Sunday, June 17, 2018

Happy Father's Day!

That's my Dad on the right. This picture with his '38 Ford was taken sometime in the late 1940's.
My Dad was always good at saving a buck, so he had a car when his buddies didn't.

A lot of car guys were lucky to have a Dad that inspired their love of cars.

A Father / Son bond.

Not the actual car but a dead ringer.

The first car that I recall clearly was a brand new '59 Chevy Impala two door hardtop. Black with a red interior. Powerglide with a 283 V8. The side emblem fascinated my young mind. Crossed flags with leaping Impala, was this a racing car? No, but I remember my Dad thinking of racing a train to the crossing, but my Mom put a kibosh on that idea.

My Dad never liked the low seats or the way that back window fried the rear seat upholstery. The Impala was traded in on the '64 Pontiac wagon.

The quality of the detailing was quite impressive.

My Dad didn't grow up in a car owning family. He didn't have any experience fiddling with cars during his youth. He only learned about repairing them due to necessity. My parents had been married a few years and had to take a long trip in their used, early 1950's Ford. At some point the red warning light came on. It could have been for low oil pressure or overheating. He wasn't sure what he should do. Instead of stopping and checking the oil level or allowing the motor to cool off, he pressed on instead. Having an infant with them in the car, probably led to this decision also.

When they finally limped into a gas station the engine was ruined. A used engine was sourced from a local wrecking yard and installed. This resulted in a delay of several days and several hundred dollars. My Dad decided that he would never be at the mercy of his ignorance again. He followed the process that he would do for the rest of his life. He got some books and studied the theory of automotive mechanics and repair. Then he acquired some tools and dove in.

My Father was not really a car guy. When younger, he did enjoy his early new car purchases, but his interest was in providing for his family, and cars just became something to be used as transportation. Buying used cars was a way to save money, buying a new car was a needless expense and a luxury that he didn't need. He was a pretty fair mechanic and he kept his older used cars on the road, like he said, he kept a couple around as spares.

Some of these spares were cars that he must have found interesting. A 1955 Chevy Bel Air sedan. A 1959 El Camino, With the sweetest sounding set of dual pipes ever. A 1960 Dodge Seneca coupe? Equipped with a slant six and a three on the tree, it's grunting exhaust note led me to label it "The Pig." And lots of station wagons.

First he tried his luck with a Corvair Greenbrier Van. The memories of thrown fan belts and a family trip to Mexico are burned into my memory.

The first wagon he bought brand new, was a 1964 Pontiac Tempest. It was white with a bright red vinyl interior. With a 326 V8 and auto it seemed a pretty sporty family hauler.

He went used with a 1960 Chevy two door Suburban, the "hillbilly wagon!" This truck was turquoise and white, quite attractive on the outside but surprisingly Spartan within.

The '64 Pontiac stayed around alongside the Suburban but was later replaced by a '67 Chevy Bel Air wagon. Big and cheap!  This was followed by a used '68 Le Mans wagon.

In between these wagons he decided to try a fancy car, probably with my encouragement. He looked at a couple of early 60's Cadillacs but decided to get the light blue '63 Lincoln Continental sedan.

Ignore the guy with the bad hair cut. The Lincoln is behind him.

Then he finally bought a truck. His last brand new vehicle was a '75 Chevy Stepside pick up, black with a red interior. These trucks were the hot set up at the time.

Not a bad looking little rig.

When my Dad passed away there were two '78 Chevy Malibu Classic wagons in his driveway keeping the Stepside company.

It would make a nice story if I had kept the truck and restored it as a tribute to my Father. It could have become a treasured family heirloom. But I didn't. I never really liked that truck, it was just too uncomfortable to drive, and the bed was too small to be useful as an actual hauler. I didn't want it, my brother didn't want it, so he gave it to a mechanic that he knew.

At least it did better than the two wagons, which ended up at Pick and Pull!

My Father was nothing if not consistent. If he wouldn't spend a lot of money on cars, he certainly wouldn't spend a lot of money on buying fancy tools. Looking in his tool box you wouldn't find any Proto or Mac brand tools in there. There were some Craftsman pieces, but most were auto parts store purchases and flea market finds. Actually many flea market finds.

Still, he was successful in his repair endeavors. I learned a lot by watching my Dad work on the fleet. It wasn't like there was any formalized plan of education. My Dad wasn't the kind of guy to force his kids to help him, he would never put himself in a position where he depended or needed his kid's assistance. A lesson that I took to heart. Sometimes I would just hand him tools until I got bored and wandered off. In the manner of most kids I didn't have that much interest in helping him with his problems.

When I got my own motorcycles and cars then I mostly just wanted to use his tools.

My Father was never a car enthusiast as such. But if I look behind the scenes of my automotive history he was always clearly there.

When I was in grammar school he would take my Brother and I to an empty parking lot and let us drive around it! Just like in that Alan Jackson song "Drive." When this song was released my Dad had been gone for several years but I went straight back to the memory of my Dad letting me drive the '64 Pontiac in the parking lot. This song always hit's me straight in the heart.


