Crucial Cars: Chevrolet El Camino

1970 el camino ss

1970 El Camino SS

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.

1959 el camino truck

1959 El Camino

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.

1967 El Camino Truck

1967 El Camino

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.

1975 el camino photo

1975 El Camino

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?

1978 El Camino Black Night photo

1978 El Camino Black Night

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.

1984 El Camino SS photo

1984 El Camino SS

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.

Mudding Anyone?

Truck mudding photoOur resident Gearhead gets down and dirty with the fine art of Mudding.

Remember when you were a little kid and the idea of playing in the mud outside after it rained got you hyped? Pushing your toy cars and trucks through the mud puddles while you did your best to enunciate the sound of a beefed-up engine was one of life’s simple joys. Well, now you’re a grown-up with a rugged four-wheel-drive rig and maybe you want to kick up some summer mud, albeit on a much grander and exciting scale. Here’s a video that gives you a taste of what a blast this sub-category of off-roading can be.

Jeep_Wrangler  photoChoose your weapon
To probably nobody’s surprise, the most popular mud tamer is the modern-day Jeep Wrangler and its very similar old-school forebears, Jeep’s CJ-5 and CJ-7. Compact dimensions, plenty of ground clearance, stout four-wheel-drive components and room in the wheel wells for large off-road tires are key reasons these iconic Jeeps reign supreme.

But they are far from the only good choices. Older Toyota Land Cruisers (the more basic four-door SUV styles as well as the Jeep-like FJ40) are very capable and durable rigs, as are the first- and second-generation Ford Broncos. Of course, 4WD pickup trucks are solid picks too, though the massive, full-size ones can sometimes prove too bulky in off-road environments with narrow trails. As such, we favor compact, more maneuverable pickups such as the Ford Ranger, Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma. One might also consider a Land Rover Defender, though aces off road, they tend to be rather pricey.1988_Toyota_Land_Cruiser photo

Mudding 101
Depending on the scenario, simply popping your truck into 4WD and driving on through the muck as if you’re on pavement may not be sufficient. As with any type of challenge, there are proper techniques that separate the hackers from those that know what they’re doing. As such, thanks to the pros at off-road.com, fourwheeler.com and allstate.com, we’ve come up with a six-pack of tips to make sure that you move through the mud.

1) Don’t go it alone. Having at least one other person with a truck and recovery gear (such as a powerful winch) provides peace of mind, as well as a helping hand (and truck) should you get stuck.

2) Air down your tires. Lowering your tires’ pressure increases surface area and allows the tires to flex and grab traction better than when they’re fully-aired up for on-road use. Dropping down to 18 to 20 psi should be about right.

3) If it looks like a rather deep mud puddle / bog you’re attempting to negotiate, you might want to hop out and go on recon first. Grab a long stick and check it out on foot, poking the stick in various spots to get an idea of the mud’s consistency, its depth and if there are any large rocks or tree roots lying below in wait.

4) Take the proper line. If others are also having fun in the muddy playground, watch and take note of the line they’re taking as they work their way through. Usually going straight is best, but there may be some obstructions or stickier points that may dictate using a different, more traction-friendly line that somebody else has demonstrated.

5) If your vehicle has a low range, then start out in 4WD low. This will obviously maximize your traction and torque at the low speeds you’ll be using to make your way through the mud.

6) Take it easy. Throwing up 15-foot high rooster tails of muddy water at higher speed may look cool in commercials, but you could lose control and end up doing some damage or stalling out your engine. It’s slow and steady that wins this race. As the experts say and as with other types of off-roading, you should go as slow as possible but as fast as necessary to keep moving forward. Momentum, not speed, is your best friend here.

2004_Ford_Ranger photoMuddy buddies
So you’ve discovered that you really dig playing in the mud. Fortunately, so do a lot of other off-road enthusiasts. Reading the various online forums for tips on where to go, how to set up your vehicle and how to improve your skills will help you enjoy your mucked up adventures even more. We suggest also checking out enthusiast sites such as mudtrails.com and offroadworld.net, which are also great for finding new friends that share this dirty passion.

Editor’s note: After you’ve gotten your fill of summer mudding, be sure to hit up Advance Auto Parts for a wide selection of wash and wax products.

