The Fun of Driving Slow, Fast

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There is much to be said about driving a slow car fast. Or even a slow-by-today’s standards car. I have more fun in the Orange Barchetta – my 1976 Trans-Am – than I have in the new performance cars I get to test drive, many of which have twice or even three times the performance capability.

Because their capability is cosseted.

The tires only slip so much before the traction nanny cuts throttle or applies brakes, keeping you from getting too sideways.

Your line is corrected by stability control.

Anyone can run a perfect quarter mile because of something called “launch control” – an electronic killjoy which takes the art of the thing entirely out of the thing. The computer manages everything. Holds the engine at just the right RPM; shifts at precisely the right moment. All you do is push a button and hold the gas pedal to the floor.

I remember trying out the high-speed elevators in the old WTC towers in New York City. They’d vault you up 50 stories in about the time it took to read this sentence. Extremely fast and not nearly as fun as riding a home-built zip line from a tree down to the pond.

You are along for the ride as much as your passengers – and it gets boring because it’s all so tediously predictable; the same thing every time. Lots of speed – no surprises. This takes any feeling of accomplishment out of the thing, since anyone can push a button and stand on the gas.

Would anyone remember the Red Baron if anyone could have been the Red Baron?

My Trans-Am (which is lightly modified) has about half the horsepower of something like a new Corvette but it feels – and sounds – as though it has twice as much. The humongous carbureted V8 – 7.5 liters! –  doesn’t have a smooth idle. It lopes threateningly. The car shakes. When it’s cold out you can see the V8’s heart beating through the twin-splitter dual exhaust in syncopated, slow-motion gattling gun puffs of vapor. Left, then right – in tune with the flat tappet camshaft’s highly irregular lobe profile.

New performance cars idle smoothly – like a Camry – even the ones with 800 horsepower engines, like the Dodge Hellcat.

They aren’t nearly as scary, despite being much faster.

Anyone can drive them fast without loss o control  – which is almost like giving every kid a a ribbon no matter who won the game.

My car wards off the fearful. It is not for everyone. As performance cars used to be.

An evil hiss – a vacuum sucking sound –  complements the lopey idle. This the sound of the engine breathing through its carburetor, a politically incorrect fuel-mixing device no new cars have had since the ’80s, when carburetors were supplanted by fuel-injection – which made them more efficient as well as more docile.

So that anyone could drive them.

The idle further smoothed out, aided by the new roller-profile camshafts that do not have the wildly elliptical profiles of the flat-tappet cam that actuates the Brachetta’s valvetrain in erratic concatenations of combustion.

The Barchetta’s gas pedal is also a steering pedal. When you floor it, the rear wheels go left, then right and the car goes sideways – or all the way around – unless you back off the gas just enough to let the tires regain traction, which you learned to feel and modulate by applying more (or less) throttle.

This is what “traction control” used to mean.

And not just anyone could do it.

On the 1-2 upshift the tires break loose again, leaving smears of black on the road. Not so much because of overwhelming horsepower but because of the absence of rubber. The TA’s tires are proportionately inadequate to its horsepower. New performance cars have more grip because they have 18, 19 and even 20-inch tires that are also several inches wider than the tires that fit on my car’s 15×7 inch wheels. But less grip makes my car seem a lot more powerful than it actually is because the power it does have is much less under control.

This is fun as well as chastening.

You learn to respect the car’s lower limits because if you don’t the car will make sure you do. There is also the sense of mastery that comes with competently driving a car that has limits closer to your limits. New performance cars have limits so high that unless you are at the semi-pro level in terms of your limits, you will never come close to exploring the limits of the car.

Which means you can drive the car very fast, but without much challenge. This is less fun, in the manner of a ride at the amusement park vs. amusing yourself. On a roller coaster, you can scream and throw your hands up in the air. Or you can close your eyes and take a little nap. It doesn’t matter because the ride will take you there in one piece.

In the Orange Barchetta, it’s up to you to keep it in one piece.

And that’s my idea of a fun drive.

Check out Driving School Melbourne here.

. . .

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70 COMMENTS

  1. My neighbor took me for a ride in his brand new 2019 Mustang 5.0. He mashed it on the interstate. I asked how fast we got. He said 120mph. Didn’t feel like it…or anything special. It was SO hooked up…because it was so civilized and idiot proofed. Hell, he missed a gear once and over-revved the snot outta it and didn’t scatter the engine or float a valve.

    I remember the old man’s small block ’66 Vette or big block El Camino being much more fun!

