Sunday, October 30, 2016

Getting down to business. Hobby car projects are like sharks, they either move forward , or they die. While I've had a lot of fun talking the talk it's time to walk the walk.

photo source: white shark

I'm going to be doing what I had advised against, renting a storage unit to get the junk out of my garage. Then I will have enough room to work on my car. There was a time when I used to be able to work in my garage but somehow I let the garage get filled up with my Wife's artsy stuff. I was looking for one of those "one dollar the first month" move in specials. I've got lots of experience with these, we moved my Wife's stuff every couple of months to take advantage of these deals. I know a car part vendor who told me that this was his whole business plan.

You know that you can't beat working in a garage, especially your own. Sometimes you can use your parents or grandparents garage for awhile, but it depends on how far you have to go. Back in the days when I was renting my shop I had plenty of room to work. The shop was almost an half an hour away. This was a great workspace but the business ended up being a huge money pit. Maybe someday I'll share that experience. Back to the topic at hand... At home you can use any small amount of time to work on your car. Especially if you can leave it up on jack stands, partially dis assembled during the process. One piece of advice that I read on the H.A.M.B. (Hokey Ass Message Board) was this: To complete a long range project, try to do something on your car everyday. Good advice.

My main goal is to swap out the transmission in my XJS. I do have another plan, to fix what's wrong with the front suspension of my '96 Mustang, probably the ball joints. I need to check a few things on the XJ6 too.

I've got mostly all the tools that I need. I recently bought a new jack at Harbor Freight tools. I'm thinking of getting a couple of pairs of wheel ramps. I can jack up the car, place it on the ramps and gain more room underneath to move around. I've got to buy an engine support bar. This straddles the under hood opening and will hold up the motor when I remove the transmission. These are commonly used with front wheel drive powertrains. I used to just put jackstands under the motor, but this will again give me more room to work underneath. We'll see. It all depends on how high I can raise the car, I may even have to build some wooden platforms to place under the ramps to gain more height. I will have to rent a transmission jack too, having a 200lbs transmission fall in your lap isn't much fun, Don't ask me how I know! When I pulled the tranny from my '56 Cadillac I had to put a three inch platform under the jackstands to achieve enough height to remove the transmission.

I've got to clear out the garage and see how well the car will fit in there. I think that I probably have to remove my workbench. I'm getting my lighting situation squared away. I got a new Craftsmen pull down power cord which I put up to replace my old J.C. Whitney unit. As you enter your "Golden Years" good lighting is really important.

Today I start clearing out the garage. And it is raining.

Luckily I have a truck. I bought this specifically for my parts business so I bought a full size long bed F150. During this model run Ford decided to give all their truck models an "Access Cab". This is an 18 in. storage compartment behind the eats accessed by a couple of clamshell doors. This is handy to stow things hidden under lock and key and it even more importantly, allows longer seat travel and the ability to tilt the seats back. It's got the base V6 and it'd been enough for almost every task. Except for pulling my XJS home on a trailer going up Cuesta Grade near Paso Robles. Still it made it, and that's all that counts.

It aint pretty but it works.
Cheap, crude and easy, pick all three.

I built this "poor man's" rack for the bed. The roll away metal tonneau cover rails cover the stake bed holes. I made this knock down rack out of 2x4s with some metal joist connectors. It has served me well for almost ten years. The best part is that it fits down in the bed and is not directly connected to the truck. I built it for my '07 but I also used it in my '66 F250. It was cheap and easy to build, and can be tailored to your specific needs. I may even get around to painting it one of these days. I think that it is worthy of a later "how to build it" post.

I just read on my Jaguar Forum (Jaguar that a local member just bought a couple of rough XJ6 coupes. He and his buddy have erected some kind of heavy duty, tent like structure to house the car while they work on it. Can't wait to see pictures of that!

Cue the theme music from "Sanford and Son!"

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The big cat takes cover to ensure it's survival. A wild animal knows that when it is sick or injured the best strategy is to lay low. Even a king predator knows when it's best to hide out for awhile.

There are so many things going on at my house with my automotive fleet. Last post I shared how I bought an old Ford Explorer. My Daughter needed a vehicle so that she can do her craft sales events. She needs to be self contained, carry her stuff and set it up. She has started to be really busy with this, and while I will always lend a hand when needed, it's time for her to pull her weight with her business. This Explorer is supposed to replace my '96 Mustang. I thought that the Mustang would sell quickly, but it's been on Craig's List for several weeks with a couple of weak nibbles. That means that I now own six vehicles! I have to clear out some room so that I could bring the Explorer home.

