Tuesday, August 30, 2022

 I didn't get  my first car until after high school.

Yes, you have seen this image before.

It was a '66 Mustang with a V8 and a four speed. My Dad advised me that I should buy an appropriate young person's car. I had other ideas but I took his advice, it was the last time! 

The Mustang wasn't what I wanted at the time, I wanted a Cadillac. It would have to be over ten years old, but that wasn't going to be a problem, I liked fins. What I didn't like too much was that Mustang, so I sold it quickly enough. 

My second car would be what I had really wanted. I found a '64 Cadillac convertible on a used car lot. It ran well, was straight and fairly clean. I spent a lot of time rubbing out and waxing the paint, cleaning and repairing the interior, and replacing the oxidized rear plastic window. It only took a bit of mechanical repair during the time I owned it. It was reliable enough to drive all around the Bay Area.  All the bright work shined up well and the car looked really good. This set my direction with used cars; maintain, preserve, and improve where you can. 

I made the mistake of selling it when some guy on the street offered me twice what I paid for it. I figured I'd do the same thing again, find a decent car and fix it up with the money I'd made. 

The Cad was replaced with a more troubled '66 Lincoln sedan. 

After I sold that Lincoln it was awhile before I replaced it with a '70 Coupe de Ville. 

This was a pretty good car. It was what I expected from a Cadillac big, sleek, and fast. I later read a contemporary road test of the '64 Cadillac that stated "If there is anything this big, that goes this fast, we haven't tested it yet." The '70 was even more impressive.

Say what you will about these old Cads and Lincolns, but they were road burners. There wasn't any need to improve the performance, they were already faster than your average Chevy, Ford or Dodge. They were at least a match for a new Buick or Chrysler. 

It is pretty apparent that I have never had to suffer with under powered cars. I only drove slow motorcycles for a couple of years in the beginning. After the Honda 305, every bike was genuinely fast. 

My Dad preferred his cars with a V8 engine and an automatic. He had a fling with a Corvair van but he found that unsuitable. He couldn't stand that his brother drove six cylinder cars just to save gas. Later he bought an old '60 Dodge with a slant six and three speed. I drove it quite a bit, but thought that it was too slow. Later he bought a really nice '55 Chevy Bel Air sedan with a six and Powerglide, he did not like it. Neither did I. 

Even my Dad liked his cars to have a little pizazz!

It's not that my Dad was some kind of hot rodder, his cars were usually equipped with the standard base V8 paired with an automatic transmission. He never liked manual transmissions, "standards" he called them because that was what they were. I guess he figured that the base V8 set up was good enough. This was the Pony car and muscle car era. He always thought of these as just fancier versions of the base models. Once you had a V8 under the hood, what else did you need? 

My Dad gave me some very practical advice when he told me, "If you want a faster car, just buy a faster car." Which has become my view also. 

If anything this viewpoint has become even more solidified as of late. It's pretty hard for me to justify that an older muscle car is really worth all the money that they are asking. If I was to buy a '70's Mustang would I try to make it perform like a new one? Probably not. Would it be worthwhile to improve it's abilities? Within reason.

At one time you could buy this '70 Mustang for a small fraction of a new cars price. The clever hot rodder could make some real improvements and end up with a car that closely matched or in many cases exceeded the new vehicles performance. But those days are long passed. It's not that the older car can't be improved, it's that the "value for the dollar" equation is so out of wack.

For example, my favorite Mustang, a '70 Mach One, can be purchased for around 35 -50 k. A very nice late model 15-20 Mustang can be bought for that, or quite a bit less. 

Why am I writing about all this? Because I've been examining my attitudes about the old car hobby. Especially as the price of entry has risen so much. It used to be that old cars were for the everyday enthusiast, now they are for the wealthy enthusiast. So many categories of cars are no longer of interest to me, because they are not accessible to me.

Of course it all comes down to supply and demand. The availability of certain vintage cars remains fixed as the demand for certain vintage cars continues to increase. For a time it was '50's cruisers, and classic muscle cars have enjoyed a high level of popularity for quite a few years. 

