Sunday, August 13, 2017

1972 Dodge Charger - Careful What You Wish For

I go back and forth between wanting to have been part of the generation that could have bought cars like this 1972 Dodge Charger brand new and feeling sorry for those that could. While I'm indifferent towards these big, swoopy, coke bottle body 1971-1974 Chargers, I applaud its devil may care form over function design. Seriously. Look at that blind spot. Insane. There were better looking cars out there in the early 1970's from General Motors that no doubt Chrysler was eyeballing when they came up with this design but this car highlights the fact that today's perfect if Prosaic automobile designs can't hold a candle to what Detroit came up with 45-60 years ago.

My twenty year old son is pretty crazy about old cars and we share the same sentiment about being born in the wrong era. He rolls his eyes when I tell him, though, that these were actually terrible cars; he thinks I'm just being cynical. In his almost five years of driving experience he's never had to experience a breakdown out on the road or even cold weather starting. Turn the key and go is all he's ever known. And that's saying an awful lot considering the 1996 Camaro he drives is even older than he is. And oh how we scoffed at electronic engine controls and fuel injection back in the day.

Charger was all new for 1971 and rode on an updated version of Chrysler's intermediate B body platform that had been their full size platform between 1962 and 1964. The best looking and most valuable Chargers are the 1968-1969 models which gained a lot of fame from the Dukes of Hazzard TV show. Dodge mucked up the design for 1970 before they jumped the shark completely in 1971 with this thing. Side note, on the Dukes of Hazzard, when the availability of 1968-1969 Dodge Chargers became scarce, producers of the show started using 1970 Chargers with trim pieces salvaged from wrecked 1968-1969 Chargers.

The engines were carry for 1971 but things changed for 1972 when Chrysler increased the bore on the venerable 383 pushing overall capacity out to 400 cubic inches. Blame ever increasing federal regulations. Ordered to reduce tail pipe pollutants, The Big Three dropped compression. To off set the drop in power that came with the drop in compression, they increased the size of their engines. That did nothing for gas mileage of course but at least buyers couldn't tell that their new car had less go than their old car. At least for a while. As the '70's droned on it became increasingly hard for The Big Three to hide the fact that engine performance was not what it used to be.


No doubt my son would swoon over this baby blue Charger (horrible color) and go on and on about how boring today's cars are. I look at these cars now and wonder how people used them as daily drivers. They're so big for being big's sake (this is a "mid size" car too), handle and brake horribly, fall apart just sitting there and inhale gas worse than today's biggest SUV's. No wonder the first energy crisis in October of 1973 was such an eye opener but what did American's know? What they deserved were better cars and most of them would have readily signed on the doted line for a vehicle that had less style and was more reliable and got better mileage. Careful what you wish for.

I forget where I found our subject here but it's for sale for around $35,000. Hardee. Har-har. Kid you not. That's a lot of money for an American car of this vintage that's not a Corvette and for anything made after 1967. What's more, it needs a power train swap and a suspension upgrade just to make it drive-able. I'd keep it stock looking but modernize everything else about it. How much would that run? Probably about $35,000. Now I'm feeling sorry for my bank account.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

1973 Ferrari 246 GTS - Grazie, Papa

If you've ever wondered what it would be like to date, marry or even have just a friendship with a celebrity, own an old sports car. The amount of attention celebrities and flashy cars get is absurd. And after five years of ownership of a 1977 Chevrolet Corvette I can tell you that owning one in the long haul is not all it's cracked up to be. What people don't see is the relentless heart ache that that they can foster not to mention being scary expensive to maintain and repair. One more thing, you have to completely comfortable with being the center of attention. It's that way with our Corvette and I can only imagine that our experience is taken to an extreme when you own a 1973 Ferrari 246 GTS.

People go "ga-ga" over the appearance of cars like this without so much as a thought to how well or not it performs. Much like the way they lose the marbles over seeing a celebrity regardless of whether said celebrity is famous for anything really tangible or not. Now, with regards to this Ferrari, you can't blame people for going nuts. I mean, look at this thing. It makes our Corvette look like a shrinking wall flower. In my opinion it doesn't get much better than this. Again, I make the comparison between our Corvette and this Ferrari because if we get an inordinate amount of attention whenever we take our car out for a spin I can only imagine what driving this would be like. 

