The Truth About Cars » classic The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 14 Apr 2014 16:57:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » classic Piston Slap: When to Exit the Alfa? Wed, 12 Mar 2014 12:13:01 +0000

Mike writes:


About five years ago I bought a 1982 Alfa GTV6 from a kid who was in over his head. I paid exactly $2,000 for the car, drove it home, fixed up the ignition system, suspension, various other bits, and drove it on weekends or whenever the traffic in Austin wasn’t too atrocious. I enjoyed the hell out of it, rusting fender wells and kick plates notwithstanding. The engine is amazingly, shockingly, damn near perfect. For all of the rust and decay elsewhere, the drivetrain was well cared for, and ran like a top.

With the help of the AlfaBB guys, I got the car into shape. It spent almost two years in a DIY restoration that involved removing all rust, straightening the body, and paint. Of course it still needs work; it is, afterall, an Alfa. I installed some later Recaro mesh head seats, cleaned up the interior, rewired schizy electrics, etc. In terms of show car score, maybe a 4/10. But in terms of every other GTV6 I’ve ever seen on the road? It’s an 8/10.

Trouble is, I’ve had two daughters since I bought the car. Finding time to just replace the fuel filter takes a month of planning. I’m consumed by anxiety whenever I drive it, worried that if/when it does develop a real problem, I simply won’t have the time to fix it. Let’s not even get into money (aside for the curmudgeons – we are doing well, in that we save more than we spend, own our home, and have no debt). I love this car. I love the way driving it makes me feel. But I don’t think it’s for me anymore.

Here are three scenarios, but I’m open to more.

  1. I keep the car, but rarely drive it. The value of the GTV6 is slowly rising, and based on conversations at a recent cars & coffee, I could expect the car to be worth quite a bit more than I’ve put into it (about $8,000 so far) over the next few years. This idea makes me sad, though. The car is meant to be driven.
  2. I sell it. I have no idea what to ask. Probably $8,000-8,500 based on recent transactions. Then in a few years, when the kids are a little older and I have more mad-money savings, I buy an S2000 or something along those lines.
  3. This is my favorite… I trade it for something of more or less the same value, but more reliable, more Japanese (probably), and equally fun and frivolous. Maybe even get a little cash for mods and restoration on top of the deal. Something I could use to get back into autocross would be ideal. Obvious answer – Miata. I sorely miss my ’94 Integra GSR to this day, too.

What say the commentariat?

Sajeev answers:

All three scenarios are do-able and very logical.  With your current finances and a super cool car like that, well, you can’t go wrong.  I would combine 1 and 2, driving the Alfa on occasion until the right buyer shows up.  Said buyer needs to pay a premium (i.e. not a fire sale auction price) and love it like a true classic car enthusiast.  Think of yourself as one of those folks who cares for rescue dogs. So to speak.

Or perhaps a combination of 1 and 3? Nothing wrong with having a toy, especially when it’s less of a time/money drain on your life.

No matter, I wouldn’t consider option #2 by itself.  That implies the Alfa is something you should sell for a price, no matter what the future life of the vehicle shall be.  That’s a mistake, because anyone who restores a classic car understands the value of their hard work…and understands that they are merely a temporary owner of a piece of history.  A rolling historical artifact that’s more than the sum of its parts, and more than just one person’s pride.  So it demands to be treated more than a mere commodity that can be sold anywhere!

Give it a fighting chance, take the time to find the right owner for the Alfa.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Piston Slap: Getting Smart about Barn Finds! Mon, 25 Nov 2013 13:23:31 +0000

Justin writes:


As a classic car lover for the past few years, I’m always scouring Craigslist for 60′s cars and watching YouTube videos on automotive archaeology. It’s a lifetime dream to fix something special and drive it everyday. This being said, you can guess my reaction to hear that there is an abandoned yet 100% complete Sunbeam Tiger on one of my relative’s property in some shed.

Without boring you, the story goes that the old man that owned it payed storage “rent” to my relative to stow it away for his son or nephew (my family owns a few garages and houses on the same street). He eventually passed and the son/nephew refused to pay for the storage. There it sits, 3 to 4 years since he refused to pay up and disappeared.

I cant stop thinking about it.

What would you do? I want that damn car but nobody thinks its worth hiring a lawyer over the title. I’m also fairly certain my relatives will probably want more than I can offer for it, even if they eventually get the title somehow. I’ve tried to do some research on getting a title for it but it doesn’t seem to apply to this situation.

It’s strange how things work, mostly frustrating but still strange. I needed to share this with someone else before I explode.

Sajeev answers:

If you have the spare time–which you shall if you restore a Tiger–you can certainly research how a Lien Sale in your state works. When I had trouble getting my UK-spec Ford Sierra legal at my local Texas DMV, the manager came out to help. She was very helpful, to the point that information overload made me give up and secure a title company’s assistance…but my point about working without a lawyer still stands!

I wouldn’t be surprised if someone in our Best and Brightest applied for a mechanic’s lien, too. Probably a similar process.

Once you do the homework, you’re ready to get the Tiger titled. So what’s up with your family not hooking you up with an antique car they seemingly care less about? If you do the homework, perhaps you’ll be rewarded with that damn heap for cheap. If not, perhaps one party is being unreasonable and you should walk away. Hopefully not, but it wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened in a family…especially as the holidays roll around.

