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.
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.
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.
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!
Two major factors influence a car’s design: style and function. Depending on whether the goal is head-turning looks or maximum space for people and things determines the outcome. If the latter goal is the chief concern, then there’s no denying that a boxy design is the way to go. Start adding sexy curves and swooping rooflines and passenger and cargo space pay the price. In honor of those space efficient rectilinear designs, we have come up with our Top 10 Boxy Cars. Other than alphabetical, this list is in no special order and encompasses both old and new. Because some designs just don’t go out of style.
Introduced back in 1968 and running through 1976, BMW’s 2002 basically invented the popular sport sedan segment. The boxy, unassuming compact Bimmer offered spirited performance and agile handling that could give sports cars of the day a run for their money on a twisty road. Perhaps most prized among these are the “tii” versions made from ’72 through ’74. Sporting fuel injection rather than the standard 2002’s carburetor, the 2002 tii had 125 horsepower to the standard 2002’s 100.
This seemingly bland, compact car quickly became known as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Unlike most Japanese compacts of the time (late ’60s through early ’70s), the 510 wasn’t just a simple economy car. Equipped with a peppy four cylinder engine, front disc brakes and an independent rear suspension, the rear-drive 510 was something of a poor man’s BMW 2002 that responded well to basic modifications. As such, this boxy, rear-wheel-drive sedan was a well-balanced performer and a big hit as an SCCA road racer for enthusiasts on a budget.
Amidst today’s crossover SUVs and minivans, Ford’s Flex, which debuted for 2009, is something of an anomaly — a modern take on the old-school station wagon. With its flat sides and squared-off roofline the Flex offers a surprising amount of space within. Indeed its third row seat can handle a pair of adults. Compared to a bulky minivan or large crossover, the Flex sits lower and offers a more carlike driving experience to go along with its unique looks.
Seemingly picking up where the first-generation Scion xB (see below) left off, the Soul is another compact cubist car that manages to make a cool styling statement with its simple lines. A peppy, fun to drive demeanor, good build quality and a low price add to this Korean’s many charms.
The original Mini debuted for 1959, offering Europeans a tiny car that could still seat four and zip in and out of city traffic. A small four cylinder engine driving the front wheels contributed to the Mini’s amazing space efficiency. The Mini’s light weight, low center of gravity and squat stance translated into a high fun to drive factor. The Cooper was initially a higher-performance version of the Mini. After being produced until 2000, the original Mini was finally retired. BMW bought the rights to the Mini and reintroduced a completely redesigned model for 2002.
With the aptly-named Cube, introduced for 2009, Nissan unabashedly embraced the Boxism school of automotive design. Trying to add a dash of style backfired, as some critics mercilessly described the Cube’s looks, especially from the rear, as a cross between a vending machine and a washing machine. Still, others think it looks cool and the basic tenets of big room in a small package hold true here, with the tallish Cube boasting comfy, thickly padded seats with plenty of space for a quartet of basketball players.
The first generation Scion xB (2004-2007) was a popular car among the younger folks. Proving that it can be hip to be square, this xB combined affordability with a sense of style along with a generous standard features list and rugged underpinnings courtesy of its Toyota parentage. Sadly, the second-gen xB, although still a good, practical car, got bigger and somehow lost the “cool” cache of its earlier brethren.
Once the vehicle of choice for hippies and Grateful Dead devotees (who usually were one and the same), the earlier versions (1950s-1960s) of the VW Type 2, or “Bus, Microbus, Van” boasted seating for up to nine. Acceleration, for lack of a better word, was snail-like, courtesy of its air-cooled four cylinder engine that made anywhere from around 24 to 54 horsepower. Somehow these breadboxes have become genuine collectible vehicles, with the split windshield, multi-windowed versions going for the biggest bucks. Auction sales of the latter have seen them go for anywhere from $50,000 to over $100,000.
Volkswagen Rabbit and Golf
Also earning honors in the boxy car awards for Volkswagen are its Rabbit and Golf. Introduced in the mid-’70s, the Rabbit (called the Golf in Germany) had a space efficient transverse four/front-wheel-drive powertrain, that along with its square-rigged body allowed more passenger room inside than, according to the ads of the time, a Rolls-Royce Corniche. The Rabbit name later changed to Golf for 1985, then briefly back to Rabbit for 2006-2009 before again going back to Golf. Special mention goes to the GTI version of both, a hopped-up Rabbit/Golf that was a blast to drive yet easy to live with thanks to its inherent practicality.