Luckily there is a 10ft. sideyard alongside my garage. It is accessible from my driveway. I made a big gate to gain access years ago when I picked up a free 240Z from the owner of a local gas station. Since then it has been the home of a '75 280z that I bought for my son, along with a '22 Dodge hot rod project,( two cars at the same time!) a '78 280zx Turbo, and now my poor old XJS. The cars are completely hidden from street view and I'm still able to get past them as well as keep the garbage and recycling cans there.

I had already moved some items from the garage to the sideyard and there was stuff waiting to go to the dump and to be donated. I moved a whole bunch of old windows to a spot in the backyard. A trip to the dump got rid of a bunch of stuff and I had my sideyard clear.

The engine in my XJS runs fine, but the transmission slips in drive. First gear and reverse work and I can move the car when needed. I moved the car into the side yard and freed up a spot in my driveway. With the Explorer parked there I just have the normal four cars in front. Normal in who's mind?

I haven't even mentioned my F150. I used to keep it parked three blocks away on a very wide street where the houses did not face the curb. Now, I do use the truck occasionally, usually once every week or so. I had been busy and out of town and it probably did sit there for over two weeks. It was really dirty. I used it all day one Friday and parked it back at the same spot. I really had thought about getting it washed, but I just didn't have the time. On Saturday morning I went to get the truck and found that it had been red tagged. Why was it tagged? There were other cars on the street that were equally dirty? I'm guessing that someone called and complained about my truck, it certainly did look abandoned, even though it is a later model and the plates are current. I think the PEO (parking enforcement officer) ran the license number and found that it didn't return to either nearby street. They figured that an unused car was being stored on the street, which it kind of was. Aren't all cars parked at the curb technically "unused?" The problem is that once the PEO has spotted a violation they will have you on their radar. I once got three parking tickets at once for my cars parked at my house. I had my cars parked two deep in my driveway, technically blocking the side walk. Okay, that was true, but I wasn't the only person doing that. I had also parked my truck nose in, at the curb in front of my house. It was clearly visible to anyone driving by the court.There was space at the curb across the street, but I just went in with the intention of talking to my wife for a minute. Well about 15 or 20 minutes later I went outside and found a citation on my truck. Then I noticed a cite on two of my cars in the driveway. Jeez, we are talking about 150.00 in fines I accumulated in fifteen minutes! Boy did that sting. But to be honest they were righteous tickets. I had violated both statutes. I wasn't planning to get burned again. I always wondered if one of my neighbors had called in a complaint. There had been a bit of an issue with a new neighbor that had been causing a parking problem. I had never complained on them, but maybe they thought I had, and this was payback. I became very paranoid and very careful on how I parked.

Now I had a dilemma, even if I used the truck and parked it there again, how would the PEO know that I had been using it? The tag said that there was not a requirement to re- tag the vehicle before it was towed. So I ran the truck through the car wash and parked it two blocks further away. This was getting a bit ridiculous. The reason I chose to park on that street is because I thought that it was safer. There is plenty of parking along the street at the end of my cul de sac, but the street is narrow and drivers using it seem to go mighty fast. Well, that is where I'm parking my truck for now. Just ahead of three cars that have been sitting there covered with dirt for quite a while!

I have not moved very fast in fixing my XJS. I have been wondering if I really need this car. It isn't a very practical car, but probably no worse than one of my Mustangs. I wrote in a very hyperbolic fashion  awhile ago of how much I wanted to own this car. It is a fantastic car, a near exotic. I actually like it better than an XK8, which I have thought about replacing it with. I know that I would regret selling this car. It is in pretty good shape, and I don't have very much money tied up in it. I wouldn't get much for selling it, provided I could even find a buyer. I really do believe that these cars are going to start going up in value, eventually. I just need to hold onto it for a while. That's all. And that is enough. Isn't it?

I just went to seek out a machine shop in Santa Clara that was mentioned on the Occhio Longo web site. It specializes in working on antique, as in one hundred year old, motorcycles. The owner, Tom, showed me the Excelsior V-twin that he had owned for around forty years. It was his first antique bike. The bike has been restored for years. He has ridden it in many meets and runs over the years. He told me that it was weathered, worn, and partially dis-assembled when he found it. He was a little short on cash to make the purchase and the "Bank of Mom" helped him seal the deal. How many of us had a Mom or Dad who would step up so that we could realize our dream? Luckily I did too.

