Not Exactly Jay Leno’s Garage

Print Friendly

I’ve got posters of Lamborghini Murias; I once got to drive a Pantera GTS – the 351 Cleveland howling inches behind my right ear. I’ve spent the past 20-plus years driving other people’s new cars. But how about my own cars? 011

Here’s what happens when you’ve got a car journalist’s income to work with:

* 1978 Camaro Type LT -

This car was a POS but I loved it, nonetheless. The T-tops leaked like a pasta strainer; the 350 V-8 had no power; the cheap chrome on the Keystone Klassic mags was peeling off; the rear quarter panels had more decay than the teeth of the hillbillies in Deliverance – and it was painted pastel robin’s egg blue. But it was mine – my first car. It was also my Learning Curve Car – the car I made every beginner’s mistake you can think of, from pouring way too much money into all the wrong areas to achieve pointless or minimal results to simply crippling the car in one way or another through my lack of experience, patience, proper tools – the usual foibles of the idiot teenager.

I accelerated rust by sanding panels down, then leaving them spray-can primered for months. Primer is of course porous. I discovered this later. '78 LT

I enhanced oil burning by flogging the already tired 350 – eventually killing it off entirely by letting a wingnut get sucked into the four barrel carb, past the throttle plates and directly into the valvetrain. It still ran – just not very well.

After this came my first “built” engine – another 350 but with a 400 crank (so 383 cubic inches). It ran great – until I wrapped the Camaro around a telephone pole one night – after drinking way too much and wanting too much speed for a wet road and bald tires.

RIP.

* 1981 Camaro Z28 -

At least it was a Z28. And dark navy blue this time. But it was in much worse condition overall than the ’78 had been in originally. Holes in the floorpans, holes in the trunk. Mr. T air freshener dangling from the rearview.  Dead transmission. No engine at all. Still, it had that cool-looking Air Induction hood with the little flapper doors at the rear that popped open when you floored it – assuming you had an engine to floor, of course. I thought it was the coolest thing ever – or at least as cool as the lights on the same-year Trans-Am turbo’s hood. Things like this matter a lot to a 19-year-old. But that’s not why I bought it. I bought it because it was a cheap and mostly straight chassis into which I could transfer the 383 salvaged from the totaled Type LT. Once revived, I finally had a genuinely quick car for the first time. It looked rough – but it went. In the summer of ’87 I surprised a guy in an ’86 TPI Corvette. In my circle of hooligans, only my friend’s ’71 Plymouth GTX was faster. '81 Z28

I was also learning things. For instance, that Camaros of this vintage (’78-81) could be lightened up by unbolting the heavy battering ram bumpers that were underneath the flexible rubber (and painted body color, as is ubiquitous today) front and rear “fascias.” Once you pulled these off, you could remove these heavy metal battering rams and then reinstall the plastic bumper covers – securing them with aluminum brackets. Of course, the car now had zero impact resistance and you’d be accordionized in even a low-speed impact – but the car was lighter by about 300 pounds.

I eventually sold the Z to a fellow cracker who appreciated its merits.

* 1969 VW Squareback -'69 VW

I acquired this specimen for $400 at just about the same time as I got the ’76 50th Anniversary Trans-Am (below), principally so I could avoid having to take the TA to work in downtown DC everyday – which I knew would kill it. Or get me killed. DC – especially the part of DC where I worked at the time – was not a safe place for a young white guy. Or a nice old Trans Am. The Squareback was exactly what the doctor ordered. It had factory fuel injection – one of the first cars that wasn’t an exotic/high dollar car to come with EFI. It was also indestructible. I abused this car worse than Obama has pissed on the Constitution – and like the American people, it just put up with everything.

Every once in awhile, the FI system would go balky and I accidentally discovered that by kicking the car hard in the left rear quarter panel, it would re-set whatever was not right and the car would start. One day, in winter, I spun the car several times before hitting the curb hard, sideways, at about 30 mph. It bent the hell out of the front suspension and the only way to keep the car going in a straight line after that was to crank the wheel over about halfway and hold it there – which needed strength and concentration. If you let up for a second the car would suddenly jerk hard to left and hit whatever was there. I drove it that way for months.  '69 VW 2

One day, coming home, a guy in a brand-new Mercedes S-Class hit me. He had been distracted by something, wandered into my lane. It was clearly his fault. We stopped. I looked at the new crumples in my $400 VW and told the business suit wearing Yuppie that I was cool with each of us dealing with our own problems if he was cool with that. Mine were fixable with a crowbar and two spray cans of Duplicolor. His would be more involved.

