From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.
For this installment, Gearhead’s Garage puts the spotlight on Dodge’s long-time rival to the Camaro and Mustang, the Challenger
Although Plymouth had slapped a huge fastback rear window onto its pedestrian Valiant and called it a Barracuda back in ’64, Ford is credited with starting the sporty four-passenger coupe/convertible segment a few weeks later with its much more unique Mustang, hence the “pony car” nickname for this then-new segment.
By 1970, the pony car segment was in full force. The Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird came onto the scene for 1967, as did a redesigned Barracuda that broke away from its humble Valiant roots. AMC debuted its Javelin for 1968. And then Dodge finally joined the party for 1970 with its Challenger.
With its bigger size compared to its rivals (it was about four inches longer and five inches wider than a Mustang), the Challenger, available in coupe and convertible body styles, was a boulevard bruiser. Curiously, its redesigned-for-’70 Barracuda platform mate was about five inches shorter in length, making it more of a true pony car in terms of size. Still, there was no denying the appeal of the Challenger no matter how you wanted to classify it.
Mild to Wild
As with its competitors, the Dodge Challenger could be equipped with anything from a lackluster six cylinder engine to any of a number of pavement rippling V8s. Trim levels included the base Challenger, luxury-themed Challenger SE, high-performance R/T and road race track-focused T/A.
Engine choices ran the spectrum from a 225-cubic-inch slant six with just 145-horsepower and on through 318-, 340-, 383-, 426- and 440-cubic-inch V8s. Of them all, the most highly respected were the high-winding 340 4-barrel and “Six-Pack” (three two-barrel carbs), stout 440 4-barrel and Six-Pack and brutal 426 Hemi, (which boasted two four-barrel carbs). Their seriously underrated outputs stood at 275 hp, 290 hp, 375 hp, 390 hp and 425 hp, respectively.
Performance figures of the day had the Challenger T/A (which came with the 340 Six-Pack) sprinting to 60 mph in around 7.0 seconds and running the quarter mile in around 15.0, with the 440 Six Pack about a second quicker in each contest. A Hemi Challenger was king of the strip with the 0-to-60 dash done in about 5.8 seconds and the quarter mile done in the high 13s.
The following year, 1971, saw the T/A version and its 340 Six-Pack engine dropped from the lineup, but the 440 Six-Pack and the 426 Hemi were still available. This would be the last year for those big brutes. A split grille insert and separated rear taillights (versus the single unbroken strip of ’70) marked the minor styling update for that year’s Challenger.
As most muscle cars fans know, 1972 signaled the downfall of this performance era, and the Challenger was a victim as well. In addition to the convertible body style going away, so too did the big engine options, leaving just the slant six, 318 V8 and 340 V8. Furthermore, a drop in compression ratios as well as a change from SAE Gross to Net (engine running a full exhaust and accessories) ratings dropped output numbers.
Trim levels were also reduced that year to just two: the base Challenger and the sportier Rallye. As such, the hot ticket for ’72 was a Challenger Rallye with the 340 V8 and a four-speed stick. The 0-to-60 and quarter mile times for that version were still respectable at around 7.5- and 15.5-seconds, respectively. Styling changes included a much larger grille that continued below the bumper and a change to four semi-rectangular taillights.
For 1973 and 1974 (which would be this generation’s last year) the Challenger continued pretty much unchanged with the exception of a 360 cubic-inch V8 replacing the 340 for 1974 and the car receiving larger bumper guards to meet federal standards.
In Name Only
For 1978, the Challenger returned. No, actually just the name returned as that classic moniker was affixed to a Dodge-badged version of a Mitsubishi built sport coupe powered by – perish the thought — a four cylinder engine. Actually, one could choose between a 2.0-liter, 77 hp mill or a 2.6-liter 105 hp four banger. Electronic features and a plush velour interior highlighted this rival to the Toyota Celica and Datsun (Nissan) 200SX. For 1980, the big four became the standard engine while 1981 brought a more upright roofline. 1983 was the last year for this misnamed but pleasant enough small sport coupe.
The Real Challenger Returns
More than three decades after the original Challenger left the factory, its true successor returned. Specifically, 2008 saw the return of the Dodge Challenger, complete with a tribute to the 1970’s styling as well as a rip-roaring V8 engine. Though it may look very similar to a ’70-’74 Challenger, the new-age one is considerably larger. At around 4,150 pounds it tips the scales about 500 pounds heavier, and both wheelbase and overall length are around six inches greater. The positives are that the new Challenger has a lot more safety and luxury features, as well as considerably greater rear seat passenger room.
Indeed, only the ultra-high-performance “SRT8” version was available for 2008, complete with a 425-horsepower, 6.1-liter Hemi V8 engine matched to a five-speed automatic. Performance was stunning, as the Challenger SRT8 could leap to 60 in just 5.1 seconds and dismiss the quarter mile in 13.2 seconds, handily beating the legendary 426 Hemi Challenger of 1970. And unlike the old car, this one boasted fairly athletic handling around corners and could stop from 60 mph in just 115 feet.