No matter, good luck in your Lien Sale. Hope it won’t drive you insane and the Tiger won’t drive you to the poor house.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: Because Nobody Lies on Craigslist! Wed, 07 Aug 2013 12:07:54 +0000

Walt writes:

Mr. Mehta,

I am seriously considering purchasing a 1965 Mustang Fastback from a private seller on craigslist. He owes $3000 on the vehicle. I myself will have to take out a loan to pay for said car. The title to the car is held by the same institution that will be lending me the money. The situation is somewhat further complicated because this institution has no local branches to sit down with a representative and the current payer on the car to do the necessary paperwork. Compounding the issue is the fact that I live in a different state, 200 miles from the car’s location.

Bottom line, I would like to know how to go about this to achieve these objectives:

– My money goes to the rightful person or institution
– I get the proper paperwork to take possession of the vehicle
– The seller is legally compelled and bound to sign the title over to me when I have paid my loan
– I minimize my trips to and from the car’s location

This is my first ever car purchase (worry not, I own another reliable car) so please let me know if I have my facts wrong about the process. Provided these circumstances are not completely heinous and indicative of a potentially bad situation for me, I would like to move forward with my purchase.

Sajeev answers:

OMG…did I really just read that?

Everything here sounds like a unique twist on the typical craigslist scam. If you can’t get a trustworthy, third-party local to sort out this complete Charlie Foxtrot, run like hell. I see nothing worth pursuing in your letter…and not just because I think Fox Mustangs are better than any Pony Car from the 1960s.

And FWIW, needing a loan to buy a classic money pit is a horrible idea. And that’s putting it mildly! If you can’t afford it now, how on earth can you afford the repairs that will come sooner rather than later?  Everything can and will go bad, even the new parts you put on could be defective…it happens all the time!

Come on, Son! Even if the craigslist seller is on the level, you have to pass this one up until your savings account matches your passion for antique vehicles.

(Offline Update from Walt: In the end I decided to pass on the car.  Too much money and too much of a hassle for what was being offered.  I read TTAC daily and enjoy your articles, so keep up the good work!) 


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Piston Slap: Fix my Bro-Ham, Sanjeev! Tue, 30 Apr 2013 13:48:15 +0000

Mark writes:

Hello Sanjeev,

I have a problem and hope you can help me. My Cadillac Brougham with the 307 V8 smells like gas under the hood. This is intermittent and the last time it was in the shop the mechanic found no leaks under the car or around the carb.

I did some internet searching and have heard all kinds of things including I probably used the wrong kind of gas. Apparently cars like mine can’t burn premium fuel completely and there might be residual gas left in the engine. My other cars use premium so I could have pumped 91 octane by mistake. Could that be it?

If it was a leak why wouldn’t it smell all the time?

I’m frustrated to the point where chancing it is an option so let me ask you this if you can’t fix it… if it is a small leak what’s the worst that can happen? I mean doesn’t modern reformulated gasoline have such a high flash point that I needn’t worry, except for the smell? Gas smell doesn’t really bother me.

If I took a fire extinguisher around with me could I “catch” a small fire under the hood in time to avoid damaging my paint? Are there warning signs, like smoke, before flames start to actually melt things? Does fire extinguisher residue clean up pretty easily?

Many thanks,

SANJEEV answers:

Mark: I’m searching for a clever–yet benign–way to spell your name wrong, but I got nothing.  Plus, you got a machine that’s right up my Super Classy Alley, so I’ll proudly bestow my Sajeev Magic** on that sweet, sweet ‘Lac.

Old cars do stupid things because they are…wait for it…old. And you are freaking out with eleventy billion superfluous questions because of it: Fire extinguisher residue concerns?  Really???

Stay calm: it’s all good, son! Leaks happen anywhere with old rubber and gaskets, especially with today’s ethanol-blend fuel added to the mix. (Literally.) If your carb’s never been rebuilt from the ground up, now’s the time.  I betcha an internal seal is leaking, pouring fuel down the motor’s throat when it isn’t required.  Perhaps it’s when the motor is cooling down (adding space between the seal’s gaps) and when the bowl is at a certain fill level.  Or not.  But whatever the internal fail, it’s only gonna get worse from here.

I had the same problem on an older EFI car, the fuel injectors were leaking internally and the smell was horrid. You can’t see an internal leak, but you sure-as-shit can smell it. So let’s address everything. Are there any rubber fuel lines under the hood?  Replace them now, they are cheap too.  Did ya install a fancy external glass fuel filter with a removable cartridge? Throw it away and get a conventional sealed filter. Don’t know a good carburetor tech in your area?  Look harder, because now is the time.

About your Premium fuel problem, yes you are wrong for using it, but only your checking account is pissed at you. Premium fuel won’t damage an engine or leave unburned deposits above and significantly beyond a normal used motor. If you’re really concerned, you can run Seafoam in the intake and fuel system followed by an Italian Tune Up to really clean things out. After you have someone blow apart the carb and rebuild it.


**Patent pending. Or not.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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BMW Re-Releases 73 Year Old Gearbox Wed, 17 Apr 2013 15:27:42 +0000

As the owner of a geriatric, but otherwise well maintained car, you know that getting parts can be a bitch. Depending on company policy, ex-factory supply of parts can cease after 12, or, if you are the lucky customer of a more dedicated maker, 15 years after the end of regular production.  BMW now goes against that trend and offers parts for a car that went out of style 73 years ago.

