From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.
For this installment, Gearhead’s Garage puts the spotlight on AMC’s entry in the Pony Car wars, the Javelin AMX
Largely overshadowed by the Chevrolet Camaro, Pontiac Firebird and Ford Mustang, (and to a lesser degree the Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Barracuda), the AMC Javelin AMX was akin to RC cola battling Coke and Pepsi. That doesn’t mean it was a bad choice in the Pony car segment (so-called because the Mustang is credited with starting this sporty segment back in 1964). Far from it, the Javelin AMX was just a different flavor. And plenty of performance enthusiasts found it downright sweet.
Note that we are talking about the four-passenger Javelin AMX here that was produced from 1971-1974, not the two-passenger version that was based on a shortened Javelin body/platform, just called the AMC AMX and produced from 1968-1970. Certainly the earlier version was cool in its own right, being the only American car of that time other than the Corvette to seat just two, but its appeal was limited and AMC made the decision to continue it after 1970 with the Javelin body and its backseat fully intact.
Cue it up
As it was now the top performance version of AMC’s Javelin, the 1971 AMX shared its styling. This meant the Javelin’s Corvette-like front fender curves, long hood and semi-fastback roofline were key styling cues, as was the full-width taillight panel. Marking it as the top dog in the AMC kennel were a mesh grille, a rear spoiler and a few options, such as a cowl induction hood and a big “T” stripe for the hood, that were not available on the standard Javelin. Inside the AMX, bucket seats and a console were standard and the dash curved around the driver. Along with that cockpit feel, the dash and door panels featured a metallic “engine turned” appliqué which further enhanced the AMX’s decidedly sporty vibe.
Extra performance for the AMX
With an overall length of 191.8 inches, the Javelin was about two inches longer than a ’71 Mustang and about four inches longer than a ’71 Camaro. Under the hood, a 360 cubic-inch, two-barrel V8 with 245 horsepower was standard, and could be hooked up to either a three-speed automatic or three-speed manual gearbox. Most buyers stepped up to either the 360 4-barrel (285 hp) or 401 4-barrel (330 hp) V8, either of which could have the automatic or a four-speed manual. Any guesses as to which powertrain we’d go with? The optional “Go” package included either the 360-4 barrel or 401-4 barrel V8 along with dual exhausts, the “twin grip” rear differential, the cowl induction hood with the T stripe, 15-inch (rather than 14-inch) wheels, a firmer suspension and a Rally gauge package.
As you were
For 1972, there were just a few changes to note for AMC’s sporty coupe. A smaller, 304 cubic-inch V8 was the standard engine, with both 360s and the 401 optional. As with other American cars, engine output ratings changed from “Gross” to “Net”. The previous Gross ratings were measured with the engine itself running on a stand, as opposed to the more realistic Net ratings which measured its output with accessory pulleys, exhaust and transmission all installed.
Yes, the ’72 engines lost a little power due to drops in compression that allowed them to meet tougher emissions standards and run on lower octane gas, but they didn’t lose nearly as much as simply comparing gross to net numbers might falsely indicate. That said, the 304 made 150 hp, the 360 2 barrel V8 was now rated at 175 hp, the 360 4 barrel with dual exhaust made 220 hp, and the big dog 401 was rated at 255 hp.
As the mid-’70s approached, luxury started to replace performance as a big selling point. For 1973, AMC offered an optional Cardin (yes, Pierre Cardin, the clothes designer) interior package for the Javelin and it could even be had on the AMX. Fully embracing the outlandish ’70s, the Cardin package featured black upholstery sporting wide stripes of white, orange and fuchsia running rampant over the seats, door panels and even the headliner. Visually, the only notable external change was the taillights going from the previous full width strip design to four semi-squared off units. Fortunately, for those who actually wanted performance more than plush trimmings, you could still specify an AMX with the 360 or 401 Go package and a Hurst-shifted four-speed.
The following year, 1974, would be the Javelin’s — and hence the Javelin AMX’s – last. Other than the Cardin package disappearing from the options roster, nothing changed for ’74.
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Today’s war among American performance cars easily rivals the one waged so fiercely during the 1960s and early ’70s. In addition to the factory muscle car offerings, you had upgraded versions offered by certain dealerships. Owned by rapid enthusiasts, these dealerships were hell bent on giving their customers (and themselves) a reputation for street battle supremacy.
These dealers — such as Yenko Chevrolet, Mr. Norm’s Grand Spaulding Dodge and Tasca Ford — would gladly build up your Camaro, Challenger or Mustang to a performance level seemingly limited only by your nerve and financial status. Pavement burners such as a Yenko Camaro sporting a 427-cubic inch big block gave acceleration junkies serious one-upmanship on their buddies who had “settled” for a stock SS396 Camaro. Likewise for Dodge fans who wanted a hopped up Dart and Ford fans who, before the factory made it available, wanted nothing less than a 428 Cobra Jet V8 in their Mustangs.