I think this is the same bike. How many of these are around?

He had a bunch of antique motorcycles and a few antique cars sprinkled in. This is a fully equipped machine shop and there were partially disassembled engine parts being machined.  Wow! what  a place. Still I know that you have to bring in enough money to keep the enterprise running. I really don't have any illusions about business. I am trying to make a connection to the antique bike community. I hope to attend some of the local events. It appears that the price levels of these antique machines has risen from  the the mid twenty thousand mark to much higher. Maybe an unrestored bike might be reasonably affordable? Maybe. I don't know if there are any barn finds left to be found.

Faded and unpainted, Nothing hidden here!
Speaking of great finds, this car just came up on Craig's List, again. It's a 1954 Jaguar Mark VII. A manual transmission car that is running and driving, according to the seller. He drove it from Riverside County to the Palmdale area. The car appears nice and straight. but it needs "complete restoration". The seller reports that it doesn't have any big rust problems. I have contacted the seller and he really needs to sell the car. He told me to make a serious offer. He would really like to sell the car to someone who would appreciate the car and restore it. Like me. He said that he has been contacted by a couple of parties that want him to part out the car, or would buy it to use for parts. The motor and manual transmission are basically the same as those used in the XK140 which is the Mark VII's contemporary sibling. This is my opportunity to buy into the history, romance and adventure of the Classic Jaguar XK experience. This is as close as I'm ever going to get! The XK140s prices are into the stratosphere already. Mark VII's are not very high priced at this time. This will lead to most of these cars being parted out instead of being restored. I've seen pretty nice older restorations selling for around twenty grand, decent looking, running project cars for way less than ten grand. I'm thinking that I could get this car for around two grand, my favorite sweet spot for car purchases. It would be easier if I could sell that darn Mustang! I've started laying out the groundwork, dropping hints to my wife. I showed her a restored example at the Clovis British car show. I showed her  some photos in a nice picture history book of Jaguar cars. She has been supportive and understanding. She does think that it is kind of crazy to buy another car. I know that it is crazy to try to buy another project car, where would I put it? Still, I could acquire another affordable Classic right now, when it is still affordable! I guess that is how a working guy accumulates his collection. I don't have much money tied up in my old cars, I have much more square footage of parking space invested!  There were lots of guys buying cheap muscle cars that they held onto until they could afford to fix them up. Values rose and that crazy idea didn't seem so crazy, after all.  I don't really want an entire stable of cars, but a couple would be nice. Maybe I'll just do it. Maybe I can find a way to live the automotive "Vida Loca!"

Man, I really want this car!
So the lesson to be learned is that if you acquire a great find, hold onto it! Even if you don't have the time, money, or space to do anything with it. Just try to protect and preserve it. Especially if the car didn't cost very much and is currently worth very little. Truthfully my XJS isn't really worth any more than I paid for it. Selling it wouldn't give me much money to move my other projects forward. I would really like to have a pre- smog manual transmission Jaguar. It's not that I want to pollute the air, it's just that it removes an impediment to ownership. For example. My XJS requires a bi annual smog check, and a smog check before sale and transfer. I bought it without a smog check and since it needs the transmission fixed, it hasn't been smogged yet. I've paid all the transfer, and registration fees, even for the upcoming year but I still don't have the title in my name. That is a problem. Anyhow, the lion sleeps tonight!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

This one not so much

I knew that I would eventually want to talk about my other internal combustion powered love affair. Motorcycles.

The Wild One starring Marlon Brando
My interest in motorcycles started well before I was even dreaming about getting my license. I was probably in the third or fourth grade when I stumbled across a motorcycle accident as I was walking back home from the public swimming pool. (Who, besides a movie star, would have their own pool?) There was a baby furniture store on the way and I noticed an ambulance and a couple of police cars parked out in front of the business. The front plate glass window was shattered and I heard people in the crowd saying that a motorcycle had crashed through the window. Sure enough there was a motorcycle lying inside on top of a couple of smashed up cribs. The rider was being carried out on a stretcher. His head and hands were bandaged and he was rummaging through his wallet looking for his license. (I thought) After he was transported, the motorcycle was dragged out for the wrecker. At the time I had no idea what kind of motorcycle it was. Years later I applied my knowledge retroactively to my memory and decided that it was a Triumph twin. It's strange that I didn't react to this scene with horror, just fascination. After all, the rider didn't seem that beat up by the experience!

