Reader Question: Pre-ABS, Pre-Nanny Cars?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Zane asks: Here’s a question I’m not sure has been asked, so my bad if it has already been answered. The oldest car I’ve driven was a ’94 Camaro Z28; can’t really think of anything before that, and yet I’m looking at project cars such as E36s, 1st/2nd generation MR2s, Fox body Mustangs, etc. As you’re figured out already, I’m ready for a radical experience, both good and bad, but never dealt with no abs, snap oversteer and other charming challenges your generation mastered which mine hasn’t, though at least compared to most of my peers, I know stick. Any advice and stuff you can give me and possibly others with dealing with stuff long since forgotten?

My reply: You’ll be surprised that cars from the pre saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety era drive pretty docilely. You will find you have more rather than less control in that what the car does is controlled entirely by your actions; you will not be second guessed by software.

But you will need to develop skills which saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety tech has obviated – if you intend to really drive the car.

Most people have never experienced what it is like to approach a car’s limits because the modern saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafe car cock blocks them. This – ironically  – gives them the false impression of no limits, or encourages them to drive beyond their limits as drivers.

Modern cars do have higher limits, but this makes driving them less fun in my opinion because you have to be really pushing it to get near their limits – and this is usually not a good idea on public roads, unless they’re empty and you are a driver with the skills necessary to keep it together when things start to happen. Even saaaaaaaaaaaaaaafe cars can’t suspend the laws of physics; they just come unglued a little later- and sometimes much more dramatically!

It is fun to learn how to threshold brake; how to modulate power flow in a limited traction situation with your brain and foot rather than with software and an ABS pump. How to correct for oversteer and so on.

My generation learned by experience which is what I counsel. And by training, which is invaluable. Taking a high-performance driving course is worth every cent in terms of making you a better driver and just fun.

You will have one of the best times of your life.

As far as the cars: The third/fourth generation F cars and Fox body Mustangs are outstanding as the basis for a project. They are modern enough to be every-day driven, if you need that. Fuel-injected, overdrive transmissions; general reliability on par with today’s cars and arguably more so because less complicated.

But you could go back even farther, to the ’70s – and get a car without any electronic engine controls – and no saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety crap at all. These cars are much easier to build/repair (especially “on the fly”) and just have more character, in my opinion. They are also very easy to upgrade with the genuinely useful modern tech such as FI and overdrive transmissions – which make them as everyday-driveable as modern cars.

I took my ’76 TA out yesterday. Every time I drive it I am reminded how soul-free and appliance-like new cars are. And surprised by how modern the TA feels, in all the ways that matter – without feeling new in the ways that don’t!

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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4 COMMENTS

  1. “As far as the cars: The third/fourth generation F cars and Fox body Mustangs are outstanding as the basis for a project. They are modern enough to be every-day driven, if you need that. Fuel-injected, overdrive transmissions; general reliability on par with today’s cars and arguably more so because less complicated”

    Should of added this article before

    https://www.carthrottle.com/post/4-reasons-id-choose-90s-murican-muscle-over-imports-for-a-project-car/

    Besides that, already got a truck and my Audi has both hp/lp fuel pumps, so I’m use to V8 mileage (basically, I go empty with the Audi at a quarter tank now, absolutely fun xD)

    Now to find a performance driving school

    • Hi Zane,

      You’ll be surprised how reasonable an ’80s-era Mustang 5.0 can be on gas. These cars are very light by modern standards and with a mild build 302 and a five speed OD transmission, they can hit 30 on the highway!

      Even my TA isn’t terrible – despite the yuge V8 (7.5 liters) and the 3.90 gears in the axle. Because it’s also comparatively light by modern standards and I added an OD tranny (not like Bruce) with a deep .67 overdrive …

      • Oh, I meant I’m just use to the mileage, actually the least of my concerns

        Now if I won the lottery or whatever, I’d swap the Windsor for a Coyote and the 5spd with a Tremec T56

        Remember, no replacement for displacement

  2. Thanks Eric!

    Can’t wait to get to it, definitely excited to learn the classics, though with my own twists.
    (https://m.facebook.com/TheArtPageOfPipinTobing/photos/a.754079894707891/1319975518118323/?type=3&source=54, scene from my story, Z vs Fox)

    Rhetorical question I have is why don’t you see more people DDing classics and retro cars, but again, we both know the answer to that.

    Now to save, then look for an ’87-93 FB, then also find a good shop to do rear discs as well

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