  2. Hi Eric, I can drive my wife’s 2017 RX 350 effortlessly at 70 mph around a curve posted at 40 mph. My wife doesn’t even look up from her phone usually while I’m doing that. I could probably take it at 100 without the tires losing traction – if I was a better driver, or more fearless.

    I prefer such competence in a car, but I get how someone like you who is competant and capable of driving a car at its limits would enjoy a more challenging ride.

    • Jimbo, I’ll bet that there were lots of performance sports cars from the 70’s that could take curves at that speed too- not because of electronics, which will fail (probably sooner than later) but because they were engineered with suspensions designed for that purpose (Not to say that your RX wasn’t)- but the American muscle cars really weren’t designed for that (Which kept them pretty darn cheap at the time)- it wasn’t due to them not being festooned with all of the technological gizmos that help modern cars “cheat”.

      • Nunz, it wasn’t as if there haven’t always been ways to increase the handling of muscle cars. I have already installed aftermarket rear stabilizer bars on common SUV’s(big ones) along with different shocks, springs and bushings.

        My 77 El Camino has shocks of two types with Trans Am WS 6 front end parts. The first curve I came to after the WS 6 upgrade I ran over a curb at speed due to such a change in steering. I did the same with my 93 one ton pickup after installing larger wheels and tires and Edelbrock IAS Performer shocks. It was a difference of night and day.

        I got so used to the way it handled I’d not even notice going around curves marked 55 mph with the cruise on 75. My cousin who was constantly riding in one ton 4WD pickups noticed it big time, the first time he experienced it thinking it would be his last. I didn’t even know what was bothering him till I asked. He made the statement “You’d never make that curve in any other one ton 4WD pickup I’d been in”. I wasn’t even noticing. I don’t think you’d do it in a new pickup. They’re so damned high off the ground they don’t handle well.

      • Nunz, those advisory speed signs on curves are what I call “Nash signs” – the speed you should stay under to keep out of the ditch if driving a ’49 Nash with worn shocks, loose front end, and Baldini tires. Almost anything else can go around much faster, even my old ’70s barge which is hardly a sports car.

        • Jason & 8,

          I always think of those yellow curve signs as being for a tractor-trailer or cement truck on a wet road with a coating of erl on a month with the letter R in it…..

          I KNEW this would come up sooner or later as an example, and now I finally get an excuse to use it!

          There’s an S-curve not a mile down the road, on a hill, coming throug a patch of woods. Been driving this road for almost 19 years now……I usually do 45 through most of it, with just a hair of a slow-down for the tightest part…and that only so I don’t wear my tahrs and stress my 3/4 ton suspension….

          They recently put up signs at that curve, saying “25 MPH”. So of course, now, whenever I take my mother to the doctor or something, she says “You’re supposed to go 25MPH [leans over to look]…you’re going 45! You’d better slow down! You drive too fast on curves!”.

          Hate to admit it, but my mother is a clover….

          Yeah…I know ya can mod the muscle cars and all…my point was merely that even before all of the fancy new-fangled techno-lodgey, they had cars that we designed for and perfectly capable of competently taking curves at high speed.

          I still remember back in the late 80’s on Lawn Guyland, seeing a Lambo (I think it was) whoosing around the corner at an intersection of 2 four-lane hwys at about 60MPH right outside the bank I used to go to!

          Hey, ya gots ta admit though, that the handling on most of the stock muscle cars was crap as they came from the factry (‘specially the Mope-ars… ‘least the GM’s often could be had with some performance packages that made ’em half-way competent)

          • Morning, Nunz!

            I don’t object in principle to yellow advisory signs – which are suggestions – and may be helpful to people not familiar with a given stretch of road, or a curve. The problem – as you’ve essentially pointed out – is that they’ve been so dumbed down as to be largely useless as advisories given how absurdly dumbed-down they usually are.

            • Hey Ya Eric!

              Exactly! The signs are perfectly fine, ‘specially for someone unfamiliar with the particular road- I even pay attention to ones on an unfamiliar road…more so on a rainy day.

              Problem is, like ya say, people have just been trained to blindly obey anything that comes from “authority”- and the scary thing is, that training was already being heavily broadcast even when my mother went to school in the 1930’s!

              The religion of statism runs deep- as I’ve said- it’s been the official religion of this country for 100 years now, and unlike organic religions, it does not have government agencies, the media and institutions working to destroy it- so it ain’t going anywhere, any time soon.