The following year, a six-speed manual became available for the SRT8 and a base, V6-powered SE debuted, along with the return of the R/T, this time as a mid-level performance version packing a 5.7-liter, 370 hp Hemi V8.
For 2011, a new V6 engine sporting 305 hp debuted, meaning no apologies need be made for driving a “base” Challenger. Also, the SRT8 became the SRT8 392, the numbers signifying in cubic inches a larger V8 with 470 eager horses that can catapult this beast to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds. Upgrades in suspension, steering and brakes across the lineup make this a very good year to consider if you’re in the market for a Challenger.
Apart from minor equipment shuffling and some new trim levels, the Challenger continued through 2014 mostly unchanged. But 2015 brought some really big news. New styling paid tribute to, what else, the 1971 Challenger with its split grille (on all but the Hellcat version) and separated taillights. A new interior was a leap forward in terms of style and materials quality, while an eight-speed automatic joins the six-speed manual for transmission choices.
And now, forget 500, or even 600 horsepower. With the 2015 Challenger SRT Hellcat, an incredible 707 horsepower could be had under the scooped hood of a Challenger. Performance of this road burner was simply mind bending, with the dash to 60 mph a traction-dictated 4.1 second effort (with drag radials a 3-second time would likely be cake) and the quarter mile unreeled in just 11.9 seconds, making this one of the quickest street legal cars ever offered for sale to the general public.
Join the Club
If you’re a Challenger owner or even just an enthusiast, there are a few web sites you can check out for specs, classifieds and car show information. There are the Challenger Club of America, Dodge Challenger Forumz, and West Coast Challengers, to name a few.
Wheels: Bigger isn’t Always Better
by Street Talk
Seems that “Bigger is better” has become something of an American mantra. We’ve got Big Macs, big sunglasses, big houses, big trucks. And in the automotive modification world, big wheels. The latter have grown from simply big to downright cartoonish in some cases, giving some rides the look of rolling caricatures.
On the other hand, there are big wheels that do more than add automotive eye candy. With improved performance as the goal, these wheels, when shod with high-performance tires, are essentially the athletic shoes of the automotive aftermarket.
Yet despite how cool bigger than stock wheels may look, depending on where your priorities lie, they may not be the best choice for your car.
Bigger For More Bling
The first custom wheels to start the big wheel movement were “Dubs”, which is urban slang for the number 20. Measuring 20 inches in diameter, these large wheels were favored among pro athletes, rappers and other celebrity types who wanted their rides to draw even more attention. Some even had separate center pieces that would spin freely, further upping the “look at me” factor when the car stopped and the wheels seemingly kept spinning.
Originally seen fitted to big luxury cars, such as Cadillacs, S-Class Benzes, 6- and 7 Series BMWs and various Bentleys, Dubs soon appeared on exotic sports cars too. Eventually, as the wheel choices expanded and got more affordable, non-wealthy folks got into the act, putting them onto more mainstream cars and trucks, such as Chevy Camaros, Olds Cutlasses, Chevy Caprices, Chevy Tahoes, Ford Expeditions and Ford Crown Victorias. The car makers themselves started offering big wheel options as well.
More recent years have seen these styling statement wheels grow much larger, with 24-inch and even larger aftermarket hoops being squeezed into fenders originally designed for 15-, 16-, or 17-inch factory wheels. Although they’re larger than 20s, these wheels are still called Dubs by most people. Indeed, a magazine dubbed “Dub” sprang up back in 2000 to celebrate the big wheel culture. And it’s still going strong today, some 16 years later.
Typically chromed and sporting fancy designs, Dubs were (and are) typically much heavier than the original wheels which came on a given car. That’s not a good thing as it negatively affects the car’s overall performance and ride characteristics. Due to their greater mass, they take more power to overcome what’s called rotational inertia. In other words, because they’re heavier, it takes more power to get them rolling. Conversely, once they’re up to speed, it takes longer to slow them down. So both acceleration and braking are affected.
Similarly, their heavier weight makes them slower to react to quick up-and-down motions of the suspension. Factor in the super low profile tires they’re wearing, whose minuscule, stiff sidewalls offer virtually no impact absorption, and you’re left with a notably harsher ride than what the car originally provided.
Bigger Wheels for Performance Enhancement
On the other end of the big wheel spectrum are the performance wheels that are typically available in “Plus-1, Plus-2, Plus-3” etcetera fitments, which indicate how much larger (in inches) than the stock wheel they are. These larger wheels are constructed of ultra-lightweight materials such as exotic alloys or even carbon fiber, so they actually end up weighing less than the smaller, factory-issued wheels.
As such, these high-performance wheels don’t saddle your ride with any of the ill effects that heavier wheels impart on a car’s dynamics. Instead, this type of a big wheel upgrade provides notably crisper handling and sharper steering response. Less mass also helps improve acceleration and braking qualities.
