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 Chevrolet’s iconic sport coupe, the Camaro.
Back when the Chevrolet Camaro debuted, the Beatles were making albums, color TV was a new novelty and the Vietnam war was escalating. Chevy’s sleek new number, an answer to Ford’s super successful Mustang launched a few years prior, came onto the groovy scene to get its slice of the “pony car” pie. In the nearly half century since, the Camaro has stayed true to its roots by providing enthusiasts with an abundance of styling and performance at an affordable price.
Right back at you Ford
Ford’s Mustang, launched in the spring of 1964, was an immediate smash success. It introduced a new automotive segment that became known as the pony car — an affordable, relatively compact sporty coupe with long hood and short rear deck proportions. Loosely based on Chevrolet’s compact Nova, the Camaro was introduced for 1967. And so began a rivalry that continues to this day, one as fierce as the Yankees versus the Red Sox, or Coke versus Pepsi.
Available in both coupe and convertible body styles, the Camaro could be had with a wide array of powertrains. One could have anything from a 230 cubic-inch, 140-horsepower straight six on up to a storming 396 cube V8 cranking out 375 hp. Transmissions consisted of two- and three-speed automatics as well as three- and four-speed manuals.
The trim levels similarly ran the gamut and included the base Camaro, the fancy RS (Rally Sport) with its hidden headlights and added interior/exterior garnishment, the muscular SS that could be had in either SS350 or SS396 guise, and then there was the Z/28. Getting its name from the actual option code, the Z/28 was a street-legal road race machine sporting a firmer suspension and a high-output 302 cube V8 matched exclusively to a four-speed stick. Seriously underrated at 290 hp, the high-revving 302 made more like 350-375 horses. The Z/28 was a rare sight for that first year, as only 602 were built.
The next year saw minimal changes. Visually, the easiest way to tell a ’68 from a ’67 is the lack of the triangular vent windows which gave a slightly sleeker look to the ’68. The 1969 Camaro is for many enthusiasts the one to have. Although essentially the same as its other first-generation brothers under the skin, the ’69’s more aggressive styling boasted flared character lines that came off the front and rear wheel wells, giving an impression of speed and power that the upper versions could easily back up.
Throughout this first generation there were also several rare, ultra high performance versions. Specially ordered through the COPO (Central Office Production Order) program via dealers such as Yenko and Berger, these Camaros had beefy 427 V8s rated at a conservative 425 horsepower. The top dog was the Camaro ZL1, of which just 69 were built for 1969. A ZL1 also featured a 427 V8, but in this case it was of exotic all-aluminum construction, yielding a big block brute that barely weighed any more than a 327 V8.
Following a tough act
The second-generation Camaro debuted as a 1970 ½ model. Taking the long hood/short deck aesthetic to a new level, Chevy definitely had the looks nailed. Initially available in base, RS, SS and Z/28 versions, this Camaro could be packed with power, as the Z/28 came with a high-output 350 rated at 360 hp, while the top SS 396 (actually now displacing 402 cubes) again made 375.
Sadly, as with all other car makers, Chevrolet’s engine output started to slide as the mid-’70s hit due to tightening emissions standards. Indeed, the SS was dropped from the lineup after ’72 while the Z/28 went on hiatus for ’75 and ’76 seemingly out of shame, to return in mid-’77 with just 170 hp from its 350 V8. Still, these cars provided some driving fun by way of their quick, relatively agile handling and rumbling exhausts. Thankfully, engine output started to creep up as the 1980s hit, with the ’80 Z28 making 190 hp. Styling got increasingly flashy, culminating in the ’80 (and ’81) Z28 which seemed inspired by its Pontiac Trans Am cousin, what with bigger graphics, an Air Induction hood scoop, functional fender vents and wheel flares.
Less weight, more power
The third generation of the Camaro spanned 1982 through 1992. Through these years, one could choose a base Camaro, a luxury-themed Berlinetta (later the LT) or the performance-oriented Z28 and later, IROC-Z. Downsized, this Camaro was also up to 500 pounds lighter than the one before, and also heralded the debut of fuel injection and a four-speed automatic transmission.
Now that technology and engineering savvy allowed engines to efficiently meet emissions standards, output climbed through the decade. The 1982 Camaro’s power lineup started with an anemic, 90-hp four-cylinder engine, moved up through a 2.8-liter, 112-hp V6 and topped out with a 5.0-liter (305 cubic-inch) V8, rated at 145 hp, or with available Cross-fire fuel injection, 165 hp. Midway through 1983, a 190 hp “High Output” 5.0 liter became available, while two years later a 5.0-liter with Tuned Port Injection debuted, making 215 hp. Named for the International Race of Champions (which used identically-prepped Camaros), the Camaro IROC-Z also debuted for 1985 sporting huge for the time 16-inch wheels, a track-tuned suspension and, unlike the Z28, a monotone paint scheme along with tasteful “IROC-Z” bodyside graphics.