Volvo…take your pick
The first boxy Volvo was the 140/240 series, which debuted for 1967 and ran, essentially with the same body shell, through 1993. We like the turbo version which debuted in the early-’80s, putting some serious spring in this shoebox’s step. One could also make the “looks like the box it came in” case for Volvo’s 740/760/940/960/850 models that were produced in the ’80s and ’90s and featured slim roof pillars, a low beltline and large glass area that made for excellent outward visibility.
Note: Whether your aesthetic is boxy or sleek, Advance Auto Parts has all the car parts and automotive accessories you need to keep your ride running smoothly.
Back in the day, “the day” being the thousands from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s, American performance cars’ fuel delivery system of choice was four-, six- or even eight-barrel carburetion. More often than not you saw a single four-barrel sitting atop the engine’s intake manifold. But a trio of two-barrel carburetors (called “Tri-power” and “Six pack” among other cool sounding names) could be had on some Detroit iron during the ’60s and ’70s, such as the Pontiac GTO, Chevy Corvette, Plymouth Road Runner and Dodge Challenger.
For monsters such as the early ’60s Impala SS409 and the ’67 Shelby GT500 Mustang, nothing less than two four barrel carbs (“dual quads”) would do. Carburetors were not without their pitfalls, however, as tasks like changing jets, synching those multi-carb setups and generally getting them perfectly dialed in were usually best left to a shop with all the necessary tools and expertise.
Fuel injection in those early years was very rare, but available on a handful of American cars during some of those years. For example, certain 1957 GM products from Chevrolet and Pontiac offered it just that one year.
As fuel injection was relatively new technology, the bugs weren’t fully worked out so it was dropped as an (admittedly expensive and not popular) option for the full size GM cars the very next year. It did, however, continue to be optional on the Corvette, right through 1965.
As performance-themed American cars passed through the 1980s, fuel-injection came online bigtime.
Thanks to their ability to monitor and make millisecond adjustments for various parameters such as intake air temperature and idle quality, these modern-era F.I. systems were instrumental in bringing back performance after the dark days of the mid-’70s to early ’80s. Being able to precisely control the air/fuel mixture, they allowed engineers to fine tune the engine to both meet tough emissions standards and offer increased power output. Other benefits are smoother operation all around, such as when driving in high elevations and in very cold or hot weather.
Which all brings us to the question of: should you have an older performance car, should you keep the old carbs or make the switch to fuel injection? Unless you want to keep your ride 100 percent factory correct for seriously judged shows and such, we’d suggest jumping aboard the injection express.
These “self-tuning” systems offered by Edelbrock, FAST, Holley and MSD will have your ride always operating at peak efficiency without you needing to scrape knuckles and waste precious weekend time. And no worries about having that classic engine compartment ruined with something that looks like a Flux Capacitor, as these systems mimic the iconic look of a big four-barrel carb. So go ahead, put on that original chrome-lidded air cleaner with the engine call-out sticker on it, we won’t tell if you don’t.
Best of all, these state of the art systems make for a fairly simple, bolt-on proposition, essentially the same effort as swapping out carburetors minus the subsequent tuning. After you’ve bolted the system in place, you then enter basic information such as engine size and camshaft specs into a hand-held controller, which gives the system its base-line operating parameters. One twist of the key usually fires up your engine and then you’re smoothly off and running.
As you drive your car, the system’s ECU (Electronic Control Unit) continuously fine tunes itself according to information it picks up from the oxygen sensor. No more rough idling, no more cold-weather stumble. Indeed, according to this article in Hot Rod magazine it couldn’t be easier “No jets, no adjustments, no laptops—just bolt it on and turn the key.”
Editor’s note: You can get your carbs in order and save big at Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
Jim Kazliner, Editor-In-Chief
Remember when you were a little kid and the idea of playing in the mud outside after it rained got you hyped? Pushing your toy cars and trucks through the mud puddles while you did your best to enunciate the sound of a beefed-up engine was one of life’s simple joys. Well, now you’re a grown-up with a rugged four-wheel-drive rig and maybe you want to kick up some summer mud, albeit on a much grander and exciting scale. Here’s a video that gives you a taste of what a blast this sub-category of off-roading can be.