                                            Video from YouTube. Drive, for Daddy Gene, Alan Jackson

My Dad was also responsible for me learning to ride my first motorcycle, a '65 Honda 50cc. scrambler. After I was busted by the cops driving around the neighborhood, it seemed like a better idea to find an off street site to practice. We would load the Honda in the back of the '68 Pontiac wagon and go to the parking lot next to the old Alameda drive in. He'd bring a book, usually about electronics repair, and sit in a shady spot, while my Brother and I would ride the bike around the lot. That went on for a couple of years.

He never bought me a car or motorcycle outright, but he did take me and my Brother out bike shopping, looking at bikes we found in the classified ads. He also lent me a buck or two when I needed to get something for my machines. I know that he enjoyed seeing the variety of cars and motorcycles that I brought home.

"I am older now, than my Father was, when he was my Dad." I read that somewhat confusing statement in some car mag, and it took me a while to mull it over, and see the realization that was achieved.

During the early parts of my childhood my Dad was only in his early thirties and forties. When I graduated from high school he was barely fifty years of age! We both started our families in our early thirties, at a slightly older age than many. I now realize that my father probably felt many of the same conflicts and burdens of responsibility;  marriage, family and employment that I have experienced.

I'd always thought that he became a family man because he was trapped by the mores and expectations of a post war America. I was quite surprised when my Mom told me that he was actually very happy that he had three sons. I had never even considered that was possible.

But he wasn't one to complain or whine about things, or at least I never got the feeling that he had any issues with his life.  He was a man like Henry Ford. "Never complain, never explain." My Father was a great guy that taught me some important Life lessons, and set a great example.

We never played catch in the evening. Or went on fishing and camping trips. I never engaged in organized sports, with him cheering me on from the sidelines. I was happy to tag along poking around used car lots, with an occasional trip to the wrecking yard or auto parts store. I did learn to fix things though. Cars and motorcycles. Home repairs, plumbing and electrical work. Building fences and other projects from wood. I have become a fix it man.

My Mother died five years before my Dad. It was during this time that I really got to know him and we got as close as we were going to get. We would talk for hours and hours about a surprisingly wide range of subjects.

My Dad  always maintained a certain reserve between us. He was my Father, not my friend. He knew that the strength of our relationship lay in the Father /Son dynamic. I never considered or wanted to see him as an equal, though he recognized that I was an independent adult.

Raising my own family I tried to be the kind of man that he had been. My children will pass their own judgments on my efforts. I hope that they will be able to cut me a little slack on my deficiencies when they make their assessments.

I've tried to pass on what I could.

I know that I've had some success passing on the car guy gene. My oldest Daughter still likes driving a manual transmission. My Son rides a motorcycle and drives a Porsche Boxster. My youngest daughter seems to like her Mustang. Further generations will complete their own story.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Gilding the Lily.

Photo source: ridelust
The Mack is Back!

The urge to personalize their car seems to strike most car enthusiasts. Some accessories are added to "dress up " the machine and others are added to increase the "visual performance" of the car. Some are even added to improve the actual performance of the vehicle! Either way, the idea is to make the car an expression of the owner's taste, (or lack of!). However it is a lot like seasoning your meal, we all have certain favorite flavors and some of us add just a little sprinkle, while others empty a whole container on our enchiladas.

What seasonings we choose to use are a matter of taste, and of our cultural backgrounds, and the reference groups that we identify with. So it is with our automobiles,

photo source: chevy
Does this guy even identify with the planet Earth?

Some modifications and accessories are added to increase the performance in specific areas; handling, acceleration and top speed. Wide tires, jacked up rear ends, spoilers and hood scoops are common street machine additions that were made back in the 1960's and 70's.

Some are added to make the car look more "Deluxe". ( You're So Fancy!) Spotlights, fender skirts, and jeweled mudflaps were the hot set up in the 1940s.  Theses were replaced by the wide white wall tires, wire spoke hubcaps, chrome Rolls Royce type grill covers, padded carriage roofs, and gold trim packages.

This roof treatment still has it's fans.

I'm not planning to go in that direction with my '96 Mustang.

The pinnacle of the SN95 Mustang series modification is probably best exemplified by the Saleen Speedster.

Cool, but oh so '90's!

I'm planning on a lower key look.

I've always thought that this Mustang had a bit of a weak chin and could benefit from a front spoiler or air dam.  There are plenty of body kits available that include new bumper fascias with a deeper air dam. Using the front bumper alone probably wouldn't blend in too well with the rest of the stock styling.

I think that this is the right look.

This is a replica of the front spoiler used on the 2002 Mach One. It helps define that weak chin, it should reduce drag, and it hopefully won't hang low enough to hit on parking stall stops.

This is the Saleen S-351 rear wing. I like the way that it sits lower and extends about six inches past the end of the decklid. It visually widens, lengthens and lowers the rear of the car. I never really cared for the stock or even the Cobra wing. It seemed too high.

I've always thought that my car always rode pretty rough. Some is just to the nature of the car, after all it does have a performance suspension.

Repop Cobra 17 inchers.

