Modern Mods for Vintage Muscle Cars

There are many of us out there who dig old muscle cars and enjoy wrenching, but who don’t necessarily want to be “hood up” every other weekend tending to their ride’s sometimes fickle ways. Guys or gals who’d rather be burning rubber than burning daylight. One of our writers, JDP, fondly recalls his ’69 Chevelle SS396, stating it was the only car he’s ever driven that he was a little afraid off, so brutal was its acceleration, rightfully accompanied by the heavy metal chorus of its exhaust bellowing through headers and a pair of Cherry Bomb glasspacks.

But being able to enjoy the thrill of that built-up monster was not without its price, and we’re not just talking about the 8-10 mpg appetite. Fitted with a dual point distributor and a Holley 750 Double Pumper carb, his SS wasn’t exactly easy to keep in a perfect state of tune. If JDP still owned it today, he says a few modern updates would have probably been done to it by now. The trio of suggestions we present here would be nothing that would affect your muscle car’s loveable character mind you, just things that would improve its reliability, overall performance and safety.

Pertronix electronic ignition

Pertronix electronic ignition

All Fired Up
Plenty of shade tree mechanics who’ve grown tired of fiddling with ignition points have made the switch to an electronic ignition. With their “plug and play” convenience, an electronic ignition means one less thing to worry about, and deal with come tune-up time. A perfectly timed, hot spark delivered to your beast’s cylinders efficiently takes the worry out of one aspect of the holy trinity of internal combustion requirements (the other two being air and fuel).

Top choices for making this upgrade include systems by Mallory (who recently merged with MSD) and Pertronix. Indeed, the latter company offers a system that fits within the distributor, thus preserving the original appearance of the engine compartment.

 

FAST electronic fuel injection

Bye Bye Four Barrel
Whether it’s a scorching summer day or a crisp fall morning, and whether you’re driving along the coast or up high in the mountains, there’s no denying that fuel injection has the advantage over a carburetor in terms of delivering a precisely metered air/fuel mixture regardless of changing driving conditions.

We actually covered this very topic not long ago in our Carburetors versus Fuel Injection article. As we stated there, these “self-tuning” systems offered by Edelbrock, FAST, Holley and MSD will have your ride always operating at peak efficiency without you needing to deal with re-jetting and making other adjustments you’d face with a carb. And no worries about having that classic engine compartment ruined with something that looks like a Flux Capacitor, as some of these systems mimic the iconic look of a big four-barrel carb.

Stop it, will ya?
Crazy as it sounds, some of the most potent muscle cars made came standard with drum brakes all around, with front discs being optional rather than standard on certain models. It’s pretty much common knowledge that discs do a much better job of swiftly hauling a car down from speed than the old drums. That’s why a brake swap — be it just from front drums to factory-spec discs or a considerably more powerful setup sporting massive discs and calipers all around — serves as a very worthwhile performance and safety upgrade.

 

 

For your next automotive project, head to Advance Auto Parts for all the auto parts, tools and accessories you’ll need for the job!

The Wonders of Sea Foam

Sea Foam can picture

We explore the rich history and impact of this magical elixir.

It’s a beautiful spring day and so you decide to drive to a car show and take pictures of the new vehicles on display. You carefully fold up your map of the area and put it into your glove box. You make sure that you have extra rolls of 35mm film, you do some quick maintenance on your car  and you plan to return home in time to get your film to the drug store that develops your photos…

Quick question: did this scenario take place in 2015? Why or why not?

The answer to part one is: highly unlikely. This paragraph is chock full of products and scanrios that, if not obsolete, are definitely headed that way – which makes the story of Sea Foam all the more amazing.

“This product was invented in the 1930s,” says Sea Foam’s marketing director, Brian Miller, “and trademarked in 1942. Sea Foam was invented in a time when engines were much less sophisticated than they are today, with fuel that was quite different from today’s options. And yet, the same Sea Foam that improved the quality of fuel then still works every bit as well today.”

Glimpse back into the 1930s

Fred Fandrei enjoyed fishing, but he frequently experienced problems with his outboard motor. He diagnosed it as gummy varnish created by the gas and oil needed to power his engine and the “thought of spending more time fishing than working on the motor prompted Fred, who was a District Manager for the Sinclair Refining Company at that time and had a good knowledge of fuel, to invent a product that would stop the gas/oil mixture from becoming stale.”

