Friday, March 26, 2021

Pride goes before a fall. 

When you can't go through, you go around.
Just keep moving.

It isn't always pride but sometimes your dream can blind you to reality. Of course rose colored glasses come as standard equipment with that dream. 

Like a lot of people over the years I've dreamed of building a small business.

My family has actually been involved in a couple of small businesses over the years. The fact that none of them are still in existence at the the present time, should have been a clue! Unfortunately, none of these businesses were involved with anything that had my interest. In fact, I had the opportunity to step into one of the businesses and take over it's running, but I declined, as it just wasn't my cup of tea.

I thought that things might have been different if any of these businesses were concerned with an area of my interest, like something to do with cars and motorcycles.

I have read about so many businesses started by enthusiasts in car magazines and even in my Wife's crafting magazines.

Robert Petersen's start of Hot Rod magazine. What a great story, he and his business partner sold the first issue and subscriptions at the local races and car shows. They used the subscription cash to buy themselves dinner! They put in long hours, often sleeping in their little office. 

Mid America Corvette supply was started by a guy that kept his extra Corvette extra parts in a hall closet. Then he would go out to swap meets. Eventually he needed more space and began offering small reproduction parts that he had manufactured. 

Hollywood Hot Rods. This shop was started by a self taught builder. He didn't have a family "in". He didn't even have a Dad at home to show him the way.  His Mom worked two jobs just to keep the family together. As he stated in a Hot Rod magzine interview," if I needed something welded I'd get a book from the library about welding, read it,  then rent a welder." That was the same approach that he took to everything. He went to college and got a business degree in construction management. He saved up and wrote a business plan that secured him a small business loan. The first years were hard. Aren't they always? 

Fire Mountain gems stones. Another home based family business. I read their origin story in their catalog. They bought in bulk and sold in small quantities. The business outgrew their garage and they moved into a real warehouse. 

I used to love watching "The Big Idea" with Donny Deutsch . Entrepreneurs would describe how they started their businesses and the steps they were taking to make it grow. Donny would listen, then give his advice. It was much better than SharkTank, because there wasn't all that make believe in-fighting. 

The usual story is that most small businesses started in the garage, spare bedroom, or even the empty corner of someone's apartment. There are artists, craftspeople, and regular swap meet vendors that spend the time before "swap meet season" to build items, or gather inventory, for the up coming season. They will sell theses items throughout the season then start over again the next year. They are not running these businesses as an ongoing enterprise. 

These can be profitable operations. Build some stuff, sell it directly though an affordable local venue, pocket the profit. That's a good manageable plan that brings in a little extra money, like working some overtime when it's available on your main job. 

Start small, build as you go, keep expenditures down as low as possible. 

Success at these small venues can lead the seller to wonder if they could turn this side hustle into a permanent business.  Could it have the "legs" to be successful? 

A permanent business requires a lot more layers of continuous costs. For supplies, storage, advertising, and perhaps a brick and mortar location. Maybe even the hiring of employees. 

Distribution channels also start out simple and direct,  usually through swap meets, car shows, antique and craft fairs. Internet websites have replaced those tiny classified ads in the back of magazines. 

I'm sure that you've heard of "vanity" book publishing. This where an author, whose book has not been picked up a publisher, pays the cost of publishing and distributing his book, himself. It usually leads to the author having cases of unsold copies of his book in storage, somewhere. 

I started a "vanity" car parts business.

If you've been reading this blog over the years you might remember that I once started a used auto parts business. If you're going to deal in used parts it helps to narrow your focus to only one type vehicle. I decided to specialize in early Datsun Z cars.

I had initially started a website for on line sales. I just never gained any traction with that site. I advertised in a couple of Datsun Magazines. Those ads were quite expensive. After spending a couple thousand dollars on magzine advertising, I didn't see any sales from that source!

 At first I thought that I would have an actual brick and mortar shop where I would meet with customers by appointment. I could use the shop to part out cars and warehouse the parts. Unfortunately, I did not do my due diligence and discovered that the shop could not be operated in the way that I wanted. The location was not zoned for retail sales. It was a really nice little shop. It had an office, storage loft, and even a newly remodeled bathroom. It was also in a good location.

I signed the lease before I looked into all the details. I found that I couldn't open up for retail sales legally, so I decided to become a swap meet sales business instead. I had wanted to avoid doing that. I currently had a real job as well as other obligations. But I had rent to pay, a bunch of old parts to sell, and a somewhat tarnished dream to fulfill.

