Friday, July 20, 2018

1977 Chevrolet Corvette LS Swap - Cleopatra

My planning to swap the perfectly good engine and transmission out of my 1977 Corvette reminded me of when my sister-in-law's first marriage was going down the tubes. Rather than work on saving her marriage, she made plans to remodel the kitchen in her home. Not acknowledging something and attempting to divert one's attention away from it is what people in denial do. And my sister-in-law's name should be "Cleopatra", the Queen of Denial.

Much like that kitchen remodel that never happened, they split before any work started, my "LS swap" in my Corvette is not going to happen either. And I'm as disappointed as much as I'm relieved. I'm relieved because I knew the swap would be a time consuming, frustrating, logistical cluster-eff and a half. I'm disappointed for the obvious reasons - an LS swap into our car would metamorphosis it into a screaming, high-performance monster; now that's not going to happen. I'll get to the reasons why in a second.

Unlike my sister-in-law, however, I'm not in denial about what needs to be done on our car first and foremost; the woe begotten rear end trailing arms need to overhauled asap. They're so bad I get the feeling they're going to fall out of the car.

My "LS swap" dreams were happenstance anyway. One of our station vans was totaled recently in a fairly minor accident and corporate insists we junk it. Amazingly, when I asked about it, they granted me permission to be the "disposer" of the vehicle. Wow. I couldn't plate it but I could take possession of it under the auspice that I would junk it after I removed it's luscious 6.0 liter LS2 V-8 engine making 300 horsepower and 370 foot-pounds of torque. I'd grab the transmission too since my little ole '70's vintage turbo 350 probably couldn't handle the pounding of the more than 100 additional pounds of torque the LS2 would be driving through it.

If that big mill could yank this 5000+ pound van around with gusto, imagine what it could do with a car weighing more than 1,500 pounds less. Be still my beating heart.

I had done a considerable amount of research on what I'd need to get the swap done and the things did add up quickly. Keep in mind, though, I'd be getting the engine and transmission for free. If I was to buy them from a junkyard I'd be looking at least $3,000 for them and I'd have no guarantee they'd be any good. Buying them new would be insanely expensive. All I'd have to pay for were various conversion kits and sundry parts and of course, pay my mechanic under the table for his efforts. All in, I figured, if I could do the swap for maybe $2,000, why wouldn't I do it? What's more, with the car in the air I'd also take care of the damn trailing arms.

This was coming together very quickly until I found out that the transmission attached to the van's engine wouldn't fit in my car. For the record, the GM 4L80e transmission that's found in many trucks, including our wrecked station van, will not fit in the transmission tunnel of C3 Corvettes without major modifications to the tunnel. You need the car based 4L60e. They make bell housing adapters so the LS engine could bolt up to my existing transmission but I have cold feet about doing that; it sounds messy and troublesome. It's why LS swaps into cars are best done using LS engines and transmissions that came from cars in the first place. I mean, you can use the 4L80e if you're willing to modify your car but I wasn't willing to do that.

Onto what needs to be done on our car and that's getting the rear end sorted out. It doesn't need the engine swap anyway. Oh, by the way, my sister-in-law's second husband is a bigger loser than the first guy was. However, unlike her first marriage, she has remodeled her kitchen several times since she's been married to him.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

1987 Cadillac Allante - Old Trappings of the Wealthy

The old trappings of the wealthy are fascinating to me since it nearly always appears what rich people spent their money on years ago doesn't look like that much of a big deal today. Case in point, Cadillac's infamous Allante which stickered for nearly $60,000 in 1987. Adjusted for inflation that's more than $135,000 today. For that kind of money, for what is ostensibly nothing more than a stubby, two passenger, mid-'80's, GM E body, one would hope to find gold bars inside the door panels. Our subject is from the first year Cadillac sold these things back in 1987. 

Seems like only yesterday Cadillac came out with the Allante and it's sobering to realize that "yesterday" was more than thirty years ago. Anyway, critics slaughtered these cars because they were, first and foremost, ridiculously overpriced. Something being expensive not necessarily bad but when you take into consideration what you got, more importantly, what you didn't get for your money with the Allante, it was no Mercedes or Jaguar, the value proposition simply wasn't there. This isn't a bad looking car, mind you, but priced twice the price of an Eldorado with half the seats? Doesn't take a rocket scientist to see how and why these things tanked.