 

Celebrating Patriotic Cars

1972_Ford_Mustang_Sprint_Edition

1972 Ford Mustang Sprint Edition

Three cheers for the red, white and blue! As the fourth of July rolls around, we gearheads gathered ’round the garage to reflect on what American car makers have done to wave the old flag. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of them rolled out a handful of celebratory editions during the 1970s. Why then? We’re guessing it was the fact that the Bicentennial, the 200th anniversary of our country’s Declaration of Independence, took place during that decade — the year 1976 to be exact.

USA! USA!
Four years before the Bicentennial, the 1972 Olympic Games took place. The summer games in particular were filled with triumph and tragedy. American swimmer Mark Spitz took home an incredible seven gold medals, a record that stood for thirty six years. Sadly, those Olympics were sullied when a Palestinian terrorist group broke into the games and ultimately ended up killing 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. Prior to this roller coaster ride of Olympic emotions, Ford rolled out its patriotically-themed pony cars.

In the spring of 1972, just before the start of those summer games, Ford introduced “Sprint” editions of its Pinto, Maverick and Mustang models. Built to honor the 1972 American Olympic team and designed to inspire both patriotism and sales, these cars featured eye-catching red, white and blue color schemes. The body was essentially finished in a white and blue two-tone, with red pin striping separating the two colors. The interior was done up in white and blue as well. Additionally, 50 Sprint edition Mustang convertibles were built for use in the 1972 Cherry Blossom parade, an event held in Washington D.C. every spring. Underneath, the cars were unchanged, meaning one could wheeze along in a Pinto with a 54-horsepower 1.6-liter four or swiftly “sprint” away from a stoplight challenger in a Mustang packing a 351 High Output V8, making a strong-for-the-era 275 horsepower.

Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet

1974 Chevrolet Vega Spirt of America

1974 Chevrolet Vega Spirt of America

Two years later, it would be Chevrolet feeling the patriotic vibe. For 1974, Chevrolet launched a clever TV commercial with a song capturing four things (see subtitle above) that Americans ostensibly loved. With a jingle that would prove to be one of the most popular in advertising, that ad would go on to serve the company for quite some time.

That year, to further the patriotic sentiment, Chevy offered the “Spirit of America” package on its Vega, Nova and Impala models. As expected, a red, white and blue theme prevailed. White exterior paint was standard on all except the Impala, which offered a choice between white and a dark blue hue. Red, white and blue stripes added more exterior pizzazz while inside, all three had white vinyl upholstery with red or blue carpeting.

1974 Impala Spirit of America car

1974 Chevy Impala Spirit of America

America’s last convertible (for five years, anyway)
The Bicentennial year (1976) was full of celebrations for America’s 200th birthday. Setting off fireworks of its own was Cadillac, the only American carmaker offering a convertible that year. Due to dwindling sales of convertibles and the increased governmental safety standards (such as roll-over protection) said to be looming on the horizon, every American car maker except Cadillac, with its Eldorado model, had by then abandoned the convertible segment.

To seemingly celebrate not only America’s bicentennial but also the philosophy of capitalism, Cadillac decreed that the final 200 Eldorado convertibles made would be “Bicentennial Edition” models. Wearing white paint with tasteful blue and red pinstripes, these loaded and pricey Eldos also sported white leather upholstery with red piping to go with the red dash and carpeting.

1976 Cadillac Eldorado Bicentennial Edition car piture

1976 Cadillac Eldorado Bicentennial Edition

As we now know, these ended up not being America’s last convertible. Just six years later, 1982 saw the comeback of the American convertible in the form of the Buick Riviera and Chrysler LeBaron/Dodge 400 twins, meaning the U.S. had gone just five years without a convertible new car offering. Subsequent years saw more drop tops debut, including, in 1984, Cadillac’s resurrected Eldorado convertible.

Editor’s note: Keep your ride running true-blue with parts, tools and accessories from Advance Auto Parts.

Open-Air Driving: It’s What’s Hot for Summer

Ford Skyliner photoIn a couple of ways, cars that offer open air motoring are like ice cream. Most everyone likes them and they come in a lot of different flavors. Whether you’re cruising along an ocean boulevard in a classic drop top, chasing apexes in a modern sports car, or exploring rugged trails in an opened-up Jeep, these vehicles offer plenty of enjoyment no matter what your tastes are. And like a visit to Baskin Robbins, there’s bound to be a flavor you can’t resist. To this rusty ol’ Gearhead, it’s salted caramel every time.