              Funny thing is, with the yeller signs, some people actually think that they are “the speed limit”- i.e. they don’t know the difference between a yeller cautionary sign and a white speed limit sign- maybe that’s why clovers drive so slow! -“The speed limit on this road is 25, not 45! It says so on that yellow sign back near that curve!”.

      • Hi Nunz!

        The other day, when I took the TA “down the mountain,” I got challenged by a guy driving a new Subaru Forester on the way up. He could not keep up. Not the Subaru, mind you. Him.

        I know he could have at least kept up as his Soobie has more grip in the posted 35 curves than my 44-year-old Pontiac on its 12-year-old 15×7 BFG Radial TA tires! But I lost the Clover, who couldn’t even keep his car in its lanes (not going fast enough to necessitate using both lanes/shoulder).

        This infuriated the Clover – but it made my day!

        • Hahahaha, Eric!

          The very idea of someone who drives a Subaru even trying……. Against a real car, no less….. Kinda like a faggot trying to steal your girl!

          I dunno- all of these fancy mega-horsepower sedans with all of the hi-tech doo-dads….but you’d think my c.7500 lb. Excursion was a sports car, the way I have to weave around ’em all most of the time….

          • Hi Nunz!

            I don’t even need the TA. I routinely beat people in “luxury sport sedans” up the mountain in my little truck, which has neither power nor (much) grip… but I can drive… and they generally can’t.

            • Hehe, Eric- reminds me of shortly after I had moved here- not familiar with the roads- or country roads in general….

              I go to see a parts tractor, which I ended up not buying- but the guy had a bushhog for sale that I could’ve used, but it was at a different location- so he wants me to folly him to it. I’m driving my old Econoline van, and he’s driving some beat-up S10 or Ranger or something…..

              Freaking guy left me in the dust! Eventually, he was just hopelessly out of sight…and I had to pull into the parking lot of as country church and just wait for him to notice that I was MIA and come back and get me.

              I’m no race car (or van) driver by any means…but I’m no slow-poke either…but I definitely played the clover that day! (And the bushhog turned out to be a rusty old POS, so the trip was a waste anyway!)…..but DAYUM!

                • Nunz, here’s a video I’m trying to get everyone to watch to the end. It’s not satisfying, just sobering and confirms everything I’ve thought since this entire bs covid thing began.

                  When it first began I told the wife “So this is how the Fed covers it’s ass” since we had been taking everything we could out of the bank and converting it into cash. It won’t be worth any more than digits but they won’t be ablet to get it just by, as Jon Luc used to say “make it so”.

                  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joUlWybJvHY

                  • I meant to say when the covid bs began,”this is how they do it”.

                    But we’d been robbing our meager bank account for a year and converting to cash.

  3. Speaking of muscle cars, whose golden age was already ending when the oil shock of 1973 hit, we are now experiencing the opposite — an oil price collapse.

    Bloomberg quoted Russian think tank president Alexander Dynkin as saying, “The Kremlin has decided to sacrifice OPEC+ to stop U.S. shale producers and punish the U.S. for messing with Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline.”

    April crude oil fell to $41.57 a barrel on Friday. If coronavirus demand destruction continues, the next downside reference point is $26.21 a barrel, set on Feb 11, 2016.

    Don’t count on the geniuses in Washington to realize that cheaper gas further undermines the case for electric vehicles. In fact if a recession occurs, as seems likely, auto makers face another 2008-style meltdown in demand for all kinds of vehicles.

  4. I remember all of the fun times I had as a teenager driving my cousin’s Fiat 850 Spider back in the late 60’s. I knew how to drive a stick shift as that is what I learned to drive on at age 16. And that Fiat had what – some 50 or so horsepower – but it sure was fun to drive everywhere at almost full throttle. At the time my older brother had some friends with rich parents, so they always took me for rides in their latest high-performance new cars. Cars like Z-28s, Trans AMs, Jaguars, MG-Bs, Dart GTSs, Corvettes, and many more. They never let me drive any of them, but they always drove them hard and fast with me in them – so every ride was a blast! Those were the days.

  5. Totally relate Eric. I know a new HiPo car could run rings around my previous 69′ Dodge Charger R/T with regards to horsepower, handling and traction but as far as the fun and thrill factor, for me, it couldn’t touch it by a mile.

    • Amen, Paul!

      I have driven and get to drive all kinds of new performance cars but very few of them ever make me smile like the Orange Barchetta does!