Literally big news came around for 1987, when a 5.7-liter (350 for you old-schoolers) V8 once again became available in a Camaro, now with tuned port injection and 225 horses. Sadly, it could only be hooked up to the automatic gearbox, but by now the 5.0 TPI engine could be had with a five-speed manual, the latter being the enthusiasts’ choice. The next year, the Z28 was dropped, essentially being replaced by the IROC-Z due to the latter’s massive popularity.
Other than the V6 growing from 2.8- to 3.1 liters (now at a respectable 140 hp) and the debut of a driver side airbag, not much changed until 1991, when the IROC-Z was dropped due to Dodge getting the race contract. And so, the Z28 returned once again to the lineup, now with an IROC-Z-like monochrome body treatment, color-keyed alloy wheels and taller rear deck spoiler. The 5.7-liter TPI engine now thumped out a stout 245 horsepower. Although 1992 marked the 25th anniversary of the Camaro, celebration was limited to a badge on the dash and the availability of a commemorative package consisting chiefly of dual hood/deck stripes.
With Part Two of this installment, we’ll cover the fourth-, fifth- and upcoming sixth-generation Camaros.
A number of Camaro enthusiast sites provide advice as well as classifieds for cars and parts for sale. You may want to check out Camaro Forums and Camaro Source. Furthermore, acceleration times can be found on zeroto60times.com.
Whether you want to maintain an original Camaro in factory-spec condition or modify one from the power-starved era into a true muscle machine, Advance Auto Parts is here to help with plenty of high quality parts.
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
Savory lasagna, creamy gelato, great artists and Sophia Loren are some of Italy’s greatest contributions to the world. But many would argue, especially we car buffs, that the best gift this boot-shaped country has kicked forth is a buffet of delicious automotive treats. Although great style has much to do with their appeal, Italy’s cars bring joy to the ear with their fantastic mechanical music along with joy to the enthusiast’s heart with their involving driving dynamics.
New or old, Italian cars are lusted after and enjoyed by enthusiasts everywhere. Whether one is cutting through traffic in a diminutive, old Fiat Cinquecento with sunroof open and opera blaring, or slicing through a mountain pass in a newer Ferrari 458 Spider with its top off and its V8 providing the soundtrack, grins are virtually assured for anyone within either.
To celebrate the irresistible cars of Italy, we’ve picked our favorites both old and new from the major manufacturers. Our choices come via a rather unscientific approach, yet one fully befitting Italy — they are based on pure emotion.
For a classic Alfa, it’s hard to beat the simply named Spider (which is essentially Italian for roadster). Available in the states from the mid-’60s to the mid-’90s, this affordable, Pininfarina styled roadster defined the Italian sports car experience. That is to say it looked sexy, sounded great and had its steering wheel laid down to almost a bus-like degree. It also meant it could be finicky and wasn’t the most reliable car on the road.
Alfa Romeo just came back to the states after leaving in the mid-’90s and offers but one model thus far. But what a firecracker the 4C is. With its snarly, popping, 237-horsepower turbocharged four, light (around 2,500 pound) curb weight and track-focused handling dynamics, this sports car is a blast to drive. It may be a bit harsh for daily driver duty, but the 4C, available in both coupe and Spider (removable targa top) body styles, makes no apologies for its “fun first” personality.
Choosing a favorite classic Ferrari is like trying to pick a favorite Beatles song. Nonetheless, we welcome the challenge and will go with an early ’60s 250 GT SWB (short wheelbase). Even those without 93 octane flowing through their veins would find it impossible to ignore this Ferrari’s handsome Pininfarina styling and incredibly melodic V12. Although these are priced in the millions (keep playing that Powerball), they are somewhat versatile, being able to serve as both a fairly comfortable grand touring car and a vintage racing track toy.
For a newer Ferrari, the 458 Spider pushes our buttons with its free-revving V8 engine cranking out nearly 600 hp while making all the right noises, open roof capability and of course the head-turning styling expected of the marque.
As with the Alfa, we’re with a classic roadster here, in this case the similarly-named Fiat Spider. Earlier versions (’67 to ’78) were actually called the 124 Sport Spider while the ’79 to ’82 versions were called the 2000 Spider. A Pininfarina design, the Fiat was powered by a double-overhead-cam, eight-valve inline four that grew in size from its initial 1.5 liters to 2.0 liters (hence the later “2000” designation.). A turbocharged version was also produced for ’81 and ’82. From ’83 through ’85, the car was marketed by Pininfarina as the Spider Azzura. Regardless of the year, the styling and driving experience are going to be similar, meaning those classic lines and the classic, arms-out Italian driving position.
