Top 5 Factory Audio Systems

Advance Auto PartsYou know how I like to start these columns with “back in the day,” right? Well, back in the day, I’ll tell you what, factory stereos sounded just terrible. If you wanted any bass in your car, any clarity, any anything, you had to go get a custom car stereo from the shop across town.

But ’round about the mid-1980s, I’d say, automakers started to realize that sound systems for a car could sound almost as good as custom audio sound in your living room. They started sticking graphic equalizers in there, subwoofers, you name it, and nowadays every carmaker’s got great factory audio on tap. Of course, factory stereos will always be limited by the relatively small size of their components –you can’t stick a four-foot-tall concert speaker in your car, unless you’ve got a sunroof–but there’s no reason why you can’t have excellent sound quality anyway. Also, cars have a natural advantage because they’re perfect surround-sound environments. You just gotta make sure the speakers are making the right noises.

Thing is, with all the high-end factory stereos on the market today, it can be hard to keep ‘em all straight. So since I’m lucky enough to get seat time in all the latest cars, I’ve put together a list of the top 5 factory stereos that you can buy right now. See what you think, and then come back and have at me in the comments. What’s your favorite factory audio system ever? Have you heard any of the latest ones? Am I off my rocker? Let’s talk it out.

Porsche Burmester

One of my favorite cars of all-time is the Porsche 911, but as any Porschephile will tell you, the 911 has rarely had a factory audio system to write home about. More often than not, you get bare-bones sound that makes you want to turn the darn thing off and just drive. That’s never a bad idea in a Porsche, but with the new 911’s optional Burmester stereo, now you’ve got options. This bad boy gives you 12 speakers, 800 watts of power, and clarity that you have to hear to believe.

Audi Bang & Olufsen

I’ll tell you this upfront, Audi’s Bang & Olufsen system doesn’t sound as good as the Porsche Burmester. But it’s not just about sound with this one. I sampled the “B&O” in an Audi A7, and I couldn’t believe it, you turn the thing on and the tweeters rise up out of the dash with their own little motors! Now, it won’t be so entertaining someday when those motors break and you gotta replace ‘em, but meanwhile, what a show. And with 1,200 watts on tap, you may not quite have Burmester-grade sound, but you’ve definitely got power to spare.

Lexus Mark Levinson

Here’s something Lexus won’t like to hear: I actually like their older premium stereo lineup better. That range was made by Nakamichi, and it was Japanese electronics at its finest, bar none. I think that was the pinnacle. But the Mark Levinson lineup is a close second, and for a while in the early 2000s, it was pretty much the best factory audio in the world. As usual, the ultra-luxurious LS sedan has the showcase Levinson system, but you really can’t go wrong with any stereo that’s got the ML name on it.

Ford Mustang Shaker Pro Audio

You didn’t think I could get through a whole column without mentioning a muscle car, did ya? Listen, any muscle car worth its salt needs a thumping stereo, and the Shaker Pro Audio setup hits all the right notes for me. The Shaker’s got a big ol’ subwoofer that never sounds stressed, and there’s an iPod/USB input to keep up with the times. You won’t get a whole lot of clarity or tonal separation here, but you can crank it to eleven all day, and in a Mustang, that’s what really matters.

Volkswagen Dynaudio

Surprised to see a VW on this list? So was I, at first, but when I thought about all the Dynaudio factory stereos I’d sampled in VW products, I realized they’re just consistently great performers. Whether you get it in the GTI hot hatch or the Touareg luxury crossover, Dynaudio’s gonna give you a real crisp, tight sound that just sounds different from the norm.

And there you have it, folks. Come on now, which five would you have picked? Let’s hear it.

Editor’s note: If your factory car audio system is sounding a bit thin, visit Advance Auto Parts for a wide selection of stereo gear and accessories.

Turbo Takeover

Advance Auto PartsYou know what turbo lag is, right? If you do, that probably seems like the most obvious question in the world. But the way things are going these days, we’re going to have whole generations of kids who don’t even know what “turbo lag” means. That’s because there’s a new wave of turbocharged engines in town, and they’re so well-behaved that you can’t even tell they’re turbo engines half the time.