Eventually, I sold the VW for $800 to some kid who probably did the same and worse to the car – and likely ended up selling the thing, in his turn, for more than he paid me.

* 1976 Trans Am LE -

My first really collectible car – a car that Jay Leno might be interested in.

The ’76 LE was the  first production Trans Am to be given the now-iconic black and gold exterior – with the neat-o German gothic script callouts on the shaker scoop front quarter panels and tail section. This was the template for the ’77 “Smokey and the Bandit” cars – which were all special edition (not limited edition) cars. The ’76 LE cars were also 50th Anniversary (for Pontiac) cars and had a unique octagonal badge commemorating this.   '76 LE 1

My car also had the Hurt T-tops (first year for these) and the big (but seriously watered down in power output) 455 V-8 plus the four-speed manual transmission. It was the last year this combo would ever be offered from the factory and it was also my first big-cube muscle car. I had a lot of fun with this TA. Though the 455 only made up 200 hp in stock trim, with the 4-speed and 3.23 gears it would do admirable smokey burnouts and you could make the rear end bust sideways on a really hard 1-2 gear change. I had big plans for this car, which even back then (early 1990s) I knew was going to be a collectible given its very low production and historical significance. Only a couple hundred were made with the 455/4-speed combo; even fewer with T-tops, too.

But my plans were ruined one day when a guy in an old van ran a light and T-boned the TA, totaling it.  '76 LE 2

I still have the shaker with the German script “455” call-outs on the sides – it’s hanging on the wall in the garage –  but the rest of the car long ago went to that big pow-wow in the sky.

* 1987 Lincoln Mark VII LSC -

I should have kept this car.

It was bought brand-new off the showroom floor by my mom when I was still in college. My mom was fanatical about her vehicles and the Mark was always serviced by the local Lincoln dealer, always garaged and even when it was ten years old it still looked brand-new.

If you don’t remember, these hot rod Lincoln coupes were packing the same basic 5.0 liter HO V-8 as used in the same-era Mustang GTs. They looked great, too. An American take on the Benz SL. The LSC – Luxury Sport Coupe – versions had it all. The 5.0 HO engine, sport suspension with alloy wheels and performance tires, foglights, sport buckets – the works. LSC 1

I finagled a good deal on the Mark when mom decided it was time for something new. Problem was I lacked two things mom always had:  garage space – and money to pay the Lincoln dealer to fix things like the car’s trouble-prone air suspension. I felt bad about leaving the Mark outside in my driveway, in a not-so-great-neighborhood. And the Mark looked bad when both rear air springs failed and the body sank several inches, like someone had poured a load of concrete in the trunk. Cost to fix? More than I could afford. So I put the Mark up for sale and let it go to a guy who could take better care of it than I could.

I hope the Mark’s ok… .

* 1964 Chevy Corvair Monza coupe -

This is the oldest car I have owned so far – and as such it was a kind of time machine for me since it existed before I did.

Every other car I have owned I could have at least sat in the day it left the dealer’s lot. Not the ‘Vair This was part of what made it one of my favorite cars – and one of those I sold that I now which I had not. When I acquired it, it was wearing a seedy (and not correct) two-tone Earl Scheib-style paint job. Even seedier was what I found behind the back seat. Someone had built a mini-bar back there, complete with decanters and glasses (all real high quality stuff). It was a wood mini bar – hammered into the car with nails. I wish I still had pictures of this. 016

One also did not need a key to start the Corvair. The ignition switch was so loose you just turned it by had and the air-cooled flat six would fire right up. The worst thing about the car was synchronizing the twin one-barrel carbs – which involved shims and a strange little vacuum gauge you placed on top of each carb. It took awhile to master the technique and get it right. But unlike the similar layout VW (which also had a rear-mounted, air-cooled engine) the Corvair had decent power and could maintain 70-75 mph without struggling. And it was by far the most nimble ’60s-era American car I have driven, with light steering (no power assist needed because the front end had no engine weighing it down) and good reflexes, very much like an early Porsche. It also oversteered excessively and often unpredictably, but that was part of the charm. It took skill to drive the Corvair at a fast pace without bending metal. 008

I eventually finished a high-quality restoration. It was properly repainted in sharp looking (and correct) Daytona Blue with an NOS parchment white interior . . . just in time to sell it off to help pay an unexpected tax bill. My wife still holds a grudge about this, grumbling that I ought to have sold some of my motorcycles instead.