Manufactured between 1936 and 1940, the BMW 328 ranked as a dream sports car in its days and remained a dream for most. With a total run of just 464 units, it was a rarity even during its production years. A substantial number is still around today. Most suffered from the unavailability of the original Hurth gearbox, which led to the use of synchro gearboxes from other manufacturers and the committing of a cardinal sin amongst collectors: A departure from the true original.

73 years after production of the 328 stopped,  BMW Classic and supplier ZF Friedrichshafen AG laid up a small production run of 55 gearboxes. According to BMW Classic spokesman Stefan Behr, the units are not remanufactured, but new: “What’s special – apart from the technical complexity – is the fact that the parts are approved by FIVA and FIA. Cars with the unit may start in races sanctioned by these bodies,” Behr said.

Through optimized materials and a reinforced bearing for the second gear, the “new-old” gearbox is even better than the original, but it complies faithfully with the factory status in the later production period of the BMW 328. The first prototypes of the new-old gearbox already demonstrated their reliability in the 2012 Mille Miglia, the world’s best-known classic car race.

The gearbox joins a growing catalog of some 40,000 parts maintained by BMW Classic as replacements for the many BMW collector’s items out there. Other makers pay homage to heritage in glossy brochures and glitzy museums, BMW actually keeps history alive.

BMW does not only have an open ear for the needs of owners of their historic cars, it also is receptive to questions of TTAC’s commentariat. Asked a few times what the gearbox would cost, and countering the rumor spread by Cjmadura that its $50,000 , Herr Behr revealed that the price of the gearbox is “19,748.33 EUR, in Germany, including VAT.”  That would translate to $25,755.34, or only half of what Cjmadura figured.

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Name That Car: BMW What??? Mon, 17 Sep 2012 13:00:05 +0000

Air conditioning, Automatic, Leather Seats, and what passes as true luxury for those Northern types who are used to keeping an old European car.  A rear defroster! This age old beauty will be sold this week at a nearby auction in Atlanta.

Name it. Year, make, model, prior owner, their phone number… anything that would help me buy it when I’m bidding against 80+ dealers.  I need all the help I can get.

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New or Used: THE PRICE IS WRONG! Fri, 27 Jan 2012 12:02:37 +0000

Bing writes:

I am a financially stable 27 year old engineer living in the Bay Area, where it seems BMWs and Audis are about as pedestrian as Camrys.  I’ve been getting the car itch, but I don’t like the idea of getting an entry level luxury car like everyone else.

Almost by accident, I stumbled upon the idea of buying a early 2000s Aston Martin DB7 Vantage Volante, which can be had in the low to mid $40s.  Aside from the car being gorgeous and powerful, I get to pretend that I’m not just another boring Silicon Valley yuppie (which, believe me, I am) while not being overly flashy (it’s old enough to have a “classic car” vibe).  Financially, I would also like to think it has steadied out in depreciation, and if I sell it a few years from now, I may be able to recoup more of my investment compared to getting a much newer car.  Finally, there’s something attractive about the idea of having your dream car while you’re young, rather than waiting until you’re 65.  So the question is: is this a stupid idea?

1: Am I wrong about the depreciation?  Is this car likely to keep falling in value?  Will there be a demand for it in a few years?

2: Will this be too impractical of a car to drive on a regular basis?  I live less than 2 miles from work so the low mpg is less of an issue.  Will maintenance eat me alive?

3: Is this car too much for me to handle?  My current car is a Ford Focus (which I won on the Price is Right, incidentally) I’d be getting a Touchtronic auto, which should be relatively tame, right?

4: Should I get a normal car now and wait another few years for the DB9 (which is just stunning) to depreciate to a similar price level?  If I got the DB7 now, I may still end up secretly yearning for the DB9.

This is very unfamiliar territory here, so any thoughts and suggestions would be greatly appreciated.  Thanks!

Steve answers:

Let’s answer your questions point by point…

1: Am I wrong about the depreciation?  Is this car likely to keep falling in value? Will there be a demand for it in a few years?

Depreciation is always a big question mark. But that’s not so much of a make or break issue if you want an exotic. The real question is whether you fully understand the potential costs involved and the complete maintenance history on the vehicle.

If you don’t understand both, skip the exotic.

2: Will this be too impractical of a car to drive on a regular basis?  I live less than 2 miles from work so the low mpg is less of an issue.  Will maintenance eat me alive?

That gives me caution. Less than 2 miles means that your car is not going to fully warm up by the time you get to your business. You can make up for this by going on a nice pleasurable weekend ride. But a couple thousand small drives over four years would likely have an impact on your engine.

3: Is this car too much for me to handle?  My current car is a Ford Focus (which I won on the Price is Right, incidentally).  I’d be getting a Touchtronic auto, which should be relatively tame, right?

No, it may be a good fit for your desires. By the way, have you price about maintenance and known issues for this vehicle? The four figured price may be ‘over or under’ your expectations.

4: Should I get a normal car now and wait another few years for the DB9 (which is just stunning) to depreciate to a similar price level?  If I got the DB7 now, I may still end up secretly yearning for the DB9.

Your commute gives me a bit of pause. If you have the means or are willing to pay the premium, then go for it. But I would personally opt against driving the two miles, and just walk whenever it’s practicable.

Sajeev answers:

I literally LOL’d at the word “investment” for a 10-ish year old Aston Martin. You are not looking at this right, not by a long shot. Or, put in terms of your Focus, “The Price is Wrong!” Yes, you can make money on anything if you buy it “low” enough. And Steve did a good job explaining the pitfalls of owning an exotic vehicle. All of which makes the word “investment” a bit of a massive lie.

