Good morning, and welcome back to Shitbox Showdown! Today we’re looking at two old American cars equipped with what was once the default powertrain option. But first let’s check out the results from Friday’s big battle:
It’s the big Caddy by a nose over the diesel Benz. But more importantly, are you all with me on the soundtrack to your drive home?
Hell yes. And ska or punk does suit a big Caddy really well – I once knew a guy who had a Coupe DeVille about this age, with a functioning 8-track player, and he used to record his own 8-tracks to play in it. He’d tape over things he got at garage sales for next to nothing; once I was riding with him and he popped in a John Denver tape, and Black Flag came out of the speakers. It was glorious.
Moving on: For decades, nearly all American cars stuck to the same formula when it came to base engine and transmission options: an inline six and a three-speed manual gearbox driving the rear wheels via a solid axle. Businessman’s coupe, family sedan, station wagon, pickup truck; it didn’t matter. If you left all the option boxes blank on the order form, you got a straight six and a three-speed stick, usually column-shifted. Many cars so equipped have had their engines or transmissions swapped since then, but not these two. Let’s take a look and see which standard-equipment car you prefer.
Engine/drivetrain: 144 or 170 cubic inch overhead valve inline 6, three-speed manual, RWD
Location: Albuquerque, NM
Odometer reading: unknown
Ford’s erstwhile Mercury division was axed in 2011, and hasn’t really been missed much, frankly. Most Mercury models were more or less just Fords with fancier trim by the end. But once upon a time, Mercury models were more distinct from their Ford counterparts. This Comet is based on the first-generation Ford Falcon, but has a longer wheelbase and a “big car” look courtesy of quad headlights.
1963 was the first year a V8 was available in the Comet, but this one makes do with Ford’s “Thriftpower” inline six, though the seller doesn’t specify which displacement. They do say it runs and drives, but that’s about all the information we get. It’s a good durable engine, and served Ford well for a lot of years after this, still living under the hoods of various Fox-body cars as late as 1983. And a three-speed stick is about as simple as transmissions get; if it goes into all the gears, it’s fine.
This Comet is a little cosmetically challenged, both inside and out. It’s not rusty, at least, but it’s all in primer red, and judging by the door sills, not all the body parts were originally the same color. It looks as though someone started to restore it, and then ran out of time, or money, or gumption, or all three. But honestly, it doesn’t look too bad as-is.
It’s not nice enough to show off as-is, nor is it worth the money it would take to restore it. But it’s a solid, reliable car that could be a daily driver for the right person. That person might very well be the bass player in a rockabilly band, or a bartender at a tiki-themed bar, or maybe both…
Engine/drivetrain: 250 cubic inch inline 6, three-speed manual, RWD
Location: Moriarty, NM
Odometer reading: 106,000 miles
Runs/drives? Runs, but needs a new clutch
It’s easy to forget that base-model Firebirds exist at all. We tend to remember the Trans Ams and the Formulas and the Esprits, but it was possible to get Pontiac’s pony car in a plain brown wrapper. It came with a Chevy 250 cubic inch inline six, backed by a three-speed manual with a Hurst floor shifter. It has no spoiler on the back, no scoops or nostrils on the hood, and of course, no screaming chicken decals. But this lack of gingerbread lets the second-generation F-body’s clean lines take center stage. It’s a good design.
This sale includes not only the ’75 base model, but a ’75 Trans Am parts car as well. The Trans Am has no engine, transmission, hood, or title, which means it’s truly only a parts car. The seller isn’t clear which parts from the Trans Am they intended to use to fix up the other one, but they seem willing to discuss things with the right buyer. The base model car does run, but the clutch is shot, so it’s not drivable.
Inside, it’s dirty and sun-cracked, but it’s all stuff that can be replaced via various aftermarket catalogs, if you wanted. As it sits, it’s functional, at least. The seller has done a bunch of mechanical work to it – the fuel tank, fuel pump, starter, carb, and all fluids have been changed – but it still needs a clutch, and probably new tires, to be roadworthy.
The trouble is that restoring this car would cost just about as much as restoring a Trans Am, and it wouldn’t be worth nearly as much when it’s finished, so there’s little incentive to do a full restoration on it. But frankly, it’s a hell of a lot more interesting than a Trans Am, to me, at least. I guess if you’re willing to live with the patina, a clutch isn’t too hard to do, and you’d have a fun classic to bomb around in.
These days, of course, “standard” transmissions are anything but, and pushrod inline sixes are extinct. And internal combustion itself is slowly falling out of favor. These cars are remnants of the past that make for conversation-starting toys rather than basic transportation. But that’s not a bad second life. Which one speaks to you?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)