A big reason why these cars were so expensive was because Cadillac commissioned the famed Italian coach builder Pinninfarina of Turin, Italy to design and build Allante's handsome body. Ok, fine  - but Cadillac shipped the chassis over there for them to bolt the body onto; then it got shipped back here for Cadillac to install the engine. The hell, right? That engine, at first, was a warmed over HT4100 that had a tad more horsepower and torque than the head gasket eating original mill but it wasn't enough to make a difference in the performance of the 3,700 pound roadster. Contemporary road tests of a 1987 Allante had it scooting from 0-60 in 9.3 seconds which was  on the "fast" side of things for its day but it was about two seconds slower to 60 than the benchmark it was targeted at, the Mercedes Benz 560SL.

Cadillac dropped the first generation Northstar V-8 into the Allante just as they pushed the whole project off a cliff. That big engine solving only one of the Allante's myriad problems; the biggest problem was that GM never figured out how to make the Allante appeal to the buyers they targeted it at originally. In many ways Cadillac still has the same problem today - if a buyer has the means to purchase a very expensive car, why would they buy a Cadillac? Doesn't really matter anyway since in thirty years whatever rich people spend their money on today won't be that impressive. And people wonder why I drive a 24 year old Chevrolet Camaro as a daily driver.

2002 Buick LeSabre - What A Concept

My wife and I are always looking for a cheap car to replace the more troublesome of our two 1996 Camaros and she found a 2002 Buick LeSabre just like this for sale a couple of weeks ago. On my test drive I found that the AC wouldn't blow cold, it needed brakes and tires and there was a weird squeaking sound out of the right rear; probably a wheel bearing. Save for a fairly large dent in the rear quarter panel I didn't think it a bad car - especially with an asking price of $1,900 and 79,000 miles on the odometer. If I could get it for a grand and put a grand into it I think that would have been money well spent. 

Thing is I'd have to drop well more a grand on that right rear quarter panel and that killed the deal for me. I'm all about driving a cheap car but a cheap car that looks like it's been in an accident is not for me. Old? Fine. Little nicks here and there? Fine as well. But a bashed in fender I have no intent on fixing? Sorry. Pass. Kudos to the owner for telling me he slow speed sideswiped a telephone pole in a parking lot. Maybe the squeaking out of the rear was also because of his little accident. I'll never know. 

Anyway, my biggest takeaway about that big old LeSabre was how pleasant a car it was to drive. Yes, I felt like an old man driving it and I've never liked the styling on these big, bulbous "G-body" LeSabres but it had a lot going for it. The 3800 V-6 it had was the same engine that's in my Monte Carlo and both of my Camaros so it wasn't surprising to me at how smooth and powerful it was. The ride was supple without being jarring and wasn't overly floaty. The car felt planted without the high strung "sportiness" of many of today's sedans and was as comfortable and familiar as the family couch. Comfort first and foremost - there's something to be said for that.

The interior was gigantic in ways that LeSabres of yore never were. Great visibility too; something else sorely missing from today's sedans and many cross overs. The seats looked awful but they were supportive much the same way the thrones in my 2006 Chevrolet Tahoe are. Again, comfort first; what a concept. 

A big, comfortable six passenger sedan - to say they don't make 'em like this anymore is an understatement. And I say that running the risk of coming across like a "get off my lawn" old guy and trust me - I ain't that guy but that said, these are really good cars. The Buick LeSabre nameplate, incidentally, was as storied and long lived as any GM model nameplate. First introduced in 1959, General Motors built some sort of LeSabre up until as recently as 2005 and it was always a rung lower on the Buick pricing ladder than either the Electra through 1990 or the Park Avenue through 2012.
Like many a GM design from the last twenty-five years or so, though, these cars have aged as well as a VCR or a typewriter. They're just old and unhip looking whereas a 1962 or 1972 LeSabre, even an '82, are older but they're somehow cool. There's no market for these swoopy front wheel drivers which of course crushes their resale value. Again, that's too bad since these are really good, solid appliances. Sexy? Hardly. Ridiculously good value? Absolutely. That LeSabre I test drove appeared to have been sold less than a week after my test drive; someone able to see past the banged up quarter panel and no doubt got a hearty car that will run for years to come. Good for them.

