Sunday, September 27, 2015

So This Is What Joy Looks Like

An easily recognizable example of a car with a big V8 stuffed under its hood is Pontiac’s GTO, maybe the first factory hot rod, produced in 1964.  This leads to a matter of conflict between those who lust for the sedate family sedan front-loaded with a truck engine: Those who prefer the 1964 style with the horizontal headlights, and those who prefer the 1965 model with the vertically stacked headlights.  Is there a debate among hot rod heads as to which is better?  No, not really.  It’s probably all in my head.  Which give me an excuse to say that there actually is at least something in my head.

This bold move by Pontiac kicked off the era of the hot rod from the factories in the mid- to late-sixties.  But I digress.  Let me take a moment to catch my breath and get back on track.

Pontiac took a modest, Sunday-go-to-church family car, the Tempest, ingloriously yanked the totally inoffensive straight six, and dropped in a pumped-up version of their 389 cubic inch truck engine.  To add that little bit of extra scare-the-crap-out-of-the-church-ladies, Pontiac slapped on a set of three 2-barrel Holley carburetors, affectionately calling it a Six Pack.  Impractical, sure, but the perfect completion of rip-snort attitude that changed the direction of car manufacturing.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

So This is Where the Hot-Rodding Comes In

The Porsche 944 had all these pieces to make a great car.  Most of the pieces.  What it needed was an injection of horsepower.  And what better way to give a car a boost of horsepower than to yank out the wheezy, anemic four cylinder and drop in a thumping, fire-breathing V8?  Hell, I can’t think of one.

This idea was not original, not even with the 944.  Dropping a big, brawny V8 into a small car has been the basis in philosophy for hot rodding culture since the forties and fifties, when there was an abundance of unwanted cars from the twenties and thirties, and an abundance of cheap, powerful V8 engines to drop into them.

Friday, July 5, 2013

To Power Or Not To Power

Ok, so you have to think of that in German, and I think it loses something in translation.  But it doesn’t matter, because with the 944, the Porsche guys got smart, sort of.  After what must have been a long research into the mysterious use of water to cool an engine, they built a really nifty all-aluminum V8 that displaced five litres and put out over 300 horsepower.

And was this the engine they put in their equally nifty, lightweight, perfectly balanced 944?  No.

These “geniuses” thought it would be nifty to cut the V8 in half, right down the middle, and drop it into the engine compartment of the 944.  So what you had, and get ready for some more ahead-of-the-curve features here, was a 2.5 litre inline four cylinder, aluminum block, aluminum head, overhead cam, and electronic fuel injection with tuned-length intake runners.

As great as all of that sounds, and for a car in the early-eighties this was awesome, it put out all of 150 hp.  If that sounds like a lot, consider that your Mom’s Honda Civic puts out about that much power with a smaller engine.

So what you had was a great-looking car that could out-handle anything on the road.  And although it liked to get up and run, like any Porsche does, it just didn’t have enough oomph to, you know, dust off that punk in the Mazda RX-7 that was just so annoying to look at.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

If You Pronounce It “Porsh”, Do You Also Say “Mer-Say-ds”?

For 1983, these features meant that the 944 was ahead of its time by maybe 10-15 years.  Disc brakes at all four wheels were not available on the Mustang until 1994.  Only recently has Chevrolet started using a transaxle on the Corvette to help distribute weight evenly.

However, for all of these features that made the 944 such a great car, it was burdened with a feature that was probably its best and worst asset at the same time.

Porsche’s 924 model, the car previous to the 944, suffered with a lame-ass, anemic four cylinder engine made by Audi.  I can imagine the conversation that took place.  Two Porsche engineers are sitting at the drawing table.

The one with the gray hair says, “This 944 of which you speak looks good, but we don’t have an inline four cylinder engine.  And what does water-cooled mean?”

The balding engineer picks up the phone and says, “My brother-in-law, he works for Audi.  Let me see what they have.”

Then the Audi guy, who is probably sipping on a latte, says, “I think I saw some old four bangers in the junk lot out back.  I’ll let you have them for nothing.”

Monday, May 27, 2013


Let’s talk about the first hot rod that I bought on my own.  In 1993, I was very excited about autocrossing. What I wanted was a small, lightweight car that was well-suited for autocrossing.  What I came up with was a 1983 Porsche 944.

Ok, I know what you’re thinking: On what planet is a 944 considered a hot rod?  That’s a valid question, and we’ll get into that later.  For the moment, let’s take a look at the car that I bought in 1993.

In 1983, Porsche released the 944 model, which was a modified version of their 924 model, and based somewhat on the racing versions of that car, with flared fenders and other subtle changes in the bodywork.  The 944 featured four wheel disc brakes, electronic fuel injection, and a five-speed transaxle which gave the car a 50%-50% front-to-rear weight distribution.  How would this setup produce on the autocross?  In a word: perfect.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Early Cars

Early on I had a couple of hand-me-down cars, including a 1970-something Mercury Monarch test vehicle, which my Dad was able to get his hands on because he was an engineer at Ford.  A perk?  Maybe.  Read on.

This particular Mercury Monarch, or poor man’s limousine, had a 351 Windsor engine and an independent front suspension, among other unusual features that still remain a mystery to me.  That car was fun to drive because of its great combination of power and comfort.  More importantly, the look of confusion in the eyes of the guys behind the wheels of hot-rodded Chevelles and Novas when I could stay door-to-door with them off the light was just priceless.

Another car was a 1977 LTD, a tank of a car with a 460.  It should have been a good combination, which it probably was, but the car sat for a long time and the rear main oil seal dried out, and it got to be too much of a chore to carry a pan everywhere I went so I could pour the oil back into it.  That’s all I’m going to say about that.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mission Statement, or Admission of Confusion Statement

My purpose for this blog evolved from something where I thought I would make or sell hot rod parts, to writing articles about hot rods and cool cars that I came across at car shows or ... wherever.

However, since I have not yet worked up the nerve to approach someone about writing an article about their car, I have decided to start with my own hot rod projects.  And, as you have probably already guessed, neither got very far before they were aborted for various reasons, which is guy code for lack of funds.  Not a very inspiring story, but there it is.

So let’s start with this online magazine, which might also become the finish of this online magazine, with my first real hot rod.