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.

Marquee Motorcycles: Harley-Davidson Sportster

2010 Harley Davidson Sportster XR1200

2010 Harley Davidson Sportster XR1200

 

From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Marquee Motorcycles examines the bikes we can’t live without.

For this installment, Gearhead’s Garage puts the spotlight on Harley-Davidson’s iconic Sportster
Like the Chevrolet Corvette, the Harley-Davidson Sportster has been a part of America’s motoring landscape since the 1950s. And like the ‘vette, the Sporty has stayed true to its roots, in this case those consisting of a lean, powerful V-twin engine motorcycle that’s as happy cruising the boulevard as it is unraveling a twisty mountain road. And now, nearly 60 years later, Harley’s Sportster is still rumbling its way into the hearts of motorcycle enthusiasts from all corners of the globe.

Bikers British Invasion
No, we’re not talking about the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Who; that would take place the following decade. Rather, we’re referring to the one that English motorcycle makers made in the late ’40s and early ’50s. That’s when midsize, fast and nimble bikes from Triumph and BSA wooed American guys (and gals) away from the big heavy Harleys and Indians of the day. Seeing this, Harley brought out its middleweight K series for 1952.

The K, with its more modern suspension (telescopic forks up front and a shock-supported swingarm out back), lighter weight and foot (rather than hand) shifter, was a completely different animal for Harley. Although it was a pretty good effort, the K still fell short of the Brits in terms of overall performance and handling. That wouldn’t last much longer.

1957 Harley Davidson Sportster XL

1957 Harley Davidson Sportster XL

Sporty debuts
It was 1957. Elvis was rocking the airwaves with “All Shook Up” and “Jailhouse Rock”, “12 Angry Men” entertained moviegoers and Harley-Davidson showrooms introduced the Motor Company’s new baby, the Sportster XL. It looked very similar to the K, but differed in a few significant ways.

The engine now sported overhead valves and, although it measured the same 883 cc displacement, had a larger bore/shorter stroke design that provided better performance via its higher revving, better breathing nature. While most rivals used alloy cylinder heads, Harley, having had leakage problems with its earlier alloy heads, went with iron as the material of choice giving rise to the engine’s “Iron head” nickname.

The following year, the lighter, more powerful, competition-inspired XLCH version of the Sportster debuted. Wearing its small “Peanut” gas tank and staggered dual exhaust pipes, the XLCH, in addition to giving Harley a Brit-beating bike, provided a couple of iconic styling elements still used on some Sportster models to this day.

1977 Harley Davidson Sportster XLCR

1977 Harley Davidson Sportster XLCR

Age of Aquarius, Age of Disco
Apart from minor updates here and there not much changed with the Sportster until 1969. That year AMF, a large American manufacturing company best known for bowling balls, took over the company. Big cuts ensued, sadly giving Harley-Davidsons of the era a reputation for questionable build quality. Still, there were a few bright spots in the ensuing years. For 1972, the engine’s size went up to 1,000 cc while 1977 saw the debut of the coolest Sportster of the ’70s, the 1977 XLCR “Café Racer.”

Looking as if dipped in a vat of gloss black paint, the XLCR featured a small “bikini” fairing and a larger gas tank that flowed into a solo seat followed by a sleek tail section. Sadly, apart from an upgrade to triple disc brakes (versus single disc up front and a drum out back) and a two-into-one exhaust, the “Café Racer” Harley was otherwise mechanically identical to the standard Sportster. No performance cams, no higher compression, nothing to make it as scary fast as it looked. Yet despite Sportsters’ modest output of 61 horsepower, they were still good performers thanks to their big V twins’ plentiful torque supply.

1980s and ’90s
The AMF-owned era came to an end in mid-1981 when senior Harley-Davidson executives, including Willie G. Davidson, bought the company back. Now under ownership by proper motorcycle enthusiasts, Harley-Davidson would see advances in design, engineering and overall quality.

For the Sportster, notable milestones included the replacement of the Ironhead engine in 1986 with the all aluminum “Evolution” engine. Available in 883 cc and 1100 cc sizes, the Evolution was lighter, more durable and less prone to oil leaks than the old Ironhead. Two years later, the bigger Sportster engine was enlarged to 1200 cc.

Further updating the Sportster, a five-speed transmission replace the outdated four-speed for ’91, the same year that maintenance-free belt drive replaced the chain on the 883 Deluxe and all 1200 models. For ’93, the belt drive became standard on the base 883 as well, finally making the chain history. Wearing a larger, spoked front wheel, a solid disc rear wheel and chrome aplenty, the Sportster 1200 Custom dazzled Sporty fans for 1996. A performance version of the Sportster, dubbed the 1200S, debuted for ’98 boasting hotter camshafts, dual front disc brakes and an adjustable suspension.

