The Awesome History of Pro-Touring

Pro-Touring Car

Source | Steve Ferrante/Flickr

Giant wheels, perfect stance, megawatt power, and excellent handling—all wrapped in timeless muscle beauty. Pro-Touring can be the ultimate expression of the muscle car, making 50-year-old rides relevant and competitive with modern exotics. Join us for a look at the tech and history behind it.

If this is your first time reading about it, Pro-Touring is a subculture of muscle-car enthusiasts that can be hard to define. It’s generally considered vintage American iron modified to accelerate, handle corners, and stop with the very best modern vehicles of any price point. Picture a classic Plymouth Roadrunner passing a Porsche 911 GT3 in a corner at Lime Rock, and that’s probably a Pro-Touring machine. Modifications must be extensive to get 50-year-old cars up to speed, and usually include engine swaps, forced induction, massively upgraded suspensions, large brakes, and even larger wheels.

Pro Street origins

Way back in the acid-washed jeans and Crystal Pepsi era, the popular trend for American muscle cars was Pro Street. Based on the NHRA Pro Stock class, the street cars mimicked the race-car look with giant hood scoops, flashy pastel exteriors, and “big ‘n’ little” drag tires. The results were sometimes all show and no go, as 1980s Pro Street was more about looks than speed. If someone did build a fast Pro Street car, it was usually too wild to be street legal and could not see action as a daily driver. As the decade ended, enthusiasts went looking for something different, as they wanted both performance and a legal and comfortable ride. Enter the road racers.

Pro-Touring Big Red Camaro on a track

Source | Big Red Camaro

Big Red steals the show

Classic road rallies like the La Carrera and Silver State Classic allowed builders the opportunity to test their mettle and their metal, with expensive European exotics taking home the trophies. That was until Dan and RJ Gottlieb stuffed a 540-inch Chevy V8 into a 1969 Camaro with a race-car suspension and created a legend.

The “Big Red” Camaro broke numerous records and was politely asked not to return. The Gottliebs had built something more than a race car for the street when they insisted the sheet-metal retain the factory look and the interior remain functional as stock. Window cranks and air conditioning? Big Red was reliable, brutally fast, with excellent handling, braking, and a reasonable ride quality. The Pro Touring style had been created.

Manufacturer performance

Enthusiasts think of the ’80s as a dark age of performance, but it’s really when auto manufacturers started to take a serious interest in handling and braking, as all-around performance started to matter more than just acceleration times. BMW wasn’t able to keep up with the pony cars in straight-line acceleration back then, but the popular E30 BMW 3 Series proved customers would line up for solid driving characteristics.

By the end of the ’90s the Corvette became the svelte C5, the fourth generation Camaro SS could pull .90g on the skidpad, and the SVT Cobra received a pony car first: independent rear suspension. The factory had pointed the way for Pro-Touring.

Pro-Touring today

Now you can build a classic any way you want, including for all-around performance. Want a six-speed manual in your ’67 Mustang or paddle shifters in your ’70 GTO? Both are available. There’s even aftermarket independent rear suspensions available as complete bolt-on kits, along with any number of big brakes, huge sway bars, and performance springs and shocks.

There’s no reason to leave your big-block classic in the garage for 90-percent of the year anymore. With the right equipment, that classic can handle the rigors of daily driving, weekend cruising, and the occasional track day, all in the same configuration. If you don’t want to go all out, Pro-Touring still shows how minor upgrades can be rewarding on your classic ride.

Tell us what you think of these auto trends. Leave your thoughts on Pro-Touring in the comments below.

5 of the Most-Coveted Classic Tuner Cars

Tuner cars are nothing new. Back in the ’60s, they were called third-party muscle cars, modified by the dealership or company to increase performance over what the factory offered. Some of them took it a step further and added exclusive wheels, body parts, or custom paint. They built what manufacturers didn’t offer, and a number of legends came out of that work.

Today, Yenko and Baldwin-Motion Chevys, Royal Oak Pontiacs, and Mustang Stallions and Shelby cars are some of the most sought-after vehicles in the classic muscle car market. Here’s a look at some of the fastest and most well-known classic tuners.

Ford

Shelby GT500

Shelby GT500, Source | GPS 56/Flickr

Shelby GT500

It doesn’t really get much bigger than this. From numerous race wins in the ’60s to Nicolas Cage drooling over one in “Gone in Sixty Seconds,” the GT500 is arguably the best-known tuner car of all time. Carroll Shelby knew the Ford Mustang could be more than a “secretary’s car” and totally changed its attitude by reworking the entire vehicle, including pulling the pedestrian 289ci V8 in favor of a 428ci. More than just turning up the horsepower knob, Shelby added a race-worthy suspension built from his Le Mans days (Shelby had been on the GT40 team), so it could tear up the corners as well as the drag strip. Stripes and custom parts helped the visual punch, contributing to the legend and making the GT500 one of today’s most expensive muscle cars.