Yes, going with these larger yet lighter wheels still means that, even without suspension mods, the ride is going to be somewhat stiffer than stock due to those shorter, stiffer tire sidewalls. So those who are happy with their car’s factory-issued handling and ride balance may want to reconsider this type of upsizing upgrade, while those enthusiasts looking for sharper, more “connected-to-the-road” handling will likely feel it’s a more than fair trade-off.
No one EVER has trouble figuring out what to get me for Christmas. That’s because one of my favorite places to spend time is in the garage, and like most car guys and gals who consider themselves heavy or light DIYers, or somewhere in between, there’s always a new garage tool or gadget on my wish list.
This holiday season, my tool wants aren’t items I must have to finish any one project, rather they are garage tools that would make my life easier and my work more enjoyable. Those qualities are, after all, hallmarks of a great tool and gift idea, right?
A magnetic tray. If Ralphie had one of these in A Christmas Story, he never would have watched in horror as the lug nuts went flying through the air and into the snow, forever lost. I have a similar problem misplacing small metal parts while I’m working on something in the garage, house or yard. A magnetic tray is a tool I can keep close by while working and makes it easy to contain and keep track of any small parts that are involved with the project.
Truck box light. My 2004 F150 has a hard tonneau cover over the bed. It’s awesome at keeping everything dry and secure, but it has one downside. When it’s dark out and the cover is raised, it blocks any light from the cab-mounted cargo light, leaving me to fumble around in the dark for a flashlight or my iPhone flashlight app. I tried sticking some battery powered lights to the cover’s underside, but they were designed to be used under kitchen cabinets and the adhesive couldn’t hold up to road vibration or to the cover being closed repeatedly. A truck box light that attaches via a magnet to the bed would be a lot easier and remain in place.
Three-drawer portable tool box. All my tools – and there are a lot – have their place in the well-organized garage pegboard, workbench drawers or large rolling toolbox. When I need just a handful of tools to work on something outside the garage or to help a friend, I can usually fit them in a medium-size canvas tool bag. On larger projects that require more tool power, or for projects that I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to need, I’d like to have something that’s sized between the bag and the large rolling tool cart, but is still portable so I can take it with me. I think a three-drawer portable tool chest is the answer. On a related note, Advance has some tool sets on sale right now!
Three-foot fan. During the summer, my garage gets hot, and sometimes smells from exhaust fumes, pepperoni and onion pizza, and the occasional small engine fire. A traditional box or oscillating fan doesn’t move enough air to keep me cool or to eradicate unpleasant olfactory sensations. That’s why I want the big blades and cubic-feet-of-air-moving-capacity that comes with a three-foot garage fan. And, when I’m not working in the garage, who’s to say it can’t pull double duty and keep me cool while I’m slaving over a hot grill on the back deck?
Editor’s note: Whether you’re buying tools for yourself or for a family member or friend this holiday season, Advance Auto Parts has the tools, parts and vehicle-related gifts to help you finish the job. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.
“Car history is world history and the world is a strange place full of weird people.”
We recently read Jalopnik’s Book of Car Facts and History Even Gearheads Don’t Know, and wanted to know more about the story behind the story – about this book in particular and Jalopnik, in general. Fortunately, Jalopnik’s executive director, Matt Hardigree, was gracious enough to answer our questions shortly before the site’s 11th anniversary.
First, some context about the book’s title. “At Jalopnik,” Matt says, “we take a wide view of the definition of the term ‘gearhead,’ using it to mean anyone who likes cars because they’re interested in the history, what a car does, how it works. You can define it narrowly, of course, to make yourself feel good. We could say, ‘If you haven’t swapped an engine in every single kind of car, then you’re not part of our club.’ But we want to be inclusive, not inaccessible.” Even on the Jalopnik team, he says, people range from those who do full engine swaps to those who only do a bit of car maintenance.
In general, Matt isn’t a fan of car lingo. “Lingo keeps people away, shuts them out,” he says, “and only serves to make the person using the lingo feel smarter, cooler, and in the know.”
He does note that enthusiasts seldom refer to a car with its real name, instead giving it an affectionate nickname. “Each person might use shorthand that only he or she understands, and that can cause communication problems.”
The bottom line: a gearhead knows another gearhead when he or she realizes, “Hey! You have the same weird and wonderful problem that I do!”
Premise of the book
“People,” Matt says, “are more interesting than machines. In reality, machines are interesting BECAUSE of the people who invented them and the stories are crazy BECAUSE of people’s inventiveness.”
It was challenging to narrow down the topics to fit into this book, he admits, but they ultimately chose topics that gearheads should know about, but usually don’t, picking posts from six or seven years ago so they weren’t fresh in people’s minds. “Everyone knows the history of Mercedes Benz,” he says, “but who knows about the first amphicar? About an amphibious car that, when it was wrecked on the street, the owner charged a fee for people to view the wreckage? Now, that’s American ingenuity, and we want to educate people enough so that they could do bar chats on the topics.”
“At Jalopnik,” he adds, “we don’t necessarily choose stories because they would appeal to car enthusiasts. More accurately, we choose stories that will help TURN people into car enthusiasts.”