Let’s take a minute and talk about how turbocharged engines used to be. You know I’m a muscle car guy, so I’ll pick one of the all-time greats: the turbocharged and intercooled 3.8-liter V6 in the 1987 Buick Grand National. The all-black Grand National would roast its rear rubber like there was no tomorrow, and believe it or not, it could almost run with the Corvettes of its day. But when you floored that old gas pedal, you didn’t get the full turbo wallop right away. No sir, you had to wait while the big turbo spooled up. So imagine, you’re sitting there with your foot on the floor, waiting for it, waiting for it–BAM! Now you’ve got it. That’s turbo lag, folks. And for a lot of years, we all believed that turbo engines were inevitably going to be stuck with it.

But then things started to change. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when, but I know it had to do with rising gas prices and tightening emissions regulations over the past decade or so. Automakers realized that they couldn’t keep making big V8 engines for knuckleheads like me; the new regulations and economic realities just wouldn’t allow for it. So they had to figure out how to get the same power out of smaller, more fuel-efficient engines, and that’s exactly what turbocharging can do. At the same time, they also knew that the average driver wasn’t going to put up with turbo lag. That meant some serious modifications would be required.

I was skeptical at first, but I’ll tell you the turbo engine that really won me over: it’s the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine in the Mini Cooper S. The mighty Mini uses a newfangled technology called twin-scroll turbocharging, and without getting too far into the details, that basically means you’ve got a multifunction turbocharger that does different things at different RPM. Whereas the Grand National’s one-trick turbocharger needed at least 3,000 RPM before it went nuts, the Mini’s twin-scroll setup is already working to deliver usable power as soon as you start rolling. Result? No perceptible turbo lag, great acceleration, and on top of all that, the Cooper S once gave me 37 mpg on an extended road trip.

That’s the magic combination everyone was aiming for, and if you look around right now, it seems like everyone’s offering similar benefits with a Turbo this or Turbo that. For example, Hyundai and Kia have a fantastic 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with a twin-scroll turbo; I got to drive an Optima Turbo sedan recently, and my goodness, the car makes 274 horsepower and gives you 34 mpg on the highway! BMW’s got a similar 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with a twin-scroll setup, and they also sell a twin-scroll 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine that cranks out 300 lag-free horses. Other automakers are achieving similar effects with two individual turbos: a small one for low-RPM performance and a big one for high-RPM punch. Check out the Audi S6 super sedan, for instance, which uses a twin-turbo V8 engine that generates 420 horsepower and an unbelievable 27 mpg on the highway.

You catch my drift, I hope. Turbos used to mean an epic lag time followed by an equally epic lurch forward, but with this new breed of twin-scroll and just plain twin turbos, you’re seeing little to no lag along with unprecedented fuel economy. Hey, I miss the ’60s as much as the next muscle car guy, but when there are improvements across the board like with these new turbos, I gotta give credit where credit’s due. That’s real progress.

Before I go, let me ask my esteemed readers about this. You guys must have some experience with modern turbocharged engines, right? Are you impressed, or do you miss that old turbo lag sensation? I know some people who think it added character, so they’re kind of broken up that it’s gone. And how about reliability? Turbo engines have always generated a lot more heat, and there’s a lot of new technology in there now as well. Do you trust it, or would you rather stick with tried-and-true naturally aspirated motors? Let’s have the conversation; I want to hear what you all have to say.

Editor’s note: Leave it to our resident Gearhead to stir the pot. While you’re pondering new school vs. old school, hit up Advance Auto Parts for great deals on auto parts, tools, accessories and more.

Turbojet graphic courtesy of NASA.

Driven: the 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT-8 Muscle Car

Advance Auto PartsGot a chance recently to drive one of today’s top muscle cars, the Chrysler 300 SRT-8. You know the one — big rear-drive sedan with a touch of class and a 6.4-liter Hemi V8 under the hood. I wanted to get into a 2012 SRT-8 because that was the first year for the second-generation model, and Chrysler said it was a big step forward from the original 300 SRT-8.

Now, I had driven an older 300 SRT-8 a few years back, the one with the smaller 5.7-liter Hemi V8. Good friend of mine had one. My impression was that it got motor, and it don’t got much else. It reminded me a little of its legendary ancestor, the 1957 Chrysler 300C, which was a big ol’ land yacht that happened to have hot rod parts like a 375-horsepower V8 stuffed into it. There was plenty of speed, but I like a muscle car that really feels special, and this one didn’t do the trick.