Chevrolet

Baldwin-Motion Phase III Chevrolet Camaro

Baldwin-Motion Phase III Chevrolet Camaro, Source | mashleymorgan/Flickr

Baldwin-Motion Phase III Camaro

The Camaro was designed to fight the Mustang, so building a competitor to the GT500 was a natural conclusion. The Baldwin Chevrolet dealership teamed with a nearby speedshop, Motion Performance, to create a limited run of super-muscle cars. Baldwin-Motion would work on nearly anything, but it was famous for the Phase III Camaro (no, there wasn’t a phase I or II). This beast packed a 427 that had been heavily massaged with race-worthy parts. Advertising listed it as 500 horsepower and “unreal” torque. That’s not an exaggeration, as it could run 11.5 in the quarter mile. With optional bulging hoods, side pipes, and outrageous paint colors, these cars weren’t subtle, but they were fast.

Yenko SC427 Nova

Don Yenko’s dealership and performance shop had been building hot versions of the Camaro and Corvair for years by 1969. That experience allowed him to get the new Nova right the first time around. Pulling the top-of-the-line 427ci V8 from the big Chevelle SS, Yenko stuffed it, along with a four-speed manual, into the tiny Nova, making a hilariously fun and dangerous car. Four-hundred-and-fifty horsepower was good for 11 seconds in the quarter on slicks, and even zero-to-60 passed in just 5.1 seconds. It would be 30 years before the factory Camaro could do it that quickly, and for the ’60s it was very impressive. Yenko later reflected in Road & Track that the SC427 Nova was “barely legal at best” and was probably too dangerous for the street.

Pontiac

Royal Bobcat GTO

GM’s excitement division arguably created the muscle car in 1964, but by 1968, the 400ci-powered GTO was fading into the rearview. Mega-dealership Royal Pontiac decided to change things by swapping in a 428ci V8 with a fistful of upgrades. Loaded up with ram air and steeper gear ratios, the rebadged Bobcats were capable of daily driving but were a handful at the limit. Car and Driver called them dangerous in the wrong hands, as they were civil enough for grandma around town but just a gas pedal away from supercar firepower. Bobcats were good for 13-flat in the quarter, if you had tires that could grip all that torque. On regular street tires, they were good at turning rubber into smoke.

Dodge

Hurst/Spaulding Dart GTS 440

The Dart was an attractive but mild-looking compact, and it had acceptable performance with its 340ci V8. The late ’60s demanded more speed, so legendary aftermarket performance company Hurst and Chicago dealership Mr. Norm’s Grand Spaulding worked together to stuff Chrysler’s 440ci mountain motor in the compact Dart. Conservatively rated at 375 hp and 480 lb/ft, the repowered Dart weighed 3,600 pounds. The result was shenanigans, as the Dart GTS 440 was severely nose heavy, and lacked power steering or a warranty. It didn’t matter, though, as the overpowered compact could run low 13s in the quarter mile, beating Corvettes for half the price.

These tuned classics were performance bargains in their day but now sell for serious cash. Ever seen one at a car show or the strip? Let us know your favorite in the comments below.

How Does a Code Reader Work?

car speedometer with the check engine light illuminated

Source | Chris Isherwood/Flickr

When that “check engine” light comes on, many drivers start thinking about their bank accounts. They wonder if they need to immediately pull over and have it towed for an expensive repair, or if the issue is something minor that can wait a few days. The light sure gets your attention, even if you’re an expert DIYer. But what does it mean?

There’s a way to find out. Code readers are affordable DIY tools that provide valuable information about the state of your vehicle and, potentially, a solution to the problem.

Wait, why even have computers in cars?

Story time. Volkswagen and Bosch created the first electronic fuel injection system in 1968, but computer controls didn’t really catch on in the US until the late 1970s. With increasingly strict emissions standards, plus a couple of gas shortages, the new engine control unit (ECU) would reduce the car’s emissions and improve fuel economy. These initial computers were connected to just a few sensors. They could read the incoming data, compare that info against tables stored in permanent memory, and adjust the controls as needed for the ideal result.

It worked. Air pollution improved, fuel economy increased, and basic ECUs picked up more and more sensors. This was the first era of on-board diagnostics computers, later called OBD1.

Problems popped up when you tried to take your fancy new 1980 Ford Escort LX to your favorite local mechanics. They didn’t have the tools to diagnose your new ride, because they didn’t want to buy a $5,000 diagnostic tool just for Fords. See, each manufacturer built computers according to their own specifications, so a Ford diagnostic tool wasn’t going to work on a Dodge, and small shops couldn’t afford to buy a tool to service every brand.

Fortunately, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) got together with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to come up with industry-standardized diagnostics and connectors. Starting Jan. 1, 1996, OBDII became standard.

