Why Muscle Cars – The Original Ones – Still Rule

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A new V-6 Mustang or Camaro gives you about 100 more hp than the V-8 in my Trans-Am put out when it left the Norwood, Ohio line back in the spring of ’76. Either of these new cars could walk away from my old car in a heads-up drag race. The V-6 Mustang, especially. It can do 0-60 in 6.5 seconds. That is quicker than most V-8 muscle cars ever were…  in stock trim.

And that’s the catch.

The new stuff is quick and fast – as delivered. But the old stuff could be made quick and fast – easily and inexpensively. For example, my ’76 Trans-Am. That year, the 455 V-8 produced a pretty pathetic 200 hp – about the same as a current-year four-cylinder engine. But a simple cam swap, exhaust upgrade and power tune could just about double the 455’s output in a weekend – and for about $1,000 in parts (today’s money equivalent). The same applied to the earlier – and much more potent in as-delivered form – muscle cars of the early 70s and mid-late ’60s.

It was possible to go really fast on not much money.

The old stuff had – and still has – other advantages, too. Generally, they’re much lighter than their modern equivalents. For example, a ’69 SS Chevelle. It’s a big car by modern standards – but it only weighed about 3,335 lbs. (see here). A 2013 Camaro SS weighs almost 3,900 lbs. This is the reason the new Camaro SS is relatively slow – 5 seconds to 60 – given an engine that puts of 426 net hp.

Back in the late ’60s – when horsepower was measured (and advertised) using the old SAE gross standard, the current Camaro’s 426 hp would have been adjusted upward by at least 75 and perhaps as much as 100 hp. In other words, the current Camaro’s power would have to be compared – to be compared fairly – with the power made by purpose-built bracket racers in the 500-plus hp (SAE gross) category. Those cars were running 11 second quarters – and more. Yet the new Camaro is slower – as delivered – than a still street-drivable ’69 Yenko Super Camaro with an advertised 425 (SAE gross) hp – which measured by today’s more honest measurement methods would likely  come out to around 375 SAE net hp.

Reason? The new Camaro is a porker. (See here for the why.)

The old stuff was (generally) hundreds of pounds lighter – and lighter always equals quicker, all else being equal. It’s also easier to make a lighter car quicker. The early pony cars – like the first generation Mustang, for example – weighed less than 3,000 lbs. A ’72 Nova only weighed about 3,200 lbs. Put an even mildly strong small-block V-8 (like a 289 Hi-Po) in a car that light and it’s not hard to go fast.

Put another way, imagine how much faster a new Camaro SS would be if it weighed 600 pounds less.

The other thing old muscle cars had in their favor – and still do – is bigger engines. More displacement equals more torque – the oft-neglected red-headed stepbrother of horsepower. Torque – rotational energy – is what gets mass moving. This is especially important in a massive (i.e., heavy) car. And big-inch engines make lots of torque. Even the comparatively weak – by hp standards – 455 V-8 in my ’76 Trans-Am makes a startlingly high amount of torque: 330 lbs.-ft at just 2,000 RPM. The new Camaro’s 3.6 liter V-6 may make 123 more hp than my 455 put out in stock trim (200 hp) but the little V-6 only produces 278 lbs.-ft. of torque at 4,800 RPM. (Which is why, even in stock trim, my car does a much better burnout than a V-6 Camaro.)

Even the new Camaro SS’s brawny V-8 – which makes more than twice the power (426 hp) my TA’s 455 did – only makes 420 lbs.-ft of torque. And to get it, you have to spin the engine much faster – to 4,600 RPM.

Reason? Cubic inches.

455 cubes equals 7.4 liters.

The SS Camaro’s V-8 displaces a mere 6.2 liters – under 400 cubes. And it’s one of the “bigger” modern muscle car engines. The plain truth is no one builds a really big V-8 anymore. (Even the Dodge Viper’s ten-cylinder engine only just barely crests 8 liters – about the same size as a mid-70s 500-cube Cadillac V-8.)

The current crop of V-8s are all medium-sized, equivalent (in displacement) to run-of-the mill 350-ish small block V-8s back in the day. And back in the day, big blocks were routinely putting out close to 500 lbs.-ft. of torque – in mild-street tune. To match that with a modern downsized V-8 inevitably requires turbo or supercharging – which increases the effective displacement of the engine by increasing its capacity to huff air and fuel. Supercharging gooses the torque output of the new Camaro’s 6.2 V-8 to 556 lbs.-ft of torque at 4,200 RPM – or just slightly more than something like a 1970 Buick GSX Stage 1 455 – without the blower – was making.

Which was 510 lbs.-ft at 2,800 RPM!

But turbos and superchargers don’t come cheap.  The supercharged 2013 ZL1 Camaro starts at $54,350. For that sum, you could have bought two Buick GSXs back in 1970.

No, seriously.

A 1970 GSX Stage 1 may be a six-figure collectible now. But in 1970, it stickered for $4,479 (look here if you dinna believe me). Adjusted for inflation, that works out to $26,702 in today’s Fed Funny Money. About what you’d shell out to buy a new V-6 Camaro or Mustang – and far less than you’d have to shell out to buy a V-8 Mustang GT or Camaro SS.

And that’s the rare (and expensive when new, by 1970 standards) Stage 1 GSX. The beauty of the good ol’ days was that anyone who could turn a wrench could make similar power with almost any big-inch V-8, including the low-performance versions used in nothing-special (and so, dirt cheap) mass-market family sedans and station wagons.

It was a common thing to do, for instance, to hunt down a big sedan or station wagon in the boneyard and pull its 455 or 454 or 440 -put a performance cam in it – and put that puppy into the car of your choice. It could be done cheaply – and easily – two things that anything associated with a new ZL1 Camaro (or Shelby GT500 Mustang)  will never be.

And that’s why the old stuff still rules.

Throw it in the Woods?



  1. To Boothe
    From Don
    Your 75 RD350 Yamaha story reminds me of several things:

    1) The comment made by methylamine on Dec. 12th that ‘monkey see, monkey do”….
    and having the other rider’s eyes locked onto you rather than the road ahead…..is
    apparently not the way to go if one wants to keep oneself and the bike intact without blemish.
    2) Other than a one speed bicycle I had thru high school, one of those power animals is not something
    I ever plan to ride on, let alone hang it out like you do at high speed and in curves. Four wheels under
    me comforts me…..especially if those four wheels are carrying around a very sports-wise vehicle.
    3) My son, Scott, his senior year of high school and a couple of years afterward, had a new Yamaha 550, tuned, with a
    fancy oriental sounding name for an after market exhaust pipe, the best oversize racing tires available, and a beautiful
    jet black paint job, a jet black matching Simpson helmet, with fancy lettering on the back of it stating, “No Fat Chicks”.
    I took pictures of him at high speeds in curves with the bike practically lying on its side.
    (Unfortunately, in a wreck as a passenger in a friend’s auto, he was killed at age 21 years, 28 days.
    Scott would have been 51 a few days ago on Dec. 2nd.)

    Since you’re over age 50, thus on the downward journey, LOL, drive and ride careful.

    • Don Woods, I’m really sorry to hear about your son. He was only 2 years younger than me. I’m glad he experienced that bike the short time he was here. There is nothing like motorcycling. Nothing; not sports cars, nor speed boats, not even flying. I gave up motorcycling for many years due to pressure from my family; it wasn’t “safe” you know. I tried every substitute I could think of; fast cars, jet-skis, water skiing, snow skiing. But motorcycling was always right there nagging at me; like a piece of me was missing. Now that I am over 50 and don’t have the responsibilities of a young father and husband, I’m less worried about “what if?” But on the other hand, I’m definitely less daring on a bike than I was “back in the day.” For one thing, if I get hurt I don’t get to ride and that alone makes me careful.

      It’s really odd, but over the years I’ve been loathe to ride in the car with some of my “friends” on various occasions. Sometimes if I really wanted to go I would insist on driving, even if it meant offering to pay for the gas. Or sometimes I just refused to go; only to hear about the near miss or crash they were involved in the next day. Some might call it a gut feeling or a sense of self preservation. I merely believe “There, but for the grace of God go I.” Never have I believed “it can’t happen to me” so I think that made me pretty cautious even when I was young. I did take risks; just that they were calculated. And unlike the fellow that wiped out behind me in that curve, I make it a point to at least try to ride within the confines of my machine and my own abilities. Even Dirty Harry offered some wisdom I took to heart: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

      That’s not to say that I haven’t ever wrecked on a bike; I have. But it was always because I was doing something stupid at the time. I have also been fortunate in that I learn from my mistakes. I Tee-boned a school bus coming down a hill on my single speed bicycle when I was twelve years old; I face planted into the side of the bus and my bike instantly turned to scrap metal under the rear wheels. It broke my arm and literally knocked the piss out of me. The driver was an older black man who thought he’d just killed a white kid in rural Virginia in 1971. He was in worse shape than I was! It taught me to be very alert and observant when on two wheels. That one incident led to me being a better motorcyclist later in life. So I will do my best to be as safe as I can on two wheels or four…but still have fun!

  2. To Boothe,
    Your story was so funny about the Z28 tailing your T-bird!
    And I’m soooo glad to be out of Mexifornia….still living in a Blue state…but less irrational than the politics in Mexico’s soon-to-be-reclaimed
    territory. Perhaps it would be good riddance to give Mexifornia back to Mexico…as they now comprise the largest ethnic group there.
    I have a similar auto tale. In ‘59’ I worked in a wholesale grocery warehouse way out in a semi-vacant industrial park in Richmond, CA.
    I worked the 4 to 12 shift as I was still in my last year of college. To get to the warehouse, I had to drive thru three 90 degree
    turns on an absolutely flat asphalt street. Several days in a row, another employee, in his ‘57’ V/8 Plymouth Fury, closely
    tailgated me thru these turns each day, beeping his horn at me to speed up. Finally I decided to play a little ‘game’ with him.
    Late one afternoon, with him tailgating me, I slowly sped up, taking the first 90 degree turn at about 25 mph, the 2nd turn
    at 30, with the Fury clumsily plowing his way thru the turns. Then I gradually sped up to 45 mph, with him right on my two little
    knobby rear bumpers. When I flipped thru the 3rd 90 degree turn at 45 mph, he suddenly vanished from my rear view mirror.
    He arrived at work an hour late….as a tow truck had to pull him out of a freshly plowed field. He never tailgated me again.

    • @Don Woods—

      LOL that’s classic! A perfect demonstration of that old track adage, “monkey see, monkey do”…get a track novice behind you, and his eyes are locked onto YOUR car–not the track.

      On the next corner drive well past the line before turning in then make a dive for the apex…and watch him spin in your rear-view mirror 🙂

    • Don Woods, back in 1980 I had a ’75 RD350 Yamaha. I rode it all the time and had done some decent mods to an already great (for its day) suspension and had the best tires I could buy at the time. Plus (Eric will appreciate this) it was shorn of unnecessary weight like mirrors, speedo, turn signals, steel sprocket, anything that wasn’t essential. Heck, I knew I was speeding by the tach and really because if I was riding, I was “speeding. The speedo was superfluous junk. That little “giant killer” had practically become an extension of my body and I rode it like I stole it.

      One day after work I was leaving the base and another Airman on an orange ’75 RD “just like mine” fell in behind me. We went through the first set of curves and he stayed right up with me, a little too close actually, because I could see him with no mirrors and could hear his bike over mine. We came into this big left hand 90 deg. sweeper right next to Red Horse Squadron and I counter-steered hard, hung off and nailed it. I could hear him downshifitng hard and when I came out of the curve I glanced back and didn’t see him. So I figured he’d turned into Red Horse and I went on home.

      The next day I see an orange RD sitting out by the main hangar with the handlebars twisted up, clutch lever broken and the shifter and left peg torn up. So putting two and two together, I went in the hangar inquire about the owner. Another guy pointed him out in one of the maintenance shops. He was the dude with an a bandage over his eye, various abrasions and contusions and his arm in a sling. I asked “Hey man, was that you on the RD following me off base last night?” He never said, but it must have been him because he responded “F#*& YOU MAN! F#*& YOU!” I didn’t stick around for the rest of the story…but the 12 foot long gouge in the asphault straight off that curve and the torn up undergrowth gave me a pretty good idea of what happened.

  3. Don Woods, I live about a hundred miles from Kansas City, Missouri these days. It’s the land of straight roads (sigh). You have to hunt to find any curves around here. I have two pretty good 90s close to my house that are fun either on a bike or with the Miata and a couple more on my way to work, but that’s about it. Now down south of here in the Ozarks, that’s a different matter. There are lot of cool twisties; for instance around the Hardy Hills in Arkansas.

    I used to commute from West Plains, MO down to Mt. Home, AR. There was a really fun stretch on AR223 north of Viola. I had an ’88 T-Bird TC with a straight through exhaust running 15 PSI boost into a T-5 BW (but with the rearend for the stock A4LD). I’d put every PST poly-graphite suspension component in it that I could (all of them) and a new set of KYB adjustables on all four corners; so it handled like it was on rails. I really miss that car because you could spank (stock) 5.0 Mustangs with it and still get 28 MPG…with power seats, door locks, windows, AC and all the amenities. Ford was just too far ahead in their thinking for it’s time I’m afraid.

    So one day, a couple of local hard-heads in a 70-something Z28 in official Arkansas colors (rust & primer) started tailgating my Thunder Chicken as we headed north on 223. They wouldn’t pass, just kept riding my butt. So I took them into a decreasing radious sweeper at about 70 and came out of it…well anyway…when I looked back I watched Cleetus and Bubba kick up dust as they ran off one side of the road. Then they over corrected and went off the other side and finally managed to get their act together in the wrong lane and straighten up. I’m guessing they stained the seats. As Eric put it in the Bad Boy thread, it was almost erotic, as well as being funny as hell. Needless to say they just fell on back until they were finally out of sight.

    One of the reasons we moved to this neck of the woods was that back around the turn of the century (that just seems so weird to say) “Missourah” had about 10% less gun-vernment than the Communist-wealth of Virginia; hence a lot less cops and lower taxes. It’s still not as bad, but I can see more influence from FedGov and DHS (like the surplus armored car parked next to the local cop shop). The few state troopers I’ve dealt with out here have been professional, courteous and helpful. The County Mounties aren’t too bad (we’ve got a couple of deputies that could take a 4H swine ribbon at the state fair though). And the local town cops are to be avoided at all costs because tax revenue is down; so I’m pretty careful when driving through Po-dunk, MO.