Monday, July 16, 2018

1982 Buick Regal Grand National - The Perfect Muse

I like 1981-1987 GM "G-body" coupes, known as "A-bodies" through 1980, because I like the way they look and, in my opinion, are the most handsome domestic designs of the 1980's. They're not 1949 Cadillac good looking mind you but as far as domestic '80's designs go, they're pretty darn good. These cars are also relatively light, feature a full perimeter frame, are rear wheel drive and they're easy to work on. The only problem with them, save for 1984-1987 Buick Grand Nationals and the cartoonish GNX, was they were underpowered. Therefore, to me, they're the perfect muse for a "LS swap". That means slipping one the greatest engines GM ever made into one. In doing my research on an "LS swap", I came across this splendid 1982 Buick Regal Grand National that's been rebuilt with an L76  (6.0 liter) "LS-2" V-8. It was bolted together by NextGen Performance of Spencer, Massachusetts.

Wait...a 1982 Grand National? Yup. The "Grand National", known colloquially as the "Grand Nat", was first introduced in 1982 as part of Buick's marketing of their successful 1981 NASCAR season. I know, Buick racing. Odd. They only built 215 of these cars for 1982 and there was no Grand National for 1983 so it's understandable that you may never have known these cars existed. Buick reintroduced the Grand National nameplate for 1984 and built them through 1987. Those 1984-1987 models are the sinister looking, black on black fuel injected turbocharged cars that are perhaps the most sought-after domestic collectible from the 1980's. Come to think of it, they might be the only car worth collecting from the 1980's.

Most of the 215 1982 Grand Nationals didn't have Buick's turbo 3.8 liter V-6 but had instead  Buick's 4.1 liter V-6. Making all of 125 horsepower and 205 pounds of torque, it wasn't much of an upgrade from the run of the mill 110 horse, 190 pound 3.8 but at least it was some sort of engine upgrade to go along with the snazzy paint and graphics. Buick fit the rear end with 3.23 gears to help make the most of the added twist of the 4.1 and they equipped the car with an F41 handling suspension too. By the way, this awesome Buick logo on the rear quarter panels is painted; it's not a sticker. 

Regardless of the modest original performance upgrades, let's be honest, the fact this otherwise ordinary Regal is in the pristine shape it's in is because it's a Grand National and someone had a penchant for keeping it in near showroom condition. Most other GM G bodies have either been long shredded, are not long for this world or have been hot rodded. The majority of the remaining runners out there are quintessential 1980's automotive appliances and they ain't worth squat. 

I shudder to think what this must have cost to do. When you factor in the cost of the car itself, I wouldn't be surprised to find out the rebuild ran upwards of $25,000. Along with the engine, NexGen swapped out the turbo 350 transmission for a modern 4L65E unit, a custom driveshaft had to made as well since they dropped the rear end it came with for a heavy duty Ford 9 inch rear complete with 3.70 gears. Let's not forget about having to swap the gas tank and run new fuel lines since the car came originally with a carburetor. All this adds up. Quickly. 

At the end of the day, you can't always be concerned about what something is going to cost or if, with regards to old cars, what something is going to be worth in the future. Sometimes you just have to do what makes you happy. Although I certainly wouldn't go to the extremes the owner of this lovely car went through having someone build the car for him, I'd much prefer to do the work myself and sub out what I couldn't do, I'm glad that he did and would love to take to take this for a nice long drive. Can't say that I'd ever give it back either. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

2007 Ford Mustang GT - Have Your Cake and Eat it Too

Based on a chassis similar to the one that underpinned the 2000-2006 Lincoln LS, 2002-2005 Ford Thunderbird and 2000-2008 Jaguar S-Type, these all-new for 2005 vintage, "5th generation" Mustangs were a seismic step forward for "pony cars". A much bigger step forward than Ford's 1982 Mustang GT was and that's saying a lot considering the gigantic leap the '82 GT was. These 2005-2008 Mustangs are also one of only a handful of cars made in the last thirty years that I pine for. I believe Ford botched the 2009 refresh but they're stull fine automobiles. Our striped up subject here is a 2007.
Driven back to back, it's hard to believe there's only one model year difference between a 2004 Mustang GT and a 2005. The '04 is so crude and unsophisticated in comparison. They're also the first pony car to blend the refinement of a sports sedan with the styling and real performance of a sports car. Can you have your cake and eat it too? Starting back in 2005 the answer is yes. You most certainly can.

