Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Rising Sun and Rear Wheel Drive from Vintage Wheels

                In the 1980’s some of the best rear wheel drive sports cars on the market were from Japan.  The 1980’s was a very good decade for the Land of the Rising Sun.  One generation after being defeated in World War II, Japan had a booming economy that the rest of the world was envious of.  Keep in mind this is only forty years after two atomic bombs were dropped on their country.  There are parts of the Southeast United States still feeling the results of the Civil War.  I am reminded of a scene from one of my favorite movies, Back to the Future III.  In this particular scene, Doc Brown from 1955 comments that the reason the time machine is broken is because it has parts from Japan.  Marty tells the stunned doctor “All the best stuff comes from Japan.”  Take a look at some of these cars and you might agree with Marty.

My Fair Lady:  The Nissan 300ZX was quite a bit different than its 240Z predecessor.  The car had become somewhat heavier and luxurious.  The ‘80’s were of course all about abundance.   The car buying public was not interested in a stripped down purpose built sports car at the time.  The 300 also brought the first V6 to the Z which is something that has continued to modern Z’s.  One feature not found on modern Z’s is a turbo.

It’s Super:  In 1986 Toyota divorced the Celica from the Supra forever.  The models would be sold for nearly two more decades on their own.  While Nissan got rid of the inline six for the 300ZX and following models,  Toyota kept it in the Supra throughout its lifespan.  The turbo version of this engine produced almost as much power as the V8 in the Corvette.  The Supra makes good sense with its power and seating for four people.

The Rotary:  The Mazda RX-7 is one of the more unique cars to ever make it into production.  It may be the only true sports car in this group with its light weight construction.  Part of that lightness is due to its rotary engine.  Yes, it is true all three of these cars mentioned so far were replaced by more powerful, more iconic cars in the 1990’s.  However, those cars were more expensive, and compared to offerings from America and Europe, they weren’t the best stuff anymore. 

AE86:  At least the previous three cars kept their soul after the 1980’s.  The Toyota Corolla of modern day shares nothing with its predecessor apart from its name.  While several car fans see only a drift car when they see Corollas of the 1980’s, in actuality it is a bit under powered especially compared to the Supra big brother.  Drivers of the classic rear wheel drive Corolla know its nimbleness is its best quality.   Toyota at least gave its newest sports car, the GT86, a name honoring the AE86 version of the Corolla. 
Two Face:  Sadly not all rear wheel Japanese cars lived to see the 1990’s like the cars mentioned above.  The Mitsubishi Starion has all the tick marks that should have made it a classic sports coupe.  It had a turbo, cool color options, a wide body; it even had a starring role in a popular movie.  Jackie Chan drove one in a somewhat racist role in the movie Cannonball 2. Mitsubishi did continue the making sports coupes into the new millennium with the Eclipse and the 3000GT.  Both were front wheel drive based cars and in the case of the 3000GT, far too heavy to be a sports car in the way the Starion was.  Some of readers may recognize the Starion by its other name the, the Conquest which it was sold by Chrysler.  Do not be fooled by this two faced American badge-engineering.  The Conquest is still a very Japanese sports coupe.  

Mid Engined from Vintage Wheels

                In the automotive world, mid-engine cars make up a vast majority of bed room wall art.   Going back to the ‘60’s, high end exotics have had their engines in a place where normal cars would have seats or a trunk.  Thanks to something called physics, putting the engine in the middle of the car gives the vehicle amazing performance capabilities not found in more conventional set ups.  Sadly, not all of us will own the mid-engine super car of our dreams.  For those of us in the 99%, there is at least hope to enjoy a little bit of the good life.  There are a variety of affordable options to choose from.

The American Option:  The Pontiac Fiero was an attempt for General Motors to produce a mid-engine car.  Unfortunately, we all really wanted a mid-engine Corvette instead. While the Corvette may eventually hit the markets, if you can find a Fiero that isn’t in pieces, buy it now. There are not many good ones left.

From the Fatherland: Porsche has tried twice to show its buyers that an engine shouldn’t be hanging off the back end like it does in the 911.  With the 914 and its spiritual successor the Boxster, you can afford race-bred handling and dynamics that are world class.  The best part is you don’t have to pay 911 prices.  In fact why are people paying that for an engine located in the wrong place?