2007 Harley-Davidson Sportster XL883

2007 Harley-Davidson Sportster XL883

Motoring into the new millennium
During the first decade of the 2000s, Harley made two of the most significant improvements the Sportster would ever see. Addressing a long-standing complaint regarding the bike’s excessive engine vibration (that some diehard Sporty fans saw as a rite of passage), the company replaced the previous metal-to-metal engine mounting points with rubber-cushioned units. That year also saw a new frame, newly integrated oil reservoir and battery compartments and, on some models, a larger 4.5-gallon gas tank that offered more riding range than the 3.3-gallon Peanut tank (which was itself larger than the original Peanut tank).

Fuel injection, with its perfectly metered, stumble-free fuel delivery, came online for 2007. The Sportster 883 and Sportster 1200 once again were offered in both standard and chromed-out Custom versions, but they were joined that year by the 1200 Low model. The latter featured a lowered suspension and seat height that made this big-engined Sportster ideal for shorter riders.

With its orange and black colors and dirt-tracker styling, the new for 2009 Sportster XR1200 paid homage to Harley’s XR750 racer of the ’70s. But it was more than styling fluff, as this performance-focused Sportster also featured a beefed-up engine with 91 horsepower (about 20 more than the standard 1200 engine), four-piston disc brakes and a sport-tuned suspension.

Ever the clever marketing company, Harley-Davidson has continued to bring out more themed Sportster models since then. Among them are the old-school custom flavored styled “Nightster”, “883 Iron”, “Forty-Eight” and “Seventy Two” models. The latter sports 1970’s chopper influenced styling touches including sparkly metal-flake paint, whitewall tires and a small Peanut gas tank with the same 2.1-gallon capacity as the one from the good old days. There’s even a new touring version of the Sportster, the Super Low 1200T, that comes with a large detachable windshield, plush seat and leather-covered hard saddlebags.

Need parts for your motorcycle? Shop the Advance Auto Parts Motorcycle Maintenance Center or stop by your local store today! 

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.”

 

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.

Crucial Cars: AMC Javelin AMX

1974 AMC Javelin AMX

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

For this installment, Gearhead’s Garage puts the spotlight on AMC’s entry in the Pony Car wars, the Javelin AMX

Largely overshadowed by the Chevrolet Camaro, Pontiac Firebird and Ford Mustang, (and to a lesser degree the Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Barracuda), the AMC Javelin AMX was akin to RC cola battling Coke and Pepsi. That doesn’t mean it was a bad choice in the Pony car segment (so-called because the Mustang is credited with starting this sporty segment back in 1964). Far from it, the Javelin AMX was just a different flavor. And plenty of performance enthusiasts found it downright sweet.

Note that we are talking about the four-passenger Javelin AMX here that was produced from 1971-1974, not the two-passenger version that was based on a shortened Javelin body/platform, just called the AMC AMX and produced from 1968-1970. Certainly the earlier version was cool in its own right, being the only American car of that time other than the Corvette to seat just two, but its appeal was limited and AMC made the decision to continue it after 1970 with the Javelin body and its backseat fully intact.

1971 AMC Javelin AMX

1971 AMC Javelin AMX

Cue it up
As it was now the top performance version of AMC’s Javelin, the 1971 AMX shared its styling. This meant the Javelin’s Corvette-like front fender curves, long hood and semi-fastback roofline were key styling cues, as was the full-width taillight panel. Marking it as the top dog in the AMC kennel were a mesh grille, a rear spoiler and a few options, such as a cowl induction hood and a big “T” stripe for the hood, that were not available on the standard Javelin. Inside the AMX, bucket seats and a console were standard and the dash curved around the driver. Along with that cockpit feel, the dash and door panels featured a metallic “engine turned” appliqué which further enhanced the AMX’s decidedly sporty vibe.

1972 AMC Javelin AMX interior

1972 AMC Javelin AMX interior

Extra performance for the AMX
With an overall length of 191.8 inches, the Javelin was about two inches longer than a ’71 Mustang and about four inches longer than a ’71 Camaro. Under the hood, a 360 cubic-inch, two-barrel V8 with 245 horsepower was standard, and could be hooked up to either a three-speed automatic or three-speed manual gearbox. Most buyers stepped up to either the 360 4-barrel (285 hp) or 401 4-barrel (330 hp) V8, either of which could have the automatic or a four-speed manual. Any guesses as to which powertrain we’d go with? The optional “Go” package included either the 360-4 barrel or 401-4 barrel V8 along with dual exhausts, the “twin grip” rear differential, the cowl induction hood with the T stripe, 15-inch (rather than 14-inch) wheels, a firmer suspension and a Rally gauge package.