  4. To Boothe,
    Your reference to a V/8 addition to a Miata reminded me of my ‘88’ Saleen Mustang I bought while living in Orange County, CA. New, it ordinarily came with a 3.23 rear axle ratio. I ordered it with a 3.55. That, coupled with its relatively close ratio manual 5 speed transmission, made it amazingly fast thru the first two gears, and still pretty fast thru 3rd and 4th. Once I drove from the inland desert, near Palmdale, across the San Bernardino Mountains, to Glendale. This a 100 mile drive over mountainous curvy roads all the way. I drove it in about 75 minutes, with speeds ranging from 30 mph on double back curves to 95 mph on short straight stretches. That was nearly as fun as the slower, sharper curves were in the Sprite up Mt. Diablo. Where do you live? I now live in Battle Ground, WA. about 35 miles north of Portland, Oregon. Smiles, Don

  5. Boothe,
    Sad story about the ‘59’ Sprite you missed getting to own and drive. You missed out on the best short curve handling auto I’ve ever had, despite it running on skinny cross ply tires. In ‘59’ I was in my senior year at San Francisco State….and thought I deserved this new vehicle just out. Mt. Diablo (near Concord, CA.) was a weekend full out non-scheduled race ‘event’ between MG’s, Triumphs, 356 Porches, TDF’s, etc.. None, except the 356’s, could keep with the Sprite in the curvy areas running to the top of this mountain. An extremely exhilarating experience. Even with a carburetor driven engine, and despite my foot to the floor driving in the hills east of Berkeley & Mt. Diablo, I was never able to get less than 38 mpg, and up to 55 mpg freeway driving. Then, on graduation, I had to sell it and get a ‘59’ VW bug to make the trip cross country, with my clothes/luggage, to Newport, RI. to attend the Navy OCS. The VW did work out better for the 6,000 mile round trip than would have the Sprite.

    • Don Woods,awesome story! There were two reasons I was really hung up on that ’59 Sprite, one was a friend ours had one and had taken me for a ride. It was so much fun I’ve never forgotten it. I could only describe it at the time as being like a go-kart with a roof. And ’59 was the year I was born! 😉

      So fast forward a few years and I picked up a ’97 Miata for a song. It’s everything you’d want in a British sports car, but no carbs to sync or Lucas electrical nightmares, etc. I slapped a set of KYB’s on it and went to Virginia (from Missouri) to visit my folks. I took the Miata across the Appalachian mountains and along the way broke off I-64 and took parts of old US 60 and some other lesser twisty by-ways. It was an absolute blast.

      Like you, I’m tempted to pick up another Miata and drop a small block V-8 in it. I’m more of a Ford guy though (and Ford did partner with Mazda) so I was thinking a T-Bird rearend and a 5.0 / EEC IV / T-5 setup (a pretty easy junkyard EFI swap). Hey, a man can dream can’t he?

  6. Eric, Brent & Boothe,
    I’m not just a non-nerd, non-engineer. I’ve simply spent my ‘earning’ years as a salesman of non-tangible products (life insurance & disability income products), and had to communicate in non-technical, clearly understood ordinary level English to inform potential customers adequately and thus had about a 90% closing ratio. However, I’ve somewhat been into autos over the years. To mention just some of the autos I’ve owned and much appreciated:
    ‘50’ V8 Olds 88 coupe, ‘59’ Austin Healey Sprite, ‘73’ 240Z with ’72’ carburetion, ’72’ Cadillac Deville convertible with a 472 CI V8 to which I added dual exhaust and turned upside down the air filter top (for much more air intake & it sounded like a older 440 Plymouth/Dodge police unit at full throttle), and an ‘88’ Saleen Mustang. Today I’m less esoteric….with a ‘2000’ Nissan Maxima, with a cleaned up intake tube, plus a straight thru muffler…adding both power, and a beautiful sound. And a ‘03’ Honda CRV, with similar straight thru exhaust muffler…for hauling purposes. J Both autos have around 120,000 miles and I expect to run them over 200,000….unless I suddenly win the lotto. J If that happened my first purchase would be a mid-90’s Miata, transformed with all go-go running gear and suspension components from a new Corvette. You could call it a muscle Miata or a stealth Corvette that weighs about 2700 pounds. (One can actually buy this ‘transformation’ as a ‘turn-key’ product, and it costs appreciably less than a new Corvette.)

    • Don Woods, I have a heart breaking story about a ’59 Sprite. When I was about fourteen one of my dad’s acquaintances let his Sprite run low on oil and it threw a rod. The block had a whole about the size of a 50 cent piece out the side. The dude asked my dad if he could leave it in our shed until he could come back to get it. Weeks went by, then months and the dude never came and didn’t respond to my parents inquiries. After nearly two years, I was due to get my driver’s license and my dad commented that if we could get the dude to send us the title, we could probably patch the block and repair the rest of the engine; then I could have it as my first car! We sent the dude a certified letter requesting the title. After a few weeks of waiting, we finally gave up and my dad had me dismantle the car (sob..sniff) and we hauled it off to the salvage yard in pieces. Two days later the title came in the mail…

  7. Bravo Brent!
    It appears you can speak-a-da-english….as well as engineering spaghetti! More of that approach would be appreciated by us ‘non-engineering’ types! 🙂

  8. Boothe,
    I like, appreciate and agree with your approach and ideas your have expounded on. Too little of this type of transparent and revealing dialog is available, except via the internet. While Brent have many valid points, his esoteric, muddy approach to communicating to those of the public, including myself, who don’t have our minds knotted up in engineering panties, his communication ‘style’ puts many of us to sleep. While yours and Eric’s make for interesting and informative reading. Thanks much for putting your oar into these waters.

    • Thanks for the kind words Don. Both Eric and BrentP are brilliant in their own right and apparently pretty damned hard headed too. I’d point and say “wordy” too, but then I’d have four fingers pointing back at me. Ha! So what’s not to like about these guys? 😉

      I have the advantage of technical as well as craft diversity in my background, so I really do “get” what they’re both saying. I’ve seen plastic parts that cost less than a dollar go into an electric motor accounted for at over four times cost in the final assembly. And if you buy that part as a replacement it will cost you fifteen! So what BrentP was saying about the actual cost of the product inputs I’m confident is correct. On the other hand, the fact that they jack the price points up on this stuff to the limit the market will bear makes Eric just as right. And we haven’t touched on how the UAW has affected the Amerikan automobile…

      I’ve been fascinated by what the government and their puppet masters, the banksters, have done to our money since I was a teenager. So monetary inflation and fiat currency are two of my major points of interest and pet peeves. Taking our wealth is just as key to enslaving us as taking our guns, limiting our energy use and restricting our right to travel; and they’re doing it all. I’d have more respect for bastards if they’d just come put a gun in my face and tell me to fork it over. But hiding their theft by “printing” too much funny money is sneaky and cowardly. Then letting the American car companies (and most other legacy industries) use the regulatory machinery to kill competition is just as low down and dirty.

  9. Note to Brent from Don:
    Both Eric and I have been saying quite constructive things, he in his way, and I in mine.
    However, neither of us has breached that thick head of yours.
    Despite all your platitudes built around “papers presented, studies, engineering cost models, calculations, and principles” you have then stooped to try to apply them in a futile effort to sound rational. You failed. Even a balanced, thinking 9th grade high school student can understand the dramatic, but adverse, changes in autos being built to satisfy anal government bureaucratic engineers warped ideas of what would be ‘best’, rather than what the public wants. All of your heavy duty arguments have missed the very clear, valid facts Eric has given you in one email after another. Reading your ‘stuff’ confirms you seem to have been hidden under a rock for the last four decades in that you have missed the IMPORTANT automotive happenings over this time.
    What is the MAJOR point you have missed?
    Eric has clearly defined his premise, which is that government has clumsily added do-dad after do-dad, making autos much heavier, more complicated, more expensive than necessary or needed, and nearly impossible to repair at a realistic price. While you have been dancing in verbal circles, defending all the crapola flowing from government bureaucrats, whose major purpose seems that of screwing up the basic utility of automobiles, the auto industry has ceased to provide realistically priced autos. And with all the added expensive complications, they have been building unnecessarily overweight vehicles that could otherwise get considerably higher mpg than they can with the hippo weight they carry around. Most autos are from 500 to 1,500 pounds heavier than needed or wanted by the public, and each buyer is forced to pay for each extra pound that most would decline, if given the option.

    • Don, all you’ve done is throw insults and now you drag in things I didn’t disagree with, pretending I had. Not to mention outright lying. Hint: I never defended government bureaucrats. Go back, re-read, figure out where you went wrong.

      • Both Eric and BrentP are ranting about symptoms without providing solutions. There are hundreds of complaining websites, with few solutions to anything offered.

        Not following the US Constitution is what got the country and cars where they are.

        Ron Paul had the solutions but not many were interested. NHTSA, DOT, EPA and the Federal Reserve are unconstitutional.

        • Here’s the trouble libertyx; un-Constitutional or not, the NHTSB, DOT, EPA and the Federal Reserve are backed up by the men with guns at the FBI, ICE, NSA, CIA, BATFE and DOD. We can debate, inform, bitch and moan. But right now “they” have a better propagands machine, more (of our) money and more men with guns than we do. In fact a lot of people were interested in Dr. Paul’s message. The leadership in the GOP is hell-bent not to let that message spread and resorted to deceit, rule changes and strong arm tactics make sure it didn’t. What exactly do you propose to realistically turn this situation around?

          • From Boothe: “What exactly do you propose to realistically turn this situation around?”
            Some action, rather than more words. For instance, participation in jury nullification, http://www.fija.org,and the final Constitutional act – secession. If Texas seceded I’d move.

            “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they have resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they suppress.” – Frederick Douglass

          • Libertyx, I’ll go along with jury nullification and share fija’s tenets. The trouble is, the county summoned me for jury duty and then called me the day before I was supposed to show and cancelled. Then my wife was summoned, so I primed her with fija info and she actually went. When the judge made them all raise their right hand and swear to do what the judge told them to, my wife declined. Guess what? They made her wait until the end of the day, but sent her home. I’m a firm believer in the power of the jury. It would seem that the courts know who I am. It will be something like 5 years before I’m potentially called up again. Now I do inform people about fija and their right, as well as moral obligation, to judge the law as well as the facts. But most Amerikans I know will do anything they can to weasel out of jury duty. It’s a sad state of affairs to say the least.

          • Raising hand and taking an oath..wow that’s a new level. Last time I had to go to jury duty I called into a courtroom for the first time. Others got chosen for the box. Then the judge asked if they would do what he said. Right then and there I knew what were doing. It’s to flush out anyone who knows the real purpose of the jury. To be able to claim they ‘lied’ to get on the jury and then punish them.

            I was summoned this year but my the letter of my last name meant I didn’t have to go.

        • I’ve provided solutions in many such discussions as this one. Private standards. Return automotive back to SAE and others.

          Furthermore, if the automakers are like any company I’ve worked for their internal standards are probably more demanding in many ways than the government’s. That’s much the basis for some of my arguments here. I think cars would be safer today without government standards and do it more cost effectively. Automakers fund a lot of research (internal and external) to make their products better regardless of the government.

          But like Boothe points out, they have the guns and they have most people brainwashed. It takes a great deal of back and forth to convince people that government took private automotive and road standards to make the government ones. Government doesn’t innovate. These are people who step in and take credit for other people’s work.

          • BrentP “It’s to flush out anyone who knows the real purpose of the jury. To be able to claim they ‘lied’ to get on the jury and then punish them”

            A jury of one’s peers is for the purpose of determining justice. An oath to do otherwise, is invalid. If a judge-imposed oath can be a qualifier, there is no need for a jury. (Judge: “I’ll give him a fair trial then take him around back and hang him”) Once seated, as a juror, and with no proselytizing to the other jurors – no one has been punished for their verdict.

    • Don, I think you’ve missed BrentP’s point. It’s not that he’s been arguing that government mandates haven’t affected the cost of automobiles. His basic premise is that monetary inflation has had a far bigger impact on price than mandated doo-dads, far outstripping technology and productivity gains. And further that at least some of those doo-dads were desired by the free market and government ended up playing “me too” after the fact to help mask what their inflationary policies (and I would add taxation) have done to prices at the consumer level. I agree.

      Eric, on the other hand is arguing that the mandates have skewed the market and have forced us to accept products (e.g. SUV’s and trucks vs. station wagons and RWD full size cars with real frames) that may not have been as popular absent CAFE and other edicts. He is also arguing that “official” meddling has forced adders that the free market would not have necessarily supported, such as multiple air bags, ABS, elevated door height, Queen Latifa rear-ends, back up cameras, etc. I agree.

      BrentP objectively throws out the market skewing and safety mandating and looks only at productivity gains and hardware input costs from an engineering economics standpoint. Conclusion: Monetary inflation is primarily responsible for remarkably higher prices in inflation adjusted FRN’s or real (gold and silver) money. Eric takes the position that absent government meddling due to safety and fuel economy prices would be lower and more options would be available on the free market. The answer is…they are both right…and for the same reason.

      It all comes down to government meddling. There are key factors at play we have to consider when it comes to affordable energy and transportation independence. The gun-vernment doesn’t want you free to travel at will. Hence the TSA, State Police, local police, inland ICE checkpoints, VIPR teams, sobriety checkpoints, etc. This is direct and in your face: Stay home citizen. The next thing is seeing to it that fuel costs are high enough to limit and ultimately do away with most people being able to drive. You need to move to a mega-city and ride the train, take a bus, bicycle (Brent already does this) or walk citizen. Oh, and by the way, you’re still subject to random stops and fishing expeditions (including body cavity searches for letting your dog shit in the wrong place if you object too vehemently). It’s all about control.

