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Winged Wonder:
Plymouth Superbird

August 28, 2016 by Our Sponsors

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The Plymouth Superbird came out of Detroit in the 1970s. With a massive wing mounted on the rear trunk and a wedge-shaped nose, the Superbird manufactured by the Chrysler Corporation was something to behold.  

The Superbird was built with a singular purpose in mind and it was to win NASCAR races. At the time, winning at NASCAR was a huge branding statement that could sell plenty of cars. It was a simple formula: Win at NASCAR, and sales of the model that won exploded within days. 

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NASCAR Rules

The 1970 NASCAR rules required “one car for each of a manufacturer’s dealers in the United States.” That meant 1,920 Superbirds needed to be manufactured and sold by the country’s entire stable of Plymouth dealers so that they could be eligible to race in NASCAR that year. So that’s what Plymouth made happen. 

The Plymouth designers added a huge aerodynamic nose-cone, smoothed out the body and added a large rear wing. In the power department, the cars could be bought with one of three engines: a 440 cu. in. Super Commando with a single four-barrel, a 440 cu. in. with a 6-pack, or the full-race 426 hemi. For people who are wondering how many of these unusual cars were made, only 135 street cars were sold with the Hemi; 665 took the option of the 440 Six Pack, and the rest were equipped with the 440 Super Commando with the four-barrel carb. The Superbird was essentially a modified Plymouth Road Runner. 

NASCAR races have been “stock car races.” That meant that in order to compete that you had to drive a vehicle that was stock meaning “available to the general public.” It also needed to be sold in huge numbers to make it a “real production model.”

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How Superbirds Performed

How did they do in 1970?  According to the service team at Bosak Motor Sales, a full-service Chrysler Jeep Dodge RAM dealer in Merrillville, IN, Superbirds did well on the NASCAR tracks, winning eight big races and placing in many more. It didn’t hurt that Richard Petty, known as one of the greatest NASCAR drivers of all time, was behind the wheel of a Superbird during the 1970 NASCAR season.  In fact, he won many of those eight big races.  

For all the drama, Plymouth made a name for itself in the 1970s but sales of actual Superbirds were another story.  The exaggerated looks of the ‘Birds were a bit extreme for many customers and most wanted the more conventional standard Roadrunner instead.  As a result, Plymouth only made the Superbird model for one model year. Another similar car was the Dodge Charger Daytona that was only built for the 1969 model year. Yet another car like the Superbird was the Ford Torino Talladega. 

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The Value of Superbirds Today

Today, these cars that represent a genuine slice of automotive history, are very, very valuable.  A nice example of a genuine Superbird with the 426 Hemi option can bring up to $500,000 at a car auction.

Image credits: mecum.com, ebizautos.com, classicrecollections.com

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The Sweet Spot: ’04-’05 Audi A8

August 27, 2016 by Matt

Audi A8 D3

As with the ’95-’97 Lexus LS400, I really like this car—but only in a very specific flavor.

In contrast to BMW and Mercedes’ practice of rolling out their most avant-garde technology (and design) with their respective top-of-the-line 7-series and S-class ranges, Audi’s flagship has charted a rather more gradual, evolutionary path since the original D2 platform’s arrival here in 1997. In the best Audi tradition, its styling has always been understated, if perfectly tasteful and proportionally spot-on.

Audi A8 D3

Unfortunately, for the mid-cycle design refresh of the 2nd-generation D3 A8 featured here, Audi decided to add its newly-minted corporate “deep grille,” intended to circumscribe the front license plate of cars so equipped. And while I understand the desire to give that bit of necessary evil some context, styling-wise, the A8’s look suffered for it—as did, admittedly, the rest of Audi’s lineup. That said, the pre-facelift D3 A8 stands out in my mind as the absolute pinnacle of the Ingolstadt automaker’s non-deep-grille look. It looks breathtakingly elegant, and in the flesh has a presence matched by few other vehicles. Every line resolves perfectly and there’s a real cohesiveness to its styling that was undone with the refresh. The pre-facelift car looks all-of-a-piece, machined from a single aluminum ingot, and has very real shades of that loveliest of Audi concept cars, the Avus quattro.