What Steve forgot to mention is that you’ll be a tool for owning a flashy, 100% Not A Classic, not a current body style Exotic with mediocre performance. If someone in a new V6 Mustang challenges your stunt and floss…well, you see where I’m going with this. And your snotty yuppie friends will agree, if one of them has the balls to call you out. Or say it behind your back.

That’s because you have to really like a DB7 to own it. And as the inherently cooler DB9s and V8 Vantages drop in price, so does the DB7.  This isn’t a Ford GT, it still has another good decade or so before the depreciation curve hits rock bottom. Then again, if you buy it for pennies at a police auction…

So keep the Focus if you get a DB7.  And be ready to spend a lot of money on upkeep, none of which you will get back when you sell it for the car you really want: the DB9. Or sell the Focus, get a normal sports car (cough, Corvette) and deal with the lack of prestige while owning a real performance vehicle without the excessive maintenance costs. More to the point, LS7-FTW.


Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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New or Used: Cefiro! Thu, 10 Nov 2011 18:17:04 +0000


TTAC commentator bumpy ii writes:

It’s definitely going to be used in this case. Anyway, I’m looking to pick up a fun weekend car in another 3-4 years. I like to plan ahead. Here’s what I want:

* 4 doors
* manual transmission
* normally aspirated inline 6
* (the kicker) curb weight under 3,000 pounds
* preferably built after the Reagan administration (most everyone had their emissions stuff sorted out by then)

From what I can tell, this narrows the list down to 4 cars (in order of preference):

*Nissan R32 Skyline
*Nissan A31 Cefiro
*M-B 190E 2.6
*BMW E30 325i

Am I leaving anything off? Any particular reason to favor or discount one versus another? Budget: I dunno, up to $10k if necessary. I’m in Virginia, and I’m willing to wait until the Nissans hit the DOT import exemption.

Sajeev Answers:

Why narrow your focus to I-6 motors? They are a bit slow by modern standards and are pricey to make more palatable, unless they are fitted with factory turbos. Oh, and they tend to wiggle like a wiener dog when they overheat, eating head gaskets and warping (aluminum) heads in the process. While I understand the premise of your quandary, all of these vintage racers will get their asses handed to them by a Fox Mustang (or LTD, since you want four-doors) with a full Griggs suspension, late model brakes with ABS and a souped up Windsor motor. Hell you don’t even wanna pick a fight with a 265hp, 6-speed (auto) Camry SE with a few chassis mods. There’s no better bitch slap than Toyota’s best Q-ship, especially from a 70mph dig: the 6 to 3 downshift is just nuts in that car!

And to be a real jerk, let me also tell you what 10 grand will buy in a tastefully modified 4th-gen Camaro or Firebird. They are the most underrated piece of “cheap” iron out there, even with the awful interior and terrible reputation from their collective owners. Buy one, twist the key and be better than 90% of the vehicles on the planet, even box stock.

That said, I am importing a brown Ford Sierra Ghia from the UK, so perhaps I need to encourage you. With the Sierra in mind, the only one from my list would be the Cefiro. If you are gonna be spanked by a new Camry, why not do it with class and style?

Hot Rod Griggs Fox Body LTD, son. Think about it.

Steve answers:

Inline 6? My good God man! What on Earth makes you want to drive an engine from the middle ages? Do you have some type of unique fetish for old Celica Supras and E-Classes?

Actually, I think a late 80′s MB W124 four door would actually be quite close with the weight and engine specs… but why? I’m sorry but I just have no love for the inline 6′s other than their supposed ease of maintenance (which is not nearly the entire equation when it comes to these old engines).

I would think about it some more. Years, many years. Maybe to the point of near death. If an inline 6 is a must have then just get yourself a nice old Merc or BMW for about 2 to 3k and just play with it for a while. There is no good reason to blow $10k on a proverbial Reagan era spec sheet.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: The Automotive “Farb” Edition Thu, 16 Jun 2011 01:06:41 +0000 Photos courtesy of Cars In Depth

Serious Civil War reenactors have a term for folks who don’t measure up to those activists’ high standards for authenticity. They call them “farbs”, as in “far be it from me to criticize another enactor but if they want to be authentic they should be wearing hand stitched woolen underwear that hasn’t been changed or washed for two months, not BVDs”. Every hobby has its one-uppers. One of the things that I like about car culture is that it’s a mosaic of subcultures. Diversity can be a good thing and I’m a big tent car enthusiast. You may be a trackday fiend who would never slam a lowrider or restore a Messerchmitt microcar, but you can appreciate the folks who would and you can find common ground with them in your shared love of things automotive. Still, none of us like folks who put on airs. Every hobby, though, has its snobs.

We all love our cars and can bore even other car guys with minutia about our favorite marques and models, but at a car show with prewar Packards, don’t you think that it’s a bit pretentious to put “historical’ license plates on a Chrysler K-car?

Every June, the Veteran Car Club of America, the Packard Motor Car Foundation and the Motor City Packards car club sponsor the Cars ‘R’ Stars car show at the Packard Proving Grounds north of Detroit. The theme for this year’s show was “the classic beauty of wood in auto styling”. There was a nice variety of marques represented in addition to the expected Packards, including woodies built by Buick, Ford, Chrysler and Chevrolet.