I found our lovely subject here, which is a 2007, at the Chevrolet dealership literally around the corner from home on Greater Cleveland's west side. I'm not one for stripes but they work on this car and contrast nicely with the grey paint and the to-die-for red leather buckets. The Hurst Shifter is an after market ad on. Why someone would do this on a modern vehicle that came standard with a perfectly fine shifter is beyond me but I'm glad they did. It's incredibly cool.

As much as I liked this car, Hurst Shifter and all, I just couldn't take any steps forward with it. My wife liked it too but I couldn't justify $17,000 for an unpractical car this old. Despite having only 23,000 miles on it. A very affordable extended warranty is available but the thing is a 2015 Camaro RS with similar miles on it can run circles around it.
It had been on the lot for a month when I called about it and it's still there more than six weeks later. Here's the listing if you're interested. Swing by the ranch if you take it for a test drive. If you end up buying it give me a little nibble of the cake.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

1968 Cadillac Camper - Let Me Know What The Wife Thinks

I laugh out loud imagining how my wife would react be if I came home one day with this 1968 "Cadillac Camper". For whatever reason, I find this thing compelling even if I've never been camping.

I laugh even harder thinking about how upset she'd be when she found out I dropped $12,500 on it. Perhaps she wouldn't react and instead, call a hospital and have me carted away.

Anyway, this is a camper built by Superior Coach of Lima, Ohio off the back of a heavily reinforced General Motors commercial chassis. GM sold most of their automobile based commercial chassis through Cadillac years ago - explains why so many ambulances and hearses were Cadillac's. The name "Superior" might sound familiar to you - it's been has been associated with all sorts of professional car conversions, most famously limousines, hearses and ambulances, going back more than 100 years.

I say the Superior name has been associated with conversions since it's been bantered about over the decades. Superior Coach was once an independent company that was bought out a couple of times by large conglomerates. Apparently, there was some equity in the name since it's stuck around as long as it has. Not so apparent was the market for car-based campers like our '68 here. I've seen pickup trucks with campers in them but never a car based camper before.

There's not much "Cadillac" in our camper aside from the front end. Things back here look pretty rudimentary even for 1968.

It's not so much that things had to have been done on the cheap with this thing as much as the extra weight of a small room off the back of a car had to be considered. This camper weighs in at a rim busting 7440 pounds. 

The weight explains the truck-based rims on a massive Dana 70 series rear end with stump pulling 3.73 gears. 

Can only imagine the gas mileage this thing does not get given its weight, gearing, lack of aerodynamics and this new for 1968 Cadillac 472 V-8. Owner claims it has a new camshaft, lifters and timing chain. Bet it does 0-60 in 25 seconds.

For your $12,500 you get also get three battery systems, one car battery and two deep cycle batteries, a fridge with a freezer, a 3 burner stove, 20-gallon pressurized water tank, 30-gallon waste water tank, bathroom with toilet, 2 gas lights (whatever that means), a furnace and stereo with cassette and CB. All the comforts of home on the road circa 1968.

Somehow it sleeps five. 

Crank windows on a '68 Cadillac? Power windows were standard on all 1968 Cadillacs but then again remember this isn't a Cadillac so much as a GM commercial chassis conversion. Crank windows saved cost as well as weight. Same for the lack of power adjustment on these luscious buckets. 

I don't know what price point this makes sense or less of a joke but $12,500 certainly isn't it. Especially on something that literally needs everything. Here's the listing. Let me know what the wife thinks of it. 

