Why do so many people like newer cars with retro styling? Maybe it’s because the vehicle in question is part of a great memory they have. It could also be that the original vehicle had an impressive reputation for good looks or performance and today’s buyers are hoping to recapture those attributes with the modern model. Whatever the reasons, vehicle manufacturers seem to like these retro styles as much as drivers do, particularly when they hit on a winning combination that results in soaring sales.
In the first installment of Top Vehicles with Retro Styling,we looked at several models whose looks borrowed heavily from their ancestors. Since there’s no shortage of retro-styled vehicles that are new today or that debuted within the last several years, we decided to examine a few more.
Chevy HHR – the acronym stands for “Heritage High Roof.” Chevy’s HHR was available in model years 2005 through 2011, and if it looks strikingly familiar, it’s probably because you’re thinking about Chrysler’s PT Cruiser. According to a review in Popular Mechanics, the HHR was also designed by the PT Cruiser’s designer after he and an auto industry executive both left GM for Chrysler. On its “discontinued vehicle page,” Chevy touts the HHR’s best-in-class fuel economy at 32 mpg, resulting in more than 500 miles between fill ups. For a retro wagon like the HHR, one would expect Chevy to be highlighting the HHR’s retro good looks or other appealing features instead of staid fuel mileage.
Chevy SSR – Chevy was obviously having a “thing” in naming its retro models with three-letter acronyms back in the early 2000s. Their Super Sport Roadster supposedly took its looks from a 1950’s-era Chevy pickup. It featured a folding hard top and tonneau cover, weighed in at nearly two-and-a-half tons and was powered by an eight-cylinder, 300 horsepower engine. The SSR was available from 2003 to 2006. Sadly, or gloriously, depending on your view, it was included on Time magazine’s list of The 50 Worst Cars of All Time.
Plymouth Prowler – From 1997 through 2001, the Prowler was the baddest looking vehicle on new car dealers’ lots. Less than 12,000 were sold throughout all the model years and there were none produced for the 1998 model year. While the Prowler drew rave reviews for its radical looks and nod to 1950’s-era hot rodding, it drew an equally strong criticism for being powered by a measly V-6. The Prowler was Plymouth’s last new model before the brand disappeared altogether, and it too made Time’s list of The 50 Worst Cars of All Time.
Pontiac GTO – This one’s a bit of an oddball. If you’re going to name a car after a hardcore, ever-popular muscle car from the ‘60s, shouldn’t that new retro car at least look a little like its proud papa? Yeah, someone forgot to mention that to Pontiac, and therein lies the biggest disappointment with the 2004-2006 GTO – it looks like an unassuming family sedan. Surprisingly, underneath that sleepy exterior was a 350-horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8 and a six-speed manual transmission. But as we all know, when it comes to cars, looks do matter.
Dodge Challenger – Unlike the folks over at GM with their GTO, when Chrysler introduced the “new” Challenger in 2008, they embraced the Dodge Challenger’s original muscle-car-good-lucks from the 1970 through 1974 model years. From the hood scoops to the front grill and four headlights, the new Challengers look decidedly similar to their old-school counterparts. Those street-tough looks are backed up by some serious power in the Challenger’s top-of-the-line model that features a 6.4-liter V-8 and 470 horsepower.
Given the public’s love affair with retro-styled new vehicles, the aforementioned models most certainly won’t be the last that we see appearing on the showroom floor. Who knows? In another 50 years, maybe we’ll see a new, retro-styled Tesla Model S that borrows some from the original looks sported by its ancient ancestor.
Editor’s note: Keep your ride looking good and running right with parts and accessories from Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in store, in 30 minutes.
For this installment, our lovable Gearhead from Gearhead’s Garage discusses the Mazda MX-5 Miata’s iconic past and previews the all-new 2016 Miata.
If you know me, you know that horsepower’s usually what gets me going. And I mean lots of it. Tire-smoking V8s. Twelve-second quarter-miles. These days I’m thinking lustful thoughts about the new 650-hp Corvette Z06. That’s where my head’s at by default.
But occasionally I make exceptions, and the Mazda MX-5 Miata might be the most notable one. We’re talking about a tiny Japanese roadster that started out with 116 hp and still doesn’t even have 170. Like everyone who loves sports cars, though, I love the Miata. With rear-wheel drive and the Lord’s own manual shifter, it’s like an extension of your body on a winding road. There’s a new 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata just around the corner, but before we get to that, let’s take a quick stroll down memory lane and remember where Mazda’s one-of-a-kind ragtop came from.
Code-named “NA” and distinguished by its pop-up headlights, the original Miata (1990-’97) took the world by storm with its proper sports-car handling, Japanese reliability and downright reasonable pricing. Like I said, the base 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine made just 116 hp, and the updated 1.8-liter four-cylinder (’94-’97) only gained about 15 hp, depending on the exact year. But the Miata’s painstakingly tuned exhaust system sounded nice and throaty, and that perfect shifter and rear-drive athleticism made it the darling of critics and consumers alike. Plus, the manual folding top couldn’t have been easier to operate. Even today, there are still plenty of first-gen Miatas for sale, at bargain prices and with many more years of service to offer.
