Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mustache March; A Salute to The Burt

Mustache March is nearly over, I hope all of you enjoyed it as much as I did. I've been sporting my PowerStache this month not in a salute to the Hulkmaster Terry "Hulk" Hogan (like so many people assume), but instead to the greatest car-movie actor ever, Burt Reynolds.

Quiet down, Steve McQueen fans.

Burt Reynolds has appeared in many a car-centric movie, most of them in the heyday of The Burt, the late 70s into the early 80s. The most well known of the films is certainly Smokey and the Bandit, released in 1977. Burt is The Bandit, a well-known scofflaw hired to guide a shipment of Coors from Texas to Georgia, without being intercepted by the law and only a short time to get there. The Burt pilots a big-block 1977 Trans Am used to block for his partner Snowman who is driving the truck filled with the beer. I'll leave out the rest of the plot because the vehicular madness is all that matters.

Smokey and the Bandit is a great watch with plenty of tire frying. The cool thing for me about this movie is that my college professor who taught me most of what I know about racing engines and design, actually helped build the engines used in the Bandit's Trans Am in the movie. They were actually Big Block Chevrolets, not the Pontiac engines used in most Trans Ams of those years.

Another Burt feature of choice is The Cannonball Run, released in 1981.

In this speed packed 95 minutes of film, Burt Reynolds and Dom Deluise race a modified Dodge Tradesman ambulance in the Sea-to-Shining Sea road race known as The Cannonball Run. The same ambulance was actually raced in the 1979 running of the Cannonball and driven by director Hal Needham and racer turned writer Brock Yates. Yates is also credited to being the inventor of the Cannonball Run. In 1971 he and his crew ran the very first Cannonball Run in protest to the ever tightening regulations and automotive political correctness of the time. The race has spun off many copies such as the Gumball 3000 and The Bull Run.

There are other car movies featuring The Burt, none worth menioning as much as the two mentioned above. Smokey and the Bandit II was the same as the first one, they just replaced the cargo of beer with an elephant. I also recommend seeing Stroker Ace, because it features a score by the Charlie Daniel's band, who I will also pay tribute to, come Decembeard.

So it is, come the Month of the Mustache, that we salute you, Burt. May Tom Selleck never overcome your glory (eventhough he is cool).

Monday, March 17, 2008

The 2001 Mercury Grandma rquis

The Grand Marquis has been a mainstay of the Mercury lineup for over 30 years, as well as the garages, driveways and car-holes of drivers who want a spacious, comfortable, durable and economical ride. If there were one word to describe this car it would be traditional.

Traditional for those who want a comfortable ride, and traditional for those who want good-ole affordable Rear Wheel Drive V8 power. This car has both. It also offers some suprises for the hoon within.

When you fire up the engine in this vessel, you'll be reminded of the Mustang pedigree that lies under the hood. It has the same single overhead cam 4.6L V8 used in the '96-'98 Mustang GT with about the same power output. For you right-pedal addicts, that means SN95 Mustang like acceleration from this 4-door beast. When I say Mustang-like acceleration, I don't mean from a dead stop, because you'll have to forgive the anchor of weight disadvantage that comes with this Silver Panther. From second gear, the modular V8 pulls quite steadily. I put the 'Precicion Trac' traction control system to some good use during my time with the car. The Silver Panthers that own these cars may never use the feature like I did, but it actually worked well for its intended purposes, cutting engine power and applying ABS only enough to cut the drama out back, but not hinder acceleration much.

Traction Control off, this Grand Monkey is more than happy to deliver smoky burnouts from the right rear wheel (no limited slip here). If you choose to mat the throttle around a corner, you'll be rewarded with a 70's movie car chase-like smoke plume from the rear tire, a bit of nostalgia that hints to this car's 30 year old heritage. The only thing missing from that scene is the flying hubcaps.

Power and stunt driving aside, most people who would buy such a car are going to enjoy its practicality. The interior is leather-clad and comfy. A younger driver like myself will find little use for the inflatable lumbar supports, but the seats are otherwise designed to be satisfying for any person, big or small. The rear seat doesn't have as much leg room you'd think there would be, but none the less it is suitable for sitting 3-wide. Girth is where this interior shines.

Trunk space is unparalelled, with room for plenty of baggage. This car is even equipped with a full size spare that can be put into the tire life rotation once you've burned off the right rear.

I attempted to use the Grand Marquis as practically as possible, so I used it to make a trip to the local Big Box-Mart to pick up a few items. I parked a little further out than usual as I noticed that this parking-lot battleship has its share of war wounds. Whether inflicted by the captain running aground, or by other vessels remains to be seen, so I set anchor off shore to be safe.

