From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.
For this installment, we put the spotlight on an iconic, rear-drive compact sport coupe – the Toyota Corolla AE86.
For the most part, the Toyota Corolla has long been known as a well-built, very reliable compact car, if not the most exciting thing on four wheels. When friends and relatives of ours are looking for an economical and practical used car that promises many years of trouble-free performance, the Corolla is typically on our short list of recommendations. But although most folks think of a staid four-door sedan when “Corolla” is mentioned, look closely at its family tree and you’ll see that there was a handsome jock or two in the family.
“Go” to match the “show”
It was 1984, kids accompanied by boomboxes were popping and locking in the streets, the Summer Olympics were held in Los Angeles, and Apple introduced the Macintosh computer. Oh, and Toyota created a hot-rod Corolla.
Although the Corolla coupe had been offered in “SR5” guise, a trim level highlighted by its then-notable 5-speed (rather than 4-speed) manual transmission, since the mid-’70s, a truly athletic version of Toyota’s bread and butter compact had yet to be offered. But that changed big time around midway through 1984 when, for the 1985 model year, Toyota brought out “GT-S” versions of its Corolla coupe and hatchback. The latter pair, also available in base and SR5 trim levels, had just been redesigned for ’84 and had the internal chassis code AE86.
These handsome, new two-door Corolla models retained rear-wheel drive while the also redesigned four-door Corolla sedan went to the increasingly popular front-wheel-drive layout. Although sending the power to the front wheels provided better traction on slippery roads and opened up more interior room, most serious driving enthusiasts preferred rear-wheel drive. The reasons for that preference included better front to rear weight balance, crisper turn-in response and, provided there’s enough sauce under the hood, the ability to powerslide the car’s tail around corners.
The GT-S provided that needed firepower in the form of a free-breathing, double-overhead-cam (DOHC), 16-valve (4 valves rather than the usual 2 per cylinder) 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. Although its output of 112 horsepower might seem like a joke nowadays, keep in mind this was during an era where a Camaro Z28’s 5.0-liter V8 made anywhere from 155 to 215 horses. And these Corollas were light, tipping the scales at only around 2,300 pounds. By comparison, today’s Corolla (which is only available in a sedan) weighs 2,800 pounds.
The GT-S provided firepower in the form of a free-breathing, double-overhead-cam (DOHC), 16-valve 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine.
According to Motorweek, a GT-S hatchback’s run to 60 mph took 9.8 seconds, not exactly thrilling but respectable for the day. The sprint down the quarter mile was more impressive at 16.7 seconds, a testament to the engine’s high-revving nature. More than numbers on a spec sheet, it was the twin-cam’s smooth and eager nature, channeled through a slick-shifting 5-speed, that made more than a few drivers exuberantly blurt out expletives of joy. The GT-S’ firmed-up suspension, precise steering and crisp, predictable handling ensured that slicing through a section of twisty blacktop could similarly give cause for celebration.
Produced for just three model years (1985-1987), the Corolla AE86 made for a relatively small but undeniably important chapter in the book of Corolla. As the 1990s and 2000s rolled on, a small but potent wave of turbocharged, all-wheel-drive athletes crashed onto the sport compact scene. During the ’90s the Mitsubishi Eclipse and its cousin the Eagle Talon provided the thrills, while it was the Subaru Impreza WRX / WRX STi and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (“Evo”) models that boosted the pulse rates of drivers after the new millennium dawned.
Produced for just three model years (1985-1987), the Corolla AE86 made for a relatively small but undeniably important chapter in the book of Corolla.
But the AE86 would come back into the spotlight once more. As the drifting movement from Japan took hold and gained popularity, enthusiasts sought out affordable and easily modded mounts. Naturally, the durable AE86 was still available via the used car classifieds, as was another popular choice, Nissan’s 240SX.
Chapter two, 25 years later
The everlasting appeal of a small, light, agile, and just plain fun to drive sport coupe was not lost unto Toyota. It took a few decades, but for 2013 the spiritual successor to the AE86 made a triumphant return. In a joint venture with Subaru (who provided the horizontally-opposed four cylinder powertrain), Toyota brought the FR-S to market via its Scion division. Enthusiasts everywhere rejoiced by raising a glass of ’93 octane in its honor (or so we assume).
Right out of the box the FR-S (and its Subaru BRZ twin) was near perfect. With 200 horsepower only propelling about 2,800 pounds, the 0-to-60 sprint took less than 7 seconds. The car’s nimble nature, firm ride, strong brakes, and communicative steering were indicative of a pure sports machine.
Although the FR-S undoubtedly paid tribute to the AE86 Corolla (the badges on the front fenders have a stylized “86” between a pair of horizontally-opposed pistons), there was no denying it had been kicked up more than a few notches. Indeed, one could also say that the “Toyobaru” twins marked the welcome return of an elemental, no frills sports car.
Some artists prefer paper, others canvas or wood. But for those wielding an airbrush, sheetmetal is ideal. Despite its seeming like a relatively recent movement, airbrushing artwork on vehicles has been around for over half a century. And for those car, truck and motorcycle enthusiasts looking for the ultimate in expressing themselves through their ride, it’s hard to top a custom airbrush graphic or mural.