When I bought my Mustang it came with a set of chromed 17'' replica Cobra wheels. They weren't bad looking but I thought that they were probably heavier than the OEM wheel would be. I replaced them with this set of OEM 17'' wheels from a 1999 Mustang. I found that they were almost five pounds lighter and for some reason, I just like them better in silver.

Used in 1999.

Many times we will make modifications to our cars without really knowing whether or not the changes are an actual improvement.

Sometimes it doesn't matter. They are just made to satisfy our need to have different cosmetics. Like that Eldo's half landau top. Would a tiger print be an improvement over a leopard print?  Would it really matter? As long as it compliments the overall design aesthetic!

I would have to say that most performance modifications are done to enhance the visual performance of the vehicle.

Oversized tires require more power to turn, sapping power from a stock motor. The increased traction can lead to a new imbalance between over and under steer, not to mention the increase in unsprung weight. Lowering the car can affect the way that the shock absorbers and springs coordinate, resulting in a reduction in overall handing. Not to mention changes to esoteric concepts like roll center. 

Generally a loss of ground clearance will result in the driver having to excessively slow down to negotiate pavement dips, driveways and rough pavement. Where's the performance increase there?

Those mile high, bi plane type rear wings, It's safe to assume that they wouldn't have any beneficial effect at less than race track speeds. I can imagine that they might however make the car less stable in a side wind situation.

There are ways to quantify the amount of improvements from any modifications of course. But do we really want to know?

Improved aerodynamics should result in lowered drag that should improve fuel economy and increase top speed.

Power modifiers should result in lower ets. at the drag strip.

Chassis and suspension improvements should produce lower times on the track, slalom course or autocross circuit.

Do we really want to know?

So much of this modification is done to personalize our machines. If done to a new car it is differentiate it from the hordes of similar or identical vehicles on the street. 

If done to an older car it is meant to put our stamp on the vehicle's design or our vision of how it should have been done the first time. It also displays the commitment and pride that we take in our older car.

You could of course take your car to a drag strip and compare results. A lower ET would indicate more power, better gearing, increased traction, or just better response from the driver.

Taking your car to a track day event or auto cross could provide feedback on handling improvements.

These evaluation methods will cost both money and time. There is an easy method to evaluate aerodynamic improvements though. It's called the "coast down" method. Start out with a base line run to establish the results prior to modifications.

First you have to find a flat, straight, lightly traveled section of roadway. A lightly used county road will serve best. You need to find one with at least a 50 mph. speed limit. 

Accelerate to a steady 50 mph. Then release the throttle, and simultaneously start the stop watch, and allow your car to coast until it reaches 40 mph. Measure this elapsed time. Do this three times and average the results. If you want to be super accurate do the same thing in the opposite direction to account for wind, etc.

My Daughter bought me an old time stopwatch.

Now, any modifications made that could affect the rolling or wind resistance of your car will be reflected in future results.

If the coast down time required increases, then you have reduced the drag factors. If it is shortened, then you have increased the drag factor. In other words the modifications are now slowing you down.

The use of radial tires should reduce rolling resistance and will increase fuel economy. However wider tires may increase rolling resistance and even aero drag if they are now sticking out into the airstream!

An under bumper, front air dam will usually reduce drag. Many stock, non performance cars in the Seventies sported a small air dam behind the front bumper where it was scarcely noticed. This was later combined with a raised rear deck lid to further improve airflow.

Rear spoilers and decklid wings have always been a more controversial subject. When they were introduced in the late 1960s on the GTO Judge, Mercury Eliminator and Z28 Camaros, there wasn't much proof that they did any good on street driven cars. That would change.

This was a most revealing article.

There was a great article in a 1969 issue of Car Life magazine. The staff did an actual test on the efficacy of these add ons. They employed an instrument measured value for vehicle lift, comparing spoilered and un spoilerd configurations. The results were surprising. This subject is well worth pursuing. I will dedicate a future blog entry, along with a link to this fascinating article.

I think that I have wandered off topic in this discussion of aerodynamics. Maybe I'll save a more detailed  discussion for another time. Obviously, this has been a key design element that the OEM manufacturers have paid a lot of attention to.

1970 Plymouth Superbird
OEM efforts were incorporated in a more subtle manner, at least most of the time!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

The case of the haunted Explorer.

image source:

Was it haunted or possessed? My '96 Explorer was a great used car buy, for quite a while. Then it happened.

I would lock the car using the power door lock button as I exited. I would hear all the door locks click. Then I would return overnight, or just a short time later, and find the doors were all unlocked!

How could that be happening? I couldn't be accidentally activating the keyless system since I only had one working fob, and my Wife used that one. I wondered if one of my neighbors had a remote keyless entry device with a similar frequency. Perhaps when they activated their's it would open up my car's locks. But how could that be? My Explorer is a '96 model, all my neighbors drive much newer cars that are only a couple of years old. I couldn't imagine that the frequencies could be that close.

Then I came up with the theory that someone's TV remote might be doing the same thing. But my car was parked in the street at the curb. I was pretty certain that I couldn't control my TV while standing outside the house in the street!

Maybe it's due to being activated by someone's cell phone use. That theory was also flawed, since it had started happening after I'd had the car about a year and cell phones have been everywhere for years.