As you were
For 1972, there were just a few changes to note for AMC’s sporty coupe. A smaller, 304 cubic-inch V8 was the standard engine, with both 360s and the 401 optional. As with other American cars, engine output ratings changed from “Gross” to “Net”. The previous Gross ratings were measured with the engine itself running on a stand, as opposed to the more realistic Net ratings which measured its output with accessory pulleys, exhaust and transmission all installed.

Yes, the ’72 engines lost a little power due to drops in compression that allowed them to meet tougher emissions standards and run on lower octane gas, but they didn’t lose nearly as much as simply comparing gross to net numbers might falsely indicate. That said, the 304 made 150 hp, the 360 2 barrel V8 was now rated at 175 hp, the 360 4 barrel with dual exhaust made 220 hp, and the big dog 401 was rated at 255 hp.

1973 AMC Javelin AMX with Cardin option

1973 AMC Javelin AMX with Cardin option

As the mid-’70s approached, luxury started to replace performance as a big selling point. For 1973, AMC offered an optional Cardin (yes, Pierre Cardin, the clothes designer) interior package for the Javelin and it could even be had on the AMX. Fully embracing the outlandish ’70s, the Cardin package featured black upholstery sporting wide stripes of white, orange and fuchsia running rampant over the seats, door panels and even the headliner. Visually, the only notable external change was the taillights going from the previous full width strip design to four semi-squared off units. Fortunately, for those who actually wanted performance more than plush trimmings, you could still specify an AMX with the 360 or 401 Go package and a Hurst-shifted four-speed.

The following year, 1974, would be the Javelin’s — and hence the Javelin AMX’s – last. Other than the Cardin package disappearing from the options roster, nothing changed for ’74.

Join the club
If you’re a Javelin/Javelin AMX enthusiast, there are a few web sites you may want to check out American Motors Owners Association as well as the AMC Rambler Club.

Shop Advance Auto Parts for deals on the parts you need from brands you know and trust. 

Offbeat Car-Related Collections

Unique collections – and the people who own them

Some people collect coins. Others collect stamps. Still others collect spoons or rocks or napkins or doorknobs – or a multitude of other quirky objects. Advance Auto Parts, though, went in search of people who have collections that are related to cars that are both offbeat and interesting.

We decided to focus on three of the most intriguing, each quite different and unique:

  • The first is an international repurposing project that is turning 1,041 rusty old hubcaps into incredible museum-quality pieces of art.
  • The second reveals a lifelong love of a highly underrated car part: the spark plug.
  • The third one – well, if you’re super squeamish, proceed with caution.

Metal canvases: recycling hubcaps into fine art

“I have found that the fine artists I have worked with on this project do not even flinch when looking at this white round disc of metal canvas. And why should they. Artists from the beginning of time have used cave walls (Lascaux, France and Altamira, Spain), walls of pyramids (Egyptians), animal skins (American Indians), etc… as their canvas.” (Ken Marquis, LandfillArt founder)

Ken Marquis, the genius behind the idea of hubcap art, says that he had a “Eureka! moment” five years ago while attending a car show in Pennsylvania. He had picked up a rusty old hubcap and suddenly imagined it serving as a canvas for a beautiful piece of art. That day, he was able to get 41 hubcaps from the 1930s through the 1970s for $2 each. Three weeks later, he obtained 1,000 more hubcaps; so, the “magic number” of artists and art projects needed was set at 1,041.

This meant that Ken needed to find 1,041 artists who were willing to take a cleaned and primed hubcap and transform their discs of metal into stunning pieces of art. “Fortunately,” Ken says, “I’ve been an art dealer for 40 years and am heavily involved in the art community with lots of artist friends. So, I decided to first knock on the doors of friends of mine and ask them to repurpose a metal disc into great art.”

When the first two or three pieces came back, looking spectacular, Ken realized that “this project could become something quite special” and so he knocked on more doors; created a 501(c)(3) organization; built a website; and then spent a substantial amount of time looking for artists “who might embrace this project.”

Fast forwarding to today, Ken now has more than 950 pieces of completed art; once he has all 1,041 pieces, he will have one or more from every state in the country and from 52 countries from around the world, creating what Ken calls “the largest artist initiative ever achieved.”

The majority of the artists have used oil or acrylic paint to create art, but others craft the metal into sculptures or weave, glue, screw or weld other materials onto the hubcap to create something brand new and eye-catching. “Each has a unique creative edge and style as each artist views a hubcap through a different set of eyes. Some incorporate only part of the hubcap or several pieces of the hubcap, while another incorporates multiple hubcaps. The largest piece of art weighs more than 6,000 pounds and is more than seven feet tall.”

The response from artists was quite positive. “Many of them hadn’t worked in the round before or hadn’t worked on metal or hadn’t used hubcaps as a canvas. But they enjoy being creative with something new and unfamiliar. They enjoy the challenge. They also like how environmentally friendly this project is. It’s really the perfect recycling/reclamation art project.”

And, where are all of these pieces of art?