Nowadays, modern factory performance cars leave little argument for such improvements. Does anyone really need more than what we’ve seen show up in Chevy, Ford and Dodge showrooms the last couple of years? Specifically, how could you possibly want more than a 580-horsepower Camaro ZL1, a 662-hp Mustang Shelby GT500 or a 707-hp Challenger Hellcat? For those performance buffs who live by the “too much is not enough” credo, there are a number of companies around who are more than willing to boost these beasts beyond their already crazy capabilities.
Mustang fans who were disappointed to see the Shelby GT500 absent from the all-new 2015 Mustang family need only contact Shelby American. Click away and you’ll see they offer the newest ‘stang in the 750-horse “Super Snake” version that along with all that go-power sports upgraded brakes and suspension as well as various carbon-fiber body components. If you do own a 2011-2014 GT500 and you’ve deep enough pockets, you can have them turn your car into a 1,200-hp track day monster.
On the other side of the battlefield, Chevy Camaro enthusiasts can once again hit the streets with a Yenko Camaro, thanks to Special Vehicle Engineering who acquired the rights to use the hallowed dealership’s name. Just like the good old days, a 427 cubic-inch V8 is stuffed under the hood, only this time it’s the modern small-block “LS7″version. Formerly used in the Corvette Z06 and currently seen in the new Camaro Z/28, the LS7 normally makes 505 horsepower. For the Yenko, it is supercharged and further tweaked to make a thumping 700 horsepower. Proper homage is paid to the original Yenko Camaros via a scooped hood and 1969-style “YSC” (Yenko Super Car) body graphics.
As it did in the early ’70s, the Dodge Challenger faces off against those rivals from Ford and Chevrolet. Right off the showroom floor, you can get over 700 horsepower in a new Challenger, provided you spring for the Hellcat version. That’s enough thrust to sling you down the quarter mile in just under 12 seconds. Should you find that somewhat lacking, you can have the good folks at Hennessey Performance beef up your Hellcat to the tune of 852 horsepower. Short of strapping a Space Shuttle’s Booster rocket to the trunk lid, there’s not much else that you could do to turn your Hellcat into one of hardest accelerating vehicles wearing four tires and a license plate.
Whether you keep your modern performance car bone stock or choose to have it modified by an aftermarket tuning firm, there’s no denying that today’s car wars make this a great time to have a license for us with 93 octane flowing freely through our veins.
Note: Get quality auto parts for everything from regular vehicle maintenance to special car projects at Advance Auto Parts.
From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.
For this installment, the Mechanic Next Door does some heavy lifting, delving into the GMC Sierra pickup’s history and looking at the newest model.
Max and Morris Grabowsky may not be household names, but they cemented their place in automotive history nonetheless. In 1901 the Grabowsky duo built a truck prototype in Pontiac, Michigan, and went on to form their company – the Rapid Motor Vehicle Company – a year later. It didn’t take long for the brothers’ truck-building efforts and success to attract competitors’ attention, with General Motors buying them in 1909. Just three years later at the New York Auto Show, the name GMC Trucks would make its debut.
And so begins the story of GMC’s Sierra – a leader in the category of full-size pickups and a nearly identical twin to Chevy’s Silverado truck lineup. It wasn’t until the 1970s, however, that GMC would debut the name Sierra, using it to designate their trucks’ trim level, until 1987 when Sierra began serving as the permanent name for GMC’s full-size pickups.
GMC’s early, 1960’s-era pickups – before the Sierra name change – were designated as either “wideside” or “fenderside” – the latter corresponding to what many drivers today refer to as “stepside” pickups with fenders that flare out over the rear wheels. GMC also was one of the first to use numbers to indicate its trucks’ hauling capacities using the “1000”, “1500”, and “2000” designations that are common today in one form or another among all the major truck manufacturers. A “K” attached to those numbers indicated a GMC truck with four-wheel drive, and there were just two trim levels available – base or Custom. The standard engine was a 236-cubic-inch inline six delivering 135 horsepower.
Through the mid-1960’s, GMC trucks underwent a suspension change, additional engine options, and cosmetic changes to freshen the truck’s appearance. One of the most notable changes, and perhaps the start of pickups’ migration to becoming more than just work vehicles, was the debut of air conditioning in 1965.
1973 saw GM completely redesign its pickup truck line with longer wheelbases and the debut of a four-door crew cab. Engine choices ranged from a 100-horsepower, 250-cubic-inch inline six on the low end to a 240-horse 454 V8. GM’s next complete overhaul of its Sierra truck line wouldn’t occur until 1988 with trucks sporting a third more glass for improved visibility and a marked focus on more luxury items, such as upholstery and instrumentation.