I'd just got used to the fact that I never knew when I would come back and find the car unlocked, so I just didn't keep any valuables in it. It's an old car so I hope any potential thief would be tempted instead by my neighbor's hybrid and electric cars. I just hoped that I didn't end up finding some homeless guy curled up asleep in the cargo area.

Whenever I drove my other cars I would pass the Explorer cruising slowly by, looking for the tell tale raised door lock button!

I had plans to do something about it, of course. I figured that I could disconnect the door lock motors and then even if the remote "wanted" to unlock the door, it's plan would be foiled. Naturally I hadn't gotten around to it yet. I didn't relish the thought of pulling all those door panels.

It was all kind of weird, like the car had a mind of it's own. There were times when I locked the door and walked away and I could hear the doors unlocking as I crossed the street! I would go back and relock them, and sometimes they would unlock again and sometimes I would return the next morning and find them secure.

It was very disconcerting to think that my car had a mind of it's own!

Were the door locks just the beginning?

Sometimes I could hear the locking/unlocking cycle go on several times, and I would just ignore it.

I did an online search and found that this problem was not uncommon. One guy took his car to the dealer, but of course the problem didn't manifest itself. The dealer told him that he might have activated the keyless system by accident or something in his pocket might have pressed the button. That guy returned another time to the dealer, who again couldn't duplicate the problem. He subtly suggested that the problem might all be in his head!

Luckily they went for a ride together and the dealer saw the locks go into a cycle where they were locking and unlocking themselves.

My problem reached a point where I found that the battery was dead one morning. Now it could just have been sudden, without warning, battery failure. I have noticed that this is now the normal mode of failure. I remember back in the day, that the batteries would go dead when asked to play the radio for a long time with the motor off, or they would start to crank the motor over slowly.

I checked the battery with my multimeter and found that it was dead. I jumped it and ran the car for awhile. I found that the charging system was putting out enough juice. So I parked the car and disconnected the battery cable.

I returned from a ten day vacation and tested the battery when I got back. It still held over twelve volts. When I reconnected the cable the car started fine. I decided that the car must have gone into an extended locking/unlocking cycle that eventually ran the battery down.

I had found a video showing how to replace the keyless remote receiving unit on YouTube. I plan to disconnect the unit and see if that will prevent the system from unlocking the doors. I will have to remove the inner quarter panel cover to access the module, so I deviseded a temporary plan.

I hadn't used one of these in years! 
Much easier than constantly disconnecting the terminal clamp.

I installed a manual battery disconnect knob on the negative terminal. Whenever I park the car for a long period I will pop the hood, lock the power locks, then open the hood and disconnect the battery. Now the car can't unlock itself!

This isn't a bad idea, although I don't expect that my Wife will want to go through this process, but it will help me to cope in the near future until I have some time to fuss with the module. I can also use this period to monitor the health of the battery as in how well is it holding a charge.

Besides I've got three quarters of a tank of gas in the tank I need to use up!

Monday, May 28, 2018

Biting off more than you can chew? Nah!

photo source: MoneyBlitz.TV

Delusions of grandeur? Maybe.

My Mustang sat around for around five months while I tried to convince myself that it couldn't really be the manifold, again. Then I bit the bullet and swapped the manifold, all hoses, and the serpentine belt. All that only ran a bit under four bills.

My Daughter's car needed a new set of tires. I couldn't swing another set of Bridgestone Turanzas, so I went with the same Falkens that I put on my '96. Not as bad a bill as I feared, but with the alignment it still was more than six hundred bucks.

It's been quite expensive taking care of my daily fleet. The truck needed new front brakes, and of course these are integral with the front hub. A new set of Hankook tires, a front end alignment and the bill came out to a bit over a grand. I wouldn't budge on my choice of Hankooks. These are the OE tire and the truck has always handled, steered, and rode quietly and smoothly. All these factors make the truck a delight to drive. I couldn't take a chance on losing THAT.

My Mark VII still needs me to pull the rest of the wheel cylinders off. My regular cars have needed more attention lately, so it just sits.

The XJS needs that front suspension to come apart. After the transmission replacement, things have come to a stop. It has not achieved daily driver status yet, but I do drive it occasionally.

My XJ6 front suspension could use the same attention. Come to think about it it's been at least six months since it's been in the driving rotation. Maybe I should finish making that spring compressor!

There must have been some kind of logical reasoning behind my decision to acquire all these cars.

I do have a reason that seemed logical to me, at least at the time.

Well maybe not logical, but with strong emotional appeal. It made plenty of sense to the irrational side of my brain.

Maybe even heroic.

I remember seeing this movie as a kid.

Who wouldn't want to be the hero of their own adventure? I did when I was eight years old, and I still do at my age! Who doesn't  think that they would leap at the chance to join this courageous crew on their challenging odyssey?

You've got to define your own narrative to be your own hero. Battling harpies, giant animated statues and risking the wrath of Poseidon. All to secure the Golden Fleece. Could it get any better?

That particular opportunity probably isn't going to make itself available anytime soon.

I've mentioned the magazine "Where Women Create." before. Browsing through this magazine always fills me a feeling of envy, these women are doing what they want to do. They found a way to fulfill their dream and actually run their passion as a business. After reading their stories I'm usually filled with a spirit of inspiration, like when I first started this blog.

