Charging Forward: Are Eighties Cars Too Old for GM EFI Magazine?

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Turbo Buick and TPI-Powered Muscle Cars are Over Thirty Years Old; Is it time to Put Them to Rest at GM EFI Magazine?

It’s a question we occasionally get asked, but we haven’t really considered it until recently. The focus of this magazine was to always highlight what’s new and cutting edge — be it in the aftermarket or directly form the OEM. However, the subject matter may be coming to a crossroads.

Over the last decade, GM enthusiasts have made a hard turn towards the LS engine platform, seemingly, to the point that almost anything that has come before it is basically irrelevant. Now, this isn’t exactly how your author feels, being a Grand National and a 3rd-Gen owner, but social media and other online-based outlets would have you believe it’s entirely true.

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To understand the foundation of today’s electronic fuel-injection, you have to remember and consider the fact that the roots of modern EFI could only be traced back to the days of Tuned Port and Turbo Buicks of the mid-1980s. This means, there’s now a fine line, or a grey area so to speak, of what’s now considered “late-model,” and what should potentially fall under the classic muscle car category.

Coming off of the days of bogged-down, underpowered smog-mobiles from the late-70s and early-80s, electronic fuel-injection catapulted the then-emasculated “performance” cars of the time into respectable territory. The term, “bolt-on performance” became a thing, and car builders were not only looking at ported heads and aggressive camshafts, but larger fuel injectors, mass-air flow sensors, ported throttle bodies and recalibrated PROMs in their newly-acquired ’80s machines.

Much like the Blue Oval guys and perhaps to a lesser extent, the front-wheel drive turbocharged 2.2L Mopar owners, enthusiasts dug elbows-deep into the TPI F-bodies, Vettes and more significantly, the boosted Buick six-shooter G-body.

As time wore on, technology continued to improve through the ’90s with the LT1/4/5 V8s, the occasional boosted 4-banger and even blown V6s in mainstream sport sedans. We eventually ended up with an aluminum small-block V8 that produced well over 400hp, and boosted variants of that same platform delivering over 600hp with the LS- and LT-series engines of the 21st Century.

Those engines had eventually trickled down to trucks, sedans and even SUVs. As a result, you can now locate that 300 hp 5.3L LS-based small-block for as little as $300 from a local wrecking yard, pair it with an ECU and engine harness, and have it running in your throwback IROC-Z with not much effort. Well, maybe a little effort.

 

Throw in a set of long-tubes, a mild cam, ported heads and some tuning and you could be producing, near as makes no difference, 400 hp to the rear ties.

So where does that leave the TPI crowd? To pump out 400 hp with a TPI 350 takes quite a bit more effort and a heck of a lot more money. It can certainly be done, but it will require much more effort.

When we get into the ’90s, and it would seem the LT1 and L67 supercharged V6s have almost slipped into obscurity. We’re in the middle of finally wrapping up our Regal GS project car, and at the moment, have virtually no interest in delving into any GEN-II LT1 builds at this current time.

While we still receive great interest in the Regal build, we suspect it could be the one and only L67 we ver into, and we have yet to receive any requests from any of our readers regarding the ’90s small-block. That’s not to say that we don’t support their efforts, but the chances of anyone digging deep into a TPI, L67 or LT1 build these days will be far and few between.

In addition, we’ve been seeing more and more LS-swaps in everything from Grand Nationals and other G-bodies of the era; and third-generation F-bodies are almost synonymous with 6-speed backed LS power plants in 2017.

So its not so much the vehicles themselves that lack the interest, it’s more of a refocus on the engines that are powering them. Actually, there’s more of an aftermarket for ’80s and ’90s cars now than there was even when they were new.

Companies like Heidts has launched an IRS kit for 3rd-gen F-cars, and are about to announce something big on the 4th-gens. Direct bolt-on big brake kits from guys like Baer bring stopping power up to snuff to

modern standards, and restoration companies like OPG, GBodyParts and Hawks Motorsports allows enthusiasts to keep their ’80s cars around and living well into the 21st century.

With that said, it’s hard to ignore the incredible performance coming from today’s 6th-gen Camaro and C7 Corvettes. You can strap yourself in an entry-level Camaro with a turbocharged 4-cyl engine that pumps out nearly 300 hp for under $30,000. That’s a number (and drivetrain) that seems unfathomable not too long ago and these days, with the 650hp Z06, ZL1 and CTS-V almost mainstream in the V8 realm, performance has breached an incredible new high.

With such a gap between performance numbers of the ’80s cars and those of today, we’ll continue to question the staying power of the ’80s and ’90s cars in our mag, while we tend to make a shift towards the newer iron. We’re completely open to build an LT4 swapped fourth-gen, boosted Ecotec S10 or an LS9 G-body. But if you’re looking for an in-depth engine build on a Quad442, you may need to look elsewhere as the market isn’t quite there anymore.