  6. With real cars, you could have a tiger under the hood (not to be confused with the one in the tank, if you used Esso gas!)…and it was entirely under your control; it couldn’t presume to “know” what you were trying to do, or to prevent you from doing what you wanted to do, nor from helping you to do what it presumes you want to do- WE had the power because the power of the vehicle was entirely under our control- or lack thereof. We didn’t have to try to out-smart the matrix of controls between us and the engine and tranny; driving was merely driving, and an exercise of our autonomy, rather than an exercise in political and corporate control and the avoidance thereof.

    The new cars are an exercise in castration. They are relieving us of all control over the things in our lives- guns; authority over our famblies, businesses and property….and control of our cars, which may have “power”, but it is just as castrated as they desire us to be, and if we ever do manage to unleash just a bit of it, it is only so theyh can plunder and assault us for doing so, are there are draconian penalties for growing one’s nads back.

    Heh…I remember those express elevators in the WTC- the only thing I liked about the stupid things. I remember taking one of my nephews for a ride on ’em when we were farting around in Manhattan- must’ve been 1983, ’cause I still remember the “new” 84 Corvette they had on display in the lobby, which was the debut of “the new Corvette”.

  7. Oh my gosh… sliding thru a left feeling the rear breaking letting off the gas then regain control and back on the throttle … zoom.

  8. I relate completely to what you say here Eric. They’ve engineered the joy out of everything, by taking the involvement out.

    I’m still riding the ’02 Superhawk. No EFI, no anti-lock brakes and no stinking traction control. I can’t keep up with modern wunderbikes, but that doesn’t make me a lesser rider or my bike less fun. On the contrary, I believe the consequences of sloppy inputs makes my skills sharper and my riding experiences far more intense and rewarding.

  9. I had a 74″ nova 350 which I had painted guards red, Micky T slicks and headers. Ran around a corner driving fast at a slow speed of about 40MPH, caught an edge on my back right tire on the grass, flipped the car over in the ditch. The sad part was the hottie in the passenger seat took one of the a 2ft long speakers to the back of the head as the car flipped over. Busted the windshield out and climbed out. She took it like a champ…the nova that is.

  10. Eric:

    There’s a consistent theme to your commentary. Operating a motor vehicle — life itself — once called for competence, accountability, decency, compassion for the less fortunate and a fundamental sense of right and wrong. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve managed, all these years, to avoid vehicles with automatic transmissions. But that day may come to an end whether I like it or not. At the same time, my neighbor’s ’48 Ford tractor, which runs on anything he can throw into the tank, will be turning over his garden long after his grandkids are forced to depend on a rake and a hoe. I suppose prophets, which can include test drivers of new vehicles, are sometimes without honor in their own countries (though maybe not in their own counties.)

  11. One of my all time favourite cars to drive as fast as I could make it go most times was a 1962Morris Mini dead stock 850. It would cruise at 70 all day long and return 55 miles to the gallon, but since that was just about all in, it rarely got less. The only time it did was when I was puching it as fast as I could scare it into going through the turns. Windy mountain pass roads, long tiwsty canyons, etc, that thing had just enough power to use the right foot to steer it throug the turns. A touch on the Paddy Hopkirk handbrake lever (no it was not fitted with fiddle brakes) to bring the arse end round the last of the turn…… glad I learned on that one cause later when I got a 1275 Cooper S in Stage Three tune, I already knew its quirks. Just had about our times the power at those tiny ten inch front wheels. The wider Goodyear Blue Streaks did make a difference, though. That thing would ROMP.

    • “Erratic concatenations of combustion” is indeed phrasemongering worthy of the erudite style of the late Brock Yates of Car & Driver, whose coinage “pachydermatous” describes today’s 3-ton large-SUV land yachts just as well as it limbed the 1969 Chrysler station wagons with their billowing yards of coppertone-brown sheet metal back in the day.

      For some, “erratic concatenations of combustion” might conjure WW II saturation bombing on an overcast day, when the targets were invisible and all that could be seen were ominous yellow flashes beneath the clouds.

      Maybe that’s why the dear departed Pontiac marque named it the Firebird.

  12. The subject and the video reminded me of a recent video I saw of a young woman, probably barely able to own a car, had a new Demon or similar. She was at the track and had a guy telling her how to run the quarter mile.

    Last thing he does is open the door and tells her to turn on the “quarter mile” switch or whatever it’s called, I forget now.