The “NB” Miata (1999-2005) basically kept the NA’s 1.8-liter four, bumping output slightly to 140 horses. Speed still wasn’t the Miata’s thing. But fixed headlights and swoopier styling gave it a more contemporary look, and the overhauled interior offered additional luxuries, including a Bose stereo. Like the original, the NB Miata is widely available on the pre-owned market at very appealing prices. But the one I want is the Mazdaspeed Miata, which was sold for 2004-’05 only with a 178-hp turbo four that finally gave the car a proper sense of urgency. Man, what a motor! It’s night and day compared to the regular one, and there’s hardly any turbo lag, which is amazing given how long ago they designed it. Don’t tell Mazda, but the Mazdaspeed Miata is actually a better car than the third-gen model, which was never offered in Mazdaspeed trim.
The current Miata is about to be supplanted by the new 2016 model, but it’s had a solid run. Blessed with a new 2.0-liter four making up to 167 hp (you’ll want the version introduced in 2009, with its higher redline and sportier performance), the “NC” Miata was the first to offer genuinely respectable acceleration in base form. It was also bigger and heavier, but not by too much, and thankfully it retained the car’s traditional handling excellence despite deviating from the script with a different suspension design. An unconventional offering was the “PRHT” retractable-hardtop version, which added just 70 pounds to the curb weight but still seemed like overkill, in my opinion, for an elemental little roadster. Overall, the NC Miata was a cute and capable update to the Miata line, but if you ask me, it didn’t really move the needle, especially compared to the NB Mazdaspeed Miata.
Hopefully, that’s where the all-new 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata comes in. We don’t know much about its specifications yet, although the word’s out that it’ll have a more fuel-efficient 2.0-liter four. But we do know what it looks like, and whoo boy, that styling’s definitely moving the needle for me. You wouldn’t call this new Miata “cute.” It’s more like a cross between a Honda S2000 and a BMW Z3, and that goes for the sleek, high-quality interior, too. In case it’s not clear, that’s high praise. To me, the 2016 Mazda Miata looks like a real, no-apologies sports car; it’s the first one I’ve actually longed for just based on appearances. I also like that it’s going to be about 300 pounds lighter, which hopefully means it’ll be the quickest base Miata yet. Now, will they finally do another Mazdaspeed Miata after more than a decade? I hope so. But meanwhile, the 2016 Miata looks like a pretty satisfying consolation prize. One thing’s for certain: Mazda’s best-selling roadster won’t stop being a Crucial Car anytime soon.
Editor’s note: ready for your next Miata maintenance project? Count on Advance Auto Parts for the best in parts and accessories. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
Are we in love with the car, or our memories?
What is it about cars and nostalgia? Why do so many of our most vivid or cherished memories include a vehicle playing a starring or supporting role?
For me, those important vehicles and memories include a 1974 Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon, 1978 Mercury Zephyr, and my all-time favorite – a four door, five-speed, sunroof-equipped 1985 BMW 318i.
The work I did on all those vehicles is part of the memories each holds. The Zephyr in particular was my guinea pig. I remember replacing the starter, dashboard, back seat, radio, radiator, and a number of other parts through the years, all of which helped me build my mechanical knowledge and confidence.
A number of modern vehicles can trigger a drive down memory lane simply because they look like their iconic predecessors. Here are five on my list of contemporary vehicles with retro styling – in no particular order. What have I left off the list? What’s your favorite, and more importantly, why? I’ll explore five more in an upcoming installment.
The 2015 Mustang comes with the model’s first ever EcoBoost® engine – a 2.3-liter power plant delivering 310 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. For the really performance-minded driver, the GT model features a 5.0 liter V-8 churning out 435 HP and 400 pound-feet of torque. This iconic sports car’s first model in 1964 pales in comparison when it comes to power as its 170 cubic-inch engine only cranked out 156 pound-feet of torque. And, it’s angular retro looks are nothing to sneeze at.
Ford’s more than four million Thunderbirds went through many different looks through the years. The 1955 debut saw classic lines and a hard-top or convertible version while the sixth generation from 1972 to 1976 model years were boxy and big, making this version the largest Thunderbird Ford had ever produced. The eleventh generation, from 2002 to 2005, would be its last and saw a return to a more classic look, similar to the earliest model years.
Seven generations of Chargers brought us from those first intimidating, wide-nose models of the ‘60s and ‘70s, through the embarrassingly compact fifth generation in the 80s, full circle to the sixth and seventh generations, available from ’06 through today. That evolution saw a return to looks that are more in line with those first Chargers, from the taillights to the hood and side panels.
Debuting with the 1967 model as a competitor to Ford’s Mustang, four generations of Camaros prowled the streets until production ended in 2002, only to see the model revived for the 2010 model year with generation five. With today’s MSRP of $75,000, 505 HP, and a seven-liter V8, the 2015 Camaro Z-28 bears some resemblance to those first Camaros in looks only.