Choose your weapon
To probably nobody’s surprise, the most popular mud tamer is the modern-day Jeep Wrangler and its very similar old-school forebears, Jeep’s CJ-5 and CJ-7. Compact dimensions, plenty of ground clearance, stout four-wheel-drive components and room in the wheel wells for large off-road tires are key reasons these iconic Jeeps reign supreme.
But they are far from the only good choices. Older Toyota Land Cruisers (the more basic four-door SUV styles as well as the Jeep-like FJ40) are very capable and durable rigs, as are the first- and second-generation Ford Broncos. Of course, 4WD pickup trucks are solid picks too, though the massive, full-size ones can sometimes prove too bulky in off-road environments with narrow trails. As such, we favor compact, more maneuverable pickups such as the Ford Ranger, Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma. One might also consider a Land Rover Defender, though aces off road, they tend to be rather pricey.
Depending on the scenario, simply popping your truck into 4WD and driving on through the muck as if you’re on pavement may not be sufficient. As with any type of challenge, there are proper techniques that separate the hackers from those that know what they’re doing. As such, thanks to the pros at off-road.com, fourwheeler.com and allstate.com, we’ve come up with a six-pack of tips to make sure that you move through the mud.
1) Don’t go it alone. Having at least one other person with a truck and recovery gear (such as a powerful winch) provides peace of mind, as well as a helping hand (and truck) should you get stuck.
2) Air down your tires. Lowering your tires’ pressure increases surface area and allows the tires to flex and grab traction better than when they’re fully-aired up for on-road use. Dropping down to 18 to 20 psi should be about right.
3) If it looks like a rather deep mud puddle / bog you’re attempting to negotiate, you might want to hop out and go on recon first. Grab a long stick and check it out on foot, poking the stick in various spots to get an idea of the mud’s consistency, its depth and if there are any large rocks or tree roots lying below in wait.
4) Take the proper line. If others are also having fun in the muddy playground, watch and take note of the line they’re taking as they work their way through. Usually going straight is best, but there may be some obstructions or stickier points that may dictate using a different, more traction-friendly line that somebody else has demonstrated.
5) If your vehicle has a low range, then start out in 4WD low. This will obviously maximize your traction and torque at the low speeds you’ll be using to make your way through the mud.
6) Take it easy. Throwing up 15-foot high rooster tails of muddy water at higher speed may look cool in commercials, but you could lose control and end up doing some damage or stalling out your engine. It’s slow and steady that wins this race. As the experts say and as with other types of off-roading, you should go as slow as possible but as fast as necessary to keep moving forward. Momentum, not speed, is your best friend here.
So you’ve discovered that you really dig playing in the mud. Fortunately, so do a lot of other off-road enthusiasts. Reading the various online forums for tips on where to go, how to set up your vehicle and how to improve your skills will help you enjoy your mucked up adventures even more. We suggest also checking out enthusiast sites such as mudtrails.com and offroadworld.net, which are also great for finding new friends that share this dirty passion.
Editor’s note: After you’ve gotten your fill of summer mudding, be sure to hit up Advance Auto Parts for a wide selection of wash and wax products.
In a couple of ways, cars that offer open air motoring are like ice cream. Most everyone likes them and they come in a lot of different flavors. Whether you’re cruising along an ocean boulevard in a classic drop top, chasing apexes in a modern sports car, or exploring rugged trails in an opened-up Jeep, these vehicles offer plenty of enjoyment no matter what your tastes are. And like a visit to Baskin Robbins, there’s bound to be a flavor you can’t resist. To this rusty ol’ Gearhead, it’s salted caramel every time.
Within the realm of the classics you’ll find a wide array of choices. There’s plenty here to move you, literally and figuratively. It might be a 1965 GTO ragtop with a 389 V8, a 4-speed stick and rumbling side-splitter exhausts that does it for you. Or, from the same era, maybe a Jaguar XKE roadster or Lincoln Continental convertible, with the former offering sexy styling wrapped around two seats and a sonorous straight six, and the latter boasting four “suicide” style doors, a magic carpet ride and room for five of your biggest friends.
But as you’ll soon realize, your options further range from taking just sips of air and sunshine overhead to fully gorging oneself via environmental exposure that’s second only to a motorcycle’s.