That 80’s-era “luxury” pales in comparison to today’s model, considering that the 2016 GMC Sierra sports such innovations as advanced safety features and a 4G Wi-Fi Hotspot. The pickup’s evolution from being strictly a work vehicle to becoming a multi-purpose vehicle today is clearly evident on GMC’s site for Sierra, where a review of the vehicle’s interior receives precedence over its capabilities – something that would have been unheard of when trucks were meant solely for hauling and pulling. This old school Sierra’s transition into a show vehicle shows that there’s clearly a lot of life left for these pickups even when their days of doing hard work are over.
That’s not to say that new Sierra’s lack anything in the performance department. Its 6.2L V8 cranks out 420 horsepower, which GMC says is more than any other light-duty pickup. And, according to GM, the available EcoTec3 5.3L V8 engine delivers the best V8 fuel economy available among any full-size pickup. Balancing that power with control is Hill Descent Control, allowing for less nerve-wracking downhill journeys in rough terrain, and the Eaton Locker which automatically locks the rear wheels when slippage is detected.
Other automatic technology features aimed at assisting drivers include the Lane Keep Assist which helps drivers avoid drifting out of their lane by automatically correcting steering, and IntelliBeam which activates or deactivates Sierra’s high beams based on traffic conditions. Forward Collision Alert provides audible and visual alerts to help prevent collisions while the Safety Alert Seat vibrates as a warning signal to drivers.
Technology inside Sierra’s cab that’s aimed at driver convenience rather than strictly safety includes IntellilLink for customizing and organizing a variety of media, Apple CarPlay for syncing phones to the IntelliLink system, the previously mentioned 4G WiFi hotspot, and OnStar’s RemoteLink app to remotely start the vehicle, pinpoint its location on a map, and monitor the vehicle’s mechanical functions.
Available in four trim levels – Sierra Base Trim, SLE, SLT, and Denali, Sierra’s base MSRP is $27,275, and heads higher from there. After decades of popularity among truck buyers and features that give drivers what they want, the Sierra’s popularity doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.
Editor’s note: When you need anything related to your GMC Sierra, turn to Advance Auto Parts first. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.
Much like an elite athlete’s ability to rapidly breathe allows them to perform stronger, so it goes with your car’s engine. Whether you drive a ’69 Chevelle or an ’09 Civic, the same principle applies. Get more air in and out and your engine will make more power and run stronger. This is why forced induction (i.e. turbocharging and supercharging) is so popular as a means for, literally, pumping up an engine’s output. That’s great, but unless it came on your car it’s also easily a $5,000 and up modification.
If you want to improve your car’s performance without spending a lot, then you’ll want to focus on cost-effective ways to make that mill breathe like an Olympic decathlete without tearing into it. In other words, consider these following bolt-on mods that will give you the best bang, or should we say breathing, for your buck.
Golden Oldies Take a Breather
Going with a less-restrictive air filter setup than what the factory has supplied has long been a staple of performance enthusiasts. Those who own an old American car from the ’60s and ’70s typically favor a round, open-element air cleaner that sits over that carburetor. Although some old muscle cars actually came standard with these types of filters, or even trick hood scoops that funneled colder outside air to the intake, more often than not you’d see a closed housing that breathed through a snorkel-like fixture sticking out of its side. Other options for those golden oldies include Edelbrock’s iconic, triangular “Pro-Flo 1000” (formerly known as the “Lynx”) open-element filter.
Something for the Younger Ones
When fuel injection became more widespread in the ’80s, air filter assemblies took on more complex configurations that continue to this day. The latter is due chiefly to being equipped with various sensors that keep tabs on things like intake air temperature and velocity so the computers can adjust fuel metering accordingly. The air filters themselves are typically buried within black plastic boxes. The aftermarket quickly came to the rescue with low-restriction, cold-air kits that typically feature a semi-conical open-element filter. K&N, in particular, makes well-engineered kits that are known for their high quality and wide range of applications.
Ok, Now Exhale
So now that your engine can inhale more deeply; it’s time to turn your attention to the exhaling side of the equation – the exhaust. Before model year 1975, when catalytic converters (“cats”, for short) came on the scene to clean up exhaust emissions, the default performance-enhancing setup was pretty straightforward: exhaust headers running to true dual exhausts with a crossover. Nowadays, the ideal setup is pretty much the same, albeit with high-flow cats plumbed into the system. Of course you’ll want to check with your state’s emissions laws beforehand regarding replacing the cat(s), as some states may only allow factory replacements.