“The good news,” Ken says, “is that for the time being, I have room to store them in a heated second floor with lots of wall space. This collection is not officially open to the public but I occasionally take people to see the art.” For those of us not lucky enough to receive a personal invite, a photo of each hubcap is posted on the site.

Ken will be writing a book about the project, and the book will contain a professional photo of each hubcap. There will also be a traveling show so that more people can see the art. His first museum stop will be in September 2014 at an “astute, well established museum, not located in New York but located east of the Mississippi.” Ken couldn’t tell us any more since the museum itself wants to break the news. The exhibit, containing 250 to 300 pieces of hubcap art, will hang in the museum for six months.

Not bad for a project that started with one crazy Eureka! moment . . .

Car swap meet sparks a lifelong interest

When Ed Laginess was eight or nine years old, he attended a car swap meet with his father and helped him hunt for needed parts. While there, young Ed spotted some spark plugs in a box; since they were only 25 cents apiece, he bought a few.

At another swap meet, he bought a few more – and then a few more. “Before I knew it,” Ed says, “I had 2,000 different spark plugs.”

Not surprisingly, he ended up joining the Spark Plug Collectors of America, Inc., the not-for-profit international organization created in 1975 for the “promotion of spark plug collecting, the research and preservation of spark plug history, the exchange of information and spark plugs, and fostering fellowship among club members worldwide.”

“Through this club,” Ed says, “I now have friends from all over the world, and I trade, buy from and sell to them.” He estimates that there are 400 to 500 club members, adding that there are many more collectors who have not yet joined the club. “If you name a country,” he adds, “there is probably a collector there.” Most club members, though, live in the United States, Europe or Australia.

By now, you’re probably wondering what we were wondering: what is the fascination with spark plugs? “Back when cars were a newer idea,” Ed explains, “everyone tried to outdo one another when they created spark plugs. There were hundreds and hundreds of brands to choose from with more than 1,000 car manufacturers at the time.”

Some of the coolest spark plugs, Ed says, include those that:

  • have a 24k gold base so that the spark plug will last the lifetime of the vehicle
  • have a little glass window so that you can see the sparks
  • are made of colorful porcelain, sometimes jewel-toned, multi-colored and “pretty fancy”
  • have brass bases
  • have handles on them so that they could be cleaned and reused
  • contain pictures, such as one of a lady dressed in red white and blue in 1700s-style clothing
  • feature fancy logos

Then there are the ones with “weird funky looking electrodes, floating balls or spinning fans. You know. Nutty stuff.”

Values range, Ed says, from about 50 cents apiece to about $2,000 (really? wow).

Early cars, of course, did not even have spark plugs. Instead, the internal combustion engines from the 19th century relied upon complicated and erratic flame and igniter ignitions. According to Gas Engine Magazine, the first spark plug probably originated in France with a ruby mica insulator, a brass body and the markings of “A.E.C.” A mystery! Nobody seems to know what those letters represent but the birth of the spark plug clearly foretold the death of the igniter.

By the early 1900s, more than 5,000 different brands of spark plugs were finding their way into Henry Ford’s Model Ts, including “For-A-Ford, Janey Steimetz & Company Flashlight, For 4 One, just to name a few.”

Insulation materials ranged from mica to stone to various kinds of porcelains, the latter of which often failed because of the extreme engine temperatures and porcelain’s porous nature, which allowed them to easily become clogged – an even more frequent event then than today, as early gasoline contained more oils and more closely resembled modern kerosene.

The year 1915 was pivotal. That’s when the Frenchtown Porcelain Company created a type of material that worked well as spark plug insulation material; in 1933, the discovery of silimanite extended the life of the plugs. From about 1900 until the mid-1930s, at least 6,700 spark plug manufacturers put their hand in the game, with more than 2,000 US patents filed on spark plugs, including “lots of gimmicks and gadgets.”

Because so many brands once existed, Ed says that “it’s fun to try to find the huge, the weird looking and the very rare spark plugs. I’m fascinated by their design.” When asked what kind of people are attracted to this type of collecting, he answers, “People who like mechanical things, old cars, old tractors, old hit and miss engines. The gearheads.”

Ed has so many spark plugs that he maintains a small museum full of memorabilia behind the house. “I’m sucked in,” he admits. “It’s addictive.”

Last Collection is Tough to Swallow

Steve Silberberg collects barf bags. Yes, those little bags that, when you can’t get to the bathroom in time, you vomit into. He owns some that were manufactured for use on airplanes, others for use in cars. To be polite and politically correct, you can call them air sickness or car sickness bags, but those nicer names don’t make their purpose any more likely to be appropriate topics at a tea party.

And, while you might think that Steve is the only one with this idea, he shares that there are “about 100 people who collect these bags somewhat seriously,” with “somewhat seriously” defined as having 50 or more bags. “Sure there could be people who have a couple of these bags come their way,” he adds, “but once you get to 50 or more, you have a collection.” (Steve, by the way, has approximately 2,500!)

