If you're into cars, there's a good chance you've lusted after some sort of sporty two-door coupe at some point in your life. I'm 38 years old, and like many people my age, grew up watching "The Dukes of Hazzard," "Night Rider" and other shows that featured cool guys driving around in coupes. But it doesn't matter if you're older or younger than I am – your movie and television heroes probably drove coupes, too.
Thanks to those cinematic representations of automotive cool, the objects of my desire were – for many years – usually two-door muscle and sports cars. But that was before I grew up, got wise and came to appreciate the four-door sedan. I know what you're thinking: Those are old man cars. Maybe so, but consider schlubby sedans’ benefits. First and foremost, they tend to be much cheaper than coupes. Second, the extra set of doors does more than just add practicality. The very shape of the car tends to be more balanced (think about it, a coupe is really nothing more than a sawed-off sedan in most cases). Third, a mundane family car isn't as likely to get noticed when it flies past a traffic cop’s watchful eye (more on that later).
Consider the evidence: Burt Reynolds looked cool driving that black Trans Am in Smokey and the Bandit. But that's been done to death. What about channeling your sense of car chic through another Burt Reynolds character – even one from the same era: Gator McKlusky, from White Lightning. His souped up Ford sedan, with its four-on-the-floor shifter and NASCAR-style white-lettered tires, was the epitome of cool. Nobody does that anymore.
Instead of buying a Chevrolet Chevelle SS, look for some old granddad's well cared-for Malibu sedan. Rather than dropping serious coin on a Challenger or Barracuda, why not go for a Satellite? Into foreign cars? No problem. You could probably get just as much real-world satisfaction out of a Datsun 510 sedan as you would from a 260Z. The same goes for a run-of-the-mill BMW 5-series sedan versus a 2002 tii. And remember, guts are transferrable. There's no reason why a sports car's innards might not be transferred into the body of an unassuming model from the same (or similar) marque to create something truly special.
It was price that lured me into four-door muscle car ownership. There I was, minding my own business, scrolling listlessly through Craigslist ads in search of muscle cars I couldn't afford, when I spotted a car that looked like a Chevy Nova. It was an Oldsmobile, had four doors and was powered by a prosaic six-cylinder engine, but it looked like a Nova and more importantly, would serve as a nice canvas upon which to create a stunning collage of widely available performance parts.
This, I thought, would be a prime candidate for a White Lightning-style performance sedan; a redneck version of the BMW M5, if I may take such a liberty. Forget that the car was, in fact as well as in theory, a grandpa car (an old man had owned it, then sold it to a younger man with a similar mentality). Its owner let it go for $700. I couldn't say no.
This grandpa-fresh 1974 Omega was in really nice shape, but I wanted to turn it into an actual muscle car. I planned improvements would’ve been performed regardless of body style. But the low buy-in price of an unwanted sedan meant that I could build something that would have made ol' Gator proud, while saving more of my hard-earned money.
After spending countless hours working on the Olds, it still looked like something a schlub would drive. The changes were hidden beneath its unassuming beige skin. The 100 hp inline-six and smooth-shifting three-speed transmission had been set aside in favor of a 420-horsepower 383 stroker (a 350-cid Chevy small-block with a lengthened piston stroke) backed by a speed shop-built overdrive transmission. I was happy with it, but the world at large needed a couple of subtle hints that the Omega was an awesome sleeper. The first hint was a mere whisper – a set of black performance tires on black steel rims, crowned by dog dish-style center hubcaps reminiscent of the cop cars in movies like "Dirty Harry." The second hint was more of a growl – a roar really: a pair of 2-1/4-inch exhaust pipes running through not-so-subtle Flowmaster mufflers. The completed look saw Miss Daisy restraint meet “Starsky & Hutch” flash.
As with any car – regardless of the number of doors it has – my main goal with the Omega was to drive it, and not just to the odd car show. To me, this car seemed ideal for a New York City-to-Los Angeles blast – a nonstop endurance run called the C2C Express. This is the sort of trip that really gets you in touch with a car. After more than 40 hours in the Omega, I was convinced that buying a four-door sedan had been a good choice. A group of friends who made the trip in a two-door Lincoln found the car, although gigantic, somewhat lacking in doors and rear seat space.
Unfortunately, I was unable to realize the inconspicuousness sought by purchasing the staid sedan version of a muscle car. Enough time has passed since the '70s that a car from that era, no matter how mundane, is going to attract some attention. A sheriff's deputy near Spiceland, Ind., convinced that this car from the same era as "The Seven Ups" must be carrying dope-smuggling hippies, pulled us over and initiated a K9 search. So we sat, helpless and stationary, as the dog sniffed and the minutes ticked by. So much for subtlety.
The trip back east, taken at a much more leisurely pace, re-established the wisdom inherent in the sedan lifestyle. Staring out the windshield as mile after mile of crisp, clean desert unfolded, it was difficult to tell that I was in anything but a classic muscle car. The sculpted hood – jutting out into a stunning and ever-changing American landscape – formed the same view someone would see from the cockpit of a numbers-matching Nova SS coupe. It was when I stopped the car and needed to grab something out of the back seat that I noticed the difference.
This is not to say that sedans are for everyone. The challenge and thrill of hunting down sought-after, factory-correct sports coupes is, for some, the apogee of the collecting hobby. But for those of us who seek satisfaction in driving the car and communing with a piece of automotive history, the sedan ignores the unnecessary and cuts right to the heart of the car culture ethos: to preserve, to drive, to journey, to be.
But if you're still really set on buying a two-door and don't want to spend a ton of money, I have a solution for you. Buy a pickup truck.