Still, going with a full engine-to-tailpipes system can be rather complicated (ask anybody who’s installed headers) and expensive, plus that labor is probably beyond what most shade-tree wrenches can do. The good news is you don’t have to go that far. Those looking for a cost-effective and minimal hassle upgrade should consider a “cat-back” exhaust system. It is just that, a system that bolts up after your car’s catalytic converter(s). With its freer-flowing pipes and lower-restriction muffler(s), a cat-back exhaust system lets your engine exhale easier and sounds pretty cool in the process.
Regardless of what you drive, there are plenty of great choices for a cat-back system. Popular brands include Borla, Dynomax and Magnaflow. Even within each manufacturer’s product line, there’s great variety, sonically speaking. You’ve got systems that are fairly quiet at idle and part throttle that then growl gratifyingly when you step into it. And then you’ve got the more aggressive setups that proudly make their presence known whether you’re burbling at a light on the boulevard or grabbing gears as you rocket up a freeway on-ramp.
For these power-boosting auto parts, along with all the tools you’ll need to complete the job, Advance Auto Parts will get back to the garage fast.
Back in the day, “the day” being the thousands from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s, American performance cars’ fuel delivery system of choice was four-, six- or even eight-barrel carburetion. More often than not you saw a single four-barrel sitting atop the engine’s intake manifold. But a trio of two-barrel carburetors (called “Tri-power” and “Six pack” among other cool sounding names) could be had on some Detroit iron during the ’60s and ’70s, such as the Pontiac GTO, Chevy Corvette, Plymouth Road Runner and Dodge Challenger.
For monsters such as the early ’60s Impala SS409 and the ’67 Shelby GT500 Mustang, nothing less than two four barrel carbs (“dual quads”) would do. Carburetors were not without their pitfalls, however, as tasks like changing jets, synching those multi-carb setups and generally getting them perfectly dialed in were usually best left to a shop with all the necessary tools and expertise.
Fuel injection in those early years was very rare, but available on a handful of American cars during some of those years. For example, certain 1957 GM products from Chevrolet and Pontiac offered it just that one year.
As fuel injection was relatively new technology, the bugs weren’t fully worked out so it was dropped as an (admittedly expensive and not popular) option for the full size GM cars the very next year. It did, however, continue to be optional on the Corvette, right through 1965.
As performance-themed American cars passed through the 1980s, fuel-injection came online bigtime.
Thanks to their ability to monitor and make millisecond adjustments for various parameters such as intake air temperature and idle quality, these modern-era F.I. systems were instrumental in bringing back performance after the dark days of the mid-’70s to early ’80s. Being able to precisely control the air/fuel mixture, they allowed engineers to fine tune the engine to both meet tough emissions standards and offer increased power output. Other benefits are smoother operation all around, such as when driving in high elevations and in very cold or hot weather.
Which all brings us to the question of: should you have an older performance car, should you keep the old carbs or make the switch to fuel injection? Unless you want to keep your ride 100 percent factory correct for seriously judged shows and such, we’d suggest jumping aboard the injection express.
These “self-tuning” systems offered by Edelbrock, FAST, Holley and MSD will have your ride always operating at peak efficiency without you needing to scrape knuckles and waste precious weekend time. And no worries about having that classic engine compartment ruined with something that looks like a Flux Capacitor, as these systems mimic the iconic look of a big four-barrel carb. So go ahead, put on that original chrome-lidded air cleaner with the engine call-out sticker on it, we won’t tell if you don’t.
Best of all, these state of the art systems make for a fairly simple, bolt-on proposition, essentially the same effort as swapping out carburetors minus the subsequent tuning. After you’ve bolted the system in place, you then enter basic information such as engine size and camshaft specs into a hand-held controller, which gives the system its base-line operating parameters. One twist of the key usually fires up your engine and then you’re smoothly off and running.
As you drive your car, the system’s ECU (Electronic Control Unit) continuously fine tunes itself according to information it picks up from the oxygen sensor. No more rough idling, no more cold-weather stumble. Indeed, according to this article in Hot Rod magazine it couldn’t be easier “No jets, no adjustments, no laptops—just bolt it on and turn the key.”
Editor’s note: You can get your carbs in order and save big at Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
Jim Kazliner, Editor-In-Chief
Hey DIY Garage Readers—
I wanted to take a minute in between our regular blog schedule to tell you about a new program Advance offers that actually rewards you for working on your car.
Speed Perks is not your run-of-the-mill rewards program. First, there are no confusing rules, qualifications, or unworkable expiration dates to contend with. Better yet, you don’t have to deal with any complicated passwords, membership cards, or lengthy phone calls to have your password reset when you forget it (how many times has that happened?).
Instead, all you need to become a Speed Perks member is a phone number and an email address. That’s it. Done.