Here are snippets from stories on the brink between “genius and insanity” – targeted towards anyone who “cherishes the weird dark alleys of automobile history”:
- Who is Ferdinand Verbiest and why did his name appear in the first chapter of Jalopnik’s book?
- Flemish Jesuit missionary living in China who built the first self-propelled vehicle in 1672, a toy for the emperor. Unfortunately, he died after falling off of a horse.
- Who was the first automaker to offer a television in a car – in what year at what cost?
- Ford Motor Company: $169.95 in 1965; the television set hung from brackets off the front seats and could be powered by plugging it into the cigarette lighter or into a portable battery pack.
- What does the 1963 Corvette have in common with a headless shark?
- Design teams were brainstorming Corvette concept cars to follow up on the Stingray right when GM’s VP of Design Bill Mitchell came home from vacation. He’d supposedly caught a shark while traveling and brought home the head – and he wanted the car paint to duplicate the natural colors of the shark.
Jalopnik’s book is full of countless other stories like these. So, if you haven’t read it yet, we wholeheartedly recommend that you do.
Behind the scenes at Jalopnik
“Jason is a ridiculous genius,” Matt says, “and can find the greatest moments in automotive history. When he decided to find the first drawing or cartoon of a car, as just one example, he worked on that project for months. Maybe for years. Once he’d find a cartoon that was the oldest he’d seen to date, he’d then start to try to find an older one. He wanted to discover what the oldest cartoons tell us about the people of that era.”
We also chatted about Doug DeMuro – and when he got stopped not once, but twice, in one single evening driving his 1990 Nissan Skyline GT-R (find Advance Auto Parts coverage on that here). “Doug is hilarious,” Matt says. “Here, he is – this average nice guy wearing cargo shorts, getting hassled. The way he interfaces with the outside world resonates with audiences and, when he writes for Jalopnik, traffic goes up.”
The reality is, Matt admits, there is enough material to write 1,000 stories every single day about cars: about crashes, about who is buying, who is selling, who is designing a new model. To make it into Jalopnik, though, it “needs to make us laugh, be a story that clearly targets us. Now that we’re big, we need to be thoughtful and not make jokes at someone else’s expense who never intended to become a public figure, which eliminates some of what we would have published in earlier days. In other words, we were willing to punch our way up, but we won’t punch down.”
Here are two examples of his thought processes about what makes a great story. “If you write about automated cars in a way that makes them seem as exciting as a toaster, that doesn’t work. But if you can write about them as Knight Rider coming to life, you’re writing about a car owner’s partner, his pal, rather than what’s comparable to a refrigerator on wheels.”
Here’s a second example. “When writing about the history of the Mustang, you’d include the story of the horse logo. You’d share how the last battle that used horses was in Hungary, tanks versus horses. The guy who ultimately designed the Mustang logo with a horse survived that battle and designed the logo as a tribute to everyone who fought. So, modern warfare brought about the end of horse participation, yet the animal ends up on a car. Those are the details that make you care.”
For many car guys and gals, modifying their ride’s style to make it their own is one of the most exciting and satisfying aspects of being an enthusiast. Maybe the stock wheels look rather plain and/or lost in the big wheel wells, so installing an aftermarket quartet can go a long way towards jazzing up the car’s looks and stance. Maybe you’d like to liven up its face too by accenting the headlights with some electronic eyeliner. And then there are the sporty spoilers, which range from mild to wild.
Note that in keeping with the affordable and “bolt-on” installation nature of this article, we didn’t include pricier and much more involved mods such as lower body kits and boxed wheel flares.
It’s hard to top a new set of wheels for making an easy, yet impactful visual statement. With so many different styles available, ranging from a subtle upgrade over stock fitment to what can only be described as over the top bling (remember “spinners”? Ugh.), aftermarket wheels are understandably one of the most popular upgrades.
In addition to the visual pizzazz they provide, new wheels can also improve your car’s handling. Going with a larger diameter wheel means going with a lower profile sidewall for the tire. That translates into sharper handling as there will be less sidewall flex when you’re pushing your car on a curvy section of blacktop. Keep in mind that a stiffer ride is part of the deal, as those shorter sidewalls won’t help absorb the smaller bumps as much as the original, larger and more flexible sidewalls did.
Despite the temptation to “go big or go home” — for example bolting on a set of 20s when 15- or 16-inch wheels were original fitment — we advise keeping it to a “plus two” (two-inch larger diameter over stock) maximum. The reasoning behind our thinking is that, unless you’re going with very expensive, ultra lightweight wheels, those larger wheels are also going to be substantially heavier, which negatively affects a car’s acceleration, braking, and ride characteristics.
One of our favorite sites for wheels is tirerack.com. In addition to the great selection they offer, their site allows you to see what different sets of wheels will look like on your car (provided your make and model is in their extensive data base).
Show me the light
Swapping out headlights and taillights is another relatively simple and cost-effective way to personalize your car. First seen on German luxury cars, accent lighting around the headlights is now a very popular aftermarket accessory. If you’ve got round headlight elements, you can go with what BMW called “Corona rings” — circular lighting rings that surround the round lighting elements. And then there are what we call “LED eyeliner”, which was made popular by Audi and as our nickname implies uses LEDs to brightly accent the headlight clusters.