      Of course forcing you off the land and into the state controlled enclaves under the Kyoto Protocol and Agenda 21 are to protect the environment…for our children. It’s for our own good; as are the CAFE standards and emissions regulations that are components in this war against American “car culture.” And safety, that’s a biggee; you want to be safe don’t you? After all dead slaves don’t pay taxes…er…I meant ‘think of your family, especially the children.’ Never mind that whether many of these safety doo-dads would have found their way onto the modern Clover-mobile through free market channels or not, they are cost adders. BrentP didn’t deny that and in fact I’ve read enough of his posts historically to know he supports that although he has questioned their profit margin in the past. He merely argues that monetary inflation (i.e. devaluation of our money) is the bigger price driver of the two. Absent both the mandates and inflation prices would undoubtedly be lower; there would probably be more considerably more affordable choices and even more car companies.

      Eric’s point is each mandated cost adder further limits (economically) the number of people that can afford a new car. In the performance car arena, that effectively limits new buyers to my age group (50’s and up), because typically we’re the only ones with enough disposable income to afford modern muscle cars (and the taxes and mandated insurance that goes along with them). For young folks just starting out, monetary inflation has gutted their buying power. Their choice (if they can afford to buy new) is typically an econo-box with a 60 month payment book.

      Many won’t be able to afford new, so it’s a used car for them, at least for the time being; I tend to agree with Eric that cars will soon be throw-away. So now, more and more for lower income Amerikans, it’s going to be a scooter, small motorcycle or public transportation. Transportation freedom is being systematically eliminated by safety and fuel economy mandates as well as monetary inflation, corporate cartelization and planned obsolescence; which are all government created problems. We have to look at the whole confounded government elephant to see the synergistic effect of its component parts. When we debate if being held down by its trunk so the elephant can step on us is worse than being crushed itself, we tend to overlook the fact that the elephant is on the attack and we are the target, so we’re all on the same side.

  10. A ‘Rolling’ commentary delineated:

    In discussing autos with Brent, you are talking to a lunkhead who, as an ‘engineer’ thinks he should always have the last word, even though his thought processes are arcane and ridiculous. Yours, on the other hand, are straight forward, accurate and focused, thus fun and educational to read.

    This Brent you have been emailing is obviously a pompous ass, and is simply throwing out bullshit, mixed with a few facts, to try to cover up his thorough arrogance for all facts that didn’t originate thru this gutter snipe.

    Brent P on December 8, 2012 at 4:54 pm – I ignored your last comment Don. Do you have something of substance to add?

    Since you either ignore or attempt to counterattack the many facts Eric has presented, my comments about you stand.

    Brent P on December 8, 2012 at 5:57 pm – Don, You should go take a class in trolling. Watch Clover. While still a 3rd rate troll, it’s better at it than you. I’ve presented papers, studies, engineering cost models, calculations, and principles then applied them. When you or anyone else can show me some actual facts on the order of what I have produced instead of feelings and opinions and real costs instead full retail prices please do so.

    Don Cooper on December 8, 2012 at 6:29 pm – Brent – I learned through trial and error that no matter how valid your points are in an argument, if you insult the other person, then all they will remember is the insult. Once you take that route, you might as well go all in b/c the debate is over, it’s just a shouting match at that point.

    Brent, thanks for proving my point about yourself in your replies. Had you been on the Titanic, you would have been the ‘engineer’ who was pontificating to passengers how safe and unsinkable the ship was… 🙂 Don

  11. Eric,
    This Brent you have been emailing is obviously a pompous ass, and is simply throwing out bullshit, mixed with a few facts, to try to cover up his thorough arrogance for all facts that didn’t originate thru this gutter snipe.

        • Don, You should go take a class in trolling. Watch Clover. While still a 3rd rate troll, it’s better at it than you.

          I’ve presented papers, studies, engineering cost models, calculations, and principles then applied them. When you or anyone else can show me some actual facts on the order of what I have produced instead of feelings and opinions and real costs instead full retail prices please do so.

          • Brent – I learned through trial and error that no matter how valid your points are in an argument, if you insult the other person, then all they will remember is the insult.

            Once you take that route, you might as well go all in b/c the debate is over, it’s just a shouting match at that point so have some fun.

  12. Don’t know if this was covered since I didn’t read ever post but some of the cars that were advertised at 425 hp were actually putting out over 500

    • Hi Ron,

      Well, kinda sorta…

      On a stand, and tuned… with open exhaust… sure!

      But as measured using today’s rear wheel hp method? In a production car, with the engine in production tune, with all accessories and a full exhaust?

      Not likely…

      There may have been a small handful of factory bracket racers that got to 500 hp – 500 real hp – but these are not representative of the production cars of the era.

      In my opinion – as someone who has owned and driven the real-deal – the charm of those cars wasn’t so much their all-out hp but the tremendous torque they put out – and which they put out through hilariously small wheel/tire packages. This made them feel absolutely feral and near-uncontrollable.

      My 455 Trans-Am, for instance. If you floor it before the car is already rolling at about 25 MPH, the back end will lose all traction as the tires are liquified by the huge V-8’s torque. In a new CTS-V (556 hp) the tires (and traction control) plant the car effortless. You can spin the tires, sure. But it’s very controllable. In a 7 liter muscle car with 15×7 wheels and no electronics, it isn’t.

      But that’s what made it so much fun!

  13. http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20121206/AUTO01/212060440/NHTSA-gets-White-House-OK-mandate-vehicle-black-boxes-?odyssey=tab|topnews|text|FRONTPAGE

    Looks like another few hundred dollars in mandated ‘big brother’ equipment is coming to a car near you.

    Please note the statement;

    ‘”The agency has made it a priority to work toward a proposed standard that would mandate these devices on all passenger vehicles on the nation’s roadways,” spokeswoman Lynda Tran said.’

    Not new vehicles, ALL vehicles.

    • Hi Hal,

      Yup – there’s also the aftermarket Pontiac V-8 blocks (Chief Plenty Horses) that support 500-plus CI.

      But you won’t find ’em in a new production car, unfortunately….

  14. Eric, I’m not sure your article is wholly correct.

    You stated: “Generally, [the original musclecars are] much lighter than their modern equivalents. For example, a ’69 SS Chevelle. It’s a big car by modern standards – but it only weighed about 3,335 lbs. (see here).” It seems you forgot to add the weight of the engine (which was in the link you provided), which was around 250 lb. for a 396, bringing the car to 3,585 lb. Other items not included in the curb weight you provided are: +39 lb. for disc brakes, +12 lb. for a floor console, +14 lb. for Strato bucket seats, etc. A Powerglide was minus 8 lb. (but was not available on the SS 396), but an M22 was +6 lb., and the 3-spd Turbo Hydra-Matic was +24 lb. for the M38 and +47 lb. for the M40.

    But let’s compare old and new(er) Camaros with near-equivalent options, based on my own Camaro, a 1998 SS automatic, factory rated at 330hp at 5200 RPM, 345 lb-ft tq at 4400 RPM, and with a c.3,500 lb. curb weight (truck scale, full tank, A/C), which includes heavy 17″ wheels and 275 rubber from the factory. According to http://www.firstgencamaro.com/1967camarofacts.html, a 1967 V-8 weighed 3,070 lb. Adding AC (+86 lb.), power brakes (+9), front discs (+23), Turbo Hydra-Matic (+56), power steering (+29), AM-FM radio (+9), and 350 (+72) or 396 (+258) yields 3,354 lb. for the 350 car and 3,540 lb. for the 396. The ’67 and the ’98 are very close in curb weight.

    As for the price of going faster, I know guys who broke their LS1 (1998-2002) F-bodies into the 12s with the so-called “free mods”, which cost almost nothing. The extreme case was an American, well-known on LS1.com at the time, who got his car into the 11s quite inexpensively.

    • Even though newer vehicles are faster, when something breaks it’s very expensive to fix.

      High mileage pull out LS1 engines are $2-3k and T-56 six speeds are $1-2k. Rebuilds on both are expensive and usually mandatory due to the hard lives they have lived. Chevy didn’t build 50 million LS V-8’s so cheap spares are difficult to find in salvage yards. Early Chevy V-8’s are EVERYWHERE. You can’t walk through a salvage yard without seeing a vehicle that is powered by one.

      Even though the LSX aftermarket is big, it doesn’t touch the size and quality of the earlier generation V-8’s. A $500 junkyard big block with $3k in speed parts builds a 500hp torque monster that gives an LS a run for its money.

      • Hi Pedro,


        Even today, I can pick up a rebuildable 350 (cast iron, old school variety) for a couple hundred bucks – and rebuild it with good parts for about $1,500 and have a solid little street performance V-8. A non-electronic transmission (such as a TH400 or TH350) can be bought new – “built” – for about $600 from Summit or Jegs.

        This is affordable performance.

    • Hi Steve,

      That old SS Chevelle, as you know, would be considered “full size” by modern standards. A big car! (I should have compared it to the current Dodge Challenger – an uber porker that weighs 4,200 lbs!)

      Compare an old Nova (or Mustang) to the current stuff. It’s a huge difference, weight-wise.

      Your ’98 Camaro is much lighter than the current porker, too. Not just weight-wise either.

  15. Today’s forced induction cars are just as easy and cheap to get lots of extra HP from. For less than $1K, I can turn my already-fast BMW 335 into an 11 second, 130+ MPH quarter mile monster. Electronics have made this kind of tuning even easier, so long as you’re not intimidated by them.

    • Except the car itself (your 335i) costs $42k!

      To give you some perspective. Now vs. Then (my then, anyhow):

      In 1987, my high school buddy bought a ’71 Plymouth GTX 440 magnum – all stock, original and in overall good shape (a solid #3 car) – for $2,200.

      Big block, 370 hp – on a high school kid’s budget.

      Put a cam in it for $150 (plus our labor) and – viola – a brutally fast street car. Granted, it was a deathtrap. Shitty suspension – and 14×6 Hurst mags with crap tires and awful brakes.

      But we bitch-slapped a brand-new ’87 Corvette one night – I’ll never forget it!

  16. Just to play devil’s advocate…. Which is it, Muscle Cars Still Rule or Muscle cars were Slow??? Sounds like a bit of contradiction.

  17. My old 1966 400 ci 442 convertible while greatly modified would shake the ground billow smoke and scare kids and small animals. I could run all day at +100mph, till I got caught and it seated 5 in comfort. The girls would be draped all over it all the time. Try picking up chicks in a modern mustang.

  18. Love the old Corvette Stingray racing a new Camaro photo! Lots of great pics in this article. It is fun to look back on when we went to the moon and made badass cars and had currency backed by gold. Ahhh…nostaligia. By the time I came along the muscle car days were sadly over but my dad and brother had some fine cars. Dad was a Ford guy and my brother has had 4 different Camaros and a Chevelle. Dad had an odd car it was a Ford Ranchero with a Starsky and Hutch stripe on it. It wasn’t all that fast or muscle but was great fun on road trips and camping.

  19. Comrades in a glorius rainbow utopia everyone will drive Yugos and Chevy Volts. Aftermarket customization will not be allowed by the Central Control Committee. The only customizing will be rainbow stickers provided by comrade dear leader.

  20. This article strikes close to my heart. The muscle car boom of the 60’s and 70’s mirrors that of the import performance craze of the late 90’s/00’s. Maintaining and driving V-8 american muscle got too expensive in the late 90’s/early 00’s. So the free market gravitated towards the cheaper and plentiful Japanese FWD vehicles. I BADLY wanted to buy a 91 Mustang LX but insurance and gas were prohibitively expensive on my 15 hour/wk part time job. I purchased a 1995 Nissan 200SX SE-R instead. All of my friends built turbo Hondas, Nissans and Toyotas. The cars were simple to work on and VERY light plus parts were cheap.. due to platform sharing, a vast majority of parts could be swapped from one model to another. This was especially true with the Civics and Integras thus their HUGE popularity.

    The economy was booming so people spent a LOT of money making these cars fast. By the time 2008 rolled around, the government regulations and market crash virtually destroyed what was left of the car culture. Cars are no longer cheap nor easy to work on. The cost to repair a newer vehicle if you blow an engine or trans at the track is easily into the thousands of dollars. Only people with tons of disposable income are buying newer vehicles and making them faster.

    The world has moved on from fast cars to Ipads and Iphones. As long as the government’s heavy hand is involved, the car customization culture will continue its rapid decline.

    • Good point, Pedro –

      Indeed, the sport compact scene is fading, too – for just the reasons you’ve laid out.

      It’s sad – and it’s bad. Because working on cars (competently) is a real skill – and it leads inevitably to individualism and away from Cloverism.

      Maybe that’s why every effort seems to be directed toward destroying the hobby…

  21. Eric,
    In discussing autos with Brent, you are talking to a lunkhead who, as an ‘engineer’ thinks he should always have the last word, even though his thought processes are arcane and ridiculous. Yours, on the other hand, are straight forward, accurate and focused, thus fun and educational to read.

  22. Love the give and take. The new stuff is better as an appliance- I routinely buy a mid nineties beater with 150k on it and drive it another 150k till the wheels fall off. Electronics keep the maintenance minimal, but when they do fail, it is usually cheaper to buy another beater. Basic troubleshooting goes a long way. As to cheap muscle cars, I’ve found early 80’s chevy c-10’s to be very therapeutic. Handy as hell, no smog headaches (put a set of ceramic coated headers on a 350 in front of a 700r4 and turbo mufflers (no damned cats…) and enjoy 20mpg and a splendid rumble. Looks nice too in the silver with black SS stripes. The real problem is, sally homemaker and barack sissyboy want a plush new appliance- don’t mind living in debt for it, and they far outnumber people who actually know how to drive and do it well.
    Peace, lumpy cams, 45ACP and other best wishes to all!

  23. The scary thing is how they can be so heavy with so much plastic replacing metal. Just more b.s. really.

    As with everything else that was any good, the government is to blame for the increased amount of crap and weight and cost. As Eric points out, much of the stuff is mandated and not a choice made by the buyer. Hell, they want to make GPS mandatory. Clearly, Americans have become a bunch of idiots.

    Also part of the mystique of the muscle cars was the entire industry presence in the US, along with all the ancilliary industries and suppliers of aftermarket products. Not to mention the jobs for the Americans who drove them. Like my job in the heat treating industry, long gone. Not because we couldn’t compete.