Someone in the organizing committee must have a sense of humor because in addition to all the maple, ash and basswood carpentry and marquetry present, parked right near impressive classic Chrysler Town & Country and very rare Ford Sportsman woody convertibles, were a couple of mid 1980s Chrysler LeBaron Town & Country convertibles replete with wood grain vinyl and fake wood body cladding. Far be it from me to criticize another car buff, but while I agree that with a total of only 1,105 LeBaron T&C convertibles made from 1983 to 1986 the car is collectible, parking a not-so-well-disguised K-car near all those genuinely classic wood trimmed and bodied cars seemed, well, out of place. It was more of a symbol of Detroit’s decline over the past 3 decades, how it traded on former glories and ersatz luxuries, fake wood, coach lights and opera windows, than of how the beauty of wood is used in automotive styling. In those real woodies, wood is used as an integral part of the design and sometimes even the structure of the cars’ bodies. The LeBaron is not a bad looking car, but its “wood” is clearly an afterthought. It has more in common with plastic clad Pontiacs than with maple framed Mercurys.

Which of these cars’ owners has to worry less about termites?

I’m a kibbitzer, so when I went to take a photo of one of the K-car “woodies”, I joked to the owner that I was surprised that they didn’t make him park at the end, like the members of the Yellow Mustang Registry accept owners of tangerine orange Mustangs into their club but make them park at the end of the row at car shows and meets. I must need work on my comedic delivery because the guy took offense and got indignant. He said that the show organizers told him to park there and that I was “prejudiced”.

Okay, I’m not without my biases. Still, considering that at that car show there were a couple of real 1940-42 Lincoln Continentals, a Continental Mark II, about a half dozen real Oldsmobile 442s, and many other genuinely rare and collectible cars (including quite possibly a car body or two that was actually made by Ray Dietrich’s LeBaron) the K-cars looked out of place. For sure they were in show condition, no doubt the apple of their owners’ eyes, but their placement was quite possibly a joke by the show organizers that this LeBaron T&C owner didn’t get.

Note the period correct mid 1980s style installation of the weatherstripping on this historical American motor vehicle

That sentiment of mine was reinforced when I stepped to the rear of the car and saw that it was wearing “historical” license plates. Talk about pretension and putting on airs! I don’t think that I saw a single other car at that show that had modern day historical plates. There were plenty of cars at the show with vintage license plates, since Michigan now allows owners of old cars to register them with old plates to complete the vintage look. There were also a few cars wearing vintage “historic vehicle”, either period correct or indicating that they’ve been in the hobby for many decades. Though many, perhaps most, of the cars at the Cars ‘R’ Stars show were indeed historic, it was only the one K-car owner that felt he had to prove that his car was significant enough to be recognized so by today’s bureaucrats in Lansing. The other LeBaron owner apparently didn’t find the same need for validation.

Vintage car buffs spare no detail. Z/28 restorers are careful not to extend racing stripes beyond the rear spoiler. Mustang owners make sure that the right grease pencil markings from the factory are under their hoods. No historical plates on this Town & Country but it appears that this owner, like the other LeBaron enthusiast, made sure that the trunk weatherstripping was also exactly as it left the factory.

I’m not an automotive snob. I don’t even like it when jerks who need to be validated with their Lambos and Porsches rightly get called douchebags. Like I said before, the LeBaron Town & Country convertible is at least arguably collectible. As an automotive history buff that has gone out of my way to take photos of a cherry ’91 New Yorker Fifth Avenue to commemorate the final revision of the platform that not only saved Chrysler but spawned almost infinite iterations like these LeBarons and the Caravan/Voyager minivans, I can say that the car is worthy of historic note. It clearly has a community of serious enthusiasts if there were barely more than a thousand made and two of them show up at a single car show. I’m sure that this K-car owner treasures his car as much as the folks who own those Lincolns. A show dedicated to “the classic beauty of wood in auto styling” doesn’t necessarily have to be restricted the beauty of real wood. Still, I would have been more comfortable if either the show organizers had set aside an area separate from the real woodies for K-car LeBarons, Ford Country Squires, “woody” AMC pacers, Family Trucksters and other examples of vinyl applique automotive art.

An original Chrysler Town & Country convertible. Not quite the same thing, is it?

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, which features 3D graphics and outstanding writers to give a realistic perspective on cars and car culture.

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Curbside Classic Special: 1959 Edsel “Eco-Boost” Wed, 08 Jun 2011 23:47:42 +0000

Editor’s note: Ladies and gentlemen, for one night only, it’s the return of Curbside Classics to TTAC. You can catch Paul Niedermeyer’s work (along with contributions from an ever expanding crew of TTAC commenters and more) on a regular basis at the new Curbside Classics site. But this piece? It just had to be on TTAC.

There’s a big difference between creating and re-creating. The proto-hot rodders of yore scoured the junk yards for new solutions, not to replicate. The competition was as much in creativity as it was pure speed. Much of that has given way to endless replication, whether it’s a perfect restoration or a 1000 hp resto-mod. But creative juices are irrepressible, and they were certainly at work here. Want a daily driver Edsel, but not its 1950′s fuel-gulping ways? The solution was just a $200 junkyard engine away. But it had to be imagined first. Now that’s creativity, and a harbinger of the future. Which is exactly what the old car hobby needs: a new model, like this “Eco-Boost” Edsel.