    So she selects that mode on the infotainment system and waits for the light. She hits a pretty good light so her time was about 10.5. There was a camera showing the car and one showing her at the wheel. So the car tears off and she sits there holding the wheel that never required being turned at all. Wow, what a thrill. I wonder how many times it would take for that to wear thin? No skill involved at all, just floor it and hold the wheel straight. What a soul-less way to run a quarter.

  13. I support everyone’s right to own a Miata. Goodness knows, you’re certainly “not harming anyone else.” 🙂

    But here’s the reality. Slow is slow. So if you really get off on hammering around at 10/10ths in a slow car… that’s OK. Just be sure to stay in the right hand lane. 🙂

    • I saw one Miata that was the antitheseis of the Miata to which you refer with scorn. I was on my push-bike, aproaching one more of those ridiculous roundabouts, the Miata, appearing near dead stock, approached from my left, slow because ot the car ahead. As he want past me I noticed it seemed a bit lower to the ground, OK, I figured he’d dropped it a bit for rallying or some such He had no throttle in, so I did not pick up any “unusual sounds” but as he passed, I noted something unusual….. one on each side, poking just short of the rear chromed bumper, a pair of three inch pipes. Hmmm.. The car ahead cleared the roundabout and he blipped the throttle ever s slightly, when I HEARD it. DEININTELY aV 8 of some sort, he couldn’t get on it hard, just enough to be noticed. My guess was a Ford 289 in about stage two tuning. I was not thinging ANYWHERE near crazy enough.

      Later that afternoon as I was returning, I came across him parked, waiting for someone. Same guy same car. Gent in his sixties or so. I stopped, got his attention… I saw you coming through that roundabout up north a bit.. that thing’s not quite stock is it? He laughed and said “oh, no, not quite…… I leaned by bike up against a tree and walked across the roadway, a two lane rural road with nice shoulders. I asked him if it was a 289, he said good guess, but youre a ways off…. It a BM (can’t remember now, but it was an L something or other six plus litre……WOW) He got out opened up her mouth and I could not believe how carefully that monster was stuffed into that tiny four cylinder engine bay. Port FI, six speed manual gearbox behind it it seemed to have been pushed backward and dropped down about two inches… he confirmed. I asked how many horsepower itactuall developed.. he mentioned a number just north of six hundred. How about handling? We worked that out too, with the engine shoved back, all the aluminium parts on it, and dropped a couple inches, and the gearbox shoved aft along with it, the balance is actually better than the stock four hole Miata. I asked him how fast it would go, and he said I dont know yet engine is still in the run-in period. But I;m guessing it will be around 150 or more.. based on RPM and gearing left. Apparently he’d had a string of fairly fst cars in his earlier days, but figured this one would be his last “project car”. I can imagine the look of shock, awe, and disbelief when some clown in a highly tuned stock-engined Miata decides to get feisty with him.

      It would be sort of like the guy I used to know, ran a Formula Three car, (cigar body, open wheels, sub-one liter sedan-derived engine) He’d done well and wanted to retire his race engine and build a new one over the winter. Found a 1963 or so Anglia 105E saloon with a sick engine that still ran. Raced prepped that one, put it in his race car, took the retired one out and kicked it into a corner in his garage. The car he’d got was a pristine low miles unit, near mint. A little old lady had it and never took it above about 35 mph, coked up the engine and burned a valve from all the mess. He kept looking at that straitght clean body, finally decided to detnue the race engine a tad (lowered the redline to 8500 wiht a milder cam, from the 12,500 in race tune), he’d already cadged the dru sump system for the Formula car, so went back with stock sump, clipped the stock flywheel a few pounds but not crazy light.. lowered the car an inch and a half, built a two inch exhaust… and put it back on the road. He figured he nad still about 95 horsepower in that lightweight saloon body, lightly tweaked to handle Was out motiring along one sunny afternoon on a fine two lane rural road, some guy in a “hot’ MGB came up and began pressing him from behind. He waited till he had clear road ahead, dropped it two gears and took off., into the twisties, Left that B in the dust…….. andhe thought it was a little old lady’s funky British saloon blocking his way. Hmph….. Had no clue what as ahead of him, nor WHO was at the wheel.

      • That Miata you mention really isn’t a “Miata” anymore, is it?

        And I bet the guy didn’t build it because he was in search of “the fun of driving slow.”
        🙂

        • In fact, this almost exactly parallels what Carroll Shelby did to the AC Ace British roadster back in 1961. Old Shel ripped the feeble Ford Zephyr engine out of that puppy, and dropped in a 289 Ford V-8. It went on the market in early 1962.

