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Manufacturer’s Performance Packages

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Modern vehicle performance packages started around 1954 as an integrated approach to economically improving vehicle acceleration, braking and handling. Ford’s first approach was their cheap Mainline police sedan that was equipped with a slightly larger displacement Mercury V8 engine with a four barrel carburetor, dual exhausts, and the bigger Mercury brakes. These early cop cars introduced the power pack engines for mainstream buyers who had a voracious appetite for speed and driving thrills. Cheap gasoline helped also. I remember the gas wars where we would drive 25 miles to Flint and fill up the family bus for 18 cents a gallon.

Eventually, all the new safety features and comfort conveniences added more weight and the engines ended up larger and thirstier. In a quest for more power, compression ratios got higher, requiring the use of premium and super premium fuels. These were still based on regular production options or RPO’s, and could be ordered by requesting the correct factory code numbers on the order pad.

The demand for engine and vehicle efficiency got so sophisticated in the late 60’s & early 70’s that the car factories had to resort to COPO’s or Central Office Production Orders to control the disposition of rather factory-built race cars. I remember back in 1968 when a brand new Camaro came off the transport truck and the window sticker on the window said RPO Z-28. Somehow, an attached COPO sheet spelled out a competition intake assembly that was placed in the car trunk in a huge, clear plastic bag. This intake manifold had staggered twin four barrel Holley carbs! It was also common on COPO’s to find four wheel disc brakes, off-road handling suspension and header exhaust, bullet-proof transmissions and extremely high axle ratios, making these cars insanely fast and expensive. Such a vehicle’s cost could double with the added options.

Whew! Until next time,
Sam Slick

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