So I hop into the 2012 SRT-8, and immediately I can see it’s a different beast. Let me tell you, the interior is amazing. We’re talking stitched panels, beautiful gauges, and the same kind of supple material on the dashboard that you see in a Mercedes-Benz. There’s a new 8.4-inch touchscreen, too, and it looks like a damn iPad. First one of these gadgets that I actually enjoyed using.

Then I fired up that 6.4-liter Hemi — same displacement as the one in the ’57 300C, by the way — and the true appeal of the 2012 SRT-8 dawned on me. See, I’ve driven hot rods, and I’ve driven a few luxury cars in my day, but I’ve never driven a car that’s truly both of those things at the same time. Trust me when I tell you, the 2012 300 SRT-8 pulls it off. It’s got a wicked exhaust rumble like the best muscle cars, and when you’re on the throttle and the muffler flaps open up, boy, you’re in muscle car heaven. There are 470 horses under that hood; ’nuff said, right? But when you back off, that roar switches to a smooth-sounding hum, and the car rides so nicely that it’s like you’re in a luxury cruiser. Best of both worlds? You better believe it.

I’ll tell you one thing I don’t like about the 2012 SRT-8, and that’s the five-speed automatic transmission. I heard it’s a hand-me-down from Mercedes, but something must have gotten lost in translation, because the shift quality is not up to snuff for a $50,000 — yes, $50,000 — performance car. Rumor has it that an eight-speed transmission is on the way, and from where I sit, it can’t come soon enough.

But the bottom line is that the 300 SRT-8 can do it all. It sure made a believer out of me. No doubt it’s one of the top muscle cars on the market, but it’s also one of the top cars, period. Take it from a Gearhead: this thing is the real deal.

Editor’s note: As you’re suping up your own muscle car, make sure to hit up Advance Auto Parts for great deals on DIY essentials. Buy online, pick up in store.

Photo courtesy of Car and Driver magazine.

Father-Son road trips

Advance Auto Parts

Another Father’s Day has come and gone, folks, so I wanted to take some time and reflect on a great tradition in my family: the father-son road trip. I did it with my dad back when he was able, and now my own son’s talking about setting one up with me. Tell you what, I never felt as close to my old man as when we were out on that open road. If you haven’t done it, you’ve got to. It’s an experience you’ll never forget.

But before you pack your stuff and peel out, you gotta have a plan, right? So I thought about how my dad and I did it back in the day, and I came up with four suggestions for you. Check ‘em out, and when you’re done, I’d love to hear your own father-son road trip stories in the comments. We are so privileged to live in this beautiful country with so many road trips to choose from, and it’s even more of a privilege to have your dad along for the ride.

1. Find a Great U.S. Road Trip

Wherever you are in these United States, I’m sure a great road trip isn’t far away. I’ll just mention a few of my favorites here. Now, the one I did with my old man was straight up the California coast from Los Angeles to Monterey, and it’s still number one on my all-time list. You take the 101 to San Luis Obispo, hop on Highway 1 heading north, and hug hairpin corners high above the Pacific for the next 80 miles or so. I will tell you to my dying day that there is no more beautiful place in the world. But if you can’t make it out west, how about the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire’s White Mountains? Or the Tail of the Dragon that slithers through the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee? The theme here is natural beauty, and I would say that’s a firm requirement for a Father’s Day road trip.

2. Pick the Right Car for the Road Trip

Alright, let’s talk cars. I was fortunate enough to be pushing a ’69 Corvette drop-top with the 350 V8 when my dad and I did the California coast (we’re talking 26 years ago here; like I said, I’m no spring chicken), and that old beast is now worth about ten times what I sold it for, but I digress. My point is, get your hands on a neat car for the road trip, because you might only get to do this once. If you’ve got the right set of wheels in your garage, more power to you; if not, consider renting a Mustang convertible or something for the occasion. Just like the trip itself, the car for the road trip should be something you look forward to every day.