Just a breath of fresh air, please.
A sliding sunroof provides a taste of the outdoors via a panel in the roof that slides back, either manually (as in some older cars) or via power control. If the panel is made of glass, it is usually called a “moonroof” as it ostensibly allows one to view the moon and the stars at night even while closed. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, pop-up/removable sunroofs were a popular aftermarket installation.
Traditional (and not) convertible tops
And then there is the traditional soft top convertible, which when down leaves the whole upper portion of the car’s interior exposed, allowing its passengers to more fully enjoy the sun’s rays. These are usually power operated as well. Soft convertible tops (typically made of canvas or vinyl) have been around since the early days of the automobile.
More recently, retractable hardtops have become popular. Just as the name implies, this design offers the added comfort and security of a hardtop when the top is up. Lowered, it provides the same full top-down experience that a traditional folding soft top does. For those al fresco fans residing in the more inclement areas of the country, a retractable hardtop is great to have. The BMW Z4 roadster and newer 3 Series (which later became the 4 Series) convertibles both offer retracting hardtops, as do the Mercedes-Benz SLK and SL, and outgoing (2015) Mazda Miata.
And yet, this “best of both worlds” idea is not as new as one may think. Back in 1957 Ford brought out its Fairlane 500 Skyliner power retractable hardtop, while Peugeot beat it by some 20 years with its aerodynamic but somewhat grimly named 402BL Eclipse Decapotable in the 1930s. Unlike the Ford’s more complex, folding power top, that Peugeot model featured a simple one-piece top that manually dropped down into the trunk.
Take it all off
Easy there, we’re talking about full exposure here of the vehicular kind. And nobody does it better than Jeep with its Wrangler model. Like its CJ-series precursors, the Wrangler is usually the model one thinks of when the word Jeep is mentioned. Sure you can fold the soft top down (a rather involved and potentially nail-busting affair), or unbolt the unwieldy hard top (if that’s what your Wrangler is wearing) and leave it in the garage or back yard. But that only gives you standard top-down experience. Detach the doors and flip down the windshield and you’ll enjoy the thrill of maximum exposure that’s second only to that of a motorcycle.
Existing somewhere in the middle of all these are the T-roof and Targa-topped vehicles. The T-top (which consists of a pair of removable roof panels) debuted in the U.S. with the 1968 Corvette coupe. In the late 1970s and through the early 2000s, various Camaros, Firebirds and Mustangs offered a T-roof option, while the Japanese car makers joined the party in the ’80s and ’90s with the Toyota MR2 and Datsun/Nissan 280ZX/300ZX, among others.
Similar to the T-top in that it could quickly be manually removed and stowed within the car, the Targa top instead provided a one-piece removable roof panel (no center “T” bar) which ran the full width of the car, providing even more of a true convertible feel than the T-roof. Past and present cars that offer a Targa top include the Porsche 911 and 914, the Honda Civic del Sol, the Toyota Supra, Acura NSX, the current Corvette and various Ferrari, Lamborghini and McLaren models.
Editor’s note: Whether you drive an airy convertible or tinted limousine, count on Advance Auto Parts to keep your projects humming along all summer.
Think about the muscle-car era, back in the ’60s and early ’70s. If you know anyone who grew up during that era, chances are that his or her father taught them how to wrench on engines from a young age (just like this ol’ wrencher). And you’ve probably heard them lament the fact that fathers just don’t teach their kids how to fix cars anymore.
But there’s a good reason for that: modern cars are as much about computers as they are about carburetors. Maybe more so.
To fix cars today, you often need a special computer just to diagnose the problem, and you may need advanced electrical knowledge to do the job. How about rebuilding a problematic part? If it’s connected to the car’s computer network, you better be an actual electrical engineer, or else you might just make things worse.
So that’s why kids don’t grow up with grease on their fingers anymore.
But they do grow up driving some truly incredible machines.
In this installment, I don’t want to bemoan the fact that times have changed. Even as a weathered, ahem, older car fan, I want to celebrate it. Because the truth is, technology has taken the automobile to heights that were scarcely imaginable 50 years ago.
Let’s look at three specific ways that the triumph of technology has changed cars for the better.
