Our Top 3 Vehicle Evolutions in Hollywood Reboots and Remakes

Whenever Hollywood experiences a box-office hit, a sequel is almost inevitable. As fun as it is to see our favorite characters change and mature, it’s almost equally as exciting to see their iconic vehicles grow up. From then-and-now Camaros in Michael Bay’s “Transformers” to the evolution of the Mitsubishi Lancer, erm, Evolution within the “Fast and Furious” franchise, these are three of our favorites.

Chevrolet Camaro: “Transformers”

chevrolet-transformers-bumblebee

Source | DreamWorks

When a live-action version of “Transformers” hit big screens in 2007 (there was also an animated feature in 1986), the iconic Bumblebee took a couple of vehicular forms. However, it’s most remembered for turning into a fifth-generation Chevrolet Camaro—of sorts. The car we saw was actually a concept unveiled in 2006.

For the film, Chevy placed body panels made from molds used for the concept on the chassis of a Holden Monaro. It was a precursor to the Gen 5 Camaro (topped by an SS trim boasting an LS3 6.2-liter V8 with 426 horsepower), which was only sold two years later.

A yellow 2017 Chevrolet Camaro

The sixth-generation Camaro, the basis for Bumblebee’s transformation in the upcoming “Transformers.” Source | Courtesy of Chevrolet

Fast-forward to summer 2017 and installment five of the series, “Transformers: The Last Knight.” In this chapter, Bumblebee will take on yet another form, this time a sixth-gen Camaro wearing some exterior aero modifications, including a more aggressive front fascia, hood cooling vents, and large spoilers all around. A trio of engines are available for the platform—which was revealed a year and a half ago—most interesting of which is the LT1 V8 churning out an impressive 455 horsepower.

Ford Mustang: “Gone in 60 Seconds”

Younger viewers who watched the 2000 version of “Gone in 60 Seconds,” starring Nicolas Cage, may not realize it was actually a loose remake of an identically titled 1974 release. Sharing more than just a name, the main automobile in both iterations was a classic Ford Mustang. The original featured a 1971 Mustang partially modified to look like an optioned-out 1973 using a newer grille, as well as black accenting on the hood and lower paneling reminiscent of the Mach 1 special edition.

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Source | Touchstone Pictures

In the reboot, the creative team decided to go with a slightly older pony car: a 1967 Mustang fastback, gussied up to resemble a Shelby GT500. A total of 12 ‘Stangs were sourced, and all were built for various purposes such as chase scenes and stunts. The vehicles were truly a hodgepodge of parts, utilizing aftermarket PIAA auxiliary lighting, Chevy Astro van billet grille components, 17-inch Schmidt wheels designed after Ford GT40 units, Lincoln Versailles rear ends, and a plethora of custom-fabricated fiberglass pieces.

Of the 12 Eleanors, only seven survived after shooting wrapped up, according to Mustang Monthly. It breaks our hearts that even a single one was damaged.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution: “The Fast and the Furious”

Arguably Mitsubishi Motor’s biggest fan-favorite product, the Lancer Evo, is prominently featured in two of the biggest underdog F&F follow-ups: “2 Fast 2 Furious” and “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.” The former is where we get the first sighting, when the feds give Paul Walker’s character a tracking-device-equipped 2002 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VII to drive to an undercover drug cartel meeting. It’s the scene that made us love the Evo.

The all-wheel drive sedan had a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder mill, equipped with nitrous tanks, of course (hey, it was the early 2000s), and sported a Japanese-spec DAMD body kit, ARC trunk wing, and Motegi Racing alloys.

In the third F&F movie, the race-ready Lancer skipped a generation and returned as a 2006 Evo IX GSR, given to protagonist Sean Boswell after he totals his mentor Han’s Nissan Silvia while learning how to drift around corners. Like the VII, the IX employs a boosted 2.0-liter powerplant that in stock form makes 276 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, here benefiting from the addition of a Rhys Millen Racing air intake and exhaust downpipe. Aesthetically, it was fitted with an Alabama-based APR Performance body kit, spoiler and side mirrors, along with massive 19-inch RAYS G-Games rims. It looked—and was—fast.

There are too many reboots and remakes with great vehicles, and we’re guessing we missed some of your favorites. Share your picks in the comments.

