I've been involved in performance cars both old and new since I was a freshman in high school, which makes it...close to 20 years, now. I was a bookish, overachieving child through Junior High, but ever since my first outrageously dangerous ride in Chris Gulledge's 1970 Mustang, I knew that I was born to run.
Styling is entirely secondary.
Musclecars drew me first. I considered various cars--a '72 Torino Sport, a '69 Torino GT, a '70 Challenger R/T, a '68 Charger R/T--but the influence of Gulledge's Mustang pointed me towards the original pony car. I determined that I had to have a Mustang, and checked out a couple of examples of both '69 and '70 fastbacks. Nothing quite fell into place; meanwhile, my brother kept making noise about this car that a friend of his up the highway had: A 1970 Torino GT. I looked at it, and absolutely hated it. But I kept seeing that car, and every time I saw it, it looked a little better. So, it wasn't long before I decided that a Torino GT was what I really had to have.
There the search began. I hit the roads, cased dozens of neighborhoods and small towns in my nastly little beige Pinto station wagon, ever seeking the distinctive predatory grille or full-width, mesh-covered taillight panel. For 18 frustrating months the search continued, until on Thanksgiving weekend of 1986 an offhand tip from my brother sent me to Hubbard, TX. There, I found what I'd been looking for: A 1970 Torino GT with the 429 Cobra Jet engine and a 4-speed manual transmission. I got my first job to buy that car, and I have it to this day.
The Package Deal
Love for my '70 Torino carried me through High School and the first few years of college, but by my Junior year at the University of Texas, I was beginning to yearn for a bit more refinement. That, and the second great age of American muscle was already well underway: C4 Corvettes, Buick Grand Nationals, modified 5.0 Mustangs, twin-turbo 300 ZX's, and 3rd generation RX-7's were all roaming the streets. Some of these cars had compelled my interest--quite forcibly, in a few cases. A car that could rip off a consistent 13.5 second 1/4 mile, top out at 160 mph, pull .9 g's on the skidpad and 70 mph in the slalom, and still keep its occupants in comfort and style, was something I had to regard with very great caution and respect. And when I saw them, I generally kept a low profile--I'd throw down if they offered, but I didn't talk too much trash around them, because I'd discovered how easy it was to lose.
I had friends who drove these cars, and while they weren't quite as powerful as my GT, they rode on taut, capable suspensions and offered ergonomic interiors, quality sound systems, and...air conditioning. I examined the range of affordable performance vehicles, and settled on the 5.0 Mustang. I purchased an ex-Special Service 5.0 LX Mustang from the Texas Department of Public Safety during the summer of 1994.
To be honest, I didn't really like the Mustang very much. I always thought that the styling was hideous. But you could do anything with them, which is still true to this day.
I was satisfied with my Mustang for a long time, but one winter weekend early in 1998, a friend from Dallas arrived driving a '95 Z/28 Camaro. I'd long hated the way those things looked--the unrelived wedge shape doesn't do it for me--but after the first ride it was impossible for me to argue with the performance. The acceleration put my Mustang to shame, the cornering embarrassed it even further, and the interior ergonomics were something else again. I couldn't escape the realization that I could spend the purchase price of a used Z/28 trying to make my Mustang as well-rounded, and it still wouldn't be as good. In early '99, I bought my '97 Camaro SS, which is my daily driver to the present day.
Musclecars were my first passion, and they're still what I think of first. I'll have that '69 or '70 Mach 1 Mustang yet. When I was young and dumb, I missed an opportunity to buy a '69 Mach 1 with 428 SCJ, shaker, hood pins, slats, 4-speed, console, and 4.30 gears from the original owner for $2500. It was trashed and it didn't run, but I chew broken glass every time I remember what an opportunity that was, had I but known it at the time. I currently have my eye on a '70 Mach 1 with the original paint and graphics, slats, and spoilers that's sunk up to its axles in dirt by an old trailer around here, but my finances won't allow me to pursue it just yet. Alternately, there could as readily be a '70 or '71 Cyclone Spoiler in my future. Actually, there will be at some point, I just don't know whether it will be next or not. I currently know of a '70 Cyclone and a couple of Montegos that I could convert into Cyclones.
After putting so much of my life into my girlfriend's Trans Am, I'm tempted to get involved with Pontiacs myself. I'm currently ruminating on two leads. One is a '72 Firebird Formula 455 HO automatic that's missing the powertrain. The other is a '70 GTO 4-speed with faded Judge stickers, hood tach, spoilers, and RAM AIR IV stickers on the hood scoops that's frequently parked at the local supermarket. Is it really a Judge? Is it really a RAIV car? Is it available? Maybe I'll leave a note someday soon to find out. Alternately, I've seen a '69 or '70 Grand Prix sitting dead beside a nearby house, so perhaps I'll investigate that.
With that said, the package deal has made its impression. I may be on drugs, but I have this vision of getting my hands on a turbo 3.8 Buick engine from a Grand National, and then taking a crash course in turbo 3.8's, even as I took a crash course in Pontiac 400's when my girlfriend got her car. It might be a neverending nightmare, but I can't help dreaming dreams about how lovely such an engine would be in an '80 Turbo Trans Am. I've always liked the styling of the 80-81 turbos, with the turbine wheels, the four-wheel discs, and the hood bulge with the chicken puking on it, but they get no respect at all because of that lame 301. It would be too sweet to give one of those cars an honest turbo engine, and cause a lot of very unexpected grief in the local street racing scene.
Alternately, I suppose I could just go across FM 969 and two houses down and ask the old woman ONE MORE TIME if she's interested in parting with the '84 Buick Grand National that her son abandoned in her driveway. It's a straight car, and if the planets were aligned favorably, I might get it for about $500.00....
Before I bought my Ford, I considered a couple of Chryslers: A 1970 Challenger R/T with a 340 (damned beautiful car, but in need of very, very serious restoration) and a 1968 Charger R/T with a 440 Magnum. At that time I did a great deal of research on various options and packages, and I never failed to be impressed with the Dodge/Plymouth automobiles. The strength of Chrysler powertrains is obvious--after all, the 1970 Hemi 'Cuda still holds the showroom stock musclecar 1/4 mile record of 13.02--and their clean lines have a timeless appeal. Beyond that, though, their exterior graphic packages--broad, bad-ass, trash-talking letters, numbers, and stripes--were the best in the business and have never yet been surpassed, and between 1970 and 1974, Chrysler had beyond a shadow of a doubt the best interior styling in American production.
That, and I've always immensely respected Chrysler's death-before-dishonor commitment to the totality of musclecar performance at that time. By 1974, everyone else except Pontiac had folded, but in that year, the full lineup of Chrysler muscle--Charger, Challenger, Road Runner, and 'Cuda--was still available. The writing had been on the wall for a long time, but they held the line unto the bitter end. By God, I like that.
Sweet, sweet cars, though. Sometimes I still think that I should have bought the Challenger.
Copyright © 2006, Troy Hunt. All rights reserved.