One day I come home from St. Bernard's grammar school, flipped on the tube and what do I see? A long line of snarling motorcycles coming at me down a country road! The bikes are jockeying for position, the rear wheels breaking loose in the turns. But nobody passes the leader. Wow! Motorcycles! I don't recall seeing that many on the streets during my daily travels. But from now on I keep an eye out for them.

Years pass and I find myself with my Dad at the Montgomery Ward store on E14th. St. in Oakland. I think I'm in the Fifth grade at St. Anthony's school. This was in '64 or'65 during the Japanese Invasion. Scooters, mopeds and small Japanese motorcycles were being sold at all kinds of outlets. Sporting good stores, hardware stores, even Montgomery Wards. We are at the automotive service center and  there is a line of Scooters, Mopeds, and, be still my beating heart! Motorcycles. "Hey Dad! Can I sit on one? Sure, just don't knock it over" my Dad replied. So I did.

The one I sat on was this exact color except it had a leopard print seat.

Check out these giant road eaters.
Once I sat on this machine I was hooked! My Father wasn't too affected by these machines. I guess he figured that they weren't much different from a bicycle. I had been riding bikes for years, right? The dream was in place. I just had to wait for the years to pass, like the dropping calendar leaves in those old black and white movies. 

A rip snorting, fire breathing machine
One day when I was in seventh grade my Mom told that my Dad was bringing home a surprise. That was quite unlike him, as he wasn't one to spoil his kids in this manner. My Mom wouldn't tell me what it was. "Is it bigger than a breadbasket? " She would only say that it was. 

So I went outside to wait and watch for my Dad. My Dad's 1960 Suburban, aka "The Hillbilly wagon" was still parked in the driveway. Actually this was a very nice, turquoise and white, two door model, well worth it's own blog post someday. (How come we never took any pictures?) I guessed that he had gotten a ride to work. It was almost dark when I heard this little buzzing motorcycle coming up the street and it slowed and pulled into the driveway. My Dad was driving it, no sunglasses, helmet, or gloves. I always wondered how far he had to go to drive it home. I wondered how hard it had been for him to learn to drive it. I knew that he could handle a clutch. My Dad had once showed me a faded picture of him standing next to a 1938 Ford sedan that was missing the right front fender. He told me that he bought it for 40.00 and had taught himself to drive it on some dusty Texas back roads. My Father has never liked manual transmission cars, he always thought they were cheap. That's why they in the early Sixties they were referred to as "standard" transmissions, as in base model equipment.

It was a black 1965 Honda CA110 50cc. motorcycle. I didn't know that this model was the progenitor of the "scrambler" craze that would become so popular. The upswept chrome pipe gave the cycle a jaunty sporty image, the foot shifted four speed transmission, a grip it with your knees fuel tank, and the lack of those awful front "Skirts" meant that this was a real deal motorcycle. Just a small one. 

Quien es mas macho?
I guess my Dad was Hip enough to instinctively know that this was just lame.

Why would he buy this? I didn't think that he had any interest of his own in motorcycles. I'm sure that he must have heard myself and my brother talking about them. We had probably pointed them out when we saw one in traffic. This was around 1967 and the Japanese Invasion had been going on for a few years, but it's not like they were common sights in our neighborhood. Looking back from today, after I've been a Dad myself for almost thirty five years I come to the conclusion that he must have actually listened to me, at least once in a while. And that he wanted to give his two sons the opportunity to have an adventure that he never could have had at their age. I guess my Mom was okay with all this. Either she didn't worry, or was good at pushing the worry out of her mind. I rode motorcycles for almost the next forty years. Her generation grew up during the Depression and the Second World War. She lost her older brother to injuries sustained during the invasion of Normandy. I guess riding a motorcycle without a helmet seemed kind of tame, compared to landing on the Beach under enemy fire.  My Mom once told me " I'm raising boys, not girls!" Man was she old school! Thanks, Mom and Dad. You were much cooler than I ever gave you credit for being.

The next morning I woke up early but I wasn't earlier than my older brother ,who was out front with Dad learning how to ride the Honda. I remember how he revved the motor too high and popped the clutch, who would have thought that you could do a wheelie on a Honda 50? 