5 of the Most-Coveted Classic Tuner Cars

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

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

Ford

Shelby GT500

Shelby GT500, Source | GPS 56/Flickr

Shelby GT500

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

Chevrolet

Baldwin-Motion Phase III Chevrolet Camaro

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

Baldwin-Motion Phase III Camaro

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

Yenko SC427 Nova

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

Pontiac

Royal Bobcat GTO

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

Dodge

Hurst/Spaulding Dart GTS 440

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

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

Crucial Cars: BMW 2002

During the late 1960s, American performance cars that could seat four or five adults comfortably were big, heavy, and fast. We’re talking midsize coupes like the Pontiac GTO, Chevelle SS, Plymouth GTX, and Ford Torino GT. Sure, there were the smaller, so-called “compacts” like the Chevy Nova SS, Ford Falcon Sprint, and Dodge Dart GT, but like their bigger brothers, they were more about blasting up through the gears in a straight line than carving up a tightly curved mountain road.

1972 BMW 2002 NY

1972 BMW 2002 NY

More agility, less acceleration

Yet on the other hand—and on the other side of the Atlantic—you had a certain boxy and unassuming German two-door sedan that could seat four adults comfortably and whose idea of performance was quite different from that of the Americans. Introduced for 1968 and based on the BMW 1602 (which debuted a few years earlier), the 2002 combined its sibling’s compact but space-efficient body and agile handling with a bigger (2.0-liter versus 1.6-liter) four-cylinder engine.

There was just 100 horsepower on tap, so the Bimmer obviously lacked ripping acceleration. But a finely tuned, fully independent suspension system along with communicative steering and a curb weight of only around 2,100 pounds meant that a 2002 could quickly make tracks on a serpentine road. A blacktop scenario that would leave those American muscle cars falling all over themselves.

The two-door sport sedan

Yes, we called the BMW 2002 a sedan, which may seem odd given it has only two doors. While the American market typically defines a car with four doors as a sedan and one with two doors as a coupe, the Europeans define a sedan as a “three box-style” (hood, passenger compartment, trunk) automobile, saving the “coupe” designation for a two-door with sleeker body styling.

With the introduction of the BMW 2002, the sport sedan—a compact, boxy, practical car that could seat four or five adults while providing entertaining and athletic performance—was born. Indeed, the 2002 was a new type of car, one that could embarrass sports cars on a twisty road while also serving as a comfortable family and commuter car.

In a road test of the 1970 BMW 2002, Car and Driver stated: “Forget about the sedan body and pretend that it’s a sports car—a transformation that’s almost automatic in your mind anyway after you’ve driven it a mile or two. With the possible exception of the new Datsun 240Z (which is not yet available for testing), the BMW will run the wheels off any of the under-$4000 sports cars without half trying. It is more powerful and it handles better.”

1972 BMW 2002

1972 BMW 2002

Fuel injection makes a buffer Bimmer

Some U.S. market enthusiasts still wished for more power under the 2002’s hood. Although Europe got to enjoy the step-up “ti” model with its stronger engine, it didn’t make it to American shores. And neither did a turbocharged 2002 that was produced later on. But those drivers’ wishes came true for 1972, when BMW introduced a more powerful version of the 2002 called the 2002 tii that was available in the states.

With mechanical fuel injection (replacing carburetion), higher compression and other engine tweaks, the 2002 tii made 140 horsepower. With 40 percent more power than the base 2002, the tii was noticeably quicker, running the 0-to-60 dash in about 9.5 seconds versus about 11 seconds for the standard 2002. Other upgrades for the tii that boosted overall performance included a beefed-up suspension, bigger brakes and a less-restrictive exhaust. Inside the car, a leather-wrapped steering wheel greeted the lucky driver.

1975 BMW 2002

1975 BMW 2002

From Roundies to Squaries

From 1968 through 1973, the BMW 2002 continued essentially unchanged as far as body styling. These vehicles are known as “Roundies,” so-called because of their simple round taillights. Those years also featured smaller, more elegant bumpers. For 1974, the slim chrome bumpers were replaced by what looked like hydraulic shock-mounted aluminum battering rams that jutted out from the car on either end.

These unfortunate blemishes were an answer to the 5-mph impact standard that took place in the States the year prior, meaning a bumper had to absorb a 5 mph hit without damage. That year also saw the taillights updated to square (actually slightly rectangular) units that seemed to tie in better to the car’s body shape than the Roundies. Second generation “Squaries” continued through 1976, which would be the model’s last year.