There was an article in a recent issue of Jaguar World about a gent has been collecting for 41 years. He has amassed a collection of over twenty cars, some pretty darn good ones too.

There are two times when it makes sense to buy the old cars that you find interesting.

First, when you are young and dumb and the cars are cheap. This is a period when most people, your family, spouse, and friends will think that you are sort of "peculiar." You will usually end up hogging all the extra parking spots on your street which will not please your neighbors. Eventually calls will be made to the "parking authority" and tickets and notices will accumulate, and the herd will be thinned.

Second, when you are older and a bit more affluent, and you realize that you are running out of time. I have never tried to recapture the feeling of my high school years. Maybe because they weren't very good the first time around.

photo source"
Gotta keep all those balls in the air.

So I took the dive to start acquiring some cars that are desirable to me. Was this the best time to do this? Did I have the space, money and energy to take on this task? Maybe not, but for one thing, there is no time like the present. And for a guy my age, all I've got left is the present.

For another thing, these cars are about as cheap as they are going to get for a decent example. I've seen so many cars that I've owned in the past start to climb on the value ladder. Those Sixties Rivieras, Fifties Cadillacs, even those Seventies Datsun Z cars have exited the Bargain Basement for the "Big Time."

So my hands are quite full and it is taking a juggling act to hold onto what I've got, and to make some progress with my project herd.

I've mentioned a story that appeared in the July 2015 issue of Hot Rod magazine. Here's a link to that story

Just like those Ladies in "Where women Create" Dan built a home for his passion. No excuses, just action, So what's holding US back?

Compared to that shed, my two car garage looks almost like one of those Garage Mahals.

This article really lit a fire under me. I realized that the time is now. If I didn't reach for that Golden Fleece I was just going to sail on by into a sea of mediocrity. (Enough of the Argonaut imagery!)

For most of us there is always the lack of something; time, money, space, knowledge, or probably most deadly, enthusiasm. In Pirsig's book, "Zen and the art of motorcycle Maintenance", he refers to this as the "gumption trap."

This is a situation where something has to be done for work to continue, things are now coming to a standstill, work is grinding to a stop... And we still just can't bring ourselves to deal with it.

Pirsig liked that term "gumption." It has a good old fashioned ring to it, something that our Grand Daddy would say.  I might define it as energy, combined with determination and most importantly, action. It can be in short supply at times in the old car game. Really, in every aspect of our lives.

Somehow we've got to recharge our "enthusiasm batteries", how can we do that?

If we have a group of friends that share our interests, we can feel our batteries recharging as we discuss our project. Maybe even one or two of them can drop by and lend a hand.

We can go to a car show. This can backfire if it leads to despair that your car will never  look as good as those that are there on display. If the owner is the builder, he can tell about his own struggles in moving the project along.

Back in the day, we would read car magazines to get that jolt of enthusiasm. I've always maintained that this has always been what enthusiast magazines were for.

Now we can watch videos like Petrolicious, that can help restart the fire. But be careful, You know that you can waste hours down that rabbit hole.

Or we can work that overtime to afford the new parts that we need.

Or list those extra parts on CL, and sell them to raise a little extra money

Or we could just go down to the garage and start turning wrenches! In "Boy Gets Car" Woody realizes that his friends are not going to help him with his car, so he finally drags himself down to the garage and fixes those brakes. A life lesson for all of us.

Sometimes, you just have to do the work.

Sometimes we find ourselves in a prison of our own making. It only becomes a prison if we let it reduce us to inaction.

Chew your way out of that "gumption trap!"

photo source:Quickmeme

Have a happy Memorial Day weekend.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Easy Rider. Get your motor running!

Born to be Wild.
Maybe I wasn't, but that didn't stop my dreaming.

This movie connected with me in a special way. It combined my yearning for freedom and adventure with my love of motorcycles. With a splash of youthful rebelliousness.

Especially my love of Harley Davidsons. Though I was happily riding a Honda, I knew that I needed to have an HD to express the degree of my motorcycling commitment. I needed something that would identify me as a real rider. I knew that life changing day would inevitably come.

It doesn't look like a textbook.

It doesn't look like a Bible.

Reading Choppers and Big Bike magazine was where I got my education in Harley Davidson and the hard core biker lifestyle. Easy Riders came along quite a few years later. Their articles and features were written from the view point of the lifer biker, not the poser.

Street Chopper took a more middle class approach to the subject.

It was never about the illegal, drug fueled adventures of Capt. America and Billy, it was the fact that they actually rode`those bikes a very long, long, way. Even if they didn't find what they thought they were looking for.

Even at the beginning, when I first started riding motorcycles, it was always about going somewhere. The further the better. I remember riding my Honda 50 up a hill that was so steep and so long, that it just couldn't go any further. The motor stalled and I was forced to turn it around and go back downhill. I knew that some day, and it would be someday soon, I would have a motorcycle that would be able to crest that hill and deliver me to the Promised Land on the other side.