I found a pretty good swap meet to attend. It was put on by a Datsun 510 guy in the Eagle Rock area of Los Angeles. It attracted hundreds of buyers. I had a lot of stuff to sell. At first things were great. But as I sold out my desirable old inventory my sales grew smaller. I expanded into enthusiast attire; t shirts, hats, and hoodies. This provided me with more opportunities for sales. 

If I had been a "real" business person I would have tried to get out of the lease as soon as I realized that I had made a big mistake. Instead of the smart thing, I just threw good money after bad. There wasn't any way that the math was going to work out, I couldn't even cover the rent.

I held onto the shop for the length of the lease. Just having the shop was an enjoyable if not realistic, experience. 

It was real, and it was fun, but not real fun. I had to move out of this space. 

I thought that I'd move my inventory back into a public storage facility. I found one close enough to home and it was big, 15 x 30 feet. I moved in my storage racks, metal shelving and boxes of parts. I even built a little loft area. I still had a considerable inventory but I wasn't buying any more. I was just trying to sell off what I had. I noticed that several other small business people involved in the construction, landscaping, and janitorial trades, had their businesses located in that storage yard.  There was even a guy that must have had a laundromat or two, as his space was full of washers, dryers and parts. 

I have to give these guys credit for their efforts. Hopefully they hadn't blown their money trying to have a storefront.

I moved to an even smaller storage space.  I stayed there for another year, selling on Craig's List and at the occasional swap meet. 

Finally I moved out of that storage space and brought all my junk home. I lined up all my fenders, doors, hoods, hatches and what ever sheet metal, against the fences in my side and backyards. As time passed I was getting tired of looking at that stuff. My yard looked like a junkyard. Most of my stuff was pretty good, but it needed a little work to make it acceptable. It seemed that nobody wanted to put any work into the parts. When I started off with my initial hoard, I had a lot of really choice parts. Of course those were picked off first. 

I decided that I would scrap the third rate stuff and concentrate on trying sell the remainder. I took an entire truckload to the metal recycler and netted 90.00. Another year went by. 

The vicious culling of the herd continued. I was just going to hold onto the best of what was left. Another truckload to the metal recycler netted me 75.00.

I finally just packed up what was left and put it in my garage and a couple of small sheds. Then I forgot about it for a few years. A couple of times I tried to sell my stash to some guys that I knew were in the swap meet business with no success. 

During that time the value of early Datsun Z cars has skyrocketed. That has lead to the price of their parts also increasing. I had been ready to almost give my stuff away. Last year I started organizing and listing my stuff on Craig's List. I even started shipping my parts! My Wife and Daughter have helped me negotiate the shipping hassle. My expectations are now much more modest and I've had a little success. I've still got a few things that are worth a couple of bucks. After that I'm out.

Would I want to give the business another try? No thanks. 

I'm not trying to discourage anyone from starting a business of their own. A lot of people have been very successful. 

It all come s down to how much dedication and determination do you have.  Are you a business minded person?  I suppose that I wasn't. A little bit of luck doesn't hurt. I liked the "idea" of business more than the reality. 

Time for a reality check.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Am I sick and tired of looking at cars? Maybe. Don't they all have four wheels?

No gold chains in sight!

I'm beginning to think that I am.

Lately I've been doing the CL" cruise."
I set the search parameters by model year only. 1949 to 1973.
The search will produce cars of all makes, in all conditions and at all prices.
The idea is to see if anything pops up that grabs me. The results so far, have not been encouraging.

After reading a series of posts on Curbside Classics about Corvettes awhile back, I started cruising through the Vette listings,

Like almost every car guy, that grew up in the 1960's, Corvettes have always appealed to me 
I've never had one though. I had thought about buying an old C4 that I found at Wheels and Deals, but I decided to go home and think about it, my mistake. By the time I got back It was sold. 

C4 s are quite common and cheap, but they have finally started to go up in price. The C5, with the cove vent in the front fender is an other favorite of mine. All of these models look fine and are plenty fast enough for me.  

They certainly look like real Corvettes. 

They make great project cars. Plenty of room for improvements, with a great aftermarket. 

There's only a couple of things though.

First of all, I don't know that I really want another two seat car.
Especially a two seater with no room for luggage.

The  second thing is, I'm not too keen on is the Corvette image. 

Now that is really funny, as if anyone would even notice or care. I'd just be another fat old guy with an old Corvette. 

