I have driven several during the past year that use about the same – or more – gas than the old Pontiac does.
My car averages about 16 MPG and can slide into the low 20s if driven gently.
Not bad for a 40 year old muscle car with a 7.4 liter V-8 and a carburetor!
So, how come?
The main thing is the overdrive transmission I installed. It dramatically cuts cruise RPM (to about 2,000 at 70 MPH).
But it is also comparatively light.
Though it was considered a heavy car in its day, my old TA weighs hundreds of pounds less than its modern equivalent, a new Camaro SS.
In fact, my V-8 Trans-Am weighs less than a base Camaro V-6: 3,750 lbs. vs. 3,802 for the Chevy.
A V-8 Camaro SS weighs almost 4,000 lbs.
Which probably explains why – despite 40 years of technology leap-frogging – a new Camaro SS (with a much smaller engine) gets about the same gas mileage as my Disco-era Trans-Am: 16 city/24 highway.
And the V-6 Camaro’s not much better: 17 city and 28 on the highway.
MInd: That’s from a car with a 3.6 liter V-6.
As opposed to my TA, which has a 7.4 liter V-8 under its hood.
Keep in mind: All I did to my old car was replace the original (non-overdrive) transmission with an overdrive transmission.
Of course, my car also benefits from lower rolling resistance – due to its much smaller footprint 15×7 wheels/tires vs. the 18-inch wheels that are standard on the base Camaro (20-inch wheels are standard on the SS). And it probably benefits from the absence of a catalytic converter (less backpressure in the exhaust) while the poor Camaro is corked up with several of them.
Still, it’s startling.
Keep in mind that the Chevy – unlike my literally ancient Pontiac (its engine design/layout dates back to the mid-1950s) has fuel-efficiency advantages such as variable valve timing and direct injection (the V-6) and its engines (both of them) are paired with transmissions that have two more gears than my TA’s retrofitted (’80s-era) four-speed overdrive transmission has. You can also bet your bippie that Chevy engineers – sweating under constant pressure from the apparat in DC to eke out even fractional upticks in economy (hence direct injection) have massaged wherever and whatever they could. From low rolling resistance bearings to ultra-lightweight lubricants. My TA has none such – because those things weren’t even on the radar back in the mid ’70s, when it was made. There’s heavy gear oil in the axle (and 10W-40) in the crankcase.
And yet, it’s still close.
Notwithstanding its basically ’50s-era technology, my V-8 Trans-Am is not much more of a “gas hog” than the V-6 Camaro … and very possibly somewhat less of a “gas hog” than a new Camaro SS. It’s close enough that – were I to fit my old TA with a simple throttle-body (TBI) fuel injection system – I’d lay odds it could deliver better gas mileage than both of them. Simply because it is lighter. And a lighter car is inherently more fuel efficient than a heavier one.
While we’re at it, let’s compare apples with oranges.
The “oranges” are pretty piggy, too.
A new (2014) Toyota Camry V-6 averages 25 MPG, according to the EPA.
A four-cylinder (gas) VW Jetta sedan averages 27 MPG.
This is a fairly representative sample.
And it sucks.
Or rather, they do.
For all the braying about “fuel efficiency” emanating from Washington – and notwithstanding 40 years of federal fuel economy mandates – modern cars are hungry muthas. I know. I drive a new one every week. And it is shocking how consumptive some of them are – ands not just the likely suspects (e.g., huge SUVs like the Infiniti QX; 14 city, 20 highway). That’s expected. What’s surprising is the fuel-inefficiency of bread-and-butter family cars. Many of them hardly use less gas than my Trans-Am. And why? Because – like the new Camaro – they are porkers.
And why are they porkers?
“They” being the government, chiefly – but the car companies no longer fight it. They decided long ago – decades ago – that it’s easier to placate the government (and increase their profits). Why fight the next new mandate when the cost can simply be added to the bottom line and passed on to the buyer?
The new Camaro – and new cars generally – are heavy because they have six or more air bags now (driver and front passenger, two side impact and head/curtain air bags) and – like the Wolverine from X-Men – have had their underlying structures heavily bolstered (and so, beefed) to make them “safer.”
But “safer” conflicts with “efficient” – at least, when cost is an object. A race car can be made both very light and very safe. But exotic materials such as carbon fiber and titanium come with exotic price tags. A production car must be buyable. If no one can afford it, it doesn’t matter how efficient – or “safe” – it is.
And the thirst.
If the new Camaro were several hundred pounds lighter than my old Trans-Am, the story would be very different. With its powertrain efficiency advantages, the Chevy would probably be capable of 30-plus MPG, a feat my TA could only match if pulled by a Prius.
But because Chevy engineers (and car engineers generally) are tasked with conflicting and largely irreconcilable goals – fuel efficiency and “safety” – we get cars like the new Camaro that weigh more than cars like my old Pontiac. And use as much or even more fuel.
Throw it in the Woods?
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