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A guide to buying American Classics

The Buck Stops Here Published: 21st Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

A guide to buying American Classics
A guide to buying American Classics
A guide to buying American Classics

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Fancy owning an American classic but on a tight budget? Here’s four buck-dodging head turners

You don’t have to spend a fortune to get cruising in a Stateside classic. Our budget guide here looks at cars that are as ‘cheap as chips’ to purchase, and running costs shouldn’t break the bank either. The Ford Pinto makes for an attractive ‘sub compact’ that had a long production run. You can’t get more quirky than the AMC Pacer, the Mustang II is the cheapest of any ‘Pony’ car with excellent pedigree, while the Buick Regal Gran National with V6 turbo power will provide spirited performance. Other models that also fi t the bill include the Chrysler Le Baron and Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

Ford Pinto

While Lee Iaccoca has been well documented as being the spiritual ‘father’ of the iconic Mustang, it’s less well known he was also heavily involved with the Ford Pinto programme. Designed by Robert Eidschun the Pinto was launched on September 11 1970. The car was Ford’s fi rst true subcompact, built on a 94.2-inch wheelbase, measuring in at 13.5ft long, weighing a mere 937kg, and powered by either a 1.6litre 75bhp or 2-litre 100bhp in-line four-cylinder engines. The Pinto was available as a two-door coupe, a three-door hatchback known as “The Runabout” and there was a three-door station wagon. Drivetrain layout incorporated a longitudinally mounted engine driving the rear wheels, with coil springs to the front and leafs at the rear, with manual or automatic transmission. Sales were encouraging in the fi rst year at 86,680, but when the energy crisis and Arab oil embargoes really began to bite in 1973-1974 sales soared to 484,512 and 544,209 respectively, the best years ever. The ‘hottest’ version was a limited edition called the ‘Pangra’ by Huntingdon Ford of Arcadia, California. Various GRP parts were available, along with suspension upgrades, alloy wheels with big tyres and a Spearco turbocharger for the ‘Cortina’ engine. However, a worrying problem emanated in rear end collision damage when the Pinto’s petrol tank would easily split and the car would catch fi re and burn. It’s a problem that did not go away, with 27 people known to have been killed due to Pinto fi res. In September 1978 Ford recalled 1.5 million Pintos built between 1971- 1976 to have a new fuel tank fi ller neck fi tted, along with a plastic shield installed between the differential and petrol tank, and another to defl ect contact with the right rear shock absorber. Pinto fi res was a stigma that the model simply had to endure. In spite of this, it soldiered on until 1980, becoming larger, and heavier during its lifespan and ending up with and 2.8 litre V6 engines. Interestingly during the energy crisis years, the demand for 2-litre powered cars easily eclipsed the 1600 engine. Expect to pay between £1000 - £1200.

Buick Regal

The fi rst generation Regals were built from 1973-1977, a rear wheel drive notchback coupe that shared a similar frontal and rear aspect styling as its Century parent. Engines ranged from the 3.8-litre V6, 5.7-litre V8 and 7.5 litre V8, though most buyers opted for the 5.7-litre V8. Buick hadn’t initially intended for the Regal to be a sporting coupe, hence only automatic transmission was available. The second generation Regals were produced between 1978-1987 and represented an intermediate coupe aimed at the personal luxury market. The ‘Hot notch’ Grand National model (named after the NASCAR Grand National Racing Series in which Buick did rather well with Chevrolet powered Regals) made its debut in 1982. Finished in twotone silver grey and charcoal grey with red accents, the GN was powered by a 4.1-litre V6 rated at 125bhp and was very eye-catching with a mere 215 being built. The model was dropped for 1983, but emerged again in 1984 in all black paintwork with a 3.8 litre fuel injected turbocharged V6 rated at 200bhp with 300lb ft torque. Again, there was a reasonably limited production with just 2000 being built that year. The last of the Regals in 1987 included the Flint factory Hot Rod, the GNX model, produced in collaboration with McLaren engines. The V6 engine was fitted with a Garrett turbocharger thus giving a 0-60mph time of only 4.7 seconds and a quarter mile time of 13.5 seconds at 102mph. Costing $30,000new, only 547 were built. Both the GN and GNX were seriously quick cars in their day, not bad considering all featured automatic transmissions and nowadays they represent the most collectable models in the Regal line-up. Beware of purchasing tired and abused examples. First generation Regals fetch around £1000, second generation cars £1500 - £2500, a little more for mint GNX cars.

Ford Mustang II

An interim model introduced in 1974 that effectively kept the Mustang alive during the energy crisis years of the mid 1970’s. Interestingly the Mustang II which shared many components with the Pinto, was 19-inches shorter than the original 1964 car and weighed 490 lbs lighter than the previous 1973 car. Initially engine options were either a 2.3-litre fourcylinder engine or 2.8-litre V6 and transmissions being four-speed manual or three-speed automatic. The convertible model was also dropped for the entire production run that finished in 1978. The ubiquitous V8 engine returned in 1975 with a 302ci 4.9 litre and 140bhp. Models available were the stock coupe, Ghia coupe, stock three-door hatchback and Mach 1 hatchback. The latter came with two-tone paintwork, dual tail pipes, forged aluminium wheels, black lower body panels and taillight panel. The Ghia represented the most luxurious version. In 1976 a sportier Cobra II trim package was introduced and cost $312. It was only available with the three-door hatchback and featured a hood scoop, snake decals, lots of stripes, front air dam, decklid spoiler, mag alloy wheels etc. At first it was only available in white with blue stripes, reminiscent of the previous Shelby’s, but purely in looks.

In 1978 the King Cobra option package offered a similar low production ‘Paint-on’ performance package, that represented more show that go! The Mustang II will always remain the poor relation to everything that preceded it, and in terms of performance and styling it fell way short of what enthusiasts really wanted. Nowadays it’s still the cheapest Mustang you can buy with prices starting at around £1500 and rising to about £2000 which is still a reasonably low cost Yank with impeccable pedigree. Most folk will definitely desire the V8 powered cars.


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