3. Prepare Your Car

This won’t apply if you’re renting, of course, but if it’s your own car, do yourself a solid and get everything checked out before you leave. A good independent mechanic will only charge you maybe 50 to 75 bucks for a safety inspection, and he’ll check out your car’s systems to make sure they’re all go. If you’re a DIY type, poke around on AdvanceAutoParts.com and see if you can’t put together your own little inspection. If your air conditioning isn’t blowing as cold as it should, for example, I’ve had good luck with this A/C Pro stuff.

4. Make Your Trip a Gift to Remember

The road trip is a gift to both of you, so make it special. Spring for that upgraded room with an view, and splurge on a nice steak dinner instead of pinching your pennies. Your old man has done a lot for you; now’s your chance to return the favor. You won’t regret it, I promise.

If you’re a Dad, tell us what you did on Father’s Day? Is there a road trip in your near future? Download a copy of our handy Rules for Road Trips infographic. It’s free.

Editor’s note: Father’s Day or not, Advance Auto Parts carries a wide selection of premium tools, parts, gadgets and more—all at great savings. Get your order fast, buy online pick up in store.

Dart vs. Dart

Advance Auto PartsThe older you get, the more you miss the way things used to be.

That’s why it pains me to say what I’m about to say.

See, I grew up with the original Dodge Dart. Had one in college, as a matter of fact, a ’65 Dart Charger with the Commando 273 V8. Yellow with a black interior. Four on the floor, of course.

My dad and I bought it used for a song, because back then, no one realized that these old school muscle cars were going to be classics someday.

And believe me, I had a lot of fun in that car. It wasn’t in the greatest shape, and it wasn’t exactly the best muscle car around, but my goodness, the noises that V8 would make when you got on it, four-barrel carb gulping air up front with a cloud of tire smoke billowing out the back.

I loved it, I really did.

But now there’s a new Dart in town, the 2013 Dodge Dart, a front-wheel-drive economy sedan that doesn’t offer anything more than a four-cylinder engine. It’s styled by Italians and full of computer screens and all kinds of gizmos I could care less about. Its predecessor was the forgettable Dodge Neon, the one that said “Hi” in commercials. It’s an economy sedan for Godsakes.

And it’s a better car than my old ’65. Better by a longshot.

Why? Because the reality is, that Dart Charger wasn’t close to being the best American muscle car of its day. It was just a mediocre mainstream car with a decent motor—nothing more, nothing less. It didn’t even look special, unlike some other Dodge muscle cars I could name. And if you want to talk about the best muscle car engine from back in the day, the Commando V8 wouldn’t even be in the conversation.

But the 2013 Dodge Dart is close to being the best small sedan on the market right now. The new Dart comes packed with features right out of the box, so you don’t have to pay a bundle for some fancy trim level. It’s got a nice smooth ride that stays quiet at speeds I’m not allowed to disclose. Thanks to underpinnings borrowed from Alfa Romeo, it’s not afraid of corners, either.

There’s even a version for car guys like me: you can get it with a six-speed manual transmission and the same turbocharged 1.4-liter motor that’s in the Fiat 500 Abarth hot hatch. Is this the best “muscle car” engine, if you could call it that, in the small-sedan segment? It’s in the running, I’ll give it that much.

Don’t tell my college-aged self, but the new Dart turbo would embarrass that old Dart Charger off the line, Commando V8 and all.Screen shot 2013-05-09 at 1.14.48 PM

So yeah, I still miss my ’65. Still remember the day it wouldn’t pass inspection—too much rust. Had to put it out to pasture, and I was pretty broken up about that.

But if you gave me the choice between a pristine Dart Charger and a 2013 Dart turbo, I’d take the new car every day and twice on Sunday.

You’re always gonna miss the way things used to be, but sometimes you gotta admit that 50 years of progress has its perks.

 

Editor’s note: Whether you drive a Dart or a DeLorean, Advance Auto Parts has the parts and tools you need to get your projects done. Text “Spring” to 36898 for a hot deal now. Up to 5 messages per month; message & data rates may apply.

 

Advance exclusive: Interview with Richard Griot of Griot’s Garage

We recently caught up with Griot’s Garage founder and industry icon Richard Griot—to get the real dirt on his favorite classic cars. 