The Beetle or “People’s Car” translated from the German “Volkswagen,” was officially called the “Type 1” when production began in 1938. Today, Volkswagen refers to its latest Bug model as, “a sleek twist on an iconic shape.” Out of all the retro-styled vehicles, the Beetle might bear the closest resemblance to its first ancestor.
A few of the cars on the list went through some “changes” or “growing pains” that left them looking nothing like their much-loved predecessors for several years before they came back around to today’s popular styles. The Ford Mustang is a case in point.
Those 80’s and 90’s-era Mustangs, for me at least, don’t conjure up memories of the tough-looking Mustangs I remember from the 60’s and 70’s. They were Mustangs in name only, unlike today’s Mustangs that look mean, powerful and menacing, just like their brothers from those first two decades of Mustang production.
Retro styling’s popularity could also be attributed to the timeless nature of certain style elements. Much the way some antiques, whether furniture or paintings, retain their value and popularity because of their classic style elements, perhaps the same can be said for certain classic vehicle lines and characteristics?
Or, maybe nostalgia and elements that never go out of style don’t have anything to do with retro styling’s popularity today. For some drivers, it could be that the vehicle’s good looks and solid reputation, built over several decades, leads them to equate today’s models with their popular classic ancestors. The Chevy Camaro has always conjured up the image of a street-savvy, aggressive performer, never straying too far from its original looks, even with the latest model.
Whatever the reason for our love affairs with cars, history and retro styling, two things are for sure – what’s old will someday be new again, and no one’s clamoring for a 2016 reintroduction of Mercury’s Zephyr, including me.
Editor’s note: Whether you’re restoring an original classic or working on vehicle based on a classic, Advance Auto Parts has the parts and tools you need. Buy online, pick up in store—in 30 minutes.
Rear wings, or spoilers, are often added to race cars to spoil the flow of air across the vehicle and thus eliminate unwanted turbulence that could cause the vehicle to lose traction, become airborne or otherwise behave erratically on the track.
So if spoiler tech is designed for race cars, why have so many street machines become factory-equipped with huge rear wings?
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and, in this case, the old adage is true. Many factory-issued car spoilers are designed to make street-legal versions of race cars look more like race cars. And this usually sends brand enthusiasts to dealer showrooms by the thousands.
Here are a few of our favorite spoilers from years past … and if you read all the way to the end you’ll see that not all of our favorite car spoilers are affixed to the rear decklid like you might expect.
Dodge Charger Daytona
You thought we were going to say Superbird, didn’t you? Well, truth is, the Daytona pre-dated the infamous Superbird by one year. The outrageously huge rear wing was added to keep the car glued to the high-banked NASCAR tracks it raced on, and for good reason. The Daytona was the first in NASCAR history to break the 200 mph barrier.
In 1970 its famous successor (the Superbird), caused officials to change the rule book. NASCAR told Plymouth they had to either run a smaller engine or add weight as the speed of car far exceeded the tire technology of the day.
Pictured above is one of the Daytonas used in the film Fast and Furious 6.
Subaru WRX STI
Introduced to the United States market in 2004, the WRX STI from Subaru was a street legal WRC car minus the roll cage. Its 300 hp turbocharged 4 cylinder engine pushed the 3,000 lb. bruiser to 60 mph in just 4.6 seconds. Its giant ironing-board-sized wing was matched only by its stiffest competition, the Mitsubishi EVO.
Like the EVO, the STI lost its wing in subsequent model years. However the wing is back for 2015.
Porsche 930 911 Turbo
Porsche engineers needed a way to vent more air into the engine bay of the rear-mounted flat-six. Their solution? One of the most iconic spoilers of all time–the whale tail.
Being German means being precise, at least in the automotive world. The precision spoiler also created downforce that helped keep the notoriously tail-happy 911 pointed in the right direction. This combined with flared arches and wider wheels gave the 930 a distinctive stance, one whose roots can be seen in present day 911s.
Toyota Supra Turbo
Pretty much every car in the 90s had a wing, and we loved them all. From the Toyota Supra to the Mitsubishi 3000GT, several cars were available with big suitcase handles attached to their rears.
Whether or not the wing on the Supra is functional or not is up for debate. But like many cars in the 90s, the presence of a spoiler meant one thing–force-fed power under the hood. The addition of a huge wing set often set turbocharged models apart from their normally aspirated siblings. Heck, even the Mitsubishi Eclipse GS-T had a ridiculously oversized wing in the 90s.
One of the most collectible classics of the modern era is the Ferrari F40–a stunning example of lightness, power and beauty. Most F40s go for well over $1 million these days, so let’s just say that you or I probably won’t ever own one. But, still, they are magnificent. We’re also impressed by how seamlessly the huge, carbon fiber rear wing molds into the rear decklid. The F40 is truly a work of art.
Lamborghini Countach (double winner!)