Like baseball cards and other more socially acceptable collections, Steve trades bags with other collectors around the world. “About one third of the collectors – remember that there about 100 of us – live in Germany, with some living in the United States and others in Great Britain.”

When asked why sickness bags seem to be a more appealing type of collectible to Germans (as compared to other nationalities), Steve has a good explanation. “My opinion,” he says, “is that because a six-week vacation is standard in Germany, they travel a lot. So, to show how great their travels are, some Germans collect these bags.”

Steve has met two other barf bag collectors in person while he lived in Dallas, getting together with them to examine one another’s collections in a restaurant. “We got some interesting looks from the people around us,” he recalls. “I guess a restaurant isn’t a good place to share these types of bags.”

Otherwise, these collectors communicate via the Internet. “I’d love to say we party,” Steve says, “but we’re not the partying type. I was an early adopter of the Internet and I created a website for my collection. So, other collectors would find me. Now, anyone who has a sizable collection creates a web page and we find each other.” They also have a “pretty informal” Yahoo group which, at the time this blog post was being written, had 90 members.

Steve includes photos of his bags on his website; on this page, the top two bags are from Avis Car Rental:

  • The top one is from approximately 1993 and contains their slogan, “We Try Harder”
  • The next one has apparently only been available at the Nassau or Freeport Bahamas airport. Advertising messages include:
    • Call for a sparkling new Plymouth
    • Free unlimited mileage (Steve points out that, although that sounds fantastic, all 700 Bahama Islands put together equal the approximate size of Connecticut)

We at Advance Auto Parts still had two more questions for Steve. First, how do people react when they discover what he collects? And, which barf bag is his favorite?

“I get two different types of reactions,” Steve explains, “and I find them to be a litmus test about whether or not we’ll get along. Some people will be fascinated, perhaps not quite believing me, but finding it pretty cool. Other people have a look on their faces that clearly says “why do you do that??’ and I know that I won’t get along with them quite as well.”

As far as favorites, he lists three (breaking the rule about listing only one favorite but, oh well):

  • Finn Aviation air sickness bag from Finland: “Most of these bags come with written instructions, but this one only has a cubism reindeer that is spewing chunks. It’s pretty cool, a real art piece and, with this bag, there are no language barriers.”
  • MINI Cooper car sickness bag: “This is an advertising piece. Cars don’t automatically come with one.”
  • Space shuttle bag: “This is the highlight of my collection.”

Before we go, we’d like to highlight three parts of Steve’s website that made us smile:

  • Those who donate a bag to the museum become a Patron of Puke
  • Two pieces of barf art are available to enjoy
  • Although we don’t normally highlight items for sale, this site has a “gift shoppe” with a sickness bag poster (it was the “pe” at the end of “shop” that, in conjunction of what is available to purchase, got us to laugh)

As a bonus: here’s the most well-known pop culture moment related to spewing.

What about you? What intriguing car-related items do you collect? What other unique collections have you seen? Share in the comments below.

The Future is Now: Artificial Intelligence and Driverless Cars

Robotic cars photo“Self-steering will become a fringe taste – like baking from scratch and riding horses – but regarded as dangerous and socially irresponsible. It will be left to young men who are prone to high-risk behavior, a few type-A personalities with control issues, and some old people who just don’t like to change.” (D.C. Innes)

As of June 2015, there are 77 public-street permits in California for driverless cars, also called autonomous or self-driving cars. Not surprisingly, 48 of them are licensed to the Internet giant Google (up from just 23 in May 2015), with Tesla coming in second with 12 permits – and Mercedes-Benz having two. Google plans to test its 25 added permits on a new fleet of cars on private roads, transferring them to public roads later this summer.

Reasons for the push for driverless cars include that these vehicles are expected to:

• Reduce accidents

• Eventually eliminate most traffic congestion

• Decrease the need for highway expansion because these cars operate bumper-to-bumper at higher speeds, reducing fuel consumption and emissions

Currently, there are 306 people who are licensed to operate autonomous cars – and 202 of them are associated with Google. Sound like something you’d like to do? Here are guidelines for California drivers who’d like to be licensed for driverless cars.

Six accident reports have been filed with these driverless cars so far, five of which with Google’s vehicles. Google had already disclosed four of those accidents, stating that they happened because of human error, either the one in control of the driverless car or by another driver. The fifth accident happened in June and, since Google has committed to reporting these accidents, information will likely be forthcoming about that incident soon. Here are more specifics.

Drive via your smartphone — and much more

Take a look at this quote (and be prepared for some British spellings): “It SOUNDS like a scene from a James Bond film. BMW has revealed a car that can drive itself around a multistorey car park and then manoeuvre itself into a bay – all at the touch of a smartwatch. When the owner returns, weighed down with bags of shopping, the car will come and meet them.”