OBD-II engine code reader

OBDII Code Reader, Source | Flickr

How a code reader works

When an automotive sensor fails, its specific outputs change. For example, let’s say the air intake temperature sensor gets corroded over time and eventually fails to work. The ECU is looking for a specific signal range from that sensor, and will throw up a “check engine” light and store a code “P0113″ or similar if that signal fails to register to the ECU. When the ECU doesn’t receive a signal within normal operating tolerances, the ECU illuminates the “check engine” light to get your attention. In short, the “check engine” light alerts you to a problem, and the stored code tells you what the problem is.

The code reader connects to your 16-pin OBDII port, usually located under the steering column. The code reader and ECU use the same programming language and are able to communicate, so the reader understands that “P0113″ is a failed air intake temperature sensor and puts this on the display screen. With this knowledge you can take a quick trip to the auto-parts store and replace the sensor. If the code is still stored after replacement and starting the engine, you can manually clear the error code by setting the code reader to erase it from memory.


Pro Tip: To help you diagnose a vehicle problem, Advance offers free code reading at most store locations (see store for details).


How code readers help you

With industry-standard connection and software, the formerly expensive mechanic’s equipment quickly became affordable for the average motorist. The simplest and cheapest readers will only display the error code. Something like “P0300″ will show in the display window. Then it’s up to you and Google to decode it—in this case a misfire not tied to any specific cylinder.

Going up slightly in price, more advanced code readers usually have large display screens. These readers can display the error in plain language, or offer the ability to read and reset ABS brake codes or the SRS airbag light. Instead of just the displayed error code, you might see something like “oxygen sensor 1, bank 1.” And instead of spending time digging through Google’s search results, you can go buy the oxygen sensor and install it. This saves you time and hassle, and probably money, too. You can skip the dealership service bay and the aggressive upsell on services.

While more complex, these advanced code readers are still easy to use. If you can download and install a smartphone app, you have the technical skill level to use a code reader. People sometimes get intimidated by any product with the word “diagnostics” in the name, but this might be the easiest tool you can use on a vehicle. Literally, you just plug it in.

Skirting the system

Now, don’t just buy a code reader to clear your check engine light so you can pass the emissions test or safety inspection. It doesn’t work like that. Inspections technicians have advanced code readers that can detect when there is still an issue with your vehicle. Remember, turning out the light doesn’t make the issue go away. The fuel injector or oxygen sensor that triggered the check engine light is still malfunctioning, even if you temporarily cleared the code. The code-erase function should be used after the repair to validate that the issue is fixed.

Have any advice on using a code reader? Let others know in the comments below.

How to Clean Your Car Engine the Right Way

Source | Gerard McGovern/Flickr

Do you clean your vehicle? The answer’s probably yes. But do you know how to clean your car’s engine bay? If not, that’s like taking a shower but never brushing your teeth. Don’t be that person; wash your engine, too.

Now you might be thinking that no one sees your engine bay except you and the occasional mechanic, so who cares, right? Well, like with the rest of your vehicle, cleaning prevents damage and keeps resale value high. A car engine bay covered in oil and grit is allowing premature wear in the pulleys and bearings, or hiding serious issues like gasket leaks. A clean engine bay allows the engine to stay cooler, operate efficiently, and keep your value high.

Difficulty

Good for beginners — A new DIYer will be able to complete the project

Time Required

1 hour

What you’ll need

 

Step-by-step guide on how to clean an engine bay

Hose it down

A quick pre-rinse does several things. It knocks off any of the loose dust and grit, makes it easier for the engine degreaser to spread around, and prevents spots from the soap quickly drying out. In short, a pre-rinse is essential.

Step 1: Wait until the engine is cool. It doesn’t need to be cold though—you just don’t want to introduce a bunch of cold water to hot parts. Pop the hood and let it cool for an hour. This is when you’ll put down the drip pans and absorbent pads to stop the chemicals and gunk from going down the gutters.

Pro Tip: Find a local recycling center that accepts both the used pads and the oily water from the drip tray.

Step 2: Disconnect the negative battery terminal or cover the battery with a plastic bag. Water conducts electricity, and you don’t want it to connect and make new temporary circuits. If you have a classic ride, cover the alternator, carburetor, and distributor with plastic bags. On a modern ride, cover the alternator and go easy with the water around the coil packs and fuse box.

Pro Tip: If you are using a power washer, use the low-pressure setting and rinse everything in the engine bay. Low pressure is better than high pressure here, as you want to clean off the crud, not blast it into the small crevices between components.

Spray it up

Step 3: Now it’s time to spray a liberal application of engine degreaser. Why use a degreaser instead of regular car soap? Your average car-wash soap is fine for grit and dirt but just won’t cut it on oil and grime. Go heavy on the engine degreaser on the typically nasty parts, like the starter and oil pan and anything else oily. Follow the directions on the bottle, but usually you will let it sit for a few minutes to get the most grime-lifting action. You can use a wash brush here for the seriously filthy areas. It has soft bristles that won’t scratch the paint or plastic.

Step 4: Rinse with low-pressure water again and take a look at your progress. Some engines that have never been cleaned in 300,000 miles will need the degreaser again. If not, it’s time to get busy with the automotive soap.