A year later I had my Honda 160, which was still kind of small, but was big enough to conquer that hill and even venture onto the freeway. Everything was going to be different from now on.

The desire to own one of those custom choppers was shared by multitudes of young American riders who modified their own Hondas and Kawasakis into some semblance of Billy and Captain America's chopped Panheads.

I've posted my experiment with my Honda 305, and later with my Harley Sportster. But it was always about riding. I have modified many of my motorcycles over the years, but it was always with the idea of making them perform better on the road. Cafe racer or dragster type performance was never the goal. On the other hand, a full dress touring bike was never in my sights.  I wanted something that was more like the horse of a wandering cowboy, a faithful mount that could carry me anywhere, without looking like a two wheeled Winnebago.

My fascination with the Harley Davidson became something of an obsession. I was attracted by the mystique of the marque. The history and exclusivity. At this time there weren't any other companies building a big V twin. The Japanese were years away from their initial foray into the V twin cruiser genre. Their initial offering were, to put it mildly, laughable at best. The resurrection of the Indian brand was even further off in the horizon at the time.

To be a real biker, you needed to ride a Harley. As Chris Bunch once wrote "There's nothing wrong with a Triumph that giving it your old lady, and buying a Hog can't fix."

This book was not what I expected.

My longing to experience the freedom of the road was shared by my whole generation. It manifested itself through literature and song.

Robert Pirsig's book is about a lot of things, and well worth reading. Those who have never read it might assume that it explains how riding a motorcycle would transport you into a "Zen like" state of consciousness. You could take that away from it. Riding puts you in the here and now, in the immediacy of the moment. The experience is the whole point.

I have written about my own adventures on the road and how the fire was fueled by the social milieu. It's easy to reference my feelings back to TV shows like "Route 66" and "Then came Bronson." Maybe even "The littlest Hobo." (Now that's an obscure allusion!)

Looking back, it is easy to say that it was all period of romantic delusion. The concept of experiencing real freedom on the road, in the saddle of powerful machine was just an illusion. Maybe it was all just a waste of time, maybe everyone, even myself, were just fooling ourselves. Maybe, but you had to be there to know.

A nice video, but this wasn't made by me. 

We all wanted to live that life. Maybe some of us did.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Jack Olsen's 12 gauge garage, have you experienced it?

All photos from his website.

photo source: 12 gauge

Very tidy.

That is a nice table.

It does look like a '60s machine shop.

A sink would come in handy.

If this place isn't a dream, what is?

Organization really matters.

What makes this garage extraordinary certainly isn't it's size. It's on the small side even for a detached, back of the lot, two car garage. It's the creativity, thought, and work that has gone into it. It holds his hobby car, a Porsche 911 and the other half is for working and fabricating. That Porsche is a good choice of a car to form a long term relationship with.

Those back of the lot garages come with a long driveway that runs alongside the house. Usually you can park three cars or more in the driveway. A gate can close access off from the street and provide some security for your cars that are parked outside.

You can pack a lot of yard into a small lot if you try. My Grandparents house in Berkeley had the driveway run alongside the right side of the house where it ended in a two car garage. One side was for parking a single vehicle. The other side of the building held a wood and fix it shop. With a work bench and shelves and it's own entry door. I recall my Uncle's 1949 Cadillac being in that garage. The shop seemed spacious to me at the time, but I was really a little kid when I formed my first impressions of  it. A narrow walkway led from the sidewalk past the side door and continued into the backyard. Immediately behind the house was a rose and flower garden. A concrete path separated that from the well tended and organized vegetable garden that my Grandfather had planted alongside the garage. That garden had it's own well and water tank! It looked like a miniature water tower. Behind the garage was a fenced off area that contained several cacti and a maguey plant.

How did they fit all that, plus a three bedroom house and front yard in such a small area? Most lots in that area were the standard 50 ft. across and 100 to 125 ft deep rectangular designs.

Not my actual Grandparents house but a typical set up.

For one thing it probably only seemed big in my recollections. I was in high school when my Grandparents moved out of that house. I hadn't spent much time in the backyard or garage once I got older. I went past it about ten years ago. Wow, did it seem tiny! Everything was just a lot closer together than I remembered.

Some set ups open into an alley that runs along the back. This can give you a bigger yard but your garage is more exposed to intrusion since a thief can park behind your house in the alley and break into the garage without you seeing him. Also alleys are public spaces and who knows whats going on back there?

Back in the day (early 1980's) I probably only lived about 35 miles away from Jack Olsen's garage. The house I was renting had a two car garage in the back. It had a sliding door that was kind of inconvenient and narrow to put my car in. But it was fine for my two motorcycles.

The back of the lot set up has some real advantages. Mine had a two car wide concrete apron to park on. You could work on your car away from street view and your open garage door was not exposed to passing traffic. You had to be good in backing down that long driveway, My Wife would park the car just outside the side door of the house. Our house had the lawn about three feet higher than the sidewalk, with concrete walls bordering the driveway and a short run of stairs from the sidewalk to climb up into the front yard.

Backing out meant avoiding scraping those walls, looking out for pedestrians and kids on bikes, and then finally sticking the rear of the car into a pretty busy four lane street. My Wife did that all the time back then, I know she wouldn't do that now.

