Road tests: the real deal
Road tests crack me up. The public accepts them as gospel and quotes the numbers as if the performance statistics were handed down from the mount on stone tablets. Insiders take a different view. They know that many a test car turned over to Larry Leadfoot, chief car thrasher at Wimp Cars magazine, is a ringer. All the car companies played this little game back in the Sixties. Some were just more blatant than others. You could usually tell what was in store for you when you planted your buns into the vinyl and twisted the key off in the ignition in avid anticipation of burning the tires off Detroit's latest offering, by how broad the grin was on the PR guy's face when he gave you the car in the first place.
Of course, the same antics go on today—especially in SCCA "Showroom Stock" racing. So that's where you'll find a lot of the cheating going on. And here again, all the car companies are bending (and breaking) the rules. Rather than mention any names and get drummed out of this wonderful car magazine business, we'll just give you a couple of examples. An engineer recently showed us several intake manifolds; all looked bone stock. There was no evidence of anyone doing a hog-out job with a grinder, no matter how delicately. Yet one of the manifolds flowed substantially more than the others. The secret? Pumping a liquid abrasive (Extrude Hone) through the manifold. Like beating someone with a rubber hose—it does the job but leaves no telltale marks.
Next was a demonstration of braking power. We looked at two sets of brake pads. Both sets looked identical even down to the factory part number. Yet when we installed them in the car for a comparison test, one set stopped okay and quickly faded after some heavy abuse. The other set put you through the windshield and were absolutely fade-proof—even under more abuse. How is this possible? Simple. A special run of super high tech brake pads by an outside vendor detailed down to an indistinguishable-from-the-genuine part number. All on the hush-hush of course. It goes on and on.
But back to road tests. Back in the late Sixties, one of the magazines (I think it was Car Life) was given a 383 Road Runner to test, and they thought, Gee, this car goes awfully fast. So they went over the car from top to bottom. Guess what? They found 2-1/2 inch exhaust pipes instead of the 2-1/4s used on all the other 383 Road Runners. They compared their test car to three or four others at local dealerships, and found their car had stuff like a faster advance curve, bigger jets, etc. So they cried Foul! to Chrysler. But Chrysler came back and said Look, here's the official published AMA specifications—2-1/2 inch exhaust, so-and-so jets, etc. The bottom line was that Chrysler geared their AMA specs to their "test cars" rather than assembly line models in order to justify their ringers. The fact is that no magazine road test—and it doesn't matter which magazine—can be counted on 100%. The results will give you a general idea about the car, but you can't take the numbers to the bank.
Back in 1969, there was a famous road test of what was supposed to be a "dead stock" 1969 6-Pack Road Runner, with Ronnie Sox driving. The car, with stock Polyglas bias tires turned in the high 12s. Well, nobody else could get the car to go faster than maybe 13.30s or .40s. So who do you believe? Was the magazine lying? Was Ronnie Sox really that good? Was the car breathed on? No one will ever know for sure.
What about today's classic musclecar shootouts and road tests? We recently read in one car magazine, that testing the Sixties cars today is "much more valid" than running the original road tests. So they take a car that has a non-stock torque converter, modified compression and who knows what else. And that car, which turns out to be a dog, is supposed to represent a "stock" car. Give me a break.
Actually, who knows what's in a ‘60s car today? You might have bought a musclecar that, to the best of the owner's knowledge was "stock," but might have been modified by the third previous owner. And the cars running in the shootouts—who knows if they have cheater cams (same lift as stock but different duration), head work, converter, etc.
The bottom line to all this is, if you want to know how fast your car runs or what it'll do, forget car magazine tests. Take your car to the track. Musclecars from all manufacturers were meant to be driven. Sure, trailer queens are nice, and Platinum show cars are awesome. But even a Platinum show car can be run. So what if you have to wipe the little bit of rubber off the quarter panel, it takes you 10 minutes. Big deal, the car won't break. They didn't break then and they won't break now.
If you want to read more about mopars, go to MoparMax.com