Custom taillights have been around much longer, and come in a wide array of styles. If a cool, subtle vibe is your thing, a lightly tinted set of taillights can work, especially if the stock ones feature multi-color elements. However, if you are looking for some flash, there are the clear lens units that have individual elements within accented with bright metal accents.
Although front and rear spoilers serve a purpose (they reduce aerodynamic lift at higher speeds, thus keeping the front and rear tires of the car more planted to the asphalt), let’s be honest, most folks dig them for the looks. Just as with the wheels and lighting options, spoilers come in a huge variety of styles.
We tend to prefer the more subtle ones — a discreet chin spoiler up front followed by a small, color-matched rear spoiler rising maybe an inch or so off the rear deck. But for those who like to turn the knob up to “11”, larger front air dams with gaping ducts (to ostensibly help cool the brakes) and large rear wings towering a few feet off the rear deck are available. Not necessarily our cup of 10W-40, but to each their own. It’s all about your own preferences and sense of style.
For plenty of affordable customization options, be sure to check out Advance Auto Parts.
Many DIYers relish the opportunity to work on their vehicle, whether it’s performing routine maintenance or installing the latest performance upgrade. Sometimes, however, what should be a relaxing and satisfying few hours spent under the hood on a weekend afternoon with the game on in the background turns instead into a knuckle-busting, tool-throwing lesson in DIY frustration.
We’ve all been there – victims of Murphy’s Law. Whatever can go wrong, will, and the chances of it happening rise in tandem with the degree to which you’re feeling rushed or under pressure to get the job done.
Here’s my Top Five List of DIY Annoyances. This isn’t an all-inclusive list, so let’s hear what your biggest frustrations are under the hood.
Plastic engine and under-car covers. Lift the hood or crawl underneath most modern vehicles and you’ll see plastic – a lot of it. Plastic shrouds cover the engine, the battery, and pretty much everything else you might have a need to access under the hood. It’s no better down on the ground with plastic blocking precisely the spot you need to place a wrench. Depending on whom you believe, all that plastic serves a purpose – according to vehicle manufacturers – or it’s been placed there to thwart DIYers. Regardless, its presence makes your job that much more difficult and time-consuming. And, more often than not, the plastic screws or clips holding the shrouds in place break when they’re removed. I prefer a plastic-cover free, roomy engine compartment, circa 1973, in which to perform my best work.
Lost – or as I tell my wife – “temporarily misplaced” tools. It’s a simple job – one that shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes and one for which you have all the necessary tools close at hand. Or so you think. The one tool that you must have for the job, and that you know you do have, isn’t where it should be. In fact, it isn’t anywhere. Did you loan it to someone? Leave it in the shed? Mistakenly throw it away? You now wind up spending more time searching for that tool than it would have taken you to complete the job. Put the tools away where they belong every time.
Fixing that which is not broken, or, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Sometimes you’re unsure exactly what the problem is so you start fixing things that you think may be the culprit, only to find out they’re not. On the other hand, you might be overconfident that you know exactly what the vehicle maintenance problem is so you fix it, and quickly learn it wasn’t the problem. Case in point – the Honda engine on my wood splitter suffered from an intermittent failure to start. I was sure it was the rust build up on the flywheel magnet. It wasn’t. Then it had to be the spark plug. Nope. Followed by the low-oil switch. Wrong again. Finally, I struck gold by cleaning some water and junk out of the carb bowl. Finding the right fix can be time-consuming, costly, and frustrating, but it’s important.
Doing more harm than good. When does a routine carb adjustment turn into a head removal? After you drop something down the intake. In the blink of an eye, what should have been an easy, inexpensive task just turned into an expensive vehicle maintenance nightmare because you deposited a screw, nut, washer or some loose change down there. Sure, you can tell yourself that it fell in the gravel driveway and that’s why you can’t find it. You’ll soon learn the truth when you start the engine. It’s happened to the best of us – good intentions of fixing one part are punished with the realization that you just broke something else, and it’s going to be a lot more difficult and time-consuming to repair.
Other people. Even if you’re living by yourself in a cabin in the woods you still have to deal with other people, and their mistakes, when it comes to servicing your vehicle. Don’t think so? Have you ever been under the hood of a vehicle someone owned before you and found yourself shaking your head in amazement, wondering how and why the previous owner made a repair the way they did? Ever pull up to a self-service car wash or air pump, deposit some coins and only then find out that someone before you broke the equipment? Ever get some bad advice from a well-meaning friend or brother-in-law who “had that exact same model and knows exactly what the problem is.” We’re all human and we all make mistakes. Be ready for it.
Working on vehicles can be a tricky business or hobby and one that’s full of surprises. Expect the annoyances, learn to roll with them, appreciate the time you get to spend under the hood, and share your pet peeves with us. You’ll feel better after you do.
Editor’s note: Whether it’s tools, parts, or knowledge, if you don’t have what you need under the hood, turn to Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.