Then again this car should garner that much more attention than we get in our car given that this car is on the market for nearly $400,000. We paid roughly 2% of that, maybe, for our Corvette five years ago. I bet we drive our Corvette a whole lot more than the owner of this car would too; understandable given that a kicked up rock nicking the hood will drive resale value down tens of thousands.  

So, what is a Ferrari 246 GTS anyway? Well, to make a long story short, they were the first "mid-engined" Ferrari's. "Mid engine" meaning their engines were placed literally in the middle of the car. Having the engine in the middle of the car is said to be the best way to distribute weight evenly; that bodes well for performance. What's more, they were the first Ferrari's to be powered by something other than a V-12 engine. In the case of our 246 here that's a 195 horsepower 2.4 liter double over head cam V-6 behind the passenger seat. The legendary founder of Ferrari, Enzo Ferrari, incidentally, was not a fan. 

He was so much not the fan at first that he wouldn't allow them to be called "Ferrari's". He relegated them them to the discount rack and ordered them festooned with just engine nomenclature and the name "Dino". Dino was the nickname for his son Alfredo who was a lead engineer on these cars and who also pioneered it's V-6 engine.  

After the Dino's most successful launch in 1967, when they were updated with a larger engine for 1969, the elder Ferrari allowed them to be called "Ferrari's". Grazie, Papa. 

Only about 3,500 of these cars were produced between 1969 and 1973 and that, combined with their fantastic good looks and the fact it's a Ferrari, drives their meteoric asking prices. The best part is that these cars are actually terrific drivers and are said to be the best over all performing Ferrari's of all time.

High praise considering the near perfection of the driving experience of modern Ferrari's. Even if 195 horsepower propelling just 3225 pounds puts this car in line with the power to weight ratio of our Corvette. Sacrilege. Indeed. 

In a world where people can be "Insta-Famous" and social media stars with having done little to be so, an automobile like the Ferrari 246 GTS can get very similar amounts of attention. The difference is, of course, this Ferarri deserves the attention it gets because not only is it stupefyingly gorgeous from every angle, it's, again, a magnificent performance car. By contrast, our Corvette, like social media stars, is nothing but famous. Trust me on that one. 

Maintaining a Ferrari, just like a Corvette to a great degree, is not for the faint of heart. You can't just take one of these to Midas for an oil change and a brake job. Much like you really can't take your celebrity spouse or friend to a McDonald's for dinner. As far as getting attention goes, well, given that most people have no idea what this car is, my wife and I will stick with our Corvette. It doesn't perform nearly as well but if it gets the same amount of "oh wow's" from people, not that we bought it for that, we'll stick with it and save hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Ciao bella. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Need More Proof The Sedan Is Doomed?

Looks like the current Chevrolet Impala will be the last one which is a shame considering what an excellent automobile it is. Ugly as hell but very capable. 

I hate to say "I told you so", but, the sedan as we know it is doomed. If you need more proof of that here ya go. General Motors has announced they are in talks with the UAW to close under performing plants that produce them. Sedans on the chopping include the Chevrolet Volt, Sonic and Impala, Buick Lacrosse, Cadillac XTS and CT6. This means that, save for a smattering of sedans, that General Motors is all but getting out of the sedan business rendering them to all but boutique status.

The current Detroit-Hammtrack assembly plant first opened in 1985.

How "off" are the sales of sedans? Based on production figures from one of the plants targeted for closure, GM’s Hamtramck plant in Detroit, they've produced just 35,000 automobiles in the first half of 2017; down 32 percent over the same time period last year. Typically that plant produces between 200,000 and 300,000 sedans a year.

Sedans can't compete with do it all cross overs like the Honda CRV.  

It's not as if "Detroit" is having a bad year either. The problem is folks are just not buying "four doors" anymore. "Four door" sales are down as much as they are because of the meteoric rise in popularity of SUV's; specifically what are referred to as crossovers or "CUV's". These Swiss Army Knife vehicles clobber sedans at practicality and they're perceived to be two door "cool" too. Quite the one-two punch.

My family and I have had Chevrolet Tahoes as our primary family vehicle for more than a decade now. We'll never own a sedan again.  

I've never been a fan of sedans so I ain't crying about their imminent demise. Good riddance. And while I've never thought of myself as a visionary with regards to anything let alone something as difficult to forecast as the public's taste in automobiles but...if the brake shoe fits I'll wear it. 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

1979 Cadillac Coupe DeVille Diesel - Jeezle Peet

For as long as I can remember I've wanted a 1979 Cadillac Coupe DeVille. Preferably black with a red leather interior; the same color scheme that my father's '79 Sedan DeVille had. No. It ain't for sentimental reasons. Dad and I were not close; I just loved that car. Well, seek and you shall receive. Or at least find. Perhaps 40 minutes east of my office in terminally humid Cleveland Ohio I found this lovely black on red '79 with a retina searing asking price of $13,000!

