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.
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
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?
Rick Seitz is the owner and founder of GMEFI Magazine, and has a true love and passion for all 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.