The Early Days of Airbrushing
According to some historians, the first fully functional airbrush was invented by Charles Burdick, who, via Thayer and Chandler Art Materials company, presented his small paint spraying device at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The basic design still continues to this day, and consists of pressurized air that runs through a venturi, creating suction that pulls paint in from a reservoir and atomizes it into tiny droplets. The resulting fine spray of paint can be precisely released and controlled via a trigger on the sprayer and used to provide the artist’s most minute detail.
When car customizing really started to take hold in the 1950s, having a “flame job” done to the front of a car was about the coolest thing a hot rodder could do to jazz up his ride’s looks. Back then, nothing gave off the impression of potential speed like flames igniting and spreading out over the front of the car.
If the van’s rocking, don’t come knocking
Airbrushing seemed to reach its zenith in the 1970s with the custom van movement. In addition to their love den interiors outfitted with huge beds, wood paneling and plenty of deep shag carpeting, these massive, nearly windowless boxes on wheels provided the perfect blank canvas thanks to their large expanses of flat sheetmetal.
Wolves howling at the moon, dragons soaring through the air, and Sorcerers doing their thing were popular van art themes of the time. Some were literally out of this world as they depicted Star Trek or Star Wars scenes, as well as moonscapes and other extra-terrestrial visions.
This era also saw low riders hitting their stride and getting artsy. Typically an early-mid 1960s American car, a low rider was exactly as its name implied with its suspension lowered to the point of the car nearly scraping the pavement. More modern versions use adjustable air or hydraulic suspensions. These allow the driver to raise the car up for normal driving, slam it to the ground for “low and slow” cruising or even rapidly raise and lower the car to the point of hopping around. Chevy Impalas are usually the vehicle of choice here, and the airbrushed graphics typically depict a beautiful, scantily-clad Latina on the hood or trunk.
Dude, those are some sick graphics
In addition to those classic themes, modern day graphics — as with much of the clothing and jewelry nowadays — seem to have a preoccupation with skulls. The variety of these “boneheads” won’t be denied as they range from whimsical to downright scary. There are also paint schemes that pay homage to certain ethnicities. And flames haven’t gone out of style either, with “ghost” flames — those usually done in a slightly lighter or darker shade of the car’s primary color — being quite popular.
Getting ink…we mean paint…done
If you’re looking to customize your ride with airbrushed art, you have plenty of options as even a cursory Google search brings up plenty of talented artists and samples of their work. Should you be artistically inclined and want to give a go yourself, you can take a class or even get tutored via YouTube. The Airbrush Museum site is a good source for all things airbrushing.
From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.
For this installment, Street Talk puts the spotlight on a sports car with a strong, well-deserved fan base – the Mazda RX-7
Back in the fall of 1978, Mazda put out a rather bold print ad in the car buff magazines. It pictured Mazda’s new, rotary-engined sports car, the 1979 RX-7 sitting proudly in front of sports car icons that had debuted before. The 1947 MG TC. The 1953 Chevrolet Corvette. The 1970 Datsun 240-Z. “This year, it’s the Mazda RX-7.” A brash statement, certainly. And one that time would reveal to be more than justified.
Those car mags — Road and Track, Motor Trend and Car and Driver — had high hopes for the car. Expectations that were met, if not exceeded, once they laid their collective driving gloves on Mazda’s light, sleek and well-rounded sports car. Those basic tenets of light weight, a free-revving rotary engine and an athletic chassis carried the RX-7 through, essentially, four generations, as the last version was dubbed the RX-8. What has also carried on is the unabashed enthusiasm the RX-7s fans have for this very unique sports car.
Getting it right the first time
A sleek, pointy-nosed silhouette with flip-up headlights was what one first noticed upon seeing Mazda’s new 1979 sports car, dubbed RX-7. Yet under the handsome form was the big news. For there lay a powerplant and suspension that could put an ear-to-ear grin on the Grinch, were he a road test editor. And it started at under $6,500, though by the end of that first model year the still-crazy-bargain price had crept up to around $7,000.
It may have made just 100 horsepower, but the RX-7’s tiny 1.2-liter rotary engine, when looked upon as power per liter, was a monster. However, fuel mileage was also more like a larger engine, with 17 to 19 mpg being about average. More notably, it was a delight to drive, thanks to its ultra-smooth, eagerly revving nature that, coupled with the car’s light weight of just 2,400 pounds, provided sprightly for the day acceleration. Though 0-to-60 in about 9.3 seconds and a 17 second quarter mile time aren’t exactly scorching asphalt, consider that a 1979 Camaro Z28, with its 5.7-liter V8, took about 8 seconds and 16 seconds, respectively, for the same sprints.
But the RX-7 was designed more for unwinding curvy roads than juvenile stop light drags. Yes, it may have been somewhat unsophisticated with recirculating ball (rather than rack and pinion) steering and a solid rear axle (rather than independent suspension), but no matter. With its small, light engine set behind the front axle line, the RX-7 sported ideal 50:50 front to rear weigh balance, which, coupled with the car’s low center of gravity, relatively quick steering and firm suspension provided tons of fun on one’s favorite deserted stretch of twisting blacktop.
Initially available in just base S (4-speed manual, steel wheels) and up-level GS (5-speed stick, fancier interior) trim levels, the first RX-7 lasted until 1985, by which time one could also choose plush GSL and top of the line GSL-SE versions. The latter in particular, available only in ’84 and ’85, is the one that first-gen RX-7 fans lust for, as it sports a larger (1.3-liters versus 1.2), more powerful, 135-horsepower engine, four-wheel disc brakes (versus front disc/rear drum) and larger (14-inch versus 13-inch) wheels along with all the luxury features of the GSL. A GSL-SE could dash to 60 mph in just about 8 seconds and fly through the quarter mile in around 16 flat.