She might be right.

* 1986 Camaro RS -

Bought it with 126k on the clock for a Blue Light Special price with the intention of using it as a commuter. More looks and personality than a Corolla, I reasoned – and rear-wheel-drive, too. It had faded red paint and an over Armor-all’d interior. But low rent as it was, it was a damned good car. The 2.8 liter V-6 was impossible to kill. I know because I tried – hard. You could floor the thing and the tach needle would swing to redline and beyond – and stay there as long as you kept your foot down. Nothing blew up, which impresses me to this day. The little V-6 was easy on gas, too. And otherwise, the RS was basically a Z28, with the same wheel/tire package and 90 percent of its suspension, too. It was a fun car to drive. Useful, too. If you remember these third generation Camaros, they had an enormous convex glass hatchback, which could be raised up on a pair of gas prop rods. I once carried home a 400 cube Pontiac V-8 short block this way. Unfortunately, the block still had some oil in it.RS Camaro

The Camaro looked rough the last time I saw it, trundling down the road with a happy teenager behind the wheel – and very likely, some not-so-happy parents of that teenager waiting at home.

* 1998 Nissan Frontier -

I still have this one – bought ten years ago, used, for about $7,200 – chiefly because it has given me no reason to get rid of it. The truck is old-school simple, with get out and lock ‘em by hand manual 4WD hubs, manual transmission, manual roll-up windows and room for just two. They literally do not make trucks like this anymore, which is one reason why I will keep it as long as it can be kept operational without bankrupting me. New trucks are too much for me. I don’t need – or want – a behemoth that  comes with a built-in step ladder (necessary because the bed walls are so high) or a multi-turbo’d engine or flat screen anythings. I am a land line, ground beef, old sneakers and cammo pants kind of guys. The idea of a leather-surfaced power-everything $40k pick-up strikes me as ridiculous. And I am suspicious of automatic/electric 4WD and have no interest in paying for it – wither up front or down the road.buttercup

But that is what the automakers are selling – which is why I am not buying. New, that is. A guy down the road has the same basic truck – with more than 230,000 miles on his. It still looks new, too. Mine’s a baby in comparison, with a mere 138k now showing. I expect it will be in the driveway for many years to come.

* 1976 Trans Am -

The Great Pumpkin. P1060294

It is painted a bright orange color Pontiac called (inaccurately) Carousel Red. This is a rare color, used previously on the 1969 GTO Judge. 1976 is itself a rare year, for a number of reasons: Last year for the single (round) headlights and shovel nose front end. Final year for the polycast Honeycomb rims (which looked like aluminum wheels but weren’t), the 455 V-8 and the old-style “big” shaker hood scoop. 1976 was a transition year – bridging the gap between the early “muscle” Trans-Ams and the latter ’70s “disco” Trans-Ams. It will also do magnificent burnouts. With close to 500 lbs.-ft of torque on hand and just 15×7 wheels to deal with, you can fry the tires down to the cords, digging ruts in the asphalt and leaving two piles of cinders/smoldering chunks of what used to be your BF Goodrich Radial T/As.

Big fun!scoop

I got the Great Pumpkin in unmolested, factory-stock condition from the original owner, with 48,000 miles showing. This was back in ’91, too – when such a car was still affordable. I paid $5,400 for it – which was ironically about what it sold for brand new. I feel lucky to have been born just in time to be around – and in a position to buy – when these ’70s-era heavy hitters were still abundant on the used car lots – and affordable. Fast forward 18 years and my car has become unaffordable – at least, it would be to a 2014 version of my 1991 self.

This makes me feel bad for them.

And glad for me.

Throw it in the Woods?

