The Truth About Cars » Question The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 16:58:35 +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 » Question Help Me Solve a 30-Year-Old Mystery: What Car Is Depicted In This Taqueria Painting? Wed, 19 Feb 2014 14:00:19 +0000 03 - Taqueria Painting - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOne of the things I miss most about living in the San Francisco Bay Area— OK, maybe the thing I miss the most— is the proper Mission-style burrito. Here in Denver, the Midwestern-influenced salty/bland flavors, brown rice, and incorrect shape of the Chipotle-style burrito dominates, and so whenever I head back to Northern California to shoot some junkyard cars, I try to hit the taqueria that got me hooked on Mission-style Burritos in the first place: Ramiro & Sons Taqueria in my hometown of Alameda, California. Inside this place (whose burritos, good as they are, don’t quite measure up to what you’ll get in the actual Mission District about five miles due east and on the other side of the Bay; this place is my personal favorite), you’ll find a painting on the wall that’s been hanging there since 1984, and that painting depicts a yellow two-door hardtop of some sort parked in front. For 30 years now, I’ve puzzled over that painting, trying to figure out what kind of car I’m seeing.
01 - Taqueria Painting - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIt looks like something from the heart of Malaise Detroit, no doubt with some air shocks in the back to give it the rake that was all the rage in early-80s Alameda. It appears that the artist is still around, but I thought it would be cheating to ask him. Instead, I’m asking you.
02 - Taqueria Painting - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinBack when I was shooting street-parked Alameda cars for the Down On the Street series at Jalopnik, I couldn’t help thinking of the Yellow Mystery Car when I shot this yellow 510 across the street from Ramirez & Sons.
1973 Pontiac Grand Am - Picture Courtesy of Old Car BrochuresMy strongest hunch has always been that we’re looking at a 1973-75 Pontiac Grand Am Colonnade with the blinds or louvers (or whatever you call those colonnade-y things on the rear quarter-windows) removed.
1977 Pontiac Grand Prix-  Picture Courtesy of Old Car BrochuresIt might be a mid-70s Pontiac Grand Prix.
1982 Ford Fairmont Futura- Picture Courtesy of Old Car BrochuresOr perhaps it’s a Fox Ford, say an ’82 Fairmont Futura?
Toyota Corona Coupe - Picture Courtesy of Bosozokustyle
Maybe it isn’t even an American car at all. The Toyota Corona RT132 Coupe wasn’t available in the United States, but perhaps a sailor at the Alameda Naval Air Station brought one over from Japan. All right, let’s solve this mystery— what is this car?

01 - Taqueria Painting - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - Taqueria Painting - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - Taqueria Painting - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 1973 Pontiac Grand Am - Picture Courtesy of Old Car Brochures 1977 Pontiac Grand Prix-  Picture Courtesy of Old Car Brochures 1982 Ford Fairmont Futura- Picture Courtesy of Old Car Brochures RamirezPainting1280px-3 ]]> 112
Question: What Is Your Most Kafkaesque Car-Registration Experience? Thu, 19 Sep 2013 13:00:23 +0000 TheTrial - picture courtesy of Cinema.Rockwich.comAs I gather parts for my 1941 Plymouth sedan road-racer project, I’ve also been slogging my way through the bureaucratic obstacle course that is registering a title-less car that spent 45 years sitting in a Colorado high desert field. I’ve lived in three states during my car-owning years: California, Georgia, and Colorado. Each is what I call a Front License Plate State (FLPS), meaning car-registration procedures are less informal than what you get in states that issue only rear license plates, and so my car-registering experience features many episodes that might have been scripted by this guy. In a FLPS, you will find yourself shunted down numerous tail-chasing infinite loops when attempting to, say, get license plates for a ’58 DKW on a ’70 Ford Courier frame that you bought from a mysterious out-of-state guy who then became the Antarctic Consul for Lesotho. My search for a ’41 Plymouth title has (so far) involved a title search, a lien search, a certified VIN verification (not to be confused with a regular VIN verification; the certified type may be performed only at the office of one of four authorized police departments in Colorado), an appraisal by a registered Colorado car dealer, a surety bond for twice the appraised value, and a dozen lengthy trips to my local DMV… and, compared to some of my California experiences, this is easy. How about you?
TrialNote that we’re not talking about Kafkaesque traffic ticket experiences here; that will be the subject of a future Question of the Day. Share your most nightmarish title/plate/tags-obtainment experiences with us. Those of you who live in flag-of-convenience states or countries can go ahead and gloat at the rest of us. If you haven’t read The Trial yet, you’re in luck— it’s available for free on the Gutenberg Project’s site!

