Tag: Terry McGean

The joy of finding a long-lost car – Terry McGean @Hemmings

The joy of finding a long-lost car – Terry McGean @Hemmings

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Tales of Rediscovery

There’s a video on YouTube from about 10 years back that features famed rock musician Peter Frampton being handed a black Les Paul, with palpable anticipation on his face. The guitar was allegedly the very one Frampton had played on some of his most well-known recordings and in many concerts during the ’70s, including the shows recorded for his massive Frampton Comes Alive album. However, that guitar was lost decades prior when a cargo plane carrying gear for the band crashed and burned in Venezuela. It was assumed the instrument had been destroyed with everything else on the plane, and Frampton has said the crew’s loss of life made investigating the equipment further seem trivial. He accepted that his cherished Les Paul was gone for good.

In the video, when Frampton gets his hands on the guitar in question, it takes mere seconds for his expression to change as he proclaims, “It’s my guitar.” A reunion transpires that is nearly incredible, the odds of it happening so slim, but even after further investigation, there seems to have been no question that this was indeed the same customized guitar Frampton had played more than 40 years prior. I couldn’t help noting the parallels between Frampton’s guitar recovery and some of the stories of vintage car owners rediscovering long-lost rides.

Electric guitars like the ones played by most rock musicians usually begin as mass-produced items, then over time, the custom touches of their owners and the wear and tear that occurs from use can leave each one somewhat unique, if only subtly so. It’s essentially the same way for vintage muscle cars.

Chevrolet pumped out Camaros just like Fender made as many Stratocasters as it could feasibly produce each year. And just as certain Camaros are more desirable than others (trim, model year, options, etc.), so too are particular Strats more prized. But they all roll off their respective production lines and out into the world, and some lucky owner starts enjoying each one. Some changes are made consciously — a set of mag wheels, an upgraded set of pickups — and other changes are not so intentional — a scratch here, a bump there. All become part of the signature of that individual item.

Muscle cars and electric guitars are things associated with youth, and the sorts of possessions many people let go of when the next phase of life begins. Sometimes thieves or accidents make the decision for us, but whatever the case, years on, we tend to long for those once-treasured bits of our younger years. Most of the time, a reasonable facsimile of the original is the best we can muster

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Even the cars I thought were junk back in the day are now getting restored – Terry McGean @Hemmings

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From cannon fodder to collectible, my standards for what’s collectible have shifted

It’s interesting how our standards change over time. What was acceptable years ago might not be okay now; conversely, things we rejected in the past may now be valued. The second arrangement certainly applies to vintage vehicles, and when it comes to cars of the original muscle era, most of us likely have recollections of particular cars we may have cast off way back when that we’d really like to have now.

Discussion of such things came up recently in a conversation about Dodge’s 1968-’70 Charger—a model that has been experiencing significant value escalation in recent years. As a result, anything resembling a ’68-’70 Charger seems to be worth a small fortune, and this is where Dodge’s stylish coupes serve as a good example of the steadily shifting standards. The acceptance of lesser 318 and 383 versions is one indicator—many gearheads would have insisted on an R/T not so long ago. The acceptable condition of the car in question has seen a steady slide too. Today, people seem far less particular.

It’s interesting how our standards change over time. What was acceptable years ago might not be okay now; conversely, things we rejected in the past may now be valued. The second arrangement certainly applies to vintage vehicles, and when it comes to cars of the original muscle era, most of us likely have recollections of particular cars we may have cast off way back when that we’d really like to have now.

Discussion of such things came up recently in a conversation about Dodge’s 1968-’70 Charger—a model that has been experiencing significant value escalation in recent years. As a result, anything resembling a ’68-’70 Charger seems to be worth a small fortune, and this is where Dodge’s stylish coupes serve as a good example of the steadily shifting standards. The acceptance of lesser 318 and 383 versions is one indicator—many gearheads would have insisted on an R/T not so long ago. The acceptable condition of the car in question has seen a steady slide too. Today, people seem far less particular.

I looked around at some recent Charger sales and was astounded by some of the transaction figures. The fervor to buy even far-less-than-perfect specimens reminded me of some of the Chargers that had crossed my path years ago. As a teen, it was already tough to find a decent ’68 or ’69 Charger, but one of my friends had managed to obtain one of each. The first was a ’69 that had been a 383 four-barrel originally, but which was later fitted with a 440 Magnum. Given that we were in the Northeast, the car was rusty, but he had it patched up and painted and it looked good… for a while.