BMW calls this feature “remote valet parking” and they did the big reveal at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year. Meanwhile, here is a demonstration of the current park assist feature available from BMW, which is still cool all by itself.

Another feature revealed by BMW at the Consumer Electronics Show involves a camera that’s embedded in the headline between the driver and passenger. And, if a phone call comes in, point a finger and move it towards the screen to answer the call. Move your finger to the right – and you’ve declined the call. If the screen is in music mode, you can adjust the volume by making a finger circle. Lost? Point two fingers at the screen to get directions home.

Robotic cars 3Sitting in the rear? You really can become a back-seat driver through your Samsung tablet. You can adjust the car’s temperature, the music or movie that’s playing or your seat’s position with just a few quick clicks.

Also revealed at the show was Driver Assist technology, in development by Hyundai. This technology tells drivers how to reach a destination, but “also displays upcoming street signs, warns the driver of other vehicles that are likely to cut them off, and helps them navigate difficult turns and exits with easy-to-follow arrows on the monitor. It also has a warning system that alerts the driver of pedestrians and animals in the car’s path and will automatically brake if they are too close.”

This car can also monitor drivers’ heart rates and pull itself over and call for emergency help if the driver suffers signs of a heart attack. For more on that subject, see our previous blog post titled Cars of the Future: Personalized Ambulances.

To put its money where its mouth is, Audi had its A7 Piloted Driving concept car drive to the Las Vegas Convention Center from Palo Alto, California, traveling for more than 550 miles without the human in the driver’s seat taking charge. The car safely changed lanes and passed other vehicles. The car can recognize SUVs, trucks and police cars, distinguishing them from more ordinary cars, and can spot pedestrians, even those partially blocked by parked cars.

All of this technology takes real computer power, so Audi invested in the Tegra X1 superchip that allows a car to “learn” how to drive via the computer’s training algorithm. Although the Tegra X1 is only the size of a thumbnail, it’s said to have the power of a room-sized supercomputer from only ten years ago.

 Mercedes-Benz displayed the F 015 Luxury in Motion concept, where passengers can rotate bucket seats to face one another while the car automatically drives, a seating arrangement not available since the days of horse and buggy. Door panel touchscreens allow passengers to make video calls, surf the web and post on social media. LED lighting on the outside of the vehicle tells pedestrians whether the car is being driven by a person (white lights) or autonomously (blue lights). Plus, the car can project a virtual crosswalk to let pedestrians know how to safely cross the street when near the vehicle.

All of this new technology can seem exciting – or scary. To calm fears, journalists were taken on a ride with a Volkswagen Passat with Cruise4U technology, which allows for autopilot steering, accelerating and braking.

What does the future hold for driverless cars?

Ford Motor Company is predicting that vehicles will have “fully autonomous navigation and parking” after 2025. Ford already has its own automated research vehicle, released at the end of 2013 in an experiment with State Farm Insurance and the University of Michigan to develop ways for cars to “’communicate with each other and the world around them to make driving safer’ and reduce congestion.”

This vehicle contains sensors that scan up to 200 feet of roadway, “using light in the same way that a bat or dolphin uses sound waves.” Meanwhile, some Ford cars can already send a signal when another vehicle has entered a driver’s blind spot, and the steering wheel vibrates when the driver is veering out of his or her lane.

IHS Automotive agrees that self-driving cars will debut for the average person around 2025, and predicts that, in the first year, about 2/10 of 1% of sales will be self-drivers. That would be about 230,000 cars of the projected 115 million car sales anticipated for that year. Within twenty years of their debut, IHS expects that driverless cars will account for about nine percent of car sales.

So, how are you feeling about all of this? Excited? Anxious to own a self-driver? Or, do you like driving too much?

About a year and a half ago, Advance Auto Parts talked to experts about automated vehicles, including Phil Floraday, senior web editor of Automobile Magazine. Phil open admitted that he wasn’t thrilled about the trend, saying that, “I want people to have the driving experience. Face it, at Automobile, we still like manual transmissions. We believe in man-machine interaction because of the amount of joy you can get from really good transmission, from really good brakes. You blend into the car and become like one.”

Fast forward to today. On June 22, 2015, WorldMag.com published an article by D.C. Innes, who is an associate professor of politics at The King’s College, titled The car of the future and our future in cars. Innes believes that, “Despite our love for the wheel, we may be drawn inexorably into going driverless.” He blames insurance companies, saying that carriers will most likely charge high premiums to people who want to steer their own vehicles.