From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.
For this installment, Gearhead’s Garage puts the spotlight on AMC’s entry in the Pony Car wars, the Javelin AMX
Largely overshadowed by the Chevrolet Camaro, Pontiac Firebird and Ford Mustang, (and to a lesser degree the Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Barracuda), the AMC Javelin AMX was akin to RC cola battling Coke and Pepsi. That doesn’t mean it was a bad choice in the Pony car segment (so-called because the Mustang is credited with starting this sporty segment back in 1964). Far from it, the Javelin AMX was just a different flavor. And plenty of performance enthusiasts found it downright sweet.
Note that we are talking about the four-passenger Javelin AMX here that was produced from 1971-1974, not the two-passenger version that was based on a shortened Javelin body/platform, just called the AMC AMX and produced from 1968-1970. Certainly the earlier version was cool in its own right, being the only American car of that time other than the Corvette to seat just two, but its appeal was limited and AMC made the decision to continue it after 1970 with the Javelin body and its backseat fully intact.
Cue it up
As it was now the top performance version of AMC’s Javelin, the 1971 AMX shared its styling. This meant the Javelin’s Corvette-like front fender curves, long hood and semi-fastback roofline were key styling cues, as was the full-width taillight panel. Marking it as the top dog in the AMC kennel were a mesh grille, a rear spoiler and a few options, such as a cowl induction hood and a big “T” stripe for the hood, that were not available on the standard Javelin. Inside the AMX, bucket seats and a console were standard and the dash curved around the driver. Along with that cockpit feel, the dash and door panels featured a metallic “engine turned” appliqué which further enhanced the AMX’s decidedly sporty vibe.
Extra performance for the AMX
With an overall length of 191.8 inches, the Javelin was about two inches longer than a ’71 Mustang and about four inches longer than a ’71 Camaro. Under the hood, a 360 cubic-inch, two-barrel V8 with 245 horsepower was standard, and could be hooked up to either a three-speed automatic or three-speed manual gearbox. Most buyers stepped up to either the 360 4-barrel (285 hp) or 401 4-barrel (330 hp) V8, either of which could have the automatic or a four-speed manual. Any guesses as to which powertrain we’d go with? The optional “Go” package included either the 360-4 barrel or 401-4 barrel V8 along with dual exhausts, the “twin grip” rear differential, the cowl induction hood with the T stripe, 15-inch (rather than 14-inch) wheels, a firmer suspension and a Rally gauge package.
As you were
For 1972, there were just a few changes to note for AMC’s sporty coupe. A smaller, 304 cubic-inch V8 was the standard engine, with both 360s and the 401 optional. As with other American cars, engine output ratings changed from “Gross” to “Net”. The previous Gross ratings were measured with the engine itself running on a stand, as opposed to the more realistic Net ratings which measured its output with accessory pulleys, exhaust and transmission all installed.
Yes, the ’72 engines lost a little power due to drops in compression that allowed them to meet tougher emissions standards and run on lower octane gas, but they didn’t lose nearly as much as simply comparing gross to net numbers might falsely indicate. That said, the 304 made 150 hp, the 360 2 barrel V8 was now rated at 175 hp, the 360 4 barrel with dual exhaust made 220 hp, and the big dog 401 was rated at 255 hp.
As the mid-’70s approached, luxury started to replace performance as a big selling point. For 1973, AMC offered an optional Cardin (yes, Pierre Cardin, the clothes designer) interior package for the Javelin and it could even be had on the AMX. Fully embracing the outlandish ’70s, the Cardin package featured black upholstery sporting wide stripes of white, orange and fuchsia running rampant over the seats, door panels and even the headliner. Visually, the only notable external change was the taillights going from the previous full width strip design to four semi-squared off units. Fortunately, for those who actually wanted performance more than plush trimmings, you could still specify an AMX with the 360 or 401 Go package and a Hurst-shifted four-speed.
The following year, 1974, would be the Javelin’s — and hence the Javelin AMX’s – last. Other than the Cardin package disappearing from the options roster, nothing changed for ’74.
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Today’s war among American performance cars easily rivals the one waged so fiercely during the 1960s and early ’70s. In addition to the factory muscle car offerings, you had upgraded versions offered by certain dealerships. Owned by rapid enthusiasts, these dealerships were hell bent on giving their customers (and themselves) a reputation for street battle supremacy.
These dealers — such as Yenko Chevrolet, Mr. Norm’s Grand Spaulding Dodge and Tasca Ford — would gladly build up your Camaro, Challenger or Mustang to a performance level seemingly limited only by your nerve and financial status. Pavement burners such as a Yenko Camaro sporting a 427-cubic inch big block gave acceleration junkies serious one-upmanship on their buddies who had “settled” for a stock SS396 Camaro. Likewise for Dodge fans who wanted a hopped up Dart and Ford fans who, before the factory made it available, wanted nothing less than a 428 Cobra Jet V8 in their Mustangs.
