1989 Lincoln Towncar

“Hot Rodding for Efficiency’, Part 1

It is a sign of the times, perhaps, that fuel efficiency in gasoline automobile engines is getting a great deal of attention.

Fuel efficiency is a legitimate contemporary concern because of fuel costs, so-called “carbon footprints” and all the rest.

A clever auto enthusiast today can take quite a few lessons from the carefree days of my high-octane youth and apply them to enjoy more fuel efficiency today. Really?

Yes. Many of the techniques are the same but the desired results have turned 180 degrees – from raw, expensive, polluting power to conservative driving techniques and increased fuel efficiency.

We didn’t have today’s electronic ignition systems back in the ‘60s. The closest we could come was an aircraft-style Magneto ignition that produced a much “hotter” and more precise energy surge to the spark plugs. Magnetos helped produce more power, but at no small cost. They also had some disadvantages for street driving, but serious drag racers absolutely had to have one to be competitive.

Fast forward 50 years. Most cars today are made with extremely reliable electronic ignition systems, for the same reasons – a better, “hotter” and more precise energy pulse to the spark plugs. My 2004 Hyundai Elantra came with one, as did my wife’s 2007 Ford Focus.

My 1969 Porsche 912 was built with a “breaker point-condenser” ignition system. I soon learned I should carry a fingernail file in the glove box to clean up the contact points inside my distributor when needed – which was fairly often. Fortunately, those days are gone. There’s a Pertronix electronic ignition module now cleverly concealed beneath the 912’s distributor cap.

If you have an older car (pre-1974 or so) car, you can also convert the old ignition system to a new electronic system and enjoy greater fuel economy and engine reliability as your reward.

In the old days we upgraded the ignition to go faster. Today, on older cars, we do it to go further.

Next time you see a purpose-built dragster, look for the fan. Good luck, because they usually don’t have one. Dragsters don’t need a fan (or even a radiator) because drag races usually take only a few seconds. No belt-driven fan or radiator on the car means less weight and more power to the rear wheels.

Look under the hood of a modern car and you’ll probably see one or two electric fans attached to the radiator. Why? Electric fans are more efficient. They don’t require direct engine power to turn them. They don’t weigh much and are very reliable. Basically, they’re terrific.

Because after-market electric fan kits are widely available, if you want more power, or efficiency, from your older American car, a competent mechanic can replace the belt-driven fan you have now with a new electric fan kit. That’s what I did with my 1989 Lincoln Town Car and, in the process, removing the fan saved about 8 horsepower, or so I’m told.

Removing the car’s belt-driven fan is another old hot-rodder technique, but I did it for efficiency, the other side of the horsepower coin.

Dual exhausts let your engine “breathe” easier and help it produce more power because exhaust gasses are expelled more efficiently. You know, gas dynamics.

Every “real” V-8 hot rod of my pre-catalytic converter youth had dual exhausts.

Does your older American V-8 have real dual exhausts? Most don’t because a single muffler/tailpipe combination is cheaper to build. My Lincoln Town Car came to me with a single exhaust, even though duals were part of an optional “Trailer Package”.

But if your ride has dual catalytic converters like my ’89 Town Car – or no catalytic converter at all if it was built before 1974 – you can scrap the “Y” single exhaust you have now and install real dual exhausts behind the two catalytic converters. That’s what I did.

This summer, my wife and I drove the Town Car from Palm Desert to Manchester, New Hampshire and Virginia Beach, Virginia and back to California – more than 5,500 miles. The Town Car’s dual exhausts and “Cherry Bomb” mufflers did their work beautifully.

With the 4,000 pound car carrying the two of us, a “vacation load” in the trunk and having the air conditioning on all the time, we averaged 23+ miles per gallon for the trip. My thoughtful mods and 2012 version of “high performance” driving those 5,500 or so miles paid for the dual exhausts upgrade in fuel savings. To me, that’s a pretty good performance.

1. "1969 Porsche 912

2. 1989 Lincoln Town Car

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