Griot's GarageSomething special happens when two car guys get to talking. You can feel it in the air: you’re both nuts about classic cars, there’s no denying it, and then the conversation just starts flowing like you’ve known each other for years.

That’s exactly what happened when I had a chat recently with Richard Griot. Richard founded Griot’s Garage, a very successful car-care company, and he used some of the proceeds to do what any red-blooded car guy would do – put together a museum-quality classic car collection that’s got so many specimens now, he’s literally lost count. I knew we were going to hit it off as soon as I heard that part of the story, and sure enough, we had an enthusiastic conversation about cars that gave me plenty of material for 10 Classic Car Questions.

So here are the highlights, just the way I asked ‘em and he answered ‘em. By the way, when you’re done, do me a favor and go check out Richard’s products at Advance Auto Parts. He’s a good man, and speaking from experience, I can tell you his car-care solutions are top notch.

Alright, let’s get to it.

GG: What was your first car as a kid, and what were the best and worst things about it?

Richard Griot: 1953 M38A1 Jeep. Top Speed was 55 mph so I put an overdrive in it and it went 63 mph. It was so easy to work on. I ended up painting it myself and swapping the engine for a rebuilt one, as it burned a quart of oil every 100 miles!

GG: How many cars are in your collection now?

RG: I really don’t know. It’s a lot. I think if I ever started counting I’d feel as if I had a problem. It’s called self denial, so I’ve never really counted.

GG: I noticed a ‘60s Mustang in a video of your collection. Do you have any other vintage American muscle cars? Given their dynamic shortcomings, are you a fan of “resto-mods” that enhance braking and handling?

RG: They only have dynamic shortcomings if you over-drive them!  Having said that, I have a stock looking 1966 Chevelle with a 502 big block and upgraded suspension and disc brakes.  It really has increased the driving experience big time.  My kids still remember doing a bunch of burnouts in it, so I can’t sell that one.

GG: If you could only have one car for all occasions, what would it be, and why? What would the transmission be?

RG: The new Porsche Boxster with a manual transmission.  A perfect commuter car, trunks front and back, top folds back while you are driving it, a great track car and if you have a hot date she’s close enough to lean over and kiss…

GG: How do you feel about modern cabin technology like touch-screen systems and LCD displays? Love it, hate it, indifferent to it?

RG: Well, things are getting more and more complicated. However, I love all the technology that lets me be more efficient behind the wheel and safer as well.  Though I must say I take my eyes off the road more often now!

GG: If you could influence the way Driver’s Ed is taught in America, what would you change, if anything?

RG: I would put everyone on a race track and get scared sheet out of them and teach them that cars are dangerous unless you pay attention full time behind the wheel!

GG: Which country, if you can single one out, makes the cars you appreciate the most, and what are those special qualities?

RG: That’s like asking me to pick out my favorite child!  I love Italian style, German engineering, American in-your-face brute force, and Japanese attention to detail.

GG: You must know the classic-car market well. What’s a great value that comes to mind—a classic or future classic that’s currently underpriced?

RG: That would be like giving away my best kept secret!  Just buy something you love regardless of the market. Something that makes you smile every time you get in it.

GG: Say I’m considering a classic car, but I don’t know much about buying and caring for a vintage automobile. Is there any general advice you would give me based on your experience?

RG: Run away! They’ll tear your heart out, require way too much maintenance, and drive you to bankruptcy if you try to restore one. Having said that, a 1965-66 Mustang Fastback. Lots of parts, many to choose from, easy to run, and a great driving experience.

GG: Which of your car-care products are you most proud of, and why? Is there a magical product that you wish more people knew about?

RG: Speed Shine. Greatest product EVER to hit the market.

Bonus Question!

GG: What are you top 3 engines of all time, and why?

RG: First, the Small Block Chevy, still kicking after 57 plus years. Second, the Cosworth DFV F1 Engine — what can you say?  Won many world championships and is still going strong in vintage F1. And last but not least, any Ferrari V12…the sound is just wonderful.

GG: Richard, it was a pleasure, thanks so much for your time today.

RG: Thank you!

Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts is proud to feature Griot’s Garage car care products. Buy online, pick up in store. Photos courtesy of Griot’s Garage.

Who’s hitting Bike Week 2013?