For 1986, Mazda brought out the second-generation RX-7. A ground-up redesign seemingly inspired by the Porsche 944, the new RX-7’s styling featured flared out fenders that closely resembled those of the German sports car. The rear, wrap-around glass hatch was now one piece, rather than three as before, lending a cleaner look, as did the smoothly integrated bumpers. Inside, the design and materials were both improved, with thicker, well-shaped seats and large instruments and controls all within a wrap-around cockpit theme.
Under the sleek hood of all RX-7s, be they the base model or fancy GXL, was a 1.3-liter rotary with 146 horsepower, a sizeable boost over the previous base engine and still more than the previous, alphabet-soup RX-7 GSL-SE. The steering was now rack and pinion, all models had four-wheel disc brakes as well as a five-speed stick standard (automatic still optional) and the suspension was more refined, being all independent.
Yet despite the more generous features list and the more sophisticated underpinnings, the new RX-7’s curb weight only increased by about 150-200 pounds (depending on trim level). As such, the new RX-7’s performance was spirited, with the old 0-to-60 and quarter mile contests being done in around 8.5- and 16.5-seconds, respectively. As before, though, this car’s real appeal lay in the way in could confidently dispatch a series of S curves and switchbacks. Drivers in the know kept the rotary humming above 5,000 as they got their kicks slicing through and powering out of the turns.
More power is always good, so for 1987, the RX-7 Turbo debuted. Force-feeding the 1.3-liter rotary pumped output up to 182 horses, good enough for 6.5-second 0-to-60 and 15.0-second quarter-mile times, very impressive for the era. The Turbo also featured larger (16-inch) wheels and tires, firmer suspension tuning and plenty of luxury features including full power accessories, a sunroof and an upgraded audio system complete with cassette deck and graphic equalizer. It was the ‘80s, after all.
For 1988, a convertible joined the lineup. Sadly, the Turbo was not offered in drop-top form but could be had in a special 10th anniversary RX-7, the latter celebrating 10 years of RX-7 production via unique color scheme with white paint, white wheels and white bodyside moldings.
A mild, mid-cycle update for 1989 brought more power for the non-turbo RX-7s, now up to 160 hp, as well as more thrust for the Turbo, now rated at a full 200 hp. The increased muscle shaved a few tenths off the acceleration times, while color-keyed bodyside moldings and new wheels dressed things up a bit. That year also saw the GTU version debut, essentially a base model with some performance enhancements such as firmer suspension and larger, alloy wheels fitted with performance tires.
The next three years, 1990 through 1992, saw little change for Mazda’s exciting two-seater, apart from the GTUs version debuting. Essentially a Turbo model minus the turbo engine, it benefitted from the top dog RX-7’s top shelf underpinnings, such as the upgraded brakes and suspension components.
After seven model years, the second generation RX-7 had run its course. Those wondering how it could be topped would be stunned with what followed for 1993.
Look for Part Two in this series coming soon.
Wheels: Bigger isn’t Always Better
by Street Talk
Seems that “Bigger is better” has become something of an American mantra. We’ve got Big Macs, big sunglasses, big houses, big trucks. And in the automotive modification world, big wheels. The latter have grown from simply big to downright cartoonish in some cases, giving some rides the look of rolling caricatures.
On the other hand, there are big wheels that do more than add automotive eye candy. With improved performance as the goal, these wheels, when shod with high-performance tires, are essentially the athletic shoes of the automotive aftermarket.
Yet despite how cool bigger than stock wheels may look, depending on where your priorities lie, they may not be the best choice for your car.
Bigger For More Bling
The first custom wheels to start the big wheel movement were “Dubs”, which is urban slang for the number 20. Measuring 20 inches in diameter, these large wheels were favored among pro athletes, rappers and other celebrity types who wanted their rides to draw even more attention. Some even had separate center pieces that would spin freely, further upping the “look at me” factor when the car stopped and the wheels seemingly kept spinning.
Originally seen fitted to big luxury cars, such as Cadillacs, S-Class Benzes, 6- and 7 Series BMWs and various Bentleys, Dubs soon appeared on exotic sports cars too. Eventually, as the wheel choices expanded and got more affordable, non-wealthy folks got into the act, putting them onto more mainstream cars and trucks, such as Chevy Camaros, Olds Cutlasses, Chevy Caprices, Chevy Tahoes, Ford Expeditions and Ford Crown Victorias. The car makers themselves started offering big wheel options as well.
More recent years have seen these styling statement wheels grow much larger, with 24-inch and even larger aftermarket hoops being squeezed into fenders originally designed for 15-, 16-, or 17-inch factory wheels. Although they’re larger than 20s, these wheels are still called Dubs by most people. Indeed, a magazine dubbed “Dub” sprang up back in 2000 to celebrate the big wheel culture. And it’s still going strong today, some 16 years later.
Typically chromed and sporting fancy designs, Dubs were (and are) typically much heavier than the original wheels which came on a given car. That’s not a good thing as it negatively affects the car’s overall performance and ride characteristics. Due to their greater mass, they take more power to overcome what’s called rotational inertia. In other words, because they’re heavier, it takes more power to get them rolling. Conversely, once they’re up to speed, it takes longer to slow them down. So both acceleration and braking are affected.
