The Restomod Challenge -- Results
A '57 Lincoln sleeper? A Cowboy Cadillac diesel dragster? A V-8 Miata? A prewar sedan with a 21st-century chassis? This could mean only one thing: . . .
. . . the results of the Restomod Challenge are in!
All of the responses were interesting and creative, and they covered a broad range from relatively conservative to delightfully aggressive.
Reader tigerstrypes, who inspired the Challenge in the first place, was drawn to the derelict 1957 Lincoln Premiere in one of the photos I used as an illustration. (Here's another shot of the same car at right.) At first, he proposed "just making it roadworthy," but then he got rolling:
".....Then again, adding a '57 Thunderbird-spec Paxton-McCullough supercharger to see if I could get more than 300hp/414ft-lb of torque from the Lincoln engine (those T-birds were reported to have 345hp, and yes, I looked all this up). Plus other period NASCAR goodies like bigger finned drums and dual-quads. They say that Chrysler Imperial mufflers were the best flowing for the time, so I'd try that. I may have to work on the steering box to actually get some feel for the road. To keep the sleeper vibe, add enlarged (or the largest you can find) steelies with poverty hubcaps, with repro whitewalls (hey, it's still a Lincoln).
"I bet this package would still be lighter than modern sports-sedans, which would be perfect candidates to spook as you creep up behind them with those awesome driving lights a-glowin'."
I'm not so sure about the weight issue--the history books say a Lincoln Premiere weighed north of 4,500 pounds in stock configuration--but I like the concept. If anyone's inclined to give it a shot, the car was in Hulbert, Okla., when the photos were taken, and it probably hasn't gone anywhere.
Reader Educatorian was thinking along similar lines, but looking more in the direction of fuel-efficient boulevard cruising. He advanced two proposals: repowering a '77 Lincoln Town Car with the modern Ford Power Stroke truck diesel and its associated transmission, and fitting an '83 Olds Delta 88 coupe with a Chevy Duramax truck engine and Allison automatic transmission. He continues, "Other than replacing the stock stereo with something having an MP3 jack and new speakers, I wouldn't do a thing to the interior."
I remember what it was like to drive big cars from that era, and the worst thing about the driving dynamics was the glacial acceleration that resulted from the low-torque low-output V-8s these cars were saddled with. Those truck diesels are not only more fuel-efficient, but they have mind-bending torque curves. For instance, the most modest of the Ford Power Stroke diesels puts out 570 foot-pounds at 2000 RPM--and the torque curve is pretty close to flat from 1500 to 3500 RPM. 500-some foot-pounds is more than enough to get a 5,000-pound land yacht away from a stoplight in timely fashion.
Iowahawk, who knows a thing or two about project cars, is also thinking diesel. His latest project is a '59 "batwing" El Camino which will be fitted with a turbocharged Banks Duramax dragster diesel. This is a diesel with a 5000 RPM redline, 650+ horsepower, and pushing 900 foot-pounds of torque! "Styling will be moonshiner sinister, triple black, blackwalls on black steelies, dog dish caps." Sounds wicked. When you get it done, we'd love to do an "Our Cars" feature on it.
Engine swaps were a recurring theme. Regular commenter Smoke_Jaguar4 proposed several sleeper combinations. The first was a 1970-77 Toyota Celica with a Honda F20-series JDM motor. Or, how about stuffing the twin-turbo Wankel from the 1990s RX-7 into an early-model '7 or even an RX-3? Or a Datsun 510 or B210 with the turbocharged SR20DET engine developed for the Bluebird rally car? In each case, depending on which variation of the donor car and the new engine you go with, you will at least double the horsepower, turning a mild-mannered 1970s Japanese car into a fire-breathing monster. I'm particularly attracted to the idea of a 245-horsepower engine in a bright yellow B210--a "killer B" if ever there was.
Reader Parabellum suggested taking a Dodge Diplomat and giving it the "Dude! It's got a Hemi!" treatment. With a modern 340+ horsepower engine and the police-package suspension, it would be wicked on the back roads. We should also mention our own Anthony Cagle, whose 1978 Mustang II had its original disco-era V-8 replaced by a high-output 5.0 with twice the horsepower.
Speaking of which, while so many of us were only talking about engine swaps, reader JimmyNashville (Jimmy Hogan) was out living the dream in grand style. As detailed on his project website here, he and his son and a friend swapped the 5.0-liter V-8 from a wrecked Fox-body Mustang into a Miata. Yes, a V-8 does fit in there, the proof is in the photo at right. It must just absolutely scream in a straight line. Another car we'd love to hear more about.