          The AC Ace, held in low esteem by almost everyone, was instantly transformed into a car that become a Legend For The Ages…..the Shelby Ford COBRA.

          There’s a message in there for those willing to think about it.

            • William,
              You’re right. The first 75 MKI Cobras had the 260. The Final 50 MKIs had the 289.
              All 528 of the MKII Cobras, built from 1963 to 1965 had the 289.

      • There is a company that makes everything you need from front to rear to install an LS into one. I monitored a guy’s YT channel as he had built a perfect shop building and began buying various things and finally a lift. He eventually had an LS 6 in it and had used the aftermarket frame to be able to put some fairly large tires on it. It was a monster and it looked nearly stock and did remain stock on the interior. He couldn’t sit in it without a huge smile and when he cranked that bad boy LS up it didn’t SOUND like a Miata.

        It actually had a great deal of similarity sound-wise to the 17′, 18′ Chevy SS. I don’t know why they bothered to make them any color but black. I don’t recall ever seeing one that wasn’t black.

  14. When I read your headline, I worried that this was going to be another boring episode of Miata worship. What a pleasant surprise to see you were talking about your 7.5L, V-8, stick shift Trans AM. Driving that thing relatively “slow” compared to a new Corvette could still be a Major Adrenalin Rush.

    Of course, that headline attracted a boatload of Miata worshipers who think zipping around in their little carts is the same as maintaining traction in a fire breathing Firebird.

    One quick ride would show them that there is a world of difference. But I don’t think they wanna know. 😉

        • Oh, that is a good one! Lane departure feature. Oh yes, I have tripped that feature’s threshold many times in my ’67 MGB. Kinda strange feeling seeing the road behind you in the windscreen, then in the wing mirror again 🙂 But, as the slogan says, Safety Fast.

    • I wrote the first post here about “I would rather drive a Miata..”. Go read it.

      That was not Miata worship, it was an example. Could have said 240z or MGB or TR6 or 1984 Chevette. All of which I have driven. Eric’s TA (auto not stick) is similar in that it is not “over tired” and too sticky to safely have some beyond the limit fun.

      My first car was a 1970 Camaro. It was fun for the same reasons. The limit came at much lower speeds and came on gently, therefore more fun. I also have a Fiero. It is dangerous at the limit because if it lets go, it lets go suddenly. There is no margin for error, so getting close to the limit is dangerous and tense. Same in a new(ish) Corvette.

      It is why I love driving in the rain. Lowers the speed at which the fun starts.

      • Anon!

        You have a Fiero! Got-damn it, son! I am now jealous… I love these cars, fully aware of and in spite of their flaws. I have always wanted one. A GT with a manual is all I ask for, o’ Lord…

        • 1988 Formula. In Red. Absolutely stock so far. Unfortunately an auto, but was so cheap and so mint I could not pass it up.

          Can’t afford a Ferrari F40, my all time top of the wish list, so this was as close as I could get. Such as it is.

          Plan is to swap in the 3.8/4T60-E I have in a 1995 olds sitting by the garage. Will use an F40 6 speed manual trans if I get ambitious. Maybe upgrade to the 3.8 super charged later if the swap works well.

          Just make sure you get a 1988 if you want one. The upgraded suspension and brakes are worth it.

        • Just a quick search found this option for you Eric.

          https://greensboro.craigslist.org/pts/d/greensboro-1986-pontiac-fiero-gt-v6/7071375661.html

          It is an auto and a 1986, but both those issues can be fixed. The F40 6 speed from a Cobalt SS or other high performance GM front wheel drive can be put in fairly easily by someone mechanically inclined. I have seen NOS F40s for $1000. The Getrag 282 5 speed (what the Fiero came with) is available anywhere too as they made plenty for FWD cars. Just not as strong as the F40 and one less gear.

          There are several kits that can cure the pre-88 rear suspension issues (bumpsteer) and plenty of big brake kits to upgrade too.

          Just check under the battery tray for subframe rust. It’s where they go bad. Check the trunk area too. some rot out in the rear section as well.

        • If money is not too tight, this.
          https://classics.autotrader.com/classic-cars/1988/pontiac/fiero/101229306

          It is unfortunate for anyone looking for one but decent 1988 Fieros with manual transmissions are really starting to climb. For anything good expect see asking prices of $12-25K. The above looks like a bargain.

          Fortunately a lot of 1988 auto trans cars are still selling cheap enough to do the 3.8/F40 or G282 conversion and still stay well under $8k finished.