We’ve saved the best for last. Our favorite car spoiler of all time is actually a pair of spoilers! Yes, not one, but two spoilers were affixed to the nose of the Countach by Lamborghini of North America during the 1980s. The reason? To get around U.S. laws that required all cars imported to North America to have 5 mph crash bumpers installed.
The most famous nose wing of all time has to be the one present on the Cannonball Run Countach, now owned by Jeff Ippoliti of Celebration, Florida.
Editor’s note: What’s your favorite car spoiler of all time? Let us know in the comments below! And make sure to hit up Advance Auto Parts for a wide selection of spoilers and car accessories.
Lead graphic courtesy of ToysRUs.
From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.
For this installment, Street Talk gets the lowdown on a most unlikely star of the lowrider scene: the Buick LeSabre.
Did you know that the fifth-generation Buick LeSabre, a large car produced from 1977-’85, is still in high demand? We’ll forgive you if you missed the memo. After all, the LeSabre is slow, clumsy and thirsty by modern standards, with outdated squared-off styling to boot. It’s the car Grandma bought decades ago that’s still sitting in the garage, collecting dust.
And yet, there are plenty of lowrider fans who would love to turn that LeSabre into a lean mean street machine.
In fact, LeSabres of all vintages are desirable to the tuner crowd, but the fifth-generation car has some unique qualities that make it especially well-suited to this scene. First of all, it’s new enough to have modern amenities like power accessories, and chances are you’ll be able to find one that doesn’t require much restoration.
Second, it was the last rear-wheel-drive LeSabre ever, and if you know the lowrider scene, you know there’s a strong preference for rear-drive platforms. Third, used examples are incredibly cheap — you can find a low-mileage fifth-gen LeSabre for $3,000 or less if you wait for the right one.
It also doesn’t hurt that this LeSabre was powered by old-school American V8s that sound like beasts, including 5.0-liter and 5.7-liter workhorses along with a massive 6.6-liter (403-cubic-inch) variant that was briefly available in the late ’70s.
So what happens next? Well, at a minimum, the suspension’s going to come in for a thorough overhaul. The cornerstone of almost any lowrider project is a hydraulic suspension with adjustable ride height. Combined with tiny aftermarket rims and tires (whitewalls add an extra touch of class), the hydraulic suspension allows the car to hug the ground for that classic lowrider profile, rise up to monster-truck heights, or even bounce around like in a rap video.
Beyond the suspension mods, it’s really up to the individual lowrider, because personalization is the name of the game. You’ll see Lambo doors, custom graphics, TVs inside, crazy stereos — you name it, some lowrider has probably tried it. Of course, there’s always some kind of custom exhaust system, too. You’ve got to let that old V8 breathe.
But again, one of the keys is buying in cheap so you’ll have room left in your budget for the good stuff, and that’s what’s given this big Buick new life. Next time you see Grandma puttering around in that pristine old LeSabre, tell her that if she ever wants to sell it, there’s a nation full of lowriders who’ll gladly take it off her hands.
Have you ever seen a lowrider Buick LeSabre, or caught a ride in one? Tell us what you think in the comments, we’d love to hear about it.
Editor’s note: Whether you’re an elderly lady with a LeSabre in the garage, or a performance junkie with a few tricks up your sleeve, Advance Auto Parts is here for you. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
For over three years, photographer Justine Kurland and her son Casper traveled the country documenting the daily happenings and culture of cars, mechanics and auto repair shops, as well as the open roads that guided their journey.
In a recent article on Slate.com, Kurland’s story and some of the unique photographs documenting it are displayed as part of her new exhibition series Sincere Auto Care, which is also showing at the Mitchell-Innes & Nash gallery in New York City.
For car guys, automotive enthusiasts and DIY’ers of all stripes, check out the candid shots that help to sum up the personal and soulful connections that Americans have with their cars.
Read the full story about Sincere Auto Care at Slate.com.
All photo credits: Justine Kurland, courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, NY.
When it’s time to put my pride and joy into winter storage, I can’t help but feel a little pang. You know how it goes — you spend all winter waiting to drive the thing, and then it’s winter again before you know it. But I realized long ago that winter car storage doesn’t have to mean total separation. The car’s right outside in the garage, you know; it’s not like you’ve sent it off to Siberia. In fact, winter’s a great time to catch up on all the little projects you haven’t found the time for yet. Here are a few of my favorites.
1. Paintless Dent Removal
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t do this one myself. I’m not exactly an artistic guy, let’s put it that way. But these paintless dent removal guys really are artists, and they don’t close up shop just because there’s snow on the ground. Since your car’s sitting around all day anyway, why not do an inventory of all the dings and dents on the door and body panels, then have your local dent specialist come by and pop them out? I don’t know about you, but I hate when I bring my car out of storage and notice a nasty little door ding while I’m washing it. If you take action now, a few hundred bucks at the most will buy you peace of mind come spring.