Step 5: Use an automotive car-wash soap to finish cleaning the engine bay the same way you would clean the exterior. Use an automotive wash mitt, get it soapy in the bucket, and scrub up the engine bay just like you would a rear quarter panel, then rinse.

Sweat the details

Step 6: Rinse with low pressure again and remove the plastic bags over the sensitive parts. If they need cleaning, professional detailers will remove the plastic fuse box cover or distributor cap and clean it by hand, where the electronics won’t be affected. Once clean and dry, just bolt them back on.

Step 7: Use a dedicated plastic cleaner to polish out fine scratches and restore shine to the engine bay plastics. Apply with a terry cloth and wipe off with a clean microfiber cloth. For the metal bits, a metal polish will brighten them up. They are all a bit different, but in general, grind a bit into the metal surface until the polish starts to turn darker, then wipe off with a clean cloth.

There you go. That’s all you need to learn how to clean your car engine. Now step back and enjoy your work.

Any detailing experts around? Let us know your engine bay cleaning tips and tricks!

A Look Back at the Truckcar

Lots of people love pickup trucks but don’t always have the need for a full-size truck. Way back in the ’50s, manufacturers developed a solution with the car-based truck, commonly called the truckcar, or coupe utility. Whatever you call ’em, the idea is the same. Take a car chassis and drivetrain, and drop a small pickup bed out back. While they’re the automotive equivalent of the mullet (business up front, party in the back), the classic truckcar has earned a place in the hearts of many.

Full-size legends

Ford Ranchero

The Ford Ranchero

While truck-ish cars have existed almost since the beginning of the car, Ford really kicked things off with the introduction of the 1957 Ranchero. Built on the full-size Ford sedan and coupe chassis, the Ranchero obviously differed from other cars with its body-integrated pickup bed. At a little over 5 feet long, the Ranchero bed offered light work potential in an easy-to-drive, car-like package.

The ’60s saw the Ranchero transition to the compact Falcon chassis, then the larger Torino, where giant engines like the 460 V8 were common. Cargo ratings hovered just over 1,000 pounds throughout the changes, making the Ranchero a true “half-ton truck.” While it sold well, light trucks were exempt from emissions and mileage requirements, so 1979 was the Ranchero’s last year, as it was replaced by the Ford Ranger compact truck.

The El Camino

The El Camino, Source | Allen Watkin

GM noticed early surging sales of the Ranchero and quickly developed its own competitor. The ’59 El Camino was based off the full-size Chevy sedan/wagon chassis but offered a variety of engines, from a weak inline six, to the fuel-injected 283 Ramjet. The second generation switched to the smaller Chevelle platform, and the El Camino mirrored the muscle car’s options and equipment, including the 396 V8.

The ’70s weren’t a great time for most car manufacturers, but the El Camino survived better than most. With a big-block 454 V8, manual trans, and rear-wheel drive under a lightweight rear, the El Camino was a groovy burnout machine that also delivered a respectable 5,000-pound tow rating when properly optioned.

Compact and odd

Subaru BRAT

The Subaru BRAT, Source | ilikewaffles

Around the time the Ranchero was disappearing in favor of light trucks, Subaru developed this odd little competitor. The BRAT differed from the American car-trucks with its 1.6-liter inline four cylinder making all of 67 horsepower, and driving all four wheels. While the bed was small, the weirdness continued there, with the option of two rear-facing jump seats. Alongside Van Halen’s best years, the BRAT was only available from 1978 to 1985.

Dodge Rampage

The Dodge Rampage, Source | John Lloyd

Apparently the coupe utility market was hot in the early ’80s, as Dodge felt the need to jump in with the Rampage. Despite the popularity of the K chassis, this little guy was built off the L platform (think Dodge Omni) and featured a 2.2-liter inline four powering the front wheels. That’s peak 1980s right there: a FWD truck with a tape player. It was even available in “Garnet Pearl Metallic,” which is ’80s-speak for neon pink. Rad.

Want one brand new?

Holden Ute

The Holden Ute, Source | FotoSleuth

Australia has a unique place in automotive history, as it never forgot how to build a muscle car, even during the 1970s and ’80s. The Aussie version of the El Camino is the Holden Ute. Like standard versions of the truckcar, the Ute features a modern chassis, suspension, and interior, with all the useful bed space you would likely need. If a standard V6 isn’t enough power, step up to the SS version, which features a 400+ horsepower 6.2-liter V8 and 6-speed manual transmission. With a 3,500-pound tow rating, it can haul your race car to the track, and then rip off a high 12-second quarter mile. Work and play in one great-looking package.

Volkswagen Saveiro

The Volkswagen Saveiro, Source | Wikipedia

While the 1980s mostly put an end to the rear-wheel drive truckcar, the Ute has held out until 2017. Now the closest comparable vehicles are small front-wheel drive truckcars like the VW Saveiro. This subcompact coupe utility drives the front wheels with a choice of four-cylinder engines, which is plenty of power when your truck is three-feet shorter than a Toyota Tacoma. Cheap and economical, the Saveiro meets the needs of many owners. Want one? You’ll have to move outside the US, as Volkswagen has no plans to sell them here.

