22 December 2009

Five cold-weather cars to get you through the long winter

Snow is falling and the deep sleep of winter storage awaits most collector cars. While this can be a good time for engine overhauls, paint jobs and other big projects, it seems unfair that we don't get to enjoy driving our old cars much during this season. Outside of the sun belt, the twin ravages of slick roads and sodium chloride can make holiday joyrides in vintage vehicles hazardous to both man and machine. But it doesn't have to be so. Here are five winter beaters that can turn a blizzard into a good excuse to go for a drive.            

1966-1971 Jensen FF

The first modern all-wheel-drive passenger car came along just as the venerable British coachbuilder Jensen began its decade-long death spiral. A derivative of Jensen's Interceptor – the cars look similar and both employ a 383-cid Mopar V8 – the FF had its front clip lengthened by four inches to accommodate a full-time four-wheel-drive system. The technology was originally developed for the 1961 P99 Ferguson Formula 1 race car, hence the "FF" moniker. While not every hand-built sports car can claim lineage with both racing cars and tractors (Harry Ferguson founded the company that eventually became Massey Ferguson), thankfully the FF more resembles the former. Contemporary reports lauded its handling, unsurprising given that the FF has nearly perfect weight distribution thanks to the rearward placement of the engine under-hood to accommodate a front driveshaft. The anti-lock braking system with traction control is primitive, but it was still years ahead of its time. The interior is plush, with leather and wood everywhere. Jensen built only 320 of the cars, all in right-hand-drive due to the complexity of routing the all-wheel-drive system, so the FF is properly scarce.
Hagerty’s Cars That Matter #2 Condition: $26,700 (1967-69), $29,400 (1970-71)
Oxidation threat level: High. The steel-bodied FF comes from a time and place when it was actually possible to watch a new car rust in real-time.
Best winter use: Hire a helicopter pilot to hoist your FF for a Warren Miller-style drop onto virgin
snow, thereby avoiding road salt.

1983-1985 Audi Quattro

It wasn't the first all-wheel-drive passenger car with sporting pretensions, but it was the best. The Quattro was based on the Audi Coupe, but fitted with all-wheel-drive, a lockable center differential and a turbocharged, 160-horsepower, five-cylinder engine. This turned a rather pedestrian passenger car into a veritable road-going rally car. Indeed, Michele Mouton became the first female driver to win a World Rally Championship event behind the wheel of a race-prepped Quattro in 1981. Nearly thirty years later, the Quattro is still the template for rally racing, though sadly neither the sport nor the car ever really caught on here in the States. That's one reason values have remained low, despite the Quattro's pedigree and relative obscurity; fewer than 700 were sold in North America. Perhaps a new generation of enthusiasts weaned on Subaru WRXes and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions will someday rediscover this seminal Audi, though the Quattro's seven-second sprint to 60 isn't likely to impress. Neither will its dated and cheap looking interior.
HCTM #2 Condition: $13,800
Oxidation threat level: Medium. Most Quattros have spent many winters in cold climates, absorbing more than their fair share of road salt.
Best winter use: Slap some studded snow tires on your Quattro and go ice racing. Somebody has to finish last, right?

1984-1991 Jeep Grand Wagoneer

While the Wagoneer was born in the early 1960s, long before Jeep became the crown jewel of American Motors, this family truckster really came into its own in the mid-eighties. That's when AMC replaced the utilitarian Wagoneer models with the smaller Cherokee and focused its flagship Jeep on luxury. Grand Wagoneers were outfitted with nearly every option, including leather seats, power windows and door locks, cruise control, and a 360-cid V8 paired with an automatic transmission and four-wheel drive. If this 4x4 was the harbinger of the SUV craze to come, it still retains a key point of superiority to its progeny. Designed during the heyday of the station wagon, the Wagoneer was always meant to be more of a wagon and less of a truck. It has a low belt-line, narrow pillars and ample rear glass, so visibility is excellent, and Grand Wagoneers are a pleasure to drive, particularly 1985-and-later models that received an upgraded suspension.
Price Estimate: $7,000-$35,000
Oxidation threat level: High. Not only do Grand Wagoneer bodies rust, but so do their frames and floorboards, sometimes even roofs. At least you can use new wood-grain contact paper to cover holes in the doors.
Best winter use: Take the family skiing in comfort and style. Until your sunroof gets stuck in the open position thanks to faulty electrics.

1971-1985 Land Rover Series III

The British Jeep was introduced in 1948 and was built continuously through 1985 with only modest evolution in the specification. Production topped a million sometime in 1976, and due to the Land Rover's simplicity and the ease with which it can be overhauled, most are still on the road today. The Series III is the most common Land Rover, and carries the most refinements. Dashboards were molded in plastic for the first time, and the transmission finally had synchromesh on each of its four gears. Land Rovers since 1956 had been offered in either two-door, short-wheelbase (88-inch) or four-door, long-wheelbase (109-inches) configurations, equipped to seat seven or 10 passengers. The bigger Series III models were fitted with a 2.6-liter straight-six, while the standard engine was a 2.25-liter four cylinder. In 1979, the Land Rover became available with the Rover V8, the aluminum, 3.5-liter engine Rover had purchased from Buick in 1965. The Land Rovers Series was sold in the U.S. through 1974, though the very similar Land Rover Defender did reappear for a brief period in the mid-1990s.
Price Estimate: $5,000-$20,000
Oxidation threat level: Low. The aluminum-bodied Land Rover is as close to indestructible as it gets.
Best winter use: Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go. (A horse and sleigh might be more comfortable.)

1989-1994 Porsche 911 Carrera 4

The 911 is a legendary sports car that needs no introduction, yet even after 20 years of production, its four-wheel-drive variants are less well known. Debuting with the 964 series, and dubbed Carrera 4, these full-time-all-wheel-drive 911s were the first of the new series to be introduced in 1989. A year later, Cabriolet and Targa versions became available, as did conventional rear-drive models. Power was provided by a new 3.6-liter, 247-horsepower flat six, and Porsche's Tiptronic automatic transmission was offered for the first time. The Carrera 4 was also the first 911 to have a full-length belly pan, which made the interior quieter while improving aerodynamics. The addition of the all-wheel-drive system, which uses a mechanical center differential, gives the Carrera 4 a wholly different character than earlier, tail-happy 911s. Handling is largely neutral, even tending to understeer, and with power steering now standard, the 964-series 911 is simply easier to control than its predecessors. While Porsche purists may decry this era as the beginning of the end, a rational analysis finds the Carrera 4 at the top of Porsche's long slide to the present, SUV-centric era.
HCTM #2 Condition: $28,100-$32,900
Oxidation threat level: Low. By the early 1990's, even Porsche had gained rudimentary expertise at rustproofing.
Best winter use: Taunting Cayenne owners with a real four-wheel-drive Porsche.

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