Audi A8 D3

Mechanically the D3 A8 was an upgraded carryover from the D2 platform, with 4.2l V8 and 6.0l W12 engines offered here, developing 335 and 444 horsepower, respectively. Audi’s quattro AWD system was naturally fitted to all US-bound cars, and the aluminum-intensive unibody kept weight reasonably low at around two tons.

Audi A8 D3 Interior Inside

The interior is Audi’s typical symphony in leather, wood and metal accents, ergonomically flawless and beautiful to behold and interact with. Mirroring the A8’s outside, it’s businesslike, without the fussiness or gratuitous flourishes typical of many other luxury car interiors. And best of all, the central screen is retractable into the dash.

Most range-topping luxury cars I would feel ostentatious driving; out of place, like I was behind the wheel of something that didn’t accurately reflect my income bracket. The pre-facelift D3 A8, though, in a similar way to the Mercedes W123 coupe, overwhelmingly exudes such a sense of good taste that it transcends petty concerns of class envy when it comes to cars. It’s a timelessly beautiful car, and one I could visualize with little difficulty parked in my garage.

Image credits: netcarshow.com

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Datsun 240Z Restoration:
Gutting the Interior

August 24, 2016 by Matt

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I’ve been chipping away at it, 15 minutes here, an hour there… It’s amazing how much progress you can make after a few weeks of piecemealing it. Would I prefer a large chunk of time—say, an afternoon? Sure. But I’ll take what I can get, and at the moment, the car is very close to being ready to go to paint.

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Starting at the rear, I removed the fuel tank and all the hatch trim. The taillights, finishing panel and rear bumper came off. The rub strips, which I loathe, were very difficult to pry off, and the body guy is going to have some restorative work to do to smooth out the holes and dimples their removal left behind.

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The scary-looking rust in the spare wheel well isn’t structural, fortunately. All the red vinyl diamond-pattern upholstery came off too. I fished the rear wiring harness around the right rear wheel well and removed the quarterlights.

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The door panels came off with little drama (I love my set of blue plastic interior trim tools!). I removed the steering column to make way for the eventual dash extraction. I took out the windshield washer motor and linkage and gave everything a good once-over with my shop vac. There were a lot of pine needles in the cowl area, some (most?) of which had probably been there for 30-40 years, assuming they can last that long…

It’s been interesting to see what the painters chose to remove and what they left in during the 240Z’s blue repaint back in the 1970s. Some things I’d have thought would have been tough to pull were left in, and other bits were painstakingly removed. Regardless, the car’s all going back to its original 901 Silver.

Very encouraged by the progress. Next up is the dash itself, the final removal of the wiring harness, the heater core and then the rear-end mechanical bits like the diff and brake lines. Onward!

Update: Since drafting this post, I’ve removed the dash. More on that in the next installment.

Editor’s note: This post is Part 23 of an ongoing series chronicling my efforts toward the restoration of my 1972 Datsun 240Z, originally my father’s. Read the other installments here:

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Flawed Beauty: Lancia Gamma

June 4, 2016 by Matt

Lancia Gamma

The Lancia Gamma reprises a familiar story arc when it comes to Italian cars: Beautiful, ambitious, flawed.

Produced from model years 1976 to 1984 and sold only in Europe, the Gamma was offered in coupe and 5-door sedan (berlina) bodystyles. Powered by a SOHC flat four developing a healthy 138 horsepower in its later 2.5-liter version, the FWD Gamma moved with respectable alacrity for its day. The coupe weighed in at 2,850 lbs, a figure that ensured competent acceleration, handling and braking.

Lancia Gamma

The boxer engine configuration was chosen for a couple of reasons. Its lower center of gravity aided handling balance, but the real benefit was in the styling department: The hoodline could be more gradual, allowing for a very sleek profile. The overall design was penned by Pininfarina and is a masterpiece of proportion and understatement, especially considering the tacky, overwrought 1970s context of the car’s genesis.

