At some point a lot of male teenagers will go through what I now call the ‘Max Power’ stage. A stage in which many young lads think the way to attract girls and get social kudos is to spend loads of, often limited, money on having a modified car in which to hang out. Teenage girls will clearly deny any influence of such a crass effect, but my anecdotal evidence suggest otherwise, even to this day.
I would like to say I didn’t succumb to the pull of large chrome wheels, loud exhausts on slow cars and body kits designed without any regard for performance, but sadly, that would be a lie. And while young lads now going through the Max Power stage are spoiled with a selection of relatively cheap high power rear drive, 4WD or great handling front drive cars available these days (think 180sx, Honda type-R s etc), which would have been the stuff of dreams for me and my Gran Turismo on Playstation 1 generation; my main Max Power blank canvas was a 1977 Chrysler Lancer (or Plymouth Arrow in the U.S.)
After I killed my first car (see Everyone starts somewhere…), i didn’t have a clear picture about what I would like to move onto next. With less than $2,000 to spend, some more desirable options at the time; think Datsun 240Z, 2Litre Ford Escort or Fiat 124 were out of my price range and even though my driving experiences were still fairly formative at this stage, I already knew that an early 80s front wheel drive econobox wouldn’t cut it. Oversteer was where it was at and what ever I was to own next would need to be rear-wheel drive.
Flipping through the trusty Trading Post, a late 70s Mustang shaped Toyota Celica would be pretty desirable, but again, probably just outside my price range for one that would be worth owning, then further along was an ad for a Chrysler Lancer. I recalled seeing one in a car park a year or so earlier and seeing a rally inspired interior with inset tacho, speedo and 4 ancillery gauges to monitor all manner of things. Now, part of the Max Power stage is being attracted to shiny or noisy things in judging a cars potential, so I must have concluded that the Lancer could only need so much instrumentation if it had considerable sporting potential. This favorable recollection and convincing myself that the styling was pretty close to a Mustang Celica anyway pretty much sealed the deal as the Lancer being my next set of wheels.
On inspection, I remember seeing what looked like a pretty clean and standard, sporty car. It was a ’77 model with chrome bumpers and round headlights, not as desirable as the ’78+ model, but it seemed like a good deal at $1,200. My method at the time to test the worth of an engine was to rev the hell out it while stationary. I can’t imagine now what I thought it was supposed to prove, but fortunately the engine didn’t blow up so apparently it passed (I think it quite rightly would’ve been mine if it didn’t pass also!). It didn’t come with a Roadworthy Certificate but the man selling OFFERED to get a ‘dodgy’ one and mail it to me for $80. Apparently not registering anything wrong with being offered a dodgy RWC and having had bad experiences with those loveless RWC inspectors in the past, $80 seemed like a bargain not to be put under the microscope.
The early days of ownership of the Lancer proved to be good ones, the 1.6 litre 75hp engine was enough to induce the leaf sprung, solid rear axle into satisfying moments of power oversteer and after I put some period ‘jellybean’ wheels and an angle cut sports exhaust on it, it had a certain 70’s retro rally car appeal about it. Girls seemed to like it too which was a desirable effect and so did a gay friend of mine which was less so (to a teen hetero male you understand). I still lusted after an Escort, Fiat 131 or Alfa GTV, something more desirable, but the trusty Lancer was a good fill in. I did try to enhance my Max Power credentials as well, spending what at the time was for me an inordinate amount of money on a moulded carpet (as you do), a high end stereo and the previously mentioned sports exhaust which was so loud my friend’s younger brother would announce my arrival some minutes before I would appear. To be fair, the exhaust did sound pretty good, the belting hard core techno probably less so.
About half way through ownership of the Lancer I came into a small (but seemingly large to me at the time) amount of money and was able to indulge a bit, by finally buying a 2 litre, 2 door Ford Escort. Fueled by thoughts of BDA powered rally Escorts of the 70s,
I paid $1,350 for a ’77 Euro model, so it had the round headlights and someone prior had ditched the 1.6 in favor of a 2L engine. The interior was clean and the cream colored paint was generally in pretty good condition, plus it came with rally style spotlights on the front. Obviously these features appealed to my ‘shiny things’ bias and overcame my ability to register the need for bogging of rust areas in one rear guard and that fact that the gearbox had no reverse. Oh and the minor issue that, AGAIN I was buying an unregistered car (wtf?? I say as a 30-something year old now). Sadly (or predictably), complications led to an inability to get an RWC for it, happily though I sold it for $1,850, a genuine profit of $500 not accounting for my time messing about. Lesson finally learnt?
My bad experience with the Escort led to a new affection for my Lancer which I still owned. It had by this point provided me with nearly a year of faithful service, never letting me down and giving plenty of memorable driving experiences
My Max Power phase was coming to an end though, I think I grew up (a bit) somewhere in there. I had gone back to full-time study and the dodgy RWC promised when I bought the car had never arrived so without any funds to fix up the numerous faults that would be easy fodder for the evil RWC man, the car was left in the back garden for the rego to run out. The Lancer continued faultlessly until the day it was taken off the road and a month or so after I ended selling it for $500, i was genuinely sad to see it go.
This also started a car-less period of almost a year as I focused on study. My next car though was a BIG step forward and moved me into the world of turbo and fuel injection, enter my (first) 1985 Mitsubishi Cordia Turbo!
Max Power magazine started in the UK but there were (and still are) various clones (such as Hot 4s in Australia) around the globe. The mag is aimed at teenage lads mostly who are open to the suggestion that spending money modifying your car will lead to success, happiness and a queue of scant clad fit girls who would like to be seen with you. Hmm, seems reasonable…