Nowadays, modern factory performance cars leave little argument for such improvements. Does anyone really need more than what we’ve seen show up in Chevy, Ford and Dodge showrooms the last couple of years? Specifically, how could you possibly want more than a 580-horsepower Camaro ZL1, a 662-hp Mustang Shelby GT500 or a 707-hp Challenger Hellcat? For those performance buffs who live by the “too much is not enough” credo, there are a number of companies around who are more than willing to boost these beasts beyond their already crazy capabilities.
Mustang fans who were disappointed to see the Shelby GT500 absent from the all-new 2015 Mustang family need only contact Shelby American. Click away and you’ll see they offer the newest ‘stang in the 750-horse “Super Snake” version that along with all that go-power sports upgraded brakes and suspension as well as various carbon-fiber body components. If you do own a 2011-2014 GT500 and you’ve deep enough pockets, you can have them turn your car into a 1,200-hp track day monster.
On the other side of the battlefield, Chevy Camaro enthusiasts can once again hit the streets with a Yenko Camaro, thanks to Special Vehicle Engineering who acquired the rights to use the hallowed dealership’s name. Just like the good old days, a 427 cubic-inch V8 is stuffed under the hood, only this time it’s the modern small-block “LS7″version. Formerly used in the Corvette Z06 and currently seen in the new Camaro Z/28, the LS7 normally makes 505 horsepower. For the Yenko, it is supercharged and further tweaked to make a thumping 700 horsepower. Proper homage is paid to the original Yenko Camaros via a scooped hood and 1969-style “YSC” (Yenko Super Car) body graphics.
As it did in the early ’70s, the Dodge Challenger faces off against those rivals from Ford and Chevrolet. Right off the showroom floor, you can get over 700 horsepower in a new Challenger, provided you spring for the Hellcat version. That’s enough thrust to sling you down the quarter mile in just under 12 seconds. Should you find that somewhat lacking, you can have the good folks at Hennessey Performance beef up your Hellcat to the tune of 852 horsepower. Short of strapping a Space Shuttle’s Booster rocket to the trunk lid, there’s not much else that you could do to turn your Hellcat into one of hardest accelerating vehicles wearing four tires and a license plate.
Whether you keep your modern performance car bone stock or choose to have it modified by an aftermarket tuning firm, there’s no denying that today’s car wars make this a great time to have a license for us with 93 octane flowing freely through our veins.
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From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.
For this installment, the Mechanic Next Door does some heavy lifting, delving into the GMC Sierra pickup’s history and looking at the newest model.
Max and Morris Grabowsky may not be household names, but they cemented their place in automotive history nonetheless. In 1901 the Grabowsky duo built a truck prototype in Pontiac, Michigan, and went on to form their company – the Rapid Motor Vehicle Company – a year later. It didn’t take long for the brothers’ truck-building efforts and success to attract competitors’ attention, with General Motors buying them in 1909. Just three years later at the New York Auto Show, the name GMC Trucks would make its debut.
And so begins the story of GMC’s Sierra – a leader in the category of full-size pickups and a nearly identical twin to Chevy’s Silverado truck lineup. It wasn’t until the 1970s, however, that GMC would debut the name Sierra, using it to designate their trucks’ trim level, until 1987 when Sierra began serving as the permanent name for GMC’s full-size pickups.
GMC’s early, 1960’s-era pickups – before the Sierra name change – were designated as either “wideside” or “fenderside” – the latter corresponding to what many drivers today refer to as “stepside” pickups with fenders that flare out over the rear wheels. GMC also was one of the first to use numbers to indicate its trucks’ hauling capacities using the “1000”, “1500”, and “2000” designations that are common today in one form or another among all the major truck manufacturers. A “K” attached to those numbers indicated a GMC truck with four-wheel drive, and there were just two trim levels available – base or Custom. The standard engine was a 236-cubic-inch inline six delivering 135 horsepower.
Through the mid-1960’s, GMC trucks underwent a suspension change, additional engine options, and cosmetic changes to freshen the truck’s appearance. One of the most notable changes, and perhaps the start of pickups’ migration to becoming more than just work vehicles, was the debut of air conditioning in 1965.
1973 saw GM completely redesign its pickup truck line with longer wheelbases and the debut of a four-door crew cab. Engine choices ranged from a 100-horsepower, 250-cubic-inch inline six on the low end to a 240-horse 454 V8. GM’s next complete overhaul of its Sierra truck line wouldn’t occur until 1988 with trucks sporting a third more glass for improved visibility and a marked focus on more luxury items, such as upholstery and instrumentation.
That 80’s-era “luxury” pales in comparison to today’s model, considering that the 2016 GMC Sierra sports such innovations as advanced safety features and a 4G Wi-Fi Hotspot. The pickup’s evolution from being strictly a work vehicle to becoming a multi-purpose vehicle today is clearly evident on GMC’s site for Sierra, where a review of the vehicle’s interior receives precedence over its capabilities – something that would have been unheard of when trucks were meant solely for hauling and pulling. This old school Sierra’s transition into a show vehicle shows that there’s clearly a lot of life left for these pickups even when their days of doing hard work are over.