Australian reader lgude had what was probably the most original idea:
"I've known the restomod project I wanted to do ever since I owned an '87 Ford F-150 heavy half. It had big 17 inch (if I recall correctly) wheels, the 300 cid straight six (We call it the Canadian motor here in Australia) coupled with a slick overdrive manual transmission. It had that old fashioned tall floor shifter and the slow torqey feel of 30s cars I first rode in as a little kid. Except it was a highly perfected modern vehicle with superb driveability and reliability. Visually the look of the thirties dominated the American road well into the late forties. So I 'imprinted' on 30s cars like a duck to a John Deere tractor. Like I said, visually. They were pigs to drive often with mechanical brakes that never were adjusted correctly for more than 5 minutes, lacked power steering and synchromesh gear boxes not to mention high maintenance, high wear engines. Suspension and handling were ..well forget it. . . . But that F150 had similar running gear and felt like a thirties car done right. So why not scout out a thirties body - I'd go for a big old 4 door sedan rather than pay a lot for a 'desirable' body. I never got to research this properly but I'd see if the size of the frame would go under such a body without serious modification. A restorer I know thought it was quite possible. I want the whole modern works - with as an authentic an interior and exterior as possible. Obviously there would be engineering problems a plenty marrying the two parts up with lots of custom fitting work. Black would be the obvious color, but this is a restomod. So why not paint it some impossibly modern color that would keep the audience guessing about the owners sanity and maybe sexuality. Ain't gonna happen, but it's fun to think about."
I love the idea of a '30s car body on a modern frame, and I know it's possible to do. In researching my post last year on the Kaiser Henry J, I learned that a Henry J body will, by a happy coincidence, drop right on to a Chevy S-10 truck frame. "Kaiser Bill" Brown, a well-known K-F restorer, built one in this fashion; there's a slideshow of the project on his website. It'll take some research to find out what fits, but the results would be nothing short of cool.
As I promised, here's my response to the challenge. My starting point is the 1958 Studebaker Champion sedan that was parked in the row behind the "Land Yacht Mothball Fleet" I saw in Newark, Ohio last month. It has the basic body from the 1953 model year, when Studebaker's sedans were restyled to match the new "Loewy" coupes. In 1956, the sedans got the squared-up flat-faced front clip seen here in imitation of then-current styling trends at the Big Three.
In the 1957 model year, Chrysler's tail-finned "Forward Look" sedans, like the Dodge in the background of the photo at right, caused a big sensation and sold like hotcakes. For 1958, Studebaker tried to catch some Forward Look fever of its own by tacking a set of tail fins onto the rear quarter panels of its sedan models. At the other end, the car got then-trendy quad headlamps. The end result isn't quite Forward Look--more like Forward Look Wanabee--but it was all the restyling Studebaker could afford at that time. Besides, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, that '57 Dodge should be feeling pretty flattered.
This is far from my favorite vintage of Stude, but it's still a Stude, and it's a great candidate for restoration. Except for a little rust-through near the rear wheel well on the right side, the body is solid, even the floorboards. The interior is complete, including the rotating drum "Cyclops Eye" speedometer, though it's going to need a new headliner and maybe new upholstery. Restoring the body and interior to their original glory should be a pretty straightforward task.
Handling is a priority for me, so my inclination would be to replace the drum brakes with discs, install stiffer springs, replace the old-school steering box with a quicker-ratio unit, and otherwise sway-bar and coil-over the suspension to within an inch of its life. I'd replace the stock wheels with something a little larger to allow for lower-profile rubber, but stick with stock or plausibly stock-looking wheels and hubcaps.
Being a Champion, it has a 101-horsepower flathead straight six, in this case mated to a Borg-Warner three-speed automatic, which Studebaker called the "Flightomatic." This is not a combination likely to produce sprightly acceleration--at best, there would be a vague aspiration that inertia might one day be overcome. A Champion or 6-cylinder Scotsman of this vintage with a three-on-the-tree managed the 0-60 dash in about 15 or 16 seconds; with the automatic, we're probably looking at over 20 seconds if everything's in tune. That's not going to do. We need more ponies in the engine bay.
The usual formula for repowering a car of this kind is a small block Chevy V-8 and a Turbo-Hydromatic. That just doesn't seem right; it's a Champion, it should have a straight six. (I'm resigned to an automatic because it has one now, and installing a manual would compromise the originality of the interior.) One could drop in a Chevy 250 or a Mopar "slant six," and there are numerous recipes for hotting those engines up. The Pontiac "cammer" might also work, or the more modern "Vortec 4200" from the Chevy Trailblazer. If we generously allow for an unlimited budget and abundant engineering talent, I'd like to see if a BMW straight six and a BMW autobox would fit--which would result in the creation of what might be called a "Studebimmer."
I hope you've enjoyed this exercise in (mostly) armchair engineering. If you have any more ideas, leave a note in the comments box.
--Cookie the Dog's Owner
The photo at the top is from Jimmy Hogan's project website, and shows his friend Sammy Barry hard at work clearing space in the Miata's engine room for the new V-8.