But when K. had the confidence to try and do all this the difficulty of composing the documents was too much for him. Earlier, just a week or so before, he could only have felt shame at the thought of being made to write out such documents himself; it had never entered his head that the task could also be difficult. He remembered one morning when, already piled up with work, he suddenly shoved everything to one side and took a pad of paper on which he sketched out some of his thoughts on how documents of this sort should proceed. Perhaps he would offer them to that slow-witted lawyer, but just then the door of the manager’s office opened and the deputy-director entered the room with a loud laugh. K. was very embarrassed, although the deputy-director, of course, was not laughing at K.’s documents, which he knew nothing about, but at a joke he had just heard about the stock-exchange, a joke which needed an illustration if it was to be understood, and now the deputy- director leant over K.’s desk, took his pencil from his hand, and drew the illustration on the writing pad that K. had intended for his ideas about his case.

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Question: What Engine Swap Would Most Enrage Single-Interest Corvette Fanatics? Thu, 29 Aug 2013 13:00:20 +0000 Toyota V8 - Picture courtesy of LextremeIn my role as Chief Justice of the 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court, prospective racers often ask me questions that go something like: “I have a (car type known to be fast and/or expensive) that I got for (credulity-strainingly cheap price) and I would like to race it in LeMons without getting hit with penalty laps. How can I do this?” In most cases, the car will turn out to be a BMW M3, Acura Integra GS-R, or C4 Corvette, and I tell the questioner to seek another type of car. Still, you can get genuinely horrible C4 Corvettes for LeMons-grade money, provided you sell off some trim parts and so on, and that’s just what happened with this bunch. No problem, I said, just drop in an engine that will anger the Corvette Jihad and all will be well (it helps that the Chief Perpetrator of LeMons racing was the owner and editor-in-chief of Corvette Magazine for years, and he can’t stand the Corvette Jihad). I suggested the Toyota 1UZ V8, as found in Lexus LS400s and SC400s, but perhaps there’s an engine that would raise the blood pressure of Corvette fanatics even higher. What engine would that be?
LeMons-Phoenix10-0895In fact, we’ve seen two C4s in LeMons racing. There was this one, which was overpriced at 300 bucks, came with a very tired LT-1 350, and got stomped by a couple of bone-stock VW Rabbits and a slushbox Neon running on three cylinders.
309-LVH12-UGThen there was Spank’s “Corvegge”, which featured Olds 350 diesel power and ran on straight vegetable oil. Some Corvette guys were made upset by this, but at least the engine came from General Motors.
pickup2So, what engine would elicit the most rage from the Corvette Jihad? The team would prefer something with sufficient power to get around the track at least as quickly as, say, a Saturn SL2, which rules out my first choice (a Model A flathead four). Ideally, it should be an engine that can be purchased cheaply. Chrysler 360? BMW M50? Ford Modular 4.6? Nissan VH45?

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Question: What Car Is Most Favored By Murderers? Thu, 08 Aug 2013 15:30:31 +0000 SC400-1Back when I was looking for a cheap suspension-donor Lexus SC400, I had a couple of friends tell me to be careful when I went to go look at clapped-out Americanized Soarers with three-digit price tags: “All worn-out SC400s, in fact all worn-out Lexuses, are owned by murderers! You’ll see!” As it turned out, none of the cars I looked at had trunks full of quicklime, shovels, and duct tape… but that got me to thinking about the “murderer car” thing. Which car available today has the image of being owned by the scariest, manslaughteringest individuals? My answer, which I know to be the correct one, may be seen after the jump.
Toyota Echo - picture courtesy of ToyotaYeah, the Toyota Echo. American car buyers were afraid of the Echo from the beginning, for good reason; it’s just a creepy-looking car! Toyota had to recycle the chassis of the Echo in the much-less-creepy Scion xA and xB.

