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Am I a Muscle Car Militant?

I subscribe to lots of car magazines and while reading a recent issue of Hemmings Classic Car I read a series of letters to the editor hashing out the topic of what cars are – and what cars are not – eligible for so-called “classic” status in the eyes of the Classic Car Club of America. The general opinion was that as the years pass, there should be a more liberal view of what cars are significant and deserving of recognition. As things currently stand, if the car wasn’t built before 1948, it’s pretty much swept aside while “greater” cars – Duesenberg, Cord, Cadillac V16, etc. - are given the attention.

While reading the varied opinions on the subject, I definitely felt a growing feeling that I’m no fan of the snobby and elitist realm that goes with high end car collecting. Then I felt a pang of guilt for some of my own views – many of which could be seen as snobby and elitist – and which I have expressed in print and on TV innumerable times.

In particular, I get very picky about restored cars that are flawed and also rail against retro-themed hot rods that are botched (in my eyes) by the use of construction techniques and parts from different eras.

In the area of restored muscle cars, if I see an 8 ¾ rear axle under a four-speed Street Hemi car, my mind immediately asks “Why didn’t the guy get the correct Dana under this thing? Go all the way ferchrissake!” And even after the guy ponies up and installs the Dana, I’ll kneel down and check the top of the casting for the passenger car-specific pinion snubber support area. While the supply of genuine Mopar passenger car Dana 60’s is drying up, you can get a proper reproduction from Moser. But there are other Dana repops available that have the truck-based design that lacks the added material and machined pinion snubber support. When I see one of these “round top” Danas under a Mopar I wonder if the guy simply doesn’t know the difference or if he doesn’t care.

I automatically assume the guy has access to the same information on what is correct - and what is not – that’s been available to the rest of us for decades. Maybe the guy ordered the pre-assembled Dana and it arrived with the wrong case but he installed it anyway. To my way of thinking, if that happens, you ship it back and get the correct one. Better yet, do your homework and make sure you are ordering the right one in the first place.

Then I calm down a bit. Nobody can know the back-story that goes with every car until he sits with the owner for a few minutes. I take the time to do this when I can and usually learn like how the guy’s 4-speed Street Hemi has the 8 ¾ because he simply ran out of money and couldn’t afford a Dana. But he did have a good 8 ¾ lying around so he used it. These guys know the problem and usually seek to fix it when they can. But rather than store the car until that day, they get it running and hit the road.

But it’s the guys who seem oblivious that bug me – when I don’t catch myself first. I’m a pretty diligent type. As a writer I have to be. I check and double-check facts and assume everybody around me does too. Well, that’s not always the case. I happen to have a massive stockpile of vintage automotive literature and a wall full of resource books to learn from. But there are lots of guys that might only have a few loose magazines – if any. They rely on memory, or what they perceive as common sense to guide their restoration projects. When the end result isn’t correct, they’re the last ones to know it. And it’s cool. They own the car and they can do as they please with it. I’ve learned to live with these situations that used to freak me out.

On the subject of retro-themed hot rods and muscle cars, I have a particular hang up when I see what I call mixed metaphors. Let’s say a guy has a ’64 Fury two door hardtop. He’s got the reproduction Max Wedge hood scoop, the torsion bars are cranked up an inch or two and there’s a correct radio delete plate on the dash. But then he totally drops the ball with a set of 20-inch billet wheels. My stomach churns, and the only thing I can see are those darned rims. All of the good stuff gets washed away. I don’t like feeling this way, but I can’t help it - unless I try a little.

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