Within the realm of the classics you’ll find a wide array of choices. There’s plenty here to move you, literally and figuratively. It might be a 1965 GTO ragtop with a 389 V8, a 4-speed stick and rumbling side-splitter exhausts that does it for you. Or, from the same era, maybe a Jaguar XKE roadster or Lincoln Continental convertible, with the former offering sexy styling wrapped around two seats and a sonorous straight six, and the latter boasting four “suicide” style doors, a magic carpet ride and room for five of your biggest friends.car power moonroof

But as you’ll soon realize, your options further range from taking just sips of air and sunshine overhead to fully gorging oneself via environmental exposure that’s second only to a motorcycle’s.

Just a breath of fresh air, please.
A sliding sunroof provides a taste of the outdoors via a panel in the roof that slides back, either manually (as in some older cars) or via power control. If the panel is made of glass, it is usually called a “moonroof” as it ostensibly allows one to view the moon and the stars at night even while closed. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, pop-up/removable sunroofs were a popular aftermarket installation.

Traditional (and not) convertible tops
And then there is the traditional soft top convertible, which when down leaves the whole upper portion of the car’s interior exposed, allowing its passengers to more fully enjoy the sun’s rays. These are usually power operated as well. Soft convertible tops (typically made of canvas or vinyl) have been around since the early days of the automobile.

Ford Mustang convertibleMore recently, retractable hardtops have become popular. Just as the name implies, this design offers the added comfort and security of a hardtop when the top is up. Lowered, it provides the same full top-down experience that a traditional folding soft top does. For those al fresco fans residing in the more inclement areas of the country, a retractable hardtop is great to have. The BMW Z4 roadster and newer 3 Series (which later became the 4 Series) convertibles both offer retracting hardtops, as do the Mercedes-Benz SLK and SL, and outgoing (2015) Mazda Miata.

And yet, this “best of both worlds” idea is not as new as one may think. Back in 1957 Ford brought out its Fairlane 500 Skyliner power retractable hardtop, while Peugeot beat it by some 20 years with its aerodynamic but somewhat grimly named 402BL Eclipse Decapotable in the 1930s. Unlike the Ford’s more complex, folding power top, that Peugeot model featured a simple one-piece top that manually dropped down into the trunk.

Take it all offJeep Wrangler photo
Easy there, we’re talking about full exposure here of the vehicular kind. And nobody does it better than Jeep with its Wrangler model. Like its CJ-series precursors, the Wrangler is usually the model one thinks of when the word Jeep is mentioned. Sure you can fold the soft top down (a rather involved and potentially nail-busting affair), or unbolt the unwieldy hard top (if that’s what your Wrangler is wearing) and leave it in the garage or back yard. But that only gives you standard top-down experience. Detach the doors and flip down the windshield and you’ll enjoy the thrill of maximum exposure that’s second only to that of a motorcycle.

Trans am bandit car photoThe ‘tweeners
Existing somewhere in the middle of all these are the T-roof and Targa-topped vehicles. The T-top (which consists of a pair of removable roof panels) debuted in the U.S. with the 1968 Corvette coupe. In the late 1970s and through the early 2000s, various Camaros, Firebirds and Mustangs offered a T-roof option, while the Japanese car makers joined the party in the ’80s and ’90s with the Toyota MR2 and Datsun/Nissan 280ZX/300ZX, among others.

Similar to the T-top in that it could quickly be manually removed and stowed within the car, the Targa top instead provided a one-piece removable roof panel (no center “T” bar) which ran the full width of the car, providing even more of a true convertible feel than the T-roof. Past and present cars that offer a Targa top include the Porsche 911 and 914, the Honda Civic del Sol, the Toyota Supra, Acura NSX, the current Corvette and various Ferrari, Lamborghini and McLaren models.

Editor’s note: Whether you drive an airy convertible or tinted limousine, count on Advance Auto Parts to keep your projects humming along all summer.

