What's that thingie do?
May 10, 2010 7:09 AM   Subscribe

How do I fake classic car knowledge and say intelligent things about what's under the hood at a car show? 50s-60s American cars in particular.

For instance, I think red and blue anodized fittings are always nitrous systems. So if you see them, and they are pretty obvious when you look at an engine, you can say "wow, this has a nitrous system".
posted by smackfu to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Actually, ano fittings might just be the regular fuel system. BUT!!! if you look up by the carb, and there's two different lines going up there, it probably has nitrous - one line for fuel, one line for NO2.

Your best bet is to embrace your cluelessness; going solo may be to your advantage. Go to a car show, walk up to the cars, and tell the owners you'd like to learn about what kindsa stuff is under the hood. One thing about car guys, especially customizers - they *love* to talk at length and show you their stuff.
posted by notsnot at 7:17 AM on May 10, 2010

Also, uh, get a subscr to one of the widely-available but lower tier hot rod magazines. Read teh articles, including the build-ups. (I'm thinking Chevy High Performance, Mopar Muscle, etc...they're cheap.) Try to correlate the descriptions with the pictures under the hood.

You might also read the wikipedia articles on the following engines:
Chrysler: Wedge, Hemi, 360, 340.
Ford: Cleveland vs Windsor, flathead
Chevy: mouse (smallblock) vs rat (big block), 348
posted by notsnot at 7:32 AM on May 10, 2010

I agree with notsnot, car folks LOVE to talk about their cars. You will learn much just by listening. But if really want to learn cool stuff about cars, check out http://ateupwithmotor.com/. I can get lost for hours reading that site.
posted by rtodd at 7:36 AM on May 10, 2010

Agreed with notsnot— ask the owner/builder what's special, as many builders incorporate something sneaky/tricky among the cornucopia of standard modifications. These might be something as simple as shaved door handles and remote poppers, or custom taillights from another car, or something else. You never know when you might see a Datsun 510 sporting a turbo rotary engine and Jaguar rear end.
posted by a halcyon day at 7:53 AM on May 10, 2010

How do I fake classic car knowledge and say intelligent things about what's under the hood at a car show?

Nothing is as obviously fake to a true car buff as someone with a little knowledge pretending they know what they are talking about. Don't fake, you'll learn less about something you obviously what to know about, and risk looking dumb. Just ask questions, don't bluff and "What's that for? Is that a nitrous system?" will produce a helpful response from most people that show cars. Blindly stating guessed truths will likely make them want you to move on as an annoying bullshitter.

Worthy note: You need to talk to people and only feel you have learned something (with confidence in it) if you hear it as a consensus opinion from several owners. You will be surprised how many car owners have fallen for the sales pitch for various systems with magic results that are just smoke, mirrors and marketing horse-crap. Magnetic/electrical fuels conditioning systems, for example. There is a lot of snake oil in car modification, and an awful lot of people believe it and having a fancy modified car is in no way a guarantee that the owner knows a damn thing about how and why it works. Be keen, but honest and you will learn much, but do take things with a pinch of salt.

Feel free to come back here with questions about some of the stuff you find out about. That could be fun to discuss.
posted by Brockles at 7:55 AM on May 10, 2010

I think red and blue anodized fittings are always nitrous systems.

Such fittings are used to plumb almost any fluid: fuel, oil, coolant. You can't assume anything.
posted by Rhomboid at 8:10 AM on May 10, 2010

Seconding the above- it's a car SHOW, not a car TEST. Ask questions.
posted by gjc at 8:23 AM on May 10, 2010

Why do you need to fake it? I ride motorcycles and would much rather talk to a novice and tell him what he wants to know than to talk to someone who tries to pretend he knows more than he does. I once met a fellow who told me his dream motorcycle was a 1930 Harley Fat Boy (Fat Boys first came out in 1989 or so; I was on my '94 at the time); When I looked at him quizzically he replied "Yeah, I know my motorcycles." Don't be that guy.
posted by TedW at 8:30 AM on May 10, 2010

Best answer: The first question would be: WHY do you need to fake your knowledge? Is it just to feel less like an outsider, or is it to impress someone (or worse, are you covering up for a previous lie claiming to know all about classic cars)? Second question... what kind of timeframe are we talking about here? Third question, do you actually WANT to know about classic cars?

If you don't really NEED to fake it, notsnot is right; most car enthusiasts LOVE to talk about their rides. My dad would sit there and talk for hours about his cars to enthusiasts and laymen (especially since he owns a couple odd-balls with some historical significance, like a 1956 Chevy Suburban Carryall that was a former US Army staff vehicle).

If you still feel a NEED to fake it, I'd take this route: Most classic car guys are only well versed in their favorite manufacturer's products and many only in a particular given year range or series (Like with Chevrolet, for example, 55 to 57 "shoeboxes": the 150, 210, Bel Air sedans/coupes; or or just Nova's from '64 and up, or just Camaros, etc).

So, if you haven't previously claimed a WIDE knowledge of classic cars, focus on a particular subset and learn what you can (Like how to differentiate between a few different years of the same model), along with some more generic terminology. Since you seem to be focused on engines a bit, I'll give you a little primer.

Know the difference between a major engine types; Most common ones you'll see are V-8's (two banks of cylinders arranged in a "v" when looking at the front of the engine) and straight 6's (single bank of 6 cylinders, arranged vertically in a line). There are as well that Chrysler used, with the cylinders at an angle instead of vertical, and "flat 6's" (two banks of horizontally opposed cylinders), like the Corvair used.