Italian Passion: Let’s face it if you want a mid-engine car you really want an Italian car.  The Fiat X1/9 fills that spot in your garage and your heart while you save for the Ferrari. Of course, if you buy an Italian car, you will deal with Italian engineering. Unfortunately, Italian engineering is not known as an industry leader in reliability.   

The Dark Horse: The Japanese, on the other hand design machines that will fire up with just a quick twist of the wrist.  If you haven’t noticed the Acura/Honda NSX prices are rising out of this world.  Acura is releasing a replacement for the icon soon; however, the real descendant of the NSX is the 458 Italia.  Go ahead and buy the car that put Ferrari on notice before you can’t afford it. 

The Everlast: Toyota, one of the world’s largest car companies also built one of the longest selling mid-engine sports cars the MR2.  There are three generations of the MR2 built between 1984 and 2007.   With such a vast offing, buyers can have the pick of the litter. 
The Monarch: A company that had a helping hand in the production of the MR2 was Lotus.  This British racing company is arguably the king of mid-engine design and engineering.  The Lotus Esprit was the McLaren 650s of its day and all automotive enthusiasts miss its awesome bloody brilliant.    

Dead American Engines from Vintage Wheels

                Modern engines are amazing.  Engines that get 500 plus horsepower are more common now than they have ever been.  Forced induction, which was once reserved for the most outlandish vehicles, is now found in mundane family haulers.  Reliability has also improved to a point that 100,000 miles is almost part of the breaking in stage of an engines life.  Still, there is something missing from the American car market.  Large lumpy V8’s used to be a common place staple in the automotive industry.  Now, they are an extinct creature to never be seen or heard from again.  It is true the Camaro Z28 still has a 7 liter engine. Ford and Dodge have now built engines with over 600 and 700 horsepower respectively!  However, these are not the low revving, heavy, loud, and wonderful engines of days gone past.  Here are a few cars that had incredible examples and iron turned into horsepower.

Chevelle:  The Chevrolet Chevelle is an example of days gone by. It was a large family car with even larger power options.  The Chevelle had the so called big-block on its option list.  A buyer will have to buy the encyclopedia and hire an expert to understand what all the factory and dealer codes mean.  I will not try to explain what all that mess but basically you have 3 sizes of big-blocks; 396, 402, and 454 cubic inches.  

Mustang:  The Ford Mustang started its life as a small coupe with small engines.  As the muscle car war heated up, America’s pony car got heavier and needed larger engines to carry the bulk.  Carrol Shelby showed Ford how it could be done when he put the Cobra Jet 428 in his GT 500 Cobra.  Ford took this lesson and built the boss of all muscle cars the Boss 429.  The Mustang Boss 429 was built strictly so Ford could have an engine to compete with the Chrysler Hemi engines in NASCAR. 


Drive 129 from Vintage Wheels

                I was recently blessed enough to move to Knoxville, Tennessee.  It is a beautiful city with a fun atmosphere.  It is also located in a stunning part of the country.  Several of the locations in the city have an amazing view of the Great Smokey Mountains, which as just a few miles away.  The benefit for car guys living here in Knoxville is the proximity to Highway 129; known around the world as the Tail of the Dragon.  The Dragon is known mostly as a Mecca for bikers; however, vehicles of the four wheel variety also enjoy this ribbon of blacktop.   For any readers who have not had the pleasure of visiting our fair highway, the one thing to remember about The Dragon is it is very technically challenging for any driver.  It is also a public road with a strict speed limit.  To keep visitors out of the weeds and out of jail, high powered super cars are not advised on this road.  If you want to ring out your track car, go to a race track.  Therefore, in order to enjoy The Dragon, a lightweight and lower horsepower car is sure to make any day on the Tail of the Dragon a memorable one. 

The Obvious:  Did someone say lightweight, low horsepower sports car?  You must be talking about the Mazda MX-5 Miata.  Twenty-five years ago, when the Miata first went on sale, it became an instant hit.  In the two and a half decades that followed, the Miata has become the bestselling sports car of all time.  The Miata combines a willing chassis with possibly the best transmission in the world. That makes for one fantastic experience. 