It sure didn’t help that Robin Williams’ scary stalker character in One Hour Photo drove an Echo. All right, so what’s your choice of frightening Murderer Car?

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Question: If New-Vehicle Emission Regulations Were Abolished, Would You Opt For the Smog-Delete Package? Fri, 03 May 2013 14:00:38 +0000 QOTD - Angering Greens With Excess Pollution - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWe won’t get into the politics of emission-control laws here, except to observe that you’re either a Marx-quoting, global-warming-duped, vegan one-worlder who wants to crush personal initiative beneath tons of bureaucracy and force everyone to ride an electric bus to their groat rations at the communal kitchen… or you’re an Ayn-quoting, gun-fondling, toxic-waste-spreading wingnut who cackles with glee at the mental image of inner-city children shriveling like salt-soaked slugs beneath tons of lead, oxides of nitrogen, and unburned hydrocarbons. Now that you’ve all chosen sides, imagine that every official in every level of every government in the world waved their magic legislative pens and put the kibosh on all emissions-related regulations concerning motor vehicles. Would you go clean, dirty, or in-between with your next vehicle purchase?
QOTD-OptionalSmogGearIn such a world, most vehicle manufacturers would offer some sort of choice in the matter; simply tweaking engine-management software allows a vehicle to favor fuel-economy over emissions, power over emissions, or emissions over both. You’d be able to choose, say, the Dirty Bird Edition Challenger, which would have a giant wing, no catalytic converters, and oxides-of-nitrogen-enhancing 14:1 compression. Hey, if residents of Fontana don’t like smog, they can take advantage of our free-market system to find jobs in a place with clean air! If you want to impress others with your commitment to clean air, you could buy the Breath of Fresh Air Edition Prius, which would offer 16 wheel horsepower and a dashboard-mounted meter that registered individual carbon atoms coming from the tailpipe. Hey, if you can’t stand being stuck behind those holier-than-thou types, you have the freedom to get the hell out of San Francisco! What’s it gonna be?

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Question: Which Is More Gloriously Extreme, Houston SLABs or Bosozoku Style? Thu, 13 Dec 2012 15:30:22 +0000 In recent years, there was no way any car customizer in the world was going to come close to the absurd lengths that practitioners of Bōsōzoku Style in Japan went to when modifying their vehicles. Six exhaust pipes sticking ten feet straight up out of a slammed Corona with an octo-wing? Not enough! That’s a shame for patriotic Americans, because we once ruled the world when it came to brain-scrambling, utterly senseless customized vehicles. But wait! The love of 84s and old-timey lowrider-style kandy paint in Houston has led to a renaissance, and the SLAB (Slow, Loud, And Bangin’) may be knocking the Bōsōzoku Style machines off their pedestal.

A SLAB is typically (though not always) a GM luxury sedan, and it boasts wheels with way more “poke” than anything Cragar ever imagined for the ’84 Eldorado (the aftermarket has stepped in with 30-spoke “elbows” that stick out 18″ or more), kandy paint, neon, 10-billion-watt sound systems, and so on. The green Cadillac at 0:13 in the video above may well be The Greatest Car of All Time. Take that, Japan! As Mike Jones says in his SLAB anthem, “tippin’ on four ‘bows, wrapped in four Vogues.”

But then… check out what’s going on over there!

