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Thread: Classic American piece: old vs. new

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Jul 2006
    The Land of The Edentulites

    Classic American piece: old vs. new

    (This is my latest editorial for the UK publication, Classic American; Pete helped inspire the topic!)

    The beauty of the burnout
    By Eric Peters
    For Classic American

    One thing I really like about old muscle cars is the freedom to do a burnout.

    I got to talking about that the other day with an old friend who is also into old Pontiacs. He has a '79 10th Anniversary Trans-Am with the 400, 4-speed combo (last of the line; Pontiac discontinued the big 400 V-8 after 1979).

    We both agreed that there is something immensely gratifying, on a basic level (maybe the caveman level) about bringing up the revs, sidestepping the clutch being in full charge of four hundred pounds-feet-plus of tire-melting torque. There's an element of real danger involved as the back end first slides violently left, then snaps back right as the tires fight for grip - the driver countersteering while modulating the throttle to keep the car in line. You must be brave to keep your foot in it. And you're in the now if you do - balancing delicately on the knife edge of controllability.

    Surprising things can and do happen; every trip down the quarter-mile's an adventure.

    This kind of thing took real skill - which made it a challenge. Which made mastery of the art a real achievement and something to be proud of. It took an expert driver to hook up an old school muscle car with a big-inch V-8, skinny tires no computer-assisted electronics and extract the performance of which it was capable - without killing himself in the process. (Here I'm reminded of legendary stunt man Evel Kneivel; the guy did 100 yard jumps on a no-suspension Hardley Ableson; that took either serious balls or reckless abandon, as well as incredible skill. These kids on their purpose-built Motocrossers doing "extreme" stuff have no idea how genuinely extreme things were in Evel's day.)

    Now, there are some incredibly potent new cars being built today. I recently spent some seat time in a new Corvette Z-06 and the thing will do tricks that full-on race cars could not do when I was in high school (1980s).

    But with the old stuff, the visceral feel of performance was (and is) much more immediate - and intimate. You are riding The Beast; not merely a passive passenger along for the ride.

    The other thing Pete (my Trans-Am buddy) and I got to talking about was the quirkiness of older stuff - even when it was new.

    Today's cars are incredibly uniform; the paint's nearly always perfect, for instance - and you never encounter weird disparities in body panel alignment, fit and finish. Back "in the day," in contrast, it was not at all uncommon to find two examples of the same brand-new car that were in a number of ways very different from one another. The night shift at the plant might have had less conscientious line workers - so one car got put together a bit less precisely; or you'd see orange peel in the paint of one - but not another. Maybe the guy spraying the second car had a hangover; today, new cars are painted by machines - not men. The machines never get tired, hung over - or hostile. So the paint jobs are almost always show quality perfect - every time.

    And believe it or not, some otherwise identical cars back in the day would run better than others, too. It sucked, of course, if you got a "bad one" - and it was a happy day if yours was a "good one"- but the lottery-like nature of the new car business in those days made for variety, good times and some interesting stories.

    Today, old car restorers go to elaborate lengths to document - and even reproduce - the eccentricities of the factory. That will likely never be necessary with modern cars when they become old cars - because build standards have tightened up immensely and there's virtually no slop in the line anymore. Standardization has been honed to the nth degree. It has given us vastly superior quality control, reliability and longevity that would have been unimaginable in the '70s - in a word, far better machines.

    But when it comes to personality, individuality - soul, for want of a better term - there is nothing to compare with sliding behind the wheel of something put together in a more slapdash (and long-gone) world.

    Every time I light the back wheels up, I'm taken back to Then. It's a journey well worth taking - and one you'll never forget!


  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2007

    Re: Classic American piece: old vs. new


    Very well said, could not have said it better myself and thanks for the kind words.

    These old muscle cars are time pieces from an era never to be repeated. The newer muscle cars are so refined that they have lost their identity. I remember watching a few years back Alice Cooper (who apparently loves old muscle cars) in a TV show (can't remember what it was called) about muscle cars where he said the reason why he loved his old SCJ Mustang was that it was a man's car, it had lots of power, made all the right noises, that you really exerted some effort when you were driving the car, and that even shifting the car you felt like you were trying to keep it under control (I am paraphrasing what Alice Cooper said since its been a while since I saw the TV show).

    I am just glad I have the opportunity to own one of these masterpieces of yesteryear. The '79 W72 T/A was the last of the old large displacement muscle cars. I have an '82 Trans Am though only 3 years newer, is the first of the newer computer controlled muscle cars, though it is a fun car to drive it just does not have the same fun factor or real driving experience of the '79 T/A.

  3. #3
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2007

    Re: Classic American piece: old vs. new

    Here's a link to the article with pictures on the main page:

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