1971 BMW 2002 interior

1971 BMW 2002 interior

The die has been cast

The 320i replaced the 2002 in 1977, and thus the iconic “3 Series” was born. Given its rare combination of a fun-to-drive personality and everyday practicality, the 2002 served the company, and legions of driving enthusiasts, very well.

Did you own a 2002 or just dream of driving one? Tell us what you love about the 2002 in the comments.

ZDDP Motor Oil Additive: What You Need to Know to Protect Your Car

Source | Luke Jones

Engines wear out. It’s an unfortunate truth, but it’s not one you simply have to accept, even if you own a classic car. There are steps you can take to keep your engine from deteriorating for a long time, the most important of which is ensuring it’s properly lubricated and that the oil is changed regularly. But does your classic car’s engine want classic oil? Does it need supplements that aren’t found in modern oil, like ZDDP? Read on to find out.

What is ZDDP?

Zinc dialkyldithiophosphate, or ZDDP, was once a common and useful engine oil additive. It was inexpensive, highly effective metal-on-metal antiwear additive, and as a result, it was used widely in engine oils from the 1940s through the 1970s, and is still in use in some cases today. If your car was built during the peak period of use, chances are its intended motor oil included ZDDP. But in the past few decades, it has been phased out due to concerns over its toxicity.

How does ZDDP work?

As your engine runs, it generates heat and friction, especially at high-stress points like the cams, valves, and tappets, where metal-to-metal contact pressures can be extreme. As this heat and friction builds, the ZDDP breaks down into its chemical components, coating the metal with what’s called a tribofilm and taking the brunt of the load. This film forms at the atomic scale, helping to protect the metal in your engine, and reacts in a “smart” way, increasing the protection as the friction and pressure increases. By reducing direct metal-to-metal contact, the ZDDP provides a replenishable wear surface that prolongs the life of your engine. Studies of ZDDP have shown that it effectively provides a cushioning effect on the underlying metal, distributing the force upon it and, accordingly, the wear.

When does a car need ZDDP?

If you own a modern car, built in the 1990s or more recently, there’s no need to add ZDDP to your engine oil. Just ensure you use the oil specified by your manufacturer in your owner’s manual. Modern engines are designed around low- or no-ZDDP oils, and they often use lower valve spring rates, roller lifters, and other methods to reduce the metal-on-metal friction pressure, particularly in the valve train, that ZDDP was used to combat.

In classic engines with high-pressure friction points, however, ZDDP is still a useful ingredient in preserving the performance and extending the life of your car. Today’s oils often contain some level of ZDDP, though the latest ones often contain only trace amounts—enough to help newer cars with minor wear issues but not enough to prevent newly rebuilt or broken-in classic car engines from wearing at much higher rates than intended. While the debate is still raging among enthusiasts, there’s good evidence that classic-car owners should ensure their engines are getting adequate amounts of ZDDP.

Should you add ZDDP to your oil?

Exactly how to ensure your engine is getting enough ZDDP is another question. Some oils sold in auto parts shops, like Advance Auto Parts, still include ZDDP in their formulation. Some of these are only for racing or off-road use, however, and some are not widely available in all regions. None of the oils that still include some quantity of ZDDP indicate on the bottle just how much they contain, or how that compares to the oil originally specified for your car. You can, of course, call the company that makes the oil and find out for yourself with some digging—but that can be a slow and frustrating process.

Fortunately, there are ZDDP additives available on the shelves at your local Advance Auto Parts (or online). These additives are easy to use and economical, so it’s a cheap and simple way to provide your engine with some solid insurance against premature wear. All you have to do is follow the instructions on the bottle, which typically involve pouring some or all of a container into the engine oil fill port. Don’t exceed the recommended amount; it won’t increase your protection and will only waste the additive (and your money) and put more of the harmful zinc and phosphate components of the compound into the environment than necessary.

Which ZDDP additive should you buy?

As great as ZDDP is for protecting your engine, and as many amazing smart-material behaviors as it exhibits at the molecular level, it isn’t a mysterious, proprietary chemical. It has been used and tested for more than 70 years. In other words, just about any ZDDP additive you’ll find will work great in your engine. Some brands of ZDDP additive may be designed to work with the same brand’s engine oil, so those seeking the ultimate in peace of mind might want to team them together. Otherwise, just grab a bottle of your preferred brand and use as directed to give your classic-car engine the protection and longevity it deserves.