Later, while the ’69 was being painted, my friend needed something else to drive and came upon a ’68 Charger with a 318. This one had a really nice original interior, but it was also rusty, with missing sections of lower quarter panel, holes in the rear valence panel, and so on. But it ran and drove great, so he used it daily for a few months.

At the time, both of those cars were seen as stepping stones—placeholders of a sort, providing the experience of having a Charger until a better one could be found. A couple years later, after the ’69’s paint job started coming apart as the body filler revealed itself, my friend sold it off, and I clearly recall us thinking it was “just too far gone to be worth fixing the right way.” The ’68 was sold around the same time for similar reasons, all of us thinking there was no point in trying to fix that much decay on a 318 car. Of course, what we considered too rotten in the ’80s would now be considered a great starting point. Both of those cars were structurally sound, and though the floorpans on both cars were getting pin-holed, neither had gotten anywhere close to the full Flintstone effect.

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One man’s quest to gather the lowest-mileage Mustangs of the ’80s and beyond – Terry McGean

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We humans have an odd tendency to collect things: coins, stamps, shot glasses… When we find some object that appeals to us, we seem to want to multiply the joy it brings by finding more of that thing, and in whatever variations may exist. Chasing down those variations often becomes the continuing challenge that makes the collecting exciting — the thrill of the hunt and the conquest of capture.

Following that logic, if desirable items that bring joy and that come in many variations are the basis for a fulfilling collection, cars are a natural focus, and car collecting has been going on since the time the earliest automobiles were deemed “classics,” once they’d become old enough to be somewhat scarce. Traditionally, that has meant at least a few decades beyond manufacture, but a shift seemed to occur in the early 1980s as the muscle cars of the ’60s and early ’70s started to become sought by enthusiasts. In most cases, the favored models weren’t even 20 years old yet, but a couple things happened to hasten the movement: The muscle car era ended rather abruptly in the early ’70s, and the original buyers of those cars started to feel the tug of nostalgia.

We’ve been celebrating those same cars ever since, but what about the second coming of Detroit’s performance wars? That next wave of factory-built hot rods began right around the time the earlier muscle cars first began to climb in value thanks to enthusiast interest. Shouldn’t those later models have followed suit?

1992 SAAC MK1

The 1992 SAAC Mk 1 was a special edition produced to honor the efforts of Carroll Shelby during his Ford period while also yielding a Mustang that outperformed standard 5.0 models. Only 62 were produced, and this one has just 13 miles.

“A good friend is into ’40 Fords; he used to make fun of these cars,” Dave W. says, standing in the building that houses his gathering of Mustangs from Ford’s Fox era. That sort of sentiment was not unusual from traditional auto enthusiasts, who still tend to view cars of the ’80s as “late models” that don’t warrant collector interest. Perspective plays a role — some people may not recognize that an ’83 Mustang is about to turn 40. To others, these cars were produced in numbers too great to be considered “rare.” But to Dave, there’s a vast performance history to highlight from this period of Ford’s past. Plus, a whole new generation of fans are now getting nostalgic.

“I have such fond memories of these cars — that’s a big part of their appeal,” he explains, but we couldn’t help but wonder why a Mustang fan had nothing from the model’s earliest days. “I’m not as into the early cars because I didn’t grow up with them; I grew up with the Fox cars — those were the years I followed them.”

Dave started out on the path to the Blue Oval camp early. “My grandfather worked for Ford and took me to the Metuchen [New Jersey] plant a few times when I was young. They weren’t building Mustangs anymore — it was Ranger trucks then — but the Ford influence set in.” Like so many car-crazed kids, Dave saved up his money and was able to buy a 1985 Mustang GT in 1987, citing reasons beyond the Dearborn connection. “The 5-liters were accessible and affordable; the IROCs and Trans Ams seemed expensive.

From there, the hook was set. He bought an ’89 Mustang LX 5.0 later, but when he started a business, the fun cars had to go for a while. Once the business grew, he was able to get back into it. “At first, I focused on ’85s and ’86s, since those were the cars I got started with,” Dave says, but it was just the spark for what he would soon pursue. When a friend and fellow Mustang enthusiast showed him some of the extremely low-mileage examples of the same-era cars, Dave was fascinated by their “Day One” time-capsule quality. It changed the course of his own collecting.

“Then I said, I really want to have a great collection of the best cars of this era. I want people to be able to see what they were like when they were brand new. I often call these ‘no-mileage’ cars, because a ‘low-mileage’ car can have 15-20,000 miles in most people’s view. The cars I am interested in usually have less than 100.”