I like Jack's garage. Check out his website. If he can do it, maybe we can too.

My own plan is to usually be able to park two cars inside. I want to find a way to arrange my tools and equipment so that, that will be possible. If a big project is planned I can leave one car in the driveway and have more room to work inside. Progress is slow but I am patient. At least my '96 Mustang is back in service. I had the garage available to do the suspension work, but I had to do the manifold replacement in the driveway.

There was an inspiring story in the July 2015 issue of Hot Rod magazine.  It was about a guy that found his ideal house, fifteen years ago, but it didn't have any garage at all. Now that didn't stop Dave Baur at all. He erected a heavy duty tent right alongside the house, ran a heavy extension cord into the tent for light,and started building. The first build that he accomplished in that tent was a chopped 1950 Mercury. He did it all there, including paint! He used this tent for several years until a particularly heavy snowfall caused it to collapse, right on top of his car!

He figured that it was about time that he put up a more permanent shop, so he built a 24'x14' wooden "shed." Space is tight, but none goes to waste. He can squeeze both of his hot rods in the shop, but it looks like he can only work on one at time inside.

It is actually almost as wide as a typical two car garage.

My first house had an attached single car garage and it was tighter than this, with a car inside. I usually kept the cars outside in the driveway, but it was great for my two motorcycles. My current house has the usual attached two car garage, which also has the water heater, furnace, and laundry inside. Really pretty typical of suburban ranchers. I used to keep my Riviera, and even a car as large as my '56 Cadillac in there next to my Wife's car.

You can do a lot in a two car garage but you have to keep it free of household storage and clutter. That seems to be the greatest challenge in achieving the goal of a "car hobby oriented" workspace. Luckily my spouse is very supportive of my dream.

Two hot rods will barely fit.

Dave maximizes the utility of his workspace.

Steady efforts yields great results.

Dave says, "Anything that I can order from a catalog I can build in my shop!"

Jack Olsen's garage is amazing, but Dave's shed is truly inspirational. What car nut wouldn't want a shop just for our cars?

Friday, May 4, 2018

Hot Rod magazine, Is the Renaissance over?

A bold claim, not easy to keep.
Have they kept their promise?

I've been reading Hot Rod Magazine for almost fifty years. In the beginning I was hungry and eager to read anything about cars. A few years ago, my brother in law gave me his twenty year collection of Hot Rod magazine. It was fun to look through the collection and find those issues that I had read when they were new. Hot Rod is the original high performance car magazine, started by Robert E. Petersen. Since then the field has become swollen with niche choices, many were started by the Petersen publishing company itself. Hot Rod remained as "everyone's automotive magazine."

Over the years I found that the magazine had less and less relevance to my interests. Some of this was due to my changing interests and some was due to their emphasis on drag racing, and drag race style modifications. While I like fast cars, the automotive experiences that I enjoy have to last much longer than a quarter mile. Truthfully this makes me "tune out" from much of the magazine's editorial content.

Okay Dom, Let's agree to disagree.

A common technical article was "Swapping out your SBC cam."  I have never swapped out a cam in any vehicle. Why take out a perfectly good cam? Engine modifications to produce more horsepower is the basic premise of the magazine. This is their basic bread and butter. Lately the articles have had very good dyno comparisons between competing set ups.

I will admit it's been awhile.

Street freaks, (how I hated street freaks!) Well, they don't really feature these extremely made over vehicles very often anymore.  These cars usually featured big wheels and injection stacks or blowers protruding through the hood. In my eyes nothing should ever poke through the hood except a Mustang's shaker hood set up. A parachute bolted to the rear bumper always made a nice touch.

While they haven't been featured in awhile, they did feature that bubble top custom Gasser a couple of years back. Gassers are those cars that feature that distinctive raised solid axle front suspension. They are usually jacked up in the back too. These modifications were commonly used on drag strip only machines but I guess the styling strikes a visceral chord with many readers.

Yeah, that would be a gasser.
Maybe I was wrong about that Street Freak thing, this wasn't that long ago!

I also quickly got the idea that whenever the term "wild" was used, it was a  signal that the subject would be something that I would have little interest in. Maybe I'm just an old man.

One of their best recent issues.

This "Speedmetal" issue was brilliant and one of the best in recent times. That '57 Chevy's exquisite fabrication is detailed in fascinating photography. There is a great article on new methods of fabrication, famous contemporary fabricators and a story recommending the best tools to help you build "anything you want," This was my most favorite issue since the rebirth. The downside has been that they shrunk the physical size of the magazine down a bit. To me it just makes the whole enterprise feel a bit cheaper.

She isn't necessary but doesn't hurt.

Don't be distracted by the nice girl on the cover. Inside there is great coverage of some amazing garages. Jack Olsen's 12 gauge garage is featured. This was my first exposure to it. Very inspiring. It was almost as inspiring as the guy that was building cars in a big tent next to his house. Then he built a small garage and kept on going. That made me decide to go for it. If he could do it, why couldn't I? Buy what I could, hold onto it and fix it as I could afford. I'm still trying to make that work!

What a great photo.