You may not think of suspensions as having much to do with computers, but when you take a closer look, you realize that they’ve got a lot to do with ones and zeros. Consider electric power steering, for example — back in the hydraulic days, we used to talk about the steering of a car as being “heavy” or “light,” but today you can buy a Hyundai or Kia for less than $20,000 that provides electronically adjustable steering effort. Want to move up the price ladder a little? Adaptive suspension dampers with selectable modes are proliferating across the industry, allowing drivers to choose a firm or compliant ride as conditions dictate. And then there are roll-resistant systems like Mercedes-Benz’s Active Body Control that keep the car eerily flat through fast corners. It’s hard to see these technologies as anything but a win for most drivers.
We could devote a whole feature to this category alone. Seemingly every aspect of automotive power generation and delivery has been revolutionized. On the engine front, perhaps the biggest news is the rise of advanced computer-controlled turbocharging, enabling small-displacement engines to deliver strong, lag-free acceleration with little if any penalty at the pump. Transmissions have benefited, too, with advancements ranging from automatic rev-matched downshifts for manuals to launch control and adaptive shift programs for automatics. And then there’s the way the power gets to the pavement — increasingly, differentials are equipped with torque-vectoring technology that transfers power laterally to ensure that the tires with the best traction are getting the most oomph. There were certainly fast and capable cars back in the day, but the computer-enabled precision and efficiency we see today is simply unprecedented.
This one’s really night-and-day. Cars used to be transportation devices with radios thrown in for your driving pleasure, but now they’re like rolling entertainment chambers. What’s interesting is that mass-market personal computers go back to the late ’70s, but it took another few decades for dashboard computer systems — or “infotainment systems,” in current parlance — to become commonplace. But in 2015, you can get an infotainment system with a high-resolution color display in virtually every economy car on the market. Who would argue that cars used to be better when all you had was AM and FM? Now you can enjoy satellite radio, USB connectivity, Bluetooth phone and audio, home theater-quality sound reproduction, mobile-app integration and even Wi-Fi hotspot capability. Nostalgia dies hard, but even hardcore classic-car devotees know the truth: there’s never been a better time to hang out in an automotive interior.
The Power of Change
As a longtime DIY’er and car enthusiast, I’ve done my share of grumbling about the effects of technology on the character and feel of modern cars. Still, I have to admit that cars today are astonishingly capable machines thanks to their computerized components. What are some of your favorite developments in automotive technology? Shout it out for us in the comments
Editor’s note: High tech or no tech, count on Advance Auto Parts for a large selection of parts, tools and accessories to get your projects done right. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
What makes these cars look so amazing?
Of course, a lot of it has to do with inherent styling excellence. Any Porsche 911’s going to turn some heads based on its iconic sheet metal alone; ditto the C2 Chevrolet Corvette and countless other models I could mention.
But if you take a closer look, you’ll see there’s a pretty common denominator:
Perfectly smooth, impeccably polished chrome.
You’ll see it shining under the hoods of all those old American muscle cars. Check out the bumpers, too, and you’ll see mirror finishes front and back. Bottom line? You’re not gonna win any prizes if your chrome’s not correct. And for me, it’s just a point of pride in general — when I look at my car in the garage, I want to see that chrome shining right back.
If you’re with me on that, then you’re gonna want to fix up your chrome from time to time. The process is called re-chroming, and it’s something every classic-car buff needs to know about. So let’s run through a quick Rechroming 101 course together, whether it’s an introduction for you or just a refresher.
How Do They Do It?
Chroming, or technically chrome plating, is just a particular way of finishing a surface. The craftsman starts by cleaning the part’s existing surface thoroughly, and then he “dips” the part in a chrome-plating vat that’s filled with a chromium-based solution. Through a process known as electroplating, electrical current is used to dissolve the chromium atoms and “plate” them onto the surface. The thickness of the plating is determined by how long the craftsman leaves the part in the vat. Once the desired thickness has been achieved, boom — you’ve got your re-chromed surface. Hey, I’m no scientist, but in a nutshell, that’s more or less how it works.
Popular Cars and Car Parts for Re-Chroming
Although chrome continues to be featured on some modern cars, it’s more common among the older cars you tend to see at the shows. Chrome bumpers, for example, are pretty much dead and gone these days, unless you count a handful of pickup trucks. And good luck finding chrome headers under the hood; you’re more likely to see a bunch of molded plastic engine covers. When I think of cars that are candidates for re-chroming, I think of the classics — Mustangs, Corvettes, Chevelles, and certainly European luminaries like Ferraris and Lamborghinis if your budget allows.