Similarly, their heavier weight makes them slower to react to quick up-and-down motions of the suspension. Factor in the super low profile tires they’re wearing, whose minuscule, stiff sidewalls offer virtually no impact absorption, and you’re left with a notably harsher ride than what the car originally provided.
Bigger Wheels for Performance Enhancement
On the other end of the big wheel spectrum are the performance wheels that are typically available in “Plus-1, Plus-2, Plus-3” etcetera fitments, which indicate how much larger (in inches) than the stock wheel they are. These larger wheels are constructed of ultra-lightweight materials such as exotic alloys or even carbon fiber, so they actually end up weighing less than the smaller, factory-issued wheels.
As such, these high-performance wheels don’t saddle your ride with any of the ill effects that heavier wheels impart on a car’s dynamics. Instead, this type of a big wheel upgrade provides notably crisper handling and sharper steering response. Less mass also helps improve acceleration and braking qualities.
Yes, going with these larger yet lighter wheels still means that, even without suspension mods, the ride is going to be somewhat stiffer than stock due to those shorter, stiffer tire sidewalls. So those who are happy with their car’s factory-issued handling and ride balance may want to reconsider this type of upsizing upgrade, while those enthusiasts looking for sharper, more “connected-to-the-road” handling will likely feel it’s a more than fair trade-off.
For many car guys and gals, modifying their ride’s style to make it their own is one of the most exciting and satisfying aspects of being an enthusiast. Maybe the stock wheels look rather plain and/or lost in the big wheel wells, so installing an aftermarket quartet can go a long way towards jazzing up the car’s looks and stance. Maybe you’d like to liven up its face too by accenting the headlights with some electronic eyeliner. And then there are the sporty spoilers, which range from mild to wild.
Note that in keeping with the affordable and “bolt-on” installation nature of this article, we didn’t include pricier and much more involved mods such as lower body kits and boxed wheel flares.
It’s hard to top a new set of wheels for making an easy, yet impactful visual statement. With so many different styles available, ranging from a subtle upgrade over stock fitment to what can only be described as over the top bling (remember “spinners”? Ugh.), aftermarket wheels are understandably one of the most popular upgrades.
In addition to the visual pizzazz they provide, new wheels can also improve your car’s handling. Going with a larger diameter wheel means going with a lower profile sidewall for the tire. That translates into sharper handling as there will be less sidewall flex when you’re pushing your car on a curvy section of blacktop. Keep in mind that a stiffer ride is part of the deal, as those shorter sidewalls won’t help absorb the smaller bumps as much as the original, larger and more flexible sidewalls did.
Despite the temptation to “go big or go home” — for example bolting on a set of 20s when 15- or 16-inch wheels were original fitment — we advise keeping it to a “plus two” (two-inch larger diameter over stock) maximum. The reasoning behind our thinking is that, unless you’re going with very expensive, ultra lightweight wheels, those larger wheels are also going to be substantially heavier, which negatively affects a car’s acceleration, braking, and ride characteristics.
One of our favorite sites for wheels is tirerack.com. In addition to the great selection they offer, their site allows you to see what different sets of wheels will look like on your car (provided your make and model is in their extensive data base).
Show me the light
Swapping out headlights and taillights is another relatively simple and cost-effective way to personalize your car. First seen on German luxury cars, accent lighting around the headlights is now a very popular aftermarket accessory. If you’ve got round headlight elements, you can go with what BMW called “Corona rings” — circular lighting rings that surround the round lighting elements. And then there are what we call “LED eyeliner”, which was made popular by Audi and as our nickname implies uses LEDs to brightly accent the headlight clusters.
Custom taillights have been around much longer, and come in a wide array of styles. If a cool, subtle vibe is your thing, a lightly tinted set of taillights can work, especially if the stock ones feature multi-color elements. However, if you are looking for some flash, there are the clear lens units that have individual elements within accented with bright metal accents.
Although front and rear spoilers serve a purpose (they reduce aerodynamic lift at higher speeds, thus keeping the front and rear tires of the car more planted to the asphalt), let’s be honest, most folks dig them for the looks. Just as with the wheels and lighting options, spoilers come in a huge variety of styles.
We tend to prefer the more subtle ones — a discreet chin spoiler up front followed by a small, color-matched rear spoiler rising maybe an inch or so off the rear deck. But for those who like to turn the knob up to “11”, larger front air dams with gaping ducts (to ostensibly help cool the brakes) and large rear wings towering a few feet off the rear deck are available. Not necessarily our cup of 10W-40, but to each their own. It’s all about your own preferences and sense of style.
For plenty of affordable customization options, be sure to check out Advance Auto Parts.
Up until fairly recently in the sometimes snobby classic car show world, Japanese cars usually got about as much respect as Kim Kardashian might garner on a celebrity version of Jeopardy. But the tide is turning, and in Southern California a big part of that reversal is the annual Japanese Classic Car Show held in a park next to the permanently moored Queen Mary.
Now at 11 years and counting, the JCCS seems to welcome all makes and models, provided they are of course Japanese. As we strolled around the show, we saw a large variety of interesting cars that ranged from “I had one of those while attending college.” to “I’ve never seen that car except in magazines or on the internet!” As we’ve already seen plenty of fourth-gen Supras and Nissan GT-Rs, we concentrated more on the stuff that doesn’t get as much glory.