Fred stored his product in beer bottles and quart jars and sold it to other fishermen. When one of them asked him for some of his “Sea Foam” stuff, Fred liked the name and began using it for his concoction. He advertised in Field and Stream and Outdoor Life for a while but the market demand soon started shifting from marine to automotive.

To give you a sense of the latest and greatest innovations in the car world during that era: they included low-pressure balloon tires, replacing those hard tires of the past, and windshield wipers, along with synchromesh transmissions for smoother shifting, automatic chokes, built-in trunks, hydraulic brakes and gear shifts on steering columns. Most cars now boasted both radios and heaters, and still featured foot boards and sunshades on the car’s windscreens. Radiator grilles tilted back slightly and were often made of flashy-looking chrome – and Henry Ford invented the one-piece V-8 engine for the common man. Here’s more about the cars of 1930s – and now we’ll move onto discussing what has made Sea Foam so effective for more than seventy years.Sea Foam can 2 picture

Wonders of Sea Foam

All carbon-based fuels and engine oils leave behind petroleum-based residue. Over time, these naturally build up and eventually prevent lifters and rings from working as they should, and this residue also affects injectors, pistons and intake valves. For optimum engine performance, car owners need to periodically do a clean-up job – and Brian explains how Sea Foam accomplishes this task using a petroleum-blended product.

Now, this can seem counter-intuitive. Why on earth would you use petroleum to clean up the residue from petroleum?

Brian offers a clear and concise explanation. “If you’ve ever gotten oil-based paint on your hands,” he says, “you know that using water to clean yourself up only makes matters worse. Instead, you use something oil based to remove the paint. The same is true when you want to clean your engine. The petroleum solvency cleans your fuel system and removes gummy substances that hinder performance – and is harmless to your engine.” As the company website describes the process, “Sea Foam helps slowly and safely re-liquefy this varnish so contaminants and deposits can be safely cleaned out of the systems as the engine is operated.”

Other additives on the market are either detergent based or use a combination of detergent and petroleum, Brian says, although he is quick to add that he has respect for competing additive brands. “We don’t tear them down to make ourselves look good,” he says. “Instead, we talk about how quickly and consistently Sea Foam solves problems.”

Sea Foam can also help, according to the company website, with lack of lubrication and with absorption of moisture from the atmosphere and condensation. And, here’s an overall message about the product from the company: “Sea Foam can be used by professionals and do-it-yourselfers alike to help safely eliminate many contamination and lubrication related performance problems and help prolong the life of an engine. A clean, dry and well lubricated engine will run smoother and more efficiently.”

What people say about Sea Foam

Marketing directors usually share a remarkable story or two about someone who has had incredible success in using their product. Brian, though, was an exception to the rule, providing no stories of nuclear-level success. He instead emphasizes how quickly and consistently the product has worked for a wide range of challenges over several decades – and how the product continues to do that, even as engines and fuels evolve and become more sophisticated.

“Stories from satisfied customers are so common,” Brian says, “that no one story stands out. Whether someone needs to deal with engine hesitation, poor idling or rough performance – and whether that person wants better performance out of a pickup truck, a sports car, or even a chain saw, their problems are quickly resolved.”

If he were to wear a Sea Foam t-shirt into a grocery store, he says, people would walk up to him to share their stories. “It’s fun to meet people who are excited about their experiences,” he adds, “and as long as we use carbon-based fuels, there will be degradation of that fuel, and we’ll still be relevant. We’ll still be around to help.”

Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts carries the Sea Foam products your car needs.

 

 

Crucial Cars: Dodge Challenger

2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat

2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat

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.

Big Bruiser
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.

Essentially Unchallenged
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.

Bigger isn’t Always Better

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.

Tools I Want for Christmas

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?

Magnetic Tray

Magnetic Tray

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 Light Box

Truck Light Box

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.

Tool BoxThree-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 FanThree-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.

Five Tools I’m Thankful for and Can’t Live Without

The approaching holiday season is the perfect time to reflect on what you’re most thankful for in life. At work, at home, with your friends and with your family, you’re probably grateful for many things when you stop and think about it.

