Category: Hemmings

Five pieces of modern technology that improve old-car ownership – David Conwill @Hemmings

Five pieces of modern technology that improve old-car ownership – David Conwill @Hemmings

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Hemmings Graphic Designer Josh Skibbee recently gave me a 1945-built Delta-Milwaukee drill press. It’s a whopping big cast-iron thing (despite being intended mostly for woodworking) with a a remarkably good parts supply and a deep following among vintage-machine aficionados. It’s a device perfectly on-theme for my workshop: old-time quality with modern support.

I like old stuff vintage material culture a lot. That’s probably an understatement. If my friends think of me as someone who enjoys history, they equally know that it was gazing on the stylish and over-built remnants of the 20th century Machine Age that piqued my interest in the topic. I wouldn’t want to live in the past, but I sure appreciate its artifacts.

I also recognize that my ability to make practical use of things made long before I was born is facilitated in no small part by living in the current era of high technology (and no, I don’t mean the 4.1L V-8 in my wife’s Cadillac). This drill press, with its ideal combination of vintage quality and practicable ownership demonstrates the perfect crossover of the modern and the old. It led me to reflect on the top five things I’m grateful for in present–and future–tech:

Old technical manuals are the best, but without the internet how would you learn about the tips and tricks (and corrections!) that enhance the vintage manual? In fact, it would be considerably harder to acquire the manual at all, without the internet.

The Internet

As time and technology march on, the know-how that built earlier ages is gradually lost. Paper goods are called “ephemera” for a reason—they don’t last forever without careful handling. Archives are small and spread out, but the greatest thing about the Information Age is that we can endlessly share digital files with that same information. A blueprint that might have been lost in a collector’s filing cabinet in Saginaw, Michigan, or an archive in San Diego, California, can be shared worldwide in an instant. Dedicated craftsmen who believe in the value of keeping earlier machines alive can build parts (sometimes using CNC technology they could only have dreamed at in 1945!) to eke out decades more use from simple and robust machines: cars, drill presses, audio equipment, whatever.

Back in the ’60s, AM radio was often the only way to listen to rock and roll. These days, it’s seemingly all talk radio. Digital music means that with some subtle changes, you can listen to whatever you want through your original radio.

Digital Music

I grew up in the cassette era, when the roadsides fluttered with the shattered remains of people’s favorite tunes. I watched FM radio die a slow death of strangulation by focus group. I am super grateful that thanks to digitization, it’s possible to carry the music of your choice on your person and, with some clever wiring, even pipe it directly into the amplifier of a vintage radio.

Apple’s successful extermination of the 3.5-mm jack standard has put a new wrinkle in this since I last arranged it, but adding an aux input to a vintage radio is not an insurmountable task. You’re rewarded with that “warm, rich” tube sound from your monoaural dash speaker. Perhaps not a treat for the full audiophile, but, like gear whine and the smell of warm vinyl, a proper sensory experience for a vintage car. It’s a part of the appeal.

Space-age materials like Viton O-rings and silicone gaskets were still just dreams in 1962, but today they are the easiest way to seal up a drippy ’62 Corvair.

Aerospace-grade Materials and Processes

While I’m grateful that vintage machines have room for my decidedly analog/mechanical level of wrenching, I’m also utterly chuffed to live in an era where modern materials and precision machine work can be applied to produce unheard of levels of power, smoothness, and longevity from long-obsolete designs. Much like a woodworker is thrilled by the opportunity to work with dense-grained, old-growth lumber, the extra-sturdy, basic building blocks of antique cars and other machinery can be refined beyond the wildest dreams of their designers.

I just bought a set of silicone gaskets to re-seal the rocker covers and oil pan on my ’62 Corvair (I need one for the Powerglide pan too, but they are out of stock). When the Corvair was new, paper and cork gaskets were the standard. Silicone, which was discovered in 1901, didn’t really take off as an industrial material until the ’80s. Nowadays, the existence of silicone gaskets, which are heat- and chemically resistant, permits a car owner to remove and replace parts with intermediate gaskets indefinitely, without having to use a new gasket each time.