Do you have experience with ZDDP? Let us know.

A Look Back at the Truckcar

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

Full-size legends

Ford Ranchero

The Ford Ranchero

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

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

The El Camino

The El Camino, Source | Allen Watkin

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

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

Compact and odd

Subaru BRAT

The Subaru BRAT, Source | ilikewaffles

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

Dodge Rampage

The Dodge Rampage, Source | John Lloyd

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

Want one brand new?

Holden Ute

The Holden Ute, Source | FotoSleuth

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

Volkswagen Saveiro

The Volkswagen Saveiro, Source | Wikipedia

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

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

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

Crucial Cars: Dodge Li’l Red Express

The mid- to late-1970s were rightfully regarded as the darkest days of performance. In an effort to meet ever-tightening emissions standards, engines were detuned as compression ratios were lowered and outputs were further strangled by emissions controls such as more restrictive exhausts with catalytic converters.

The mid-’80s would see a big resurgence in performance as newer technologies allowed engineers to once again tune engines for performance while still meeting emissions regulations. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

Indeed, if one was looking for something American that would accelerate with gusto during the late 1970s, the pickings were mighty slim. Sadly, a V8 of the era typically made only around 140 to 170 horses with just a handful of performance-oriented vehicles able to join the 200-horsepower club. As such, performance choices were essentially limited to Chevrolet’s Corvette with its optional L82 350 V8, Pontiac’s Trans Am with the optional “T/A 6.6” (W72) 400 V8… and Dodge’s Li’l Red Express Truck pickup. Yes, that’s right—a pickup truck.

Dodge Li'l Red Truck

Red and righteous

Dodge took advantage of less stringent emissions regulations for pickup trucks, and with a wink and a nod created the Li’l Red Express Truck for 1978. The basis for this unique vehicle was the short wheelbase, “Utiline” (stepside) version of Dodge’s D150 pickup truck. From there, the engineers and designers had a field day.

Bright red paint covered the body and real oak wood accented the bedsides and tailgate while “Li’l Red Express Truck” decals and gold striping added still more pizzazz. Even among all that eye candy, one of the most arresting features was the chromed-out, vertical exhaust system whose big-rig-style pipes would have done a Peterbilt proud.

Chilled-out cabin

Inside, the outlandish Dodge had a much more sedate styling scheme. Buyers had a choice of either a bench or optional bucket seats (with a standalone folding-center armrest) in either red or black. A sporty thick-rimmed, three-spoke “Tuff” steering wheel was initially standard, though it would be replaced by a less-stylish four-spoke wheel the following year.

Dodge Li'L Red Truck interior cabin

A V8 with vigor

With all that flash on the outside, there had to be some dash under the hood. And with a free-breathing 360 V8 dropped between the front fenders, the Li’l Red Express delivered.

Specifically, the high-output V8 was derived from the Police package 360 and sported a massive 850-CFM 4-barrel carburetor, a dual snorkel air cleaner, a performance camshaft and a real dual exhaust system with 2.5-inch pipes. It was rated at a strong-for-the-time 225 horsepower. And that was likely a conservative rating given the performance it provided for a near 2-ton truck. A chrome air cleaner and valve covers dressed things up and harkened back to the muscle-car era when car makers were proud to show off their engines.

Unfortunately, a four-speed with a Pistol-grip shifter was not an option, as the sole transmission fitted was a column-shifted, beefed-up automatic that admittedly did a fine job of sending the power to the 3.55:1 rear end. The Li’l Red Express rolled with fat, 15-inch white-lettered tires mounted on chrome wheels.

A pickup with plenty of pickup

Performance figures were impressive for the time. The Li’l Red Express could sprint to 60 mph in around 7.5 seconds and blast down the quarter mile in the mid-15-second range. In other words, in those performance tests, this big red truck would run about neck-and-neck with the aforementioned Corvette and Trans Am.

Make it a race to 100 mph, however, and the Dodge would leave those sleek sports cars behind. Gathering up the fastest American vehicles available for 1978, Car and Driver conducted such a test and ended up naming the Dodge Li’l Red Express as the fastest accelerating American vehicle from 0-to-100 mph.

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Lively yet short-lived

After testing the waters and producing just 2,188 units for 1978 but seeing strong demand for its hot rod truck, Dodge ramped up production for 1979. Total production for that second year was 5,118 units.

