobili, Ferruccio Lamborghini.  I hope you find his life as interesting as I do.

Ferruccio Lamborghini was born on April 28, 1916 to Antonio and Evelina Lamborghini in the beautiful region of Northern Italy.  Not much is known about his childhood, other than the fact that his parents were viticulturists.  What we do know is that Ferruccio Lamborghini was fascinated with farming machinery, rather than the farming lifestyle.  Following his passion for mechanics, Ferruccio went to the Fratelli Taddia technical institute in Bologna.  In 1940, Ferruccio was drafted into the Italian Royal Air Force for WWII.  He started off as a vehicle mechanic at the Italian garrison on the island of Rhodes.  He eventually became supervisor of the vehicle maintenance unit there.  When the island fell to the British in 1945, Ferruccio was taken prisoner.  He was unable to return home until 1946.  Upon his return, he married, but his wife died in 1947 while giving birth to their son, Antonio Lamborghini.

After that, Ferruccio opened a small garage near Bologna.  In his spare time, Ferruccio modified an old Fiat Topolino that he had purchased, one of the many that he would own over the years.  He took his extensive mechanical abilities to the tiny city car and turned it into a thundering, two-seat, open-top, 750-cc, roadster.  He entered the car in the 1948 Mille Miglia.  His participation in the tiny Topolino ended after 700 miles, when he ran the car into the side of a restaurant in the town of Fiano, in the province of Turin.  As a result of the crash, Lamborghini lost all enthusiasm for racing, a bitter sentiment that would last until the late 1960s.

In 1949, Ferruccio started Lamborghini Trattori, a small tractor company that would eventually become the European equivalent of John Deere.  His increasing wealth allowed him to buy more expensive, faster cars than the tiny Fiats that had provided with reliable, albeit slow, transportation for many years.  In the early 1950’s, he owned such cars as Lancia’s and Alfa Romeo’s, and at one point, he owned enough cars to drive a different one for every day of the week.  He added a Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing, a Jaguar E-Type coupe, and two Maserati 3500GT’s.  He once said of the latter, “Adolfo Orsi, then the owner of Maserati, was a man I had a lot of respect for: he had started life as a poor boy, like myself.  But I did not like his cars much.  They felt heavy and did not really go fast.”

In 1958, Lamborghini traveled to Modena to buy a Ferrari 250GT, an early Ferrari with a Pininfarina body.  He went on to own several more 250GT’s, including a Scaglietti-designed 250 SWB Berlinetta and a 250GT 2+2.  He thought that Enzo Ferrari’s cars were good, they were too noisy and rough to be proper road cars.  He categorized the 250GT’s as repurposed track cars with poorly done interiors.  Ouch.

He found that Ferrari’s had bad clutches, requiring frequent, expensive trips to Modena to replace them.  Ferrari technicians would squirrel the cars away for hours on end to perform the service, which immensely dissatisfied Lamborghini.  He had expressed his dissatisfaction about Ferrari’s after sales service multiple times before, which he perceived to be extremely substandard compared to other auto manufacturers.  He brought this to Enzo Ferrari’s attention, but was rudely dismissed by the pride-filled Ferrari.  He eventually successfully modified one of his personal 250GT’s to outperform stock 250GT’s, he decided that he was going to start an automobile manufacturing venture of his own, with an aim to create the perfect touring car that he felt nobody could build for him.  His belief was that a grand touring car should have attributes lacking in Ferrari’s, namely high performance without compromising tractability, ride quality, or interior appointments.  Being a clever businessman, Lamborghini knew that he could triple the profits if he used tractor parts from his tractor company.

The 1970’s OPEC Oil Crisis caused a large financial crisis for Lamborghini.  Lamborghini Trattori, which exported about half of it’s tractors, ran into trouble when the South African importer cancelled all of their orders.  The Bolivian military government cancelled a large shipment of tractors ready to ship from Genoa.  Since all of the Lamborghini Trattori employees were unionized, they could not be fired or laid off, which put immense financial strain on the company.  Lamborghini sold his entire share of the company (72%) to SAME, a rival tractor company, in 1972.