Right off the bat, a mint 1986 Prelude caught our eyes. Original down to the wheelcovers, this Prelude looked like it just rolled out of the showroom. With its trim, slim roof pillar design and cleanly designed interior with heavily bolstered sport seats, this second-generation Prelude reminded us of how Honda could do no wrong back then. A similarly mint 1985 Honda CRX Si cemented that impression. Reminding us of Honda’s earlier, comparatively awkward time of the mid-’70s was a Kermit the Frog green 1974 Civic.
Touching on Toyota
Over at the Toyota camp we spotted a pristine 1974 Corolla SR5. Factory original down to its little steel wheels with chrome lug nuts, this Corolla showed how even back then Toyota tried to make its little commuter car interesting. Next up was a red 1986 Corolla GT-S liftback, that, with its peppy, free-revving DOHC, 16-valve inline four, rear-wheel drive, tuned suspension and aggressive sport seats. This handsome sport compact made it easy to understand why modern enthusiasts love these “AE86” (the internal model code for this generation) Corollas.
And then there was the heavily modified 1985 Toyota MR2 that was a victim of the “hellaflush” movement. The latter is when a car’s suspension is lowered and wheels are fitted to the point that the tires are flush with, or even standing outside of, the wheel well lips. The wheels are often also cambered out to emphasize the “stance”. Functionally this makes no sense at all from a performance standpoint, given how it severely limits suspension travel to about nil and likely allows tires to rub against the wheel wells when encountering bumps or while cornering fast. Then again, maybe we’re just getting old.
Headlining the Toyota gathering was a 1967 2000 GT, a rare, limited production sports car the company brought out to battle the likes of Porsche and Jaguar. Powered by a 150-hp, DOHC inline six connected to a five-speed manual, the 2000 GT was more an athletic grand touring machine than hard-edged sports car, and that suits us just fine. With less than 400 ever produced (and of those only 62 being left-hand drive), these cars are rarely seen. Values of the 2000 GT have skyrocketed in the last five years, with one selling for over a million dollars at auction back in 2013. As they don’t change hands too often, we can only imagine what one is worth today.
The Rotary Club
Mazdas were well represented, as everything from a super rare 1967 Cosmos (their first rotary engine car) to a gorgeous 1979 (first year) RX-7 were on the show field. The Cosmos was one of just two or three officially exported to the U.S. and was something to see in its pristine, original condition with just over 8,000 miles on the clock.
That RX-7 was also a crowd favorite, a restomod sporting a later-generation engine swap consisting of a turbocharged 13B rotary easily making well over double the original 12A rotary’s 100 horsepower. It also featured upgraded suspension, wheels/tires and brakes. Wearing 16-inch BBS wheels in place of its orginal 13-inchers, this RX-7 showed well a tasteful but not over the top wheel upsizing can work. Also sharing the Mazda turf was another rotary-powered sibling, this time a mint and rare 1977 RX-3 SP in its somewhat visually overbearing, yet typical for the late-’70s, glory.
Ending with Z
Of course the Datsun (later Nissan) Z car contingent was in full force. Plenty of first-generation 240-/260-/280Zs were on display. A really nice, bone-stock 1974 260Z sat among a row of its modified brothers, seemingly proud to be wearing its factory wheel covers rather than a set of snazzy Panasports. A 1980 280ZX 10th Anniversary Edition in its original black and red two-tone paint scheme represented not only the second-gen Z car, but also the rarer of the two 10th Anniversary paint schemes. On the off chance you see one of these rare cars , it’s usually black and gold.
A similarly rare 1988 300ZX Turbo Shiro (white) Special Edition. This all-white version of the Turbo appealed to enthusiasts who prized performance above plush features. As such, the Shiro did away with the standard Turbo’s gizmos such as the electronically adjustable suspension, power front seats and the digital dash. The result was more of a serious driver’s car that was about 125 pounds lighter and fitted with firmer suspension calibrations.
Check out our gallery below for more of the cars featured at the show!
Noe: Whether you want to maintain an original or modify a newer model vehicle, Advance Auto Parts has all the high-quality parts you need.
From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.
For this installment, Street Talk puts the spotlight on the wildly popular Fox Body Ford Mustang (1979-1993).
No exaggeration — few cars of the last 50 years have been as massively popular among performance enthusiasts as the “Fox Body” Ford Mustang, so-nicknamed because it was based on the Fox chassis that also underpinned the Ford Fairmont, introduced one year prior. This generation of the Mustang, which would run for 15 model years, replaced the largely unloved, Pinto-based Mustang II and quickly became one of the best “bang for the buck” cars of all time.
Produced from 1979 through 1993, this Mustang really came into its own in the mid-’80s, when its 5.0-liter V8 started gaining muscle like Arnold in his heyday. Although some dubbed it the “Box body” due to its upright and squared-off styling, there was no denying its appeal among those who wanted affordable speed. As such, we will concentrate on the performance versions of the car.