While the truckcar doesn’t look to be returning to the USA anytime soon, we do have a lot of options if you don’t mind buying used. From a fun muscle project to a useful truck alternative, the truckcar style has a lot to offer.

Which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.

Courtney Force Explains the Thrill of Driving a Funny Car

NHRA Funny Cars deliver some of the most exciting racing on earth, backed by extreme engineering, precision teamwork, and fearless drivers. Nothing quite matches the fury of two racers blistering the track at more than 300 miles per hour. We wanted to know more about these super powerful machines, so we talked to NHRA pro racer Courtney Force to get the details.

Source | CourtneyForce.com

How does it feel to drive a Funny Car? – It’s no joke

“You’re pretty much strapped to a rocket,” says Courtney Force, driver for John Force Racing and the winningest female NHRA Funny Car driver of all time. “It’s a 10,000-horsepower car, and we launch at four or five Gs off the starting line—and negative Gs when we pull the parachutes—so it’s an exhilarating ride.”

Exhilarating might be an understatement here. You might have wondered how much horsepower a Top Fuel Funny Car has, but the answer can only be approximated as there isn’t a dynamometer on earth that can survive measuring the exact power level. The roots-style supercharger forces air into the forged aluminum engine at a crushing 65 psi. Like a firehose, the fuel pump can push more than 100 gallons per minute. Each race consumes about 15 gallons, so Force’s Camaro burns roughly 60 gallons of nitromethane per mile. Tipping the scale at only 2,300 pounds, the 0 to 60 number looks like a typo, taking about 0.8 seconds. Force has completed the 1,000-foot track in 3.855 seconds, at a top speed of 331.45 miles per hour. All those stats sound extreme? They should, as this car is built with only the best parts.

“We build everything in-house at John Force Racing,” Force said. “That gives our teams a little bit of an advantage. We have a paint shop, a chassis shop, and the guys in our shop in Brownsburg, Ind., really do a phenomenal job with these cars.”

The winner is determined by far more just than stats on paper, and fans love how the drivers leave everything out on the track in a tire-smoking and earth-shaking display of power. In the stands, you can feel the engine vibrations in your chest even from hundreds of feet away. Force broke it down for us, describing how it feels to drive a Funny Car.

“Outside of the Funny Car, it’s very loud and powerful,” she says. “But when you’re in the cockpit of the car, I get into my zone, and it becomes surprisingly peaceful. My earplugs and radio are in, and I have a headsock and a helmet that kind of muffles the sound.” Force says the race is less peaceful, as no amount of insulation can muffle the ferocious power of the big V8.

“The closest thing I could think of would be trying to hold on to a bull for seven seconds—except we’ve got to do it in four. You can’t really compare it to a roller-coaster ride because of the Gs that we pull, but it’s definitely a rush and a lot of fun for a crazy, four-second ride.”

The street car

The Chevrolet Camaro SS that you can buy from a dealer is a little different. The direct injected 6.2L V8 generates 455 hp and 455 lb-ft. Solid numbers, but we’re already losing this race. A supercharger isn’t available on the SS model, and the street car weighs in at more than 1,000 pounds heavier than the race car, at 3,685 pounds. The fuel pump can push 66 gallons per hour (not minute), and the SS earns an estimated 25 MPG highway, so at least the street car wins that contest.

We’re comparing apples and oranges here: Zero to 60 in four seconds flat is impressive for the price, but it won’t keep up with Force’s car. The quarter mile passes in 12.3 seconds at 116 mph, also an impressive feat but way slower than a Top Fuel Funny Car. Still, Force says the Camaro SS is a fun ride.

“I was driving a Camaro SS as my everyday car,” she says. “I got to do to a project with a COPO Camaro, so I’ve worked a lot with Chevy.” Force says that—surprisingly—she had never done a burnout or raced a street car on the track until the COPO promotional event, and the Camaro was a lot of fun.

“Having the Camaro SS as an everyday car is perfect for someone like me who loves racing and likes a sportier car on the road.”

Experience the speed

No one’s going to be driving a Funny Car as a daily driver. Still, there are parts available to help you feel a little more like Courtney does on race day, from superchargers to performance exhaust systems. Maybe get started with an aftermarket air intake or short throw shifter. Whether you have a Chevy Silverado or a Honda Accord, there’s parts and knowledge out there that can show you how to increase horsepower for nearly any vehicle.

If you’d rather leave speed to the pros, check out an NHRA event this year and catch some Funny Car racing. See if there’s going to be a race near you, or follow Force on her official page, Facebook, or Twitter.

“We’re really excited here at John Force Racing,” Force says. “Especially for my team since we’ve teamed up with Advance Auto Parts for our Funny Car for 2017. We’ve got the same team as I had last year, and if we can continue to roll over what we had going on with our team and our car, I think 2017 is going to be our best year yet.”