    In 1970 any kid with a job at a gas station or something like that could afford a new Road Runner. It didn’t have the air bags, power windows, cup holders, and so on. It wasn’t made for a career woman to pick up her child from daycare, of course. But it was a lot of fun.

    Good times that will never return under the current regime. We’d need to start from scratch and ditch a lot of excess weight ourselves.

    Thanks Eric, for a good read.

  24. I would like to throw out, as far as modern cars are concerned, a hidden devil in there that is adding pounds but not in a single location to be seen is wiring. My Nash Metropolitan wiring could be carried in a medium size zip lock bag if all removed.

    This is a full harness for a 90s mercury. I can only guess how much it weighs, but I can eyeball it and say it isn’t in the single digits.

    • Oh yeah!

      I could fit the entire harness from my ’76 Trans-Am in a good-sized shoe box. It’s startlingly simple relative to a modern car. Even though my car had a lot of options – AC, power windows, electric locks and defroster. But none of the crap – computer, multiple 02 sensors (and the other dozen sensors in a new car) “modules” for this and that…

      It’s one reason why modern (post 1990s) cars will never be restored.

  25. I love those old cars but their chassis were flexible, their live axles made for poor handling and their engines didn’t last long. Carburators are a pain in the butt to tune, they washed the cylinders with gasoline evertime you floored that double pumper Holley.
    My Subaru WRX has a stiff chassis, tuned suspension, turbo engine. The WRX is faster, handles better and is quieter than my ’66 Mustang with a bored and cammed 289, lowered suspension, over size ant-roll bars, export brace, etc.

    • Hi JH –

      The live axle equals poor handling thing is a common misconception. If you doubt this, go test drive a new Mustang GT!
      The real deficit as regards the old stuff was the tires (and wheels) which were completely inadequate. 15×7 (adn 14×6) was typical. A current Nissan Versa has sixteens.

      True on the carbs – though some of us enjoy fiddling with them!

      • Nothing like synchronizing a set of side-by-side twin-draft Mikunis…then jetting it just a bit rich so you can set the timing on the wild side.

        And that delicious SMELL of gasoline on a hot day!

      • Not all live axle setups are equal… It’s way more than tires.

        I own three generations of Ford compact coupe set ups. If I had photographs of them it would be clear that the only thing they have in common is that they each have axles. Very different designs otherwise.

        I almost waited for the IRS mustang… then I thought… what if instead of getting a good live axle I get a mediocre IRS? Also what if inflation made the 2015 unaffordable?

  26. Gotta say, as an Englishman I find it somewhat hilarious that anyone feels the need for anything more than 3.0 liters, max.

    7 liters? 8?

    Back in the 80s I had an Aud1 100CD, 2.2 liter 5 pot, cruised all day at 95 mph, topped out a shade over 140 mph. Lovely old car, had electric everything, extremely smooth drive and handled like a sports car.

    If you were to go batshit crazy I guess you could cram twice as much engine in there, make it 4.4 liter. I could understand that, for a true petrolhead – but 7 liters?

    What the heck for? Just to waste fuel and rubber?


  27. In the good ole days, people could mod their cars to their hearts content. Today feral law PROHIBITS “tampering” in the name of “emissssions”! My 76 Vette would not pass Colorado “mechanical” inspections as it was missing the AIR Pump and air injector ports on the exhaust rails. The State then told me I had to remove the headers and install all the stock crap, including the crap cat converter. I made fake parts to mount on the motor, including welding studs on the headers to make it appear that it had the “required” factory parts. Passed inspection, but no change in the tailpipe emissions test result, which were good to start with. Who owns my cars, the EPA or me?

  28. Would the stripped down Lotus Elise that ships sans AC count? It does miracles with a Toyota four banger.

    In regards to very large engines, I purchased a 2004 Mercedes Benz e55 amg in 2006 for 28k. It has a stock supercharged v8 that puts out 455hp. It does 0-60 in 4.5 seconds and weighs more than Moby dick because of all the conveniences. I’m really happy with it but wish it were a bit lighter.

    Perhaps my next car will be the Elise.

  29. My 1965 mustang fastback weighs 2750 lbs (with fuel)
    I added a 289 v8 at $300 over base price in 1964 when I ordered it and special handling. Both were good choices.

    It has always been capable of 28mpg on the highway and half that in town. Even 20 mpg towing an airplane across the USA.

    Now for the rest: Although it looks good, it handles heavily and swaps ends at speed when traction is not good. Ever driven 70mph backward? It did that twice for me. Its indifferent drum brakes are not to be relied on.
    It is cheap to maintain and upgrade. I added a 5 speed tranny for $125 20 years ago but it seems no better than a 3 speed in a light car with good torque.

    Its engine is the best feature of the car.

      • but the Corolla looks better. 😉

        I always wished some company would reuse an old body, but use modern equipment where appropriate.

        I know they don’t in part because of safety regulations, but a 1956 corvette with modern innards would be sweet.

        • It’s exactly that – they can’t. Every few years, new “safety” (and other) mandates are passed into law – which forces re-engineering of new vehicles to comply with these requirements – and “obsolesces” the existing stuff.

          However, it’s still legal for a private individual to take a car like the ’56 Corvette (or whatever) and update it with the “modern innards.” In fact, this is done routinely. I’m not a big fan of replacing a classic car’s engine with a modern crate engine – especially if the replacement isn’t the same basic type (such as putting a modern crate engine LS series small block Chevy V-8 into a classic Pontiac – blechhhh!) but people are free to do so.

          I prefer more subtle updates – such as replacing original non-overdrive transmissions with modern transmissions, electronic ignition over points… and so on.

          What’s tragic is that no automaker can do this on a mass scale. I mean, something along the lines of buy the tooling for the old Beetle and just start cranking them out again – as new cars, perhaps updated with FI and overdrive gearboxes – but fundamentally the same as the VWs of the 1960s and ’70s….

          Brent disagrees with me, but I would put money down that there are hundred of thousands (if not millions) of people who would be ecstatic if they could buy a new old Beetle as above for $8,000 or so.

          Unfortunately, the government won’t let us find out. Anyone who tried to build old Beetles and sell them as new cars would be shut down and thrown in jail.

          Saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety, you see.

          • Heh, don’t forget they made VW classic beetles new in mexico until 2003, you just wouldnt be able to pass most inspections in the USA with them, due to a total lack of all the modern safety and hippie widgets.

  30. Dad’s ’76 Charger came with a standard 440 engine. He wanted “better” gas mileage so he ordered it with a 318. It’s amazing how puny the engine looks in the bay.

    Now, compare that 318 to a modern 5L V8. It’s the same block, but with a fuel system that works (they were still working out the bugs with unleaded gas in 1976), much hotter ignition/spark, and higher compression.

      • sure it is rare, but there is a treason for that. Get a FZ1 and you will have a modern motorcycle and an outstanding one at the same price.

        On the other hand, go ahead if you really want it..they don’t take up much room. I have 17 bikes.

        • 17 bikes!

          Lawsee! How do you keep all the batteries charged? (Seriously – I have five bikes – and it’s a fair job keeping all of them in good working order, batteries charged, tires filled the to correct psi, all maintenance current, etc.)

          Here’s my current inventory:

          ’75 Kaw S1C 250 (restored to show)
          ’76 Kaw Kz900 (not quite as nice as the S1, but I actually ride this one)
          ’83 Honda GL650 Interstate (I ride this one all the time)
          ’03 Kaw ZRX1200 ( I ride this when it’s warm – and I feel the need for speed)
          ’00 Kaw KL250 (I ride this one in the woods)

  31. You can, around here anyway, find reasonably desirable 1960-1980’s cars in ‘needs restoring’ condition for $2000-3000. These are drivable but rusty, leaking beaters. However for $20-30k you can recondition or replace ALL the rusty and leaky bits and end up with a very nice car that is worth pretty much what you put into it. Not showroom or concourse but a decent driver that looks very good.

    Or you could by a new base model econo-box which is embarrassing to drive, bongs and bings with nanny bags and will be worth next to nothing in five years.

  32. Except here’s the problem, try touching any of the faster old muscle or pony car in a condition that can even be remotely considered good on par with something relatively new and you’re looking at way more than a new car*. Sure it’s fine if you’ve owned one since the mid 1980s, then it’s cheap fun but those cars haven’t been cheap since then. I should know since I turned 16 during the first price run up. By the time I had saved the $6000 for a nice ’69 Mach 1 the prices were $20-$40K. It’s had up and downs since but always more than I am willing to pay or had for a car that needs a lot of care in this environment.

    These original cars didn’t last in environments like the one I live in. My ’97 is at 199,000 and was built this month in 1996. A sixties mustang would not have survived for that kind of year round driving for so many miles and so many years. I saw it first hand as a kid.

    Furthermore if one tries to build one of these classics from a pile of new parts to get something clean and nice and some modern material and design benefits the resulting end cost is about the same as new version off the showroom floor.

    Retail vs. OEM costs aside I think the modern cars are probably no more expensive (because of all the added stuff) or even cheaper than the old ones were in real terms. Most everyone on this site knows CPI is bogus. I go by what I see in them. How much easier they go together, the way cost has been taken out, where modern processes make the car less costly to build. The reason they look so expensive is because our wages have been devalued, they haven’t kept up with the inflation of real goods and materials.

    This is not to say I would mind having a ’69 Mach 1 that’s kept in the garage practically 9-10 months a year, but it’s pretty costly considering how it has to be treated if it’s going to stay in good condition.

    *Yes, I understand I could build a Granada or Maverick or some other car that hasn’t particularly appreciated yet. But that’s not really a fair comparison as it values one’s labor and time at zero.

    • Not necessarily.

      For example, mid-late ’70s Firebirds and Camaros. Even the Z28 and Trans-Am versions are still within reason ($15k or so can buy you a cosmetically presentable “driver” ’77-81 Z28) and the standard-issue versions can be acquired for significantly less.

      Same-era Corvettes (except models like those with the L-82 and 4-speed) are also in the same ballpark.

      But the main point I was trying to make in the article is that back then, access to powerful cars was easier than it is now – for young people especially.

      • But it’s not the cars that got more expensive, it’s that our wages buy less. That’s my point. To build a car from that era right now, from raw materials using the same manufacturing methods and materials would be outrageously expensive for what it is.

        I don’t think it is possible to build, from scratch, from raw materials, a 1970 Buick GSX Stage 1 just as it was back in the day, with all that human labor, for $27,000. I’d guess it would be at least 40K.

        The problem with CPI is that it uses productivity gains, improvements in engineering, and so on as negative factors. As saying there is no inflation because someone like myself came up with way to maintain the same price point. If the fed’s increase in the money supply makes a metal part too expensive in nominal dollars and I design up a plastic injection molded part to replace it and keep the price the same the CPI says there has been no inflation. But there has been… the price would have decreased without the currency being worth less.

        So the question should be what would the new versions cost in the old money?

        Let’s take say a $35K modern car. That’s 1384 silver dollars at yesterday’s close. In 1964 that was still the money. So today’s mustang is about half the cost of the one introduced in 1964 in the same silver based money.

        What has happened is that our wages have been devalued via the fiat money. For unit of silver or gold we are probably looking at cars that have far more content, far superior technology, far more durable, and cost less. That’s what the market does. It is simply masked by the robbery of the bankers and government.

        • Completely agree that our wages have been devalued – but you also have to factor in the “cost of government” to the bottom line cost of a car. That ’70 Buick did not have to have multiple air bags and all the peripheral equipment. Nor did it have to meet bumper-impact standards or emissions standards. These things alone add thousands (in real terms) to the cost of a car.

          The GSX was loaded, too – with most power options and AC, plus a nicely padded interior.

          What’s utterly nonexistent today is something like a Plymouth GTX or base model SS Chevelle – a car with no frills (let alone AC) but with the big V-8 and heavy-duty equipment.

          • From a product mix standpoint, why should there be such a stripper? Who’s going to buy it? When a stripped down base 6 cylinder maverick cost 1995 silver dollars, yeah, sure. Cars were expensive. Lots of human labor wrapped up in them. Today, not so much and what is is paid for at a much lower real rate. Having some niceties is pennies in the old money.

            The increase in the money supply and the regulation effects different products differently. For cars they have become much higher content wise to appeal to the people who can still buy new cars.

            I used to think that there should be these old style bare-bones cars, but as I learned more about product development, costs, manufacturing, and economics I see them as less and less a marketable product.

            Even in a free market where our wages weren’t devalued there likely wouldn’t be a market for such decontented cars. Probably less. It would be just a few dollars to put them in the product. The automakers would do so to compete with each other just as they do now. The cost difference isn’t as vast. The equipment is a lower percentage of the car’s price.

            As to average folks not being able to afford V8s, again, to me it is question of wages and government forcing the product mix.

            If a current Mustang GT with all the base GT goodies and say all the safety that most people wanted to buy came to market at $1800 and people still had incomes to afford the old $2400 six cylinder mustangs, are they really going to want to decontent? The modern six would be about $1100 in silver money. The few people in the market that would cheap out in such ways are not numerous enough to be worth the trouble. The big cost jump would be the V8. The rest trivial.

            My point is that the product is getting so much less expensive in real terms there’s no reason not to have the goodies. In real terms next year’s model offers more for less year after year. We just don’t see it because of government interferences.

            We’ve gotten poorer. Dramatically so. The market has just worked so well in spite of the government that we don’t see it that much and actually are still largely better off. What we don’t see is where we would have been without the inflation and regulation.

            I think cars would have all this safety and more without the government. We could afford more without government. I don’t think there would be much lamenting about days past either…

            • Count me among those who would prefer to skip “the goodies” – air bags, ABS, traction control and 500-800 pounds of deadweight added to meet “safety” standards. Ditto the encrustation of titanically costly emissions equipment to deal with the 5-10 percent (or less) of tailpipe emissions not effectively dealt with via EFI and basic cats (as opposed to “close coupled” cats that are integral with the exhaust manifolds, as is now common… plus another one downstream – so four in a V-8 application – plus four O2 sensors… and so on).

              I would not want power windows, either. In a coupe, these make no sense to me. Of course, I’m long-armed and have no trouble reaching over to roll down the passenger side window. Same as regards power locks.

              A six-speaker stereo? GPS? Back-up camera? Keyless/pushbutton ignition (and $300 apiece key fobs)? I could easily live without all that crap.