2. Full Hand Wash and Polish
This is definitely a DIY, and for me it’s an annual tradition. When it’s time to store the car, first I hose it down in the driveway to get the surface stuff off, and then I roll up my sleeves and get down to business. All you need is a jug of Turtle Wax Car Wash solution, a nice big sponge and a lot of elbow grease. You’ll want to go over every inch of the sheet metal with that sponge. Try to make it cleaner than it was on the first day of spring. Then wipe all the moisture off with a non-scratching water blade to avert streaks and water spots. For the grand finale, get a hold of an orbital polisher and some high-quality Meguiar’s polish. A whole winter is a long time for a car to sit still; it’s only proper to put it to bed with that like-new shine. Quick tip: Consider a one-step sealant to help prevent rust.
3. Clean and Deodorize Interior
There are countless approaches to cleaning your car’s interior, but when it’s time for winter storage, I focus on two aspects: upholstery and odors. For upholstery, I’ve got leather seats, so I start with Lexol leather cleaning spray, let it dry for an hour, and then finish with plenty of conditioner. If you do that every year, your leather should be good till kingdom come. As for odors, look, even if you’re as careful as I am about keeping food out of the car, things just start smelling musty over time. You can get in front of this problem by treating your interior with Eagle One E1 odor eliminator. I don’t understand how it works — they say the stuff actually changes the chemistry of odor molecules — but it keeps my car smelling fresh all winter long, and that’s all you need to know. Quick tip: Place a few dryer sheets in the cabin, and under the hood. This helps prevent mice from making their way into your car or engine bay and building nests over the winter.
4. Check your cooling system
Check your vehicle’s antifreeze to make sure it protects against even the coldest evenings. To help with this, pick up an antifreeze tester to ensure that your car’s cooling system does not freeze solid. A cheap antifreeze tester may be the key to a smooth ride next spring. Mine was a lifesaver last year.
5. Fix What Needs Fixing (and maybe some other stuff, too)
Last but definitely not least, winter is the perfect time to bust out your tool kit and get your hands dirty. Hey, it’s not like you’re going to be busy driving the car, right? Think about all the time you’re saving by not getting behind the wheel — and devote a few of those hours here and there to DIY projects of your choosing.
For instance, I know a lot of folks who put off replacing their spark plugs because the car’s running fine, but why wait for it to start getting rough? Get yourself one of these handy magnetic swivel sockets, if you don’t have one already, and give your engine a new spark for the spring. For those of you who have room to get a floor jack under there and raise your car up, there’s a bunch of sensible preventive maintenance you can do while you’re on your back, including fuel-filter replacement and retorquing all your suspension bolts to factory spec with a quality torque wrench.
A couple other projects worth considering are upholstery repair and chrome upkeep. For the upholstery repair, you’re gonna have to be handier with a sewing machine than I am, but it’s not a terribly difficult job if you’ve got the time. Plan on spending a few days, though, if you have to remove the seat covers for re-stitching — and plan on rejuvenating the foam underneath, too, because if you’ve got rips, you’ve also got cushion compression from years of butts.
As for chrome upkeep, whether you’re talking about wheels, bumpers and tailpipes or headers and such under the hood, you’re gonna want a bottle of Mothers California Gold. Go after any tarnished surfaces with that stuff first. If they don’t get shiny enough for you, I would consider calling in a professional, but you can also get a DIY chrome kit and try to do the job yourself. Be careful, though, because the process involves an acid bath and some pretty freaky chemicals. It’s one you can definitely brag about to the boys if you pull it off.
At the end of the day, you know better than anyone what kind of mechanical TLC your car could use this winter, and now’s the time to do those nagging repairs you’ve been putting off. My suggestion? Make a list of priorities, and check ‘em off one by one until it’s driving season again. Your future self will thank you next year when the car’s performing better than ever. Quick tip: Don’t get stressed out. With the proper prep, you’ll be surpised at how much you can get done before the cold sets in.
Spring’s Around the Corner!
Don’t let the chilly season get you down, my friends. Pass the time with some targeted DIY projects, and before you know it, it’ll be time to hit the road again. Any suggestions for some good projects this winter, by the way? Let us know in the comments.
I gotta admit, I’m biased when it comes to DOHC VTEC Hondas, because I’ve owned two of the best. I got my first taste with a 1995 Acura Integra GS-R, and I still can’t get the sound of that little 1.8-liter motor with the 8,100-rpm redline out of my head. Then I moved on to the “luxury coupe,” a 2001 Honda Prelude, which redlined at a comparatively meek 7,400 rpm but had other stuff going for it that the Integra lacked. These were great, great cars — stylish, fun and relentlessly reliable.
And we’ll never see the likes of them again, because Honda has turned its back on that whole scene. The Prelude was quietly put out to pasture in 2001, having become too refined and expensive for its own good. The Integra kept kicking for a while as the Acura RSX (it was still called “Integra” in other markets), but 2006 marked the end of the line. For a few more years, the Honda Civic Si carried the torch with its sweet 2.0-liter motor, a high-revving marvel that reminded me very much of the Integra GS-R’s 1.8. But these days the Civic Si uses a warmed-over Accord engine. FAIL.
The Honda VTEC era is gone, and it’s not coming back.