For 1979, the Li’l Red Express Truck saw a handful of minor changes. Round headlights gave way to a quartet of square units, the hood was flatter and catalytic converters were fitted (as emissions regulations for trucks tightened up), now requiring the use of unleaded gas. Thankfully the latter had little effect on performance, likely due to the fitment of dual converters rather than a single one and the availability of higher octane fuel.

The gas crisis of 1979 helped to seal the fate of the Li’l Red Express Truck. Units sat unsold on dealer lots while gas prices grew and gas availability shrunk. Understandably, the company pulled the plug on the pickup after the 1979 model year run. Still, there was no denying that Dodge’s shining performance star provided much-needed light during a dark time.

What Is Lead Substitute and Do You Need It?

Source | Clem Onojeghuo

If you own a classic car or have been thinking about getting one, chances are someone has told you that you need to use a lead substitute. But what is lead substitute, and why might you need it? Does it really work?

The theory behind lead substitute is that when the engine in your classic car was designed and built, gasoline had lead in it—more specifically, tetraethyl lead, or TEL. That lead served several functions. It boosted the octane rating, allowing for higher compression ratios; helped reduce knocking; and reduced wear on the valve seats. (It did so by helping to prevent “microwelds” from forming between the hot valve surfaces and the seats in the cylinder head as the valve closed.) The process of constant welding and subsequent tearing free when the valve opened again could wear the valve seats over time, requiring expensive repair.

Phasing out lead

A California ban on leaded fuel use went into effect in 1992, and the rest of the nation followed in 1996. The phase-out had already begun in the mid-1970s over concerns about the toxicity of lead and its interference with catalytic converters. Once lead was phased out of gasoline, carmakers began to make hardened valve seats and used different (higher-temperature) valve materials to eliminate the problem of microwelding and valve seat wear. Today, lead substitutes use a variety of proprietary formulas, often based on manganese, sodium, phosphate, or iron, rather than lead, to fulfill the function of lead without the toxic side effects and harm to catalytic converters.

Source | David Brodbeck

When you can skip the lead substitute

So the question arises: If your engine was made before hardened valve seats became common, does today’s unleaded fuel mean you need lead substitute to keep from causing damage to your valve seats? The answer is, frequently, no.

Many of the cars built even when leaded fuel was common have sufficiently hard valve seats to endure unleaded fuel use, especially if the car was made after the mid-1960s. You may want to use premium fuel, especially in higher-performance classic engines, to ensure you have sufficient octane and knock resistance, but the valve seats themselves are unlikely to suffer from unleaded fuel use.

That said, some engines definitely did have “soft” valve seats that were prone to damage from use of unleaded fuels. Some of these engines have been upgraded to harder valve seats over the years by their owners; if yours is among these, you can use unleaded fuel with impunity. If your car is currently running just fine, and has been running for the decades since leaded fuel was phased out, it is probably safe to continue running without lead substitute.

When lead substitute is a smart bet

Most of the cars that had problems with unleaded fuel suffered whatever damage they were going to suffer in the ’70s and ’80s, and have already been taken off the road. On the other hand, many classic-car owners argue that lead substitute can’t hurt your engine and may help reduce any risk of using unleaded fuel in an engine intended for leaded gasoline.

For many, the low cost and ease-of-use of lead substitute (typically a small amount is added to the gas tank at fill up) makes for cheap peace of mind. The bottom line? It’s up to you, but chances are good that you and your engine will get along just fine without any lead substitute, as long as you’re running the proper octane for your car.

Do you use a lead substitute? Tell us about your experience.

Crucial Cars: The Datsun Z

Yutaka Katayama. You may not have heard of him, but you’ve surely seen his influence on the automotive world. Affectionately known as “Mr. K” and the “Father of the Z car,” Katayama is to many a hero and a legend.

Datsun 240z

Source | Matthew Davis

In the 1960s, Japanese cars in the United States were nothing more than disposable transportation that got decent fuel economy and were known to be more reliable and affordable than their domestic counterparts. In short, they were anything but cool. As an executive at Nissan, Katayama had some radical ideas and introduced several cars to the American market that changed the perception of Japanese cars forever. One was the Datsun 240Z.