Yeah, put on some Melt-Banana, add another 20 exhaust pipes, and maybe the SLABs have another couple of years before they can match Bōsōzoku Style. What do you say?
Bosozoku car image at top courtesy of

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Question: What Engine/Transmission Swap Belongs In the ’41 Plymouth? Thu, 29 Nov 2012 19:00:43 +0000 Since my brain threw a code and made me buy the 1941 Plymouth Special Deluxe Junkyard Find yesterday, I need to choose a suitable modern engine and transmission combo for the thing. I’ve hired a rocket scientist and weirdo hot-rodder (the lunatic who built the Rocket Surgery Racing mid-engined Renault 4CV) to execute a chassis modernization program on the old Mopar, and I need to make my drivetrain choice ASAP. Suggestions?
Much as I’d like to go with a 2,500-horse Chrysler IV-2220 engine for this project, I need to stay on a fairly strict budget, say $2500 for engine and transmission. Most likely I’ll buy a complete donor car and truck, grab the engine, transmission, driveshaft, computers, and any other goodies needed for the swap, then sell everything I can on eBay and feed the rest to The Crusher at $250/ton. It would be (slightly) nice to stay within marque and go with a Chrysler engine, but I also like the idea of enraging the purists— you know, the guys who have those creepy Time Out Kid dolls leaning on their numbers-matching Road Runners at car shows. So, before everyone starts yelling about how I should get a 440 and Torqueflite 727, problem solved, let’s go over some of my requirements and preferences for this swap:

1. This car must have a manual transmission. Sure, I’m going to drive it on the street and take it to the drag strip, but this car is going to be set up for road racing and taken to track days at my local track. You don’t need a manual transmission for that, and I’m not a sufficiently fast driver to get the extra couple of seconds per lap a manual transmission might give you, but you’ll have a lot more fun with a stick. Long-term, I plan to enter it at Pikes Peak and, if I get really crazy, the Carrera Panamericana. I’m willing to contemplate the idea of swap bellhousings, weird adapters, and the like, but the easiest solution is to get an engine/transmission combination that came together from the factory.

2. The engine must fit a narrow prewar engine compartment. There’s not enough room under the ’41 Plymouth’s hood for a typical 90-degree overhead-cam V6 or V8 engine to fit without fabrication hassles beyond what I am willing to contemplate. That means the excellent Ford Modular V8 is out, which eliminates the tempting Lincoln Mark VIII DOHC engine/Tremec 3550 transmission idea. The fairly narrow Toyota UZ engine might fit (barely), but bolting a manual transmission to one— as done by many drifters already— requires the application of cubic dollars. The BMW S62 V8 is also fairly compact, and manual transmissions are readily available in crashed E39s, but the computer nightmares with these engines are legendary to put it mildly. The most likely candidates at this point are Detroit pushrod V8s and screaming Japanese or German L6s, though the idea of a hopped-up GMC 292 L6 lurks at the edges of this discussion.

3. The engine must have potential for non-insanely-expensive bolt-on power upgrades later on. This could mean that the engine has a vast aftermarket of quasi-affordable performance add-ons (e.g., turbocharger/supercharger kits, better heads, stronger rods, and so on), or it could mean that related engines can be swapped in without cutting anything. I don’t plan to go above 400 horsepower or pound-feet (the point at which the differential I’ll be using— that’s a secret to be revealed later— becomes the weak link), and 250 horses will be fine to start with.

4. The engine must have electronic fuel injection. Even though I’ve been on this planet as long as my ’41 Plymouth has been sitting in a Colorado field, I don’t subscribe to the curmudgeonly view that carburetors are good. That means the best engine candidates come from vehicles built in the early 1990s or later. If absolutely necessary, I’m willing to apply Megasquirt to an engine, but my very strong preference is to use all the factory computers, sensors, wiring, everything. Buying a complete donor vehicle makes the most sense for this approach, which means that I need to take into account the resale value of the donor vehicle’s leftover parts.

5. No Hemis. No LS engines. The going rate for an LS with T-56 or TR-6060 transmission, yanked from a GTO, CTS-V, or Corvette, is $5000-$8000 and up. Way up. You can get early 5.7 Hemi engines out of Dodge Rams for much cheaper, but they came with slushboxes exclusively and you’ll spend your louie in a hurry getting a sufficiently beefy manual transmission attached to one.

6. I really want an overdrive transmission. I’m going to be running a fairly wild (4:1 or shorter) differential gear and I plan to take this car on highway road trips, which means screaming along at four grand at 60 MPH isn’t going to cut it. Thus, no 833, Muncie, or Toploader 4-speeds. No, I don’t want an overdrive 833 4-speed.