The good news? It’s likely that people who do own driverless cars will see a significant reduction in their insurance premiums. Less likelihood of accidents = lower premiums.Robotic cars 1

Time of transition

The transition to driverless cars will be – and has already been – gradual. In 2013, we’d talked to Steve Garfink of Seer Communication. Steve consults with companies, research groups and governmental agencies that are focusing on the transition from human driving to autonomous driving. He shared a rating system where the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) lists five levels, some of which have already taken place:

• Level 0: no automation, with the driver needing to be in complete control of steering, braking and the like at all times

•Level 1: function-specific automation, where vehicles have at least one automated feature, such as adaptive cruise control, electronic stability control or pre-charged brakes, which help a driver brake more quickly

• Level 2: the combination of two or more autonomous technologies, such as adaptive cruise control and lane centering; in this level, a driver must be prepared to take manual control of his or her vehicle back at any time. Some of these technologies may only be workable in highway driving, in favorable weather conditions and the like.

• Level 3: in this level, drivers will not need to constantly monitor road conditions; rather, he or she will be given a reasonable amount of time to transition from the autonomous driving experience to the more traditional manual driving; in theory, a driver of a level 3 car would, according to Steve, presumably “be free to talk on the phone, text, read the paper, or do whatever else they want knowing they will have plenty of reaction time before they have to pay attention to the road.” When this type of driving becomes available, a long trip could become a productive time, without the “tension of navigating among the big rigs plying” the highway.

• Level 4: the vehicle can handle all “safety-critical driving functions,” and can simply provide destination/navigation information; this vehicle could be occupied or unoccupied.

Steve gave a couple more predictions:

• In California – and perhaps other places – there will be no new regulations until a vehicle reaches level 2.

• Drivers may treat level 2 vehicles, where a driver must be prepared to take back control at any time, as level 3, where more transition time from driverless to driver-controlled exists. It will be interesting, Steve says, to see the effects of that on road safety.

Editor’s note: What are your thoughts about driverless cars? Share them in the comments below! And know that, as cars evolve, Advance Auto Parts will keep providing you with what you need to maintain and upgrade your vehicles.

Celebrating Patriotic Cars

1972_Ford_Mustang_Sprint_Edition

1972 Ford Mustang Sprint Edition

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

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

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

Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet

1974 Chevrolet Vega Spirt of America

1974 Chevrolet Vega Spirt of America

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

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

1974 Impala Spirit of America car

1974 Chevy Impala Spirit of America

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

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

1976 Cadillac Eldorado Bicentennial Edition car piture

1976 Cadillac Eldorado Bicentennial Edition

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

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

Grateful Dead of motorsports: lawn mower racing

Lawn Mowing Race1 photo

Imagine this help wanted ad: Do you enjoy motorsports (wishing they weren’t so dang expensive!) and love to tinker? Do you get into competition – and yet are the kind of person who will readily reach out a hand to help? Do you appreciate green grass, apple pie and spending time with friends and family? And, oh yes, do you have a good sense of humor and enjoy having fun? If so, we need YOU to race a lawn mower.

We at Advance Auto Parts have been hearing more and more about the grassroots sport of lawn mower racing across the country and we know that many of our readers love to DIY. So we talked to a couple of lawn mower racing diehards and are bringing you the results of our conversations.

Modifying a lawn mower into a racing machine

According to Bruce Kaufman (AKA Mr. Mow-It-All), the president of the U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association (USLMRA), 90% of racing lawn mowers are crafted in someone’s garage, with that “someone” typically having “mechanical ingenuity.”

If you’re interested in giving this a try and want to race in a USLMRA event, Bruce shares that you’ll find a circus atmosphere with a unique and special subculture focused on camaraderie – thus, the connection with the Grateful Dead.

In preparation, you simply start with a self-propelled rotary or reel-style riding lawn mower that was designed and sold commercially, specifically to mow lawns. However you modify the mower, it must remain suitable for lawn mowing, outside of the exceptions listed in the association’s handbook. Having said that, one requirement for race entry is that cutting blades are completely removed from the mower.

Here are other requirements:

  • Non-stock mowers must be equipped with an automatic throttle closing device.
  • All mowers must be equipped with an engine safety cut-off switch.
  • Mower brakes must be in good condition, operating on at least 2 wheels.
  • Fuel must be pump gas. The only additive allowed is STA-BIL Fuel Stabilizer.

Each mower is inspected prior to racing and can be re-inspected at any time. Safety first!

The USLMRA website provides plenty of tips, including this formula:

Small front pulley + large rear pulley = slow!
Large front pulley + small rear pulley = fast!

A tethered kill switch will shut down the engine if you get bucked off, and it needs securely attached to the driver and the mower. The blade deck should remain in place, solidly bolted to hold your weight without swaying. You can install a hand or foot throttle, and most racers replace the front axle with a stronger one. Review the tech section of the site plus the rulebook thoroughly if you decide to give this a go!