Are you an NHRA fan? Let us know in the comments. 

5 Things You Need to Do Before Modifying Your Ride

Did you pick up a classic project car? Or did you simply decide that it’s time to start modifying your current vehicle? Before you kick off the projects, there are a few things you should take care of—especially if you’re planning on adding extra power. Whether you’re working on a 1965 Falcon or 2015 F-150, here’s what to do before modifying your ride.

Don’t be Fred Flintstone

You can’t go if you can’t stop. Adding more power for a faster ride is a wonderful thing, but having the power to stop all that power is even more important. Most factory braking systems are acceptable with factory power levels but become inadequate after modifications.

Look into pad and rotor upgrades at a minimum. Ceramic pads are a great all-around street option, and certainly better than those asbestos pads on your ’50s Plymouth. Modern vehicles mostly come with organic pads offering less health hazards and a cheap price, but opt for composite pads for the best braking possible on the street. While swapping pads, be sure to flush your brake fluid for easy and cheap insurance. If you want to go the extra mile, drilled and slotted rotors look awesome and provide extra cooling for repeated stops.

Stay cool

Speaking of cooling, don’t forget that more horsepower almost always means more heat. On a classic, you’ll want to upgrade the cooling system. An upgraded radiator isn’t cheap, but the price includes peace of mind. Another way to look at it: a better radiator is cheaper than a new engine block.

If you have a heavy belt-driven engine fan, look into upgrading to electric fans. They’re lighter, reducing parasitic power loss, and can increase power and gas mileage. Don’t forget to keep the rest of the vehicle cool. If you’re working with an automatic transmission, you’ll want to look at a transmission cooler. It’s cheap and helps prevent the number one cause of early transmission failure: heat. You can even run a differential cooler, if you like overkill. If your ride is newer, its cooling capacity is probably improved over a classic, but it may be time to flush the radiator with some fresh coolant.

undefined

Get charged up

Electrical systems from back in the day just aren’t up for modern performance. While performing repairs on a classic, go for upgrades in the electrical system. Swap out the old school points distributor for a higher performance and more reliable HEI unit. It’s the same price, easier to find in stores, and will support your higher horsepower goals. For a classic or modern ride, pick up some thicker spark plug wires with low internal resistance. They’ll deliver more bang to the spark plug. Also, just about every electrical part can be affordably upgraded here, so go for the best spark plugs, coil, cap, and rotor that your budget allows.

Tackle those corners

Ignore the suspension, and your street warrior might be a sudden and unfortunate off-roader. Adding power without suspension improvements makes a 1966 GTO just spin the tires and a 2006 GTO have excessive wheel hop. Either way, you aren’t going anywhere quickly.

Controlling all those forces on curvy roads and under hard throttle takes a good suspension. Upgrade your shocks, struts, and springs with more sport-oriented options. Add sway bars for better cornering, or upsize with thicker diameter bars if your current bars are lacking. If your classic is over 25 years old, look underneath at the suspension bushings—you’ll want to replace those crumbling rubber things right away. Performance versions are cheap, but even new factory equipment rubber bushings will be a dramatic improvement.

Under pressure

Tires have improved more in the last 50 years than perhaps any other area of the automobile. If your Packard project came with tubes and re-treads, or your Mustang is running Gatorbacks, it’s time to get some new tires. You can go for a period-correct look, while still increasing grip and hydroplane resistance and decreasing stopping distance. Hagerty recommends new tires if yours reach eight years old, regardless of mileage or tread life. It seems obvious, but these are the only four contact points your vehicle has with the road. Inspect them carefully and budget for a good set of tires.

While this seems like a large checklist, remember that this isn’t a side track distracting from your performance goals. This is about making your ride a better, safer, more reliable, and faster vehicle.

Anything we missed here? Let us know in the comments.

Tools 101: Essential Tools for Basic DIYing

Tools

Source | Andy Jensen

If you’ve decided to tackle a vehicle repair by yourself for the first time, welcome to the DIY Club! It’s fun here, plus we’ve got awesome tools. Whether it’s your first repair, first car, or first garage, we’ll cover all the affordable and useful tools you’ll need to get the job done. Let’s get started with the obvious.

Air Pressure Gauge

Got $2? That can buy one of the most useful tools in your inventory: an air pressure gauge. This simple device does exactly what its name suggests, measuring the amount of air in your tires and displaying the reading of pressure in pounds per square inch. This is useful information, since underinflated tires cause decreased gas mileage, increased tire wear, and poor handling. Wielding this simple, inexpensive tool and adjusting your tire pressure to the proper level will save you money and make your vehicle drive properly. That’s quite a return on such a small investment.

Jack

Sure, your vehicle probably came with a jack, but have you looked at it? It’s likely a stamped steel hunk of junk with the build quality of a Cracker Jack box toy. A solid jack is cheap, well-built, and easy to use—making it safer all around. Floor jacks are large, but they roll easily, have a low profile for low vehicles, and can lift tons in just a few pumps of the handle. If you need something smaller for everyday carry, bottle jacks are conveniently small but offer incredible lifting power. There’s even some that can lift a ridiculous 20 tons, for our DIYers with an Abrams tank.

