We just love the feeling of pulling up to a stop sign and looking at the car in the next lane, and just by the car he is driving you know for sure you could smoke him if you threw down. You know for sure simply because you have more muscle. After all, that is why you drive a muscle car. Right?
You don’t have to actually race. It is enough to simply know you would win if you did race. It is a feeling of power, domination, strength, glory. It boosts your testosterone and makes your blood flow quicker.
But it is not just the muscle car, it is the old-school muscle car. Let us explain: Lets pretend you are driving a 1966 Pontiac GTO Convertible with the 389 ci 3×2 barrel V8, and you pull up to a stop sign and look out to see some young punk driving a brand new 2015 Dodge Challenger with the 392 ci Hemi V8. You have to admit that his ride is pretty awesome for a new car, but it just isn’t a classic yet.
The stat sheets tell you everything and really bring things into perspective. Your 389 V8 delivers 380 horse power while his 392 produces 375 horses. So we are pretty evenly matched in both size and power.
Then you consider age. His Challenger hasn’t yet had it’s first oil change while your car just celebrated it’s 49th birthday! That’s almost a half a century of technological advances his car has over yours. With all the new technologies he must have a tremendous advantage.
But then you look just one more time at the stat sheet. The 2015 dodge Challenger promises it can do 0-60 in 6.6 seconds but the 49 year old stat sheet for the 1966 GTO claims 0-60 in 6.5 seconds! Unbelievable! Even at half-a-century you still have him out gunned.
Give the devil his due, his car does look good. Of course the Challenger MUST be painted black and that makes it look real good during the day light hours, but not so much at night. On the other hand my favorite flavor for the 66 GTO was the Montero Red which was O.K. during the day but just awesome after dark.
On the other hand, it can not be just looks and stats. There must be more. So we went looking for what that more might be. What does it say about you if you are driving a brand new Challenger? Well, it pretty much tells the world that you are a responsible citizen with good money management skills because you qualified for a loan to buy a really nice muscle car. That is good. It also says that you care about both your image and your ride. Also good.
But if you drive a 1966 GTO it also says you care about your ride, but it also hints at the fact that you are a die-hard gear head. To work on any car made in 2015 you need a computer and a degree from M.I.T. To work on that ’66 you needed a good set of sockets, a gap gauge, and a timing light. It was different. It is different! So back to the stop sign. If the GTO breaks down half way through the quarter mile you are going to get out, pop the hood, and go to work. If the Challenger bites the dust the driver is going to call Triple-A.
Imagine if you will hunting through an automotive junk yard until you find a pile of dented and faded scrap metal that use to be a 1966 GTO but now the engine has been parted out so they let you have the heap for a hundred bucks if you move it yourself. After a year of banging out the dents, and smoothing the body putty, and sanding and priming you are ready to deal with the engine.
You shop around until you are lucky enough to find a used 389 V8. It takes a while to install and test the engine and you are on a first name basis with the guys at the junk yard because you are there almost every day looking for a hub cap, or a knob for the radio, or that metal frame that goes around the headlight…
Finally the car is done, the paint is dry, you have polished her up like a Superbowl trophy, and the engine is purring. Then comes the day you first take it out on the town. You immediately notice the envious look of other drivers as they see your awesome GTO. Younger drivers with a “What IS that?” look on their face. Older drivers with the dreamy fond memory look.
Soon the first muscle car approaches, pulls up along side of you, but then fades back away. Others also make an appearance but none dare make a challenge. Eventually though you come to a stop sign and that foolish 2015 Challenger pulls up next to you and revs it’s engine.
Of course there are two down sides to owning the older vehicle. The first is simple. The 2015 is under warranty. The older car is not. The other down side is parts. If you need anything for a current year popular make/model you should be able to walk into any parts retailer and pick it up or order it for overnight delivery.
Getting parts for the older classic is not quite as easy. The parts, or at least most of them, are not manufactured any more so they are simply not available at Auto Zone or Pep Boys. You have to go looking for them. You cultivate friends who also drive old classic muscle cars and sometimes swap parts with them. You haunt junk yards and often buy parts when they are available, not just when you need them.
In fact, it is not uncommon for an owner of one of these classics to have three or four more of the same make/model/year in the back yard rusting away just to serve as a parts warehouse. Engine parts are necessary but don’t forget that they no longer make the body parts either.
There are still problems even if you can find the parts. A rebuilt alternator should be just as good as a brand new one, or nearly as good. On the other hand a part like a fan belt is different. They don’t manufacture that size any more so even if you find a brand new one still in the package, it had been sitting on a dusty shelf drying out for forty years! How much life could it still have in it?
Another thing you might consider is gas mileage. That is where the magic of the new car is really going to come in. 1968 was the year when Congress passed the first laws requiring American Auto manufacturers to improve the gas mileage new cars got. Also, just about that same time, is when leaded gasoline was fazed out for unleaded.
There is no question about it our big muscle cars and the giant luxury cars of the sixties did waste a lot of fossil fuel, and we really did not need so much lead in the exhaust clogging up our breathing air. So we look at both of these things as good progress. However, remember we talked about the stat sheets and wondering about that half-century of technological advances? Well, most of them went to making the engines more fuel efficient to meet the new, and constantly changing federal guidelines. So there is just no way around it, the 2015 Challenger is going to be able to log twice the MPG as the 1966 GTO.
As far as the unleaded gas, that is a bit more complicated and requires the following explanation: Valve covers on engines used to be made out of steel. The engine block was also steel. The valve would open and close around 500 times a minute slamming the cover closed every time. Occasionally a small chip would occur in either the valve cover or the engine block. Wherever there was a chip there would be a loss of compression and thus a loss of power. Lead, in the gas, would float around most of it going out the exhaust polluting the atmosphere, but some microscopic pieces of the lead would fall into and fill the cracks repairing them. Yea!
But we needed to get rid of the lead. Clever engineers discovered that if you make the valve covers out of tungsten, and seat the engine block with tungsten rings where the valve covers are going to hit, then they can take the beating without chipping. No chips, no loss of compression, no need for lead. Eventually, of course, the leaded gas was fazed out of the market.
When you go out and buy your used engine then you have to find out then if it has the tungsten valve covers or not. This all happened more than thirty-five years ago so even the used engine you buy will probably already be converted. If it is not you will have two choices. The first is an expensive refitting of the engine with the tungsten parts. The other option is to buy a gas additive that allows you to pour lead into unleaded gas. If you go with the second option you will be paying for that additive every time you buy gas for as long as you own the car.
So owning that old-school muscle car may not be for everyone. It takes time. It is a commitment. It costs money. But it keeps the glory days of the American muscle car alive!