Nowadays, not only has Fiat come back to the states, but they’ve brought the latest incarnation of the little 500 (“Cinquecento”) with them. Our choice is, no surprise, the feisty 500 Abarth, whose snappy turbocharged four makes us grin every time it crackles and pops when we downshift. Although it boasts a sport-tuned suspension that makes it a hoot on a curvy road, just don’t try to catch Miatas as its somewhat top-heavy feel and body sway when pushed harder show its athletic limits.
Miura or Countach…Countach or Miura? We’ll probably change our minds tomorrow, but for now it’s the Countach. The official poster car of 10- to 20-year old American males during the mid-’80s, the outlandishly styled (by Gandini) Countach looked like a land-locked spaceship. Adding to the effect were the so-called scissor doors that swung upwards and made for a grand entrance or exit. A mid-mounted V12 with output ranging from about 375 to 455 hp provided the appropriate gusto.
For a newer Lambo, we’ll go with a Gallardo. Yes, it’s not as powerful as a Murcielago or Aventador, but we prefer its smaller, more easily managed dimensions and lighter weight. Besides, we could get by with just a V10 and its 500 or so horses. Now the question is just coupe or Spyder…coupe or Spyder?
Although Maserati made some great sports cars – Ghibli (the original sleek sports car, not the current sedan with the same name) and Bora to name just two – the company was also known for its grand touring coupes and sedans. Although the Quattroporte (“four-door” in Italian) has been produced off-and-on since 1963, we’re going to go with the third-generation version. Why? Because we’re Rocky fans and it’s what the Italian Stallion drove in 1982’s Rocky III. Fitted with a 4.9-liter V8, the Giugiaro-designed sedan put about 276 hp (respectable output back then) at the driver’s disposal. Fitted with plush, overstuffed seats and trimmed with gathered leather and real wood, the cabin of the Quattroporte was more business jet than road car.
Our modern Maser choice would be the GranTurismo convertible. Sporting Ferrari-sourced V8 power and a superbly detailed interior fit for four (provided the rear passengers are on the smaller side) the GranTurismo exudes class and power that are fully befitting a Maserati.
Editor’s note: For more insights into the vehicles of the world, check out our recent feature on the Cars of Ireland.
From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.
In this installment, Gearhead’s Garage puts the spotlight on that car/pickup truck cross breed known as the Chevrolet El Camino
“Is that thing a car or a pickup truck?” That question has been asked of owners of Chevrolet’s El Camino for decades. Certainly for most, if not all of its 26-year (total) production run many have pondered this vehicle’s genetics. Although officially classified as a truck, it is clearly a two-door car whose rear seats and trunk have been supplanted with a pickup-style open cargo bed. Whether it’s a 1965 or a 1985, from the front bumper to the end of the doors, an El Camino is virtually indistinguishable from the Chevrolet passenger car upon which it is based. And being a Chevy, one could have it as a plain Jane, six-cylinder-powered shop workhorse or a full-on muscle car ready to rumble down the boulevard with a “Turbo Jet” big-block V8.
The fleeting full-sizer
Debuting for 1959, the first-generation Chevrolet El Camino was based on Chevy’s full-size car platform. As such, the front clip and doors were the same as those seen on the Brookwood, a two-door station wagon, while an open pickup bed dominated the rear half of the vehicle. The cool “cat’s eyes” taillights with their big chrome “eyebrow”, seen on the other big Chevrolet’s, was also incorporated into the El Camino’s tailgate design.
Under the beefy hood one could choose anything from the base, lackluster straight six through a family of V8s ranging from 283 cubic inches to 348 cubes. Depending on the engine choice, changing gears could be done via a column-mounted three-speed manual (aka “three on the tree”), a floor-shifted four-speed manual or a two-speed automatic. The hot set-up was the 348 with triple two-barrel carburetion, solid lifters and a four-speed. Fitted with the latter powertrain, an El Camino tested by Hot Rod magazine sprinted to 60 mph in just 7 seconds, a very quick time for the day, let alone one for a two-ton bruiser.
But these early, full-size El Caminos were short lived due to plummeting second year sales. They were produced only for 1959 and 1960. But after a three year hiatus, the El Camino would come back strong, this time based on a smaller, more practical midsize car platform.
