EDITOR’S NOTE: What are the top high performance automotive parts of all time? Or in this case, what are the Top 20 most iconic parts that changed hot rodding? We’re talking total game-changers in the annals of our hobby.
We asked a panel of OnAllCylinders staffers, longtime automotive journalists, and veteran members of the Summit Racing technical and marketing departments for their input. The countdown continues with numbers 11 through 15 (you can see 16-20 here).
#15: Lakewood Traction/Slapper Bars
“Cars were becoming more powerful and tires, improved,” said Jim Turney, the longtime Technical Support Manager at Summit Racing Equipment. “As racers started using cheater slicks and other wide tires, they found that their stock suspension was not adequate. The common problem was the leaf springs would wrap up and the car would experience wheel hop. Slapper bars prevented this situation and traction improved.”
Traction/slapper bars became one of the most common suspension upgrades and remain a popular choice thanks to companies like Lakewood. Although Lakewood wasn’t the first to offer a traction bar, the popularity of Lakewood’s beefed-up design really brought the upgrade to the masses:
“There have been a lot of bolt-on traction devices built over the years. Some were effective. Others weren’t. The Lakewood bar was so good that many of the first Pro Stockers ran with them. And they’re still common today.” –Wayne Scraba, OnAllCylinders contributor.
#14: Flowmaster 40-Series Mufflers
Flowmaster effectively produced the soundtrack for high performance when it developed the 40-series muffler, its original muffler. According to Turney, Flowmaster was the first patented muffler with a baffled design as opposed to packing material. Turney was with Summit Racing when Flowmaster launched this “new technology.”
“The first ones I saw weren’t even painted and were hand-welded,” Turney said. “It was created to minimize California Sprint Car engine noise without sacrificing performance from excessive backpressure caused by traditional exhaust systems. They were designed for race and eventually adapted for street use.”
These mufflers became known as Flowmaster’s 40-series muffler. Marketed as a street/strip muffler, it delivers a very distinct, muscular tone both inside and outside of the vehicle. The sound is so distinctive that aggressive exhaust sound is often referred to as the “Flowmaster Sound.”
“There have been lots of performance mufflers over the decades, but the distinct bark offered by the two-chamber Flowmaster 40-series is the one that has become most associated with giving any V8, no matter how mild, that perfect aggressive street sound. If a muscle car rumbles into cruise night and turns heads, odds are it’s packing Flowmasters –Christopher Campbell, OnAllCylinders contributor
#13: ARP Bolts
Yet, until ARP came along, that’s pretty much what you were stuck with. You could also go to your local hardware store and get standard household nuts and bolts to hold your engine—your very expensive high performance engine—together. Back in 1968, those options didn’t sit well with Gary Holzapfel, who began manufacturing purpose-built automotive fasteners in his own garage.
Holzapfel founded ARP and changed the way we build our engines. Today, ARP fasteners are found on pretty much every race car in NASCAR, IndyCar, NHRA Top Fuel, and Formula 1—not to mention street engines.
“Before ARP, choices for hardware on an engine or on a car were extremely restrictive. You had to use what the factory offered or you could use hardware store components. In many cases, you just used old, worn out hardware. ARP changed that with carefully engineered components designed for the task at hand. Those nuts, bolts, and studs not only improved reliability, the pieces also improved performance and ultimately safety.” –Wayne Scraba, OnAllCylinders contributor
#12: Hilborn Fuel Injection
The story behind Hilborn fuel injection reads like a Hollywood documentary about hot rodding. Stu Hilborn got his first taste of racing on the dry lakes of Southern California. He went off to serve his country in World War II and then came home and helped launch the hot rod movement with a new innovation: mechanical fuel injection.
Hilborn’s innovation changed the way people thought about fuel delivery. It featured a unique constant flow design that eliminated the need for a metering pump. This revolutionary design (at the time) allowed Hilborn to become the first hot rodder to break 150 miles-per-hour and helped make fuel injection common vernacular among automotive and racing enthusiasts. Countless rodders, Indy drivers, drag racers, and lakes racers since have used Hilborn fuel injection. Its effect on racing is legendary.
Even today, most any type of stack injection setup is simply referred to as a Hilborn setup!
#11: MSD Ignition
It gave us MSD Ignition—sort of.
The MSD ignition was developed by a group of engineers who were tasked with creating leaner burning fuel systems to improve fuel efficiency. During their research, they discovered that a limiting factor to efficiently burning lean air/fuel mixtures was insufficient spark. The answer was to produce multiple sparks to burn more of the intake charge.
And the multiple spark discharge (MSD) ignition was born.
As it turned out, this multiple spark design aided in performance, too. MSD’s multiple-spark, capacitive discharge design made hotter, more reliable spark that allowed a more efficient burn of an engine’s air/fuel mixture—and more horsepower. MSD ignition boxes even became popular for racing applications.
Nowadays, multiple spark discharge is common on aftermarket ignitions, but this game-changing innovation can be traced back to MSD in 1970.
“Before MSD’s multiple spark boxes, there were other high-energy electronic boxes out there. Some were pitiful when it came to reliability. Some didn’t work at all. But the MSD boxes changed that. Even the idle quality of race cars improved with the multiple spark ignition setups.” –Wayne Scraba, OnAllCylinders contributor
Check back for numbers 6-10 soon.