And getting rewarded is even easier. Here’s how it works:
- For every $30 purchase, you’ll get $5 to spend on a future purchase of $10 or more
- For every $100 purchase, you’ll get $20 to spend on a future purchase of $40 or more
- You’ll get your rewards within a week by email or text
- Speed Perks members will also receive exclusive deals and special offers
We all know how gratifying it is to work on our own vehicles and take on new car projects. So why not get rewarded for doing just that? Speed Perks makes purchasing the parts and tools you use most even more worthwhile.
Savory lasagna, creamy gelato, great artists and Sophia Loren are some of Italy’s greatest contributions to the world. But many would argue, especially we car buffs, that the best gift this boot-shaped country has kicked forth is a buffet of delicious automotive treats. Although great style has much to do with their appeal, Italy’s cars bring joy to the ear with their fantastic mechanical music along with joy to the enthusiast’s heart with their involving driving dynamics.
New or old, Italian cars are lusted after and enjoyed by enthusiasts everywhere. Whether one is cutting through traffic in a diminutive, old Fiat Cinquecento with sunroof open and opera blaring, or slicing through a mountain pass in a newer Ferrari 458 Spider with its top off and its V8 providing the soundtrack, grins are virtually assured for anyone within either.
To celebrate the irresistible cars of Italy, we’ve picked our favorites both old and new from the major manufacturers. Our choices come via a rather unscientific approach, yet one fully befitting Italy — they are based on pure emotion.
For a classic Alfa, it’s hard to beat the simply named Spider (which is essentially Italian for roadster). Available in the states from the mid-’60s to the mid-’90s, this affordable, Pininfarina styled roadster defined the Italian sports car experience. That is to say it looked sexy, sounded great and had its steering wheel laid down to almost a bus-like degree. It also meant it could be finicky and wasn’t the most reliable car on the road.
Alfa Romeo just came back to the states after leaving in the mid-’90s and offers but one model thus far. But what a firecracker the 4C is. With its snarly, popping, 237-horsepower turbocharged four, light (around 2,500 pound) curb weight and track-focused handling dynamics, this sports car is a blast to drive. It may be a bit harsh for daily driver duty, but the 4C, available in both coupe and Spider (removable targa top) body styles, makes no apologies for its “fun first” personality.
Choosing a favorite classic Ferrari is like trying to pick a favorite Beatles song. Nonetheless, we welcome the challenge and will go with an early ’60s 250 GT SWB (short wheelbase). Even those without 93 octane flowing through their veins would find it impossible to ignore this Ferrari’s handsome Pininfarina styling and incredibly melodic V12. Although these are priced in the millions (keep playing that Powerball), they are somewhat versatile, being able to serve as both a fairly comfortable grand touring car and a vintage racing track toy.
For a newer Ferrari, the 458 Spider pushes our buttons with its free-revving V8 engine cranking out nearly 600 hp while making all the right noises, open roof capability and of course the head-turning styling expected of the marque.
As with the Alfa, we’re with a classic roadster here, in this case the similarly-named Fiat Spider. Earlier versions (’67 to ’78) were actually called the 124 Sport Spider while the ’79 to ’82 versions were called the 2000 Spider. A Pininfarina design, the Fiat was powered by a double-overhead-cam, eight-valve inline four that grew in size from its initial 1.5 liters to 2.0 liters (hence the later “2000” designation.). A turbocharged version was also produced for ’81 and ’82. From ’83 through ’85, the car was marketed by Pininfarina as the Spider Azzura. Regardless of the year, the styling and driving experience are going to be similar, meaning those classic lines and the classic, arms-out Italian driving position.
Nowadays, not only has Fiat come back to the states, but they’ve brought the latest incarnation of the little 500 (“Cinquecento”) with them. Our choice is, no surprise, the feisty 500 Abarth, whose snappy turbocharged four makes us grin every time it crackles and pops when we downshift. Although it boasts a sport-tuned suspension that makes it a hoot on a curvy road, just don’t try to catch Miatas as its somewhat top-heavy feel and body sway when pushed harder show its athletic limits.
Miura or Countach…Countach or Miura? We’ll probably change our minds tomorrow, but for now it’s the Countach. The official poster car of 10- to 20-year old American males during the mid-’80s, the outlandishly styled (by Gandini) Countach looked like a land-locked spaceship. Adding to the effect were the so-called scissor doors that swung upwards and made for a grand entrance or exit. A mid-mounted V12 with output ranging from about 375 to 455 hp provided the appropriate gusto.
For a newer Lambo, we’ll go with a Gallardo. Yes, it’s not as powerful as a Murcielago or Aventador, but we prefer its smaller, more easily managed dimensions and lighter weight. Besides, we could get by with just a V10 and its 500 or so horses. Now the question is just coupe or Spyder…coupe or Spyder?