The Triumph of Technology: 3 Ways Computers Make Cars Better

KITT_Interior

Knight Rider’s KITT interior. Photo by Tabercil.

Think about the muscle-car era, back in the ’60s and early ’70s. If you know anyone who grew up during that era, chances are that his or her father taught them how to wrench on engines from a young age (just like this ol’ wrencher). And you’ve probably heard them lament the fact that fathers just don’t teach their kids how to fix cars anymore.

But there’s a good reason for that: modern cars are as much about computers as they are about carburetors. Maybe more so.

To fix cars today, you often need a special computer just to diagnose the problem, and you may need advanced electrical knowledge to do the job. How about rebuilding a problematic part? If it’s connected to the car’s computer network, you better be an actual electrical engineer, or else you might just make things worse.

So that’s why kids don’t grow up with grease on their fingers anymore.

But they do grow up driving some truly incredible machines.

In this installment, I don’t want to bemoan the fact that times have changed. Even as a weathered, ahem, older car fan, I want to celebrate it. Because the truth is, technology has taken the automobile to heights that were scarcely imaginable 50 years ago.

Let’s look at three specific ways that the triumph of technology has changed cars for the better.

Better Handling

You may not think of suspensions as having much to do with computers, but when you take a closer look, you realize that they’ve got a lot to do with ones and zeros. Consider electric power steering, for example — back in the hydraulic days, we used to talk about the steering of a car as being “heavy” or “light,” but today you can buy a Hyundai or Kia for less than $20,000 that provides electronically adjustable steering effort. Want to move up the price ladder a little? Adaptive suspension dampers with selectable modes are proliferating across the industry, allowing drivers to choose a firm or compliant ride as conditions dictate. And then there are roll-resistant systems like Mercedes-Benz’s Active Body Control that keep the car eerily flat through fast corners. It’s hard to see these technologies as anything but a win for most drivers.

Better Powertrains

We could devote a whole feature to this category alone. Seemingly every aspect of automotive power generation and delivery has been revolutionized. On the engine front, perhaps the biggest news is the rise of advanced computer-controlled turbocharging, enabling small-displacement engines to deliver strong, lag-free acceleration with little if any penalty at the pump. Transmissions have benefited, too, with advancements ranging from automatic rev-matched downshifts for manuals to launch control and adaptive shift programs for automatics. And then there’s the way the power gets to the pavement — increasingly, differentials are equipped with torque-vectoring technology that transfers power laterally to ensure that the tires with the best traction are getting the most oomph. There were certainly fast and capable cars back in the day, but the computer-enabled precision and efficiency we see today is simply unprecedented.

Better Interiors

This one’s really night-and-day. Cars used to be transportation devices with radios thrown in for your driving pleasure, but now they’re like rolling entertainment chambers. What’s interesting is that mass-market personal computers go back to the late ’70s, but it took another few decades for dashboard computer systems — or “infotainment systems,” in current parlance — to become commonplace. But in 2015, you can get an infotainment system with a high-resolution color display in virtually every economy car on the market. Who would argue that cars used to be better when all you had was AM and FM? Now you can enjoy satellite radio, USB connectivity, Bluetooth phone and audio, home theater-quality sound reproduction, mobile-app integration and even Wi-Fi hotspot capability. Nostalgia dies hard, but even hardcore classic-car devotees know the truth: there’s never been a better time to hang out in an automotive interior.

The Power of Change

As a longtime DIY’er and car enthusiast, I’ve done my share of grumbling about the effects of technology on the character and feel of modern cars. Still, I have to admit that cars today are astonishingly capable machines thanks to their computerized components. What are some of your favorite developments in automotive technology? Shout it out for us in the comments

Editor’s note: High tech or no tech, count on Advance Auto Parts for a large selection of parts, tools and accessories to get your projects done right. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Crucial Cars: Winnebago Motorhome

Winnebago motor home 1From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

In this installment, our man Gearhead pays tribute to an icon that’s revered in the RV sector: the Winnebago Motorhome.

Along with the warm weather, summertime brings a variety of killer road trip options. There’s everything from cruising the boulevard in a classic muscle machine, to unraveling a twisty road in an athletic sports car, to reaching that remote camping or kayaking spot via a rugged 4WD rig. And let’s not forget seeing the sights of America in a mobile condominium. The latter is more commonly referred to as an RV (Recreational Vehicle). Or, to use old-school parlance, a motorhome.