Share Button

  34 comments for “Not Exactly Jay Leno’s Garage

  1. February 8, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    Nice collection of vehicles. The TA and the Corvair are very good looking. I get a kick seeing the engine where the boot is normally found.

    Is it normal for steel wheels to develop rust? If yes, is there anything practical that can be done to protect the wheels from rust damage?

    I noticed the rust look on the wheels of my 2007 Nissan Sentra. I do not remember noticing any wheel rust on my 2001 VW Golf TDI or 1991 Toyota Camry.

    • BrentP
      February 9, 2014 at 12:11 am

      Yes. It is normal for them to rust. Eventually it can get into where the bead seats and cause leaks.

      On the dog dished hub capped ’75 mav I would repaint the steel wheels practically every year.

      My last car with steel wheels, the mazda I had as a winter beater, had one wheel with a slow leak I couldn’t stop. I broke the bead and removed the tire, treated the rust, ground it smooth, repainted the wheel. Had the tire remounted. The repair was temporary but it even when the tire started its slow leak again it was livable.

      Waxing works on alloy wheels. It should work on steel wheels too.

  2. MikePizzo
    February 8, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    Chevvy Boy (or at least GM Boy,) aren’t you?

    Funny, you indicate regret at selling your Corvair. For me, the day I dumped my 63 Monza Spyder was the second happiest day of my automotive life. The “happiest” was when I traded my 1980 Buick Rivera, THE LAST GM CAR I WILL EVER OWN, for a new Toyota Cressida with 5 speed manual.

    • eric
      February 8, 2014 at 2:46 pm

      I went through that Corvair painstakingly for about three years – and had it all sorted out. Ran beautifully. Now, to be fair, it was not in service as a daily driver. But it would start right up whenever asked and never let me down. It didn’t even throw the fan belt!

      Clarke’s Corvair (supplier of NOS/repro and aftermarket parts) really helped – both with the actual parts and technical support. Good people.

      The ‘Birds were all good cars, too.

  3. lberns
    February 8, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    “1978 Camaro”

    The first car I bought was a 1973 340 Magnum Charger. The 340 was gone (replaced by a 318). The thing was a dog when I had it. When you talk about stupid young guy stuff, I sometimes think I set the standard. I had to replace the rear tires and all I had were a set of tires off my Father’s van, so I had the local gas station mount them on a set of Cragar mags. I look back and can only wonder what people thought. It must have looked as ridiculous as walking around town wearing clown shoes.

    Unfortunately I parted it out to a pal. I could have probably done some cool stuff with it. How many 1973 340 Magnum Chargers are rolling around anymore?

  4. garysco
    February 8, 2014 at 11:59 pm

    Thanks for the post Eric.

    I was at my friend’s body shop the other day. He had a new Suburban there with the dash and windshield out. He also had the front clip off of a newer big Mercedes. I looked at both and marveled at the number of wires, sensors, servos, vacuum lines and black boxes hidden below the skin in places I would not even know how to get to without taking the whole vehicle apart. The space shuttle has nothing on the newer auto technology. When I left there in my 94 Geo Metro I laughed out loud at my 12 color coded wire ,single TBI one Liter 3 cylinder clown car going down the road.

    • eric
      February 9, 2014 at 7:52 am

      Ditto that!

      The ’90s were a sweet spot, car-wise. Just modern enough to be exponentially more reliable/durable than the cars that preceded them… but mot yet encrusted with the Battlestar Galactica-esque array of electronic crap that all new cars now come with, like it or not.

      • Eightsouthman
        February 9, 2014 at 11:45 am

        Or like my wife’s ’95 Cutlass I drove yesterday. I did the unforgivable, braked hard and turned left fairly hard, made the Service Engine light come on. On the bright side though, the Low Coolant light went off, tit for tat. Neither window quit, always a good thing say CJ. I learned long ago to ignore the various alarms and flashing warnings and the ones that don’t flash. When the AIRBAGS light comes on, you can bet shortly you’ll have to replace the alternator. The first time it happened I stopped, freaked me out, worried like hell they’d go off. And the alternator light, never has shown. God I just love lights instead of gauges. How much oil pressure does it run? That would be anybody’s guess, enough I supposed to circulate the Amsoil 0W-30.

        eric, those were sweet rides in my eyes, drove nearly everyone of those at one time or another owned by various friends and they were fun cars including the Lincoln. I could easily be the happy old guy driving the ‘Vair, loved those cars. A few years ago I passed an old guy in his perfect green Corvair sedan heading east out of Odessa. I looked over and he turned and smiled just like I did. I waved to him as I passed.