The precedent established by muscle car collecting helped to create some real gems among the cars that came later — enthusiasts were more aware of the collector appeal of examples that were hardly used, as opposed to those that had been restored to that state. But many of the cars now in Dave’s collection take the “it’s only original once” mantra to the extreme, presenting not simply as they might have been in the showroom, but as they were rolling off the transport truck. An early addition to this gathering exemplifies this and came from Dave’s friend — the one who’d first piqued his interest in essentially untouched cars.

“The ’90 LX notchback is one my friend bought years ago from a Ford dealer’s personal collection. The car had never been prepped and was still on MSO [Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin]. It was in their warehouse, and when the dealer finally decided to part with it, my friend got it — there are still only around 81 miles on it now,” Dave explains. Looking at this specimen will trigger a memory jog for anyone who ever paid attention to Fox Mustangs when they were new. The details of the factory paint surface quality, the single narrow pinstripe, the finish on the “10-hole” wheels, which have never had their center caps installed. It really is a trip, particularly on a model that was not typically saved on speculation of future value — these cars were bought to be driven, yet this one still has the factory crayon markings in the windows.

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Building a Period 1976 Chevy Blazer With Modern Hardware – Terry McGean @Hemmings

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Retro 4×4: Introducing Project Offline

Words and Photography by Terry McGean, digital renderings by Abimelec Arellano. This digitally created rendering illustrates what we hope to achieve with our 1976 Chevy K5 Blazer project: a ’70s-tinged 4×4 capable of road travel and occasional off-roading.

If you’ve been paying attention to the most recent trends in automotive enthusiasm and car collecting, you’ve likely noticed that vintage four-wheel-drive trucks are hot and getting hotter. We’d like to think we were ahead of the curve on this one, because about two-and-a-half years ago, we acquired a 1976 Chevrolet K5 Blazer as a project vehicle. Of course, like so many old car (and truck) projects, this one has taken a bit longer than anticipated, but now that it’s starting to really take shape, it’s time we began reporting on its progress.

Why a Blazer? Several of us at Hemmings are Chevy truck fans and have long appreciated the different approach the division took with its first sport utility vehicle back in the 1960s. By shifting from the original plan to produce a small 4×4 on par with the IH Scout or Ford Bronco and instead using the existing light-truck platform, Chevrolet effectively created a new genre of truck. The resulting Blazer had familiar looks, a rugged chassis, and plenty of room inside, despite having a shorter wheelbase than any other Chevy truck. By the time the next generation of Chevy trucks debuted for 1973, the Blazer’s popularity was really taking off and soon they were quite commonly seen on the roads coast to coast, even in areas that didn’t typically have lots of truck buyers.

So, when the idea of a vintage 4×4 project was raised in our offices, a Chevy seemed a natural choice. Then, when local friend and occasional accomplice Glen Sauer announced that he’d be selling his personal ’76 K5 project, we jumped on it.

We acquired the Blazer from friend and collaborator Glen Sauer, who found it in California some years earlier. The truck was very solid but partially dismantled when we had it offloaded into our shop. We reinstalled the front sheetmetal and trim, but the truck would soon come completely apart as our intentions evolved.

Glen is a car enthusiast but also a metal fabricator, and he’s worked with us on projects in the past. He’d acquired this ’76 Blazer from California some years earlier and drove it in stock form for a time while planning his own project. The Blazer had an excellent body, seemingly with no rust and still wearing much of its factory paint. Glen’s intent had been to upgrade the truck’s mechanicals and leave the weathered paint, and initially we intended to just pick up where Glen had left off. Things have, of course, escalated since then.

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Tuning Up and Dialing In With an Upgraded Electronic Distributor – Terry McGean @Hemmings

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Electronic ignition systems were just coming online as the original muscle car era was fading out. The electronic triggering replaced traditional breaker points, eliminating a maintenance item while providing both more consistency and the ability to run a more powerful spark.

General Motors had offered “transistorized” ignitions on some models in the ’60s, but those systems were notoriously troublesome. However, during the 1974 model year, a new electronic ignition debuted on select GM models called High Energy Ignition, which would quickly come to be known as simply “HEI.” The new system became standard on all GM passenger car and light truck V-8 engines for 1975, and soon proved to require very little maintenance. The coil was located inside, under a cover at the top of the distributor cap, and the control module was mounted in the base so that the entire ignition system was contained in the distributor itself —only a single power feed wire was required.