Driving two hot rod Chevys' through the rigors of downtown Manhattan, now that's different! It seems that most cars like this are only driven to a local cruise night. Not stuck idling in traffic. A pretty good story.

There are those interviews with famous people in the automotive world. These are often quite good. The conversation with Ray Brock was quite memorable.

Hot Rod to the rescue!

This has been a very worthwhile addition to the magazine.

This guy pieced together an EFI system.
It would have been easier to take everything from a single donor.

This guy has thrown together an odd cam, old heads, poor carb,
bad ignition, sloppy tune and of course it runs like crap

This is a feature where a modified car with intractable problems is examined by an expert tuner and finally sorted out. So many cars are modified and the results are not exactly satisfying to the builder/owner. Over heating, rough running. flat spots, vibrations, lack of power, problems with clutch engagement and chatter, drivetrain vibrations and more, often plague the home builder. Lack of driveability after assembly is a common problem. Automotive engines may seem simple, but they are designed as a complete system.  Random modifications can throw the whole thing out of whack.

It's amazing how many home builders will put up with annoying problems and shortcomings. Many times these cars are just sidelined and somewhat ignored, sometimes even for years.

I find this to be the most interesting department of the magazine. Actually having to carefully diagnose a problem, and then logically address the issues to fix it, is challenging and interesting. You can learn a lot about thoughtful and careful mechanical work here.

Freiberger Run Amok!

Not really my cup of tea.

I loved ol' Freiberger when he was the editor of Car Craft, he lead that magazine in a direction that made the reader feel like he was a part of a car building community. But his Roadkill stuff just strikes me as kind of silly. Throwing some junk together, half assed, and then hammering on it until it breaks, is just dumb. I don't care how cheap and sorry my stuff is, I never abuse it, to try to break it.

More of the same, Do something crazy, sure sounds like good advice to me.

I might be a little rough on this concept, but I do realize that you have to shake up the establishment sometimes.

Daily Driver Diaries. 

Elena Sherr is a "typical car guy." Even if she's not.

One "kind of glamour" shot.

On the other hand, Elena Sherr was the inspiration and encouragement for me starting this blog.  I figured if she could write a monthly column, then I should be able to come up with enough material for a weekly column. Her column is just about daily life with her little fleet of cars. Her big Dodge Polara, Challenger, and little Opel GT. What it's like to drive a big old car without a/c in L.A. traffic. About letting little things go, and postponing  repairs until it becomes a pressing need. Pretty much what life is like for most of us in the hobby. She writes in a very familiar and comfortable tone.

Others not so glamorous.

I guess that it seems that I have forgotten to mention any of the feature cars. That's not a mistake. For the most part, most have been pretty forgettable. That first car featured, the silver mid-engined Mustang. Now that was something to ponder. It was a very impressive collage of imagination, engineering and construction.

Wouldn't this get your attention if it showed up in your rear view mirror?

That photo above is from an article  from quite a few years ago. It was all about building a high speed, over the highway competition machine. What could be better than a Dodge Charger? These over the road events occurred in Nevada, at the Silver State Classic and the Maxton Mile in Ohio, and the cars are set up to run at very high speeds. This Dodge displayed  the coolest NASCAR vibe. but is fully street legal. ( I wouldn't be surprised if this was the inspiration for building a custom grill for my '70 Mustang) There was another article about cars set up to be canyon running, road warriors. Now that's more like it!

My personal preference has always been for over the road traveling vehicles. Something that you could take on a long, high speed trip and travel in comfort and safety. My modified motorcycles have always conformed to this style.  I wouldn't modify a car in a manner that would decrease it's roadability and ultimate practicality. Of course, I'm the guy that drove a ground scraping old Riviera on a family vacation, so there's a lot of room for interpretation in my Credo!

Okay, They do get it sometimes!

I may seem that I'm just  taking random potshots at the magazine content, but you have to read it consistently to have an opinion. I have read it consistently, and there is a lot that is good. I even found that I had "accidentally" agreed to sign up for an additional three year subscription. I called the company to find out exactly how that happened. They agreed that I could cancel the subscription if I wished, but I declined. What the hell, it's not that bad! And subscriptions are amazingly cheap!

I'll admit that I do like the presentation of a higher line magazine like Octane, although most of what is presented is way out of my league. Still, Octane allows me to view an alternate automotive enthusiast universe. Some of my appreciation may be due to my now more "mature status".

I mentioned Car Craft magazine earlier. For several years I found that it's content was more attuned to my interests. I think it was because the age range of the vehicles was more compatible with my interest. Primarily cars from the 1960s and 1970s. I left Car Craft to go back to Hot Rod, but at least I kept it in the family.

In writing this overview I've come to realize that Hot Rod magazine is still pretty much what it always has been. Sometimes inspired, sometimes insipid. Mostly consistent. It just depends upon my viewpoint, which has changed markedly over a span of many years, a half a Century, in fact. My preferences and changing tastes should not dictate their editorial direction and coverage. Especially since I've never even written them a letter to the editor voicing my concerns!

I guess I'm lucky that I don't have to read a review of my blog site. I'm sure that I've fallen short of some of my objectives. But I do post consistently every week!