Advance Auto PartsIf you’ve been reading my column, you know that I’ve got a thing for classic muscle cars. I dream about ‘em, I cruise the classifieds for ‘em, and I’ve got one in my own garage.

But with Bike Week 2013 around the corner, let me tell you that I’m also a motorcycle guy. Big time.

Shoot, every gearhead I know loves bikes, and let me tell you why: there’s just nothing else on earth as fast and fun as a motorcycle.

Some of you young guns haven’t been around long enough to remember this, but there was a time when most cars were slow as molasses. In particular, the 1970s were a lost decade for speed. The OPEC embargo sent gas prices through the roof, car companies responded by strangling their engines’ output, and the result was serious disappointment for speed demons like me.

But guess what: even the fastest motorcycles are incredibly fuel-efficient, so they kept right on being fast.

And when I say “fast,” I mean faster than the fastest cars.

Let me give you an example: I had a 1974 Kawasaki H2 Mach IV, which was known as “The Widowmaker” because let’s just say its chassis wasn’t up to the standards of its motor. But what a motor! It made 74 horsepower, which was a whole lot for a bike that barely weighed 400 pounds. I could turn 12-second quarter miles all day on that thing. Not even the strongest muscle cars could touch me, even the ones that were built before OPEC got stingy in 1973.

Of course, it’s not only the speed that seduces you; it’s the wind in your hair, the sense of absolute freedom as you’re running through the gears and leaving everyone and everything in your dust. I’ve never ridden a horse, but I always thought of motorcycles as like horses—it’s just you and what’s underneath you, and as long as you both stay upright, there’s no better feeling in the world.

I could keep going like this all day, but let me bring it back to Bike Week 2013. I can’t make it this year, but if I could, I’d be rolling in on my 17-years-new Ducati 916, which is the best motorcycle ever made, if I do say so myself, and which I plan to be buried with when that day comes. I just put on a fresh set of Ferodo brake pads – only the best for my baby – and she stops on the proverbial dime, better than the day I met her. So when all you Bike Weekers are having fun in the sun down there, I’ll be with you in spirit. Ride with pride, and be safe out there.

By the way, I’ve prevailed on the good folks here at Advance Auto Parts to stock some Ferodo brake pads of their own, and they’ve got some great deals right now. And, I promise they’ll hook you up with the right pads for your ride.

Editor’s note: If you’re heading out to Bike Week, be sure to check out some of the great events in store!

Five surefire ways to get a traffic violation in 2013

Advance Auto PartsYeah, yeah, I know: with all the hybrids and electrics in the news these days, it’s hard to believe an old gearhead like me can find five new cars worth talking about. But you want the truth? Those battery-powered contraptions are still just a small slice of the market. That means most new vehicles sold in 2013 will run on good old-fashioned dino juice.

And I’ve got five of ‘em here that are guaranteed to get your motor running. Here are the best 2013 cars from one gearhead’s point of view.

2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500
Every gearhead appreciates the value of a tough truck, but the old Chevy Silverado 1500 had a problem: that’s all it was. Meanwhile, rivals like the Ram 1500 and Ford F-150 were taking their interiors uptown, creating mobile man caves full of luxury and technology. Fortunately, the redesigned 2014 Silverado finally brings Chevy up to speed. In particular, the boring old dashboard has been completely redone with new materials and an available iPad-like touchscreen interface. I’m fired up about the new family of engines, too—I’ve got my eye on the 6.2-liter V8.

2013 Ford Focus ST
Look, I’m not a front-wheel-drive kind of guy, so don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not going soft in my old age. The real story here is that Ford has brought neutral handling to this notoriously understeer-happy segment. My automotive blogger counterparts are referring to the ST as “the
best handling front-wheel drive car I’ve ever driven
.” I’m talking about hot hatches, and the turbocharged, 252-horsepower Focus ST is arguably the hottest one yet. It’s bound to be one of the top rated 2013 cars. Toss it into a corner and the clever brake-based front differential makes sure you stay right on your intended line instead of plowing wide. I got a chance to drive this thing on a road course, and I loved it. The Focus ST the only new Ford other than a Mustang V8 that I’d consider buying.