Bye Mustang II, hello Mustang new
When the Fox Body Mustang debuted for 1979 in coupe and hatchback body styles, the hot one in the lineup was once again called the Cobra. Although a 5.0-liter V8 was available for the Mustang, it wheezed out just 140 horsepower. The turbo era had arrived, and the Mustang was on board with its available turbocharged 2.3-liter inline four that made the same 140 hp as the V8. Extroverted graphics were still the order of the day, with the Cobra featuring its namesake sitting ready to strike upon the hood. Genuine Recaro sport seats were available as well, offering support and comfort typically not seen in American sport coupes. A special edition Mustang paced that year’s Indy 500, and of course limited production pace car replicas were offered to the public.
Other than the 5.0-liter V8 being replaced for ’80 and ’81 by a 4.2-liter V8 making just 119 hp, the next few years were essentially unchanged.
Muscle makes a comeback
With print ads claiming “The Boss is back”, the 1982 Mustang GT (a resurrected moniker from the ’60s) came with a “high output” 5.0-liter V8 that even with a 2-barrel carburetor and a single exhaust made a then-respectable 157 horses. The turbocharged four was dropped. Ford got more serious for 1983 and bolted on a four-barrel carb and freer-flowing exhaust to the 5.0, resulting in 175 horses. A five-speed manual replaced the four-speed, further boosting performance. That year also saw the return of the turbo 2.3 four — now with fuel injection and 142 hp — and the debut of the convertible body style. Note that you could get the V8 in the base Mustang as well as the GT. The GT could also be had with the turbo four, though most buyers went with the V8.
For 1984, the Mustang line stood pat with the exception of a new member of the family — the European-flavored SVO. With its turbocharged and intercooled 2.3-liter four, tuned suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, aggressively-bolstered sport seats and 16-inch wheels, the 175-hp Mustang SVO was certainly a horse of a different color, providing more sophisticated styling (including a functional hood scoop and a bi-level rear spoiler) and handling/ride dynamics than the GT. Those wheels were huge for the day, as only a few other performance cars such as the Corvette and some Porsches and Ferraris offered 16s back then. Cool as it was, the SVO didn’t sell well, as most Mustang intenders went with the cheaper yet faster (in a straight line, anyway) GT.
As the mid-80s moved on, the second age of the muscle car dawned as new technologies allowed engineers to meet strict emissions standards while improving output. Over at the Ford camp, in addition to updated front and rear styling for 1985, the Mustang’s 5.0 V8 saw its power go up to 210 hp while the base turbo four was dropped. Midway through that year, the SVO got an aero headlight treatment as well as a big power boost to 205 hp. Fuel injection replaced the V8’s four-barrel carb for 1986, and although stated output dipped to 200 hp the car’s actual performance was little changed. Sadly that year would be the SVO’s last, wherein it also saw a slight dip in stated engine output (to 200 hp).
Power for the 5.0 shot up to 225 hp for ’87, making a V8-equipped Mustang a seriously quick car. The LX notchback with the 5.0 option was lighter than a GT and hence the hot setup for drag racers. But either way, you had potent performance with 0 to 60 mph and quarter mile times running in the low 6-second and mid-to-high-14-second ranges, respectively. That year also saw the Fox body Mustang’s first serious styling update as the car adopted aero headlights, a grille-less nose (on the GT) and smoother rear quarters wherein the slats gave way to larger, flush-mounted side windows. The GT also got a full lower body ground effects treatment, usually seen in a contrasting silver or gray color.
From ’87 through 1992, the Mustang was little changed apart from a driver’s side airbag debuting for ’90, 16-inch wheels appearing for ’91, and a couple of color-themed appearance packages highlighting the options roster for ’92.
Swan song for a hero of a horse
For its last year, 1993, the Fox Body ‘stang went out with a bang as the SVT Cobra thundered onto the scene. Sporting a massaged 5.0-liter V8 making 235 hp to the newly downrated 205 hp of the standard 5.0, the Cobra also boasted 17-inch wheels and four-wheel disc brakes. The new Cobra further set itself apart from its humbler siblings via a unique grille (with a horse emblem), a different rear spoiler and taillights, and smoother ground effects than the GT. A limited production (just 107 produced), lightened racetrack version known as the Cobra R debuted as well.
Of course, any article on the Fox body Mustang wouldn’t be complete without mention of Vanilla Ice. With his song “Ice, Ice, Baby” hitting the top of the charts in 1990, Vanilla extolled the virtues of his Mustang GT convertible: “Rolling, in my five-point-oh, with my ragtop down so my hair can blow…” Okay, it might not have been the greatest rap song ever, but it was ridiculously catchy and gave Mustang enthusiasts something other than disappearing taillights with which to annoy Camaro and Firebird drivers.
Given its large following, there’s no shortage of enthusiast sites for these Mustangs. You may want to check out fiveohinfo.com, stangnet.com and foxbodymustangs.org.
Whether you want to maintain an original Mustang or modify a newer model, Advance Auto Parts is here to help with plenty of high quality parts.
In part one of this two-part series, we look at interior modifications that improve the driver’s performance and comfort.
So you’ve got your engine putting out the power, your suspension/wheels/tires are dialed in, brakes are beefed up and the body is done. Now it’s time to turn your attention to the interior. With your ride’s notably increased performance and handling capabilities come increased responsibilities for the interior. Specifically, keeping the driver securely in place during high-performance driving, providing him with an effective interface between the car and himself, and monitoring additional engine parameters, such as turbo boost.
In the first installment of this two-part series we address seats and steering wheels, two important components that can optimize the performance of the most critical component in the car – the driver.