For me, it's kind of "where do I go from here" moment. 

I've already had quite a few 50's 60's and 70's cars that were older when I acquired them. I had a '70's car that was only a few years old at the time. Lately I've mixed vintage with current models. I don't know that I'll ever want another 50's car, there are only a few 60's and 70's cars I'd seriously consider. 

Right now I'm in the middle of quite a few car problems. I missed a post deadline, so I decided to run these two autobiographical pieces. There is a lot of car activity, enjoyable or not (!) happening around my garage. Events are making me question my established car guy philosophy. 

Friday, August 26, 2022

 In the late 1960's my Dad brought home a Honda 50 motorcycle.

I really didn't want to be THAT nice!

It was a C110, not a Super Cub, it was the scrambler version. It was also a real motorcycle. Hand clutch, four speed foot shift, tank between the knees, motorcycle. It might have been small and low powered, but it was an actual motorcycle. That was important. 

It also set me on the path that I followed for the next twenty years. Motorcycles became my main focus and the focus of my motoring enthusiasm.  

I never owned a car during my high school years. I had access to one of my Dad's cars whenever I needed it, but I rode my motorcycle to school every day. 

That 50 was a lot of fun for a 7th. grader. My Dad would take us, ( my older brother and I ) with the 50 crammed into the back of the '64 Tempest wagon, to a big, abandoned parking lot where my brother and I learned to ride, and spent many hours doing laps around the lot. Eventually we lost interest, and the bike sat in a shed for years afterwards. Eventually I got my learner's permit, and I even rode it to high school once as a sophomore, but really only once. It was kind of an embarrassment, and it's lack of power and unsuitability was really apparent. I ended up buying a larger motorcycle of my own several months later.

That was what set the template, and it was what young motorcycle enthusiasts did. We'd start out with whatever was available or we could afford, and then trade up to bigger machines as the means became available.

There was no point sticking with a small under powered bike and trying to "soup it up"  to go faster. It just didn't make sense. The entire bike was designed around the engine. It was small, lightweight, and would have been unsuitable for traveling at speeds higher than it was built for. Besides it was just too cramped, as I had grown, and didn't like looking like a circus bear riding a tricycle!

My first step up was to a Honda CB160, only 110ccs larger, which was three times as large, but it made a huge difference in real world performance. The 160 was rated at 16.5 hp. which made it Calif. freeway legal. The operative word is legal, not ideal. Still, it could cruise at 60 mph. and hit a top speed of 70+ mph. No suited for Interstate highway touring but it was enough for county highways and back roads, and it could handle a short freeway hop to tie together my off freeway excursions. Even more importantly, it could climb the Oakland/ East Bay foothills. It was capable enough to give me some real exploring capabilities, and was my first taste of open road freedom. 

Not to say that I didn't play around with that 160. I did some bodywork after I damaged it trying to do some off roading. I bobbed the front and rear fenders, ( The rear smashed after a failed attempt at hill climbing) and had my first success (?) with a spray bomb paint job. I  also replaced the worn seat upholstery. High performance tuning consisted of removing the air filters and adding a set of shorty mufflers. The original mufflers were rusting out at the tips and mounting brackets. The shorty mufflers were cheap and loud, what more could a teen age kid want? 

More power and speed of course.

During his junior year my brother bought himself a used (every bike we bought was used in those days) Kawasaki Mach Three triple. This was one of the first of the Japanese Superbikes of the late 70's. It was as quick as the new Honda 750cc four cylinder. Magazine tests recorded quarter mile ETs in the high 12 second range, 12.77. That  is seriously fast, even Today! Good thing that my folks didn't read those magazines. 

My brother had been riding a '65 305cc Honda Superhawk, 28 hp. and a top speed of between 95-100 mph. This was a real motorcycle, much bigger and heavier than my 160, and monstrous compared to the old 50. Performance was almost equivalent to the Triumph 500cc twins. This is what killed off the British bike market, equivalent performance from smaller, cheaper, more reliable, and oil tight machines.  All with electric starting!