Ah, jeezle peet, she's a DIESEL. Damn it. The owner boasts in his Craigslist ad that this car is one of only 200 Coupe DeVilles made that year with the diesel engine. I wouldn't brag about that, sir. And asking $13,000 for this car, despite its painstakingly wonderful condition otherwise, is hilarious. I mean, c'mon man. Really? Even if it had the "right" engine, the 425 cubic inch gas V-8, 13 grand is all the money in the world for it.
If you're not familiar with how bad a deal this is, here's the scoop. In the mid 1970's General Motors commissioned their Oldsmobile division to build a series of diesel fuel powered engines. They made  two V-8's and a V-6 derived from one of the V-8's. Starting literally with their tried and true 350 cubic inch gasoline fired "Rocket V-8", Oldsmobile did little more than convert it to a diesel burner rather than go with a clean sheet design. What could go wrong?

Although there are many people who swear by these things, they had a reputation for blowing head gaskets. Head gaskets keep motor oil from mixing with antifreeze in an engine. If they do mix, the engine can over heat and the heads and block can warp. The worst that can happen is the engine can seize. What happens most times is the engine loses compression - on a diesel engine that loses compression most of the time they won't even turnover since diesel engines work by compressing the fuel air mixture so highly that the mixture literally explodes. Gas engines can run with blown head gaskets - just not very well. Or for long until they overheat.

The reason the head gaskets "blew" was because Oldsmobile didn't use head bolts that were strong enough to withstand the high compression of a diesel engine. Head bolts literally stretched to the point that they were useless.

On top of that, these early diesel powered cars suffered from watery and contaminated diesel fuels. There was a reason why diesel fuel back then was so cheap. It's because it was crap. Today's diesel fuels and engines are remarkably refined compared to what they were years ago but the PR damage was done. People of certain vintage, like myself, stay far away from these things. The owner of this car claims 35 miles per gallon and I have no reason to doubt him. My dad's '79 DeVille with the 425 struggled to get 15. That was an improvement over his '72 that got 3 miles per gallon around town. Kid you not.

There were drivability issues with the Olds diesel engines too. With 120 net horsepower and 220 foot pounds of torque, you can just imagine how bog slow this 4200 pound car is. Not that the 180 horsepower 425 engine that came standard was that much of a powerhouse either but it was better than the diesels.

In my opinion the best Cadillac made between 1945 and 1980, the '79 DeVille, in particular the Coupe, was the best of GM's 1977 full size downsizing program as well. And if this car wasn't so stratospherically priced might be worth a second look. But priced such and needing an engine swap would push the overall price of this car/project well past the point that it makes any sense.

Would be fun to contemplate what we'd swap into this car and keep it looking otherwise stock. Here's the listing. Let me know what you do with it.

Jeezle or Jezzul Pete is a Cincinnati localism that has spread throughout the Ohio and Western Pennsylvania regions. Predominately Catholic areas, it's thought the term is a combination of  Jesus Christ and St. Peter. Saying such is also thought to take The Lord's name is lesser vain.

Friday, July 14, 2017

1996 Pontiac Firebird Formula - Against Our Better Judgment

This 1996 Firebird Formula, or is it Formula Firebird?, popped up on my Facebook wall a couple of weeks ago. That happens when you window shop on as much as I do. Amazing how well those algorithms work - you search for one type of car and then Facebook suggests similar choices for you. Pretty cool if not just slightly big brother like. Anyway, with an asking price of just $4995 and with nary 80,000 on it's 21 year old odometer it was worth taking a closer look at. And if the stars aligned perhaps my wife and I would take it home. Long shot but worth a look. Even if we both knew it was against our better judgment.

As much of a '93-'02 Camaro fan as I am I have to admit that I've never been that crazy about it's corporate cousin. Especially the Trans Ams. Over styled to the point of being cartoon like, they've never rowed my boat. However, at just 5 grand, this LT-1 powered, six speed little monster knocked me sideways. My wife was smitten by it too. 

Not as goofy looking as the Trans Am, the Formula version of the Firebird has always been quite the performance value. Our rust free specimen here sharing all of the performance goodness of a T/A without the tackiness. Or I should say less tackiness. This Formula is all T/A except for some bolted on baubles and bits. 