2014 SRT Viper
I’m gonna be in the minority here, but that’s never stopped me from speaking my mind: the new Viper’s front end looks a little too European for my taste. Fiat runs Chrysler nowadays, you see, and I just know some Italian designer in tight pants was behind the Viper’s dainty new headlights. But that’s nothing 640 horsepower can’t fix, is it? That’s right, the venerable 8.4-liter V10 has been reworked to pump out exactly two more horsepower than the swan-song-singing Corvette ZR1. Not too shabby, and neither is the all-new interior with fancy Sabelt sport seats and Chrysler’s excellent uConnect touch-screen. I wouldn’t kick this Viper out of the garage, if you know what I mean.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette
Speaking of Corvettes, there’s a new one of those, too. The redesigned C7 and upcoming C7 Z06 Corvette have pretty radical looks that show a little too much Japanese-style angularity, if you ask me. So the Viper’s not alone in borrowing from overseas. But I can’t wait to put the new 6.2-liter V8 through its paces. Dubbed “LT1,” the new V8 is bound to confuse car guys like me who remember the original LT1, a 5.7-liter V8 featured in the C4 Corvette of the 1990s, among others. (Hell, I even remember the hyphenated “LT-1” 350 V8 from the ‘70s.) But you know what, with an estimated 450 horsepower and about the same amount of torque, who cares? Plus, the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette has finally got an interior that cuts the mustard for a world-class sports car, or at least comes reasonably close. Any list of the best 2013 cars has got to include the new ‘Vette.

2013 Porsche Cayman
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve got a pro-Detroit bias, but when a car as good as the all-new 2013 Cayman comes along, a man’s gotta give credit where credit’s due. We’re talking about the best 2013 car models here, and the Cayman might just be the best of the best. I especially like the styling of this car: the Cayman used to look like the entry-level Porsche it was, but now it looks like a pint-sized supercar with those squarish headlights and beautiful taillights. Plus, a Cayman S with the 3.4-liter motor is every bit as fast as a 911 in a straight line, and probably faster around a track. This has yet to be conclusively proven, however. Hey Porsche, are you listening? Just give me a 911 and a Cayman S for the day, and I’ll test my theory at your earliest convenience.

Editor’s note: Our resident gearhead’s need for speed is almost as great as our need to get our DIY projects done. If you’ve got projects, look to Advance Auto Parts for the best selection—and even better deals.  

A New Year’s dream: the 2013 Corvette 427 Convertible

I’ll be honest with you: I’ve never known how to feel about the current C6-generation Chevrolet Corvette.

On paper (yeah, I still use the stuff), it’s got everything an old muscle-car guy like me could want. Right out of the box, this thing gives you a tried-and-true 6.2-liter pushrod V8 with 400-plus horsepower.

Corvette convertible But the motor I really want is the 505-horsepower, 7.0-liter V8 in the limited-production Z06 coupe. Seven liters is a newfangled way of saying 427 cubic inches, and that’s a special number in Corvette lore. Chevy put its first “big-block” 427 in the 1966 ‘Vette, see, and that ferocious V8 had already become a legend when the 454 replaced it a few years later. I’ve driven the Z06, and its 427 is as fierce as the original. Makes the standard 6.2-liter job feel a little too docile for its own good.

No problem, you’re thinking, just buy a Z06, right? Thankfully, I’m at a point in life where I could probably make that financial stretch, assuming the ol’ ball-and-chain didn’t find out till it was too late. But here’s the problem: I love the Corvette convertible’s lines. This is a car that was born to be topless. It just looks right as a roadster. And Chevy has never offered a Z06 Corvette convertible, no sirree Bob.

Never, that is, until model-year 2013.

One of a Kind

That’s right: for this year only, as the Corvette production team in Bowling Green, Kentucky prepares for the new C7 and C7 Z06 Corvette’s arrival, the C6 Z06 ragtop is a reality.

Oh, sure, the marketing types are calling it the 2013 Chevrolet Corvette 427 Convertible, but blah blah blah. To a man, this is a Z06 roadster. Same big brakes. Same race-inspired V8. Same dragstrip-proven, slam-it-home Tremec six-speed. And you get even more of that exuberant NASCAR-style soundtrack, since there’s no roof between your ears and the 427’s Z06-spec quad exhaust tips.

