Sunday, April 14, 2013

Nostalgia is Relative

Saturday was chilly, a nice mid-western April day that started out right at the freezing point, and was supposed to warm up to 52 by the afternoon. It was a perfect day for the annual Bradley University Society of Automotive Engineers fundraiser car show. I woke Oscar up and grabbed a large coffee from the Burger King and headed over to give them a few bucks and see what other iron showed up. As you can see, there were some really neat machines that braved the cooler spring temps to come out to play...

So after seeing all of the Camaros, Model A's, Shelby Mustangs and Corvettes around what do you think I gravitated towards? You're absolutely right, it was the 1982 Ford EXP.

A local Bradley alum brought out his 1964 Ford Falcon sport coupe and his daily driver, a 1982 Ford EXP with the 1.6 "high output" engine and close-ratio 4 speed transmission. (Its the one in the far left corner of the third photo.) You all know that I have a freakish obsession with oddball cars, and this guy's EXP was an oddball to the max. I chatted with him for about 30 minutes about the EXP and thanked him for bringing it out since the last time I saw one was about 1988. There was a woman in our neighborhood when I was a young whippersnapper that had a maroon and grey EXP and I always thought it was a neat car. When is the last time you've seen one? I guarantee its been at least 10 years. NOBODY talks about these cars, or the rare-as-hen's-teeth Mercury cousin, the LN7.

This particular example I ran across was acquired courtesy of a website devoted to these cars, and hailed from Michigan, where the second owner was storing it after buying it 15 years ago. The car looked and ran fairly well and sans a detail job was in remarkable condition. While other baby-boomers looking to rekindle their glory days walked past it and made snide comments about how much dirt was on it or how "new" the car was, I came up and engaged the owner in a conversation about the uniqueness of the vehicle. He respected me for it, and we had a good discussion of Fords and Mercurys of the 1980's and how unique they were. Now if you don't understand why I'm blogging about this goofy little Escort coupe...that's okay. I'm not going to engage everyone with each post I do here. But keep reading if you want to know more about why its important to engage the younger generation when you're at your local car show.

The nice young man that owned the two-seater EXP was just a few years out of college and had a good job working for a local company that tested diesel engines under development for a major manufacturer. When we talked about the uniqueness of the Ford he owned, and how his father owned three of the models over the years with various engine and transmission combinations, it was an eye-opening experience. We talked about how he was able to obtain the best fuel economy with the close-ratio trans and higher output engine instead of a 5 speed and standard motor just by keeping the engine in its 'happy' RPM range and not pushing it. We talked about how the cars were a unique blend of styling between the Fox-bodied Mustang and the 1983 Ford Thunderbird. We talked about the bubblicious hatchback glass and how similar it was to the Mercury Capri of the same vintage. It was a healthy discussion of a car that I remember seeing drive past the house each day on the way to school back in the 1980's. 

What struck me this time was the history lesson this gentleman was giving me on a car that I knew, and grew up with seeing every day for several years. Here's the thing: I didn't care.He was eager, and full of useful information that I hadn't learned and I soaked it all in. As a gearhead, I sometimes think I know everything there is to know about a particular car or truck because I owned one or read about it online...or knew a friend that had one. In this case, I laid back and let him tell me about his car. He was proud, informed, and with his knowledge, will probably keep this little thing running around Central Illinois for years to come.

This, friends and neighbors, is what our hobby is all about. Its not about everything that was built before 1972. Its not about everything with a carburetor and a 4 speed. Its not about things with only American manufacturers nameplates riveted to the firewall. As my father used to say, "Nostalgia is relative to the era and environment you grew up in.", and I feel very strongly about that philosophy. I'm glad to see people like this Ford EXP owner appreciate the vintage Ford Falcons and carbureted 298 hi-po engines...along with a front-wheel-drive 4 pot with metric 4-bolt rims and a goofy, frog-faced front end. I like hearing that people like him got "the last pair of springs and struts for the car in the warehouse" and have driven it several hundred miles on road trips.

Anybody that say the old car hobby is 'dead in 20 years' is full of shit. That's a simplistic and arrogant view of the younger folks that enter into it. I own a 1947 Chevrolet, and I can tell you about the car inside and out. But I also know what makes a 1992 Chevrolet Beretta GTZ unique and demonstrate why it also deserves a parking spot next to that '69 Camaro SS at the local cruise night. And if you don't agree with that, fine. I'll leave you with this: No single generation holds the patent on 'nostalgia'. I would rather look at 5 Ford EXP's instead of 5 1960's Mustangs any day of the week. If that makes me the odd man out, I'm okay with that.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Sleeping Beauty?

Most of you who know me would probably classify me as someone who appreciates a 100% original or restored car over a modified car. That's mostly true. Over the years nothing seems to impress me quite as much as a vintage or collector car that looks just as it did the day it rolled off the assembly line. Lately, however I've found myself appreciating a tastefully modified car or one that's been done in a so-called 'traditional' style. You know the type. A black '32 coupe with a leather interior, flathead, smoothies and juice brakes.

And then there's stuff like this '64 Nova sedan that rolls into local cruise nights from time to time. Take a lookie-loo:
Okay, so you're wondering why I'm posting this on here, right? Well...its not just an old 4 door with 'tuner' rims and no hood. Take a closer look at the engine bay and see what's stuffed neatly in place of the original 230 cubic inch inline six.

That, ladies and germs, is a mid 1990's turbocharged high-output General Motors Quad 4 dual overhead cam four-cylinder. Its mounted opposite of its intended front-wheel-drive layout and mated to a Borg-Warner T5 transmission and running the original rear end. Now, why is this significant? Because its such a strange combination of parts from then and now that it just captured my attention last summer at a Metamora street cruise. When I heard it drive by and sound like my brother's Achieva SCX, I knew the sound and I had to meet the owner.

After introducing myself and shooting the breeze, I chatted with a younger gentleman named Jared (If I recall correctly, which I probably don't). The local gentleman owns this Nova, which was purchased with a poorly running motor and transmission, but with the intention of moving a bunch of leftover parts from a 1995 Cavalier Z24 that he wanted to drag race but kept going though transmissions in. Jared's old Cavalier, which was the only year Z24 to feature the Oldsmobile division's remarkable Quad 4, had been modified to the hilt & turbocharged with a bunch of other custom work done to the chassis. He was into the sport compact / tuner scene as a young gearhead and over time grew tired of it. After realizing that nobody would give him what he wanted for a 15 year-old tricked-out Cavalier, he decided to yank all the good stuff out and find a suitable car to throw it all into. Front wheel drive Cavaliers weren't his thing any more, and he wanted to play with some old American iron. Enter...the cheap used Nova.

After a year or so of throwin' wrenches, sketching wiring diagrams, and sorting out spare parts,  Jared now owns a cool old American car that he can rip through the gears all day while getting 30 miles per gallon, and even surprise a few folks like me. I'll admit that if I came across this thing at an intersection, I wouldn't have a clue that this car would give me a run for my money. And that's the whole idea behind a well-built sleeper.

So don't judge a book by its cover, and don't underestimate the power of a young engineer and his stash of spare tuner parts. They just might hunt Craigslist for their next project, and turn a forgettable four door Dr. Jekyll into a turbocharged Mr. Hyde like Jared did.

Now if he'd just put those stock rims back on....