        My best buddy and I were going home to get garden veggies while in college. We both held our breath and tried to use our will power to get that black VW bug to 90 going down the caprock hill. It didn’t make it but it got close.

        My wife’s best friend had a Monza Spider that would occasionally drop the engine on the road but she gave it hell from minute one and her dad would repair it, send her on her way again. I don’t remember being able to buy a performance Corvair for nearly nothing ever. People were generally lined up to buy one for sale. The smell of ethyl, too rich exhausts with a hint of motor oil remains a good memory.

  5. Mike in Boston
    February 10, 2014 at 1:24 am

    My brother had a ’71 Lincoln Continental, was a tank but what a smooth ride; on a related note I almost cried when they crushed the Lincoln in “Goldfinger”.

    • eric
      February 10, 2014 at 6:45 am

      Ditto that, Mike –

      One of the things I miss very much is the luxury car. It no longer exists. Oh, there are countless luxury-sport cars. But who makes a real roller? A full-size, six-passenger four-wheeled living room with three-across, sofa-style seating and that absolutely floating ride that was once the ne plus ultra of what a luxury car was supposed to be all about?

      Gone.

      All part of the societal warping of the past 20 years to a hyper-macho image for a flaccid and cowardly population.

      Is it not remarkable that the much manlier America of say 1970 revered soft cars?

      • BrentP
        February 10, 2014 at 1:20 pm

        CAFE killed the living room on wheels. But what was that sort of car anyway?

        It was about showing the world how much car one could afford to buy. But since CAFE killed them we got trucks… and trucks have to manly. but not everyone wanted a truck… but they can’t make those big passenger cars… what could still be made? luxury sports cars.

        The living room on wheels was purposely targeted and killed. But now, I am not sure if such a car would sell. Even if it were a hybrid or a CVN :)

      • Bill in NC
        February 10, 2014 at 7:39 pm

        borrowed dad’s late-model Town Car for a 1500 mile round trip to the Henry Ford in Detroit last summer.

        it was sooo comfortable…like I was driving my La-Z-Boy down the road.

        12 hours on the road and no fatigue (I usually get tired driving the minivan 4 hours to the beach)

        absolutely a keeper!

        • eric
          February 11, 2014 at 4:24 am

          My father-in-law has a TC.

          Love that car. Nothing like it that’s new. I drive literally everything. So I say that from direct experience. If you want a luxury sport sedan, you have a dozen or more choices. But there are no luxury cars anymore. Not in the way they used to make them.

  6. John G
    February 10, 2014 at 3:04 am

    Reminds me of a 67 442 I had. When I bought it the original engine was so damaged that when you got on it, the oil breather cap would blow off. I replaced it with a small block 350 stuffed with Mondelo parts. The 3.08 rear was kind of slow from a standing start but when you punched it at 20 you would slow down at first because the tires were melting. I did 158 MPH in that car.

    Am I an idiot? Yes I am. Do I care? No I don’t.

    • eric
      February 10, 2014 at 6:25 am

      Great stuff, John! Love those “highway geared” muscle cars….

  7. HD
    February 10, 2014 at 9:00 am

    Eric-

    Re the 411 – 35 years ago a friend of mine bought one, removed the engine and replaced it w/ a 1.6L Mercedes diesel (maybe a 1.8) from a Thermo King reefer unit. Ran great, used fuel form his farm tank (1% sales tax). Ran for 10 years before he sold it.

  8. tom
    February 10, 2014 at 11:56 am

    Yeah, that 2.8 GM V-6 is hard to kill. Had one in a Chevy Citation. All I did was feed oil into it.

  9. Dav R
    February 10, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    Very enjoyable article Eric. Do a similar one on the bikes.

    – A good idea for a future piece that would really draw the comments… “The Dumbest Thing I did to my Vehicle When I was a Young, Stupid Punk”…

    Totally agree about the “ridiculousness” of the latest vehicles, can’t even imagine where it goes from here.