While Corvettes were always something that was aspirational to guys in my generation. It always seemed that they were bought and driven by old men. I guess that they were the only guys that could afford them! Of course back then, a 35 year old was an old man to me. During the mid 1970's the Vette was more about flash and image than substance. The "gold chainer" image started to stick to the Marque. But by the end of the 1990's they had earned their performance cred back. 

However they always seem to carry a whiff of middle aged, male desperation. 

Actually, I'd be lucky to be middle aged!...Again! 

After all this Mustang talk I've still been constantly searching for alternative Mustang solutions.

The times they are a bit rough, but things might be improving soon. So far my family and myself are healthy and I'm thankful for that.

Events of this type make you realize what is really important. Spending a lot of money on an old car isn't one of them.

Being older also adds a different perspective.

Do I really need anything different? I haven't found anything that really lights a fire under me. I remember reading a column by Peter Egan where he admitted that at this point in life, his "automotive heart" couldn't be broken.  There is not a car that he has, that cannot be replaced by something else, something as interesting, something different that might be cheaper and easier to acquire.  The heat of passion has cooled.

Of course it's always about wants.

But do I even want anything?

A sporty convertible.

Don't I already have two? One, of which I can actually drive! The other I can keep as an artifact. Hey it runs, I can work on it and improve it over time. Best of all, I already own it. And it was cheap. I don't have a lot tied up in it.

A luxury SUV, don't I have one of those too?

I really like that new Lincoln Aviator but don't have an extra 50 grand laying around to spend on a new one. Then how about an older one?

Sure, I see older Aviators and Navigators, for that matter,  offered up at good prices. They are nice, but I already have an Explorer that I like. 

I was telling my Wife that's my Explorer is a Classic. The first year of an available V8 and the last year for the Windsor 5.0.

I can sit on that until I really need to replace it.

How about a real vintage car?

I wanted something that was "analog" and didn't rely on any electronics to run. No automatic transmission to fuss with.

I think that I've got that covered.

My '51 Jag doesn't have many electrical doo- dads besides the electric fuel pumps.

After all this looking I'm pretty set. Either I fix my Jags- or I don't.

I only want a newer Mustang GT convertible. Maybe another Explorer.
I don't seem to want anything else. 

My Dad used to say that all motorcycles were the same- they all had two wheels!

That used to get me kind of mad, because I thought that he was being dismissive of my interests. But now I can really see his point! Maybe all cars are the same, they all do have four wheels.

Friday, March 12, 2021

 Tire Tracks Back.

photo source: LA Times
Sometimes those tire tracks don't lead anywhere you really want to go!

Back in January I mentioned this book by Thomas Murray and said that it was still worth a read.

I just finished re-reading the book. It is a pleasant enough collection of stories, but it is more about nostalgia, than about the cars themselves. 

It's actually very heavily into nostalgia.  It is nostalgia for a very specific time period, more so than for any specific car.

The book was probably received the warmest by people that are a part of Murray's generation. The generation that "Came of Age" with the beginning of the Second World War. 

It is a paean to a simpler, more innocent time in America. Especially when viewed retrospectively. It was actually a very challenging, very frightening, period of insecurity for all that lived through it. 

Memories are Mr. Murray's stock in trade. 

In one story about the reintroduction of a new replica Piper Cub private aircraft, he discusses the difference between an original item and a replica. The Cub is an airplane that has a warm spot in many pilot's memories. When he learns that the Cub is going to be reintroduced as a replica of the original plane, he is initially quite excited. Maybe he would even consider buying one for himself. 

Perhaps he could rediscover the pleasures of how he learned to fly behind the controls of a Cub. He gives it some serious thought. But then he considers how a replica is only the illusion of something that existed in the Past. He asserts that only an original item can take you back, because it has already been there. It already knows the way. 

As you stand by an antique car at a show, you might see visions of the past reflected in the chrome. Ghosts from your own past that want to draw near and gather around the car. The ghosts are not only of people from your Past, that have already died, but also of the living. The memories of the times that they shared with you. 

The need to reconnect to our past is almost universal and very strong. It's one way that we try to make sense of the events in our lives.  

In our memory, the friends of our youth, the boys and girls of our childhoods, remain as young as they were, back then.

Murray even states that he doesn't want the reality of the present to intrude upon the reminiscences of the past. That girl that you knew as a 17 year old in high school might still be around, but you don't want to think of her as being as old as you are,- now. There's not a lot of magic about that! 