The Original:  The idea of the Miata is not a very original one.  Mazda openly admitted to copying British sports cars from the 1960’s and ‘70’s.  One such Brit came from the Triumph Motor Company called the TR6.  It is hard to describe what exactly makes a British car so special.  Is it their unique sound or look?  Whatever it is, it is very cool.  It won’t matter that the electronics are bad and the radio is busted.  Listen to the exhaust.  It doesn’t matter the build quality is cheap.  Learn every nut and bolt of the machine and become an expert.  That’s a big part of the fun in owning one of these classics.

Captain America:  The Corvette has never been looked upon as a light or nimble sports car.  Frequently, it is known as a cheap American alternative to the Porsche 911.  Though, if an individual is in the market for a reliable, low mileage sports car with a large enthusiast following and aftermarket support, the internet is full of Corvettes.  Every price range is available right now.  There may have never been a better time in history to get into Corvettes than at the moment.  Plus, that low end V8 torque is perfect for pulling out of tight bends like those on the Tail of the Dragon.  

Bimmer:  Sometimes a true sports car isn’t the only option.  The BMW M3 is a favorite among car guys for its handling and everyday usability.  The first M3, known as the E30, is still the most popular.  While the newest M3 is a track day focuses sedan, the E30 was best known for is how delicate it was.  With only 192 horsepower in its U.S. trim, the E30 relied heavily on its race inspired suspension and steering to give its driver the ultimate feeling of control.  The asking prices for E30s have really ballooned as of late, and it is hard to predict whether the market will flatten out or continue to go up.   

Truck You Too from Vintage Wheels

Friend you have arrived. You have worked hard and built a bank account that would make small countries jealous.  Since you’re a car guy, you are going to turn that cash into steel, rubber, and oil.  You are going to start a car collection.  More than just an extra car in the garage or driveway, you want a whole space full of automobiles to throw yourself into.  You have the building up, and you have the knowledge. Now, what is your first all-important purchase going to be? Should you buy the Corvette, the Porsche, the rare one of a kind, or the one you have obsessed over since you were nine?  Well, truly you shouldn’t buy any of those.  A vast amount of time spent working on collectible cars is not spent on your back looking up at a big block.  Time is spent driving back and forth to the parts store.  You will need a vehicle capable of carrying said parts form the parts store.  The ideal vehicle for carrying items large and small is a pickup truck.  You may already own a fully loaded Big Sky Eagle Double Barrel Deluxe Grown Man Beard Addition truck, but that’s not the truck you should be using.  You need a shop truck.  A shop truck is what a real car collection deserves and will look right at home among your other precious acquisitions. 
Here’s Why:

Speed is your friend: The Ford F-150 Lightning was introduced in the early 1990’s to boost Ford’s sporty image.  World champion driver Jackie Stewart was brought in to help with the driving characteristics of the Lightning.  Of course, the Lightning keeps its true truck roots with a very simple combination of big engine and light weight chassis.  Drawback? The Lightning might be faster than some of your “fast” collector cars.  Of course this means you can get back from the store and install those parts even faster. 

Keep it classic:  Jeep aficionados regularly complain about not having a pickup option to choose from.  There are trucks from the past that had beds though.  The Jeep Scrambler keeps all the classic looks of the Jeep brand as well as the incredible off road capabilities the marque is known for.  In reality the Scrambler is a CJ-7 with a stretched frame thus giving the Jeep a bed.  Not just a great shop , but it’s able to haul all your stuff deep into nature. 

Trucking beautiful: Not all trucks are built for just doing work. The Chevrolet pickups from 1955 to 1959 are really something to look at.  At this moment in history, General Motors was designing debatably the best looking vehicles in the world.  It must have been something to walk on to a Chevrolet dealership in 1957.  With its wrap around windshield, a first for a truck, this Chevy has style that you will proudly park next to any other car in your garage.

Oh, just buy the biggest trucking one:  When the United States military needed to replace the venerable Jeep, they chose the Humvee.  To the civilian population, it is lovingly known as the Hummer.  The Hummer was always better suited for the battle field than the Walmart parking lot.  Nevertheless, if you want to be noticed and prepared for the Canadian invasion (oh it is coming) there might not be a better choice. Uncle Sam seemed to think so.