              I am confident there are others – probably a lot of others (especially late teens/20s) who would love to have the opportunity to buy a “de-contented” V-8 muscle car as described above for around $20k – vs. $30k for the one with all the “goodies.”

              Unfortunately, we’ll never get to see who’s right – because the government won’t allow it.

              No wait, we do have an answer:

              Do you recall the hugely successful Mustang LX 5.0 Ford sold in the ’80s? It was a de-contented GT! Same drivetrain, but skip “the goodies” – or as many of them as Ford could skip without Uncle stepping in. MSRP was $6,989 in 1985 – with the 5.0 engine adding $1,020 to the sticker (see here http://1985mustanggt.com/85GTFacts.htm for more). So, you could buy a “de-contented” Mustang GT in ’85 for about $8,000. (The base GT that year was just under $10k.) That’s equivalent (for the LX 5.0) to just under $18k in inflation-adjusted dollars today.

              They sold a lot of those 5.0s.

              And then there was the same-era Formula Firebird. The Trans-Am’s drivetrain, but without… “the goodies.” It cost much less than a Trans-Am. Pontiac sold a lot of those, too.

              I see no reason why a “de-contended” Camaro SS or Mustang GT would not sell well now. Especially now. Because people are – as we’ve both discussed – poorer than they were when the 5.0s were around.

          • The problem is the number of BOMs and parts that have to be designed, engineered, maintained, VQC/QC, etc and so forth that making those options require. That’s all cost. Then things like power window regulators are made so cheaply they cost less than manual ones. Then there are all the different trim parts the manual regulators require vs. the electric. To sell you the car you want, you would have to pay extra for it.

            Airbags don’t weigh much so I’d wager the weight is in structures of the car. Difficult, impossible really, to make optional.

            The only way to produce it economically would be as a separate stand alone model that did not come any other way. Now the question is there a market for it? I would say under today’s economic pressures yes, but in the conditions of a free market that could give us such a car, I would say not one big enough.

            On another note I have to use my right hand to shift so reaching over the car to roll down the window is a bit of a pain. I have to wait for a red light to do it safely.

            • See the stuff I added to the earlier post in re the Mustang LX 5.0 of the ’80s.

              Air bags are not impossible to make optional. They were originally optional. But they didn’t sell – because few people were interested in paying for them. Proving my earlier point! (That is, not everyone desires such things as air bags; they’re just forced to buy them.) As far as the weight – that’s the result of government mandates also. All that should be thrown in the woods. My “safety” is my business. And it ought to be possible (legal) for the car companies to build cars that are lighter (and faster and cheaper) if that’s what people want. I once owned an old Beetle. It weighed about 1,600 pounds. Great little car. How much does a New Beetle weigh? And cost?

              Do you doubt there’d be a market (in this market) for a modern “old” Beetle? A few key updates to improve drivability (such as EFI) and a bit more hp (say 70 or so, which would be ample in a 1,600 lb. car)
              and 50 MPG for under $9,000?

              Fiat is selling something close to this – the base 500 ($15k to start). Without the fucking air bags and all the rest, it could probably be sold for $11k or less. And if it weighed 400 pounds less…. it’d be giving 50 MPG, too.

              Government ruins everything.

              PS: I have manual roll-up windows in both my trucks (compact-sized) and never had any problems.

          • I did not write airbags were impossible to make optional. I stated there is a cost associated with making things optional. Huge difference. Probably about $100K in tooling plus the carrying cost plus the design and development cost. It could easily be another 50K plus. At some point it’s just cheaper to make something standard and take a smaller margin on it if need be. Things are optional until their cost and popularity dictate making them standard.

            How should an automaker get back $100K of cost for something that say, 10% or less of buyers of a particular model don’t get? How can that be recovered? Then consider that probably 8 out 10 of that 10% only didn’t get it to save money, not because they wanted a basic car for the sake of having a basic car. Can that 2% of buyers recover the costs in additional sales? What if half them would buy the car even if the item was standard? Now what? 1% of buyers. 100K to recover. How?

            The LX 5.0 was not a decontented GT. It was an LX with V8. Until 1994 it was possible to order practically any mustang trim level you wanted with a V8*, often most any V8 in the line up. In 1969 you could order a base model dog-dished hubcapped hardtop with a 428CJ V8 under the hood. Very few people did (I think fewer than you have fingers). So if you see one in a barn, buy it. But back to the point, as the economics changed the base car was no longer offered with multiple engines and drivetrains.

            Not being able to see internal ford documents I can only intelligently guess at why. My guess is that someone looked at the take sheets and started to see that would be uneconomical. Also the 1995 GTS (which really was a decontented GT) was a kind of a flop with only 6370 built and thus no such attempt has been made since then.

            Also, 1985 was 27 years of productivity increases ago. The economics are different today.

            *There were some special trim levels that were specifically 6 cylinder.

            • Right, but the bottom line is that air bags were once optional. They should have remained that way. You’ve reversed things! Instead of having the choice to buy an expensive option, we now have no choice but to accept a more expensive car! Same as regards the weight issue.

              The LX – when equipped with the optional 5 liter HO V-8 – had the exact same drivetrain as the GT. The main differences between it and the GT were it had the basic Mustang LX body (no body kit), different wheels and so on. But where it mattered – under the hood – it was identical to the GT.

              You saved a lot of money – and could add performance items to the car yourself later – exactly as people did in the ’60s and ’70s when they bought “stripper” versions of muscle cars like the Plymouth GTX and Rallye 350 Olds Cutlass.

              You say the economics are different today. Sure – because of the fucking government and the fact that automakers have completely gone over to cartel capitalism. Instead of resisting mandates, they embrace them – as a way to increase their profits.

              The fact remains that as recently as the mid-’80s one could buy a factory RWD V-8 performance car for less than $20k (in today’s money). The fact remains that today it takes at least $30k to get into a V-8 RWD performance car. And it’s pretty inarguable that much of the rise in cost is due to the force-fed addition of multiple air bags (most new cars now have at least four) and vehicle redesigns necessary to comply with federal edicts – plus the addition of ABS, stability control and all the rest of it.

              This may have worked – from a sales point of view – for as long as the economy was growing (bubble-ized). But now? For the most part, who is buying these cars? Middle aged and old men. Because they’re the only ones who can afford them. The younger crowd – the future – has been priced out. They buy FWD compacts – and soon, they’ll be priced out of those, too.

              Just as today’s teen/20s are embracing Ron Paul and Libertarianism, so also would they embrace a de-Cloverized (and so, affordable) performance car.

              If, that is, such a car could (legally) be built.

              Unfortunately, it can’t be built. Not now.

              But maybe – hopefully – at some point in the future. Perhaps not by GM or Ford. They’re utterly corrupt. But by a new car company. One like Ford and GM once were, a long time ago.

              Given today’s more efficient manufacturing processes, I have no doubt it would be possible to build a modern day ’69 GTO for $15,000 or so. If it didn’t have to have all the saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety crap the government requires. If it only had to meet circa 1988 emissions requirements (which were reasonable, unlike current standards).

          • Eric, I’ll remind you I have been working as an engineer in product development for a good long time. Sure, not in automobiles but it is the same in every industry. There comes a point when a certain percentage of your customers want X, so to offer it as optional or have a delete option -increases- cost. There’s more to it than ‘a airbag costs $75 and there are two of them’ or whatever. (you can’t use part counter prices unless you want to divide them by 3 or 4)

            For the air bag example I just did what it would cost to have a non-airbag cover for the passenger side dash and steering wheel. That’s about 100K in injection molds given the physical size of the parts. With some cheapening of the tooling at the expense of tool life that could possibly be brought down as well as tooling it in China, so if someone knows better feel free to shoot out a number, but in any case we are looking at a few tens of thousands. Then there is the engineering time involved, inventory costs, assembly, purchasing, additional BOMs, change notices, etc. It becomes a lot of money so a minority of buyers can escape buying something. The end result is that it ends up costing more per unit than just putting the airbag in.

            There’s no government mandates for 6 speaker stereos you mention. No government mandate for power windows or power locks last I heard. None for power steering or even disc brakes. I could go on down the equipment list. How much is going to cost to make disc brakes an option? Tooling up various stampings and castings? For what? The 200 people who might buy a car with four wheel drum brakes if it offered at $100 less? Great. Spend $1000 (assuming the tooling engineering, etc adds up to only 200 grand) per car to sell the car at $100 less for a total loss of $1100 over just having the disc brakes standard assuming the part cost is a wash. Which it usually isn’t. The formally optional thing usually falls in price such that it is cheaper than what it replaced.

            Manual window regulators given the tooling investment are I believe one of those things. The crank handles, trim pieces, etc all add up. The motor (hell the whole regulator assembly) comes off the shelf for a net cost of pennies per car, the tooling recovery on the manual system is in dollars per car.

            If it is just the ‘fucking government’ and the cartel, please explain why I can’t go buy an atari 800 computer (or one like it) new off the shelf for the equal of what it sold for in 1982? Because productivity and customer demand moved on. I can get a new PC that runs circles around that technology for less in both constant and nominal dollars. If automobiles had beaten the fed inflation, almost impossible for mature product to do, there would be a lot less complaining. However it doesn’t. Your 1969 car of your choice would be ungodly expensive today if made just like they did in the day. There are untold numbers of people like myself, purchasing, sourcing, manufacturing, etc that fight the fed’s inflation every fucking day. If we are good and lucky we can -hold- price point in nominal dollars. If we scrap a design and start over we might be able to offer more for less nominal dollars.

            Recently as the mid 80s? That’s like talking about those wonderful pre-war cars in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Lamenting that that you can’t buy a Ford with a simple flat head V8 any more. If only they would still make those ‘cheap’ 1940 cars again.

            The reason teens and younger folks cannot afford the cars today is because of their income and debt slavery not because of the cars. I make product for a living I know what things cost to make. I can see how my ’12 is -cheaper- to make than my ’97. The fing floor mats are three or four grades below what came in my ’97. Even the ones I bought in the aftermarket for $100 aren’t as well made as the $30 option box I checked back in ’96. Although the aftermarket ones are a set of four instead of two..

            Stuff isn’t more expensive. It’s cheaper. I can see most every corner that’s been cut. Where automation is used, where an expensive process has been cut out, where material substitutions were made. I make these same decisions and changes every work day. We are poorer. Gasoline in real terms is something like 12 cents a gallon and most of that is tax! Gasoline production and distribution makes it ever cheaper. And if it wasn’t a cartel it would be cheaper yet. The cartel in gasoline was created because free competition would have gasoline prices approaching -zero-. It would probably be something like 70%+ tax at the pump. We are poorer so things seem more expensive. We are being made poorer day after day after day.

            My ’12 GT premium well optioned on top of that cost me less than $1600 in 90% silver US coin at yesterday’s close. That’s with all the government regulation costs and taxes. A stripper 6 cylinder hard top in 1964 cost $2395 list as I recall when the money was still 90% silver.

            As I stated before, CPI is bogus, because CPI says that all the efforts of people to hold price point don’t count towards inflation. Only our failures to do so. The inflation still happened if we held price point or not. Real inflation is much higher than CPI. I use silver coin, it has its issues certainly but I believe it paints a more accurate picture currently than CPI. It shows the natural tendency of the market to offer more for less over time. The problem is we make and keep less. That’s the banker’s and government’s scam. Most people don’t notice they are being paid less in real terms so long as they can still buy the same stuff and when they can’t they’ll point at something else being to blame when it’s often a smaller factor.

            • And I know the car industry pretty well! Air bags add a helluva lot more than $75 per. The entire dashboard is now engineered around them. Doors (and B pillars) too. But none of this is even the issue. The issue is that air bags should never have been mandated – and the mandate should be repealed.

              The same goes for the “safety” mandates that have resulted in several hundred pounds of deadweight being added to the average new car. It makes them slower, less efficient and more expensive to build. Your Mustang weighs easily 800 pounds more than a ’65 GT 289!

              Let the market – consumers making free choices – decide. Not the government. The market said “no thanks” to air bags – so they were mandated. “Safety” cars – overheavy and slow – were available decades ago (Volvo, Benz). Let those who want ’em buy ’em – and leave those who are willing to take the “risk” of driving a lighter, quicker, more efficient (and cheaper) car buy what they want.

              The LX 5.0 Mustang was available through the early 1990s – not so very long ago. And again, the point is that cars like that were available – and could be again.

              Yes, we’ve been impoverished. But to claim that RWD V-8 muscle cars have not become more costly in real terms is simply not true.

          • Eric, I don’t see anyone in the automotive press that gets into the sort granular engineering detail I am referring to here.

            The part is made by a supplier who adds on profit. It then goes to the manufacturer who doubles that price as a service part. To the distributor who doubles it again. to the dealer who doubles it again. This last price is what people think airbags ‘cost’.

            And unless some engineer or sourcing person joins in and volunteers the real cost we cannot know it for sure. I searched for an SAE abstract to see what turned up and got $216 for a frontal airbag (assuming) including the control system in 2004. http://papers.sae.org/2004-01-0840/

            At this point $75 per bag only (I should have specified or thought it through more, my error) is not unreasonable.

            Here’s a little paper I found on lowering the cost of airbag ECUs:

            It’s from 2002. It’s ten years old. I skimmed it. It looks perfect to illustrate the process I am talking about… right down to how they eliminated tapping holes in the case.

            And as you say the whole thing is designed around them… and you want them to do it twice! Keep two sets of parts, two sets of engineering drawings, two different BOMs. That’s all cost. I was being generous with the $100K tooling to have two different set ups. It could easily be five times that.

            However you seem to be replying as if I am defending the mandates. I am not. I am saying they aren’t much of a cost driver compared to where we would be anyway with just the inflation as most of it would have arrived in some more optimal form via the market. The government has never to my knowledge mandated a safety device that did not already exist on the market.

            Everything gets cheaper and that includes muscle cars. More for less. Year after year. That’s the true market. The bankers skim all of that off the top through the currency!

            A Muscle car designed with modern processes, materials, and so on but with nothing as far as equipment that didn’t reduce cost would result in well a very different car but one that would be half or less in cost and better. 2% compounding is doubling or in this case halving in 35 years rule of thumb. So that’s a decent baseline off the cuff calculation.