Bruce says that there are 11 racing classes and, although none of them permit blades, the resulting racing machines range from “mild to wild.” Typically, modifications are made to carburetors and engines, plus to the chassis. Good brakes are crucial, Bruce says, as is reliable steering. That’s because, as horsepower is added, it also needs controlled on this racing machine that has no suspension. Bruce then mysteriously adds that there are “secret speed tricks that inspectors will never know . . .” Hmmm.

Built for speed

If you’ve never attended a lawn mower race, you might scoff at what you imagine they’d consider “speed.” If so, then you might be shocked to know that even ESPN reported when lawn mowing star Bobby Cleveland broke the speed record by going more than 96 miles per hour! That’s right. Bobby reached an astonishing speed of 96.529 mph on September 25, 2010, beating out the previous record of Don Wales of Britain (who had broken Cleveland’s previous record of 80.792 mph with a speed of 87.833 mph!) and bringing the speed record back to the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Not surprisingly, then, Bobby is a proud member of the USLMRA National Lawn Mower Racing Hall of Fame, founded for “Turf Titans who have turned a weekend chore into a competitive sport.” He has clinched more than 75 first place victories and nine STA-BIL Series National Championships. He built the world’s first “Monster Mower” and also holds the world record for monster mower jumping. He has “always loved to ride motorcycles, race lawn mowers, build hot rods and tinker in the garage. His passion for motors and what makes them work runs as deep as his appetite for Southern BBQ, sweet tea and being on the road.”

Broad appeal of the sport

Although it’s the champions who make the headlines, Bruce says that the sport appeals to a wide swath of people, youngsters as well as grandpas, and every age demographic in between. He says that it’s common to see relatives participate in racing together, adding that the “family that mows together, grows together.” Because this activity is more affordable than the typical motorsport, that makes it even more family friendly. More specifically, costs of participating typically run in the $100s to the $1,000s, according to Bruce, not the tens of thousands.

Racers must belong to the USLMRA as well as to a sanctioned affiliated club. Racers can be as young as eight, although all under the age of 18 need parental permission. “Participants run the gamut of socioeconomic classes and geographical boundaries,” Bruce says, with Aaron Crowl (president of the American Racing Mower Association) adding that he and his family have raced against “people getting started in life to people who have retired after a long and successful career, from people who perform manual labor to business executives, doctors and people with Ph.Ds., and from teachers to school principals.” (When Aaron refers to his family, he means his wife and their twin daughters.)

Both Bruce and Aaron compare the racing environment to that of a family reunion complete with camping, camaraderie and food (and, as Aaron points out, “sometimes a weird but lovable person who reminds you of your Uncle Al”). Both men point out that this atmosphere can exist because no one races for a purse, merely for fun, a trophy and some bragging rights. Rivals may challenge you to the nth degree – and yet, when your engine falters, they’ll give you a wrench, a spare part, or even an entire engine.

“If someone came to a race who was TOO competitive,” Bruce muses, “I’d probably say, ‘Dude, you need to do something else.’ Motivation to win is good but, if you’re too serious about winning, you’d tend not to fit in.” To honor people who perform selfless acts in helping others, the racing organization gives out the Spirit and Spark Award.

Another requirement for participation, although an unofficial one, seems to be a love of bad puns. When you attend, you’ll meet people and vehicles with nicknames like Geronimow, Sodzilla and Prograsstinator, with the president of USMLRA being affectionately known as the grasshole.

Despite the sense of silliness that graces the sport, races are nevertheless judged fairly and professionally, with a computer-based scoring system that monitors race times to 1/1,000 of a second, with results posted quickly online, along with season-to-date rankings.

Past to present – to predictions

When asked about the evolution of the sport, Bruce gives a shout-out to STA-BIL Fuel Stabilizer, which he says has nurtured this sport along from its inception (okay, so he actually said they’ve “watered the grass of this sport from the start”). He also shares how he’s seen the technology of racing lawn mowers evolve thanks to the creativity of participants and how the potential of speed has increased with the technological improvements.

Meanwhile, Aaron notes how, early on, racers needed to be especially creative because nobody was making parts specifically for racing mowers. As the sport has grown, though, niche high performance parts have become available, opening the sport to people who couldn’t effectively adapt parts intended for another purpose for their racing machine.Lawn Mowing Race 2 photo

As for the future, Aaron sees super modified mowers becoming increasingly common, those that are lower and wider than previous models, but still recognizable as mowers. “I have mixed emotions about that change, actually,” he admits, “being old school. But you have to be realistic about the future.”

Bruce doesn’t see mowers becoming much faster, believing that current models are at the peak of what can safely be allowed – and both men envision and hope for further expansion of local clubs and community events centering on the quirky yet exciting motorsport of lawn mower racing.

Even if you don’t plan to race, you’ll probably still mow this spring and summer. Find the lawn and garden parts you need online at Advance Auto Parts.