Yeah, I got to drive one. And, you’re probably a little jealous, as well you should be. The 7.0-liter “LS7” is one of the greatest V8s ever to grace an engine bay, using every bit of its 7,000-rpm operating range to plaster a terrified grin on each lucky driver’s face. It’s less powerful than the exclusive ZR1 coupe’s “LS9” supercharged 6.2-liter V8, of course, but whereas the LS9 makes basically the same broad-shouldered torque from idle to redline, the LS7 just keeps piling it on as engine speed rises. From where I sit, it’s the most thrilling motor under $150,000.

And now it’s available with the Corvette convertible’s alluring bodywork and fun-in-the-sun freedom, all for barely half that cost. 2013 Corvette 427 Convertible pricing starts at a very reasonable-for-what-you-get $76,900.

Personally, I think the jury’s still out on the C6 Corvette. If you’re looking at the base 6.2-liter version, I’d suggest waiting to see what the redesigned C7 is all about.

But I know exactly how I feel about the 2013 Corvette 427 Convertible. I’m a big believer in buying Christmas presents for myself, and as we close out 2012, next year’s wish list has a new number-one contender.

Attention ‘Vette Owners

If you’re already a member of the C6 Corvette club, I should add that the kind folks who allow me to write this column have a bunch of C6 Corvette accessories and C6 Corvette parts on offer right now. MagnaFlow exhausts, Covercraft car covers—you name it, they’ve got it. Check out the Advance Auto Parts site or just head to your local store for details.

Editor’s note: While I’ll leave the specs and such to our resident gearhead, I will add that you can get your order even faster when you select the “Store Availability” option as you shop at AdvanceAutoParts.com. You certainly don’t want to keep a beauty like this waiting. —JK

Paintless Dent Removal: A Gearhead’s Best Friend

Car dent removal Look, there are two kinds of people in the world. You either pull in right next to the other cars in the parking lot without thinking twice, or you leave a nice buffer zone so that Soccer Mommy and her kids won’t assault your sheet metal with their humongous SUV doors.

You and I both know that the only reasonable approach is the second one. But sometimes a door ding shows up anyway, and you know you’re gonna die a little inside every time you see it.

Now, back in the day, we only had one option for removing car dents, right? Take it down to the local body shop and hope for the best.

But these days they got something called paintless dent removal, and let me tell you, it can be a gearhead’s best friend.

How Do They Do It?

I was wondering the same thing when I first heard about it, so I had a local fella come do a little surgery on my own ride. (He’s a “mobile” technician, so I got the work done right in my driveway.) He told me it’s all about understanding the shape of the dent. That’s why he uses these special lights and mirrors to get a real good look at what kind of dent he’s dealing with.

Then he pulls out the tools, and the whole thing turns into a real art form. The metal wants to go back to its original state, you see, but it needs some coaxing. My guy likes to tap around the perimeter of the dent with a special blunt hammer; your guy might use a different technique.

Just make sure he’s got experience and good customer reviews, because it’s a little unsettling to see someone hammering away at your pride and joy.

Does It Really Work?

I knew you’d ask, and the answer is yes. My goodness, yes. As long as the dent doesn’t have a big old crease in the middle or something like that, a skilled paintless dent repair man can make your metal look like new. A couple of my dents, I thought there was no way that one guy with a toolbox could fix ‘em, but now I can’t hardly remember where they were. That’s how good the results can be.

But How Much Does It Cost?

Paintless dent repair cost varies by contractor and region, but I can tell you that I had about ten dents removed all over the car, and my bill came to $300. Now that’s a pleasant surprise. And if you’ve just got one or two you want taken out, it could be as cheap as $50-100.

As for those body shops I used to go to, well, I think they charged me $500 just for walking through the door. Put it this way, I’ve never been pleasantly surprised by a body shop bill, and I bet you haven’t, either.

Bottom Line

Find a reputable paintless dent removal technician and make an appointment. It’s a game-changer for people like us. Mind you, I still give other cars a wide berth in the parking lot, but if that plan gets foiled, I know who to call.

Editor’s note: Once you’ve gotten your dents worked out, maintaining your car’s exterior is easy with quality auto parts, supplies and accessories from Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in store.