But we can still remember the good times, right?
Ride along with me as I reflect on what made my DOHC VTEC cars so special.
1994 Acura Integra GS-R
First of all, as soon as the second-generation GS-R came out in ’94, I remember lusting after those shiny five-spoke wheels. Man, Honda knew how to do alloy wheels back in the day, didn’t they? Admittedly, the rest of the car’s looking a bit dated. It’s got that bubbly 1990s look going on from some angles. But I actually dig the four round headlights, even though a lot of owners swapped them out for the JDM lenses. And from the back, the GS-R still looks pretty purposeful with its standard spoiler and wide taillights.
Inside, my GS-R had flawless leather buckets, but let’s face it: this car wasn’t about creature comforts. The road noise at speed was literally deafening, at least temporarily — I’d be a little hard of hearing when I got out after a long trip. As for the ride quality, a friend of mine once called it “skateboard-like.” Really, the best thing about the interior was the hatchback trunk; you could fold those rear seatbacks down and fit your whole life in there if you had to.
Bottom line, the Integra GS-R was all about what was under the hood. The dual-overhead cam (“DOHC”) 1.8-liter inline-4 was rated at 170 horsepower, falling just short of the magical 100 hp/L threshold. Torque was a paltry 127 pound-feet, and that was always the knock against the DOHC VTEC motors, but let me tell you, it didn’t matter in this car. The power ramped up steadily all the way to 8,100 rpm, with the VTEC crossover at 4,400 rpm producing a growl that gave way to a motorcycle-like scream toward to the end. Known to fans by the internal code “B18C1,” the GS-R’s engine was only offered with an incredibly precise five-speed manual transmission, and they were a perfect pairing — the short gears helped keep the revs high, and the pedals were ideally placed for heel-toe downshifts.
Nowadays, turbocharged fours are all the rage because of their supposed fuel-economy benefits, but did I mention that I got 37 mpg on the highway in my GS-R?
Throw in legendary reliability and low maintenance costs, and you’ve got an all-time great. There’ll never be another car like it.
2001 Honda Prelude
The angular, understated Prelude was a different beast — a gentleman’s sport compact. With its long nose and short deck, the 2001 ‘Lude could almost pass for rear-wheel-drive, its extended front overhang being the only real giveaway. It was a classy car, especially with the beautiful alloy wheels shown here. With the Integra, you expected a kid to be driving it, and it was normal to see an enormous spoiler tacked on the back. But the ‘Lude appealed to everyone. I’ve seen a handful of white-haired old guys driving bone-stock models, and that doesn’t surprise me one bit.
Inside, the fifth-gen Prelude served up an inviting mix of quality materials and subtle, ergonomic design. You had all the controls you needed, and no more. People used to say Honda was the Japanese BMW (hard to believe today, right?), and this dashboard is a case in point. Everything was right where it needed to be, and the simple layout aged really well — I never felt like I was driving an old car, even when it was an old car.
On the road, the Prelude was significantly quieter than the GS-R, though I wouldn’t exactly call it quiet per se. The general comfort level was a lot higher. Really good stereo, too — so much better than the Integra’s clock-radio-quality sound. But it still handled great, albeit with slightly slower reflexes. I wish I’d been able to find a suitable Type SH with its torque-transfer system, because my base car understeered a lot if I entered a corner too hot. But I always had a blast on twisty roads nonetheless.
The fifth-gen Prelude’s engine was a torque monster by DOHC VTEC standards, cranking out 156 lb-ft along with a healthy 200 hp. To be honest, I liked the GS-R’s engine better. The ‘Lude’s 2.2-liter four-cylinder, a.k.a. “H22A4,” had a Jekyll and Hyde character, coming on real strong all of a sudden at 5,200 rpm. I preferred the way the GS-R’s motor smoothed the VTEC transition out. But the H22 made a great snarl, and the five-speed shifter was lighter than the GS-R’s, gliding friction-free from gate to gate.
If you wanted genuine Honda performance without the boy-racer looks, the fifth-gen Prelude was the ultimate solution.
Honda VTECs used to rule the street, and for good reason. It’s sad to me that those days are never coming back. Did you ever have a DOHC VTEC car? I know we’d all love to hear your story in the comments.
Editor’s note: If you’ve got a street import in your driveway, hit up Advance Auto Parts for the best values and selection. 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.
For this installment, we explore the amazing and iconic Chevy Corvette.
Fast, sporty, classic – even iconic. Not many cars can successfully make these claims, and still be within the reach of an average-sized American checkbook. The Chevy Corvette can, though – and, over the past 60-plus years, the sexy ‘vette has allowed many of us to grab our piece of the American dream though adrenaline-fueled car ownership.
As CNN writes, “Even for folks who don’t care about cars, the Corvette matters. It’s historic . . . The sleek silhouette has transformed into a pop culture icon across TV, films and advertising.” And, don’t forget Prince and his 1999 hit, “Little Red Corvette.”
Here’s the irony: no other car boasts the long-term continuous production as the Corvette. And yet, this classic car wasn’t intended for mass production at all.