At this point, my top choice is the Chrysler Magnum 5.9 (aka 360) engine, descendent of the venerable LA family of small-block V8s and available in Dodge Ram 1500s and 2500s with the NV3500 5-speed manual transmission. The 360 is a great engine, it’s within marque for the Plymouth, and performance parts are cheap. The problem here is that it is virtually impossible to find a two-wheel-drive Dodge truck with a manual transmission (I’ve been beating my face against an online-search brick wall for weeks, and that’s with a willingness to bring a donor vehicle back to Denver from two-wheel-drive places like Omaha or Lubbock). NV3500s are commonplace in junked V6 Dakotas, so I could do the wrecked Ram Van + junkyard transmission + 360 flywheel + ECM from a manual-equipped 5.9 truck equation, but that’s a lot of hassle for a truck transmission that starts to get explode-y at 350 ft-lbs.

My second choice, but gaining ground in a hurry, is a GM LT V8 engine with Borg-Warner T-56 transmission. In other words, buy some hooptied-out-but-strong-running fourth-gen Camaro Z28 or Firebird Formula for $2500. This gets me a 275-horsepower motor with near-limitless hop-up capacity plus a very nice road-race transmission that can handle big power… but it also means I’ll be the 900,000,000th person to drop a small-block Chevy into this kind of project car, plus there’s the whole Optispark ignition headache. In terms of bang-per-buck, you just can’t beat this setup, and the logic of using it is the same one used by hot-rodders in 1948 who put flathead Ford V8s in everything, but I’d prefer to be a little oddball here.

I’m just beginning to research the idea of a Vortec 5300, 5700, or 6000 V8 with manual transmission, a combination theoretically— though probably not in practice— available in 2WD Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra trucks. The Vortec makes great power, but the manual-transmission options appear to be the pure-truck, granny-gear-equipped NV4500 and ZF-S6-650 and some 5-speed that I’m guessing is either the NV3500 or the even more fragile T-5. Anybody who knows more on this subject, or even anyone who has seen a two-wheel-drive/manual-trans/V8 Silverado on the street, please share your info with us in the comments.

The real wild card here is the idea of buying a bashed BMW 540i with factory 6-speed and facing the horror of turn-of-the-century BMW computers. You can find these cars in ugly-but-running condition for two or three grand, the engine is much lighter than Detroit iron-block V8s, the Getrag 6-speed is a joy, and I know the 282-horse M62 V8 engine will fit in a BMW E30 (there are two of them racing in the 24 Hours of LeMons and, yes, I hammer them with penalty laps despite being butt slow due to handling problems) and thus is quite narrow. On the downside, there is no cheap way to add power to this engine, and the hassles involved with making BMW computers behave are so severe that anecdotes about them are not mingled with ordinary stories of problems with automotive electronics.

What else? Turbo Buick V6 with absurd boost and hope-it-lives T-5 transmission? Big L6 out of a Detroit truck, equipped with centrifugal supercharger? Mercedes-Benz M104 six? Something I haven’t thought of? Rack your brains!

So, here we go! I will be reading your comments and advice closely as I prepare for a new round of donor-vehicle shopping. Mujahideen of the Mopar Jihad (I picture you driving your Oerlikon-equipped Ramchargers through the Khyber Pass while sneering at those fools in their weak-ass Toyota Hiluxes), feel free to inform me of the hair-raisingness of the fatwas to be issued on me by your warlords, should I choose to run a GM engine in a Plymouth.

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Question: Which Stodgy Luxury Car Gets Most Transformed At Extremely Low Altitude? Wed, 24 Oct 2012 18:32:00 +0000 After my tirade about big fat luxury cars in the 24 Hours of LeMons, I got to thinking about all the once-boring luxury machines I’ve seen with brutal slam jobs. In so many cases— yes, even with a vintage Audi 100— dropping the Chairman of the Board’s luxury ride about a foot works wonders for its appearance.
For my money, Japanese luxury cars such as the Mitsubishi Debonair, Toyota Century, and Nissan President respond best to this treatment, as demonstrated by many wild-eyed Japanese customizers (though Detroit limos look great, too). How about you?