  10. radmatty
    February 10, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    From the mid ’70s to the mid-’80s I had a ’65 Chevy II, a ’68 GTO convertible (Ram Air IV, Hurst Dual Gate TH400), a ’73 Z28 and a ’78 Porsche 924. All were heavily used before I acquired them and infinitely more so when I was done with them. Now I’m into classic Toyota 4x4s. 1st gen 4runners and pickups and any year Land Cruiser. Diesel pickups for towing my junk around too.

  11. February 10, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    Ah…the golden years. I remember my old man being REALLY fond of a 62 Corvair Stationwagon painted cherry red with white trim. The ONLY ding on it was a weird round dent almost the perfect size of a baseball or something.

    He graciously bequeathed it to me and I knew juuuust enough about cars (I’m really lame that way!) to know it was truly a piece of history…so I made sure my mechanic friend knew how to keep the thing in decent shape and I drove that thing all over. I actually LIKED that it made whats-his-name (Ralph Nader?) mad and he devoted much of his life discrediting it. It had two things I will never forget:
    1. a certain smell (let’s face it, those things didn’t have the greatest seals so I was always smelling burnt oil).
    2. a certain SOUND. Egads…I can hear that sound TODAY (what…30 years later?) from one that is in Richland, WA and it takes me back. Yum!

    Anyway…I hear ya…cars are way cool and I’m NOT even a real “car guy”. Now musical instruments? Geez…I could wax philosophical on every single analog and digital synth/keyboard/gear I’ve had through the years…so I definitely feel ya. They define your life for that period of time because you quite literally POUR your thoughts, energy, love, and supreme devotion into them.

    Sigh…good times…good times…

  12. gwood
    February 10, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    “Someone had built a mini-bar back there…”

    I’m gonna put a bar in the backa my car
    and drive myself to drink,
    Oh Yeah,
    drive myself to drink.

    • eric
      February 11, 2014 at 4:19 am

      I wish I had pictures… I swear I did not make that story up!

  13. Nat
    February 10, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    Great collection! I love the Corvair – Would definitely like to own one some day. I have had a few classic cars, my favorite by far was a beautiful silver 1969 Alfa GTV 1750. Drove very well, zero rust, and looked completely stock but lowered slightly with competition springs, shocks, and later model Alfa wheels and lower profile tires. Great on the corners!

    • eric
      February 11, 2014 at 4:19 am

      Thanks, Nat!

      Corvairs are a lot of fun – in part because they’re still very affordable (due to being under-appreciated). I keep track of the market and even today, you can buy a very nice condition (nice enough to show) first generation coupe for well under $10k. “Drivers” for $5k or even less.

      The ’64 is the pick of the first-gen. litter because it has the transverse rear leaf – which fixes the handling issue that plagued the earlier cars. The 110 hp dual carb motor is – my opinion – the best one, too. It’s more powerful than the standard engine, but hasn’t got the temperamental nature of the turbo Spyder.

    • PanarchistamericanHelot
      February 11, 2014 at 4:27 am

      I’d never heard of a 1969 Alfa GTV 1750 before. If this is it, cool lookin’ car:

      http://alfaromeo1750gtv.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/acf.jpg

      Dang! I want to hop in it and race it!