Like Apple and Nike, certain brands have a way of earning iconic status. And within the realm of motorhomes, so it is with Winnebago. Based in Iowa and debuting in 1958 as a maker of travel trailers, Winnebago started producing motorhomes in 1966. Thanks to its very efficient production methods, including an assembly line (unusual in this business), Winnebago was able to sell its motorhomes at much lower prices than its rivals. One doesn’t need an MBA to know that high quality and low pricing makes for a pretty sound business model. As a result, Winnebago quickly became the number one-selling name in motorhomes.Winnebago 1973 advertisement

Winnebagos, both old and new, remain very popular. As such, there are a number of enthusiast sites for them (which include their essentially identical Itasca sister brand). They include the WIT Club, this Winnebago Owners Forum and the nostalgic My Winnebago Story site.

Taking It With You As You Get Away From It All
For some folks, “camping out” doesn’t necessarily equate to “roughing it.” Indeed, with the swankier “Class A” (those motorhomes that resemble a rock star’s tour bus) models offered by Winnebago, luxuries such as a washer and dryer, retracting big screen TVs and even an electric fireplace are offered. These units typically also feature “slide-outs.” These sections of the motorhome slide out to increase the living space inside once you’ve arrived at your destination. Go all Will Smith and you can spend up to a half mill on the plushest and roomiest rig Winnebago offers, the Grand Tour diesel.

Still, Winnebago hasn’t forgotten those who don’t play sports or make movies for a living and so the company also offers more affordable options. The latter include the popular and well-equipped “Minnie Winnie” that starts at around $65,000. This is a Class C motorhome, the kind that has the front end (or “cab”) of a full-size van coupled to the living quarters behind.

Bring On The Brave
But what really made Winnebago as recognizable a brand name as Kleenex was the “Brave” model. Debuting in 1967, the Pug-nosed Brave sported an “eyebrow” of sorts that jutted out above the windshield and also featured a flying “W” down the motorhome’s ides. Those styling features made it easy to identify the iconic Brave, whether it was sitting at a campsite or sailing down the freeway, and they lasted for over 10 years during this model’s initial production run.
Winnie reintroduced the Brave for 2015, offering a modern interpretation of this classic. Paying tribute to the original Brave with its familiar silhouette and flying “W”, the new Brave is offered in 1960s song-inspired color schemes such as “Mellow Yellow,” “Crimson ‘n Clover” and “Aquarius.” MotorHome magazine checked out the new Brave and thought it was rather “groovy.”

A Brave With Serious Bravado
Presenting an awesome answer to a question nobody should ever ask, Ringbrothers revitalized a very tired 1972 Winnie Brave they bought at an auction. The Ring brothers are a couple of serious car guys who, along with their skilled crew, are known for turning out some of the finest resto-mod builds on the planet.

As this Boldride article shows, this Brave’s body was left pretty much alone while the interior received a mashup makeover that combined, of all things, World War II airplane and Tiki hut bar themes. The Brave sorely needed a new engine, so out came the Mopar 318 and in went a supercharged LS-series V8, cranking out about 900 hp. The brothers claim that their “Ringabago” can sprint to 60 mph in less than four seconds. If the idea of an old motorhome easily lighting them up and being capable of blowing the doors off a Ferrari F40 or Hemi Cuda doesn’t make you laugh, then probably nothing will.

Have You Ever Seen Anything as Absurd as This?

On the vehicular shock value meter, this “way out there” Winnie easily pegs the needle. Have you seen or heard about anything as crazy yet cool as this? If so, send us your brief comments on the beast.

Before you hit the road this summer, hit up Advance Auto Parts for all the best in savings and selection. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes. 

Prepping for Car Shows

Car Show photo

Photo credit: Erik Baeumlisberger.

Our resident Gearhead reminisces about his glory-filled car show days, and how nobody preps a car better than…you.

 

I don’t know much, but I’ll tell you one thing that’s for certain:

You’re not gonna win a car show if your car’s not squeaky clean.

Cleaning your car before the show starts is a way to show the judges that you really care. On the other hand, leaving dust, fingerprints and grime on the car is a clear signal that you’re not in it to win it.