Jack Stands

Odds are that once the vehicle is in the air, you’ll want some backup support. Modern jacks are reliable, but sometimes you need both front wheels in the air or maybe even all four. In that case, you need jack stands. Think of them like a cell phone mount for your car; it’s cheap safety. These steel or aluminum devices keep the vehicle at the lifted height, allowing for easy and safe tire rotation, oil and transmission fluid changes, and swapping out brake pads.

Buying tip: save cash and get a kit offering jack and jack stands together.

Ratchet and Sockets

Yeah, wrenches are cool. But there’s nothing like the sound of a spinning ratchet that loudly and proudly announces, “I’m fixing my ride!” Rather than slowly working a bolt off with a wrench, a ratchet and sockets get the job done in less time. For small bolts, go with a 1/4-inch drive. For large bolts, like on heavy-duty trucks, buy a 1/2-inch drive socket. Or split the difference and get a 3/8-inch drive. Buy sockets, however, for that specific ratchet, as 1/2-inch sockets will leave you disappointed on your 1/4-inch drive ratchet. Like with the jack stands above, buying a ratchet/socket set is easier and cheaper than buying individually.

Multimeter

This tool is way more than just a battery tester. A basic multimeter can read the volts, current, and impedance of electrical systems, providing valuable troubleshooting assistance. Flip-up headlights being wonky on your Honda Prelude? Use a multimeter on the headlight relay. Thinking that your Ford Explorer’s coil packs might be going out? Make sure with a multimeter. It can also help around the home with installing that ceiling fan or troubleshooting Christmas tree lights, so it’s far more than just an automotive tool. And, yes, it will also be a great way to test your battery.

LED Lighting

Lighting isn’t a tool in the traditional sense. It won’t help you get that seized bolt unstuck or grease those bearings, but it certainly will help with both of those projects. Roadside emergencies seem to mainly happen at night, and it’s no fun changing a tire by the headlights of passing motorists. LED lights are long-lasting, compact, run cool, and can be very affordable. Options cover basic flashlights and headlamps for seeing into dark engine bays to large four-foot shop lighting systems that can turn garage darkness into daylight. A good first buy is a handheld unit with a magnet for attaching to metal surfaces. Everything is easier when you can see what you’re doing. Get some good lights.

Cleanup

Some of the most-used tools, and often most overlooked, are those involving cleaning up. For yourself, get clean with mechanic’s soap and stay clean with some disposable latex or tough safety gloves. For your ride, a degreaser is your best friend under the hood, while the top of the hood needs a good car wash soap. A shop vac is excellent at keeping the interior clean and can even power through the mess of your garage/workspace. PEAK offers a radiator cleaner among other fluids, and if you spill them, use your shop towels. Those cheapo things have a million uses.

Have any suggestions for the first-time wrencher? What would be a common and affordable tool that everyone needs? Add to this list in the comments.

The Future of Hot Rodding: Electric Cars

Hot rodders and horsepower enthusiasts tend to have a dismal opinion of electric cars. Once accurately described as slow tin cans, today’s electric vehicles are the future of the muscle car and the hot rodding hobby.

As you probably know, an electric car has no internal combustion engine, but relies on an electric motor and battery for motivation. The upside as a commuter vehicle is reduced operating costs, zero engine noise, and zero at-vehicle emissions. The downsides have traditionally been style and handling, as most early electric cars had all the aesthetics of a melted bar of soap, and all the driving charisma of a kid’s pedal car. Times have changed.

Source | Unsplash/Tim Wright

The future is fast

Tesla currently leads the charge (puns blatantly intended), with overpowered versions of the Model S sedan and Model X crossover. The Model S P100D in the appropriately named Ludicrous Mode can achieve 0 to 60 mph in just 2.5 seconds. That’s an impressive number, especially when you consider the electric sedan weighs over 4,600 lbs and can seat seven passengers. This electric $130k American sedan shames million dollar super exotics from Lamborghini and Pagani.

And Tesla isn’t the only one doing electric performance. Porsche’s Mission E looks incredible, and should offer terrific performance. GM recently trademarked the Corvette E-Ray name, so electric performance may be affordable very soon.

Source | Tesla

Under the hood with electric cars

But enough about buying new cars. Half the fun of hot rodding is tinkering under the hood and spinning wrenches, right? That can still happen in the age of electrics.

While these cars don’t need oil changes, they will need maintenance. Everything from the A/C and power steering, to shocks/struts and related suspension parts will eventually need replacing. That electric Nissan Leaf still needs brake pads.

There’s hot rod parts for electrics too. Just like a gas burning ride, you can upgrade the wheels, stance, handling, braking, and so on. If you are just into appearance mods, electric cars will have aftermarket options like body kits, giant wings, and vented hoods too.