There’s no reason this gratitude can’t extend to the garage and under the hood as well, particularly if those are places that bring you the most happiness. When it comes to your vehicle and doing it yourself, there are undoubtedly several tools that you’re thankful for and couldn’t imagine completing the job without. What are they?

I have several favorites, including these five.

PB B'LasterPB B’laster – What do a phosphate mine and Florida humidity have to do with this corrosion-penetrating product? Everything. William K. Wesley started the B’laster Chemical Company with its flagship product – PB B’laster – in 1957 as a solution to a friend’s problem. Wesley’s friend owned a phosphate mine in Florida. Phosphate’s highly corrosive and Florida’s really humid. Together the two wreaked havoc on the friend’s mining equipment as the machinery couldn’t be taken apart for repair or maintenance because the parts were welded together by corrosion. From your own experience, you know that nothing slows down the job more than rusted parts. Stripped nuts, busted knuckles, broken tools and jobs that take twice as long as they should are often the result of doing battle with corrosion. That’s why I love PB B’laster’s penetrating magic. I don’t know the science behind it, but I do know it hasn’t let me down yet. For really tough jobs, I spray it on the night before I’m going to work on the parts.

Actron OBD II Pocket Scanner

Actron OBD II Pocket Scanner

Code Reader – The sudden illumination of the dreaded “check engine” light no longer has to induce driver or passenger panic, or necessitate an immediate trip to the vehicle dealer for resolution. Thanks to the availability of handheld code readers and their ease of use, anyone who can insert a plug into an opening can diagnose a check engine light. Surprisingly, the first appearance of on-board computer diagnostics with scanning capabilities was in 1968 when Volkswagen introduced a computer system in its type three fuel-injected models. On-board diagnostics (OBD) didn’t gain widespread implementation however until the 1990s. Today, OBDII plug and play technology allows anyone to quickly diagnose a check engine or other illuminated dashboard light – and save time and money – simply by plugging the reader into the vehicle’s OBD port and reading the Digital Trouble Codes (DTCs) generated. Fixing the problem, however, might be another story altogether.

Mechanix Wear Fast Fit Gloves

Mechanix Wear Fast Fit Gloves

Nitrile and Mechanix Wear Gloves – Remember when working under the hood guaranteed grease under your fingernails and in every crack and crevice in your hands, along with the occasional scraped and bleeding knuckle? Thankfully, those days are gone, unless you’re really into getting your hands dirty. Generations of professional mechanics and DIYers who blazed the path before us didn’t have the luxury of protecting their hands from grease and grime with latex or nitrile gloves. They also didn’t have Mechanix Wear gloves helping cushion the blow that a slipped wrench often delivers. Back then, dirty, damaged hands may have been a badge of courage, but today they’re just a pain when you’re trying to get your hands clean on a Monday morning before work.

GPS Navigation Systems – Getting lost is a lot harder these days thanks to GPS navigation systems in vehicles. Whether they come pre-installed and integrated with the vehicle’s dashboard display, as a separate windshield or dash-mounted unit, or via a smart phone app, paper maps, planning a route and getting hopelessly lost are things of the past. Like cell phones, this is one driving tool we don’t know how we ever lived without.

Tube Bender – Sure, there are plenty of tube benders out there, but this makes bending metal fuel and brake lines super easy. Using just your hands and this spring tool, you can bend soft metal to the configuration you need without collapsing the sidewalls. The Malco Tube Bender is inexpensive and easy to use, especially when you compare it to the cost and frustration of ruining a section of line by crimping it.

Deep Socket Set

Deep Socket Set

Deep Sockets – I don’t know who invented them or how long they’ve been around – I’m sure it’s centuries – but I am thankful for and can’t live without my set of deep sockets. More often than not, whatever I’m working on requires a deep socket and it’s my go-to tool, preferred over a box wrench simply because of speed and convenience.

 

Aside from being thankful that you have time to work under the hood and wishing for more of it, what tools are you thankful and can’t live without this season?

Editor’s note: Whether you need to replace a favorite tool that’s lost or give someone holiday gift ideas, Advance Auto Parts has the tools you want and need. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.

Inside Jalopnik: Advance Auto Parts talks with Executive Director Matt Hardigree

“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.”