Although Maserati made some great sports cars – Ghibli (the original sleek sports car, not the current sedan with the same name) and Bora to name just two – the company was also known for its grand touring coupes and sedans. Although the Quattroporte (“four-door” in Italian) has been produced off-and-on since 1963, we’re going to go with the third-generation version. Why? Because we’re Rocky fans and it’s what the Italian Stallion drove in 1982’s Rocky III. Fitted with a 4.9-liter V8, the Giugiaro-designed sedan put about 276 hp (respectable output back then) at the driver’s disposal. Fitted with plush, overstuffed seats and trimmed with gathered leather and real wood, the cabin of the Quattroporte was more business jet than road car.
Our modern Maser choice would be the GranTurismo convertible. Sporting Ferrari-sourced V8 power and a superbly detailed interior fit for four (provided the rear passengers are on the smaller side) the GranTurismo exudes class and power that are fully befitting a Maserati.
Editor’s note: For more insights into the vehicles of the world, check out our recent feature on the Cars of Ireland.
Not all spark plug wires are created equal. And because moving electricity to the plug to produce a spark is so critically important, using the wrong wires for your vehicle, damaged wires, or poor-quality wires will undoubtedly lead to problems down the road.
As electricity travels along the plug wires toward the plug so it can generate a spark, it’s also looking to do something else – escape. The electricity is looking for any opportunity to jump from the wire and instead head down the path of least resistance. When it finds the escape route it’s been searching for – usually in the form of missing or damaged wire insulation – the results can include engine misfire, poor fuel mileage, hard starts, rough idles and lack of power. Electricity also generates radios waves and if it escapes from the plug wires can interfere with a vehicle’s radio and other electronics.
The plug wires’ insulation is what keeps the electricity from escaping, and high-quality wires will have more insulation that’s made from durable components that are better able to resist wear from vibration and heat. Over time, the engine’s heat cycling takes its toll on even the best spark plug wires, which is why replacement is recommended by many manufacturers at 100,000 miles.
There are primarily three types of spark plug wires:
1. Distributed resistance wires are constructed of fiberglass-impregnated carbon. Also known as carbon core wires, they were the standard on about 95 percent of vehicles before 1980.
2. A shift to inductance or mag (magnetic resistance) wires accompanied the rising popularity of Asian vehicles. Featuring a spiral wound core of a copper nickel alloy, the material presents less resistance to the electricity flow, meaning less current is needed to generate the spark, and at the same time the winding pattern and materials help prevent any Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) from escaping.
3. Lastly, there are fixed resistor wires. These are often found on European vehicles and feature steel or copper wire and a resistor inside the plug boot to control interference.
If you think your vehicle might be having some issues caused by faulty plug wires, begin the diagnosis with a close inspection of the wires’ condition. Examine them for heat-induced cracks or abrasions caused by rubbing against other parts. Look for areas where they’ve been burned through because of contact with an exhaust manifold. Also try examining the engine in the dark, looking for visible sparks where the electricity is escaping along the wires, and also listen for an electrical ticking sound, similar to what you hear when you receive a big static electricity shock. Also measure the wire’s resistance with an ohmmeter. One plug wire with a resistance that’s significantly different than the other wires could indicate that’s the problem wire.
When installing new wires, make sure you’re using wires specified for your vehicle. Characteristics such as the wire length or a boot that attaches using clips as compared to a thread-on boot matter when it comes to performance. Also avoid problems by routing new wires in the same manner that the previous wires were, and removing and replacing the wires one at a time.
Using the best spark plug in the world won’t make any difference to your engine if that plug can’t get the electricity it needs, so choose and install plug wires wisely.
Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts has your car wiring needs covered. Buy online, pick up in-store, in 30 minutes.
Whether your ride is trying to rock a fatigued factory or ancient aftermarket audio system, one of the best ways to bring back its sonic boom is by changing out and/or adding speakers. And if you’re not an expert on all things audio, fear not. We’ll walk you through the basics and provide you with, literally, sound advice for tuning up your car’s tunes.
Hearing the highs and feeling the lows
There are basically four types of speakers: tweeter, midrange, woofer and subwoofer. Each is responsible for respectively reproducing the high, middle, low and super low frequency notes of the music. Let’s say you’re listening to “Stairway to Heaven” and you’ve got a system sporting all four types of speakers. The flutes would come through the tweeters, guitars would come through mostly the midrange while the bass and drums would speak to you via the woofers and subwoofers (or “subs,” if you want to sound hip).
Although some speaker systems will incorporate say a tweeter and a midrange in a single unit, high-end audio systems typically have dedicated (stand-alone) tweeters, midrange, woofers and subwoofers. This is why you see 9- to 14-speaker systems (and even higher) in more modern, premium-brand vehicles. These speakers are placed strategically for the best sound, typically with the tweeters up high, closer to the listeners’ ears, and with a subwoofer (or two) under the seat or behind the rear seats. Back in the “good old days” having four full-range speakers, two in the front and two in the back, was living large.