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What to keep in mind if you’re thinking about buying a vehicle sight unseen – David Conwill @Hemmings

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Getting a clean ’63 Impala isn’t as easy as it used to be. What if you’re looking at one on the other side of the country

The Hemmings Nation’s collective wisdom is a powerful thing if you comb through it and distill it down. Back in March, Dan Strohl asked, “Have you ever bought a car sight unseen?” and a number of you chimed in with experiences and advice.

The broad consensus was that it’s okay… under certain circumstances. The main advice is to adjust your expectations (and potential offer) to accommodate for the reality that most things look better in a carefully composed photo than in person. Take the words and images of an ad at face value and, more often than not, you’ll end up overpaying.

Responses essentially boiled down to No, Yes, and Yes But, with only one or two commenters offering unqualified yesses, often illustrated with stories that demonstrated extenuating circumstances. The no answers often stemmed from hard-won experience in having purchased one vehicle sight-unseen followed by the gut-wrenching disappointment of having a vehicle delivered that was far worse than expected.

The yes-but answers are probably the most indicative of the realities of the car-buying landscape as a whole. Temporal exigency is one, extreme rarity (Robert Wingerter talked about buying a 1-of-15 Cal-Ace and Joe Essid mentioned that his Project Apollo Buick was an exception for him because they’re so hard to find) is another, as is the hiring of a qualified inspector. There were also a few comments indicating that if the price is right, it’s worth rolling the dice and, in fact, the gamble is part of the fun.

“Sight unseen” is almost no longer a thing, and that is, perhaps, the biggest reality of all. With quality digital photography available virtually everywhere, long-distance transactions happen successfully every day—but it was universally noted that it’s the buyer’s task to demand the correct photos, know what to look for, and know what questions to ask. On top of that, one has to also somehow evaluate the character of the seller to determine if they are being evasive or untruthful in their responses.

Hans1965, from overseas, noted that for foreign buyers there is really no alternative. He’s been burned in the past, he says, but advises, “Be prepared for disappointment, but if you love the car, you get over this and enjoy it…. This is part of the hobby. I have accepted that. The joy to bring an old car back on the road outweighs the pain many times.”

“Even seeing one in person is not a guarantee if you are a bone-head like me,” Joe Essid remarks. Joe purchased a Miata that ticked all the boxes and passed his visual inspection, but found out later via Carfax that he’d purchased a rebuilt wreck—tanking its resale value. Nielen Stander chimes in that Carfax Reports for late models are becoming a standard offering from large-volume dealers and auction houses—though Mark Axen notes that he purchased a late-model pickup with a clean report that still displayed evidence of repairs. “Guess it was minor damage and not reported,” was his surmise.

In that vein, commenter Frog points out that such services are “not a reveal-all.” He prefers to trust his “six senses,” the sixth being common sense, in light of his own experiences. That’s important advice whether looking at a car directly or contemplating one from a distance. It’s probably closest to how I evaluated my own sight-unseen purchase last spring, which turned out to be a great car. Since experience can’t be taught, if you’re looking at your first oldie, it’s good to have the assistance of a knowledgeable friend or club member when evaluating a seller’s representations and photos.

As norm1200 says, “Generally, I don’t advise buying without personally inspecting (or hiring a professional third party), [but] that’s assuming the buyer knows how to reasonably inspect a vehicle.”

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Knowing when to walk away: Why I decided not to build my 1921 Ford Model T and what I’ll do instead – David Conwill @Hemmings

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Tilly came home on a trailer, but as of this writing is already a running and driving car. She just needs some help to be ready for the roads of her second century.

Last night, I decided I can’t continue with my Model T project. It’s a tough decision. I’ve wanted a Model T touring car since I was about eight years old (that’s 30 summers now) and I’ve now owned two different touring car bodies and a complete car. I’ve tried really, really hard to make a Model T happen, but it never seems to work out.

If you’ve been following my columns, you know that I’ve been planning to rebuild my ’21 into an early-1930s style hot rod, called a gow job. I’ve wanted a gow since I first learned that hot rodding predated World War II—those cars look awesome and because they’ve got improved power, handling, and braking, they’re a lot more usable than a purely stock 1920s car.