So let’s talk about a few simple steps you can take to get your car spic and span once you arrive. I’ve been going to car shows for more years than I’d care to admit, and this is what works for me.

Self-Service Car WashCar wash pic

Okay, this one might involve a little nostalgia on my part. But I can’t help it. I grew up in a time when you didn’t trust your car to anyone else; you washed the thing yourself. And the best way to do that is still at a good old fashioned self-service car wash.

You know the drill. Pull into a stall, get your stack of quarters, feed ’em into the slot and select your cycle. I’m partial to the power-washer nozzle myself, because you just can’t get that kind of precision and control in an automated car wash. It’s especially useful for the wheels — you can really blast away and get into the nooks and crannies. When you start with the self-serve wash, you know that all your car will need afterward is fine-tuning.

Waterless Car Wash and Rags

Another indispensable weapon in my arsenal is waterless car wash. I literally never leave home without a spray bottle of Meguiar’s Ultimate Wash and Wax Anywhere in the trunk. Don’t forget that you’ll need a few microfiber towels, too.

In a pinch, this combo can give you a decent shine even without water (hence the name). You can use one towel to get the surface grime off and another to go back over the metal and polish it. But you do run the risk of rubbing some of that grime into your finish, and in any case, you obviously need to get yourself to water if you want to win a car show.

So here’s what I do: I start with the self-serve wash, and then I go over every surface with a fine-toothed comb, looking for spots that the high-pressure stream didn’t take care of. Whenever I see one, I spray a little Meguiar’s on there and rub it out. Simple as that.

Car show picture

Photo credit: Erik Baeumlisberger.

If you follow these two steps, your exterior’s going to be ready for prime time.

Interior Shine

But what about the cabin? Other than dusting and de-smudging as required, I mostly focus on the upholstery, and that means keeping it in the family with Meguiar’s Gold Class Rich Leather Cleaner. Take another one of those microfiber rags and rub this stuff in nice and deep on the seats, door panels, even the dashboard if it’s covered in leather or vinyl. The Meguiar’s formula isn’t greasy or shiny; it just gives the surfaces a really refined luster. Let me tell you, not all of the guys at the show will go this far to make their interiors sparkle, and that could be the difference between first and second place.

How Do You Keep It Clean?

I know I’m not the only one here with decades of car shows under my belt. What are your quick tips for cleaning up your act before the show? Let us know in the comments.

Editor’s note: Find all of the appearance products and accessories you need for car show prep at Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

The Art of Rechroming

Car chrome grille pictureNext time you’re checking out all the hot rides at a car show, ask yourself this question:

What makes these cars look so amazing?

Of course, a lot of it has to do with inherent styling excellence. Any Porsche 911’s going to turn some heads based on its iconic sheet metal alone; ditto the C2 Chevrolet Corvette and countless other models I could mention.

But if you take a closer look, you’ll see there’s a pretty common denominator:

Chrome.

Perfectly smooth, impeccably polished chrome.

You’ll see it shining under the hoods of all those old American muscle cars. Check out the bumpers, too, and you’ll see mirror finishes front and back. Bottom line? You’re not gonna win any prizes if your chrome’s not correct. And for me, it’s just a point of pride in general — when I look at my car in the garage, I want to see that chrome shining right back.

If you’re with me on that, then you’re gonna want to fix up your chrome from time to time. The process is called re-chroming, and it’s something every classic-car buff needs to know about. So let’s run through a quick Rechroming 101 course together, whether it’s an introduction for you or just a refresher.

How Do They Do It?

© Copyright General Motors

© Copyright General Motors

Chroming, or technically chrome plating, is just a particular way of finishing a surface. The craftsman starts by cleaning the part’s existing surface thoroughly, and then he “dips” the part in a chrome-plating vat that’s filled with a chromium-based solution. Through a process known as electroplating, electrical current is used to dissolve the chromium atoms and “plate” them onto the surface. The thickness of the plating is determined by how long the craftsman leaves the part in the vat. Once the desired thickness has been achieved, boom — you’ve got your re-chromed surface. Hey, I’m no scientist, but in a nutshell, that’s more or less how it works.