As far as specific car parts go, you’ve got the bumpers and headers that I already pointed out, but it doesn’t stop there. Wheels are a big one, of course, and since they’re so close to the road with all its dust and debris, they’re gonna need more frequent attention than other parts. Chrome grilles, too, are in a vulnerable spot; you’ll often see pitting and tarnishing up there.
But more broadly, just think about that C2 Corvette I mentioned, for example — there’s chrome everywhere! You’ve got those iconic side-exit exhaust pipes, the fuel flap on the rear deck and various other exterior parts, not to mention all the chrome switches and knobs inside. Back in the day, chrome was a much more significant part of car styling, so if you want to make your classic car tip-top, you might have a real laundry list of parts that need to be re-chromed.
Have You Had Any Car-Parts Rechromed?
You know I’m always looking for people’s real-world experience with the stuff I write about. Have you re-chromed any of your car parts before? Tell us any tips you have in the comments.
Editor’s note: Check out Advance Auto Parts for a wide selection of chrome parts and accessories. Buy online, pick up in-store.
With Memorial Day on the horizon and summer soon to follow, our resident Gearhead dishes on his favorite beach bum rides.
When I start talking about cars, it usually isn’t long before I’m quoting zero-to-60 times, horsepower numbers and all that stuff. I’m just an old speed freak, you know? It’s in my blood. Can’t help myself.
But today I want to talk about a type of car that’s all the way on the other end of the spectrum.
It doesn’t even have an official name, so let’s just call it the Beach Bum Mobile.
I know that sounds vague, but you know one when you see one. First and foremost, it’s got to have room for a mattress in back, if not a full-on bed. Rear windows are optional, though a nice round porthole job with a curtain is a classy choice. You can live out of a Beach Bum Mobile if you need to, but you can also just keep it in the driveway for the occasional trip through the countryside, stopping where you please.
Got the picture? Like I said, we all know one when we see one. Now let’s look at a few of the ultimate Beach Bum Mobiles, from my childhood in the ’50s and ’60s to the present.
This is arguably where it all started. Technically known as the Volkswagen Type 2 (it was VW’s second car, after the Beetle), the “Bus” goes all the way back to the ’50s. Soon after showing up in the U.S., it became a fixture on the beaches of both coasts, showing a particular affinity for the laid-back Southern California lifestyle. You could get it as a passenger van or a panel van — the pickup version is a separate story — and folks quickly got creative, coming up with all sorts of camper-type variants. The rear-mounted, air-cooled boxer four-cylinder barely made enough power to get the Bus up a hill, but it was also incredibly easy to wrench on. This van is a legend; if you ask me, it’s still the best Beach Bum Mobile of all time.
They may not have the character of a VW Bus, but modern minivans are perfect for Beach Bum duty. You can usually fold the rear seats down or remove them entirely, and there’s plenty of room in there for an air mattress. Plus, minivans get better fuel economy than those full-size vans with their thirsty V8 engines.
If you’re strapped for cash, as beach bums tend to be, you can set your sights on aging workhorses like the Nissan Quest from the ’90s, or even an original Dodge Caravan from the ’80s. My personal favorite is the Toyota Previa, which rocked out in the ’90s with its supercharged engine and available all-wheel drive. If you’ve got a little more scratch, early versions of the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna make for great pre-owned options.
Let’s say you’re a beach bum in spirit, but your bank account says otherwise. Cost no object, there’s one current Beach Bum Mobile on the market that would earn my vote, and it’s a stoic German van called the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. To me, this is today’s equivalent of the VW Bus, albeit with a starting price in the $40,000 range. Powered by a torque-rich turbodiesel V6 that’s reportedly capable of 30 mpg on the highway, it’s offered in passenger and cargo versions, and the aftermarket is full of awesome conversion options, from pop-top camper roofs to full off-road kits with massive tires. The styling is so anonymous that it’ll never be an icon like the Bus, but it certainly has everything the well-heeled beach bum could ask for.
What’s Your Beach Bum Story?
Have you spent any time in a Beach Bum Mobile? Tell us all about it in the comments.
