A new car for Granny...

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Mar 01, 1990

Dear Tom and Ray:

I am one of those little old ladies in tennis shoes that needs a new car. I'm replacing my '71 Cutlass Supreme which has a 350 cubic inch V-8. It has terrific pick-up! When they talk about "liters" in the new cars, how many liters correspond to my 350 V-8? What kind of new car would have the zip this old Cutlass has? And what kind of mid-size car would you recommend for me?

RAY: Great question, Roz! The displacement of the engine in your Cutlass is measured in cubic inches (ci.). Today, car engines are measured in cubic centimeters (cc.). That change came about because of the "metric scare" of the late '60s. That's when we were all told that within ten years, instead of parking the car in Harvard Yard, we'd be parking the car in Harvard Meter.

TOM: Anyway, the American public has managed to resist metric conversion for the most part. But one of the few areas that did change over was the measurement of engine size. As they were being forced to decrease engine size and power in the 1970's, the Big Three were only too glad to change over to a measurement system which baffled the American public.

RAY: To convert cubic inches to cubic centimeters, multiply the number of cubic inches by approximately 16. So 350 ci. becomes 5700 cc. And since a liter equals 1000 cc, 5700cc is 5.7 liters.

TOM: So if you want an engine the same size as your 350, get a 5.7 liter V-8--which is a big engine! You can get one today in the Camaro IROC-Z, which we think is the perfect car for an old lady in tennis shoes (just kidding).

RAY: But the size of the engine is not the only consideration if "zip" is what you want. The weight of the car is the other important factor. If you put your 5.7 liter V-8 in a little Honda Civic, you'd have enough zip to smear your make-up. And in reality, the Honda Civic is so light that it gets plenty of zip from its 1.5 liter (93ci) engine .

TOM: Another factor that influences "zippiness" is how the suspension is tuned. Your Cutlass has a lot of what we call "rear end squat." That means when you accelerate, the rear end of the car goes down and the front goes up. That makes you feel like you're piloting an L-1011 on take-off. Don't you notice that the "fasten seat belts" and "no smoking" signs come on whenever you step on the gas? Your back gets pressed against the seat, and you can't tell whether you're being pushed back by the force of the acceleration or by the squat of the car.

RAY: My guess is you'll find that modern 6 cylinder engines have all the zip you need. And my instincts tell me that the car for you is a Chrysler New Yorker with the 3.3 liter V-6 engine. It's a luxurious mid-size car with a powerful engine, smooth transmission, and all of the amenities you could ask for (including an electronic compass). Pamper yourself Roz, go for the New Yorker!

TOM: If that doesn't have the requisite zip, however, you'll have to go for the Camaro IROC-Z. In that case, make sure you wear your Bronko Nagurski football helmet when you go out for groceries.

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