4 classic dual-exhaust systems that’ll make you look twice
Dual exhausts are a signature of performance cars, but their initial appearances had nothing to do with performance. Witness Chevrolet’s first V-8 in 1917, plus a number of other brands that flirted with V-configurations at the time. But it wasn’t until the post-war period, after the advent of hot rodding (not to mention high-compression V-8s), that dual exhausts began to appear in premium marques for enhanced breathing. At times, it was even integrated into a vehicle’s styling.
And then, with the advent of “power packs” during the Horsepower Race, no self-respecting performance vehicle would be found without dual exhausts. During the era, there were several interesting designs for the system, if not the pipes themselves. Here are a few that stand out—can you think of others?
Originally a mid-year, personal-luxury 1961 convertible equipped with standard bucket seats, console, and a high state of tune, the Starfire expanded to a hardtop the following year. Brushed aluminum trim was a trademark for several years, yet by the time the redesigned 1965 debuted, the Starfire had lost some of its standing in the market, no doubt due to its 1964–65 Jetstar I baby brother, if not strong sales of the Pontiac Grand Prix. Nonetheless, the 1965 Starfire featured several styling distinctions from its Jetstar 88 and Dynamic 88 stablemates: concave rear window (shared with the Jetstar I and the Grand Prix), special grille, and unique taillights, plus an all-new 425-cubic-inch V-8 rated at 370 horsepower. But what really set the Starfire apart from other vehicles, Oldsmobile or otherwise, was unique lower-body side trim with side-exiting exhausts set just ahead of the rear bumper. As the brochure read, “Functional side exhausts, distinctive square taillights, satin-chrome panel give Starfire a look all its own.” Alas, in its swan song, the 1966 Starfire lost the nifty exhausts and subsequently its place in the Oldsmobile lineup, being superseded by the 1966 Toronado.
Restyled for 1970, the GTO featured a sleeker look and shed its optional hidden headlights while adopting front-end styling similar to the 1969 Firebird’s. Three engines were carry-overs, with the two-barrel option gone from the option sheet and a new 360-horsepower 455 being added—although, truth be told, the two Ram Air engines were more powerful. A new option that was famously featured in a TV commercial was option code W73, the Vacuum Operated Exhaust (VOE), affectionately known as the “Tiger Button.” Available only on non-Ram Air 49-state GTOs (California residents couldn’t order it), the VOE was a cable-operated mechanism that adjusted the baffles in the mufflers. A marketing bulletin on October 3, 1969 explained, “The normal mode is essentially the same as the standard GTO system, while the performance mode passes the exhaust through a separate, less-restricted part of the muffler reducing back pressure and producing a deeper sound.” The option was killed around January/February 1970 after 233 were installed, with some enthusiasts claiming the noise level was frowned upon by Pennsylvania authorities, while others say GM executives didn’t like the racing implications after seeing the commercial during the Super Bowl.
1971–74 Mopar B-bodies
The death knell had begun to ring when Plymouth and Dodge introduced its redesigned mid-size series in the fall of 1970. General Motors had already thrown in the towel and lowered the compression of its engines in anticipation of government mandates the following year, but here was the Chrysler Corporation stepping up to the plate and turning up the knob to 11. The two-door and four-door models were of distinct designs, with the Plymouth Satellite two-door now called Satellite Sebring, while the Dodge Charger absorbed the two-door Coronet line. An interesting feature for the Plymouth Road Runner and GTX, and the Dodge Charger Super Bee, R/T, and SE was the “N42” chrome exhaust tips. Perfectly complementing the stripes, spoilers, and pop-up hood scoop that were available, these exhaust tips featured slots that highlighted an orange chamber inside—simply more candy at a time when the industry was moving away from high performance. The exhaust tips were available through 1974.
A new division created by Ford for “Special Product Operation” vehicles, Continental produced its first model as a successor to the original 1940–48 Lincoln Continental, the Mark II. It was a paragon of discriminating elegance and grace in an era that was evolving to be anything but. Appropriately, the $9695 Mark II ($91,000 today) was introduced at the Paris Auto Show in October 1955, a car more than twice as expensive as a Lincoln Premiere convertible. Like any self-respecting American luxury brand of the era, the Mark II featured dual exhausts exiting from two ports below the bumper—nothing unusual here—but in order to maintain a low stance, Continental engineers developed a “cow belly” ladder-type frame (with a dip in the middle) that resulted in an exhaust system that resided outside the frame rails along the inside of the rocker panels. Even underneath, the Mark II was nattily dressed.