To Japan, Nissan has been akin to one of the “Big Three” in the United States. When it first started selling cars in the U.S., it used the moniker “Datsun” instead of “Nissan,” for fear of the line failing in America and thus tarnishing the Nissan name. But when the Datsun 240Z hit showroom floors in 1969, it was such a smashing success that over the next 15 years Datsuns started to display badges that advertised “Datsun by Nissan” and, eventually, just “Nissan.”

1970 Datusn 240z

Source | Matthew Davis

There have been other vehicles, like the Datsun 510 and Toyota Celica, that helped cement the status of Japanese cars. But if David and Goliath was an allegory about Japanese car success, the stone that hit Goliath in the temple was the Z.

The Datsun 240Z entered the U.S. market at the tail end of the great muscle-car era and at the peak of popularity for British roadsters. The latter group, with models such as the Triumph TR6 and MG MGB, were directly in the crosshairs of Mr. K’s creation, and they were blown from the sky by the Z. The 240Z was a two-seater GT (grand touring) sports car with a short deck and elegant long hood. Many consider it to be the budget version of the venerable Jaguar E-Type. It certainly had a British feel to the design, sound, and feel of the car, but without the quirky, unreliable aspects.

With an MSRP of $3,500, the Datsun 240Z was priced slightly higher than the MGB GT and roughly about the same as a Porsche 914. Those who wanted something along the lines of a Chevrolet Corvette or Ford Mustang would have needed to pay over $2,500 more, nearly doubling the price of the Datsun.

The Z gave people the cool factor they wanted at a price they could afford, and it was reliable, day in and day out. As muscle cars lost potency through the 1970s, the Datsun Z increased in popularity in the U.S., while its British competitors all but ceased to exist.

The Datsun Z Straight 6

Source | Matthew Davis

Powered by a 2.4L straight six (the L24), the Datsun Z produced 151 horsepower and could hit 0-60 mph in just over eight seconds. That was quick enough to hang with the likes of the Porsche 911. Rear independent suspension enabled the Z to handle just as well as it looked, and it had great success on the racetrack as well as on the showroom floor. “What wins on Sunday sells on Monday” was a popular saying in those days.

Buy, sell, hold

When it comes to collecting cars, the nostalgic Japanese market is an interesting niche to consider. The past five years or so have truly given us a glimpse at the potential of these great vehicles. Fifteen years ago, you could pick up a clean Datsun Z for less than they sold new. Nowadays, an early 240Z will bring over $10,000 in a moderate state of disrepair. Just as with the stock market, in the auto market there are some models you should buy before they rise, some that you should probably sell because they’ve peaked, and others that you want to hold onto because they are climbing in value.

Some say that the 240Z, in particular, is climbing in value at a higher rate than almost any other car. Out of the three early-generation models of the Z (240, 260, 280) the 1970 models have almost already reached the stage where you’d want to hold. The 260Z and 280Z are where you can still pick them up for a good price. The key is finding models that haven’t been wrecked or aren’t too cankered with rust. Japanese cars of this era are notorious for rusting away.

Source | Matthew Davis

The crystal ball

We’ve all heard the stories of the people who sold a 1955 Chevrolet for peanuts and kick themselves every day for it. While there’s no crystal ball to tell you what cars will come into their own down the road, there are a few patterns to consider. The Datsun Z is becoming a collectible because not only was it an icon and a game changer in its day, but also because the people who now want to buy their first collector car remember growing up when the Z hit the showroom floor. It’s the type of car that gets comments at the gas station like, “I had one of those in high school, and it was so cool!”

Sometimes predicting the future is as simple as thinking back to the cars that influenced you when you were in your formative years.

Did you covet or own a Datsun Z? Let us know in the comments!

Car History: A Tour of Art Deco Cars From the ’30s and ’40s

The automobiles of the 1930s and ’40s were mysterious machines. They had evolved from clunky motorized carriages to comfortable, reliable forms of transportation. Yet they were still far removed from their full potential. Looking to the future for inspiration, a group of engineers from Europe and North America set out to design vehicles that would redefine the paradigm. Tapping into the Art Deco artistic movement of the era, these engineers tinkered and dreamed, producing vehicles that were both beautiful and ahead of their time.

And so the Art Deco car was born.