Lancia Gamma

Rust was a major bugaboo for Lancia unibodies up until the late ’80s, and the Gamma’s sheetmetal had its share of challenges in that department. But the ambitious engine was the source of most of the Gamma’s problems. Its all-aluminum construction was underengineered, and any minor problems with one of the engine’s peripherals had a tendency to cascade and result in total failure. And speaking of peripherals, instead of being driven off the crank pulley as with most cars, the power steering pump was connected to the left timing belt, and when an additional load was placed on the pump—say, the steering was turned to full lock—the timing belt snapped under the strain, and, well, you can imagine the carnage that ensued.

Lancia Gamma Interior

The interior is sensibly laid out and has a decidedly no-nonsense German appearance, mildly surprising for an Italian machine but perhaps understandable in light of the Gamma’s competitors: Executive coupes like the BMW E24, Mercedes SL and Jaguar XJS. At least the switchgear is mostly reliable, especially compared to that of its British and Italian rivals.

Lancia Gamma Engine Motor

The Gamma was never imported to the US. While that might seem superficially unfortunate, at least the car’s lovely shape and powerplant were never marred by the 5-mph impact bumpers, sealed-beam headlights and performance-killing emissions equipment that afflicted those of its contemporaries that did make the trip across the Atlantic. No, the Gamma remains unmolested by US regulations, and the 25-year-old import rule makes it fairly straightforward for a moderately-determined enthusiast to be able to buy one in Europe, ship it and register it here. Sourcing replacement parts would be a challenge, especially given the Gamma’s maintenance requirements, but like with so many lovely Italian machines, I think the rewards of driving one or hell, just looking at one would outweigh the hassles of ownership.

Image credits: ourclassiccars.co.uk, classicitaliancarsforsale.com, driventowrite.com

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Getting Hosed

May 18, 2016 by Our Sponsors

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It was simple in the old days, when you needed to repair a fuel line your auto parts store had rubber hose that they sold by the foot. All you needed to know is what size to buy. It’s a lot more complicated today. The problem, Paul Conte Chevrolet in Freeport, NY says is that gasoline today isn’t the petroleum-based product that it used to be. Most of today’s gasoline comes with ethanol mixed in. Ethanol can eat away at some rubbers, plastics and even metals. The result is that fuel line problems are becoming more common than in the past. So, we offer this guide to the car owner so that they can better understand the different types of gas line hoses you may find today:

Standard Neoprene

Standard neoprene fuel hose can be used for fuel and EEC systems on all vehicles where working pressures are under 50 psi or vacuum ratings are under 24″. For fuel line in particular, the neoprene hose has a covering that resists weathering, ozone and heat and can be used for both ethanol-laced fuels and diesel fuel. Neoprene fuel line is available in 1/8″ through 5/8″ sizes on bulk rolls, with additional 3′ sections of large 1-1/2″ through 2-1/4″ sizes available for gas filler neck applications. Neoprene with an outer steel braiding is also offered for custom applications.

High-Pressure Neoprene

High-pressure neoprene fuel hose for clamp-type fuel-injection systems is also available. This fuel hose uses a fluoro elastomer inner liner that will withstand up to 180 psi and 300 degrees. It is approved for all fuel blends including straight methanol, and the outer coating is also ozone- and abrasion-resistant.

Nylon Fuel Line

Many late-model production cars are now using hard, black nylon tubing with special connectors to attach fuel lines to the gas tank. This gas-resistant nylon tubing can be purchased by the foot or in short sections with the proper ends already attached to one end. Nylon tubing uses special barbed fittings that are inserted into the tubing, and the connection is then heated to shrink the tubing around the fitting.

Tygon Fuel Line

Small engines on your lawnmower, ATV or motorcycle use a gas-resistant vinyl tubing called Tygon. It is usually clear or transparent yellow in color. Tygon is available in short sections or on a large roll and can be rather expensive, but it will outlast the standard vinyl by many years. This is because Tygon fuel lines and do not turn brown and brittle after extended use, as vinyl tubing often does.

Note: Standard rubber vacuum or heater hose should never be used in fuel applications. The hose will deteriorate from the inside out and can plug fuel filters and carburetors with rubber debris, long before it springs an external leak.

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Existential Moments with the BMW

May 17, 2016 by Matt

2002 BMW 330i Orient Blue E46 Sedan

Do you have to drive your car, or do you get to drive your car?