Source | Saleen

Electric aftermarket mods

Aftermarket tuning companies will survive in this new electric era just fine. Saleen has been making Ford Mustang parts for decades, but now also fully reworks the Model S into their own distinctive performance sedan renamed the GTX.

And let’s not forget the DIY hot rod market. The motors may be unusually quiet, but they are relatively easy to replace with something more powerful. Just like a small block to big block engine swap, but with more torque and fewer emissions. There’s even the option to retrofit modern electric motors into a classic. There’s nothing wrong with a ’57 Chevy with 1,000 lb/ft of instant torque and no gas bill. In fact, that’s pretty cool.

This era is much like the transition from carburetors to electronic fuel injection (EFI) in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Enthusiasts said EFI would be the death of the performance car, the DIY mechanic and hot rodding, but instead the highly adaptable technology lead to the modern golden age of performance we now enjoy. EFI is the reason we can have street cars running 9 second quarter miles. The electronic age will be different too, but it has the potential to expand the hot rodding hobby into new markets and areas of interest. This is not the end of performance cars, but an exciting new chapter full of potential.

Do any of you have experience maintaining or modding electric cars? We want to hear about it!

The Weird World of Intake Manifolds

 

Intake manifolds are often a hot rodder’s upgrade part but are otherwise mostly ignored. Every minivan on the road has an intake manifold feeding an air and fuel mixture to the cylinder heads, so they don’t have the sexy and complex reputation of a turbocharger. Still, throughout the history of internal combustion, there have been several intake manifolds that left us scratching our heads. Here are a few of the weirdest.

Source | Andy Jensen

If You Can’t Dodge It, Ram It

This one causes a puppy-head-tilt reaction in everyone who sees it for the first time. The Chrysler B-block was a standard and unexciting people-moving engine by 1960 until it was topped by the unique cross-ram manifold. The dual four-barrel carbs sit way out over the exhaust manifolds and run the air charge through a gigantic, 30-inch runner to the opposite side intake port. Yup, the driver’s side feeds the passenger side cylinders, and vice versa. Chrysler rated the 361 cross ram at 310 horsepower, which wasn’t bad considering the muscle-car wars hadn’t really started yet. While it wasn’t a drag strip warrior due to losing power in higher RPMs, the cross-ram-equipped car had an impressive 435 lb-ft of torque down low, thanks to the extremely long runners.

Defying Gravity

What do you do when the traditional intake manifold world gets boring? Turn it upside down — or in this case, sideways. Sidedraft carbs were needed due to packaging constraints on cars with average-size engines in a small engine bay, like the Jaguar XK120 and Datsun 240Z. While North America was familiar with a standard Holley sitting directly on the manifold, the sidedraft style meant the Weber or SU carbs were mounted 90 degrees sideways, feeding a vertically mounted intake manifold. It’s easy to assume that gravity pulls fuel from the carb bowl into the manifold, which means sidedrafts shouldn’t work. Fortunately, the Venturi effect, which draws the air and gas mixture into the engine, is far more influential than gravity, meaning the intake manifold works just the same as if it were installed on top of the engine. If you want really weird-looking, there’s aftermarket kits to put sidedrafts on a rotary.

Truck Engine in a Sports Car

Remember the ’80s? No? Well, lucky you. The rest of us suffered for a bit while the manufacturers tried to figure out how to balance horsepower with emissions. GM’s solution was electronic-fuel injection with the tuned port intake (TPI) manifold. The distinctive long curved runners connecting the plenum to the lower manifold are a source of the engine’s torque, with a tuned length that takes advantage of pulses in the air charge at low and mid RPM. Right as the pulse of air is about to slam into the closed intake valve, it opens, sending a blast of slightly compressed air into the chamber. While only generating 245 horsepower, the TPI could make an impressive-for-the-time, 345 lb-ft of torque. If that isn’t oddball enough for you, the ’85 to ’88 V8s had nine fuel injectors.

Looks Like a Bad Day at the Factory

A transverse (sideways) mounted intake manifold make sense on a transverse mounted engine, like the modern Toyota Corolla. The cylinders are in a line between the wheel wells, and the intake manifold lines up with the cylinders left to right. Things get quite a bit more confusing when looking at the engine bay of the Infiniti Q45. The Nissan VH series engines were longitudinal (front to back) V8s driving the rear wheels but topped by a spider-like intake manifold sitting sideways as if it were front wheel drive. The reasoning behind the strange layout is unclear, but it was probably for packaging or emissions. This reminds us that the orientation of the intake manifold does not always determine the drive wheels. For further proof, look to the ’90s Acura Legend. While the engine drives the front wheels, the longitudinally mounted manifold suggests the rear wheels are driven. Oddly, this layout in a modern Japanese EFI sedan recalls the classic Oldsmobile Toronado.

While these oddities are no longer in production (excluding some as aftermarket upgrades), they solved an engineering dilemma of their times.

If you know of any other unusual intake manifolds that should be on this list, make sure to let us know in the comments.