The fruits of my efforts. I rode this quite a bit.
All the way to the Coast Highway!

I bought the 305 from him and my plan was to build it up as a chopper which I ultimately did. That was accomplished in the Summer between Sophomore and Junior year. By the end of Junior year I'd traded up to a Kawasaki/ Meguro 650 twin. 

By the beginning of my Senior year I moved up to a Kawasaki Mach One of my own. While this was usually considered to be a short haul dragster, it was well suited to long distance traveling. Which I did. This was the machine that I started long distance touring with. Fuel economy was not too good, but with a light throttle hand it could return 30 mpg. on the freeway.

I would ride to a destination like Sacramento, turn around and drive back home. It was all about day trips, lot's of times I would leave early in the morning and return well into the night. I really spread my wings with this bike, I rode up the coast all the way to Mendocino, I rode down to Paso Robles, I finally made it up to Lake Tahoe. My crowning achievement was participating in, and finishing, the first California 1000 road rally. It was quite the adventure for a high school senior. I cut school with my Mom's permission, for the Friday night start in Los Angeles. That was an all nighter, after the rally I spent my first night at a motel by myself away from home. I got called on the carpet by the Dean of Boys on Monday back at school. I was honest with him, I told him that my Mom knew all about it, and as I had told her, this was the opportunity of a lifetime, I might never get a chance to do this again. He respected my honesty and I didn't even get into any trouble!

An action shot taken on the MacArthur freeway in my Senior year. 
I rode this bike EVERYWHERE!

I ended my last year of high school with the Kawasaki. I had begun to really want a Harley Davidson, but that wouldn't be for a few more years. I'd gone all the way from a Super Cub to a Super Bike. 

No hopping up, just trading up.

It made sense to me. 

Friday, August 12, 2022

 Now that I've got my '06 Mustang,

Well, maybe not this one!

Do I really need a 63 Riviera?

Need is a dangerous word around old cars. Nobody really needs an old car, unless it is going to pressed into actual transportation use. 

As I've written before, shouldn't my '06 Mustang fulfill my need for a PLC (Personal Luxury Car)? 

The answer is yeah, of course, kinda, mostly, ...sorta. 

Let's see; a sporty, stylish, comfortable, luxurious, four seat, high speed road cruiser. Both can cover those areas. Pride of ownership? Yep. 

One of them does get twice the fuel economy of the other, on regular gas! Guess which one? 

Yesterday I tried to see if my '06 would fit as easily under the garage table as the '96. Not really. It will, but it's a tighter fit. 

Compare the measurements:

'63 Riviera;  208'' L X 76.3'' W X 53'' H

'06 Mustang; 188'' L X 74'' W X 56'' H

'96 Mustang; 181'' L X 72'' W X 52.8 H 

Wow! The Riv is 20 inches longer than my '06 and 2.3 inches wider. The Riv is also quite a bit wider than the '96, 4 inches wider. I've forgotten just  how big even this compact Riviera really is. It is 5 inches longer than my long wheelbase Jaguar XJ6! 

I'm really not used to big cars anymore. Big GM cars from the mid 60's and up stretch out to 225 inches and were proud of it. 

I'm also kind of a fuel economy wonk. I determined that the best highway mileage of my last '66 Riv was 12 mpg. on the way to Paso Robles. I'd estimate that it got around 9 mpg. in mixed use. On premium gas. Of course. Wow! Again! All my current vehicles get at least 20 mpg. driven at 70 mph. My two Mustangs get at least 25 mpg. Both on regular. 

One of the reasons that I got rid of my '70 Mustang was because of the poor fuel mileage of around 15 mpg. on the freeway. 

Of course you don't buy a collector car for the economy. Now that I'm retired, there are days when I don't even start the cars, much less drive them. It's not like I'd be depending on this old car for practical transportation. 

So, what would I use that old car for? 