Ladies and gentlemen, the El Camino
Debuting for 1964, the same year as the Beatles in America as well as Chevrolet’s new, mid-size Chevelle, the reincarnated El Camino was more practical than its massive predecessor. Based on that Chevelle, this El Camino was easier to park and similarly offered a measure of open-bed hauling ability along with car-like comfort and handling qualities. And now, one could also opt for a Super Sport (SS) version. The ’64 and ’65 El Caminos are very similar with variations in front end styling and top engine choices being the chief differences. For both years, a four-barrel fed 327 V8 was the top power choice, with ’64s rated at 300 hp and ’65s making an impressive 350 horses.
In expected lock-step with the Chevelle, the El Camino was redesigned for 1966 and like the Chevelle SS coupe, could now be had with big-block 396 V8 power. With up to 375 hp on tap, it was ready to lay waste to rear tires and most stop light challengers alike. Indeed, with a quarter mile potential in the low/mid 14-second range, an El Camino SS 396 wasn’t to be taken lightly in the performance game. And you still had that big open bed in the back to carry spare tires. The 1967 edition was similar to the ’66 apart from the expected front end styling and interior updates.
This successful formula of offering everything from a six-cylinder, bench seat stripper to a big-block-powered, 4-speed with buckets-and-console street machine continued for the redesigned ’68 and similar ’69 El Caminos. The styling was bulkier than in past years, with thicker rear roof pillars and angled downward bed sides.
The 1970 through 1972 examples were arguably the most attractive, with the SS versions boasting the dual wide hood stripes and power-domed hood as their coupe brethren. You could even top off that hood with optional “Cowl Induction” that, upon laying into the gas pedal, opened up a small rear-facing flap to admit cooler air into the carburetor. The 1970 model year was the El Camino’s most potent, as the SS version could be optioned out with the legendary LS6 454 V8. Cranking out 450 horses, this brute could propel an El Camino down a quarter mile in the low/mid-13 second range. Power began to drop off after that point.
Performance becomes passé
The redesigned 1973 through 1977 model years would be the last of the bigger El Caminos and also were examples of the “Malaise” era. During that time, performance grew increasingly lackluster due to the increasingly stringent emissions standards and the need to run on lower octane gasoline with lower compression ratios.
By 1975, catalytic converters were fitted cope with emissions regulations and engine outputs hit new lows. The engines ran cleaner but performance suffered. Heck, if you checked off the 454 V8 option for your 1975 El Camino, you were rewarded with just 215 hp, and it was only available with an automatic by then. The adoption of a Mercedes-like grille for 1975 and then stacked, square headlights the following year were the major styling changes for this generation.
Lighten up, will ya?
Downsizing was the order of the day for GM’s 1978 midsize cars, including Chevy’s own Monte Carlo and Malibu, so by default the El Camino similarly slimmed down. About 12 inches shorter in length and 600 pounds lighter, the ’78 El Camino provided about the same passenger and cargo space as before and was more fuel efficient. Engines ranged from a 3.3-liter V6 on up to a 5.7-liter (350 cubic inch) V8 with 170 hp. In addition to an automatic, there were 3- and 4-speed manual transmissions, both floor-shifted.
The SS was gradually phased out, essentially replaced by the seemingly Pontiac Trans Am-inspired, black and gold trimmed “Black Knight” (later replaced by “Royal Knight”) edition. For ’79, a new 4.4-liter V8 debuted with a weak sauce 120 estimated horsepower. The following year the 5.7-liter V8 was gone, leaving a 5.0-liter (305 cube) V8 with 150 horses as the top power choice.
For 1982, this longest-lived generation of the El Camino received a facelift in the form of a new grille and quad headlights. This year also marked the availability of the ill-fated 5.7-liter diesel V8, a mill known for returning good fuel efficiency but bad reliability.
The biggest news for this generation came late in 1983, when the SS returned in flamboyant fashion. Actually the result of a joint venture with a company called Choo Choo Customs, the resurrected SS sported the aerodynamic nose of the Monte Carlo SS along with the requisite “SS” decals. Options for this SS included a raised power dome hood that recalled that of the ’70-’72 SS, simulated side pipe exhausts and a roof-mounted air spoiler. Sadly, no special engine was offered, as the 305 V8 was as good as it got.
Apart from minor engine shuffling that included the introduction of a 140-horse, 4.3-liter V6 for 1985, not much changed from that point on through 1987, the El Camino’s last year.
Entertaining the purchase or restoration of an El Camino?
Although most El Camino enthusiasts will likely lust after a ’66 through ’72 SS big block (396, 402, 454 V8s), one can still get plenty of pin-you-to-the-seat thrills with a small block version thanks to a huge variety of aftermarket hop-up parts including high-performance heads, camshafts, carburetors, intake manifolds and exhaust headers.