Lurking back behind that Quadrajet on this stock 1985 GMC’s Chevy small-block V-8 is one of the familiar H.E.I. distributors. This was GM’s electronically triggered “High Energy Ignition” system that replaced traditional breaker points on virtually all GM passenger car and light truck V-8 engines for 1975. It is self-contained, easy to service, and quite reliable, but this one is now more than 35 years old.

Thanks to the new HEI’s high-powered spark and reliable performance, in addition to its plug-and-play arrangement, some enthusiasts began swapping the units into older models. Another benefit of the HEI was expanding dwell, a feature built into the control module. This means that as rpm increases, the duration of the spark also increases. The feature helps to yield more complete combustion for cleaner emissions, but it can also provide a boost to power output.

One downside of the HEI was that, since it came into being during the depths of the “smog” era, it was common for the factory advance curve rates to be very conservative, and not necessarily conducive to performance. Fortunately, these distributors can be recurved just like earlier breaker-point units. As the HEI made its way further into performance applications, another shortcoming revealed itself: The HEI’s output often begins to trail off after around 5,500 rpm. That’s the point where most factory engines of the time were reaching their maximum rpm, but obviously well short of the levels racing engines typically see.

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Like The Beatles, The Mustang’s Influences Went Far and Wide – Terry McGean @Hemmings

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I was watching a documentary on the Beatles recently and it made me realize that I’ve been hearing their music for my entire life. It’s quite possible one of their songs may even have played on the car radio as my parents drove home from the hospital after I was born, given that it was New York City during the late ’60s; in that time and place, the sounds of the Fab Four were somewhat ubiquitous.

In a sort of similar way, I’ve been seeing Ford Mustangs my whole life — something else that was introduced to America in 1964 and an integral part of the landscape by the decade’s close. By the time I was old enough to be conscious of popular music and cars, both the Beatles and the Mustang felt like very familiar elements of the background of everyday life, even though by then the group had split and Ford’s original pony had morphed into the Mustang II —the early works were still everywhere you’d turn.

And just as the Beatles inspired the formation of many other bands, some that went on to be hugely popular in their own right, the Mustang triggered imitators from Ford’s competitors that became icons themselves. You can debate over whether we’d have had The Who without the Beatles, but there’s little doubt that without the Mustang, there’d have been no Camaro.

I’m certainly glad things played out the way they did, and that the resulting impact was lasting. I saw The Who live in 1989 and I’ve owned a ’69 Camaro since a few years prior to that. The Camaro was not my first car —that was a Chevelle —but once I’d experienced the first-generation F-body, I was hooked. It just seemed like the perfect size for a car —big enough to comfortably house a V-8 engine, hold at least four people, and with a trunk that was sized to be useful.

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Electric Hot Rods: Sacrilege, or a Glimpse of Our Future? – Terry McGean @Hemmings

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“Well, they’ve finally ruined Project X…”

“This is the worst idea I’ve ever seen executed on this car.”

“Look, they turned Project X into a golf cart.” 

That last comment about the golf cart seemed to offer some insight. It stemmed from the belief floating around early in the week that the ‘57’s new drivetrain only offered one-hundred-some-odd horsepower–that wouldn’t be enough to excite anyone when mounted to a vehicle that likely weighed around 4,000 lbs with the battery packs. Without the performance, enthusiasts aren’t interested. Clean air and efficient transport might be benefits they’d look for in a commuter, but not in a hot rod. So, even when it became clear that the motor was actually good for about 340 hp, attitudes weren’t swayed much. That’s on par with a garden-variety mild performance small-block these days–no need for alternate propulsion to achieve that. 

Again, it is that potential for rapid acceleration that has made the electric motor option at least mildly palatable for many enthusiasts, if not intriguing. While electric cars have existed for nearly as long as cars themselves, for most of its history, the automobile has been motivated by combustion engines, and the electric variations that cropped up sporadically through the years usually seemed like compromised oddities. As such, the tried and true combustion engine had remained essentially unchallenged from a performance standpoint. 

But something changed in the 1990s, when General Motors created a concept electric car it called the Impact. It was designed from the ground up to be electric, rather than using an electric drivetrain in a modified existing car. The experiment was interesting enough to garner the attention of the California Air Resources Board, which then mandated that major auto manufacturers produce zero emissions vehicles as a stipulation of continuing to sell conventional combustion engine vehicles in California. General Motors released the EV1, the production electric car that was based heavily on the Impact, and consumers in Southern California and Arizona were allowed to lease the new cars.  