Get a hold of yourself
Now that you’ve got the more capable suspension and stickier tires, you don’t want to be sliding around in your seat while you’re unraveling your favorite twisty mountain road or taking part in a high-performance driving event, such as an autocross or a track day. A well-bolstered sport seat is key to holding your butt (and the rest of your body) securely in place while you’re enjoying your car’s athletic handling. It’s also a safety benefit, as you can better concentrate on the task at hand rather than having the steering wheel double as a grab handle as you try to prevent yourself from hip-checking the center console.
There are basically two types of performance seats, fixed back and reclining back. As the name implies, the fixed back seats are non-adjustable for recline. Advantages of a fixed-back seat include an abundance of lateral support and excellent compatibility with five- and even six-point racing harnesses. Fixed seats tend to be the choice of those whose car sees more racing duty than daily driver duty. Going with a reclining seat means you’ll enjoy greater comfort, much easier ingress and egress, easier rear seat access and considerably greater compatibility with stock seat belts. Reclining sport seats provide a nice balance between high-performance driving support and daily driver livability.
There are a number of companies to choose from when selecting a sport seat, such as Corbeau, Procar, Recaro and Sparco. Recaro seats in particular have been found as either standard or optional equipment in various high-performance cars over the years, ranging from Fords to Mitsubishis to Porsches. That said, all these manufacturers offer well built, comfortable and supportive seats for a wide array of applications.
Steering you right
Unless your car is over 20 years old, it probably has an airbag-equipped steering wheel. As such, you may choose to keep it in place for the added safety factor. That said, some enthusiasts prefer to swap out that original equipment wheel for an aftermarket unit. A few reasons are that a smaller than stock diameter wheel provides slightly quicker turning, a rim wrapped in leather, suede or Alcantara (artificial but very convincing suede) gives a more tactile grip, and an aftermarket wheel usually looks at least ten times better than that typically blocky stock affair.
Just as with the wheels you wrap your tires around, the wheel you wrap your hands around comes in a dizzying array of brands and styles. Check out the sites of Momo, Grant and Nardi and you’ll see what we mean. We prefer the classic three-spoke racing style with a traditional, non-sculpted rim, but your personal preference may dictate otherwise. Given the rather large amount of time you spend using the steering wheel, the importance of selecting one with the right overall diameter, ideal rim thickness and preferred grip cannot be overstated. As such, we suggest going “hands-on” and checking out the wheel (or wheels) you’re interested in at the store in addition to researching them out on-line. As they say in the car selling business, “the feel of the wheel can seal the deal.”
Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts is ready to help with a large selection of quality parts and accessories. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
Whether your ride is trying to rock a fatigued factory or ancient aftermarket audio system, one of the best ways to bring back its sonic boom is by changing out and/or adding speakers. And if you’re not an expert on all things audio, fear not. We’ll walk you through the basics and provide you with, literally, sound advice for tuning up your car’s tunes.
Hearing the highs and feeling the lows
There are basically four types of speakers: tweeter, midrange, woofer and subwoofer. Each is responsible for respectively reproducing the high, middle, low and super low frequency notes of the music. Let’s say you’re listening to “Stairway to Heaven” and you’ve got a system sporting all four types of speakers. The flutes would come through the tweeters, guitars would come through mostly the midrange while the bass and drums would speak to you via the woofers and subwoofers (or “subs,” if you want to sound hip).
Although some speaker systems will incorporate say a tweeter and a midrange in a single unit, high-end audio systems typically have dedicated (stand-alone) tweeters, midrange, woofers and subwoofers. This is why you see 9- to 14-speaker systems (and even higher) in more modern, premium-brand vehicles. These speakers are placed strategically for the best sound, typically with the tweeters up high, closer to the listeners’ ears, and with a subwoofer (or two) under the seat or behind the rear seats. Back in the “good old days” having four full-range speakers, two in the front and two in the back, was living large.
Spending for sound
Of course, your budget will dictate how far you can go with your speaker upgrades. If you’re tired of your car’s buzzy speakers, simply replacing them with higher quality units is the easiest and most cost effective way to restore your listening enjoyment. For example, your car may have had a simple four-speaker setup with a pair on either end of the dash and a pair in the back seat area. Those old factory speakers may be a basic, single-cone full-range design, with those cones made of now cracked and/or ripped paper. Swapping them out for a set of higher quality speakers with composite cones and a separate, built-in tweeter will make a world of difference.
This handy audio guide from Crutchfield electronics provides even more detail as far as what to look for when upgrading your car’s speakers. Indeed, this gentleman from Crutchfield shares his story of how his car’s paper-cone-equipped system sounded so bad that he stopped playing music on it and resigned himself to talk radio. Once he upgraded his speakers to more modern units with composite cones and coaxial tweeters, he rediscovered the joy of full-bodied music in his car. This “plug-and-play” install that uses the existing speaker holes is the easiest way to improve the quality of your sound system.
If you want to go bigger, then you may want to consider adding a subwoofer or two for tight, thumping bass that’ll have you thinking Larry Mullin Jr. is in the back seat with his Yamaha kit. To go with the demands of more speakers, and to pump up the sound, you should also consider installing an amplifier. Advance Auto Parts offers a large variety of speakers (including subwoofers), amplifiers and accessories to help you get that big sound for little expenditure.