            In constant dollars if you paid the same price today as forty years ago you should get roughly twice the car. All that government mandates do is force where a big hunk of that ‘extra car’ of stuff (or cash) goes. It’s the inflation that really makes it cost more.

            • Brent, no – I want them to do it not at all!

              Airbags are only here because they were mandated by the government. They failed in the free market. The mandate needs to be done away with. Because it is none of the government’s business whether a car has air bags.

              And, again, same as regards the ridiculous bloat that afflicts modern cars. It’s absurd that “compacts” now routinely have curb weights of 2,500 lbs. or more – no wonder it’s such a stumbling block to get 40 MPG out of them!

              If some new idea/technology has merit, let it be offered on the free market. If people wish to freely buy it, great.

              But that’s not what happens, is it? Especially with regard to saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety technology. As soon as it’s thought up, there’s a call to make it required. Back-up cameras, tire-pressure monitors are two recent examples. So also pedestrian detection. There are other examples. There is a fertile field to hoe – because it’s known that “you can never be too safe” … and “if it saves even one life.”

              Perhaps Clover, et al, want all this scheisse. But I expect they are only able to afford to buy it because we’re all forced to subsidize their wants.

              Air bags are a classic example. Originally an almost $1,000 option (in the early 1970s – so equivalent to three or four times as much in today’s terms) and far too expensive for most people. So they failed. Now that they’re mandatory, we “only” pay (let’s take your extremely lowball figure) $75 per (times 4-6) up front. Plus the much higher insurance costs due to stratospheric replacement costs.

              I’d rather pay – wait for it, now – nothing. I don;t want an air bag, let alone four or six or eight of the god-damned things.

              I also want a 3,200 lb. muscle car – not a 3,800 “safe” (crashworthy) one. Because I don’t crash much. I’ll take the risk – which I judge to be low given my competence behind the wheel and the fact that most “accidents” aren’t (as you yourself know as well as I).

              There is no reason something like the new Mustang – without all the “extras” but with the essentials (for an enthusiast) couldn’t be made and sold for well under $20k – at a decent profit for the builder.

              If… if… it weren’t necessary to build it to comply with the litany of “safety” mandates coming out of the legislative-regulatory colon of Washington, DC.

          • I did not write you wanted airbags and neither do I, but we are in the minority as far as current market preference. But that’s neither here nor there as I am talking product engineering principles here, just using airbags as an example. I could use drum brakes again or stereos or anything else. The principles remain the same.

            What the government mandates do is shape where the additional productivity goes. Maybe the free market would have picked roll bars and some sort of racing-like harness instead of airbags. However the principle of more for less would still be there. It’s a constant in the product development world.

            Here’s a pre-regulation automotive example. The Phillips head screw. It is the original torque control/automation screw. It allowed auto manufacturers to increase productivity. Offer the same car for less. Henry Ford would reduce and combine parts, the whole assembly line idea is more for less. Increase productivity. It’s what the market does.

            Let’s look at the model T. A car that remained in production on a decades time scale relatively unchanged except for process improvements.

            The standard 4-seat open tourer of 1909 cost $850;[33] in 1913, the price dropped to $550 and $440 in 1915. Sales were 69,762 in 1911; 170,211 in 1912; 202,667 in 1913; 308,162 in 1914; and 501,462 in 1915.[28] In 1914, an assembly line worker could buy a Model T with four months’ pay.[28] By the 1920s, the price had fallen to $260[34] because of increasing efficiencies of assembly line technique and volume.

            From $850 to $260. More for less. From 41 ounces of gold to 12.5. Forty one ounces of gold for a Model T. What does 41 ounces of gold buy today?

            The government regulation drives suboptimal solutions to problems. It costs more than it probably would otherwise, but it’s just a contributor. Think of it this way, if the price of everything on the car followed a standard 2% productivity increase, the car would cost 2% less. Rarely does an additional mandate for any particular year add that much. So why does it drive the price up? Because the dollar buys less. Because the bankers and government stole the productivity increase. The unseen. $400 for some mandate? Well the price of the $25K car went down
            $500 on productivity increases… so more for less. But the dollar buys 5% less so the price has to go up 1250 for that. 1250-100 = MSRP increase of $1150.

            Inflation is running multiples of the cost of the mandates. And nobody sees it in official studies and such because they use CPI. CPI which neglects productivity increases. So that 5% inflation is officially, 3%. The car went up $1150, but the buyer got the whatever so it calculates the car going up $750, or 3%. However, the actual increase to the buyer if he wouldn’t have bought the mandated item is $1250 (inflation) plus $400 (mandate), $1650. 6.6%.

            I’m running out of ways of expressing this problem of proportion. The mandates don’t do much cost wise because they are a much smaller factor than inflation and we’d probably get something as standard in their place. Perhaps you’d get a supercharger instead? Or maybe an extra 100 cubic inches of displacement? Who knows. We’d get something and the MSRPs would probably go down gradually. The mandates only squander that something, turning it from what buyers want, brakes, superchargers, stereos, tv’s, 25″ rims, whatever into what the government and nannystaters want. The inflation drives the prices up.

            I’m out of ways to express this.

            • Yeah, but Brent, the T got cheaper chiefly because it was largely unchanged for decades. Today, model cycles are about four years. That means when a given new model is launched – say, a new-for-2013 Whizbang – they are already working on its replacement. Think of the expenditures involved. Instead of amortizing tooling and R&D over a (formerly typical) 8-10 year lifespan it’s now often half that. And with a few exceptions, the sales volume does not make up for this. So, they have to charge more for each individual car, to maintain an acceptable profit margin.

              Now add six air bags (increasingly the de facto standard) that have to be integrated into a brand-new design interior.

              Sure, it’s easier (and cheaper) today to make plastic parts and so on than it used to be. But the amount of plastic (and other parts) and the work that goes into a current car interior (and exterior) vs. what went into those things in the ’60s and ’70s is orders of magnitude more.

              If it were legal to manufacturer a car like a 1969 Beetle today – using all the advantages of modern production techniques – it could probably be done such that the car could be profitably sold for $6,000 or so. Update it with a simple TBI (for emissions and driveability) and maybe a five speed transmission (for the MPGs) and you could probably still do it (build the car and sell it profitably) for $8,000 or even less.

              The reason you can’t do that is simply that it’s no longer legal to build a car like that. The body would have to be completely re-engineered (for saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety) and (as in the case of its modern analog, the Scion iQ) probably at least eight if not ten air bags added.

              Which is why a car like the iQ costs $15k to start.

          • Another engineer here. Just for airbags, a delete option in modern vehicles would not require new trim. All it would require is absence of the chemicals that explode to inflate the bag with nitrogen, along with any other parts, such as the bag itself, that are not required. The only problem with tooling and production is scheduling which auto would get which module, this is as logistically complicated and expensive as taking orders for radio options.

          • The real model cycle is as long or longer as it has ever been. In the 1960s the ‘cycle’ was ~two years but the car stayed much the same underneath. Today’s styling updates on the two year changes are much less radical than they were in the 1960s and early 1970s. Look at the 2013 change for Mustang. That’s much less radical than the 68 to 69 change or the 70 to 71 change.

            Tooling stays around a lot longer than you think. For instance, Ford’s “new” 5.0L V8. Well it was designed around the machining centers and other tooling Ford built ages ago for the 4.6L V8. Probably for the 1991 model year when it was introduced. That’s already 22 years.

            But here’s the thing about styling tooling, it pays itself off with increased sales. Making something that an overwhelming majority buy optional does not. The math works out very differently. Updated styling and new stuff (more for less) sells tens of thousands of units if not more. Not only that, it preserves -margin-. That tooling pays for itself.

            If you want to make the same exact thing year after year after year you have to take less and less margin to keep selling it. It’s how the market works. Innovate or die.

            This is the world I live in. Sit on your ass and your competition is going to hand it to you. What happened when old Henry took your line of thinking? Nearly ran the company into the ground. What saved it? Innovation. New stuff.

            As to the ’69 Beetle, no you could not get one with a few updates for $6K. To apply all the modern manufacturing necessary to keep the price minimized you would have a totally different car. The beetle was designed in the 1930s. The 1969 version was over 40 years ago. A modern version would be nothing like it. Everything would require redesign, not for regulations, not even if we consider the market’s wants, just to make it cheaper.

            Sure you could keep taking production to countries with cheaper and cheaper labor. But eventually that exhausts itself. That’s one of the things that killed US manufacturing. People wanted to resist change. To resist change, to do it the same way, to build the same thing the same way while others innovate means finding people who will do the labor for less.

            A 1969 Beetle was ~$1800. This would make it about $900 in 90% silver US coin with no added features, just year over year productivity improvements at 2% compounding. This comes out to about $22,500 in today’s money at the current melt of silver dollars. To sell it at $6K or anything relatively close in today’s money you would have needed to beat the 2% year over year, probably relocating production to China or India. Using currency value differences and so forth to get there.

            Let’s take a car which hasn’t really changed any more than was forced to. The Morgan. How much are they? They aren’t cheap by any means. Why? Because they are using old expensive techniques in the same place they always were.

            Today it is -cheaper- to make a car than it was decades ago. The added stuff doesn’t even clear the year over year two percent. Electronics are a more obvious example because inflation isn’t as huge of factor. All the added stuff and the price in constant currency has dropped. It often drops in nominal currency.

            It’s been over 40 years since 1970. It would take more than two 1970 cars worth of stuff just for a rule of thumb year over year 2%. All the ‘saaaaaafty’ is, is stuff. Don’t let emotions of what it is and how it got there get in the way… consider it just ‘stuff’. Is the modern car over two 1970 cars worth of stuff? No. So why do modern cars appear so expensive? Because we make less in real terms. Just on the basis of 2% yearly compounding productivity improvements the same person who could buy your 1970 car of choice new off the showroom floor should be able to buy -two- of them today and have some money still in his pocket.

            There just isn’t a whole extra car of value in today’s cars. So where did the remainder go? Where did the cost on top of that go? The bankers. The government. The automakers certainly aren’t getting more margin these days.

            All the mandates and market demands over the last nearly 50 years don’t add up to enough stuff to increase the price in real terms over what we started from with the year over year productivity increases pushing cost the other direction.

            The mandates are the ‘seen’, I am trying to get you to see the ‘unseen’ here. The ‘unseen’ is the bulk of the theft. For all I know the mandates are just there to give us something to blame so we don’t see the real crime.

            • Brent,

              I found something that backs up my point.

              The old Beetle last sold new (in 2003) for about $7,000 US. In Mexico. It had fuel injection and a catalytic converter.

              But no air bags – and not “safe” as defined by modern impact resistance/crashworthiness standards.

              But it was – as it has always been – a solid little “a to b” transportation appliance.

              We could have such cars right now – if it weren’t for the mandates.

          • I forgot one thing, the T changed considerably over the years. All in ways only someone that creates product would notice. Just as modern cars do.

            • Exactly.

              Now, the Nano – as it’s sold in India – probably wouldn’t cut it here. Not because of “safety” – it’s just too underpowered and slow. But a car like the old Beetle (sold as recently as 2003 brand new in Mexico) would.

              And as I mentioned to Brent, it sold for $7,000 (US) in 2003.

              Imagine that.

          • Mexican labor + design changes + process changes + conversion from Mexico’s fiat currency to FRNs + 8 years of inflation ago.

            CPI alone brings the that beetle to $8800

            But back to the mexican beetle. This car was cost reduced via government decree. The car was actually degraded in quality to obey the law.


            So we are looking at a car that has some improvements, some degrading, various redesign and process improvements, cheap labor, etc and so forth. It’s not the same car. Not by any stretch.

            But let’s take the 2% compounding figure of $900 in 1969 dollars… that comes out to be $5,672.62 in today’s money. With all the effort put forth to keep it cheap, all the productivity increases, cheapening of the quality, cheap labor, etc and so forth the beetle finished at $7000-$8800 in today’s money (there was a lesser model offered just before the last series).

            I am being generous using CPI and the car is still more expensive than it should have been on manufacturing and production alone.

            The model T is a better example because it’s entire production run was when an ozt of gold was $20.67 and there was no regulation or mandates.

            The question is, where did all this extra cost go with the Beetle? If we are to assume that new equipment ate all the productivity increases (and it usually doesn’t), we still have $1400 or so unaccounted for. A significant percentage of the price. That’s about 25% of the original.

            In the most generous analysis I can do, the buyer of these last beetles was ripped off somewhere to the tune of 1/4 of a beetle by something.

            • Now you’re quoting the CPI you decry as illegitimate!

              And hecho en Mexico? So? The Fiat 500 is built there, too. So are numerous other cars sold here.

              But, let’s say $8,800.

              I’ll take it. So would hundreds of thousands of others.

              But we can’t have it – because of the mandates!

              Further, bear in mind the Beetle has the additional virtue of being easily and cheaply fixed… by an average backyard mechanic. Three quarts of oil (and no filter, just clean a screen). No radiator, coolant or hoses…

              Damn hard to put a price on that.

          • Well, if you’re going to be that way about it, when I try to do the most generous analysis for you…. well I’ll just do it in silver. Silver was ~6 ozt in 2003. So we are looking at about 1000 ozt of silver to buy a beetle, at 0.77 ozt per dollar, that’s ~$1300 in 90% US silver coin, which is $32,500 in today’s FRNs. Is this method better for you? Looks three-four times worse to me.

            Things get -cheaper- over time. Human productivity increases. The bankers and governments -steal- that.

            We would get more for less year over year over year. The new thing should always be cheaper and/or be better/more than the old thing was when it was new. Always. It’s a law of competitive markets.

            You can bitch and moan about all the things that government mandates when maybe the automakers would have given you an extra 100 cid or motorized platform that dropped the engine and trans out for easy service or whatever instead of airbags and backup cameras but stuff is stuff… in the end the stuff of the mandates doesn’t surpass the productivity increases. The automakers can’t charge more than customers will pay either.

            I don’t know why you are so hard pressed to stick with the ‘seen’ when the ‘unseen’ is a far greater indictment of the hideous system we live under. The more we go back and forth the more I am seeing these regulations and building codes and all the stuff that goes on capital goods to be a way of masking the inflation. To make for a scape goat. The math this getting me to do sure is showing it to me.