Not long after that, the entire Lamborghini franchise found itself in dire straights.  Development at Lamborghini Automobili slowed as costs were cut.  So, Ferruccio started negotiations with Georges-Henri Rossetti, a wealthy Swiss businessman and close friend.  Ferruccio sold Rossetti a 51% share in the company for US$600,000, which was enough to keep Lamborghini Automobili alive.  He continued to work at the factory even though he had no official controlling share in the company.  Rossetti rarely involved himself in Lamborghini Automobili’s affairs.

The 1973 OPEC Oil Crisis didn’t improve financial matters, either.  Consumers flocked in droves to smaller, more practical cars with better fuel economy.  By 1974, Ferruccio had become so disenchanted with the automobile manufacturing business that he severed all connections with the automobile manufacturer that bore his name.  He sold his remaining 49% share of the company to Rene Leimer, a friend of Rossetti.

After departing the automotive world, Lamborghini started an industrial valve and equipment manufacturer, as well as a heating and air conditioning company, Lamborghini Calor.

In 1974, Lamborghini exited the industrial world and retired to a 740-acre estate named La Fiorita on the shores of Lake Trasimeno, in Central Italy.  Returning to his farming roots, Lamborghini took delight in hunting and making his own wines.  He even designed a personal golf course.  At age 58, he fathered Patrizia Lamborghini.

At age 76, Lamborghini died on February 20, 1993 at Silvestrini Hospital after suffering a heart attack 15 days earlier.  He is buried at the Monumental Cemetery of the Certosa di Bologna monastery.

Bullfighting is an integral part of the Lamborghini identity.  In 1962, Lamborghini visited the Seville ranch of Don Eduardo Muira, a renowned breeder of fighting bulls.  He was so impressed with the raging bulls that he decided to adopt a raging bull as the emblem of Lamborghini Automobili.

After producing two cars with alphanumeric designations, Lamborghini once again turned to bullfighting for inspiration.  Don Eduardo was filled with pride when he learned that Lamborghini had named a car after his family and their legendary line of bulls.  The fourth Lamborghini Muira was unveiled to him at his ranch.

The Lamborghini Islero was named for the bull that killed the legendary bullfighter Manolete in 1947.

The Lamborghini Espada was named after the Spanish word for sword, and sometimes used to refer to the bullfighter himself.

The Lamborghini Jarama had a special double meaning – it was intended to refer to the historic bullfighting region of Spain, but Ferruccio was worried that there would be confusion with the also-historic Jarama motor racing track.

After naming the Lamborghini Urraco after a bull breed, Lamborghini broke from tradition and named the Countach, not for a bull, but for a rather rude expression used by Piedmontese men to describe a beautiful woman.  I don’t know why either.  Legend has it that designer Nuccio Bertone uttered the word in surprise when he saw the Countach prototype.  The Lamborghini LM002 SUV and Lamborghini Silhouette were the other exceptions.

The 1982 Lamborghini Jalpa was named for a bull breed.

The Lamborghini Diablo was named for the Duke of Veragua’s bull that fought an epic battle against El Chicorro in 1869.  It also means “devil” in Spanish.

The Lamborghini Murcielago was named for the legendary bull whose life was spared by El Lagartijo for his ferocious performance in 1879.  It also means “bat” in Spanish.

The Lamborghini Reventon was named for the bull that killed the young Mexican bullfighter Felix Guzman in 1943.

The 2008 Lamborghini Estoque concept car was named for the estoc, the sword traditionally used by matadors.

The Lamborghini Aventador was named for a bull that was bred by the sons of Don Celestino Cuadri Vides.  The bull was killed in a particularly gruesome fight, and after the fight, the left ear was cut off of the bull and given to the matador for good luck.

The Lamborghini Gallardo was named for one of the five ancestral castes of the Spanish bullfighting breed.

The Lamborghini Huracan is named for a bull that fought in 1879.  Huracan also means “hurricane” in Spanish.

All of Lamborghini’s companies are still around in some form or another today.  Lamborghini Trattori is still a subsidiary of SAME.  His son, Tonino (Antonio) Lamborghini designs a line of clothing and accessories under the Tonino Lamborghini brand.  His daughter, Patrizia Lamborghini, runs the private winery on his estate.

A museum near the factory honoring Lamborghini, the Centro Studi e Richerche Ferruccio Lamborghini, opened in 2001.  The museum is located just 25 km (15.2 miles) from the factory in Sant’Agata Bolognese.  Tonino may even be there to greet you, as you have to write ahead to get in, as conferences often happen and the museum is closed to the public.