He relates how the desire to re-experience the past can become so strong that it can influence behavior in the present. A common theme in some of his stories concerns a middle aged man that will revisit the hometown that he left decades ago, and try to reconnect with an old flame. The one that got away.

He finds her telephone number and arranges a meeting at a local eatery, she tells him she'll be wearing a red silk scarf. He eagerly enters the restaurant and observes that the only women wearing a red scarf is a chubby little older woman, with graying hair, that couldn't be her? Could it?

What happened to the beautiful young thing that made his heart flutter? 

The same thing that happened to him, though he hasn't paused to notice it. In his mind the passing years have not taken their toll, he still sees himself as the same dashing young man. Though that does require quite a bit of squinting!

Murray does relate a story about an informal reunion that he arranges with his childhood neighborhood friends. It was prompted by seeing a photograph taken of the group at a birthday party. The group was the neighborhood kids that shared a long period of their childhood and adolescence. These friendships lasted well into high school and even several through college. 

When he sees his old buddies he will admit to the ravages of time. However he says that the essence of the inner boy and girl still shine through. They are the same, yet different. Life has changed them as much as it has changed him, but not beyond recognition. 

My own experiences vary quite  bit from his. While I have had a few close childhood friends, my relationships with them usually only lasted a few years. I attended three different grammar schools and two different high schools. My best school buddy was the best man at my wedding, though it's been twenty five years since I've seen him. 

Maybe because Murray had an upper middle class upbringing, he has better stories that he shared with his friends. He is also a lot older than me. He was born in 1920, ten years before my Mother, and thirty four years before I was! He was a part of my Grandparent's generation, though their life experiences had nothing in common.  

My family was blue collar, but the real difference was that my Mom did not like being close to people outside the family. She did not include outsiders within the family circle of life. Our family life was lived much more privately. 

I guess that I'm a lot like her. 

I remember my early childhood, grade school and high school years, and the years that followed. 

There were always cars.

I first remember a '59 Chevy Impala. Then  a '61 Corvair Greenbriar Van, a '64 Pontiac Tempest wagon, a '60 Chevy Suburban, a '68 Pontiac Le Mans wagon, a '63 Lincoln sedan, and a '75 Chevy Stepside pick up. 

I've got memories that are attached to my experiences with each of these cars. I've shared a couple about the '59 Impala and '64 Tempest wagon. 

But I can't say that seeing one of these cars makes me relive those experiences. 

I suppose that some people are just more attuned to their pasts, Nothing wrong with that. I suppose that they hold onto all kinds of mementos. They are probably surrounded by photos on their walls.  That helps keep them in touch with their past.

I choose to experience the memories of my past differently. I have few mementos and photos. I kind of prefer to leave the past, in the past.

I found a yellow '77 Coupe de Ville for sale on CL and showed it to my Wife. This is the model of car that was present during a pivotal time in both of our lives. The instant when we met, got married and started the beginnings of our life together. She didn't express much interest in it! I told her that if any car could bring back the past, it would be this one. 

Did I want to buy it? Not really. I'd rather get a newer Mustang GT convertible. 

The Past is the Past, it's gone and isn't coming back. The present is Today and you'd better not blink, or you'll miss it. The Future is the mystery, but we've got a pretty good idea how the story is going to end!

I think it's time to take a cue from Forrest Gump on this subject. "That's all I've got to say about that!"

Friday, March 5, 2021

 Okay, What's up with all this design analysis business? 

I would love to have a first gen Riviera.
But would I want to start with this?  Especially for 4,500 dollars!

I'm just mulling over various cars that I'm considering buying.

I've got this recent infatuation of finding a modern car that can resonate with Classic Hot Rod and Custom car themes from the 1960's.

Similar to the way my '66 Riviera was supposed to reflect themes from the 1950's. It was lowered, raked, with Moon Discs and wide whitewalls. It may not have been pristine, but the design was clean. No vinyl top and Buick built these with "custom looking " grilles and tail lamp panels. It didn't take very much to make them look really sleek.

If you look back at "the little books" from the 1950's, you'll see that many of the cars featured were new or almost new cars. Early 1950's Fords and Chevys. Even something like a Forty Ford was less than 15 years old! 

Moving into the 1960's  there were so many special models, like the Oldsmobile Starfire, Ford Starliner, Chyrsler 300 and all kinds of big coupes. Later there were Personal Luxury Cars like the Thunderbird,  Grand Prix, and Riviera. 

One way to reference this, is to see which cars were popular with the guys building Lowriders, at the time. Full size Coupes, Luxury Personal Cars, and Trucks. All American makes, of course.  Lowriders kept the flame of custom car building burning during the period that mainstream enthusiasts had moved on.