Spending for sound
Of course, your budget will dictate how far you can go with your speaker upgrades. If you’re tired of your car’s buzzy speakers, simply replacing them with higher quality units is the easiest and most cost effective way to restore your listening enjoyment. For example, your car may have had a simple four-speaker setup with a pair on either end of the dash and a pair in the back seat area. Those old factory speakers may be a basic, single-cone full-range design, with those cones made of now cracked and/or ripped paper. Swapping them out for a set of higher quality speakers with composite cones and a separate, built-in tweeter will make a world of difference.
This handy audio guide from Crutchfield electronics provides even more detail as far as what to look for when upgrading your car’s speakers. Indeed, this gentleman from Crutchfield shares his story of how his car’s paper-cone-equipped system sounded so bad that he stopped playing music on it and resigned himself to talk radio. Once he upgraded his speakers to more modern units with composite cones and coaxial tweeters, he rediscovered the joy of full-bodied music in his car. This “plug-and-play” install that uses the existing speaker holes is the easiest way to improve the quality of your sound system.
If you want to go bigger, then you may want to consider adding a subwoofer or two for tight, thumping bass that’ll have you thinking Larry Mullin Jr. is in the back seat with his Yamaha kit. To go with the demands of more speakers, and to pump up the sound, you should also consider installing an amplifier. Advance Auto Parts offers a large variety of speakers (including subwoofers), amplifiers and accessories to help you get that big sound for little expenditure.
More serious self-installations
Up until now, we’ve been talking about upgrades that should be fairly easy for any competent DIY-er. Those who are more advanced can look into installations that typically involve fabricating custom kick panel, door panel, rear quarter trim panel and cargo area speaker enclosures. As such, one should make sure they know what they’re doing before, say, cutting holes into the door panels only to discover the power window or door lock mechanism is in the way. As with anything, some folks go way over the top and use nearly every square inch of the car’s interior to create the ultimate mobile sound system.
All that said, there are plenty of car audio forums and enthusiast clubs that can offer tips and maybe even examples of custom setups for your specific make and model. A few we’ve seen online include caraudio.com, and Car Audio Help.
Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts is here to support the cause with a vast selection of parts, tools and accessories to keep your ride on track. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.
In this installment, Gearhead’s Garage puts the spotlight on that car/pickup truck cross breed known as the Chevrolet El Camino
“Is that thing a car or a pickup truck?” That question has been asked of owners of Chevrolet’s El Camino for decades. Certainly for most, if not all of its 26-year (total) production run many have pondered this vehicle’s genetics. Although officially classified as a truck, it is clearly a two-door car whose rear seats and trunk have been supplanted with a pickup-style open cargo bed. Whether it’s a 1965 or a 1985, from the front bumper to the end of the doors, an El Camino is virtually indistinguishable from the Chevrolet passenger car upon which it is based. And being a Chevy, one could have it as a plain Jane, six-cylinder-powered shop workhorse or a full-on muscle car ready to rumble down the boulevard with a “Turbo Jet” big-block V8.
The fleeting full-sizer
Debuting for 1959, the first-generation Chevrolet El Camino was based on Chevy’s full-size car platform. As such, the front clip and doors were the same as those seen on the Brookwood, a two-door station wagon, while an open pickup bed dominated the rear half of the vehicle. The cool “cat’s eyes” taillights with their big chrome “eyebrow”, seen on the other big Chevrolet’s, was also incorporated into the El Camino’s tailgate design.
Under the beefy hood one could choose anything from the base, lackluster straight six through a family of V8s ranging from 283 cubic inches to 348 cubes. Depending on the engine choice, changing gears could be done via a column-mounted three-speed manual (aka “three on the tree”), a floor-shifted four-speed manual or a two-speed automatic. The hot set-up was the 348 with triple two-barrel carburetion, solid lifters and a four-speed. Fitted with the latter powertrain, an El Camino tested by Hot Rod magazine sprinted to 60 mph in just 7 seconds, a very quick time for the day, let alone one for a two-ton bruiser.
But these early, full-size El Caminos were short lived due to plummeting second year sales. They were produced only for 1959 and 1960. But after a three year hiatus, the El Camino would come back strong, this time based on a smaller, more practical midsize car platform.
Ladies and gentlemen, the El Camino
Debuting for 1964, the same year as the Beatles in America as well as Chevrolet’s new, mid-size Chevelle, the reincarnated El Camino was more practical than its massive predecessor. Based on that Chevelle, this El Camino was easier to park and similarly offered a measure of open-bed hauling ability along with car-like comfort and handling qualities. And now, one could also opt for a Super Sport (SS) version. The ’64 and ’65 El Caminos are very similar with variations in front end styling and top engine choices being the chief differences. For both years, a four-barrel fed 327 V8 was the top power choice, with ’64s rated at 300 hp and ’65s making an impressive 350 horses.