Whether you want to maintain an original El Camino in factory-spec condition or you’re looking to modify one from the Malaise era into a true muscle machine, Advance Auto Parts is ready to help with plenty of high quality parts.
Editor’s note: It doesn’t matter if you’re a collector or a commuter, Advance Auto Parts has the parts, tools and accessories to keep you running right and looking good. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
In this installment, our man Gearhead pays tribute to an icon that’s revered in the RV sector: the Winnebago Motorhome.
Along with the warm weather, summertime brings a variety of killer road trip options. There’s everything from cruising the boulevard in a classic muscle machine, to unraveling a twisty road in an athletic sports car, to reaching that remote camping or kayaking spot via a rugged 4WD rig. And let’s not forget seeing the sights of America in a mobile condominium. The latter is more commonly referred to as an RV (Recreational Vehicle). Or, to use old-school parlance, a motorhome.
Like Apple and Nike, certain brands have a way of earning iconic status. And within the realm of motorhomes, so it is with Winnebago. Based in Iowa and debuting in 1958 as a maker of travel trailers, Winnebago started producing motorhomes in 1966. Thanks to its very efficient production methods, including an assembly line (unusual in this business), Winnebago was able to sell its motorhomes at much lower prices than its rivals. One doesn’t need an MBA to know that high quality and low pricing makes for a pretty sound business model. As a result, Winnebago quickly became the number one-selling name in motorhomes.
Winnebagos, both old and new, remain very popular. As such, there are a number of enthusiast sites for them (which include their essentially identical Itasca sister brand). They include the WIT Club, this Winnebago Owners Forum and the nostalgic My Winnebago Story site.
Taking It With You As You Get Away From It All
For some folks, “camping out” doesn’t necessarily equate to “roughing it.” Indeed, with the swankier “Class A” (those motorhomes that resemble a rock star’s tour bus) models offered by Winnebago, luxuries such as a washer and dryer, retracting big screen TVs and even an electric fireplace are offered. These units typically also feature “slide-outs.” These sections of the motorhome slide out to increase the living space inside once you’ve arrived at your destination. Go all Will Smith and you can spend up to a half mill on the plushest and roomiest rig Winnebago offers, the Grand Tour diesel.
Still, Winnebago hasn’t forgotten those who don’t play sports or make movies for a living and so the company also offers more affordable options. The latter include the popular and well-equipped “Minnie Winnie” that starts at around $65,000. This is a Class C motorhome, the kind that has the front end (or “cab”) of a full-size van coupled to the living quarters behind.
Bring On The Brave
But what really made Winnebago as recognizable a brand name as Kleenex was the “Brave” model. Debuting in 1967, the Pug-nosed Brave sported an “eyebrow” of sorts that jutted out above the windshield and also featured a flying “W” down the motorhome’s ides. Those styling features made it easy to identify the iconic Brave, whether it was sitting at a campsite or sailing down the freeway, and they lasted for over 10 years during this model’s initial production run.
Winnie reintroduced the Brave for 2015, offering a modern interpretation of this classic. Paying tribute to the original Brave with its familiar silhouette and flying “W”, the new Brave is offered in 1960s song-inspired color schemes such as “Mellow Yellow,” “Crimson ‘n Clover” and “Aquarius.” MotorHome magazine checked out the new Brave and thought it was rather “groovy.”
A Brave With Serious Bravado
Presenting an awesome answer to a question nobody should ever ask, Ringbrothers revitalized a very tired 1972 Winnie Brave they bought at an auction. The Ring brothers are a couple of serious car guys who, along with their skilled crew, are known for turning out some of the finest resto-mod builds on the planet.
As this Boldride article shows, this Brave’s body was left pretty much alone while the interior received a mashup makeover that combined, of all things, World War II airplane and Tiki hut bar themes. The Brave sorely needed a new engine, so out came the Mopar 318 and in went a supercharged LS-series V8, cranking out about 900 hp. The brothers claim that their “Ringabago” can sprint to 60 mph in less than four seconds. If the idea of an old motorhome easily lighting them up and being capable of blowing the doors off a Ferrari F40 or Hemi Cuda doesn’t make you laugh, then probably nothing will.
Have You Ever Seen Anything as Absurd as This?
On the vehicular shock value meter, this “way out there” Winnie easily pegs the needle. Have you seen or heard about anything as crazy yet cool as this? If so, send us your brief comments on the beast.
Before you hit the road this summer, hit up Advance Auto Parts for all the best in savings and selection. 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.
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