Somehow we both manged to learn to ride well enough without any remarkable injuries or damage to the motorcycle. At this point my Dad turned us loose in the neighborhood and my brother and I took turns riding the Honda around the block. I'm guessing that I was in Seventh grade, my brother one year older, neither he nor I had a license, permit, or had even read the driver's handbook of traffic laws. No helmet, glasses, gloves or jacket. Who needed that? This was just a bigger bicycle right? No one wore those things in those "nicest people" Honda ads. Why didn't we get ourselves killed? Like I've said earlier, don't think about bad things happening and they probably won't.

We were having so much fun. Until that fateful day. I had taken the Honda out and was riding up and down the street in front of our house, which went up a long hill. I was more concerned with trying to keep the speed of the bike up as the hill got steeper. I wasn't paying any attention to traffic coming up behind me. I heard a loud rumbling beside me and the muffled garble of a police radio. Oh Jeez, the Cops! He gestured for me to pull over which I promptly did, stalling the motor. He was a big motorcycle cop, (didn't they all look bigger in those days?) He didn't ask if I had a license, because I obviously wasn't sixteen yet. He asked where I lived, and if my parents knew I was out riding the motorcycle. I pointed down the hill and told him that yes, my Dad knew that I had the motorcycle out. I didn't want him to think that I had stolen it! He instructed me to drive to my house and he would follow. That must have made some kind of picture, me riding that tiny little Honda being followed by a burly Cop on a big booming Harley. A scene that should have been immortalized by Norman Rockwell. When he arrived he told me to go get my Dad. Then he proceeded to have a conversation that wasn't particularly threatening. He firmly told him that I didn't have any business riding that Honda around without a license, and that he could be cited for "contributing to the delinquency of a minor." That got my attention. The term "juvenile delinquent" still carried a lot of weight at this time and my Mom, bless her heart, was always threatening to send me to reform school if I didn't behave. (I still believed her at this age).

My biggest impression was the contrast between the two machines, My tiny Honda parked next to that "Electra Glide in Blue". I was stealing glances at that machine while the cop was lecturing my Dad who promised to keep my unlawful activities off the street. Now THAT was a motorcycle. I would say that some imprinting was going on.

Now this is a real motorcycle.

This one not so much.

Looking back at this today, I'll bet the Cop probably got a big kick out of this whole episode. I mean he was a real motorcycle rider, probably had been for years. He knew what riding a motorcycle would mean to a kid my age. I'll bet I was quite the subject of conversation and a good laugh at the station house at the end of the shift! 

This was probably the first time that I was ever this close to a Harley Davidson. It wouldn't be my last time. There is still a lot of ground to cover in this saga.  Content!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Jumping on the bandwagon, twenty years too late and many miles down the road.

Photo source: Wheels and Deals
I had resisted the lemming like stampede to SUVs, It seemed like hordes of middle class commuters embraced these tall wagons and assumed a smug perspective on traffic below them. This position has now been assumed by Prius drivers.

While they are admittedly versatile and useful I had decided that SUVs were basically nothing more than overgrown station wagons- the darlings of Fifties and Sixties Suburbanites.

photo source: Ford Motor Company. This is one of my favorite advertisement pictures.

I knew all about wagons. My Dad had favored them since 1963, after an unfortunate affair with a Corvair Greenbrier van. My Father never really liked trucks. Of course few in the early 1960s chose pick ups as their primary transportation. The question being raised was "Where do we put the kids?"

The answer for many was the use of the camper shell. The enclosed shell, the addition of a pass thru window and some carpeting provided space to carry a passel of kids. Yours and your neighbors. Now, at the time the safety of this practice wasn't questioned. It seemed that the main concern was that the kids just couldn't leap out of the bed. The question of how they would fare in a serious collision just never came up. Passenger restraint at this time meant keeping your kids quiet and under control, not keeping them from being smashed against the interior bits of your vehicle.

Seatbelts? Who used seatbelts? Did your car even have them? Many drivers would stuff them down into the seatback crack to get them "out of the way!" And the most amazing thing was, we were all okay with that. If you didn't think about the possibility of bad things happening, they probably wouldn't.

During this time our biggest worry was whether or not the Russians were going to drop an Atomic bomb on us- a car accident was a minor concern. Duck under the desks and face away from the windows!