More serious self-installations
Up until now, we’ve been talking about upgrades that should be fairly easy for any competent DIY-er. Those who are more advanced can look into installations that typically involve fabricating custom kick panel, door panel, rear quarter trim panel and cargo area speaker enclosures. As such, one should make sure they know what they’re doing before, say, cutting holes into the door panels only to discover the power window or door lock mechanism is in the way. As with anything, some folks go way over the top and use nearly every square inch of the car’s interior to create the ultimate mobile sound system.
All that said, there are plenty of car audio forums and enthusiast clubs that can offer tips and maybe even examples of custom setups for your specific make and model. A few we’ve seen online include caraudio.com, and Car Audio Help.
Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts is here to support the cause with a vast selection of parts, tools and accessories to keep your ride on track. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
In this installment, Street Talk puts the spotlight on a rare but desirable bird in the sport compact segment – the Eagle Talon
One of a set of automotive triplets, the Eagle Talon is a rather rare bird in the sport compact car arena. Indeed, can you remember the last time you saw an Eagle Talon flying down the road? Yet this product of American and Japanese parents was one of the more interesting choices in its segment. Along with its aggressive, head-turning styling it offered available turbocharged power and all-wheel drive, the latter two features giving it a wheel or two up on the more popular kids in this class, the Honda Civic, Acura Integra and Nissan 240 SX.
The Eagle has hatched
Debuting for 1990 along with its Plymouth Laser and Mitsubishi Eclipse triplet siblings, the Eagle Talon was a product of a joint venture between Chrysler and Mitsubishi. All built in the U.S. at the “Diamond Star Motors” plant located in Normal, Illinois, these three cars shared similar sporty hatchback styling and Mitsubishi mechanicals. The base Eagle Talon came with a 2.0-liter, 16-valve four with 135 horsepower, while the TSi and TSi AWD versions packed a turbocharged 2.0-liter sporting 190 and 195 horses, respectively. Transmission choices consisted of a five-speed manual and four-speed automatic. Initially at least, unlike the Laser and Eclipse, the Talon didn’t sully its image with a price-leading, 92-hp stripper version. With 135 hp, even that base Talon provided peppy performance, but we know you’re probably thinking: “Yeah, that’s great, but tell me about the turbo!”
In 1990, squeezing nearly 200 horsepower from a four-cylinder turbocharged engine was big news. And thanks to the stout low- and mid-range grunt that a turbo provides, this meant blowing off less-muscular rivals from Honda, Toyota and Nissan was a breeze. Capable of sprinting to 60 mph in less than 7 seconds and running down the quarter mile in the low-15-second range, a Talon TSi was a genuine thrill ride back in the early ‘90s.
Offering all-wheel drive to more effectively put that power to the pavement provided an edge in handling, especially in foul weather conditions. The AWD version of the TSi also featured a more sophisticated rear suspension (multi-link versus torsion beam) as well as limited-slip center and rear differentials. Outfitted with a set of Bridgestone Blizzaks and a ski rack, a Talon TSi AWD was a skier’s or snowboarder’s dream.
Changes from 1990 through 1994 were mostly minimal. Notable highlights included, for 1992, slightly revised front- and rear-end styling and a switch from pop-up headlights to exposed units. The following year saw the debut of a declawed Talon. Dubbed the DL, this downgraded version shared its 92-hp engine and sparse standard features list with its entry-level Diamond Star siblings. The previous “base” Talon essentially continued as a new “ES” trim level.
Eagle Talon Version 2.0
As with the Eclipse, the Talon was redesigned for 1995 (the Laser was dropped after 1994). The two cars looked even more similar than before. One might argue that the Talon had more handsome styling, with a larger set of tail lights that helped minimize the heavy, “loaded diaper” rear bumper look of its Mitsu relative.
More importantly, performance was boosted via a pair of more powerful engines. Seen in the new entry-level “ESi” trim, the 2.0-liter non-turbo four now made 140 horsepower, while the turbocharged versions seen in the TSi and TSi AWD made 210 hp (205 with the automatic transmission). As such, acceleration times were a few tenths or so quicker, meaning a TSi AWD could hit 60 in about 6.3 seconds and rip through the quarter mile in the high 14-second range.
Sadly, the Eagle Talon, and indeed the Eagle brand itself, would soar no more after 1998, having been discontinued after that model year. The biggest changes for these second-generation models took place for 1997, when once again Eagle debuted a stripped-out base model that deleted the ESi’s rear spoiler, audio system and intermittent wipers. Thankfully, this entry-level version did not substitute a weaker engine as it had in the past. That year also saw rear drum brakes replace the previously standard rear discs in non-turbo models, while the TSi AWD version got larger (17-inch versus previous 16-inch) alloy wheels. A larger front badge and rear spoiler are the more notable visual clues to these later second-gen Talons.
Should you be a fan of these exciting Eagles and want to capture one, you’ll likely find that task fairly difficult given that they were last produced nearly two decades ago. Still, that doesn’t mean impossible. Checking out the enthusiasts sites, such as DSMtalk and DSMtuners can provide a wealth of information, such as the most effective and economical mods, as well as classified ads for the cars themselves. And there’s always craigslist, eBay and bringatrailer.com, where your chances of finding an unmodified example are likely much greater than doing so on the dedicated sites.
Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts is here to help in the care and feeding of your Eagle Talon, or otherwise. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.