Nevertheless, I’m an adult and not independently wealthy. It’s tough enough to have three kids, a house, and two cars for transportation. A purely “fun” car is great but it would be an irresponsible avenue to continue pursuing–I’ll live off ramen to fund a project, but I won’t ask my family to do that. We have more practical needs to look after first. In fact, I’ll be putting my Model T and parts up for sale soon and putting that money into the home-improvement fund

Our ’08 Charger police car. It has 350 horsepower when it isn’t shutting down cylinders at random. That’s my old ’62 Falcon behind it.

This doesn’t mean I’m done with old cars, though. Far from it. It just means that I’ve got to rethink my driver situation. Our current fleet consists of a 2008 Dodge Charger police car and a 1983 Cadillac Sedan de Ville. The Charger we’ve had for five years, and while it’s fun to drive, it has an increasing number of electrical maladies and has been spending a lot of time in the shop. Once it’s fixed, it can find a new home with someone who enjoys working on late-model Mopars.

The Cadillac we got just last week. It is very cool but I can’t see us keeping it—it’s too nice. That sounds weird, but the biggest problem with the Cadillac is that it was purchased new by my wife’s grandfather the same year she was born. A car with that level of sentimental value is something of a white elephant in and of itself. It only has 23,000 miles on it and it’s a perfectly preserved cream puff. Putting wear and tear on it would be heartbreaking, and fixing all the luxury features as they age would be an utter nightmare. Instead, I intend to polish it up (I’ve been spending a lot of time researching paint care), tune it up, and try to find it a good home before the end of the summer.

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15 of Our Favorites From Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac Over the Last 100 Years – @Hemmings

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People born the year that GM pulled the plug on Oldsmobile will turn 18 in 2022. That means they grew to legal voting age having never seen a new car from Lansing. They might vaguely remember seeing a new Pontiac, as that brand’s demise came about after GM’s bankruptcy, bailout, and subsequent restructuring around 2009. Perhaps these hypothetical 18-year-olds might aspire to buy the new Buick Electra electric vehicle that Flint unveiled in September—if it ever progresses from a bold-looking concept car into production. Also, as long as they grew up in China, where the concept was shown and where this new Buick EV is slated to be built and sold.

Times have most definitely changed for Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac but one thing hasn’t—the popularity of the cars those storied marques produced from the prewar era through the 21st century. The B-O-P issue of HMN is one of our most popular, both with readers and with sponsors. It’s for good reason: GM’s middle three divisions produced some of the most innovative, exciting, reliable, luxurious, sporty, etc. vehicles in history and they remain popular with old-car buffs today.

Recently we polled the HMN staff to find out what B-O-P vehicles intrigue them the most and why. Some of the results were surprising and clearly there was a dearth of 1950s- and 1980s-era vehicles that we’ll need to address in a future issue. Here for your perusal are the results.

1922 OLDSMOBILE 43A

Oldsmobile already had decades of production on the road when the 1920s dawned, and the division continued to innovate. Three model lines were available for 1922: the Model M43A “Four,” which relied upon a 224-cu.in. inline-four; the Model 47 “Smaller Eight” that used a 233-cu.in. V-8; and the Model 46 “Larger Eight,” which sported a 246-cu.in. V-8. The M43A sold best, representing 14,839 of the 22,758 Oldsmobiles built that year. Sending its 40 hp to the wheels via a torque tube, the four-cylinder was an advanced design that included three main bearings, a two-stage carburetor, and overhead valves, the latter disappearing after 1923 and not returning until Olds debuted the 1949 Rocket V-8. The entry-level model came as a Roadster, Coupe, Sedan, or Tourer; it was much pricier than the contemporary mass-produced Ford Model T, the range of $1,195 to $1,795 being roughly equivalent to $19,510-$29,310 in today’s dollars. Marque enthusiasts covet surviving examples.— Mark J. McCourt