Popular Cars and Car Parts for Re-Chroming

Chrome Tail pipe photoAlthough chrome continues to be featured on some modern cars, it’s more common among the older cars you tend to see at the shows. Chrome bumpers, for example, are pretty much dead and gone these days, unless you count a handful of pickup trucks. And good luck finding chrome headers under the hood; you’re more likely to see a bunch of molded plastic engine covers. When I think of cars that are candidates for re-chroming, I think of the classics — Mustangs, Corvettes, Chevelles, and certainly European luminaries like Ferraris and Lamborghinis if your budget allows.

As far as specific car parts go, you’ve got the bumpers and headers that I already pointed out, but it doesn’t stop there. Wheels are a big one, of course, and since they’re so close to the road with all its dust and debris, they’re gonna need more frequent attention than other parts. Chrome grilles, too, are in a vulnerable spot; you’ll often see pitting and tarnishing up there.

But more broadly, just think about that C2 Corvette I mentioned, for example — there’s chrome everywhere! You’ve got those iconic side-exit exhaust pipes, the fuel flap on the rear deck and various other exterior parts, not to mention all the chrome switches and knobs inside. Back in the day, chrome was a much more significant part of car styling, so if you want to make your classic car tip-top, you might have a real laundry list of parts that need to be re-chromed.

Have You Had Any Car-Parts Rechromed?

You know I’m always looking for people’s real-world experience with the stuff I write about. Have you re-chromed any of your car parts before? Tell us any tips you have in the comments.

Editor’s note: Check out Advance Auto Parts for a wide selection of chrome parts and accessories. Buy online, pick up in-store.

Ultimate Beach Bum Vehicles

VW T2 Van picture

With Memorial Day on the horizon and summer soon to follow, our resident Gearhead dishes on his favorite beach bum rides. 

When I start talking about cars, it usually isn’t long before I’m quoting zero-to-60 times, horsepower numbers and all that stuff. I’m just an old speed freak, you know? It’s in my blood. Can’t help myself.

But today I want to talk about a type of car that’s all the way on the other end of the spectrum.

It doesn’t even have an official name, so let’s just call it the Beach Bum Mobile.

I know that sounds vague, but you know one when you see one. First and foremost, it’s got to have room for a mattress in back, if not a full-on bed. Rear windows are optional, though a nice round porthole job with a curtain is a classy choice. You can live out of a Beach Bum Mobile if you need to, but you can also just keep it in the driveway for the occasional trip through the countryside, stopping where you please.

Got the picture? Like I said, we all know one when we see one. Now let’s look at a few of the ultimate Beach Bum Mobiles, from my childhood in the ’50s and ’60s to the present.

VW T2 van photoVolkswagen Bus

This is arguably where it all started. Technically known as the Volkswagen Type 2 (it was VW’s second car, after the Beetle), the “Bus” goes all the way back to the ’50s. Soon after showing up in the U.S., it became a fixture on the beaches of both coasts, showing a particular affinity for the laid-back Southern California lifestyle. You could get it as a passenger van or a panel van — the pickup version is a separate story — and folks quickly got creative, coming up with all sorts of camper-type variants. The rear-mounted, air-cooled boxer four-cylinder barely made enough power to get the Bus up a hill, but it was also incredibly easy to wrench on. This van is a legend; if you ask me, it’s still the best Beach Bum Mobile of all time.

Toyota Previa photo

Photo credit: Mr. Choppers

Modern Minivans

They may not have the character of a VW Bus, but modern minivans are perfect for Beach Bum duty. You can usually fold the rear seats down or remove them entirely, and there’s plenty of room in there for an air mattress. Plus, minivans get better fuel economy than those full-size vans with their thirsty V8 engines.

If you’re strapped for cash, as beach bums tend to be, you can set your sights on aging workhorses like the Nissan Quest from the ’90s, or even an original Dodge Caravan from the ’80s. My personal favorite is the Toyota Previa, which rocked out in the ’90s with its supercharged engine and available all-wheel drive. If you’ve got a little more scratch, early versions of the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna make for great pre-owned options.