If there was room for a third CC logomobile at the top of our homepage, this would be it. But not just because it’s an Edsel, although daily drivers of that brand are hardly common even here in Havana, Oregon. It’s because this car actually manages to bridge the two extremes the two cars at the top of our page embody: The 1950 hot-rod Caddy represents the glorious past, but it’s hardly the thing for a run to The Laughing Planet cafe, where I found the Edsel. The 1980 Datsun 210 is a highly-practical daily driver, but a mundane living cockroach.


This Edsel is some of both, in a brilliant and refreshingly unlikely combination. In a reversal of the traditional engine swapping protocol, its heavy inefficient V8 was tossed overboard like the proverbial anchor it is, and a 1988 Ford 2.3 liter turbo four has taken up residence behind the distinctive anatomically almost-correct grille. The result is the best of both worlds: a highly unique but practical daily driver. What more could a lover of old cars ask for?


For the record, this is not the sort of mega-bucks green-washing display that appear at SEMA; this Edsel’s owner, Randall, built it on a very tight budget, and has done all the work himself. The car was found in Portland in reasonable shape, and the body got treated to a low-bucks paint job. After driving eighties FWD turbo-four Chrysler products, he wanted something more distinctive, and its hard to beat an Edsel for that. He was also hooked on a turbo-four’s unique potential for economy and performance, so the two had their unlikely encounter here.


We’re not going to recite the whole Edsel bucket-of-tears story verse-by-verse here; most of you know it well enough. Ford’s ambitious attempt to create five full divisions to go mano-a-mano against GM fell apart in 1958 when the gaudy Edsel arrived in the midst of a nasty recession. 1958 Edsels came in two distinct sizes; the smaller Pacer shared a Ford body shell, and the larger Corsair a Mercury shell.


For 1959, Edsels were decidedly toned down, and all of them shared a slightly lengthened Ford body shell. One could even get a Pacer with the 232 cubic inch six, as a delete option. But the standard engine was the old Y-block 292 cubic incher, a heavy and notoriously inefficient lumpen-element. Together with the cast-iron housing Fordomatic, there was probably close to a half ton of iron sitting over the front wheels.


And a notoriously inefficient half ton. A vintage Popular Mechanics review of a ’59 Edsel yielded 12.1 mpg (20 L/100km) on the highway and 8.5 mpg (28 L/100km) in city driving. Randall says the Eco-boost Edsel can get 24 mpg (9.8 L) in gentle driving, and 20 mpg (12 L) comes quite readily. That’s a solid 100% improvement. Or more accurately, a 50% reduction in fuel used.

Speaking of weight, this Pacer sedan was listed as weighing some 3800 lbs, which probably translates to about 4000 real-world pounds. I don’t have ready access to what a 2.3 turbo four and T-5 manual weighs, but I’m guessing about half, if not less. That made the Edsel’s sit pointed skyward. Randall’s solution:

The front was still sitting up too high so I used an oxy acetylene torch to selectively add many thousands of calories into the bottom three coils on each side. I carefully wrapped the rest of the springs with water soaked rags to help isolate heat transfer. The car is now perfectly level.

That, and lots of other details comes from one of his blog posts at eco-modder, where he describes the journey of his Edsel’s inner transformation. A reader had sent me the link some time ago, and I tried vainly to contact him, but I knew it was just a matter of time before I ran into it.


As soon as he started it, the sound was very familiar indeed: I bought a Thunderbird Turbo-Coupe in 1983, the first year for this engine. And its strengths and vices were well known to me. I could easily hit 30 mpg in the aerodynamic T-Bird. So the Edsel’s 24 mpg seems perfectly credible.

The Edsel probably weighs about 3300-3500 lbs now, a bit more than the T-Bird, but not much. But then maximum performance was not the goal here, although the Edsel is undoubtedly brisker than in its V8 incarnation. The 292 was rated at 200 gross hp, which equates to some 165 net hp. The 1988 turbo four was rated at 190 (net) hp, although it’s not quite making all of that here.


Randall purchased the engine and transmission for $200, but not all the electronics came with it. So it’s currently being controlled by a 1984 computer, and the intercooler is still missing (for now). It probably makes closer to the 145-155 hp of the earlier versions. A mega-squirt set-up is high on the wish list, but it runs quite fine in the meantime.


The Edsel’s 3.11 rear axle gearing were an obstacle, since the little four doesn’t have the low end grunt of the big V8, at least until the boost comes up. A rear end swap would have been pricey, and a new set of tires to replace the old tall 800×14″ bias ply donuts were necessary anyway, so the solution was to, once again, go against the grain. A set of low-rolling resistance 195/70 14 inchers, painted white, increased the effective ratio by 7.3%. Not quite perfect, but fifth gear is now very usable by 55 mph, and starting out on a hill no longer raises beads of sweat.


Curbside Classics is all about honoring cars still at work on the streets. And every time gas shoots up, I start worrying about finding that Mark III or some other gas hog I’ve yet to encounter. Its given impetus, along with a bit of anxiety to my documentation of the survivors. But finding this Edsel was like a giant boost to my all-too often lagging optimism: this is the way forward.


After decades of stuffing ever bigger and more powerful monster V8s into old cars, that past time has reached its obvious limits. 600 cubic inches and a 1000 hp? Sure, why not? Everybody can have their idea of fun. But if the old car hobby is going to be more accessible and affordable, not to mention drivable, than a new paradigm is needed.

The earliest hot-rodders were truly creative in their search for speed and power: GMC truck engine sixes with five carburetors. Or Buick nailhead V8s with their porting completely reversed. Writing a check for a 600 hp crate engine ain’t exactly the definition of creativity or originality.


