Leinninger.com

March 8th, 2001:
Need for Speed, Part 1

I like cars. A lot. I can’t pinpoint the moment I realized this, but I know it happened around the age of 17. A highschool friend of mine had a Chevelle Malibu that he worked on constantly. Dave Damore embodied a calm cool that I rarely encounter these days when it comes to cars. What he had was good enough. He worked on it. He knew it inside and out. He appreciated other people’s work. It didn’t matter who was faster, spent more money, or looked better. It was enough to just be part of it.

I wasn’t really a part of it, but I longed to be. My 1984 Chevrolet Eurosport was the embodiment of everything that was wrong with the American “cookie-cutter” car. The anemic 2.8 liter V6 was disgustingly underpowered. The throttle-body inducted engine hesitated to every command of the accelerator. Dave tried to make me feel better by explaining the lineage of that damned car. The Chevelle became the Malibu, the Malibu became the Celebrity, and the Celebrity was the Eurosport. I have no idea why it was given that name. (Interestingly enough, the Eurosport became the Beretta, which once again became the Malibu… in a sad V6, front-wheel-dive incarnation.) I had what fun I could with my sickly little car. I added a PA system that allowed me to heckle other motorists and torture drive-through attendants at Burger King. I did what I could with the stereo and even replaced the stock exhaust with a real Cherry Bomb muffler. It almost sounded good.

When that car was on it’s last leg I sold it. It wasn’t long for this world and I was sure it couldn’t take the hour and a quarter drive to and from Novi (where I worked at the time) every day. I replaced it with a (used) 1989 Chrysler LeBaron GTC. Not too impressed, eh? That car was amazing. The ride was as smooth as my parent’s LHS with just as many goodies (LH series climate controls and navigation). Let’s not forget the potent little turbocharged 4 banger under the hood. This sleeper could embarrass most stock Fox Bodies found making the rounds on Gratiot every night in the summer. Alas, this car was the victim of overwork and undersleep. Following several 14 hour days and an all night phone/mind game with an ex-girlfriend I began to doze off while driving through a malfunctioning blinking yellow light. The rest is history.

My next car was my first real muscle car… well, at least it looked like one. A co-worker was selling her 1989 Pontiac Firebird Formula. Red, T-tops, V8, 245 rubber on 16-inch wheels. I could tell immediately that it wasn’t as fast as the LeBaron, but I thought it had more potential. If I only knew then what I know now. Like the Eurosport before it, it breathed and drank through TBI, a power-robbing alternative to the less environmentally-friendly carburetor. Apparently, that year there were 3 V8 options for the Firebird. The TPI 350ci Formula 350/Trans Am, the TPI 305ci Formula, and the 305ci TBI Formula. The latter of the three, while still a V8, produced a sad 170 hp! There were so many tree-hugger mods on the thing that it lost 100 hp to the 350! I did what I could over the years and currently have it near an honest 250 hp. I still own it and it continues to run great.

Once I was working full time I was able to afford my first new car. I leased a 1998 Subaru Impreza RS. It was the first import anyone in my immediate family has ever owned. Impressed by the recent World Rally Championship wins and the performance of the 2.5 liter, horizontally opposed, boxer engine (~165 hp, 5 less hp than the Formula’s stock output, and half the size… in both cylinders and displacement) mated to full-time all-wheel-drive. The Impreza is absolutely a thrill to drive while providing a safe means of transport during the dreaded Michigan winters. While researching this car I began to find out more about the import scene… both good and bad. There seemed to be a strong following with a lot of promise. I admit to being pretty old school when it comes to pure power, yet I’m impressed by what some of these guys do with their Civics and Talons. Some of my closest friends are very involved in the import racing scene. We’ve had many discussions about Detroit iron vs. Import technology. Most of us still respect each other at the end of every “discussion.”

My latest endeavor is a 1999 Chevrolet Camaro Z-28. I firmly believe that I’ve finally done the right thing. The car has plenty of power and unlimited potential. I’d love to install a supercharger, upgrade the suspension, and bolt on bigger wheels and tires. However, for now this is more than I need.

It all comes back to what Dave Damore said. It’s good enough… for now.


Also available: Part 2

Further information and related links:
The Rice Boy Page
LS-1 Performance
Import Performance
Hot Rod Magazine

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