Walking through the parking lot on a weekday morning, I couldn't help but notice at least a half-dozen Panther platform-mates to the Grand Marquis (Town Cars and Crown Victorias). While I was driving that day, I passed countless Panther Taxi cabs and Police Cruisers. All of this goes to show the popularity of the cars, and means plenty of spare parts available at cheap prices. The fact that these cars are build solidly with body-on-frame construction and the overall design hasn't changed much over the years, means that you can keep your Grand Marquis, Crown Vic, or Town Car on the road for many years, with not much expense.

Average driving around town will return fuel average fuel mileage of 18mpg, but its the highway where this cruiser shines, delivering an average of 24mpg. This car had 100,000kms on the clock (60,000mi) and felt very solid. Its not uncommon to see these cars go many more hundreds of thousands of kilos as they're build with that in mind. As a car, I don't think you could draw a harder straw in life, than to be Grand Marquis or Crown Vic. Most start their lives as a Police Cruiser, running hard 24hrs a day, then retire to being flogged as a taxi cab for years, until they are mercilessly scavenged for parts.

The Panther triplets should not be overlooked on today's used car lots as they deliver a great combination of practicality, power, comfort and economy at a reasonable price.

Escpecially if the used car lot is an estate sale.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

F is for First entry, F-body

F is for first blog post, and today it will also stand for our first published test drive of an F-body. I aim to give you the hoons-eye-view of every vehicle possible, and the 4th generation, 1995 Trans Am that made its way to my driveway is the perfect place to start.

I wish I had taken more pictures of the car, especially of the street terror-carnage, while it was in my posession. But really, who hasn't witnessed a small block powered screaming chicken peel out from their local high school parking lot?

That being said, the Trans Am and Camaro are truly the basic hot rod of North America. The 5.7 litre LT1 V8 packs a punch, with a performance to dollar ratio rivaled only by the 5.0 litre Fox Body Mustang.
Drop the hammer on this bad boy at any speed below 80kph(50mph), and the 4L60 4-speed transmission will toss the screaming small block right into power country, kicking the rear end sideways.

This car lacked the shift-it-yourself feature of the T56 6-speed manual transmission that I prefer after having driven a similar F-body with that option. The 6-speed manual makes the car that much more controllable, as you can better meter how much torque makes it to the rear wheels via the slip of the clutch. With the automatic, you have to be prepared for low speed, full throttle downshifts as the gearbox will immediately put as much power to the ground as is available.

Before things get too messy, the tight suspension and capable brakes will be able to get things under control. With some stickier tires and warmer weather, this car would be a lot easier to hook up on the street. I wish I had some VHT traction compound. So goes the weather around these parts, forget about going anywhere, let alone forward, in the snow.

The Trans Am's 245/50/16 tires and suitable suspension make the car more than decently cornerable, just make sure youve got your Molly Hatchet cd going, because you'll be flirtin' with disaster if you give it any kind of throttle, mid turn.

Snobby, supposed connaisseurs, like to trash talk solid live axle setups in modern cars. (You know, the guys who feign interest in IRL racing). Blasphemy! In the Trans Am, the 3.42 limited slip 10-bolt provides a sturdy foundation for wild donuts in mall parking lots. You'll easily smoke out the place, whipping around and around, while Round n Round blares out of the 6-speaker Monsoon sound system.

Despite the cliches out there about the f-body cars, a lot of people really liked the Trans Am. This clean, low metrage car had looks that could appeal to just about anyone as a sports/muscle car. Most guys already know what its all about, most girls want to find out. Out cruising, you'll get the occasional glance from a passer-by who's ear caught the burbling exhaust note.

Even my 77 year old grandma wanted to check it out. Her arthritic knees wouln't let her in or out of the drivers seat, but she agreed that the car looked as if it could easily kill myself and three other willing participants.
The parents of today won't let the kids of today drive Trans Ams. Just as well, because that lazy offspring couldn't afford one unless it was given to them. Since you can't buy a new one from the Poncho dealer anymore, most clean used examples end up in the hands of 20 somethings (like me) that are looking for some affordable power and relative style. Or they go home with guys my dads age with some spare change to throw around.

An LT1 4th gen ('93-'97) in overall good shape, with reasonable metrage will cost you anywhere from about $3500 to $8500. There are a lot of owners out there who feel their 200,000km, worn out Firebird is worth $9000, so don't be afraid to wait for a good deal. GM made a ton of these cars, so don't blow your whole wad (of cash) on something rough.

They make great cars for the street or track, theres a plethora of aftermarket parts for them and they are cost effective. Don't be off put by your Acura driving co-worker, Camaros and Trans Ams are still cool, and fun as all hell to drive. Especially if you're gonna need a speedy car..."Speedier than that..."