In expected lock-step with the Chevelle, the El Camino was redesigned for 1966 and like the Chevelle SS coupe, could now be had with big-block 396 V8 power. With up to 375 hp on tap, it was ready to lay waste to rear tires and most stop light challengers alike. Indeed, with a quarter mile potential in the low/mid 14-second range, an El Camino SS 396 wasn’t to be taken lightly in the performance game. And you still had that big open bed in the back to carry spare tires. The 1967 edition was similar to the ’66 apart from the expected front end styling and interior updates.
This successful formula of offering everything from a six-cylinder, bench seat stripper to a big-block-powered, 4-speed with buckets-and-console street machine continued for the redesigned ’68 and similar ’69 El Caminos. The styling was bulkier than in past years, with thicker rear roof pillars and angled downward bed sides.
The 1970 through 1972 examples were arguably the most attractive, with the SS versions boasting the dual wide hood stripes and power-domed hood as their coupe brethren. You could even top off that hood with optional “Cowl Induction” that, upon laying into the gas pedal, opened up a small rear-facing flap to admit cooler air into the carburetor. The 1970 model year was the El Camino’s most potent, as the SS version could be optioned out with the legendary LS6 454 V8. Cranking out 450 horses, this brute could propel an El Camino down a quarter mile in the low/mid-13 second range. Power began to drop off after that point.
Performance becomes passé
The redesigned 1973 through 1977 model years would be the last of the bigger El Caminos and also were examples of the “Malaise” era. During that time, performance grew increasingly lackluster due to the increasingly stringent emissions standards and the need to run on lower octane gasoline with lower compression ratios.
By 1975, catalytic converters were fitted cope with emissions regulations and engine outputs hit new lows. The engines ran cleaner but performance suffered. Heck, if you checked off the 454 V8 option for your 1975 El Camino, you were rewarded with just 215 hp, and it was only available with an automatic by then. The adoption of a Mercedes-like grille for 1975 and then stacked, square headlights the following year were the major styling changes for this generation.
Lighten up, will ya?
Downsizing was the order of the day for GM’s 1978 midsize cars, including Chevy’s own Monte Carlo and Malibu, so by default the El Camino similarly slimmed down. About 12 inches shorter in length and 600 pounds lighter, the ’78 El Camino provided about the same passenger and cargo space as before and was more fuel efficient. Engines ranged from a 3.3-liter V6 on up to a 5.7-liter (350 cubic inch) V8 with 170 hp. In addition to an automatic, there were 3- and 4-speed manual transmissions, both floor-shifted.
The SS was gradually phased out, essentially replaced by the seemingly Pontiac Trans Am-inspired, black and gold trimmed “Black Knight” (later replaced by “Royal Knight”) edition. For ’79, a new 4.4-liter V8 debuted with a weak sauce 120 estimated horsepower. The following year the 5.7-liter V8 was gone, leaving a 5.0-liter (305 cube) V8 with 150 horses as the top power choice.
For 1982, this longest-lived generation of the El Camino received a facelift in the form of a new grille and quad headlights. This year also marked the availability of the ill-fated 5.7-liter diesel V8, a mill known for returning good fuel efficiency but bad reliability.
The biggest news for this generation came late in 1983, when the SS returned in flamboyant fashion. Actually the result of a joint venture with a company called Choo Choo Customs, the resurrected SS sported the aerodynamic nose of the Monte Carlo SS along with the requisite “SS” decals. Options for this SS included a raised power dome hood that recalled that of the ’70-’72 SS, simulated side pipe exhausts and a roof-mounted air spoiler. Sadly, no special engine was offered, as the 305 V8 was as good as it got.
Apart from minor engine shuffling that included the introduction of a 140-horse, 4.3-liter V6 for 1985, not much changed from that point on through 1987, the El Camino’s last year.
Entertaining the purchase or restoration of an El Camino?
Although most El Camino enthusiasts will likely lust after a ’66 through ’72 SS big block (396, 402, 454 V8s), one can still get plenty of pin-you-to-the-seat thrills with a small block version thanks to a huge variety of aftermarket hop-up parts including high-performance heads, camshafts, carburetors, intake manifolds and exhaust headers.
Whether you want to maintain an original El Camino in factory-spec condition or you’re looking to modify one from the Malaise era into a true muscle machine, Advance Auto Parts is ready to help with plenty of high quality parts.
Editor’s note: It doesn’t matter if you’re a collector or a commuter, Advance Auto Parts has the parts, tools and accessories to keep you running right and looking good. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.