So station wagons reigned supreme as the Suburban Status Statement. Lots of Suburban housewives fulfilled their role as family chauffeur behind the wheel of a Country Squire.

What happened to all those wagons? As the Sixties morphed into the Eighties American automakers  were forced to downsize their fleet in hopes of reducing their fuel consumption. The price of gas had sky rocketed and mostly everyone was forced to downsize their cars in order to afford gas to run them.The big wagons were abandoned, falling to the roadside like so many casualties along the Oregon Trail.

America has always a way of springing back, and the Nineties ushered in a wave of apparent prosperity for the Middle Class. With more active lifestyles and more money to spend, they were looking for new wheels that would fit the bill. Detroit, most notably Ford, provided the solution.

The Sport Utility Vehicle, the ubiquitous SUV. It offered the utility of a wagon, the ruggedness of a truck, the promise of off road adventure, and the cachet of the hot new thing.

photo source; Wikipedia
Actually the minivan offered many, if not more, of the same advantages. Initially the minivan offered superior passenger carrying accommodations, third row seats debuted here and became a standard feature early on. They were quieter, got better fuel economy, and were initially less expensive.

The minivan did have a fatal flaw, it's image. While the driver of an SUV projected the image of the driver as an aggressive, ready for anything, man or woman of action, the driver of the minivan was portrayed as a harried Mom. Transporting kids, groceries and pets from home to school and the Mall. Although in practice both vehicles were probably being used in the same manner. The Oak Ridge Boys got it right.

I made the choice of a minivan-twice. I didn't need 4wd or off road capabilities. I didn't need to carry bulky objects or tow a trailer. I always thought that an SUV was kind of overkill for most drivers. There's a reason they call it "Mall Wheel Drive". I just needed a vehicle that I could use to take my family on trips.

My first was a new 1990 Dodge Caravan. It was the standard wheel base model with the great Mitsubishi 3.0 V6 motor. It turns out that the three speed transmission was much better than Chrysler's Ultradrive four speed. I quickly appreciated the usefulness of the van. One good point is that you can place your small children inside the van, get inside, lock the doors, then fuss with getting the kids strapped into their child seats. My Wife had an uncomfortable incident while she was strapping our infant son in the rear passenger seat of our '85 Cougar. She was outside the car, bent over intent upon her task. When she stood up and turned around there was a homeless guy standing right behind her, who asked for money. This was an unnerving incident for my Wife. Since the van has a pass through that gives access to all three rows of seats you can  take care of the kids while safely inside. You can't do that with an SUV since most have a console between the front seats, and you can only reach the third row through the rear door after folding part of the second row seat forward. Obviously the minivan was especially useful for families with small children.

At least mine didn't have the fake wood grain side panels.

We put about 130,000 miles on it before the transmission needed to be rebuilt. After that we put almost another thirty thousand miles on without any problems. The only real issue was the appearance of Chrysler's famous exploding paint. The paint on the roof blistered and than just exploded off while being run through the car wash. I sanded it down and hit it with some grey spray bomb primer. It looked okay if you didn't look too closely. On the other hand I became a magician, every disappearance was made in a cloud of smoke! The valve guides were worn out by this point, and this became an embarrassing characteristic. It was getting time to look for a replacement.

The first time around I had taken the low buck route and bought a pretty basic little van. This time I decided to buy used, and I went totally upscale. I found a wisteria grey '96 Chyrsler Town and Country LXI.

photo source: wikipedia

photo source: old cars monthly
This was just a beautiful plush van. Grey leather, Captain's chairs, dual sliding doors, rear air, 16 speaker Infinity sound system, gold alloy wheels and more. We took a lot of family trips and vacations in this van. All the way up to Whistler in British Columbia. It was a great driving, extremely comfortable vehicle.The large 3.8 litre V6 could cruise at high speeds easily and 85 mph. cruising speeds were common. We put about 70,000 miles on this van until the transmission acted up. It was rebuilt and went through many problems before it was back in active service. Finally, it just sat for about a year before it received some needed repairs. The second time the transmission went bad was the end of the line. I didn't want to put any more money in it, and I felt that we didn't need a multi passenger vehicle anymore. This experience soured me on Chrysler products and I haven't wanted to take another chance on one. The pictures above are not of my specific van, but after ten years mine looked just as good, in and out. Chrysler got the paint right this time.