Looking at what's available to work with Today, and it's pretty disappointing. Nothing but four door sedans.

I've considered these, the Cadillac DTS, Lincoln Town Car, even the smaller Chrysler 300. Some of these have already been out of production for more than a few years. They are certainly cheap enough. If there was a way to make an acceptable custom looking car out of one of these you would have comfortable and practical Daily Driver. 

These cars may be out of production, but they are not as far out of production as a '58 Chevy, '60 Ford, '64 Cadillac and even older cars from the 1950s. These cars are now really old, like well over fifty years old. By any standard they are antiques, and are not really suited to regular usage. 

Back in the Day, when a guy stripped the chrome off his shoe box Ford or lowered and flamed his Chevy coupe, he still had a car that he could reliably drive to work. Just think of the Hirohata Merc and the 1953 article, "Cross Country in a Custom." The Merc was what, less than five years old? 

The article is available on the website, Custom Car Chronicle.

The detours were the worst.

The problem is that these older cars now either need a lot of work, or they are just very expensive. From my vantage point they are all just too expensive. Take away my "car guy" card, but I don't  think that an older car is really worth more than a modern one. 

Wouldn't it be nice to take a five year old car and be able to turn it into lowered cruiser? A car new enough that it wouldn't need any real repair? 

There's that old saying, "Never meet your heroes" and it applies to most old cars. Viewing them from the Today's perspective they all come off very poorly. The styling can be dramatic and impressive, but usually that's where the impressiveness stops. All of the running dynamics are usually pretty poor, power output, handling, braking!!!!! and fuel economy, or lack thereof.  The interior amenities and ergonomics will be lacking. We won't even mention the lack of passenger safety provisions.

Of course many of these areas can be improved by the copious application of greenbacks. 

But what do you end up with? A very pretty and shiny old car that makes nice noises when you start it up. Except that you don't start it up that much. You're saving it for the car shows, right? Better just to take your new Tahoe. 

Most of the guys that I know that have restored or "restified" muscle cars almost never drive them.

Looking at it from a strict dollars and cents viewpoint it just doesn't seem like you can get enough bang for the buck.  

I started this blog concerned with doing things on the cheap. If I had an extra thirty grand or more lying around, I could buy something like a nice Forty Ford or "66 Chevy Impala. There's nothing new about that. Cash gets you what you want. So I'm looking for some alternatives. 

You have to scratch your particular itch. Define what it is you want, and try to satisfy that craving. It might call for some creative thinking.

Driving around town I am confronted by hordes of Mercedes, BMWs and even Teslas! But I just don't find myself lusting for one. New Cadillacs and Lincolns just seem too blah to even care about, except for maybe the Aviator and Navigators! But new cars are out of the running because I really can't and won't try to afford one. 

I used to drive a '56 Cadillac, White over Aqua, a great 1950's color combo. I ran wide whites on the stock hubcaps, and it was low, not because I lowered it, but because the springs had sagged, just enough! It did look extremely cool rolling down the street, but the driving wasn't that cool. It felt like I was looking over the hood of an old bus when I was driving it. It drove like one too. I'd had newer model Cadillacs which were much better. My '64, was better, but wasn't as good as my '70 which was quite surprising, considering it's size. My '77 was a modern car and it was a great road car. Then jump to my '94 Seville STS. 

It sounds kind of silly and obvious that a newer car will drive better than an old car, who wouldn't know that? It takes a special person to drive a vintage car everyday. As much as I liked my '70 Mustang, it was really pretty terrible compared to my 2007. 

I bought that 2007 brand new, the same year that I bought my F150. We used that car as the family car for years, everyday driving and vacation trips with the two kids in the back. I wanted a GT convertible of course, but as the car that my Wife was going to be driving, and eventually my Daughter after she learned to drive, I figured that the 200 hp. V6 coupe would be more than enough. Which it was, and has been. To be honest my Wife could have handled a GT easily enough, she was the main driver of my 300 hp. Cadillac STS before that. 

The '07 Mustang is still around although it's taken it's knocks. I am the kind of guy that will dote on my own cars keeping them clean and maintained. The '07 fell into the pit of not being "my" car, but the family car. It then became My Daughter's car. It then became a "rare" car. I rarely drove it, rarely thought about, and rarely washed it. 

I'm not sure yet which car is going to work out for me, so the search and the discussion will continue.