In the 1950s, General Motors was the largest corporation in the world, twice as big as the second biggest – Standard Oil of New Jersey – manufacturing more than half of the cars driven in the entire US of A. None of the GM vehicles, though (Buicks, Cadillacs, Chevrolets, GMCs, Oldsmobiles or Pontiacs), were sports cars.
In the fall of 1951, GM’s chief designer, Harley J. Earl, began to brainstorm about an open sports car that would sell for the same price as a typical sedan, which was $2,000. He passed on this dream-car-on-a-budget idea to Robert F. McLean, who caused the notion to become a reality, using standard Chevy parts off the shelf.
According to Edmunds.com, “The chassis and suspension were for all intents and purposes the 1952 Chevy sedan’s, with the drivetrain and passenger compartment shoved rearward to achieve a 53/47 front-to-rear weight distribution over its 102-inch wheelbase. The engine was essentially the same dumpy inline-6 that powered all Chevys but with a higher compression ratio, triple Carter side-draft carbs and a more aggressive cam that hauled its output up to 150 horsepower. Fearful that no Chevy manual three-speed transmission could handle such extreme power (there were no four-speeds in GM’s inventory), a two-speed Powerglide automatic was bolted behind the hoary six.”
GM planned to showcase this vehicle at the Motorama exhibit of the 1953 New York Auto Show but didn’t intend for it to go into production. Then, GM’s chief engineer Ed Cole saw the sweet vehicle and recognized its huge potential – and production preparation began so quickly that it started before the New York show even began. Once the car was displayed to the public, show attendees also loved the car. Six months later, on June 30, 1953, the Corvette rolled down the assembly line in Flint, Michigan.
Urban legend says that Henry Ford offered his cars in any color, just as long as it was black. Well, if you’d wanted to buy one of the 300 Corvettes produced in 1953, you’d have had only one color choice: a white exterior with a red interior.
Production continued to rise to meet the demand. During the 1960s, production increased to about 27,000 cars per year, with multiple engine choices, including performance options.
By the time the C5s rolled out (1997-2004), the ‘vette was racing at Le Mans and the American Le Mans Series. In these vehicles, the “transmission was relocated to the rear of the car to form an integrated, rear-mounted transaxle assembly, connected to the all-new LS1engine via a torque tube — an engine/transmission arrangement enabling a 50-50 (percentage, front-rear) weight distribution for improved handling. The LS1 engine initially produced 345 hp (257 kW), subsequently increased in 2001 to 350 hp (261 kW). The 4L60-E automatic transmission carried over from previous models, but the manual was replaced by a Borg-Warner T-56 6-speed capable of a 175 mph (282 km/h) top speed.”
ZR1 Corvettes of the 21st century can surpass 200 mph, with prices tags of $100,000-plus. And, if you pony up for a 2015 model, these vehicles include an HD video camera (720p resolution) behind the rearview mirror and an SD memory card in the glove box. The original intent: for racers to record laps. This device also records speed data, plus G-force, braking and stability-system data – along with a “secret valet-recording mode.” If you use valet parking, this is one way to make sure that drivers treat your ‘vette with tender loving care.
Heartbreak at the National Corvette Museum
Unfortunately, the Corvette was in the news recently, not for its stealthy look, but rather for a catastrophe that badly damaged some of the finest specimens.
On February 12, 2014 at 5:44 a.m., the National Corvette Museum got a call from their security company, stating that motion detectors had gone off while no one was in the museum. Nobody could have anticipated what they’d see, which was a 40-foot-across and 60-foot-deep sinkhole, large enough to swallow up eight Corvettes worth an estimated $1 million.
These vehicles included two on loan from General Motors (first two bullet points) and six owned by the museum. Damage-wise, they have been placed into one of three categories: least damaged, significantly damaged or worst damaged:
- 1993 ZR-1 Spyder:
- fewer than 12 ever built
- worst damaged
- 2009 ZR1 “Blue Devil”:
- least damaged
- 1962 Black Corvette:
- least damaged
- 1984 PPG Pace Car:
- one-of-a-kind car for Indy Car World Series
- significantly damaged
- 1992 White 1 Millionth Corvette:
- millionth to come off the assembly line
- significantly damaged
- 1993 Ruby Red 40th Anniversary Corvette:
- significantly damaged
- 2001 Mallett Hammer Z06 Corvette:
- worst damaged
- 2009 White 1.5 Millionth Corvette:
- 1.5 millionth to come off assembly line
- significantly damaged
The rescue operation took exactly eight weeks, with two of the cars difficult to find in the rubble. To quote CNN, “One priceless car was crushed. Another, mashed; a third, pancaked. Now, Vette City faces a sinkhole summer.”
Here is footage of the devastation from a University of Western Kentucky’s Engineering Department’s drone helicopter.
Since the time of the collapse, increasing numbers of people are visiting the museum, with March 2014 attendance figures spiking by 56% and donations of more than $75,000 given. Attendance has continued to rise since the collapse, reaching 66% with revenue up 71% overall.