            Something I also forgot earlier… tooling wears out and requires replacement eventually. There are also cheap tools one builds for for few thousand units and better tools built for hundreds of thousands of units or more. So tooling costs are ever present. Unless someone over-bought the tooling or something sells like crap there are always at least some tooling costs to pay for. Not to mention new tools that bring down part cost.

            • I understand the “unseen” – and am not arguing with you about that.

              I am arguing with you over the seen (though not by enough people) – i.e., the mandates and the way they’ve distorted the industry and jacked up the cost of cars by eliminating certain kinds of cars (and car designs) in favor of others – which are necessarily more expensive.

              The air-cooled Beetle engine is a case in point. So also its simple (lightweight) unibody, which had to be thrown away (along with the rest of the car) not because of waning consumer interest but because of the mandates that demanded a more “crashworthy” vehicle.

              Or, to take another example: The mid-’70s Dodge Dart. How much would it cost to build exactly that same car today – updated with TBI and an overdrive transmission – but the same easy-to-produce, lightweight body … and no $%@!! air bags?

              Maybe $10k out the door –

              But again, it can’t be done… because cars like that have been outlawed.

          • You obviously don’t agree with the unseen, because you keep ignoring the thrust of my argument and I am sick of repeating it.

            You want a dodge dart exactly as it was built back in the day? Same amount of human labor? Same amount of material? Same processes? Go quote one one out, you’ll be shocked. There’s a reason Dynacorn makes their bodies in Asia you know. And there’s a reason why car manufacturers stopped making them that way that has nothing to do with government.

          • Found you something:


            Look at figure 2. Note the proportion of mandate vs. other.

            It uses CPI for 2001 dollars, and it’s of course a bit dated. It also does not account for the thrust of my argument the year over productivity increases that drive price -down-. It assumes production cost of the base car is flat, as do you, it’s not, it moves downward as do all the new things as they become older.

            ‘other’ is approaching three times the cost of mandates. Now what is wrapped up in ‘other’? What about the fact that their totals are correct but that other should be even larger because the base area should get smaller?

            I’m done. I’ve spent way too much time on this.

            • Brent, we basically agree (I think).

              I am not disputing efficiency gains (that lower costs) or that inflation/currency debasement has made things appear more expensive.

              But you minimize the effect mandates have had on not just prices but the types of cars that are available. It’s incontestably true that an old Beetle or similar “pre-government” car could be built and sold for far less than any current (government mandated) new car… precisely because of the mandates.

              The mandates eliminated air-cooled engines.

              The mandates have made cars much heavier.

              The mandates have caused thousands of dollars’ worth of additional equipment to be fitted to new cars.

              Get rid of the mandates – and prices (in real terms) would go down, as cars became simpler rather than more and more complex.

          • I’ve argued for many years, way longer than I’ve been participating here that regulation was to control choice. My argument here is cost, product life cycle, and product replacement.

            In the next few years mandates, CAFE, is likely going to exceed the productivity increases. They want to crush the car market or they are getting delusional or both. There we agree. But that’s the near future. But I don’t believe it has on a 50 year long basis. It’s robbed us of who knows what. I think without them cars as a whole would be safer and more fuel efficient and cost less with demanding customers.

            The issue with how products are developed and sold is that the plan is meet cost target X with list of features Y.

            The most unregulated business segment out there is electronics. Nobody is marketing a modernized Atari 800 for $25. Now for nostalgia they did market a modernized Atari 2600 game system marketed for a limited time. the one I bought cost ~$25-30. But what’s out there? Far superior gaming systems and computers that sit in the same price point sweet spot they always did.

            The productivity benefits go to product features and improvements without government being involved. So my view is that these things replace other things we may have gotten. They narrow our choices but on cost… it doesn’t change things much. People will only pay X for a car. Whatever goes in that car can’t exceed Y*X, where Y is the fraction of the selling price that it cost to build the car.

            Government could mandate a $100,000 gizmo. Very few cars would be sold after that. Government doesn’t do that. They hire people who can do the math and they make sure their mandates stay within the productivity increase. Where they can do it without causing people to rebel against them. I’ve read a fair number of their calls for comments, papers, etc. They do the math. They want to tell us what we can have, but not so we’ll revolt. They don’t believe in the customer. I do to an extent.

            Yes, the government regulation cost looks huge. It’s probably somewhere around 0.5 to 1.0% compounding over 50 years. I think 1% doubles in 70 years. So it’s a big number, it’s just smaller than productivity increases.

            Here’s a 1 year plot for multiple countries on productivity growth: (2006-07)

            Was there a one year increase in mandates that got to 4.7% ?

            I don’t think I am under-estimating the relative cost at all.

            • Brent,

              Computers and cars aren’t directly comparable. One is a relatively new technology, the other a very mature one. To compare an Atari, say, with a car, you’d really need to go back to the very dawn of the car in the late 19th century.

              As with computers from circa 1979 to the present time, there was tremendous progress in terms of functionality (as well as cost reductions) from the time of the very first “horseless carriages” and the Model T – which was the first “Mac” of cars. After the late 1920s, it was mostly just refinement.

              Cars have been functionally “modern” in most key respects for decades. (My ’76 TA, with overdrive, runs and drives very much like any of the new muscle cars.) The modern OHV V-8 is 60 years old. FI has been in mass production for 25 years.

              What’s happened since circa the mid-1980s is that cars have been made geometrically more complex – to a great extent because of the need to comply with federal mandates, which continue to be piled on.

              There have also been wholesale (and premature) “die offs” of entire categories of car, courtesy of mandates. The obvious example being the almost overnight transition from RWD/V-8 and full-frame large cars to FWD, V-6 and four-cylinder smaller cars that took place because of the first round of CAFE mandates in the late 1970s. Entire lines of cars were killed off long before their R&D and tooling was amortized. Entirely new lines of cars were quickly put into production…. the cost to us is incalculable.

              The latest slew of mandates have resulted in wholesale changes to the rear area of cars – have you noticed how all new cars have big fat asses that are raised high up in the air – with atrocious visibility to the rear? Mandates – specifically, the need to meet rear impact standards. The shitty rearward visibility has, in turn, led to another mandate – back-up cameras. Another $200 added to the bottom line (plus who knows how much more when the LCD screen croaks eight years or whenever later).

              Model cycles are much shorter than they used to be. Fact. Basic platforms (such as the Ford Fox platform) don’t last in production as long as they once did. Because they generally can’t be made compliant to the latest ukase from DC.

              SUVs have had to be almost completely re-engineered during the past five years to meet the latest rollover requirements.

              I could go on and on.

              Inflation is a cancer. But you’re just not being realistic about the effect of government on the cost of vehicles. It is a huge factor.

          • *sigh*
            I am trying to get you to apply principles. The principles apply on every product of every industry. Mature technology has lower productivity improvements, but they are still there. Mature product however can apply new technologies. Automobiles are a mature product but new technologies are entering the automotive field every year if not more frequently.

            Electronics works as an example because the time scales are so much shorter. Humans grasp short time scales better than long ones. Automobiles are operating on a longer time scale so it’s not as clearly visible and they are mature product so the productivity increases don’t beat inflation, but all the principles still apply, just at different rates.

            I don’t want to go this route but may it’s the best way to express it, Clover can’t apply principles to problems, it argues based on what it feels about certain things. I am putting aside my feelings and opinions on mandates, how they limit choice, how they kill products, how they create annoyances and design balance problems, and I am just applying principles of product development. I am viewing all of them as ‘stuff’. Just stuff. Feature adders. Not that I would like a cleverly designed harness and roll cage but not airbags. Not the market segments of interesting cars that are gone. Simply looking at product development and applying the principles to arrive at an answer to the question, are cars more expensive now?

            My conclusion is they are no more expensive than they were in constant terms. We get more -stuff- for the same or less constant real money.

            Productivity increases year over year are equal to or higher than the new equipment that has been added. All of it. Market and government.

            We are on or near the cusp of government exceeding the ability to increase productivity. But that’s the future. Where we are headed.

            The Fox and Panther platforms were aberrations. The Panther platform wasn’t replaced because of regulation. It stuck around because there was no profit in designing a new one with CAFE hovering over that could kill the payback at any moment. It took decades for that moment to finally arrive. The fox platform would have been replaced in 1989, but -customers- rejected the Mazda MX6 based Mustang IV, which became Probe. This pushed the original Fox platform to go another four years and then be replaced by the SN95, which was heavily modified from it.

            Furthermore, let’s take a classic long lived platform like the Falcon’s. First car 1959, Ford Falcon. Last car something like the 1981 Granada. Same basic design. But that’s it. I don’t think they share a single stamping. Roughly every two-four years it was significantly changed or a new variant created. I think only in Maverick and Granada did it buck those trends because both cars were design-and-forget products. Just run them into the ground with minimal changes. Maverick was also built in Brazil and Mexico. It lasted there until ’79 I think. Killed in the US and Canada in ’77. If it was the US government, we should see new mavericks still being made in Brazil. We don’t.

            The current mustang platform issued in 2005 is only being modified for 2015. Looks like Ford will get 15 to 20 years out of it total. The falcon-like mustang platform went only eight with modifications.

            Another thing that happens through competition and productivity increase is increasing rates of change. Engineers have to do things faster and faster. If your company’s engineers don’t your competition’s will and you’ll be behind and headed toward bankruptcy if it’s not corrected.

            It seems to me you’re attributing everything to government mandates. That’s also what government wants you to believe. They want you to believe you’d be driving a 1964 type car today if it wasn’t for them. It’s a lie. We are driving cars that cost too much and perform inferior in every significant way to what they would have without government. But the argument that we would still be driving around with cars with carburetors or with simple unit bodies or other 60s technology is absurd.

            The idea that government drives technology is bullshit as far I am concerned. It creates the illusion it does as it screws everything up because those in government want the power. It’s the same old government scam. I’ve argued against countless people over the years that automotive safety design was well on it’s way being done by the automakers without government long before Nader penned his book. Long before government stuck their nose in. Automakers do these things to improve their products in the market.

            I will not accept this argument that engineering-know-nothing-popularity-contest-winners in government did anything but f things up. Make them suboptimal from where they would be. Skew the balance points of engineering to absurdities. They did not create airbags, dual master cylinders, disc brakes, abs, stability control, crash safety, or any thing else on the list. What they do is misapply it, distort it. Government touches gold and turns it to shit.

            Cars would have a ton of extra stuff without government by now, it just wouldn’t be the stuff government wanted. It would be what worked best together in a reasonable balance point. The 1970 whatever wouldn’t be made. Engines would still be computer controlled. We would still have body control modules. We would have a lot of stuff. We might have roll cages instead of airbags. But added stuff we would have in much the same cost as we do today.

            I reject the premise that our technology comes from the state. Like natural cycles, government takes what it knows is already going on and then exploits it for its own institutional power. These people are parasites. They create nothing. They manipulate others to live. For all I know the automakers are looking at breakthrough technology so our dear leader stepped in to take credit for it. Which he did in his campaign commercials. That’s what they do. Take credit for the work of others.

          • I’ve been following this debate and don’t think either of you are on the same page.

            One thing Brent, are you saying that the added equipment (airbags, backup cameras, ABS, Traction control, Auto stop/start, etc) do not increase the bottom line price of the car as compared to not having them?

            I get the impression that you are arguing that they don’t. Sorry if I misunderstand.

            • I understand quite well the point Brent makes – that efficiency improvements have led to improved cars at lower cost.

              That’s not what I have been debating. I agree.

              What Brent disputes is my contention that cars are also more costly than they would otherwise be because of government mandates. I don’t see how it’s possible to argue this isn’t so.

          • My premise is that government mandates are just ‘stuff’. Stuff that gets added. The market demands stuff get added all the time. The government creates nothing. It just wants to take credit for stuff.

            The automotive world is like any other engineering product based industry but with the dials turned up on productivity improvements. In this regard of work environment it is very similar to electronics. Always pushing for more for less.

            I believe without government cars would be cheaper. Government mandates are always sub optimal one size fits all by their very nature. For instance, I expressed how a new mustang GT is something like $1600 in the old silver money (at today’s silver price) that circulated when the original came out in 1964 for $2395 for a six cylinder. Without government mandates I think the car would have better stuff and be somewhere around $1200-1500. But that even with the government stuff, it’s still cheaper.

            Government, if you read their calls for comments, papers, etc you’ll see they spend a lot of time on how much their mandates will cost. A good amount of calculation goes into it. We can argue its accuracy but it is clear they are aiming to keep each one under some unknown threshold. My guess, my opinion is they aim to keep it under the year over year productivity gains.

            I’ve seen no data contrary to this, only data that supports it.

            The problem is government is stealing via inflation. So the price still goes up. When I have tried to do the analysis in constant dollars and see others attempt it, in different ways, it appears to me that the mandates have not exceeded the productivity improvements. Inflation meanwhile is running multiples of the mandates.

            X >> Y is what my argument boils down to.

            • Jeasy Peasy, Brent!

              “The market demands stuff get added all the time.”

              Right. True. But beside the point as regards mandates, which pre-empt market demand.

              “The government creates nothing. It just wants to take credit for stuff.”

              Did I ever claim otherwise?

              What I have claimed (because it’s true) is that government issues fatwas – and demands that others create things. Things it wants or which it regards as important. Air bags rather than five point harnesses. Tire pressure monitors rather than a pen gauge and common sense. Back-up cameras rather than the Mark 1 eyeball. Etc.

              The current car market is incredibly distorted. Bloated SmooooooVeeeeeeeees as mass-market vehicles, for instance. They exist as such only because of CAFE – because they were a way to end-run CAFE.

              Get the government out of the car business – and out of our business, generally.

              That’s the ticket!

          • Seems you used an awful lot of words to avoid a direct answer to;

            “Brent, are you saying that the added equipment (airbags, backup cameras, ABS, Traction control, Auto stop/start, etc) do not increase the bottom line price of the car as compared to not having them?”

          • Maybe I can put it one more way.

            Government demands something, say it costs $4,000. The engineer’s price target is $400. It doesn’t get built. Project canceled. No product. The end.