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Project Artemis: A classic Ford F-250 for exploring off the beaten path – Terry McGean @Hemmings

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Godzilla goes overlanding

It’s a big, wide world out there, with lots to see and do, but not all of it can be reached via paved highways. The urge to explore has motivated humans for centuries and, even in our highly developed world, there are remote places left undisturbed. But how can you get there for some R&R, and then back to the rat race, inside of your little sliver of time off? The answer lies with “overlanding.

”Though the term isn’t new, in its current use, overlanding describes the growing trend of off-road exploration with motor vehicles where roads, trails, camping grounds, and any other developed facilities are not anticipated. Enthusiasts of this pursuit will tell you it’s all about self-reliance. When you head out into the boonies for an overland excursion, the expectation is that there will be no amenities to rely on where you’re headed. No place to plug in, no drinking water, no place to stock up on supplies—all necessities and provisions must come along for the ride

Our overlanding truck project began with an idea and one of Ford’s Godzilla 7.3-liter V-8 crate engines, but soon snared a subject: A 1997 Ford F-250 four-door 4×4 pickup. KTL Restorations in Danville, Virginia, is handling the build. Photo by Magnified Productions.

An overlanding vehicle needs to be able to traverse highways both legally and in relative comfort, yet it must also be ready to divert to untamed country at a moment’s notice. The suspension and powertrain must be capable of getting through rough terrain, and the vehicle must also provide suitable shelter, with accommodations for sleeping, preparing meals, and whatever else might be needed for extended stays off the grid. Part of what separates overlanding from other forms of camping is that there is no camper—no trailer or RV—just the vehicle you drove in. While many off-roaders set up a camp, overlanders typically use their rigs as the campsite—tents are often mounted to the vehicle, as is much of the needed gear. Setting up and breaking down a camp isn’t conducive to covering a lot of ground—overlanders tend to keep moving during their treks, rather than staying in one spot for several days. Overall, an overlanding vehicle is a versatile, nimble rig that is ready to roll on short notice.

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Demystifying the black art of headliner installation – Terry McGean @Hemmings

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There are certain tasks involved with auto restoration that tend to intimidate even the most “hands-on” enthusiasts, things that most consider the realm of professionals almost reflexively.

Gene Tasso of Gillin Custom Design prepares to install a new headliner in a ’67 Camaro by laying out the headliner material from an OER kit along with a fresh set of reproduction bows. A clean, flat workspace is recommended for this job.

Installing a bow-type headliner is certainly among those seemingly forbidden jobs that many of us wouldn’t dare attempt. It was a feeling we sensed yet again when we recently found ourselves in need of a fresh headliner after having repairs performed on the roof skin of a ’67 Camaro.

In this case, the procedure seemed particularly daunting because the old headliner had been removed and discarded a few years prior, leaving nothing for reference.The car was being worked on at Premier Restorations in Sloatsburg, New York, which sources Gillin Custom Designs for its upholstery and trim work.

Gillin operates out of its own shop in Middletown, New York, but travels to other facilities for installation work when necessary. For our headliner, Gillin boss Gil Monge brought along veteran trimmer Gene Tasso, who said he’d been doing this kind of work since around the time our Camaro was new

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Exploring Chevy’s 1988-’98 pickups as affordable projects – Terry McGean @Hemmings

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As the humble pickup truck’s place in American culture steadily evolved from simple-but-valued tool to modern fashion statement, it gained a huge fan base. While admiration grew and trucks aged, restorers began returning some of them to showroom shape.

Meanwhile, hot-rodders and customizers crafted their own interpretations of the classic pickup.

The years rolled on and certain models emerged as favorites, spawning a vast aftermarket blooming with reproduction and upgrade parts and kits. So widespread is this enthusiasm for classic pickups today that values of the most popular models have swelled substantially during the past decade or so. It’s good news if you already have one, but not so great for anyone on the hunt for a budget-friendly alternative to pony cars or muscle machines.

Consider the 1967-’72 Chevrolet trucks, popular from new and long adored by enthusiasts. Today, they’re nearly as sought after as the muscle cars of the same era, and values have followed suit, making them less accessible to the younger builders trying to get into a vintage project.

More recently, the following generation of Chevy trucks— the 1973-’87 “square-body” era—has been following the same trajectory, with values escalating rapidly.So, where does that leave the aspiring young builder on a budget? Or even the seasoned tinkerer looking to start a new project with a casual cash commitment? Fortunately, GM kept right on building pickups, and its next generation proved to be a winner.

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