All T/A except for inside I should say. Our Formula here sharing the base Firebirds fairly drab interior. And the oh-so-'90's Tupperware bowl inspired world 'o plastic dash has not aged well. The biggest problem with this car, though, was that it lacked a power driver's. My wife and I aren't the tallest people in the world so a power seat that can jack us up is a must. Especially for my wife who might be 5 foot 2. You sit low in these cars and without a power seat, you sit really, really low. This car does have what I refer to as "GM rockers"; a handle on the lower right side of the driver's side bucket that enables the seat to pivot up and down on the its lower rear. It does provide some lift but not nearly enough for my wife to see comfortably over the dash. And with the hood swooping down and out of sight like it does, she really had a hard time getting comfortable. Bummer. So did I but not nearly as much as she did. 

My wife also struggled with this very close ratio six speed manual transmission. While she had little trouble with the heavy to operate as a leg press clutch, she balked and stalled out on the test drive because the notches on this shifter are hard to find. For whatever reason I took to it like a duck in water but I could empathize with her about how tiny the passages are in the gate. Maybe I found it easier to operate because this transmission is meant to be shifted aggressively? Reverse is all the way to the right and down. And right next to 6th. Yikes.

Allegedly a one owner car, someone paid dearly for that custom dual exhaust complete with headers. It sounded delightfully mean. No idea if it provided additional thrust or not but it sounded great. The "SERVICE ENGINE SOON" light, the precursor to the little check engine beacon, was on. Perhaps it was because of the exhaust. Damn early OBD II's are so finicky. Word of caution - never buy a car with the check engine light on. You just don't know what you might be getting yourself into and very few states if any will let a car pass an emissions test if the check engine or service engine soon light is on.

We couldn't come to terms on what we felt was a fair trade in value for the "older" of our two 1996 V-6 Camaros and our older son is emotionally attached to our 1977 Corvette that I thought of trading for this too. So, the pipe dream of an LT-1 powered pony in our garage faded out quickly. I've searched for it again recently and, not that we would seriously consider it, but it was gone. Some things just ain't meant to be. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

1972 Ford Ranchero - Which Came First? The Chicken or the Egg?

Like the age old question about the chicken and the egg and which came first, the answer to the question as to whether or not the Ford Ranchero and its competitor, the Chevrolet El Camino, were trucks or cars is just as confounding. For the record, these things are classified as trucks although we all know that they're two door, 2-3 passenger station wagons with the rear roof taken off. Our subject is a 1972 Ford Ranchero.

Combining all the creature comforts of a car with the utility of a truck makes all the sense in the world, doesn't it? So what went wrong? Well, the biggest problem with these vehicles was they didn't appeal to pickup truck buyers nor did they appeal to fans of two door cars. Sporty or otherwise. What they were left with was potential buyers who liked these "coupe utilities" for what they were. Holy niche marketing, Batman. Amazing that these things stuck around off and on for thirty years. Chrysler, incidentally, got into the action in the early '80's with a truck bedded variation of their K-car based Charger they called the Dodge Rampage. It came and went very quickly.

The idea of a utility based car was nothing new when Ford came out with the first Ranchero, which means "rancher" in Spanish, in 1957. As far back as the days of the Model T, Ford sold some sort of utility based vehicle that could be best described as a pickup car. It's an apt description given that most of the car was a pickup truck bed. Just like our delightfully whimsical '72 here. Thing is, though, these vehicles were not meant to whimsical but rather to be taken seriously as "hybrids" for the lack of a better term. I never understood what these things were and, our 1972 Ranchero the rarest of exceptions, never cared for them. I like this 1972 Ranchero for the wonton styling exercise that I find it to be vs whatever Ford portended it to be.

They'd probably have sold better had they used the entire passenger compartment from the wagons these are based on but then the bed would've been that much shorter. Putting a bed this long onto a four door wagon would mean these pickup cars would've been as ungainly looking as one of today's four door, extended cab/long bed pickups. Sorry, not a fan but then again I grew up 10 minutes from Kennedy Airport. The hell do I know?

There is something viscerally appealing about the 1972 Ford Ranchero, though. Our subject here is the mid model "GT" model that was a performance vehicle of some sort. I'm as confused looking at this thing as I am looking at one of today's over powered, sporty looking cross over SUV's. I sorta/kinda like them but I'm not sure why. Can you be all things to all people all the time? These days apparently so although years ago that was certainly not the case. That massive 429 was somewhat emasculated by 1972 but it could still smoke the rear tire or tires with little to no provocation. Party up front and all business in the back.