The only real problem was that the seats had to be removed to have all the interior space available. So where do you put the seats? Generally in the garage, but when there wasn't space there I would leave them on the front porch, luckily they were never stolen.

How did I deal with the Mommy Van stigma? Easy, I never bought into that. The van suited my needs and I always enjoyed driving it. It allowed us to take many enjoyable family trips and contributed to some great memories. Sometimes I still wish I had a van.

As always circumstances in life dictate your choices. I needed a vehicle that my Daughter and Wife could use for their businesses. I knew that my Wife did not want to drive my truck and I don't think that my Daughter could really handle it, so I decided that a smaller SUV might fill the bill.

Since I have become a Ford truck guy, I decided that an Explorer would be my choice. Money is limited so I was looking for something old but hopefully well maintained. Something that would actually be a Better Beater. I found my Explorer  at Wheels and Deals in Santa Clara. It is a 1996 model in very presentable shape, with only a few dings, scratches and scrapes, and the original paint is still shiny. The bumpers, trim, and lights are all in good shape. It was only missing one wheel center cap and both the fender V8 badges and the rear Ford Oval. These shouldn't be hard to replace. The interior is clean and in pretty good condition, except for the front seats. There are some horrendous seat covers on them at the moment. This is a highly optioned vehicle with leather seats, a/c with rear a/c vents, keyless entry, and ABS. It is two wheel drive with a 5.0 V8. I didn't want the extra complications of four wheel drive in such an old vehicle. It even has a DrawTite hitch and a six disc CD player. The placard in the window  stated that it had a recently rebuilt transmission, new a/c compressor, new alternator, and new rear brakes. It had just been smogged. The tires are very good, with well over half the tread still available. There wasn't any evidence of oil or coolant leaks. So far it was looking pretty good.

Well, it does have a lot of miles. 247,000 miles to be exact. So how did it drive? It started right up and settled into a steady, quiet idle. I tried the a/c and found that it worked quite well. After checking out the lights. power equipment and radio I shut it down after about ten minutes. I restarted it and it fired up with ease. I went home to tell my wife about it, and think it over.

My wife and I returned a few days later and we both took it for a test drive. We found that the steering was positive and secure feeling, the brakes were smooth, quiet and worked well. I thought that it was a good vehicle, and a good deal. We also tried another newer small SUV but it had more problems and my wife was disappointed. I decided I would go home and think it over some more, maybe not a good idea, as it could very well be sold before my next visit. I did a little research in the '96 Consumers Union Buyer's guide. The review was quite positive ans it was rated a recommended buy.  I took a quick look on some forums and found that the two wheel drive V8 models were pretty well regarded. The next day I returned to the lot and couldn't find the Explorer! Had it been sold? I was kicking myself when I found it waaay in the back. Okay. I took one final test drive and was sold. I put down a deposit and told the dealer that I would be back on Sunday to pick it up. At this time he pulled the file and I found that he was selling it as a donated vehicle for his church. Besides the repairs listed on the placard, he told me that they had performed a safety check, oil change and replaced a strut rod. I think I really scored with this one, it seems like I should be able to get some use out of this SUV.

Nice and straight, just a little faded

Paint is intact, but chipped and cracked.

Paint is faded and worn. Not too hard to fix.

The worst damage, This scrape can't buff out. I'll try to minimize it.

Badges are missing on both fenders.

The Ford Oval will be replaced.

This is the only wheel center missing. Not too bad.

I like the color.  Blue is a dignified hue.

The scrape on the rt. rear door isn't too noticeable in this shot.
There are plenty of little projects to improve this truck. Outside, I can touch up the scrape on the rt. rear door, replace the badges, and find a better set of seat covers. The paint was polished with a power buffer and there is a lot of polish residue in the panel seams, and around the emblems and lenses, The plastic covers on the bumpers can be treated with Armorall or another protectant., I can really scrub the wheels and tires, straighten the front license plate and buff out the lenses. Overall a good cleaning and detail. At least the interior smells nice and clean to begin with. I've been driving the truck for a few days and I like it. It sounds nice and throaty, kind of like my Mustang, Pretty good for a single little exhaust pipe! Hey, it is the venerated Five- point- oh. It is comfortable and very versatile for carrying passengers and cargo- just like it was designed to do. I know that it can't carry the load that my F150 can, but it is more versatile and can probably handle 90% of my needs. Now to see if my Wife and Daughter can warm up to it.

The Oak Ridge Boys are still right!