1926 BUICK STANDARD

Buick was a star of the middle-price market in the 1920s. In fact, it held third place overall in the industry four times in the 1919-’29 period, an era in which Ford was virtually unchallenged and where Chevrolet never wavered from the number-two spot. Model year 1926 was the peak of this period: Flint cranked out 266,753 units, of which 40,113 were $1,195 Standard two-door sedans like the car illustrated, making it the third-most-popular iteration of the third-most-popular car of 1926. Even a Standard was demonstrably better than a $645 Chevrolet Superior or a $580 Ford Model T, while the $1,395 Master was better yet. The Standard chassis had a 114.5-inch wheelbase, while the Master was 5.5 to 13.5 inches longer. Both cars used six-cylinders, with the Standard receiving a 60-hp, 207-cu.in. engine and the Master boasting 75 hp from 274 cu.in.— David Conwill

1932 PONTIAC MODEL 302

Established as a part of GM’s “companion makes” program in the 1920s, Pontiac proved so popular that not only did it long outlive the other companions (La Salle, Marquette, and Viking), but when its own parent faltered in the early years of the Great Depression, Pontiac absorbed it into its operations. The Model 302 was the former Oakland chassis, wearing an enlarged version of the Pontiac Six bodywork. The Model 302 also bore the 1930-vintage Oakland V-8, an 85-hp, 251-cu.in. flathead with a flat-plane crank—which caused considerable vibration but was easier to manufacture with the industrial tech of the time. The next year, the V-8, with its complicated mounts and vibration compensator, would be replaced by the first example of the long-running Pontiac straight-eight family, a 77-hp, 223-cu.in. unit, in a chassis derived from Chevrolet designs—a longstanding part of Pontiac’s formula.— David Conwill

1941 PONTIAC CUSTOM TORPEDO

In the immediate prewar era, Pontiac went upmarket, stepping further from Chevrolet and blurring the division lines between it and Oldsmobile—the next rung in the GM hierarchy—by introducing the full-sized Custom Torpedo line. These glamorous long-wheelbase cars shared their premium Fisher Body “C” bodyshells with the Oldsmobile 90 series Custom Cruiser, Buick Roadmaster, and Cadillac Series 62, with the Pontiac version offered in sedan coupe, sedan, and wood-trimmed station wagon forms. Under their long hoods sat a division-traditional 90-hp, 239.2-cu.in. L-head straight-six or optional 103-hp, 248.9-cu.in. L-head straight-eight. Total production of the 1941 Custom Torpedo Six and Custom Torpedo Eight amounted to just 25,448, with 8,257 and 17,191 units built, respectively. Arguably the most attractive, the two-door Model 29 Custom Torpedo Eight Sedan Coupe is thought to be the rarest variant remaining, making it a prize for collectors.— Mark J. McCourt

1962 PONTIAC GRAND PRIX

When its new car lineup was announced for 1962, Pontiac pitched the freshly minted Grand Prix as, “The personally styled car with the power personality!” It was a fine way of suggesting that the two-door hardtop was a new personal-luxury car, or gentleman’s grand tourer, before outlining just what it came equipped with. It turned out to be quite a list: recessed grille and tail panel design unique to the GP, a lower roofline to enhance its sleek profile, a standard 303-hp 389-cu.in. V-8 engine with a true dual-exhaust system, three-speed manual transmission (although a four-speed and Hydra-Matic were optional), aluminum wheels, an acceleration-friendly axle ratio, Morrokide bucket seats, center console, and full instrumentation that included a tachometer. In short, all the performance of a GTO, combined with the rich appointments of a Bonneville, tucked into a package the size of a Catalina. Starting at $3,490 (or $30,302 today), it found 30,195 buyers; this number quickly increased in the ensuing years.— Matthew Litwin

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Why the death of the stick shift is almost irrelevant to the classic car scene – David Conwill @Hemmings

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For 1935, Ford offered customers “effortless driving.” Today, that clutch pedal is just too much work for the average new-car buyer.

I hear somebody, maybe Volkswagen, has announced the end of manual transmissions—with other manufacturers almost certain to follow suit. Honestly, I don’t care much.

