Old school, or new school?All the hype about the new Camaro and Challenger makes me excited about the future of hot-rodding-as did the introduction of the new Mustang in 2005-but it also makes me wonder if, as an enthusiast, I'm really better off. In this month's issue, you'll find three cars with at least 550 hp and built for $25,000 or less. They are each unique, and could turn heads if pulled into any parking lot in the land. If Roland Paciulli drove his '70 Camaro to a Porsche dealer, it would empty the freakin' showroom, and business would come to a standstill. Just think about that for a moment. If I drove my '05 GT Mustang to a place like that, it wouldn't get the first look.
As the hot-rodding world gears up for the next round of Detroit ponycars, I see a disconnect between what we expect from our old hot rods and what we expect from Detroit. For example, when a PHR feature car costing $15,000 runs 12.60s instead of 11s, I get hate mail. But Detroit is going to unload a pair of ponycars that weigh near 2 tons each, have more than 350 hp, cost $30,000, and-on a good day with a tail wind-will claw their way into the mid-13s. And we'll fawn over them.
I blame the minivan and the SUV. Every time a new gizmo like OnStar finds its way into one of those things, the OEMs have to slap them on everything, including new musclecars. For God's sake, the throttle on my new Mustang GT doesn't even have a real cable, and it's already screwed up.
The OEMs call this progress, but I don't. I'm still excited about any performance coming out of Detroit, but let's be clear: they aren't doing this exclusively for us hot rodders, they're also doing it for the cup- holder audience. When these cars hit, Detroit's corporate PR machine will make a brief effort to live in our world. You'll see Hot Rod get a few ads and a project car out of it, and after a few months, GM will go back to Detroit to make more trucks. Back in 1969, Detroit PR practically lived in our offices, brewing up concoction after high-octane concoction. There were full-page ads for Mercurys, Chevys, AMCs, and Mopars; the parking lots of all the mags-SS&DI, PHR, HR-were littered with super-tuned project cars that Detroit would ship on rollbacks. In the old days, OEMs really put their money where their mouths were.
This time around, it's different. There will be polished corporate Web sites; there will be orchestrated photo ops with editors driving through orange cones; there will be giveaway key fobs at county fairs-but there will be no Drag Pack Challengers with headers in the trunk being dropped off by engineers with pocket protectors and slide rules. Sure it sucks for us, but it sucks for you, too.
Let me ask you this: If you had $30,000 to spend on a car, and it had to be built before 1973, what would it be? Short of a Hemi car, a COPO Camaro, or a Shelby Mustang, you could buy pretty much anything (even in this over-inflated musclecar market), and have money left over. Take Rich Perry's '66 Nova SS (shown), which we found at the NMCA True Street race in Bradenton, Florida. He has a total of $8,000 in it, and it runs low-12s. Rich did all of his own work and saved a ton of money, but even if you're a mechanical moron you could buy one finished for way less than $30,000.
A car like this is simple enough to work on at home. There's no OnStar, no fly-by-wire, no computer programming-just a carburetor, a timing light, and no government interference. It will never depreciate in value, you'll never need to smog it, and you'll get thumbs-up everywhere you go. And if you total it, it's still worth more than your average Toyota. Not willing to use it as a driver during the week? With the money left from the $30,000 you didn't spoend on a new Camaro, you can get a used econobox and call it a day.
On the other hand, I'll probably trade my '05 Mustang for either a new Challenger or Camaro, depending on which is more affordable. That's just the way hot rodders are wired. New car smell, being the first on my block, having a warranty-it's not such a bad idea after all.
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