Thursday, July 5, 2018

2015 Mini Cooper S - Window Shopping

Last week's melodrama surrounding the "older" of our two 1996 Chevrolet Camaro's had my wife and me on the brink of shopping for something to replace it.  What makes shopping for a new car challenging is that I don't want just something but something special. The only way to do that and be really happy with our purchase is for us to drive every vehicle we're interested in. It's a time-consuming process but when the time comes we'll only have to worry about color and options on what we want. However, walking into dealerships to only take test drives is easier said than done. Today's blog is as much about a couple of 2015 Mini Coopers as it is about how difficult it is to simply test drive cars with no intention of actually buying them.
With our budget at no more than $20,000, hoping to spend less, and wanting no vehicle with more than 30,000 miles on it, again, preferably less, our options are fairly limited. Especially if I want something "special"; my wife claims she'd be happy with something that was just reliable. Her tune changed after I got her behind the wheel of this "volcanic orange" Mini Cooper.
I've heard great things about Mini's since BMW took them over from The Rover Group back in 2000. Prior to that, I didn't take them seriously as real cars. I thought they were ugly, weird and they reeked of that awful Brit arrogance. Incidentally, Mini's have been around since 1959 and are as commonplace "over there" as bad teeth.

I'd never considered one of these before last weekend believing they were too expensive. Strangely enough, they popped up through my filters during one of my myriad searches. Mini Cooper's are pricey - when they're new. Their resale value is not what you'd think it would be especially considering they're defacto  BMW's. This very nicely equipped 2015 Cooper with just 20,000 miles on it has an asking price of $14,999. A comparable 2015 V-6 Mustang is going to be a at least a grand more if not two grand more; same for a Camaro. Dodge Challenger's are even more. Why? Not sure. When this little car was new it stickered for north of $35,000. Kid you not, mate.

On paper, this car makes no sense what-so-ever. It's so small, so cute, so, so...girlie. It has a three-cylinder engine too making it seem all the more golf cart like to me. This was going to be a short test drive. So I thought.

Out on a fairly busy I-480 south of downtown Cleveland you'd never know this very substantial feeling little car only had a three-cylinder engine - this thing can really go. The engine is turbocharged and at 1.5 liters this "three" is cylinder for cylinder not a "small" motor. Still, three cylinders. What's more, it handled like a slot car and had brakes to die for. Despite lacking a power seat, it was very comfortable and the interior was luxurious. Quite a car. Again, despite being a three cylinder.

As good as the orange Cooper was, my wife loved the color, this silver white Cooper "S" was even better. Thanks to a turbocharged 2.0 liter inline four-cylinder engine and a 17-inch wheel and tire package, it was as screaming a high-performance car as I've ever driven. Granted, I was doing suburban driving and was not on a race track but around town where most driving is done, you'd be hard-pressed to want for more than what a Mini Cooper S has to offer. If that sounds like cheesy ad copy so be it; this is a great car. And my wife was over the top in love with it as well. Score.

After the second test drive, my wife didn't drive the S in the interest of saving time, we then faced the challenge of getting out of the dealership. What ensured was a near hour long beat down with our very accommodating but super aggressive sales kid. Remember that my wife and I had absolutely no plans what-so-ever to buy a car last weekend and our jaunt to the Mini dealership was nothing more than research based. It also sucked up some time on a shoot-me-hot Saturday afternoon before we had dinner and went to the movies. Back and forth and back and forth he went between us and his sales manager carving a hundred bucks off here, fifty there to the point where the terms were ridiculously good. To make matters worse we had no rebuttal other than "we need to sleep on it". I almost pulled the trigger on it, it's not like we don't need a new car for crying out loud but this would bring my fleet to six, but my cooler head prevailed.

Bottom line is the only time car dealerships will let you test a car is if you fain actual interest in buying something. Otherwise you're a time suck not to mention a liability. Test drives are, though, an essential part of the car buying process and I recommend you take the car out for as long as you want and don't be concerned about keeping the salesperson cooped up in the back seat for extended periods of time. It's part of their job.

We eventually did get out of there and we could see how frustrated our sales kid and his sales manager were with us. Sorry, guys. We had a plate of enchiladas and a movie to get to. If anything, when the time does come, we are going to buy a 2015 vintage Mini Cooper S hopefully in volcanic orange. Oh, and my phone just went off again - it's the Mini dealership wondering if we're still interested in the car. We most certainly are but not right now.