Book snippets

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.”

 

Affordable Exterior Enhancements

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.

Custom wheels for Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ

Custom wheels for Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ

Which Wheels?
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).

Smoked headlights for Ford Mustang

Smoked headlights for Ford Mustang

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.

Spoiler alert
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.

Crucial Cars: The Mini Cooper

minicooperside

Image via miniusa.com

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

For this installment, the Mechanic Next Door has some fun peeking under the bonnet of the iconic MINI Cooper and looking at how it’s evolved over the decades.

As the MINI Cooper approaches its 60th anniversary in 2019, its creator – Sir Alex Issigonis – would be equally proud and astonished at the iconic model’s longevity and steadily increasing popularity, and perhaps even a little taken aback that some of today’s MINIs aren’t so mini after all.

The first Mini Mark I rolled off the assembly line in 1959 and went on to become the best-selling British car in history with more than five million Mini’s produced until 2000. That was the year that production under the English Rover Group ended after BMW sold the Rover Group – which it had acquired in 1994 – but retained the MINI brand.

Image via miniusa.com

Image via miniusa.com

Fueling the 1960’s Mini craze was its innovative design – despite being small, it offered plenty of interior space for passengers and luggage. That early design included a transverse engine, front-wheel drive, compact dimensions, and a unibody that reduced weight and increased interior space. Mini’s first generation – called the Mark I but better known as the Austin 850 or Morris 850 outside the UK and as the Austin Seven or Morris Mini-Minor in the UK – encompasses the 1959 to 1966 model years.

The Cooper name became synonymous with Mini in the 60s when John Cooper, owner of the Cooper Car Company, added muscle to the Mini by giving it a larger engine and other enhancements. Cooper was already making a name for his company by leading the revolution toward building and winning with rear-engine race cars. His success carried over to the Mini when his versions won the 1964, ’65 and ’67 Monte Carlo Rallies, with a four-year sweep being thwarted only by the Mini Cooper’s disqualification in the ’66 Rally after taking the top three spots.

Mini’s popularity was helped further by the car’s appearance in chase scenes in the 1969 hit film “The Italian Job.” Those Minis represented generation two – Mini Mark II – and featured a larger rear window and redesigned grill, as compared to the first Minis.

Generation three Mini began with the 1969-70 model and the most noticeable change from the previous generation being larger doors with concealed hinges and larger windows that wound up and down, instead of sliding left or ride. Mini Mark IV through Mark VII followed until BMW’s change in 2000.

Throughout the years, Mini continued to rack up the awards, including Autocar magazine’s Car of the Century in 1995, the Number One Classic Car of All Time by Classic & Sports Car magazine in 1996, European Car of the Century by the Global Automotive Elections Foundation in 1999, and 2003 North American Car of the Year, among others.

Image via miniusa.com

Image via miniusa.com

Depending on which Mini you’re looking at today, it either looks much like its first ancestor, or only bears a faint resemblance to those early models. As Mini’s popularity grew, so too have the Mini models offered. Today, there are nine Mini models available.

  • Hardtop Two-Door – bears the closest resemblance to the original Mini
  • Hardtop Four-Door – a larger Mini with four doors and more space
  • Countryman – the “Big Mini” features four doors, seating for five, and all-wheel drive
  • Clubman – four doors, a split rear door, and the largest Mini available
  • Convertible – looks like the original, minus the hard top
  • Paceman – two-door hatch seats four and features all-wheel drive
  • Coupe – powerful, sporty two-seater
  • Roadster – similar to the Coupe, but more fun thanks to the soft top
  • John Cooper Works – race-ready Minis that look like they could be a lot of fun, and get you in a lot of trouble

With a $20,700 price tag, zero-to-60 stats that are 2.3 seconds faster than its predecessor thanks to a TwinPower turbo engine, tons of dashboard technology, and world-famous, go-kart like handling, today’s entry-level, two-door Mini’s all grown up, but still a serious toy for thrill-seeking drivers of all ages.

Editor’s note: If you want to keep your Mini looking and running great, count on Advance Auto Parts for all your vehicle needs. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.

Top Five DIY Annoyances When Working on Your Vehicle

hood up fixing carMany 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.