Posts Tagged muscle cars

Other People’s Cars: Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

1985 Pontiac Firebird Trans AmHas a car ever winked at you?

Jake Kara sent me this photo of a 1980s Pontiac Firebird Trans Am that looks like it’s either trying to get the viewer’s attention, or is having a seizure.

This car has what collectors call “patina,” which makes it look incredibly out of place parked in the center of Monroe, Connecticut, a town with a lot of history and a lot of money.

The third-generation Firebird, produced from 1981 to 1990, is one of those cars that seemingly obligates its driver to grow a mullet. They always seem to look like this car, and always seem to be heading to the local 7-11.

That wedged shape also made third-gen Firebirds popular fodder for “Fauxrrari” body kits, which transformed them into Ferrari Testarossa knock-offs.

This Firebird did have some good qualities, though. It was the basis for KITT in Knight Rider, and it was one of the few true American muscle cars of the 1980s.

The Firebird, and its Chevrolet Camaro twin, were among the few 1960s performance nameplates to survive the purge that took place in the early ‘70s, at the hands of rising insurance costs, EPA regulations, and OPEC.

This car’s “High Tech” aluminum wheels identify it as a 1985 (or later) model, which means it has a 305 cubic inch fuel-injected V8 under the hood. When new, that engine was good for 210 horsepower. That doesn’t seem like much, but keep in mind that a base 1984 Corvette only had 205 hp.

So this car’s owner deserves a little credit for going for the Trans Am and not a regular Firebird, although how they ended up with this example is a question for the ages.

In fact, there’s plenty of mystery surrounding this seemingly unremarkable car. Did that ding in the front bumper come from a dramatic police chase? Why did the driver back into that space in such a photogenic way? Why is the car winking at us?

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Sunday Royals Garage Car Show recap

Aston Martin Vanquish Audi R8 Chevy ApacheLast weekend was Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer and car show season. I spent Sunday at the Sunday Royals Garage Car Show at Lime Rock Park, and saw nearly every type of car imaginable lined up on the same main straight that usually hosts Le Mans prototypes an Trans Am racers.

The show was a little small because of the weather, but there was still an outstanding variety of cars. Here are my top five favorites:

Plymouth SuperbirdPlymouth Superbird

You may have seen Vin Diesel driving this car’s twin, the Dodge Charger Daytona, in the latest Fast & Furious movie. It’s a Plymouth Road Runner with the best aerodynamics the 1970s had to offer, making it the perfect weapon for a NASCAR oval. Today, the Superbird is one of the rarest muscle cars around, so I was excited to see this Hemi Orange example at Lime Rock.

1929 Stutz Blackhawk1929 Stutz Blackhawk

You rarely see a car this old out and about, unless it’s a ubiquitous, mass-produced Ford. In addition to having one of the coolest names ever, the Blackhawk represents a time when most cars of a certain price really were one-of-a-kind, thanks to their custom bodywork. Stutz was also one of the first great American marques, known for the Bearcat sports car and its heated rivalry with Mercer.

Bob Sharp Datsun 240ZDatsun 240Z racecar

It’s hard to argue with a wide-body 240Z in red, white, and blue, but this car had special resonance for me. Bob Sharp was one of the first American Datsun/Nissan dealers, and did a lot to promote the brand through racing cars like this one.

My parents bought our first new car after moving to Connecticut at what used to be Bob Sharp Nissan, so the local connection made this slick 240Z that much more special.

Nissan GT-RNissan GT-R(s)

There were actually three copies of Nissan’s all-conquering sports car at Lime Rock, but that doesn’t exactly make it common. The GT-R is an all-wheel drive, four-seat coupe that can dice with a Porsche 911 Turbo at the Nurburgring, all for a (relatively) affordable price. Unlike that Porsche, or certain Italian cars that will go unnamed, the GT-R really is a performance car that you can imagine living with every day.

1980 Toyota Tercel1980 Toyota Tercel

I heard the show’s MC talking about a 1980 Tercel over the loudspeakers and thought he was joking. I hadn’t seen the car.

Bringing a Japanese economy car to show that also featured an Audi R8, Aston Martin Vanquish, and three Nissan GT-Rs takes a lot of chutzpah, which this little car and its owner had in spades.

The car looks perfect slammed onto those chunky wheels, and under the hood is a souped up engine that was basically made from scratch. They don’t sell many performance parts for Toyota Tercels.

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Other People’s Cars: Ford Mustang

1971 Ford MustangIt’s not easy to follow a legend, as this Ford Mustang I found at a local grocery store demonstrates (obviously not this exact Mustang; I didn’t have a camera on me). It’s the 1971-1973 fastback that succeeded the legendary 1960s ‘Stangs.

The Mustang launched midway through 1964 and a spectacular hit parade followed. There were Shelby GT350s and GT500s, Boss 302s and 429s, and the Mach 1. All were clothed in sheetmetal that has become so iconic that Ford revived it in 2005.

The 1971 Mustang wasn’t that successful. It was considered too ungainly, and perhaps its styling was a little too forward-thinking. Still, as the ‘60s wound down, the first few iterations of Mustang style were popular, but not the hallowed legends they are today. It’s hard to blame Ford for trying something new.

This less-loved Mustang had its good points, too. Like its predecessors, there were performance versions (Mach 1, Boss 351), and it starred in the original Gone in 60 Seconds. Also, it was infinitely better than the Pinto-based Mustang II that succeeded it.

Ford is getting ready to roll out a new Mustang for the 2015 model year and, as in 1971, there’s talk of radically new styling. Will it become a new Mustang icon or fade away like this grocery getter? That all depends on what it looks like.

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Other People’s Cars: 1961 Chevy Bel Air

1961 Chevy Bel AirThe best part of summer? People bring their cool cars out of hibernation. I found this beauty, a 1961 Chevy Bel Air two-door, at the local beach.

Most people know the “Tri-Five” (1955, 1956, and 1957) Bel Airs, which are probably the most iconic American cars ever produced. Chevy continued using the name as one of several trim levels on its full-size cars until 1976.

The Bel Air was all new for 1961, even though it had undergone a complete redesign just two years earlier. Cars were the iPhones of the 1950s and ‘60s; companies were always refreshing them to encourage people to trade their “old” ones in.

The ’61 full-size Chevys were the first cars designed under the influence of Bill Mitchell, who went on to design the Buick Riviera and ’63-’67 Corvette Stingray.

In 1961, the Bel Air was the midlevel model; it was more expensive than a Biscayne, but cheaper than an Impala. A base six-cylinder two-door sedan cost $2,384, while a loaded V8 “sport hardtop sedan” cost $2,661.

The most powerful engine available on the ’61 Bel Air was a 348-cubic inch V8 with up to 350 horsepower. Judging by this car’s hood scoop and jacked-up stance, it probably has more power under the hood.1961 Chevy Bel Air

The phrase “they don’t make ‘em like they used to” comes up a lot when discussing old American cars. This beast is definitely cooler than any new Impala or Malibu, but it was also made in a time when people weren’t expected to survive crashes.

None of that really matters, though. This is a cool American muscle car out on the sreet for everyone to enjoy. That’s all that really matters.

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