The Future Of Our Past

Laws were different then. Fenders could be sculpted into flowing curves of metal, with safety performance as an afterthought. Doors and their arrangement were optional; windshields could be rolled down for pure, open driving; and dorsal fins could protrude from rear windows. The engineers did keep function in mind, however, as these vehicles were extremely wind resistant and agile compared to the competition (balanced weight distribution, unibody frames, advanced handling and suspension, etc.). The 1935 Chrysler Imperial Model C-2 Airflow, for example, was designed by Carl Breer using wind tunnel testing and input from aviation founder Orville Wright.

undefinedTalbot-Lago T-150C-SS Teardrop, 1938. Photo © 2016 Peter Harholdt.

Sadly, like most things ahead of their time, the majority of the Art Deco vehicles weren’t understood by the market, and sales floundered. Some never made it past the concept stage. It took the automotive industry decades to catch up to these designs. Even now, one can argue that these vehicles are more modern than what’s currently on the road. Today, automotive engineers are forced to meet the confines of safety and emissions standards, with art being secondary. This is of course a benefit to all drivers. But…there is something romantic about a vehicle free of restrictions.

undefinedBMW R7 Concept Motorcycle, 1934. Photo © 2016 Peter Harholdt.

The Art Deco period was a time when engineers had the freedom to sculpt vehicles to their wildest imagination. It was a movement that will most likely never be reproduced in our lifetime. Too modern at their inception, and tragically now too far behind, the Art Deco cars sit gleaming under museum lights. They serve as reminders of what could have been and inspiration for what can be achieved.

 

The Exhibition at North Carolina Museum of Art

To view some of these rolling sculptures in person, visit the North Carolina Museum of Art. The exhibition, “Rolling Sculpture: Art Deco Cars from the 1930s and ’40s,” curated by renowned automotive journalist Ken Gross, runs through January, 15, 2017. You can also view the full gallery of the 16 cars and three motorcycles below.

Buggati Type 57S Aerolithe, 1935. © 2016 Joe Wiecha.

Chrysler Imperial Model C-2 Airflow, 1935. Photo © 2016 Peter Harholdt.

Chrysler Thunderbolt, 1941. Photo © 2016 Michael Furman.

Delahaye 135M Figoni Roadster, 1938. Photo © 2016 Scott Williamson, Photodesign Studios.

Edsel Ford’s Model 40 Speedster, 1934. Photo © 2016 Peter Harholdt.

Henderson KJ Streamline, 1930. Photo © 2016 Peter Harholdt.

Hispano-Suiza H6B “Xenia,” 1938. Photo © 2016 Peter Harholdt.

Indian Model 441, 1941. Photo © 2016 Peter Harholdt.

Packard Twelve Model 1106, 1934. Photo © 2016 Peter Harholdt.

Peugeot 402

Peugeot 402 Darl’mat Coupe, 1936. Photo © 2016 Michael Furman.

Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow, 1933. Photo © 2016 Peter Harholdt.

Tatra T87, 1940. Photo © 2016 Peter Harholdt.

Ruxton Model C, 1930. Photo © 2016 Peter Harholdt.

voisine_c28_clair_re__1936

Voisin C28 Clairiere, 1936. Photo © 2016 Michael Furman.

 

Crucial Cars: Toyota MR2

From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without. For this installment, we put the spotlight on Toyota’s feisty sports car, the MR2.

Mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-seater. For you trivia buffs, that’s how Toyota came up with the name of its sports car that debuted in the mid-1980s. Encompassing three generations before bowing out 20 years later, the MR2 endeared itself to thousands of driving enthusiasts.

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The dancing doorstop

The first-generation MR2 debuted for the 1985 model year. Petite, low to the ground and weighing just around 2,300 pounds, the athletic little runabout quickly became the poster car for affordable sports-car thrills. For good reason, car magazines such as Road & Track and Car and Driver raved about the MR2. A 1.6-liter, DOHC 16-valve inline four making 112 horsepower sat behind the cockpit and ran through either a slick-shifting five-speed manual or an optional four-speed automatic. The buff books called the manual one of the best in the world due to its satisfying, toggle-switch-like action. The engine’s smooth, high-revving nature also made it a blast to run through the gears, and with such little mass to push around it provided sprightly acceleration. As such, 0-60 mph sprints in the 8.5 second range and quarter-mile runs of around 16.5 seconds were possible and very quick for a car powered by a 1.6-liter four.