On April 26, CNN published an in-depth article on the progress of the rescue and restoration efforts, including thoughts on the main challenges:
- Should the cars be restored?
- If yes, to what degree?
- If yes, who does the restoring?
- What should the museum do about the giant sinkhole?
As far as the car restoration goes, there were probably as many opinions as there were people giving them. General Motor’s Tom Peters (director of exterior design for performance cars) shares this point of view: “Respect the vehicles. They have ‘souls.’ They have ‘character’ and ‘being.’ Replacing too many key original parts might result in ‘re-creations’ rather than restorations.”
In the meanwhile, the damaged cars are on display. As far as the hole, the museum considered keeping part or all of it intact, and transform it into an historic display of its own.
In fact, board members were leaning that way as recently as late June. But, on August 30, 2014, they voted to fill in the hole because of the high costs of safety features needed to maintain the hole, which would have required 35-foot-tall retaining walls plus beams. Humidity-control devices would also be needed, skyrocketing the repair costs to an unattainable $1 million.
So, the hole will be filled in with rock. Workers will then drill into the rock to add steel casings and then cover all with concrete. Repairs will begin in November (so visit sooner if you want to see the sinkhole!) and will last approximately six months. The museum will be open during the construction period. If you visit, be sure to also schedule a tour of the Corvette manufacturing plant. And, if you can’t visit, then take advantage of the museum’s multiple live webcams.
Share your experiences
Despite the changing design trends, economic downturns and fantastic disasters, the Corvette thrives, more than sixty years after its invention.
Tell us your stories and experiences with the Corvette, in the comments below. And, feel free to check out our prior review of the 2015 Chevy Corvette Z06.
Editor’s note: If you’re a proud owner of one of the 1.4 million of these attention-grabbing monsters of acceleration, know that Advance Auto Parts has you covered.
I want to start this column by thinking critically about the concept of a “family car.” Cars like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry are traditionally considered to be family cars — yet the Environmental Protection Agency classifies them as large cars. And if you’ve driven them, you know the EPA’s not kidding. These sedans are big, no two ways about it.
So here’s my question:
Does a car have to be large in order to be suitable for family use?
Certainly, sedans like the Accord and Camry offer distinct advantages relative to cheaper, smaller alternatives like the Civic and Corolla. But what if there were a car that combined the refinement and versatility of a large car with the manageable dimensions of a small one? I drove the 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI recently, and as both a mom and a car enthusiast, I think it just might offer the best of both worlds. Let’s take a closer look at what makes this VW tick.
1. Deceptively Spacious Cabin
Most folks dismiss the Golf as just another small car, and let me tell you, they don’t know what they’re missing. The way I judge a car is by how well it can accommodate six-footers front and rear, because Lord knows my kids will hit six feet any day now — and the Golf can swallow four of ‘em for hours at a time. Rear legroom and headroom is superb; I bet Golf owners hardly ever find themselves wishing for more. Yet this VW is compact enough to squeeze into any urban parking spot, unlike the mainstream “family car” behemoths that are a chore to maneuver through tight spaces.
And don’t forget about the handy hatchback body style. The Golf can swallow 22.8 cubic feet of cargo behind its rear seats, which is about seven cubes more than the typical family sedan. Plus, you can fold the Golf’s rear seatbacks to open up more than 50 cubic feet of space, a figure that no family sedan can touch.
2. Awesome Powertrain
Whenever you see “TDI” on a Golf, it means there’s a turbodiesel engine under the hood, and that’s a very good thing. The latest generation of VW’s turbodiesel 2.0-liter four is rated at just 150 horsepower, but the figure you want to focus on is the 236 pound-feet of torque. All that torque is available at low rpm, so the Golf TDI launches effortlessly from stoplights and always has some extra punch in reserve. Of course, diesels are known for their fuel economy, and the 2015 VW Golf TDI doesn’t disappoint, returning up to 45 mpg — way more than the most efficient family sedan.
3. Premium Character
Here’s the other thing that prevents more Americans from buying small cars. There’s a perception out there that small equals cheap, and it drives a lot of folks to buy bigger cars than they really need. If that mindset sounds familiar, trust me, go drive a Golf and see what you think. I’m pretty sure you’ll be astonished by how nice everything is in this car, from the materials on the dashboard to the precise, expertly damped knobs and levers — not to mention the crisp, well-lit gauges and displays. The Golf presents as a more expensive car, and that’s a rare thing these days. Whereas most family cars feel built to a price, the Golf feels like the engineers had the leeway to get everything just right. It’s like having a little luxury car at no extra cost.
The Best Family Car Around $25,000?
I think the 2015 VW Golf TDI is a strong contender for this prize, all things considered, and I’m a mom — so I should know. But am I wrong? Have you experienced the new Golf TDI for yourself? Tell me what you think in the comments.
Editor’s note: Whether you’ve got a minivan, a muscle car or even a motorcycle, count on Advance Auto Parts to keep you running right all year long. Get back to work fast—buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.