  14. Brian
    February 10, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    One car I wish that I had kept was my old metallic midnight blue ’73 Chevy Monte Carlo that I had from ’82-’86. Most Monte Carlos’ of that time had bench sets and column shifter. Mine still had the factory special order sheet in the glove box. It came with swivel bucket seats, floor shifter for the automatic tranny, in-dash tach (which didn’t work), Rally wheels, A/C, and rear window defogger. It of course had a very long nose and looked nearly identical to this car: http://www.classycars.org/chevrolet1973monte.carlo.html , but mine had a black vinyl top and was darker blue, almost black. I had to be really careful with that car because is rode so smooth that I would catch myself going 80 mph when I thought I was going 55. It had a “nicely” powerful (as opposed to very powerful or pathetic) 350 engine. It also had dual 12″ glass pack mufflers and a malfunctioning smog motor. I could rack off my pipes or accelerate heavily with these loud pipes, and about 2-3 seconds after I let off of it the tail pipes would go BAMB, Pop-pop-pop-pop. A tail pipe literally blew apart like an exploded aerosol can. At night out of the corner of my eyes I would see a flash of light reflecting from the ditch, and people behind me would get stunned. I never bothered to fix it because I thought it was cool! The smog pump pumps air into the exhaust to aid in burning it, but it’s supposed to stop pumping cold air in the exhaust manifold when you decelerate. Mine didn’t. I could rack off those pipes beside a factory building with an alarm system and the shotgun-like BANG would set off the burglar alarm.
    The guy that I bought it from claimed to have wrapped the speedometer needle past the 120 number to the m on the mph mark, which would be about 130 mph. I never dared to drive it that fast in the Missouri Ozarks, but the car would be going 110 miles per hour and the accelerator wasn’t even close to being floored.
    The vinyl top finally shredded completely off and the transmission started sounding unusual, so I ended up going into debt and trading this car in for the worse car I ever bought: an ’85 Ford Escort clone: Mercury Lynx. That car would only get 55 mph to the quarter if you manually shifted the AT, and would top off at 85 mph. I now think that the tranny noise I heard in the Monte Carlo was perhaps a restricted filter that needed to be changed. I may buy another one someday if I can find one cheap.
    Another car that I liked very much was an ’88 Chevy Cavalier Z-24 with the 2.8 liter multi-port FI engine. The bad flaws in that car though was that it really needed another higher top gear, and the transmission gets ruined when the motor mounts wear out without warning.
    I now drive an F-350 4X4 with the 7.3 Powerstroke diesel that I like.

    • eric
      February 11, 2014 at 4:15 am

      Hi Brian,

      A good friend of mine in high school had a similar car; circa ’75 Monte (IIRC). It had the swivel buckets and a (to me) cool-looking interior layout. I’ve always been a fan of GM intermediate coupes, in particular the Pontiac GP. Had another friend who owned an extremely rare ’71 GP SSJ Hurst Edition. White and gold, with gold Hurst mags and – wait for it – a TV. You hung the aerial on the window drip rail!

      • Brian
        February 12, 2014 at 3:16 am

        Hi Eric,
        I would have loved to have purchased the types of performance cars that you have owned in the past, but my insurance was already much higher priced than I thought was reasonable. I have had old farts pull out in front of me on numerous occasions, yet I knew that my insurance payments were considerably higher than theirs. When I sold my beloved Monte Carlo; I tried to buy a new 1996 Nissan Pulsar. Once I found out how high my insurance payments would become I backed out and settled for the “car of the year.” When I was getting rid of that crappy ’85 Mercury Lynx, I test drove a Camaro with an in-line 6 in it and found that the very word “Camaro” skyrocketed the price of insurance. I then called a dealer and asked if he had any V-6 Buick Grand Nationals that I could test drive. He informed me that those cars were already very rare and expensive, so he invited me to try out the ’87 Z-24 Cavalier with the 2.8 liter H.O. multi-port engine. This car vastly outperformed that in-line 6 cylinder Camaro that I had tried earlier, and the insurance cost was very much lower!
        I now look on-line for ’70’s Monte Carlos’ and I see prices for nice ones to be between $5K-$25K. I never thought that my favorite not quite sports car would have become so valuable.

        • eric
          February 12, 2014 at 4:22 am

          Hi Brian,

          One of the things I plan to write about soon is the way younger people have been to a very great extent priced out of cars – not just old muscle cars, either. How the love affair with the car is dying.

          The chill in the air is, to me, obvious.

          My generation – Gen X. – was probably the last “car” generation, especially as far as muscle cars go.

          They’re just too expensive for most people currently under 30. Both to acquire and to keep. When I bought my ’76 20 years ago, I paid $5,400 for it. For a solid #2 and not far from #1 condition, low-mileage, one-owner, all-original and heavily optioned car. Today, a car like mine, in similar condition, would probably sell for $15-$20k – beyond my means now as a guy in his 40s – and forget 25 year-old-me.

          Who has that kind of cash these days? (Financing a classic car is possible, but the interest is typically exorbitant and of course one would have to buy a full-coverage policy on top of that.)