Any development on new cars is only of peripheral interest to me. I’ll likely never buy a new car. If I did, it would be some kind of roomy, economical family hauler—not a sports machine (the kind my colleague Mark McCourt insists need three pedals). The manual transmission has been extinct in family vehicles for a long while now. I’d much rather spend my money on something like a 1940s De Soto Suburban anyway.

The newest car I’ve personally owned was the 1993 Ford Escort I had from 2001 to 2009. I replaced it with a ’61 Ford Falcon and have largely tried to stick with stuff of ’60s or older vintage ever since. Largely, I’ve also sought out manual transmissions in these older vehicles, though my current car (foreseeably a long-term keeper) has a Powerglide automatic.

Henry Ford II said it himself, way back in 1970: “I think the glamour of the automobile is decreasing… People are looking at it now as a machine to get from place to place to do something else.”

Manual transmissions are like every other manual item of the 20th century that has been automated: air-fuel mixture, spark advance, heck, even staying in your own lane and not tailgating people. Satisfying to those of us that enjoy extracting fine control from a machine, but mostly just an irritation to the average new-car buyer who seems to view driving itself as a major inconvenience anymore. Expecting 21st century, multinational corporations to cater to the enthusiast is a pipe dream. Why not ask for access to their proprietary software while you’re at it?

Better to stick with old cars and create your own reality. They’re not going anywhere, barring draconian legislation that bans driver-operated vehicles from the roads. Even if gasoline goes away, enthusiasts have already started exploring dozens of ways to repower old cars.

How Many Parts-Store Trips Does a Project Take? Road to Improvement Tries to Find Out – Mike Austin @Hemmings

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We’re nearing the finale of Road to Improvement season one, and the Big Green 1981 Suburban is currently live on Hemmings Auctions in a no-reserve charity sale to benefit SEMA Cares. If there’s a theme to this arc of our road-trip/build story, it’s pushing limits—in this case, both for the Suburban’s powertrain upgrades and our hosts’ sanity. Check it out in the video above or on our YouTube page (and don’t forget to subscribe, please).

Which brings us to the headline question and upgrading Big Green with new heads, a camshaft, and associated parts. It’s the most involved change to the Road to Improvement Suburban yet. Swapping cylinder heads is far less plug and play than upgrading something like the vehicle’s electronic fuel injection, which we did in an earlier episode. Heads need to be matched to the camshaft timing, the intake and exhaust, and even the desired character of the engine. With that in mind, Mike Musto consulted Tim Torrecarion from Air Flow Research and settled on a setup with plenty of low- and midrange grunt, with the appropriate valve timing courtesy of a Comp Cams camshaft.

It turns out that was the easy step. Installing new heads was an entirely different story. Even in the best scenario, this kind of upgrade involves removing a significant number of engine parts. With a 40-year-old vehicle like Big Green, you’re bound to deal with some stubborn, rust-encrusted pieces that have been in place since Day One, several of which you might as well replace while you’re in there

Thus, you’re left to make multiple trips to the auto-parts store for engine accessories, bolts, clamps, and all the other things that come up in a project of this scope. As co-host Elana Scherr puts it, you’ll want to know where the closest store is, plus your backup store, and a third, and probably a fourth pick as well, just in case. Mike visits all of them and, well, we’ve all been in his shoes, so it’s okay to have laugh at his expense

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The unibody XJ Cherokee blazed the trail for today’s popular, car-based crossover SUVs – Mark J McCourt @Hemmings

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It was a gamble for American Motors Corporation’s Jeep division to introduce the “XJ” Cherokee, using a venerated nameplate on a new 4×4 that was very different from any Jeep that came before. This compact, efficient, and stylish people mover was thoroughly reimagined for the 1980s and became an immediate best seller in its first year on the market. With decades of hindsight, the XJ Cherokee proved a winning formula with incredible longevity, and 1984 was where it all began.