2014 Mercedes-Benz Freightliner Sprinter Van photoMercedes-Benz Sprinter

Let’s say you’re a beach bum in spirit, but your bank account says otherwise. Cost no object, there’s one current Beach Bum Mobile on the market that would earn my vote, and it’s a stoic German van called the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. To me, this is today’s equivalent of the VW Bus, albeit with a starting price in the $40,000 range. Powered by a torque-rich turbodiesel V6 that’s reportedly capable of 30 mpg on the highway, it’s offered in passenger and cargo versions, and the aftermarket is full of awesome conversion options, from pop-top camper roofs to full off-road kits with massive tires. The styling is so anonymous that it’ll never be an icon like the Bus, but it certainly has everything the well-heeled beach bum could ask for.

What’s Your Beach Bum Story?

Have you spent any time in a Beach Bum Mobile? Tell us all about it in the comments.

Editor’s note: Beach bum or garage guru, Advance Auto Parts is here to help with a wide selection of auto parts and tools for most all projects. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Crucial Cars: Dodge Charger

Dodge Charger red picture

From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

In this installment, our man Gearhead digs deep into one of the baddest muscle cars in the land: the mighty Dodge Charger.

Calling the Dodge Charger a Crucial Car is kind of like calling asphalt black.

It pretty much goes without saying.

You’d be hard-pressed to find another model through the years that’s been as meaningful to enthusiasts as the Charger. In the ’60s and early ’70s, it was a king-of-the-hill muscle car that young men (including yours truly) fantasized about owning. In the ’80s, it was reborn as a sporty front-wheel-drive hatchback. All the while, the Charger name stayed relevant for folks who loved to drive.

But as the politicians like to say, I’m here today to focus on the present. Since 2006, the Charger has gotten back to its muscle-car roots, with one exception: it’s got four doors instead of two. Let’s take a few minutes and appreciate what the modern Charger has accomplished.

Dodge Charger 2 photoHemi V8 Power

From the get-go, the four-door Charger has been available with a brawny 5.7-liter Hemi V8. Now, does it truly have a hemispherical combustion chamber like Chrysler’s so-called “Elephant Engine,” the monstrous 426 Hemi from the ’60s? Some say no, because the chamber’s too shallow. But when an engine hauls this much you-know-what, who cares? Initially rated at 340 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque, the 5.7-liter Hemi has seen various improvements since, with output now creeping toward 380 hp and 400 lb-ft. But the basic design remains remarkably true to the original Hemis from my childhood, and if you ask me, that’s pretty doggone cool.

Of course, the modern Charger offers other Hemis, too — and by “other,” I mean bigger and better. There’s the Charger Hellcat’s supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi, of course, which makes an insane 707 hp. But that’s not the one I want, believe it or not. I want the 6.4-liter Hemi, naturally aspirated, with 485 hp and 475 lb-ft. It sounds like NASCAR when you’re on the throttle, and if you get the Charger Scat Pack model, you can have all that motor for a shade over $40 grand.

Luxury-Car Credentials

Underneath, the current Charger dates back to the ill-fated Daimler-Chrysler merger, which is actually a very good thing for Dodge. Basically, Mercedes shared its midsize sedan platforms and suspension technology with Chrysler, and the Charger’s still using that Benz know-how on the road today. Listen, don’t knock it just because it’s not the latest and greatest; Mercedes has been building tank-like sedans for decades, and that’s exactly what the Charger feels like from behind the wheel. It’s large, it’s hunkered-down, and it’s unflappable at any speed. Bottom line, it’s a luxury car in disguise, and that even goes for the ambient noise at speed — it’s almost nonexistent.

Aftermarket Support From the FactoryDodge Charger 3 photo

One of the great things about Dodge performance cars is that they’re backed by a factory-certified speed shop. Mopar is the name, and personalizing your Charger is what they’re all about. I’m talking about big wheels, slammed suspensions, audio upgrades, you name it. They’ll even help you squeeze some more power out of that Hemi if you want, and they’ll certainly hook you up with an awesome exhaust system to make it sing. If you’re a Charger fan, the stock specification is just a starting point for your creativity, and Dodge knows it.

Tell Us Your Charger Story

Have you owned or driven a modern Charger (2006 – present)? Leave your impressions of this four-door muscle car in the comments.

Editor’s note: Whether your drive a muscle car or a mini van, Advance Auto Parts has the parts and tools you need to keep it running right. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.