The MR2 saw a mid-cycle refresh for 1987, with the more notable changes including a slight bump in engine output (to 115 hp), bigger brakes, restyled front bumper/taillights, a T-bar roof option (with removable glass panels) and a sportier three-spoke steering wheel.

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For 1988, those wanting more gusto saw their wish granted in the form of the MR2 Supercharged, which boasted a force-fed 1.6-liter four making a stated 145 hp. The actual output was likely considerably higher, as performance testing had the little rocket hitting 60 mph in less than seven seconds and running the quarter in the low-15-second range. The following year would see only minor changes, such as an LED-strip-style third brake light, more aerodynamic mirrors, and for the Supercharged version, a rear anti-roll bar.

The baby Ferrari follows

After taking 1990 off, the MR2 returned for the 1991 model year completely redesigned. Looking a lot like a 3/4-scale Ferrari 348 minus the cheese-grater side intakes, it boasted not only exotic car looks but increased power, comfort, and performance. It also gained around 300 pounds in curb weight, though most viewed that as a small price to pay given the aforementioned upgrades.

With its 2.2-liter, DOC four making a willing 130 hp, the base MR2 was respectably quick, as it could hit 60 and run the quarter mile a few tenths quicker than its predecessor. As before, the athletic MR2 was more about providing backroads entertainment than it was about straight line thrills. Transmission choices were the same as before. Yet those with more of a need for speed had only to choose the top dog in the lineup, which was now turbocharged rather than supercharged. With its force-fed 2.0-liter four making a robust 200 horses, the new MR2 Turbo could rocket to 60 in just around six seconds flat and rip through the quarter in the mid-14-second range.

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Addressing concerns about the car’s propensity toward snap oversteer when pushed to its cornering limits, Toyota made a number of suspension changes as well as the fitment of 15-inch tires (versus the former 14s) for 1993 to make the car more forgiving of non-expert pilots. That year also saw more standard features for the Turbo (including T-tops, air conditioning and cruise control), as well as a newly optional limited-slip differential for that line-topping model.

For 1994, base versions got five more horses (for a total of 135), while all versions got a revised taillight panel (with a color-keyed center insert). Other update highlights included a one-piece (versus the previous three-piece) rear spoiler and revised power steering that provided more assist at low speeds and less at higher speeds. The following year, this MR2’s last in the U.S. market, saw no changes of note.

Along came a Spyder

After a four-year hiatus, the MR2 returned to the U.S. This third (and last) generation took a somewhat retro tack, as it morphed into a more traditionally styled, soft-top sports car. Toyota emphasized this new theme by adding “Spyder” (basically Italian for convertible sports car) to its name. Aimed squarely at Mazda’s ridiculously popular Miata, the latest MR2 traded its formerly sexy curves for a somewhat blocky body “accented” by oversize headlights and taillights. To say it lost some “eyeball” would be understating things. And there was no longer a pumped-up supercharged or turbocharged version.

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Still, there was plenty to like here. Although the sole engine choice was a 1.8-liter, DOHC, 16-valve four, it featured variable valve timing and cranked out a respectable 138 hp. A five-speed manual gearbox was the only transmission initially offered. Notably, the Spyder was very light, boasting a curb weight of just around 2,200 pounds, which translated into peppy acceleration (0-60 in around seven seconds flat). A longer wheelbase than before gave both a smoother ride over broken pavement along with greater stability when pushed hard on a twisty road. Finally, the MR2 Spyder offered a lot of bang for the buck, and with a price tag of around $24,000, it not only was a blast to drive but came nicely equipped with air conditioning, full power features and sharp alloy wheels. City dwellers or those who just didn’t like clutch pedals could, in 2002, choose the newly optional five-speed, automated clutch manual gearbox. The following year saw that transmission upgraded to six-speeds, slightly restyled front/rear fascias, revised seats and recalibrated suspension components.

For 2004, the MR2 Spyder received an optional Torsen limited-slip differential, a stronger structure (for better crash protection), and, to the chagrin of most enthusiasts, a one-inch taller ride height. To celebrate 2005, the last year for the MR2 Spyder in the U.S., Toyota added a six-disc CD changer to the standard equipment list.

With its two-decade run and massive popularity among driving enthusiasts looking for a fun, dependable, and low-running-cost ride, the Toyota MR2 is hard to beat. A few web sites catering to MR2 fans include MR2 World and International MR2 Owners Club.

Did you own a Toyota MR2? Tell us about it in the comments.