Throttle Pumpin’: Obscure Performance

Torino 4

Looking Closer at Obscure Performance

Picking a car in which to craft into a competitive piece of machinery is long and formidable. You have your obvious choices; the Camaro, Firebird, Mustang, Chevelle, Charger… the list goes on and on. Equipped with incredible performance attributes right from the factory, they seem like natural picks for just about anyone.

However, there are other options that we might be overlooking. In an age where we can build a car in just about any format that we can imagine, modifying a once underwhelming vehicle into something truly remarkable is becoming more and more common.

I wanted to put together a list of five vehicles for my readers this month, to offer some friendly suggestions that may have you consider something a little “out-of-the-box.” Vehicles that offer plenty of potential to the end-user, but many may not even have considered.

AMC Rambler American


The little Rambler American was AMC’s alternative to the Chevy Nova and Ford Falcon. We’ve seen six-shooter examples go for cheap, really cheap, and their ability to adapt to just about any kind of drivetrain, brake system and suspension kits to make them epically fun to drive.

To me at least, there’s something rather interesting and admirable about an underdog pocket rocket and the Rambler American is no exception. I’ve always been particularly fond of the Hurst SC/Rambler and finding a bare bones example ripe for the picking is fairly common. I ran passed a grandma edition, beige example for $300 just a few weeks ago, and had I not have too many projects on my plate right now, I would have been all over it. Get them while you can!

Ford Torino


Essentially Ford’s answer to the ever-popular Chevelle, the Torinos are often overlooked in regards to their potential drag or autocross performance potential. Mechanically, the sky is the limit; as they’re largely equipped with V-8 engines ranging from 302 cubic-inches to 460 cubic-inches, depending on model year.

In recent years, there has been a growing demand for these cars, as other muscle cars of the Torino’s era have shot up in price so fast, that the mid-size Ford muscle car has been rediscovered as a relatively affordable alternative. Rather different, too! Thanks largely to recent film appearances in Starsky and Hutch, Gran Torino and Fast and Furious (4), they’re becoming increasingly more popular and I have a feeling I’ll be seeing a few more of them this racing season.

Impala SS


Chevelles, Camaros, Corvettes and even the Novas… all of the no-brainers when it comes to Chevy muscle. What about the Impala, though? Of course there’s quite a following for the early-’60s examples, nut the late-sixties and early-’70s cars are largely overlooked. Though massive, it’s not uncommon to find one with a 427 under the hood from the factory.

If a legit Impala SS is out of budget, you can score a base Biscayne, Caprice or Impala for not a lot of coin but with a whole lot of potential. Obviously no engine is too large to fit under that hood, the aftermarket has everything you need in regards to hardware and restoration piece, and it would be interesting to see more of these cars out kicking ass and taking names. I want one.

Dodge Monaco


When you think of the Monaco, you probably think of the police cars from Dukes of Hazzard and the Bluesmobile. Truthfully up until recently, so did I, but the recent writeup we did on a Monaco coupe that was featured in a Big Muscle video had opened my eyes to something more.

Big, heavy and nearly impossible to get body panels and trim pieces for, prices for these cars have stayed pretty low and fairly affordable for Joe the Enthusiast. Though somewhat garish and unappealing on the face of it, lowering the body down, shoving some nice rolling stock under the large wheel openings and installing a killer powerplant under the hood should make for a good time. Twin-turbos could make it even more interesting.

Plymouth Valiant


The Valiant was sort of the redheaded stepchild of the Mopar muscle category. Being the smallest, it served as the entry-level, compact commuter as a basis for a large portion of the population during its production run, although there were plenty of examples that packed a punch under the hood. Despite this, there was always a stigma around the Valiant like the Duster and other “lower-end” cars of its type.

Truth is, you can cram just about anything under the hood — including the venerable big-block HEMIs, 440s and so on. With the recent popularity of the late-model HEMI, though, the time hasn’t been better to yank a 5.7L out of a yard, install a cam and a set of headers and have a very potent little street car on your hands. Throw some aftermarket hardware underneath it and handle the corners like the Valiant pictured above, and away you go!

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