          One warning on the auto ones, the gearing is for acceleration and 60mph = ~3000rpm. It’s why I want to do the 4T60 trans swap for the0.7 OD. The 3.8 bolted to it is just a 70hp/50tq bonus.

  15. I was really excited to get DSG on my old A3, along with the flappy-paddle shifters on the wheel. Oh sure, it looks great on paper, perfect shifting in under two tenths of a second, no need to reach for the gear lever, etc. But in practice I rarely used the “manual” function. It was boring. It didn’t downshift when I told it to, only when the engine revs matched what it was programmed to do. I sometimes forgot what gear I was in and had to look at the dash display. But it did shift much faster and with more precision than I could ever hope to do.

    The trend in performance is all about marketing numbers and checkboxes. Now that emotion has been boiled out of most of us from over-stimulation marketing departments just list all the numbers and tell the engineers to adjust them to fit the metric-du-jour. So one year it’s all about launch mode and 0-60 times. Then it’s about electronic shifting and dual clutch. Then it might be center of gravity or suspension adjustment. If one does it, they all have to do it.

    No wonder people are tired of cars.

  16. Kinda the same parallel (& you mentioned it at the very end of your essay) was roller coasters. Do you like the old wooden type, with just a lap bar, or do you like the sleek metal ones with a full harness? I find the older ones more scary/thrilling, much along the same lines of old, slow cars being driven fast.

    BTW, my 95 Subaru Legacy 2.2L, 5sp, is one of the best, if not *the* best handling car I have ever owned. Fun on the mountain roads!

  17. Absolutely love this article! Yes, yes and more yes!

    One of the reasons I love my 06 MX-5 is I can hammer the thing, drift the rear end, howl the engine and chirp the tires at will… and I’ve barely hit 60km/h 🙂 well under oinker radar.

    Keep up the great writing, Eric!

    • Thanks for the kind words, Rodrigo – and amen in re the Miata! It’s one of the very few new cars that drives (and feels) like an old car – in all the right ways.

      Come to think of it, I ought to get myself one. I’ve been trying to save money for a late ’70s barge – something like an Olds 98 or Caddy deVille – but maybe this makes more sense…

      • While the Miata is not as prone to the ability to get your ass in a sling as your Firebird, it is by far the most direct contact with the act of driving you can get at an affordable price point. They truly do drive like an extension of the driver’s body. I’m an old fart now, crippled with arthritis, but when I get behind the wheel of my Miata, I’m agile again.

  18. The real thrill is competiton, which is best reserved for the race track. Speeding around on public roads (traffic bad!) is not a great idea (contrary to TFATF crowd) but sometimes the urge to troll overrides one’s sense.
    I once had an idiot try to get me to race him in a school zone, at the crosswalk, while the kids were arriving for class (I didn’t bite). That dumb shit almost ran into soccer mom’s suv when she turned left in front of him while his stupid foot was to the floor. I suppose she wasn’t expecting anyone to be drag racing there at the time.
    I’ll probably never understand all the Miata love. I recall beating one in my ’95 1.8L 5sp. Corolla while in Mexico a few years back and I had a passenger plus luggage on board. I was tired of him tailgating (15 mph over the limit wasn’t fast enough) so decided to make him work for it (troll>sense that time). I don’t think this driver had a clue what “exit speed” is (among other things). What surprised me was that I could (barely) walk him in a straight line. Miatas do handle well but most drivers are too wussified to push it, and straight line performance is yawn-inducingly nonexistent.
    Now my ’99 4cyl. 5sp. Frontier is a triple threat. It’s slow, ill handling, and traction limited – makes any speed feel like too fast. You can scare yourself and others even at sub-legal speeds.

  19. I drive a 1982 Mercedes 240D with 4 speed manual transmission, over 300,000 miles with no engine work done and STILL outrun most cars. I drive fast all of the time, and have a good time utilizing that 54 hp diesel to the max. Just adjust the valve lash every 15,000 miles and oil changes twice a year. All is good.