            But if government’s mandate is $3, and the price target is $400, then the engineer has to find $3 of cost to take out. That is what’s done. That target does not change because government issued a fatwa. That’s considered ‘whining’ and ‘complaining’. Maybe marketing gives up something like heated headrests or some such. Maybe marketing takes less margin or agrees to move the target to $401.50.

            If you don’t believe me feel free to work in product development for awhile.

            • None of this is here or there as regards the issue, Brent!

              The issue is – again – that government dictates have the effect of altering market dynamics and raising costs. How much? That’s open for debate. But that they do, isn’t.

              I mentioned Smooooveees – a textbook case of a distortion of the market created as a result of mandates. You drive right by that one.

              I mentioned the de facto illegalization of air-cooled engines (simple and cheap) as a result of mandates. You drive right by that one.

              I mentioned the recent tire pressure monitor mandate and the back-up camera mandate. More costs imposed. You drive right by them, too.

              I don’t believe for a moment we’d have six air bags in the average new car absent the SRS mandate. Had the market been allowed to proceed naturally – without government interference – maybe dual front air bags would have become like AC – a de facto standard in most (but not all) cars. Maybe. But driver/passenger/side-impact and rollover bags? In “economy” cars? inconceivable – absent the mandate.

              The only reason air bags are relatively inexpensive is because the government made them mandatory – made everyone “buy in.”
              Made me subsidize your purchase (just using that as an example).

              Had they remained optional (and not mandated) it’s very likely they would either have been discontinued due to lack of interest or been limited to high-end cars. It would have taken much longer for the efficiency increases you bring up to translate into affordable air bags for all.

          • WOW.

            Yes or no would have been the answer if you were honest.

            Instead, you are obviously over-qualified to be a politician as you answer like one.

            • Oh come on!

              The original article pointed out that the typical mass market muscle car of the ’60s and ’70s wasn’t very quick – in as-delivered, factory stock trim – in comparison with today’s stuff. Demonstrably true. Right?

              The second article pointed out that the old stuff had a lot of undeveloped potential, easily and affordably accessed. Also true. Right?

              How are these two items mutually exclusive or contradictory?

              How am I dishonest?

          • My comment was for Brent not you Eric.

            He weaseled around a direct answer to my question.

            Please add ‘@Brent’ to my ‘politician’ reply.

          • Eric, I first posed my CAFE resulted in SUVs argument sometime around 1998 give or take a couple years as I recall. I see no reason to revisit here, as I have already revisited it in this discussion forum. Should I go back and do all my individual points you failed to address or have typed back incorrectly?

            Again, I repeat, I am putting aside my feelings on the mandates. I am putting aside the distortions in choice. I have argued they do that many many many many times over in the last 15+ years. I am arguing cost. Just plain and simple cost via product development engineering principles.

            That’s what we do here, correct? We apply principles to things rather than use our feelings on individual aspects.

            What you posed in the article is exactly what most people do, that the cost of a car in 1970 or whenever is a baseline and that base car cost in real terms never changed, it only grew as the market and government added additional stuff.

            This is, incorrect. Period. There is no such constant baseline car. It doesn’t exist. When X is added, Y is subtracted. Want to convince me? Show me mandates that have cost more than productivity increases. You’re done.

            Every bit of data I know and can find says it’s the other way around.

            Also there is no requirement for six airbags. A car with two is legal. The side impact standards don’t even go into effect until 2013, but they don’t require airbags. That’s just the cost effective solution to this regulation with all the others in play.

            Besides the market put side airbags in long before the government enacted the new side impact standards in 2007 to go into effect in 2009 and require compliance within four years.

            I went and looked this up to make sure my memory was correct:

            But is this a case of regulators nearly having to catch up to where the automotive market already has traveled? The vast majority of cars and SUVs offer some sort of side-airbag protection, whether standard or optional. In fact, automakers actually made a voluntary agreement in 2003 to make these airbags available in at least half their vehicles by September 1, 2007. Regardless, automakers aren’t too far off from meeting the federal requirements. For the 2009 model year, approximately three quarters of all vehicles have standard side airbags.

            The standard reflects what had already come to be a market expectation of a large percentage of customers. The government moves slowly and the people in it want to tell the clovers they gave them ‘safer cars’ or whatever. No. The market gave them safer cars. The government just stole their choice from them after the fact, after the market penetration and costs were reduced.

            It’s just like how the government screws something up and blames the market, but the other way around.

            I’ve argued with ‘clovers’ for years that the market made their cars safer. I’ve learned of programs from automakers that predate Nader’s book significantly.

            I don’t know how else to put this. You’re seeing it two dimensions and I am seeing it four. What you are telling me is like me telling you how things are in journalism, where this would be reversed.

            PS: I’ve spent ten years of my career in industries with lots of government regulations and mandates. I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on how things go when a new fatwa comes down.

            • Brent,

              The core fact remains that the mandates add cost – period. The impose a requirement that a certain piece of equipment be added to the car that would not otherwise have been added as part of the standard equipment package. Incorporating dual air bags has entailed the wholesale redesign of car interiors to accommodate them – not even getting into the cost of the individual components and the costs associated with integrating them into the vehicle. Don’t tell me this hasn’t added significantly to the cost of a car – all else being equal. It’s nonsense. (And then there are the costs associated with repair/replacement – enormous costs.)

              Now, they’re going to force us to buy a fucking $300 rearview mirror with an LCD back-up screen built in. Or a $1,000 GPS LCD screen. No cost there?

              How much has the recently imposed tire pressure monitor added to the bottom line cost? It ain’t nothing.

              The fact that these things are “cheaper” due to improved efficiencies and economies of scale is utterly beside the point. They still add net costs.

              You’re right that six air bags are not required (yet). But the only reason we have all these god-damned air bags in the first place is …wait for it… because of the original mandate! The mandate not only imposed costs – it shifted them and it hid them. We are forced to buy air bags now – all of us. So, yes, the individual unit cost is less – but the total cost is much more. And it’s inescapable.

          • Eric, stop treating me like am some ignorant idiot. Airbags were introduced by the automakers in early 1970s. I can give you exact details from a service manual on my shelf if you really want me to. The automakers discovered the problems with them and shelved them. To say we wouldn’t have them now, with technology that makes them work is your guess, nothing more. I can say we wouldn’t have these overpowered ones in the dash. That’s the government at work. The government tells the clover majority the automakers didn’t put airbags in the cars because of greed. That the automakers fought the mandate because of greed. They fought the mandate because they knew airbags of that strength killed people. They learned this the hard way in the 1970s.

            Interiors get redesigned regularly. The costs you speak of there existed in car models that don’t exist any more. They were retired years ago. Design with an airbag or without one. each has its own costs and testing in the end it should be a wash or close to it between them. Either one could be higher wrt engineering time. Still have to test the non-airbag dash in crash tests etc. Still have to pass internal company safety requirements. But making both, now that’s big time unnecessary cost.

            I’ve already told you that the cost of everything together is significant, my educated guess from napkin calculations is about 1% give or take compounding for 50 years. However productivity has been compounding at a multiple of that rate.

            Just show me numbers. Show me mandates that exceed productivity increases year over year. Not feelings. numbers. Because I see productivity numbers of ~2-8% increasing year to year depending on country and the year. Then I hear of the new mandate that is implemented over four years that adds $400 to a $25,000 car. so less than 2% over four years… a 1/4% a year. Just give me better numbers and I’ll concede.

            And please stop spewing retail parts counter prices as costs. These are not the real costs to the manufacturer. And don’t use the option retail price either. That’s cut in half just by the bogus ‘invoice’ cost. The automaker paid maybe half of that ‘invoice’ cost with labor included.

            I wonder what sort of rant you’d write if really knew now cheap parts are. Oh what the hell.. http://www.worldautosteel.org/projects/cost-models/ go for model 6. Car doors.
            A car door assembly… $67. Metal door skin, crash beams, and other structure together. $132.75 per door -pair-. Now granted there’s a number of overhead costs they have as zero and no finishing… but here’s your material and labor costs for a raw door.

            So what do you think a side mirror really costs now? Not paying for some body shop guy to paint it. If mirror housing paint costs more than $5 on the production line I’d be shocked. I had smaller plastics painted much nicer for a $1. The electric motor, plastic gears, wiring, connector… plastic pieces and housings… if this whole thing got past $50 I’d be surprised. Probably retails unpainted at the parts counter for $150-$200. I’m just pulling this mirror stuff out of my head. Want me to check it? $150 for the body shop guy to paint it. $300 mirror.

            Let me check… Holy f… the motor made in china is 8 cents! You have to buy 1000 of them though and it’s one of those sketchy made-in-china supplier websites. So a good one from a decent supplier is probably 50 cents. I used to get small motors for 25 cents, but they were way smaller than these. Then again that small was probably extra $$. I was thinking $2. I was way high. Not much other data out there for quick gut check.

            • Brent,

              I’m not treating you like an idiot – I know you’re a smart guy – and a guy I agree with on most things, for that matter. But I do know a little about the car business – which I’ve been covering for 20-plus years. And you’re simply not correct when you argue that mandates haven’t significantly increased the cost of cars as well as fundamentally altered the business itself. I’ve explained how and why at length. I leave it to the readers to determine which of our points of view has more merit.

          • You’ve covered the automotive industry for 20+ years but you make an argument that ignores when airbags were developed and the story behind them. I know you know that, so at least give me credit for knowing it rather than using a debate tactic on me that works with people that only know the mainstream media story of how Joan Claybrook and all worked tirelessly for 15 years to ‘give’ us airbags.

            On another note, I could stop replying if for just once you would repeat back what I wrote correctly.

            It’s a very significant price increase in total, after five decades. I’ve stated that many times. 1% compounding over 50 years is very significant. 1% compounding doubles in just under 70 years. 1.5% in roughly 50ish. (I don’t want to do the math, 2% is 35 years).

            Thus, at this low level, regulation, mandates have roughly doubled the price of a car since the 1960s.

            What I am arguing is that productivity has increased at a greater rate since the 1960s.

            I’ll state it clearly. Mandates have likely roughly doubled the price of a car in 50 years. Productivity increase should have at least halved the price of a car in 50 years.

            So why are the cars more expensive compared to our wages? What’s left to blame?

            • Your position amounts to: It’s a wash. That productivity increases have negated the add-on costs of airbags. But here’s where you and I disagree:

              Take away the mandates and the typical new car would be vastly less expensive – as opposed to merely “break even” (accepting your premise that increases in product development efficiencies have been high enough to make up for the many thousands of dollars per car in add-on costs resulting from the mandates).

              I mentioned the Beetle as way to gauge what a “government free” (for the most part) car might cost. About $7,000 retail.

              The Tata Nano could be sold for less than $5,000 – absent mandates.

              The mandates are enormously expensive – not merely because of seemingly superficial things like air bags. But rather because of the way they have forced wholesale changes in the way cars are designed. Why does a micro-car like the Smart (and Scion iQ) weigh almost 2,500 pounds? Because of the mandates. Take away the mandates and such a car might weight 1,300 lbs. And cost half what it currently retails for. Not just because it wouldn’t be necessary to add 1,000 lbs. of steel and specially made structure to the thing – but also because it would not need 11 air bags (as in iQ) to pass muster with crashworthiness mandates.

              And, consider the effect having cars like a $7,000 Beetle (and a $5,000 Nano) … sans all the bullshit … would have on the rest of the car market. There would be a new incentive to make cars simpler and cheaper rather than more complex and expensive.

              But this healthy pressure has been removed from the market…. because of the mandates.

        • Eric, you’re using linear thinking on a non-linear problem.

          I did the beetle already, it costs more than it should showing inflation. But let me take a different approach with the Nano and the Wuling Sunshine/Rongguang, because they are designs without legacy costs and a much less regulated environment than Mexico.

          With productivity increases alone cars can be astoundingly cheap today. Like I stated before 2% compounding means halving the price in 35 years. 2% productivity increase is a bad year. 4% is halving the price in 17 years.

          That’s how you get this:

          But what is $5000 in today’s money in 1970? You couldn’t buy any new car for that kind of money in 1970. CPI wise that’s $838, 90% silver wise it’s $200. Show me the new car $838 bought in 1970. What did a VW bus (An equal to the Sunshine/Rongguang) cost in 1970? About $2500 give or take, right?

          Productivity increases, have more than halved the price of basic transportation (To a third wrt the sunshine) without mandates while making that most basic transportation better at the same time. Here take a look: http://chinaautoweb.com/car-models/sgmw-wuling-rongguang/

          No, you can’t have that in the USA thanks to regulation prohibiting it. That’s what regulation is for, prohibiting choice. But cost wise it’s usually intentionally kept within the productivity growth. It’s essential to do so politicians stay in office and corporations can keep competition down while still making the price points people are accustomed too.

          Come on, someone else besides me here has to understand compounding mathematically. Damn… I feel like I am teaching people with a HS education Cp/CpK at work.

  33. Old muscle cars still rule as long as you mostly drive in a straight line on a dry road. Solid axles work great on a truck, but not so well on a curvy road. Muscle cars were also horribly unbalanced – try driving one on a snowy road versus, say, an old Datsun Z.

    However, I do have faith in human ingenuity. V8s were making a good comeback after the initial slap down in the 70s. With higher compression becoming prevalent and better strengths of material, it could be very interesting….

    • Well, don’t forget that the new muscle cars also have solid axles – and they handle pretty well!

      And some of the old muscle cars handled quite well (and can handle very well with modern tires). Their ride quality, though, was another matter.

      • Michael
        Click this link to be proven wrong

        This company and several others are bulding solid axle chassis that meet or beat modern day standards

      • They don’t have solid axles, they have a differential or its functional equivalent in there to allow the wheels to move differently. The early Trojans did have solid axles, and they skidded horribly on turns.

        Oh, and torque is not rotational energy, although they happen to be in (apparently) the same dimensional units if you “flatten” the vector aspect of torque to get a scalar measure. The difference is that torque is produced and measured by the component of force at right angles to a length (the length of the lever arm) – the vector product of two vectors – while energy is produced and measured by the component of force parallel to a length (the length of the distance moved by the force) – the scalar product of two vectors (or you can get energy in other ways that end up in the same dimensional units).


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