Of all of the "coupe utilities" that sprang up between Ford and GM between 1957 and 1987, the '72 Rancheros are perhaps the only ones that I'd find a place for in my Jay Leno inspired, multi floored classic car garage. I love this "boxed off" hexagon of a grill that has been described as a fish mouth. Spotters note, this front end was exclusive to 1972 Rancheros and Torinos.

Experts agree that it was two different types of birds that created the chicken so, sorry to ruin a conundrum that may have been bugging you for years but the chicken came first. Much like the Ranchero came first too. It also left the market first. Ford pulling the plug on their "pickup car" or "coupe utility" after the 1979 model year. GM produced the El Camino and GMC Sprint through 1987. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

1962 Chevrolet Chevy II - Gertie

What with the amount of posts about "the dearly departed" that I see on my wall at times Facebook should change its name to "Deathbook". I swear I've seen some posts where the body is still warm and someone is posting that so and so has passed away. I find it disrespectful to the deceased and more often than not nothing more than a grab for attention by the person making the post.

Recently, though, I saw one such post on Facebook about a high school classmate who died suddenly and it moved me deeply. Let's call him "Tom". Tom and I were not friends and dare I say we didn't like each other but his death was a shocking reminder of my own mortality.

I didn't comment on the melodramatic Facebook post about his death but many of our classmates did. All of the posts were glowing of course and some were sweetly sentimental. One of our classmates made note of how they remembered back in high school riding around in his little blue car he called "Gertrude", "Gertie" for short. "Gertie" was a 1962 Chevy II or what some refer to as a "box Nova".

All new for 1962, the Chevy II was GM's answer to Ford's similar Falcon that had crushed the infamous rear engine Corvair at the box office. The Chevy II was as conventional as the Corvair was not and the public's reaction to it was extremely positive; Chevrolet sold more than 325,000 of them in 1962.

I rode in "Gertie" once and thought the car horrific and terminably uncool. Cramped and dangerously slow, I found no charm in its awkward, disproportionate styling. I still don't. It looked like exactly what it was -  a shrunken Impala without any of the Impala's excellent dynamics. I've never understood why shrinking a car back then diminished its drivability. Anyway, Tom struggled with the "three on the tree" and complained mightily about his parents not buying him a car with an automatic. It lacked power steering and power brakes too. Gertie was a handful just like Tom.

Gertie was as slow as she was because she was powered by a rather unique power plant - a Chevrolet built 153 cubic inch 4 cylinder engine making just 90 gross horsepower. The first four cylinder engine produced by GM in over thirty years at the time, it was little more than a Chevrolet 230 cubic inch in line six with two cylinders lobbed off. While it was lauded for its off idle torque responsiveness and good fuel economy, it was chastised for the amount of vibration it made. Chopping two cylinders off an inherently smooth running in line six makes for quite the paint shaker of an engine. Contemporary reviews of the Chevy II recommended buyers opt for the 194 cubic inch in line six instead. I recall this little engine's drone and it was not pleasant. No V-8 was available on 1962 or 1963 Chevy II's.

Incidentally, this engine is not to be confused with the Pontiac 301 V-8 sourced "Iron Duke" of very similar capacity that debuted in 1977. 

Again, the "II" was little more than a shrunken Impala and much like the downsized GM cars of the late 1970's, GM stuck with what they knew (and worked) when they designed it. You couldn't blame them seeing how the shrunken Ford Galaxie Ford peddled as the Falcon sold vs the Corvair.

Tom had no idea what he was driving nor did he care. All he did care about was that he had a car albeit one that he didn't care for. I remember him looking at me patronizingly as some sort of goofball for taking any interest in it. Nothing personal, Tom. That's the thing about being a "car person"; we take interest in just about anything and not just in things that we like. Well, you know what they say - what goes around comes around. 

In the week's following Tom's death I came to find he was embroiled in some sort of white collar crime and he killed himself rather than face either the consequences of his alleged actions. I feel for the guy because what he must have been going through must have been awful since he was convinced offing himself was a viable solution. Although, thank you Deathbook, you'd never know he had a care in the world when you look at his Facebook photos he posted of himself in the days just prior to his passing.

I have no idea whatever became of Gertie.