Perhaps it’s my imagination and maybe I’m way off, but I can’t be the only one who feels that a Grand National or a Tuned Port 305 IROC-Z isn’t exactly cutting edge anymore. Am I alone?

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Being infatuated with cars since he was a toddler, GM EFI Founder and Editor, Rick Seitz, has a true love and passion for late-model GM vehicles. When he isn’t tuning, testing, or competing with the brand’s current crop of project vehicles, he’s busy tinkering and planning the next modifications for his own cars.

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  1. Sean W. 11 August, 2017 at 08:34 Reply

    I disagree. The name of this site is GM-EFI. Plain and simple. As long as there is still a fan base out there (and there is especially for the Buick turbo 6), people will continue to push the boundaries and come up with cool new stuff. You guys have had some great Buick turbo 6 articles over the years and I hope that doesn’t stop. How about doing some stuff with the TA Performance aluminum block to build a more modern interpretation of the venerable 231?

  2. David Bell 11 August, 2017 at 10:19 Reply

    I think I agree Rick. I too own a GN and 3rd gen Camaro. Neither one of which do I race any longer. More nostalgia now. If I want to race again I’m gonna go for newer iron that can get me going fast and still reliably get me around. Maybe keep a section on classic or nostalgia racing builds as many of your readers likely grew up racing these awesome machines.

  3. Gene 11 August, 2017 at 17:40 Reply

    Simply look at the number of Grand Nationals / T-Type cars out there and the many websites & vendors dedicated to the car along with the Bowling Green Nationals based around this car. An article from time to time along with various advisory follow up should be enough to convince!! Parts & research are still being continued as these cars re-invent their presence & loyalty to a real icon in the market.

  4. Vincent 11 August, 2017 at 22:07 Reply

    Changing the electronics on a TPI car make a big difference when using aftermarket heads, cam and intake. Then they will be able to keep up with the modern cars with ease

  5. Shane Howell 11 August, 2017 at 22:11 Reply

    It’s true. GM gave something to the people they had asked for. A fantastic, mass produced engine.
    Realistically, that same $300 engine will hold 800+ rwhp right from a yard. Can any engine before it boast that?
    No. They can’t. That’s why everything before the LS is irrelevant. $300 buys a super stout rotating assembly, and a great set of heads.
    Like it or not…. This is the age of the LS.

  6. Mike kraus 11 August, 2017 at 22:36 Reply

    Just cause my 87 gn was built in the 80s,doesn’t meant it cant lay the smack down. With the new efi out there pretty easy to bring the 80s tech up to date. I went from a stock computer and a chip to fast xfi. Woke the lol v6 and billet turbo right up even more. Put plenty of new tech stuff behind with a few simple updates.

  7. Jesse Freeman 13 August, 2017 at 00:32 Reply

    To address your specific question, of course 80’s and 90’s vehicles aren’t cutting edge. Technology is always progressing in 20 years today’s cars will seem like technological relics.

    To address the sentiment behind your question, people are drawn to performance vehicles (mechanicialy assembled machinery) primarily based on looks, budget and performance, the 80’s 90’s vehicles are the bang-for-your-buck because they are dirt cheap (even in clean rust-free running condition) and can be easily upgraded if you have a $300 set of automotive tools and pretty basic skills. For less than $10k you make any 80’s car as fun, reliable and fuel efficient as anything coming out of the factory today, thanks to retrofit kits. The guess work has been taken out of the wiring, programming, let alone the physical installation. Hell, it’s why we’re developing 6 speed automatics to retrofit in these cars without having to cut/rip the floorpan open.

    Now if you also want the latest in comfort, safety, info-tainment, and luxury features as well, then of course you’d be better served to get a new cookie cutter V6 coupe/sedan that will run circles around even the hottest 80’s muscle car.

    But, the point remains as follows 80’s cars are just a piece of history. Not the beginning. Not the end. These cars represent the youthful fantasies of Gen-X and Y, just as the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s muscle cars represent(ed) nostalgic love for Baby Boomers. For the previous generation it was all about Fords coupes with flathead Ford, Buick, Cadillac, Olds, Chevy or whatever was the latest V8’s. Then the GTO-inspired factory muscle car evolution came. Every gearhead can appreciate a mint condition original 1955 Chevy Bel Air, a resto-mod 1970 Chevelle Malibu SS Tribute, and even Japan’s early performance cars because the cars basic bones are able to evolve with the technology of the times. Hot-rodding is all about taking the old and what you can afford now, then getting it as close to what you see in the dealership showroom. Always has. Always will.

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