Relegated to daily-driver duty, even the most special car can seem mundane to drive. What used to thrill us about its engine note, interior design or chassis balance recedes into the background of our commute. Its ergonomics are familiar and we focus more on the car’s little annoyances (every car has some) than on its essentially good qualities. We have to drive it, and the enjoyment of the experience is muted.

I’ve lived the emotional trajectory of enthusiast car ownership many times over the course of my 20+ year driving “career.” Like any good relationship, it takes intentionality to overcome the fade of initial spark of attraction. My truck is currently up for sale, so my 2002 BMW 330i will assume daily-driver responsibilities soon, and I worry that living with it every day will sap some of its emotional pull.

2002 BMW 330i Orient Blue E46 Sedan

From an automotive perspective, the cliche “absence makes the heart grow fonder” could be rewritten “lack of wheel time makes the heart grow fonder,” and it’s true that when the 330 has been down for repairs for a few days and I’ve had to drive the truck to work, I really itch to drive it again in a way I don’t when the BMW’s been my commuter all week. Also, I’m somewhat comforted by the fact that the daily wear and tear my “fun car” experiences is lessened, so I feel less guilty about exacerbating the car’s natural level of entropy by driving it.

I’ve had to make peace with the situation in a couple of ways; both of them, as mentioned above, require an intentional mental effort, but they’re worth it.

2002 BMW 330i Orient Blue E46 Sedan

The first is simply to remind myself, however long or short my tenure of ownership lasts, that I have the privilege of owning and driving a truly exceptional car. The 330i won every single comparison test that Car and Driver (and others) could throw at it during its model run. I remember leafing through those magazines, admiring the car’s abilities but considering it completely, utterly out of reach. And now one parks in my driveway at night. I get to drive it. The needles of its gauges swing through their arcs for my benefit. If it has an issue, it’s my responsibility to diagnose and fix it and hopefully improve the car in the process. I don’t write any of this in a bragging tone; but more simply a recognition and remind of what a great car BMW designed and screwed together, and how fortunate I am to be able to own one.

The second mental method I use to assuage my guilt over consigning the car to commuter duty is simply to accept that the car will deteriorate. It may sound obvious, but the reminder of that fact helps alleviate my low-level nervousness about small dings and scratches, or that some subsystem will suddenly go belly-up on the highway. It’s gonna happen, and when it does I will fix it. Parts can be replaced. Bodywork can be straightened and repainted, all in good time. The car is not old; there’s a huge supply of replacement parts out there, and whole industries with very talented people devoted to the cosmetic aspects of the car. Reminding myself of these givens helps me keep my priorities in line vis-a-vis life in general; it really is just a car, and I have a little while to enjoy it, so why ruin it with low-grade anxiety every time I’m behind the wheel? Doesn’t do anyone any good.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a few twisty roads to hunt down.

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A Treasure Trove of Japanese Imports

May 9, 2016 by Matt

Japanese Classics Richmond VA Website

This has become of one of my favorite internet hangouts lately.

Japanese Classics, a car importer based in Richmond, VA, has built what appears to be a thriving enterprise catering to the pent-up demand for JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) vehicles recently unleashed by the 25-year import rule. The essence of the law is that for most states, any vehicle over 25 years old (as of this posting, that would be MY 1991) is exempt from crash and emissions testing and can be freely imported and registered. For the enthusiast market, it means that a whole crop of heretofore unavailable Japanese machines can now be bought and driven in the US. Vehicles we lusted after from afar are here. And Japanese Classics’ website, more than simply showing the outfit’s current inventory, really pulls out all the stops in creating very nicely photographed and detailed listings:

Japanese Classics Richmond VA Website

For car nerds like me who’ve had trouble finding pictures of, say, a Mazda JC Cosmo’s interior, or the engine bay of a Nissan Silvia K’s, the site is a veritable encyclopedia of obscure JDM cars. For anyone who’s ever played (especially the early editions of) the Gran Turismo video game series and wondered how all those cars we’d never heard of actually look in the flesh, it’s a revelation. I’ll be revisiting the site regularly. And while I’m quite content with my E46 for the time being, who knows; I may actually spring for one of the featured cars one day. Maybe in a few years when the R33 Skyline hits our shores?

Editor’s note: I have no affiliation with the Japanese Classics.

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