My hat’s off to Randall and his “Eco-Boost” Edsel. It’s as good of a role model for the next generation of old-car car hobbyists as it gets. And he’s infected with me with thoughts of slipping a turbo four to slip into my ’66 F-100, and beating Ford with an Eco-Boost four cylinder full-sized truck.

Despite my fertile mental ramblings, in 1983 I certainly didn’t ever imagine that my T-Bird’s engine would someday be powering an Edsel, or mentally powering a pickup. Now it seems so obvious. That’s how paradigm shifts work; they sneak up, and suddenly they’re the next big thing. Now just watch Ford add a RWD Eco-Boost turbo four to its line of crate engines.

This piece originally appeared at

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Piston Slap: The Fallacy of the Low Mile Original Mon, 16 May 2011 15:54:04 +0000

Lewis writes:

So I have been debating my next car purchase and am wondering your thoughts.
Does it make more sense to purchase an older low mileage used vehicle or a newer vehicle with high miles. An example would be let’s say a 1997 Jeep Wrangler with under 30K miles or a 2007 Jeep Wrangler with 95K miles.

Sajeev answers:

Please believe it’s a bad idea to buy a “low mileage used vehicle” if it’s over 10 years old. Maybe even over 7-ish years. Because, much like a living creature, the ravages of time are no joke. Factor in the money lost if you put a dollar figure on vehicle reconditioning downtime, and such creatures are better left to speculators looking for a future classic or a weekend cruiser.

You may never see this truth on a more mainstream car forum, but if you moderated for the past 11 years, old cars that are “like new” show up on a somewhat-regular basis. Pristine used Lincolns, babied all their lives by older folks, are bought by younger folks foaming at the mouth for an essentially brand new luxury car for pennies on the dollar. Then the problems creep up: dry rotted tires blow up on the highway, fossilized gaskets/hoses leak, neglected fuel systems, overlooked and LONG forgotten recalls haunt the new owner. Not to mention vehicle specific problems: long discontinued electromechanical bits and rotted air suspensions get awful pricey to put right with OEM-quality parts.

None of which are present on a car with a long service history and high mileage. When I (much to my parents’ dismay) resisted new car in favor of an 8-year-old Lincoln Mark VIII as my college commuter, they were even more upset when I wouldn’t seek ones with less then 100k on the odometer. But I know better: receipts for newish tires, shock mounts, control arms, and a well exercised powertrain were key. I bought mine in such condition with 117,000 miles: 8 years and 60,000 miles later, I’m still comfortable with my decision. To put it mildly.

Of course, a 1997 minimalist Jeep Wrangler isn’t an air-sprung Lincoln with buttery leather seats. But some of the basics still apply.

Let’s bring it home: the only reasons to buy an older car with low miles are because:

1. You’re foolish enough to start a collection of masterpieces from a lost era in motoring history.
2. Newer, far more advanced, vehicles don’t exactly shake your Etch-A-Sketch. So to speak.
3. You cannot find one with higher miles with a clean interior: that’s expensive to put right.
4. You have the drive/skills to replace parts not expected on newer vehicles: the wear items mentioned above and (maybe) big ticket bits like plastic-infused radiators.
5. You know an affordable, honest mechanic and maybe have a parts car or two stashed around your property.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Review: 1979 Mercedes-Benz 450sl “R107″ Wed, 11 Nov 2009 21:39:51 +0000 The R107, with soft top raised, visits the Trapp Family Lodge

The R107, with soft top raised, visits the Trapp Family Lodge

Imagine it is thirty years in the future, 2039, and you are driving in a hard top convertible made in 2009. It has had three owners, and sports a healthy six-figures on the odometer. Would you expect it to leak, rattle, and/or squeak?
Would you expect it to look dated and out of place as we approach 2030 when cars (finally) fly and run by garbage-powered fusion generators?
In 2029 there will be 1970s-era Mercedes-Benz cars still on the road though. By then they might rattle, leak, and/or squeak. They may even look a little dated. But not today. I drove this 1979 450sl to a dentist appointment this morning. Two weeks before I drove it from coast to coast, through rain, snow, and sun. It doesn’t rattle. It doesn’t leak. It doesn’t squeak. It is as solid today as the day it rolled out of Stuttgart thirty years ago. This thing is built like a tank.

With removable pagoda-shaped hard top installed, the genetic link to the previous-generation W113 SL is evident.

With removable pagoda-shaped hard top installed, the genetic link to the previous-generation W113 SL is evident.

In fact, the engineers who designed it nicknamed it “der Panzerwagen” as one of their specifications was to meet or exceed stringent safety regulations that threatened to force the roadster body style into permanent extinction. Apparently, the Germans know a thing or two about building tanks. Stylistically the R107 Chassis with its blend of slab shapes and extra-long radii curves owes far more to the Panzerkampfwagen “Königstiger” than its graceful automotive predecessors, the W198 and W113 “Sport Leicht” series. Under the hood, unlike the six-cylinder Gullwing and Pagoda Benzes, the R107 is motivated by a V-8 engine. It sports an overhead cam and fuel injection like its father and grandfather, and maintains a paternal link with a Pagoda-shaped removable hard top. From the neck down though it is its own panzer-like design. It was a phenomenally popular car, with well over a quarter-million of them made in a very long run, from 1971 through 1989. Built in a time when Mercedes-Benz was truly and uniquely synonymous with “quality”… as they remained alone at the top of the luxury automotive heap, towering über alles the (literally) smoking wreckage of Detroit and Coventry’s faded high-end brands, Cadillac, Lincoln, and Jaguar. This was when the Bavarians in Munich were just started going upmarket, and the Japanese were eviscerating Detroit only from below.