    • that 123 coach series of Mercedes Diesels is likely one of the finest series anyone has ever built. I’ve had a bunch of them, still have some…. my favourite was the 82 TDT, the wagon with the turbodiesel. I had a Jetta dogging my tail down in California, in the Lakes district, as I was headed toward the super stee and windy road ip and over the Jack Londin grade and down inth Geyserville. On the flats, I was concerned about the Chippies. lurking down one of the ranch driveways. So I lept my speed down, but this guy was pushing. No opportunity to pass me oncoming prevented that. But as the road began to climb, then get into the twisties, I kept my hammer down, kept it in the right gear, and walked away from giong UP that big hill. Over the top and down the other side, never saw him again. I’l bet he was surpirsed… the old guy in the stodgy Benz Touring was an easy mark for him, he thought. Watching him in the rearview, it was obvious he was a town driver.. no sense of the line through a turn. Waited to long to brake, and scrubbed sideways a bit, etc.

      THose 123 cars are amazing.

  20. You wanna befuddle at least 75% of current automotive left seat (in North America at least) occupants? Show them a manual transmission shifter. You wanna befuddle 90%? Ask them what that little black knob is for to the lower right of the Oil/Coolant gauge in my MGB! It’s not a real classic unless you have to work a strangler (choke in non-UK English)!

    I know what you mean Eric. My ’67 MGB is in not as fast as our ’09 Jetta. But, the driving experience is visceral, raw, but yet refined in a very LBC (Little British Car) way. I must be on top of it or Bad Things Happen. It has a personality. It is different from other ’67 MGB’s, too. Every 2020 ‘Vette is like every other 2020 ‘Vette, and are similar to Mustangs and Challengers. Very nice cars, but something is lacking…

  21. Slow cars driven fast- heh. I still prefer those. I was so proud at 16 at being able to drop the clutch and burn rubber on Dad’s Scout Traveler diesel (6000 lbs and 82 HP- but a manual 4 speed made it possible). Also figuring out handling by drifting my 69 Karmann Ghia until it came around on me on gravel- loads of fun and slow enough not to really get hurt. Dad taught me to appreciate cheap simple economical cars- to this day I drive mechanical diesels and old stuff. Time to build a blown flathead this year!

  22. WARNING: More Miata Praise Ahead

    Eric, it’s like with the Miata I race; all anyone asks is “what’s the top speed?” and “did you put a V8 in it?” People seem to have no idea that the fun isn’t speed in and of itself, it’s controlling the car when it’s at the limit. As you say, anyone can run a quick 1/4mile with traction control. Carrying speed through a corner knowing if you let it slow a bit you’ll never catch the guy in front of you is not something you do right out of the box. It takes time and practice. Doing such moves 2 & 3 wide is simply nuts.

    Top speed? I don’t know. All I know is I was running about 7200rpm in 5th(that was the last gear I had), bump drafting out of Nascar 4 at Daytona knowing I had a nearly 180 degree left hander heading into the infield portion coming up really quick. If that doesn’t get your attention, nothing will.

  23. As I watched the video I thought about cars being female- one is like that crazy chick that screams, scratches and thrashes when you slip the clutch just right. She may be a little (or a lot) rough around the edges but oh man what fun!

    Then there’s the socialite gal- they all look the same with the expensive bottle blond hair and the $600 shoes. She’s accepted in all the right places, has her own money but B-O-R-I-N-G where it really counts. Every romp is the same with less and less enjoyment. Predictable. Boring. But safe.

  24. It all depends: I’ve had the old – 2nd gen Camaro Z28s and now have the new – high-performance 4WD SUVs. I can now drive fast, and STOP fast, in rainy weather, and park anywhere, while depending on 4WD to get me out.

    With a “sleeper” I attract the cops less and the neighbors aren’t annoyed by a loud exhaust. The near-instantaneous auto transmission shifting is almost as enjoyable as the 4-barrel howl.

    For DRIVING, when there was a choice between the vehicles, the modern SUV won out.

    The SUVs are of 2012 vintage, so none of the modern “enhancements” – just improvements, such as fantastic brakes, fuel injection, electronic ignition, 5-speed trans, good mileage, etc, etc.

    I’ll not be buying any vehicle post 2012.

  25. Cars today have too much grip to be any fun. To me, the fun of a car is when you drive it beyond its limits, as you mention. But today, even if a car will allow you to do so, the mechanical grip is so high that you have to be doing ludicrous speeds to get it to slide, risking a massive accident.

    I would rather drive a Miata on 7″ tires than a Corvette on the 13″? ones they have. The Miata is fun to slide at 45mph in a corner and probably salvageable if you make a mistake. The Corvette is boring at anything under 90 and just scary beyond, because one mistake and it is just a ride to the scene of the accident.

    More fun to drive a slow car fast, than a fast car slow, is absolutely true. Even if the fast cars slow, is twice the speed of the slow cars fast.

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