Editor’s note: Beach bum or garage guru, Advance Auto Parts is here to help with a wide selection of auto parts and tools for most all projects. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.
In this installment, our man Gearhead digs deep into one of the baddest muscle cars in the land: the mighty Dodge Charger.
Calling the Dodge Charger a Crucial Car is kind of like calling asphalt black.
It pretty much goes without saying.
You’d be hard-pressed to find another model through the years that’s been as meaningful to enthusiasts as the Charger. In the ’60s and early ’70s, it was a king-of-the-hill muscle car that young men (including yours truly) fantasized about owning. In the ’80s, it was reborn as a sporty front-wheel-drive hatchback. All the while, the Charger name stayed relevant for folks who loved to drive.
But as the politicians like to say, I’m here today to focus on the present. Since 2006, the Charger has gotten back to its muscle-car roots, with one exception: it’s got four doors instead of two. Let’s take a few minutes and appreciate what the modern Charger has accomplished.
From the get-go, the four-door Charger has been available with a brawny 5.7-liter Hemi V8. Now, does it truly have a hemispherical combustion chamber like Chrysler’s so-called “Elephant Engine,” the monstrous 426 Hemi from the ’60s? Some say no, because the chamber’s too shallow. But when an engine hauls this much you-know-what, who cares? Initially rated at 340 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque, the 5.7-liter Hemi has seen various improvements since, with output now creeping toward 380 hp and 400 lb-ft. But the basic design remains remarkably true to the original Hemis from my childhood, and if you ask me, that’s pretty doggone cool.
Of course, the modern Charger offers other Hemis, too — and by “other,” I mean bigger and better. There’s the Charger Hellcat’s supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi, of course, which makes an insane 707 hp. But that’s not the one I want, believe it or not. I want the 6.4-liter Hemi, naturally aspirated, with 485 hp and 475 lb-ft. It sounds like NASCAR when you’re on the throttle, and if you get the Charger Scat Pack model, you can have all that motor for a shade over $40 grand.
Underneath, the current Charger dates back to the ill-fated Daimler-Chrysler merger, which is actually a very good thing for Dodge. Basically, Mercedes shared its midsize sedan platforms and suspension technology with Chrysler, and the Charger’s still using that Benz know-how on the road today. Listen, don’t knock it just because it’s not the latest and greatest; Mercedes has been building tank-like sedans for decades, and that’s exactly what the Charger feels like from behind the wheel. It’s large, it’s hunkered-down, and it’s unflappable at any speed. Bottom line, it’s a luxury car in disguise, and that even goes for the ambient noise at speed — it’s almost nonexistent.
One of the great things about Dodge performance cars is that they’re backed by a factory-certified speed shop. Mopar is the name, and personalizing your Charger is what they’re all about. I’m talking about big wheels, slammed suspensions, audio upgrades, you name it. They’ll even help you squeeze some more power out of that Hemi if you want, and they’ll certainly hook you up with an awesome exhaust system to make it sing. If you’re a Charger fan, the stock specification is just a starting point for your creativity, and Dodge knows it.
Tell Us Your Charger Story
Have you owned or driven a modern Charger (2006 – present)? Leave your impressions of this four-door muscle car in the comments.
Editor’s note: Whether your drive a muscle car or a mini van, Advance Auto Parts has the parts and tools you need to keep it running right. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
Our man Gearhead talks through his top interchange engines.
If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to light an enthusiast’s hair on fire, it’s a purpose-built engine that doesn’t appear in any other car.
Car guys like me will geek out for hours about the Porsche Carrera GT’s 5.7-liter V10, for example, or any number of air-cooled Porsche 911 engines. Lamborghini’s distinguished line of V12s also comes to mind. If you know cars, you’re no doubt thinking of other candidates, too.
But there’s a flip side to that coin. Just because an engine is shared between multiple models doesn’t mean it’s a dud. In fact, some of the greatest engines ever have enjoyed multiple applications, because if something’s that great, why not spread the love around?
With that in mind, I racked my brain — or what’s left of it at this point — and came up with my personal Top 5 engines that have known more than one master. There are a lot of illustrious motors out there fitting that description, so it wasn’t easy to whittle ’em down. Check it out and tell me what you think.