The R107 and it's genetic grandparent, the 300sl (W194)

The R107 and it's genetic grandparent, the 300sl (W194)

The interior is snug, but well-appointed for a car from the 1970s.

The interior is snug, but well-appointed for a car from the 1970s.

This 450sl sold for around $32,000 in 1979, which adjusted for inflation is a Kia Rio shy of $110,000 in 2009. What did that kind of Carter-era cash get for you? A damn fine ride. The 450sl is a cruise missile of a car, a true Grand Tourer capable of days of comfortable Autobahn travel… top up, or down, on or off. The interior is snug, though comfortable for both driver and passenger. Seats are made from MB-tex, the Stuttgart equivalent of Kevlar, which deflects wear, stains, bullets, and tears, while somehow not being torturously uncomfortable like virtually all other 70s-era synthetic seats. Leather was optional, but rarely ordered for these roadsters though shaggy sheepskin was a de rigueur disco-era aftermarket addition, thankfully averted in the example here. Real wood accents trim out the dashboard and center console. The removable hard top weighs about 90 pounds and requires two people (or a garage-ceiling mounted pulley-lift) to install or remove. The latching mechanism is ingenious however and guarantees a snug, no rattle or leak fit to the car. When off the car the top rests on an aluminum rack with casters so it can be wheeled into a closet or corner of the garage. The rack itself breaks down easily into component parts which are bagged and easily stored in the generous trunk. The soft top manually folds away into a decked storage compartment aft of the cockpit when down with (attention car designers!) no trunk space used, and when raised latches to the windscreen using the same hardware as the hard top. At speed inside the car with either top on you are treated to a ride as quiet as a coupe or sedan. Unlike most convertibles, all-around visibility is excellent in any top configuration.

The well-engineered hard top stores on its own well-engineered cart.

The well-engineered hard top stores on its own well-engineered cart.

While it may appear to be a big car, especially with the ludicrously large US-market bumpers, the R107 is in reality a diminutive two-seater which when parked next to today’s average machine finally reflects the true scale. It sits low, so when in the company of Suburban Ussault Vehicles defensive driving is an excellent strategy, so all that visibility for the driver pays off. Beyond a few 70s details in the styling it has a timelessness to it that wears far better than many of its peers from the days of disco. Especially with the top down, it appears as if it could be from any time in the last 40 years. Such is the staying power of simple shapes and spare, minimalist design.

The 450sl is much smaller than it looks.

The 450sl is much smaller than it looks.

Turn the key and the 4.5 liter V-8 makes a mild muscle-car rumble. The US-spec 3-speed automatic transmission does not inspire any sort of lust, nor risk any chiropractic involvement, performing its job in an undramatic utilitarian fashion. However once underway the chassis displays its Teutonic heritage in surprisingly nimble and huckable road feel. Able to cruise effortlessly at autobahn speeds, while also happily carving up any twisty backroad. Great turn-in and light, nimble steering. It is not the fastest car by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly can be fun should you choose to toss it about.

Hang on, what's that beach benz doing on a racetrack? (Answer: 3rd place for that day.)

Hang on, what's that beach benz doing on a racetrack? (Answer: 3rd place for that day.)

On the track it will never win any races (unless all your opponents are pedal-powered) but it will provide miles of smiles and never embarrass the driver. If anything it will inspire confidence to push it hard, as its manners are very steady at the edge of its performance envelope; neutral handling easing towards gentle and predictable throttle over-steer as you push it harder in the corners. Just forget about the dragstrip as the sedate transmission will let you down. The R107 is a stately sort of sports/performance car. It comes from Stuttgart but doesn’t wear that on its sleeve like a P-car.

A Montana State Trooper writes up his own review of the R107's capabilities.

A Montana State Trooper writes up his own review of the R107's capabilities.

The penalty for this moderately good performance, beyond being fast enough to collect speeding tickets even in Montana, is SUV-like non-frugality. The 450sl will burn up gasoline at about 12-17 MPG … if you are lucky. Thankfully it runs fine on Regular Unleaded, unlike so many finicky machines whose tastes are more top-shelf. This is also not a good winter car in northern climes. Performance on snow and ice is abysmal-to-terrifying. It will swap ends and send you pirouetting off into the woods at the mere sight of a snowflake. Park it once the thermometer starts dropping. Their A/C systems, especially for the ’77-’79 models can be problematic so if you’re living in Houston pick another year. Here in the Pacific Northwest however it’s a wash… it snows about as often a it reaches 90°F; almost never.

Trust me, you'll want to avoid this scenario.

Trust me, you'll want to avoid this scenario.

While nowhere near the stratospheric value of its gull-winged supercar forebear, the R107 was still an upper-class car, the ride of choice for Professionals of the 70s & 80s: Doctors, Bankers, Dentists, and Trophy Wives. Given their popularity, 19-year long manufacturing run, plus build-quality that was truly higher than any car before or since, R107s are still available in good numbers. Many of them coming from one-owner garages, at a cost about what you would pay for the lowest tier of today’s scheisseboxen. So here is that most rare beasts: An affordable, reliable classic car, that provides enjoyable top-down motoring while being relatively inexpensive to buy.

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