Toyota Century image from Minkara, via Speedhunters.

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Question: What Subject Matter Will Go On Your Custom Van’s Airbrush Mural? Fri, 28 Sep 2012 15:00:14 +0000 In the ’72 Dodge Tradesman Junkyard Find earlier this week, I referred to the iconic custom-van airbrush mural with “jousting knights battling Aztec kings in a zebra herd at the Mars Base.” All of those elements were seen on the flanks of plenty of Chevy Vans and Econolines back in the 1970s (though you didn’t often see more than one per mural), and— now that we’ve got the benefit of nearly 40 years of hindsight— we can think about what could be done today with the art form of the custom van.
Unfortunately, my custom-van project is a window-equipped Dodge Sportsman, so I can’t get any serious airbrush work done to it (I will get plenty of pinstriping, of course). If I ever get a windowless “molester van,” however, I think I’d go for a mural combining science-fiction and low-rider-style Aztec motifs, complete with gold leaf on the helmets of the astronauts/Aztec warriors, all done in super-pneumatic pinball-machine-backglass style. How about you?

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Question: What’s the Most Ridiculous Use of “GT” Badging? Wed, 11 Jul 2012 14:30:51 +0000 A Grand Touring car is— or used to be— a big, fast, luxurious machine made for long drives to high-roller destinations. Once automobile manufacturers figured out that they could stamp out GT badges just as cheaply as Brougham emblems, we started seeing some truly silly GTs on the street. Say, the Hyundai Excel GT. Or the Plymouth Scamp GT, which wasn’t even a car. Even with those examples to choose from, my vote for the most absurd GT has to go to the Pontiac Vibe GT. Do you think a decadent, Quaaludes-and-Chartreuse-addled Italian countess would have driven a grubby little badge-engineered Toyota econobox to Monaco at an average clip of 115 MPH?
Though, on second thought, the Scamp GT may have the Vibe GT beat for Least Appropriate Use of GT Badging. What do you think?

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Question: What Car Most Needs a Spec Racing Series? Wed, 27 Jun 2012 14:00:08 +0000 After my idea for a DUI Telepresence Crown Victoria Racing series failed to attract the shadowy Eastern European investors I’d hoped to line up, I got to thinking about spec racing. Everybody in a spec racing series runs the same kind of car, which makes parts easy to get and (in theory, though sure as hell not in practice) puts the focus on driver skill rather than vehicle price. There’s Spec Miata and Spec E30 and Spec Neon and all the rest, but it’s sort of boring watching those races. Spec racing needs better cars, and we’re going to pick the best one right now!
The key to a good spec-race car is availability and cheapness. You need the kind of car that you can find under tarps in countless side yards across the country, that’s so common in junkyards that The Crusher gags when it sees yet another one approaching. One of my top choices, therefore, is Spec Eighty-Eight. The downsized B-Body Oldsmobile 88s of the 1977-1985 model years are omnipresent in junkyards, they’re tough full-frame monsters that can take a lot of punishment, and they came equipped with a wide assortment of torque-happy Oldsmobile V8s. Plus, “Spec Eighty-Eight” just sounds cool.
But maybe racers would prefer something a little more modern, with four-wheel disc brakes and electronic fuel injection. That’s why Spec Leganza is the way to go! Imagine a track full of Guigario-styled Korean pseudo-luxury sedans, each with a screaming 136 horsepower under the hood. I predict that Spec Leganza will be bigger than NASCAR within five years.
My all-time top choice for a spec racing series is, of course, Spec Dynasty. Inspired by the French Cathouse Red interior of this junked ’93 Dynasty, I’ve been pushing Spec Dynasty to racy types ever since. So far, there hasn’t been a run on solid examples of Dodge’s mid-size luxury sedan of the late 1980s and early 1990syet. The rules of Spec Dynasty wouuld permit badge-engineered sibling New Yorkers of the same era, which would lead to heated rivalry between the Dynasty and New Yorker racers. OK, now it’s your turn. Spec Scoupe? Spec Tempo?

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