          And, of course, there is the cost to feed. When I bought the TA, premium was around $1.50. I could afford to fill the tank for about $25. Today, it takes $50 to fill the tank of my 4-cylinder, compact pick-up. The Trans-Am costs nearly $80. I could not afford to regularly drive the TA today. But I drove V-8 muscle cars similar to it as my everyday cars back in high school and college in the ’80s. On a fast-food and part-time work income.

          Take a look at Hot Rod or Car Craft magazine. The guys pictured are almost universally graybeards in their mid-late 40s and (often) older than that. When I began reading these pubs. in the late ’70s and early ’80s as a kid, the guys pictured with their cars were only a few years older than I was at the time. Young 20s, mostly.

          Today’s young 20s have been priced out of the hobby – by the transformation of these kinds of cars from blue collar to high-grade investments commodities, by the cost of fuel, by inflation, by a cratered economy.

          It is all extremely sad.

  15. Lawrence
    February 10, 2014 at 11:57 pm

    Wow, we both had the same first car. Mine had the 305, 135hp auto drivetrain and copper colour exterior. The only thing i kept was the black interior. Early seventies corvette wheels, 383 with shift kitted auto, posi from a 1980 Z28, road racing suspension. top speed reached 220kmh neck snapping downshift for passing gear. Best car I ever owned and only did oil change, filters and brake pads for 8 years. Still miss her 24 years after i sold her. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151880848031394&set=a.56185691393.79620.703696393&type=1

    • eric
      February 11, 2014 at 4:06 am

      They were fun, weren’t they?

      If I ever have money again, I’d like to own a stock/correct ’80 Z28. I’d leave it mostly alone. Probably the only changes I’d make would be to replace the terrible factory exhaust (single, with hugely restrictive pellet-type catalytic converter) with true dual exhaust. Otherwise, these cars – especially 4-speed models – were a kick to drive. Even though they’re slow by today’s performance car standards, they feel very aggressive, in part because of the carbureted small block (hear the Q-Jet roar when the secondaries dump open) and because of that sweet-sounding gear whine from the Super T-10 4-speed. Plus, limited traction from the 15×7 wheels and tires means tire-barking upshifts and fishtailing launches.

      That year has always appealed to me because – to my eye – Chevy finally got the exterior cosmetics on par with the Trans-Am (which always looked more finished and sophisticated, having had integrated, body-colored front and rear bumpers since 1974). The rear-facing (and functional) “air induction” hood one-upped the TA, too. The Pontiac’s shaker scoop was non-functional after 1972 (though easily made functional). Also, Chevy finally got with the program and gave the Z28 a set of very attractive (and alloy) wheels.

      The only thing I don’t like about the ’80 is the fugly breadbox dash (debuted in ’79) and very plain interior (even when “optioned out”) relative to the Trans-Am’s, which was much more high-end and racy looking. The ’70-78 Camaros had a much cooler dash layout. Why Chevy screwed with it I’ll never understand!

      • PanarchistamericanHelot
        February 11, 2014 at 4:21 am

        Ha! Maybe they changed the dash because a woman could get a better leverage from it with her toes?

        Nahh, that can’t be it.

        But it was the result. As far as I could tell.

        And wasn’t there something about a something that poked her in the back? RE: “very plain interior”?

        But I forget. That was a long time ago, in a land far far away.

        Anyway, it sure was fun racing around in those, especially on gravel roads and wide open parking lots, whoa!

  16. Klavdy
    February 13, 2014 at 3:54 am

    Australia had those cars and similar.
    Ahh, from the days when the roads were less scrutinised.

    Now we have states that aggressively automate the fine system.

    http://www.caranddriver.com/columns/stephen-corby-a-revolt-against-the-almighty-speed-camera-column

  17. Brandonjin
    February 13, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    I like this article. I’m a big fan of the styling of the third gen Camaro.

    I could buy both a Lincoln Mark VIII LSC and an 04 Lincoln Town Car in my area for ~3500 each. Love the coupe in every way, and I can respect how comfortable cruisers the town cars are. My only reservation is, of course, having RWD in this kind of weather.

    Eric, if I were to put a “guns save lives” sticker on my car, someone in this liberal cesspool would certainly vandalize my car. How do you get by? Also what in the world are manual 4wd hubs. I’ve never even heard of such a thing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *