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(Don't) Meet Your Heroes

What happens when we match up 0-60's editors up with the cars they lusted after as kids?

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    We've all had romances with cars that were out of our league. <p>We spent our formative years tacking glossy posters of exotica to our bedroom walls and gazing up at them while we were sweating the inverse of a quadratic function, or pretending to listen to Dad while he explained why aerosol spray and a Zippo lighter shouldn’t mix. And while it’s not as easy as it sounds to round up a gaggle of poster cars to give <i>0-60</i>'s editors a proper flogging session, Monticello Motor Club—with its world-class road course two hours from NYC—and Classic Car Club of Manhattan stepped up and helped make it happen. Now for the moment of truth: Will our staffers find their lost loves or suffer crushing disappointments? Read on.
  • 0-60 meet your heroes trans am front
    Hero: 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
    <p>Staffer: Mike Spinelli<p>Among this Bieber-faced crowd, I’m the only one who caught the original Smokey and the Bandit in a theater. That movie—and a certain black-and-gold 1977 Pontiac Trans Am—profoundly affected my taste in posters. So, sorry Kiss and Farah Fawcett, there was one pinup winner in the late ’70s, and the T/A was it.<p>I’ve since knocked around in Firebirds a bit: a ’76 Esprit with feather roach clips strung from the rearview; a clapped-out ’81; and a ’77 with a worked V8 and the ride quality of a turn-of-the-century fishmonger’s cart. But never a factory-fresh T/A specimen...
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    Hero: 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
    <p>The Nocturne-blue ’79 that shows up at Monticello—T-tops glistening with rain, baby-blue velour upholstery so pristine it looks iridescent—is so correct that it steals the exotics’ thunder immediately, even among 0-60 editors born during the Reagan administration. In terms of visual impact, then, mine is a very successful hero meeting. Score one for the Bandit.<p>Sliding into the plush bucket seat—behind the leather-wrapped Pontiac wheel with the Swiss-cheese spokes—is like stepping into a time-capsulated version of your uncle’s closet, and sorting through his urban cowboy shirts and Levi’s Action Slacks. Adjusting the rearview mirror, I half expect to see a bushy mustache sprouting above my lip. The T/A fires up on the first shot, a testament to its owners’ care, and while I’m a bit let down that it’s not a manual, one stab at the gas puts me in the mood for a game of naked Twister.<p>Ample low-end torque from the big-bore 403 produces decent V8 heave off the line, with a well-muffled rumble that belies the T/A’s flamboyant exterior. The turbohydromatic tranny excels in a straight line, upshifts harmonizing with the 6.6-liter’s torque curve. With the rain refusing to let up, the T/A’s old-school Saf-T-Track limited-slip diff requires some coaxing to keep the rear in line under power.<p>As I’d expected, the steering is overboosted and imprecise, like typing in oven mitts. But the suspension’s not as floaty as some cars of its era, and a mondo set of stabilizer bars gives the T/A a more neutral feel in transitions than any old ’birds of my past. A couple of upgrades and this could be quite the little corner carver. That, indeed, is the biggest surprise of all.
  • 0-60 meet your heroes trans am int
    Hero: 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
    <p>VERDICT: I’m not disappointed. Maybe Levi’s will consider bringing back Action Slacks. My ’stache is already in progress.<p> <p>Price: $6,883<p>Power: 185hp, 315 lb.-ft.<p>Engine: 6.6L naturally aspirated V8<p>Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive, 3-speed automatic<p>0-60: 6.7 seconds<p>Top Speed: 112 mph<p>Weight: 3,490 lbs.<p>Power to Weight: 18.86 lbs./h
  • 0-60 meet your heroes diablo front
    Hero: 1991 Lamborghini Diablo
    <p>Staffer: Matt Tuccillo<p>By the tender age of 10, I had developed a healthy interest in three things in life: sports cars that could double as doorstops, dames and cussing. And, as luck would have it, two of these discoveries converged at the school book fair that year—the bi-annual traveling marketplace where the snot-nosed could buy troll-doll pencil toppers, calendars, books and, most important, posters. That fateful year, I came across the poster of a red Lamborghini Countach. Set against a black background, it featured multiple shots of the car, with the final being a head-on of the rear. That’s where I saw the custom plate that read “185-PLUS,” with a frame surround that simply stated, “How’s my driving? Dial 1-800-EAT-SHIT.” Sold.<p>My mother may blame that poster for my current dockworker mouth. I thank it for introducing me to the world of fast cars. However, I soon discovered that the Countach was old news. Lamborghini had evolved Gandini’s famous scissor doors into something even more aggressive and insane—the Diablo! Packing a 492hp, 5.7-liter V12, getting from zero to 60 in 4.0 seconds, possessing the ability to hit 200 mph and looking more bat-shit awesome than anything my fragile young mind could handle, it was my go-to “What would you buy if you won the lotto?” answer, all the way up until I was 20.
  • 0-60 meet your heroes diablo rear
    Hero: 1991 Lamborghini Diablo
    <p>Meeting this black-and-tan example from my year of discovery is exciting. Despite having encountered plenty in the wild—and despite piloting newer Lambo products—I’d never actually had the pleasure of being inside a Diablo, much less driving one. Giddy, as emasculating as that word may be, best describes how I felt. <p>And then I got inside. Yes, the doors are still a thing of beauty 42 years after Lambo first incorporated them into their design language. But beyond that? Flabbergasted. People parted with how much for one of these in 1991? Was that still at the height of crack popularity? Now, granted, this car had seen better days (a busted clutch, steering column and soul are the short list of problems), but still, the fundamentals were wretched. Way to go, Chrysler-era Lamborghini. At 6-foot-3, I could barely see over the dashboard, so how anyone shorter ever drove one is beyond me. Also, the phrase “driving dynamics” apparently doesn’t translate well between Italy and Detroit. The saving grace—for novelty alone—is the dogleg 5-speed. A racing-oriented shift pattern in this death dealer? Cute.<p>Listen, when they tell you “don’t meet your heroes,” there’s a reason for that. I met mine and, luckily, that old poster from 1991 had taught me one perfect word to describe how it actually was in real life.
  • 0-60 meet your heroes diablo int
    Hero: 1991 Lamborghini Diablo
    <p>VERDICT: Disappointed as hell. I mean, my expectations weren’t even that high. For shame, Chrysler-era Diablo, for shame.<p> <p>Price: $240,000<p>Power: 492hp, 428 lb.-ft.<p>Engine: 5.7L naturally aspirated V12<p>Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive, 5-speed manual<p>0-60: 4.0 seconds<p>Top Speed: 202 mph<p>Weight: 3,470 lbs.<p>Power to Weight: 7.05 lbs./hp
  • 0-60 meet your heroes ferrari front
    Hero: 1988 Ferrari 328 GTS
    <p>Staffer: Will Sabel Courtney<p>I wish I could have driven this car to my senior prom. Sure, it occurred in the 21st century, but in a fit of nostalgia for an era we barely knew, my class picked a 1980s theme. I chose my outfit appropriately: white linen slacks, a tight black tee and a white suit jacket. Sonny Crockett all the way. Sadly, my ensemble didn’t get me some super sugar crisp that night. Maybe if I’d been driving the Ferrari 328GTS I’d have fared better. <p>Twenty-three years haven’t dimmed the Ferrari’s poster-quality panache; while the sharp angles clearly date the 328 to the days of Ferris Bueller’s truancy, the Pininfarina design still looks slippery, fast and unmistakably Maranello. The interior is starting to show its age, though—there are watches these days with faces larger than the tach, and the control stalks for the headlights and wipers have the tensile strength of uncooked soba noodles.
  • 0-60 meet your heroes ferrari rear
    Hero: 1988 Ferrari 328 GTS
    <p>The 3.2-liter V8 behind my shoulder takes some sweet-talking to start—hey, it’s a vintage Ferrari. Easing onto the track after 60 seconds in the car, the throttle’s travel seems as long as the Kessel Run—12 parsecs from idle to firewall—and the 5-speed manual ’box gripes and groans as I learn my way through the stubborn low gears of the gated dogleg shifter. On Monticello’s rain-slicked ribbon, the car never has a chance to pick up enough speed to make the hairpin go from from grumpy to playful.<p>Once I’m out on the street, though, the rain has eased, the turns are looser and, most importantly, the 328 and I are past the awkward pleasantries and ready to get busy. Cutting past traffic with the windows down, the engine howls in rapture as I wring it dry, threading gaps between semis and Suburbans, every shift punctuated by the bolt-action clack of the lever slamming home. Once I’ve gotten to know her, even 30 minutes of stop-and-go at the George Washington Bridge can’t sour me on the 328. This analog sports car has won me over through sheer charm.
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    Hero: 1988 Ferrari 328 GTS
    <p>VERDICT: With their dual-clutch transmissions and 125-horsepower-per-liter engines, modern Ferraris don’t need you to learn to finesse their gearboxes or hammer the motors to achieve ludicrous speed—they do what you ask without fuss. The 328 GTS, like a prom date, wants you to work for it, and it’s just that much better when it finally relents...not that I'd know.<p> <p>Price: $62,500<p>Power: 270hp, 231 lb.-ft.<p>Engine: 3.2L naturally aspirated V8<p>Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive, 5-speed manual<p>0-60: 5.9 seconds<p>Top Speed: 163 mph<p>Weight: 2,806 lbs.<p>Power to Weight: 10.39 lbs./hp
  • 0-60 meet your heroes bmw m3 front
    Hero: 1989 BMW M3
    <p>Staffer: Michael Crenshaw<p>Let’s talk about simplicity: Front engine, a manual box and rear-wheel drive. That’s what I’ve always and only really cared about in a car. Screw all the techno-babble. And simplicity speaks up the instant I crawl into this caged track-rat-turned-street-car. Then there’s the E30 M3 legacy. Buckets of metal just like this one made men heroes—touring-car heroes of the late ’80s like Roberto Ravaglia, Winfried Vogt and Eric van der Poele. Poster children, all.<P>What will become clear, as today wears on, is that revving the snot out of BMW’s little S14 four-banger is as much fun as the E30’s oft-told motorsport history suggests. However, right now, wading through early-morning traffic with a clutch that grabs with the finesse of a light switch, fun’s not on my mind. Then the seas part and I roll onto the throttle. And everything changes. <p>The buzzy 2.3-liter four-cylinder doesn’t begin to liven up until the pistons are churning at above 5,000 rpm. You listen for the moment when it sounds like the block’s about to detonate, and then you bang out another gear. You’re a junkie and your only fix is another 7,000 rpm.
  • 0-60 meet your heroes bmw m3 close
    Hero: 1989 BMW M3
    <p>It’s so addictive, in fact, that I can’t bear to let the motor unwind from its optimal rev range for the entire drive from New York City to Monticello. There’s a kind of sick charm to a car that doesn’t really have anything until its 6,750 rpm horsepower peak: It messes with your mind.<p>On track, it’s clear the engine’s not the only playground here. The rack-and-pinion steering offers a purely mechanical connection that’s rare in modern systems. <p>Also, with only a little over one ton of mass to fight, grip isn’t hard to come by; trying to get the car out of shape proves difficult—even when I’m grandstanding for photos—unless I’m being totally obscene behind the wheel. It’s no coincidence the E30 M3 dominated Germany’s DTM a quarter century ago. That’s about as simple a truth as you can get.
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    Hero: 1989 BMW M3
    <p>VERDICT: All killer, no filler. I’m searching Craigslist as you read this. <i>Update: He's still searching two years later.</i><p> <p>Price: $34,800<p>Power: 200hp, 177 lb.-ft.<p>Engine: 2.3L I4<p>Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive, 5-speed manual<p>0-60: 6.7 seconds<p>Top Speed: 146 mph<p>Weight: 2,646 lbs.<p>Power to Weight: 13.2 lbs./hp
  • 0-60 meet your heroes acura nsx front
    Hero: 1991 Acura NSX
    <p>Staffer: Alex Bernstein<p>It’s 7:45 A.M. and I’m dragging my sneakers down Hudson Street, toward Classic Car Club Manhattan’s garage, sipping burned coffee and hoping to reach the end of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” before having to talk to any of my coworkers. Then I see it. Not on a poster, not on some JDM-obsessed blog, but right in front of me, the NSX. And it’s Formula Red, too. Perfect. <p>Being born in 1986, I’m in a tough spot as hero cars go. The ’90s were an era encapsulated in gobs of horsepower and awesome—though wildly cheesy car designs. Nearly every brand had something poster-worthy to offer, and yet this was one car that, to me, was automotive perfection. <p>Somewhere along the way, between childhood dreams and learner’s permits, I lost touch with the lingering desire and ended up behind the wheel of a Volkswagen. Now here we are.<p>Expecting to uncover an immediate flaw in this 20-year-old Japanese supercar, I roll off the clutch cautiously, but no. It’s more forgiving than the girl I met on my first day of college. And that’s saying something.<p>Now I’m sitting in New York City traffic, caught between a Denali SUV and a U-Haul truck. A stab at the gas with the clutch in, and the bustle of the morning streets comes to a halt, as all eyes turn toward a sports car that’s found the midpoint between a bobcat’s growl and a power drill.
  • 0-60 meet your heroes acura nsx rear
    Hero: 1991 Acura NSX
    <p>As hyped as many of these exotics are, avoiding a wall of unmet expectations would seem like a miracle, but not so for the NSX. It’s as accessible as its reputation suggests. All it takes is a brisk lap around the rain-drenched Monticello course and it’s clear the NSX is the picture of balance. Throw it into any corner, at any speed, and it comes out alive and ready for more flogging—with seemingly negligible effort. <p>Approaching a quick right-hander, I downshift to second, keeping the throttle steady at around 5,000 rpm through the corner, and then push the pedal to the floorboard. The whole chassis lurches ahead as the extra VTEC power kicks in hard and the exhaust note gets violent. It’s almost a shame to shift at eight grand, especially when it feels like it could go to 10.<p>I can’t quite put my finger on which is more intoxicating: the sensation of rail-riding or the harmony of six pistons spitting out the sweetest sound ever heard from any Honda. I question what pushed me into a front-wheel-drive, solid-rear-beam econobox in the first place.
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    Hero: 1991 Acura NSX
    <p>VERDICT: VTEC “poppin’ off” is even cooler in real life than it is on YouTube. I’m obsessed with this car.<p> <p>Price: $60,000<p>Power: 270hp, 210 lb.-ft.<p>Engine: 3.0L V6<P>Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive, 5-speed manual<p>0-60: 5.6 seconds<p>Top Speed: 168 mph<p>Weight: 2,985 lbs.<p>Power to Weight: 11.06 lbs./hp
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    Hero: 1999 Rover Mini Cooper 1.3 Sportspack
    <p>Staffer: Mike Spinelli<p>Not a hero car, you say? Pish. The pride of Sir Alexander Arnold Constantine Issigonis’ sketchpad cut quite a heroic figure in popular culture. The 1964 Monte Carlo rally ring a bell? The original <i>Italian Job</i> with Michael Caine? The Beatles? Swinging ’60s? Mr. Bean? Mary Quant? <p>C’mon. Mary Quant, the ’60s fashion designer who named an iconic, thigh-flaunting skirt after her favorite car. Don’t you kids read the papers?<p>Granted, Mini love was more of a British thing, but the old dodger did surge in awareness over here during the massive Anglophile revival during the 1980s and 1990s. Then, in the 2000s, BMW brought its new Mini to U.S. buyers, sparking an even more intense interest in the original.<p>Besides, show me a car lover who’s never wanted to flog an old Mini and I’ll show you a damn liar or an utterly repulsive human being. <p>Our 1999 Mk VII Rover Mini Sportspack is the very image of a classic Cooper S, but with modern amenities like a driver’s-side airbag, positively gargantuan 1.3-liter four-cylinder with twin-point injection and a bit of extra damping in the suspension area. To round out its on-point atmospherics, the interior has lacquered wood gorgeous enough to summon Sir William Lyons back to life as a walnut tree. Get your skates on, mate….
  • 0-60 meet your heroes mini rear
    Hero: 1999 Rover Mini Cooper 1.3 Sportspack
    <p>Folding into the cockpit, I’m trembling with excitement—or that’s pins and needles from my constricted femoral artery. Settled in, I take a few notes. <p>First, this Mini has an oddly upright driving position that splits the difference between a city bus and a greens-keeper’s cart. An extended tilt of the wrists secures a proper nine-and-three grip. Second, the pedals are so small that my size nines feel like they’ve swelled to the size of Mylar balloons. <p>On the track, in spitting rain, the Mini feels amazingly stable. Tossing it into a corner reveals spectacular turn-in accuracy and tons of grip. And then, the shifter’s so vague that even GPS couldn’t find third. Still, it’s snappy and responsive and feels like the world’s quickest car from zero to 50 mph. After that, who really cares?<p>Headed back to New York City, the hours fly by, and I give-and-go with SUVs without hyperventilating. Topped out in fourth, the 1.3-liter Rover mill is working hard, droning on a bit, but not faltering. Flat-out is where the Mini is least happy, though a fifth gear would help.
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    Hero: 1999 Rover Mini Cooper 1.3 Sportspack
    <p>VERDICT: The Mini’s a total trip. Now, how do I get my circulation back? <p> <p>Price: 8 quid and a biscuit, whot whot<p>Power: 63hp, 70 lb.-ft.<p>Engine: 1.3L naturally aspirated I4<p>Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive, 4-speed manual<p>0-60: 13.2 seconds<p>Top Speed: 90 mph<p>Weight: 1,512 lbs.<p>Power to Weight: 24 lbs./hp
  • 0-60 meet your heroes lotus front
    Hero: 1991 Lotus Esprit SE
    <p>Staffer: Matt Tuccillo<p>Previously, I mentioned that I enjoyed cars that could double as doorstops. Much like the Diablo, the 1991 Lotus Esprit SE could have been used to prop open the entryway to a room. And, oddly, I encountered more Esprits on the streets of my hometown growing up than I did Diablos. Thus, when the gang informed me that I could meet not just one hero but two, my greediness kicked in and I said yes, by all means, bring them both down to Monticello.
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    Hero: 1991 Lotus Esprit SE
    <p>Yeah, as it turns out, the Esprit didn’t actually run. Which is probably for the best, because it also—for reasons unbeknownst to me—had a five-inch LCD monitor hacked into the steering wheel. I was let down enough with this Esprit without even getting behind the wheel. But damn if it doesn’t still look good!
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    Hero: 1991 Lotus Esprit SE
    <p>VERDICT: Disappointed, obviously. This doorstop-shaped Lotus turned out only to be useful as a doorstop.<p> <p>Price: Threepence and a Pimms<p>Power: 264hp, 260 lb.-ft.<p>Engine: 2.2L turbocharged I4<p>Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive, 5-speed manual<p>0-60: 4.9 seconds<p>Top Speed: 165 mph<p>Weight: 2,930 lbs.<p>Power to Weight: 11.1 lbs./hp

Story: The editors (at the time) of 0-60 Magazine

Photography:Scott Dukes

The above story first appeared in the Winter 2011 issue of 0-60 Magazine.

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