Look at pictures of complete engines. Learn to identify pieces from top to bottom (the following pictures are mostly from Chevy V-8 engines):

-Air cleaner: Generally circular, though not always. Contains a filter, sits on top of the:
-Carburetor: Commonly just called "Carb"; Controls the mixture of fuel/air into the:
-Intake manifold: Commonly called just "Intake"; fuel flows through passages in here to:
-Cylinder heads, Commonly, "Heads"; Contains valves that control when the fuel/air mix is let into the cylinders, and valves that control when the combusted mix is released into the exhaust. They're covered, generally, with nice painted, chromed, or polished valve covers.
-Engine block: The biggest hunk of metal in there. Contains the pistons in cylinders, which are connected to a crankshaft (commonly "Crank").
-Distributor: skipped this on top down; it's the round thing behind the air cleaner with the thick wires ("plug wires") coming out. It controls when the spark plugs fire.
-Exhaust manifolds: If they look like cast iron and they're somewhat blocky like that photo, call them exhaust manifolds. If they're tube steel (especially polished), they're "headers".

I probably skipped something in there, but that should get you started. Some common "easy" questions gear heads ask each other that won't require much of a response:
-"What kind of carb are you (running/using)?" (Common answers: Holley, Edelbrock, Stock Quadrajet or Q-jet)
-"What kind of distributor (or ignition system) are you running?" (Common answers: Stock, HEI ("stock" GM, but from a later year car in most cases; a common upgrade for older Chevy's), Mallory (also "Unilite", a common Mallory distributor type), MSD, Stock with Pertronix kit (an upgrade to the internals of the distributor that leaves the outside looking stock)).
-If you notice a particularly "nice" looking set of headers or intake manifold that the name isn't stamped on, inquire as to what kind/brand it is; they love talking about certain showpieces on the cars. Common header brands are Edelbrock, Hedman, Hooker, Flowtech. Common Intakes are Edelbrock, Holley, Weiand, and big points for Offenhauser if it's a vintage one!

Despite the excessively long post, I'm still open for questions or clarifications if you need them. Good luck, smackfu!
posted by XcentricOrbit at 8:49 AM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

It probably wouldn't hurt to do some general research into How Cars Work, so that you have a basic grounding in what's required to push the car down the road [what's a carb, how's a turbo work, how does fuel injection work, blah blah blah]. Don't worry about how things look except in generalities, the goal being that when you ask a guy to tell you about his car, you'll know in general terms what's going on so you can slot the new knowledge he's giving you into some sort of framework; it won't all just be nonsense and jargon. [on preview: XcentricOrbit]

But don't try to fake it. Nothing sets off my "go away now" bells if I'm that "expert" in some area like somebody trying to sound like they know what they're talking about.

I love talking to the people who come up and point at something and just ask what it is and how it works. Far more than the folks who come up and pretend they're experienced.

I think that if you saw some t-bucket hot rod at a car show with a giant chromed blown engine in it and you basically asked the guy "You know, I've seen these things on car models and things for years, and they sure look cool, but what the heck do they do?" he'd happily talk your ear off about it.
posted by chazlarson at 9:04 AM on May 10, 2010

Wow XcentricOrbit - nice post.

I'll echo that you shouldn't feel the need to try and impress. Obvious incorrect terminology will come off badly and people won't want to talk to you. Approaching an owner with general positive comments ("Your engine bay is so clean") can open up a conversation.

Take it from a car guy. Part of the reason we tinker and clean and fix is to impress others. If I can share my knowledge with you and you are impressed it makes my day better.
posted by Big_B at 9:07 AM on May 10, 2010

Response by poster: Apologies, I was too cute asking about faking it. Really my goal is to be able to look at an engine and not just go, "oh, that's an engine" and then move on to the next car and think, "huh, that's another slightly dirtier engine". (Can you tell that I went to a car show yesterday?) So XcentricOrbit's post is really spot-on for what I'm looking for.

Given that, you're all right that asking the owner is probably the best bet. I really like the idea of asking what's special as a starting point.
posted by smackfu at 9:08 AM on May 10, 2010

And just a side note - these days you probably aren't going to see a lot of nitrous and even less turbos at a 50-60's car show. That's more of the late model crowd thing. Us older car guys get by on cubic inches.
posted by Big_B at 9:09 AM on May 10, 2010

You can appear extremely knowledgeable by asking good questions without faking it. nthing XcentricOrbit's inout.

I start with a compliment - if it's warranted - and then ask the person what they had to do to get it looking in such good nick.

Failing that, other reasonable generic questions:

- Have you made an modifications? or, if obvious, what modifations have you made?
- How reliable is it?
- What's it like to drive?

Things not to ask, unless explicitly signalled:

- Do you think you'll make your money back on it?
- Is that supposed to be like that?
posted by MuffinMan at 9:12 AM on May 10, 2010

Events like this can often have an element of pissing contest. No matter how much you know, they will want to tell you the thing you did not know.
posted by redsparkler at 11:29 AM on May 10, 2010

There are always those who'll probe you in a bit different way, talking matter-of-fact about the custom rimforators or rotary bindle-flixors, and they'll be the ones with the best poker-faces of all -- I'll never forget Tim Nichols having this sort of fun with a kid who'd come over to look at a car Tim had for sale; it was Art, it was amazingly well-done, Tim led this poor dope on the wildest of goose chases, we were all dying inside. Great fun.

Don't try to fool anyone. You can't, not anyone who is awake at all, and if they've got their car in a car show they are awake, for sure. Just cop to not knowing everything, let them tell you about what they know best, and are passionate about. You'll have more fun and they'll have enough fun, though not as much fun as they *could* have if you'd been able to be gamed.
posted by dancestoblue at 1:23 PM on May 10, 2010

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