Images from the Hemmings Brochure Collection, courtesy of Bruce Zahor

The Cherokee and Wagoneer being sold in 1983 had their origins in the early 1960s, being large, six passenger, two- and four-door SUVs. Those “SJ”-chassis models were powered by inline-six and V-8 engines, and their traditional body-on-frame construction was rugged, if not particularly intended for daily driven on-road comfort. A clean-sheet replacement for those near 4,000-pound, 186.4-inch-long trucks had long been in the making, and the new versions of these models reached AMC/Jeep showrooms for the ’84 model year, having modernized four-wheel-drive motoring.

The crisply attractive design shared by the new Cherokee and Wagoneer variants was drastically downsized, their “UniFrame” integrated chassis-bodies measuring 21.1 inches shorter, on a 7.3-inch shorter wheelbase, and weighing in an average of 800 pounds less than the original design that stayed in production as the upmarket Grand Wagoneer. The XJ came as a basic two- or four-door Cherokee, a well-trimmed two- or four-door Cherokee Pioneer, a sporty two- or four-door Cherokee Chief, and as a plush four-door Wagoneer and premium Wagoneer Limited.

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This Cadillac Eldorado Brougham Is a Rare Example of GM’s Ultimate in 1950s Luxury and a Dream Realized – Jim Black @Hemmings

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Gliding with the “Blue Lady”

As announced in December 1956 and available by March 1957, the Cadillac Series 70 Eldorado Brougham was designed by Ed Glowacke, who was part of Harley Earl’s design studio at General Motors. Arguably the most beautiful and most sought-after Cadillac ever built, the Eldorado Brougham was Cadillac’s response to Ford Motor Company’s Continental Mark II. The prototype Brougham was a hand-built, true pillarless four-door hardtop that first debuted as a featured show car in the GM Motorama for 1955. Derived from the ultra-luxurious Park Avenue and Orleans show cars of 1953-’54, the Brougham was stunning with its brushed-stainless-steel roof. Other exterior ornamentation included polished-stainless-steel lower rear-quarter panels with full rocker sills and rectangular-shaped side body coves cut into the front and rear doors, with horizontal wind-splits set into each cove. The pillarless four-door design had the rear doors opening toward the rear of the car (“suicide” style), allowing easy access for back-seat occupants. With all four doors open you could barely see the stub B-pillar.

The Brougham was the first to offer quad headlamps that, at the time, were still illegal in some states. The air suspension also proved unreliable, and Cadillac later released a kit to convert cars to rear coil-sprung suspension. Broughams still using the factory air suspension are rarer and thus more valuable today.

At 5,315 pounds, the Eldorado Brougham was a brute and required Cadillac’s largest and most powerful overhead-valve V-8 engine. The 365-cu.in. V-8, fed via dual Carter four-barrel carburetors and backed by Cadillac’s Hydra-Matic four-speed automatic transmission, produced 325 hp at 4,800 rpm and 400 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm

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For the ’70s 4×4 Craze, Automaker Ads Took a Back-to-Basics Approach – Jeff Koch @Hemmings

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In the ’70s, the Big Three increasingly encouraged going off-road. Jeep, not yet part of Chrysler and ever ahead of the curve, figured this out about two seconds after it converted its lightweight military sherpa to civilian duty, and it took the rest of the industry decades to catch up.

When it did, the results appeared to catch the ad copywriters flat-footed. This potted group of mid-’70s full-size SUV ads take a strangely pedestrian approach. It’s almost as if the copywriters didn’t know how to pitch this new breed of vehicle that combined the attributes of a station wagon and a pickup without using the name of a competitive product or encouraging buyers to void the warranty against a boulder. And if the writers couldn’t wrap their heads around it, how could buyers be expected to? Even the SUV name is basic—possibly a little too basic.

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That Great Old Tire Look – Dan Stoner @Hemmings

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Remember those great old Firestone gold-line Indy tires? Those real wide ones that look great on GT40s and Shelbys and just about any track car, pre-1975? There’s something about the shape and style of those bias-ply tires that looked so much better than the radials that came after them, and these Indys are right up there with a piecrust slick and a pizza-cutter front runner. It’s as if a Great Being in the sky looked down upon us gearheads and said, “Look, you’ve foolishly squandered your life’s savings on these damn things, so your punishment is that you can either have tires that perform well or tires that look really great. But you can’t have both.”

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