That’s not to say that new Sierra’s lack anything in the performance department. Its 6.2L V8 cranks out 420 horsepower, which GMC says is more than any other light-duty pickup. And, according to GM, the available EcoTec3 5.3L V8 engine delivers the best V8 fuel economy available among any full-size pickup. Balancing that power with control is Hill Descent Control, allowing for less nerve-wracking downhill journeys in rough terrain, and the Eaton Locker which automatically locks the rear wheels when slippage is detected.
Other automatic technology features aimed at assisting drivers include the Lane Keep Assist which helps drivers avoid drifting out of their lane by automatically correcting steering, and IntelliBeam which activates or deactivates Sierra’s high beams based on traffic conditions. Forward Collision Alert provides audible and visual alerts to help prevent collisions while the Safety Alert Seat vibrates as a warning signal to drivers.
Technology inside Sierra’s cab that’s aimed at driver convenience rather than strictly safety includes IntellilLink for customizing and organizing a variety of media, Apple CarPlay for syncing phones to the IntelliLink system, the previously mentioned 4G WiFi hotspot, and OnStar’s RemoteLink app to remotely start the vehicle, pinpoint its location on a map, and monitor the vehicle’s mechanical functions.
Available in four trim levels – Sierra Base Trim, SLE, SLT, and Denali, Sierra’s base MSRP is $27,275, and heads higher from there. After decades of popularity among truck buyers and features that give drivers what they want, the Sierra’s popularity doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.
Editor’s note: When you need anything related to your GMC Sierra, turn to Advance Auto Parts first. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.
Much like an elite athlete’s ability to rapidly breathe allows them to perform stronger, so it goes with your car’s engine. Whether you drive a ’69 Chevelle or an ’09 Civic, the same principle applies. Get more air in and out and your engine will make more power and run stronger. This is why forced induction (i.e. turbocharging and supercharging) is so popular as a means for, literally, pumping up an engine’s output. That’s great, but unless it came on your car it’s also easily a $5,000 and up modification.
If you want to improve your car’s performance without spending a lot, then you’ll want to focus on cost-effective ways to make that mill breathe like an Olympic decathlete without tearing into it. In other words, consider these following bolt-on mods that will give you the best bang, or should we say breathing, for your buck.
Golden Oldies Take a Breather
Going with a less-restrictive air filter setup than what the factory has supplied has long been a staple of performance enthusiasts. Those who own an old American car from the ’60s and ’70s typically favor a round, open-element air cleaner that sits over that carburetor. Although some old muscle cars actually came standard with these types of filters, or even trick hood scoops that funneled colder outside air to the intake, more often than not you’d see a closed housing that breathed through a snorkel-like fixture sticking out of its side. Other options for those golden oldies include Edelbrock’s iconic, triangular “Pro-Flo 1000” (formerly known as the “Lynx”) open-element filter.
Something for the Younger Ones
When fuel injection became more widespread in the ’80s, air filter assemblies took on more complex configurations that continue to this day. The latter is due chiefly to being equipped with various sensors that keep tabs on things like intake air temperature and velocity so the computers can adjust fuel metering accordingly. The air filters themselves are typically buried within black plastic boxes. The aftermarket quickly came to the rescue with low-restriction, cold-air kits that typically feature a semi-conical open-element filter. K&N, in particular, makes well-engineered kits that are known for their high quality and wide range of applications.
Ok, Now Exhale
So now that your engine can inhale more deeply; it’s time to turn your attention to the exhaling side of the equation – the exhaust. Before model year 1975, when catalytic converters (“cats”, for short) came on the scene to clean up exhaust emissions, the default performance-enhancing setup was pretty straightforward: exhaust headers running to true dual exhausts with a crossover. Nowadays, the ideal setup is pretty much the same, albeit with high-flow cats plumbed into the system. Of course you’ll want to check with your state’s emissions laws beforehand regarding replacing the cat(s), as some states may only allow factory replacements.
Still, going with a full engine-to-tailpipes system can be rather complicated (ask anybody who’s installed headers) and expensive, plus that labor is probably beyond what most shade-tree wrenches can do. The good news is you don’t have to go that far. Those looking for a cost-effective and minimal hassle upgrade should consider a “cat-back” exhaust system. It is just that, a system that bolts up after your car’s catalytic converter(s). With its freer-flowing pipes and lower-restriction muffler(s), a cat-back exhaust system lets your engine exhale easier and sounds pretty cool in the process.
Regardless of what you drive, there are plenty of great choices for a cat-back system. Popular brands include Borla, Dynomax and Magnaflow. Even within each manufacturer’s product line, there’s great variety, sonically speaking. You’ve got systems that are fairly quiet at idle and part throttle that then growl gratifyingly when you step into it. And then you’ve got the more aggressive setups that proudly make their presence known whether you’re burbling at a light on the boulevard or grabbing gears as you rocket up a freeway on-ramp.
For these power-boosting auto parts, along with all the tools you’ll need to complete the job, Advance Auto Parts will get back to the garage fast.