When Dodge brought out the Viper exotic sports car back in the early ’90s, they needed something that would shock the world. The radical styling was almost enough in itself, but the engineering team chipped in with an 8.0-liter V10 that made an even 400 horsepower — heady output for the day. Never mind that it sounded like a UPS truck; the Viper V10 was the stuff of dreams, and it helped make the car a legend virtually overnight.
Since then, the V10 has gone through a few iterations, now displacing 8.4 liters and pumping out a just-plain-silly 640 horsepower at last count. But that’s not all; it has also been borrowed by two other vehicles for limited-production use. The first, Dodge’s gonzo Ram SRT-10 full-size pickup truck, used an 8.3-liter version of the massive motor that was good for a truck-record 154 mph. The second, the Bristol Fighter, was an exotic British sports car that reportedly sold just 13 copies.
So many great straight-sixes have come out of BMW’s factories over the years, but for my money, the 3.2-liter S54 is the greatest of them all. It debuted in 2001, appearing simultaneously in the E46 M3 and the Z3 M Roadster and Coupe. The S54 was limited to 315 hp in the latter pair, but it cranked out a full 333 hp in the M3.
With a sky-high fuel cutoff at 8,400 rpm, this engine loved to rev, yet it also had muscular midrange response that always felt like enough. The sound was nearly as thrilling, a metallic banshee wail that got more and more frantic as redline approached.
BMW gave the S54 new life when the 330-hp Z4 M Roadster and Coupe debuted in 2006, but it was brief, as both models bid adieu in 2008. Even today, I still cruise the classifieds looking for all of the above models. It’s on my engine bucket list, for sure.
When the C6 Corvette Z06 bowed for the 2006 model year, it came with a great big surprise under the hood. Displacing a full 7.0 liters, the LS7 was the biggest small-block V8 that GM had ever installed in a factory model. Unlike most small-blocks, the LS7 had an affinity for redline, making it ferociously fun when driven to its full potential. The noises were sublime, and 60 mph was yours in less than 4 seconds via the 6-speed manual transmission — no automatic was offered.
Now that the C7 Corvette Z06 has come out with its supercharged 6.2-liter V8, it looks like forced induction will carry the day going forward. But if you’re like me, you know there’s no replacement for displacement. Plain and simple, the LS7 is the best small-block V8 there ever was.
Thankfully, the C6 Z06 team wasn’t a selfish bunch. The LS7 has turned up in all kinds of places since it appeared, including the Corvette 427 Convertible (basically a Z06 drop-top), the Chevrolet Camaro Z/28, the Hennessey Venom GT supercar and even a helicopter.
If you don’t think Mercedes-Benz and NASCAR belong in the same sentence, you haven’t driven one of the cars from the “AMG 63” series. Ranging from approximately 450 to 580 hp, and technically displacing 6.2 liters, the M156 V8 was the first engine to be developed from start to finish by the performance wizards at AMG. You can certainly feel that hand-built touch. There’s endless thrust throughout the operating range, and the sound is astonishing — like a Detroit muscle car with impeccable manners. It’s impossibly well-behaved for such a beastly engine, but those noises betray its animal nature. Pity that Mercedes never saw fit to pair it with a manual transmission; otherwise, the M156 is a perfect 10.
What’s particularly awesome about the M156 is that it was made available across most of the Mercedes lineup, from the humble C-Class to the exotic SLS AMG sports car. Turbocharged V8s have since taken its place, but only recently, so there are plenty of low-mileage used M156 cars out there for the taking.
You don’t always need huge horsepower to have a good time. It took me decades to realize that, and the VW/Audi “2.0T” turbocharged 4-cylinder engine helped me see the light. There are actually a bunch of slightly different engines that fall under this heading, but you know what I’m talking about, right? Volkswagen has been putting a 2.0T in the GTI for about a decade, to take one example, and Audi offers a similar 2.0T in seemingly everything it makes. Whatever the setting, this engine serves up an amazing blend of refinement, fuel economy and smooth, spirited acceleration.
If there’s a better all-around engine that you can have brand-new in the $25,000 price bracket or thereabouts, I haven’t met it.
What’d I Forget?
A lot, I’m sure. My wife’s sure, too. Did any of your favorites get unfairly excluded? Let’s have it out in the comments.
Editor’s note: Keep your engine running right with parts, tools and accessories from Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.