Too Much Caffeine? - Thunder Road

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The Internet has brought us all closer together, but as I’ve noted in this column before, it can also spread a lot of misinformation, inaccuracies, and downright lies. Repeated often enough, these pearls become facts to some. But it isn’t just the Internet. As time goes by, people take commonly used terms and reapply them. As Led Zeppelin noted, sometimes words have two meanings. “Bad” can now mean “good” and “gay” no longer simply means “happy.” In the swingin’ ’60s, a “supercar” had a big V-8 engine in an intermediate body, and mostly what it was good for was accelerating in a straight line. Today, it’s a designation that’s most often applied to high-end exotics from small-factories—Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, and so on.

As a highly paid (cough, cough) wordsmith and editor, I understand that the English language is constantly evolving. Sometimes, however, wrong is still wrong. Certain terms, when misused, are sure to set me off. These can include (but are not limited to): classic car, muscle car, rpms, NOS/N2O/nozz/nitro, stock, restored and others. Maybe I had too much coffee this morning, but ...

Let’s start with the term “classic car.” Just because something is old doesn’t make it a classic. Junkyards are littered with the remains of vehicles that are really old. For a car to be classic, it has to have made a significant contribution to furthering the art/science/performance of the automobile. A Cadillac Cimarron may be old (if any still exist), but other than help drive consumers to previously unknown German luxury brands while putting Cadillac on the fast track to irrelevancy, I fail to see how someone can call it a classic. Same for the AMC Pacer, Japanese-built Chevy Novas, and front-wheel-drive Dodge Chargers—the list is endless.

How about “muscle car?” Seems like every time I go to an event, I hear people call everything and anything built between 1955 and 1980 a muscle car. Just not the case. A six-cylinder Biscayne with Rally wheels is not a muscle car. End of story. I’m sorry, but if you have a 307 Chevelle, it is not a muscle car, either. Never was, never will be. If you modify a car like this and it goes really fast, that’s fantastic. You have a fabulous hot rod (and I love hot rods)—and a great-looking one at that. But a muscle car is a factory-built car from the ’60s and early ’70s with a large displacement engine designed for high-performance. I don’t think it started with the Pontiac GTO, either. The ’61-’64 409s were muscle cars, but a ’55 Chevy with a 265 2V is not a muscle car, nor is a ’59 Chevy with a six-banger. Don’t be sad. They’re great automobiles and I wish I had a few, but they are just not muscle cars in the true meaning of the term.

Which brings us to Camaros, Firebirds, Rustangs, and the like. Today, these cars are commonly called muscle cars, even though most were built with six-cylinder engines or small-blocks with lame two-barrel carbs. Back in the day, they were known as ponycars, but here’s where that evolution of the language thing rears its head. In the ’80s, when every car magazine had the word “Muscle” in the title, they started calling the high-output versions of ponycars by the ubiquitous term “muscle cars.” OK, to prove I am not unflinching or willing to evolve, I can accept calling serious high-performance ponycars by the “m” word. Just don’t try to apply it to a 318 Challenger, 304 Javelin or 260 Mustang.

What of modern ponycars? They’re called muscle cars all the time, and let’s face it: as quick, fast and powerful as they are (even in V-6 form), a case could be made. I generally lump them into the “modern muscle car” category, reserved for high-performance vehicles from 1982 or so on up.

Here’s one that makes me flinch, but I hear it so much I have made peace with it: “Restored.” Restored technically means “returned to original condition.” If you took a derelict automobile and turned it into a show-winning hot rod, custom or Pro Street machine, can you really say you restored it? Rebuilt it, saved it, refurbished it, yes. Restored it? I dunno.

Then there’s “rpms.” I’ve never seen a tach that measure revolutions per minutes. All mine read in revolutions per minute, ergo rpm. Cars that use nitrous oxide as a power adder use N2O or nitrous. They may have a kit from Nitrous Oxide Systems (NOS), but it isn’t noss or nozz or (God help me) nitro. Those who use it in their cars are not cheaters either, no more than those who run superchargers or turbos are. Does the same thing—introduces extra oxygen to be burned with fuel for more power.

What about “original?” This is applied both to cars that are unrestored and/or restored to stock condition. I guess if you think about it, both way could be correct. What do you think? Am I right or wrong or should I switch to decaf?

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