Good question. Fun?

I used to keep my '56 Cadillac on the right side of my garage. The big Dagmar bumpers allowed maybe, six inches clearance with the clothes drier, and that was because my garage door doesn't close all the way and I could pick up another few inches of length by letting the rear end stick out a bit. 

I'll have more to say on this subject in a following post.

If "need" is one of the most dreaded words that must never be uttered. 

Then the "W"word is even more feared; as in, "Do I even want a car like that?" Be very careful never to utter these words aloud, especially in the presence of, or much worse in conversation, (!) with  your SWMBO. (She Who Must be Obeyed!) It is not our job to undermine our own arguments to buy an old car. 

In reality, there are no logical arguments in favor of getting a vintage car, no rational supportable argument that can be made. You get one to satisfy a "want." Nothing wrong with that. Yes, many times the reasoning doesn't make any sense, but you want it anyway! If you are paying your own way, and not taking the funds away from something that you should be providing to your family, then feel no guilt. 

Still, I feel kind of weird not because I want an old car, I feel weird because I don't particularly want an old car!

Why is that? 

Maybe because I'm old enough to have already owned several old cars. These cars were not that old when I owned them, I still used them for daily transportation, though they would be quite ancient now. I was shocked to realize that my '70 Mustang was 45 years old when I owned it recently, that's almost half a Century! 

Would I even want to drive an old car anymore? That's a hard question to answer. I'm pretty active on the AACA forum, so I'm always reading about other guy's old cars, and checking those for sale. I know that I don't want anything that would be really old, probably nothing earlier than the mid Forties to mid to late 1950's. That would mean that the car wouldn't be too much older than me! 

I'm much closer to 70, than I am to Sixty, so maybe that car is pretty old too. 

Of course there are other cars that are older, but not really old. I've actually got a couple of those already. 

One "problem" ( first world, I guess) is that I've got several different types of vehicles that cover my different needs and wants.

I've got a full size long bed pick up. It's not a "bro dozer," it's my useful work truck that I can also drive anywhere, comfortably and enjoyably. I really enjoy driving this truck. This was something that I wanted since I first saw one, so much so that I bought one new. I was lucky enough to get a green one. 

I've got my big CUV, the Ford Flex. This is a very useful and "flexible" people and stuff hauler that is a terrific road tripper. It's a late model, low mileage beauty that was something that I also had admired when new.

Talking about things that I've admired since new, my '06 Mustang is the personal pony car that I've wanted for over 15 years. Now that I've got it, there's no reason for me not to drive it. It has 100,000 miles less than my '96 Mustang. 

If I'm going to drive the Mustang, then when would I drive the Riviera?

I just got rid of two old cars so I shouldn't be in any hurry to add any more complications to my life. I'm in a pretty good space right now, I even have some extra space around the garage, so I should just enjoy it. Maybe even improve upon it by jettisoning the other two old cars that I've got. That would sure reduce the overload of cars. 

I'm not thinking of adding an old car to my current fleet, an addition would only be made if one or both of my garage cars were sold. That way my Wife would know that I'm serious about cutting back. 

Saturday, August 6, 2022

 What is the appeal of  American Graffiti ? 

I've been kind of thinking about this since I drove out to Modesto to the Graffiti USA museum. This museum is going to be a testament to this period.

Where were You in '62? Where do wish that you had been? You can replace the reality of your past with this stylized, fictional, version. A younger generation can imagine what it was really like, or what they wish it was like. Or we could be just looking at the past through rose colored glasses. What could be a more natural reaction?

1962 was over 60 years ago. I was eight years old. I'm 67 now. To have lived through this and participated in events that occurred in this era you'd have to be at least 75 years old. I'm sure that the movie tells the story of some specific demographic. I actually met three gents at the Modesto Graffiti Museum Cruise In that had participated in that area's cruising heritage. This is where George Lucas got his inspiration for the movie. From his own life experiences in Modesto.

People love all kinds of movies that have no relationship with their actual lives. Consider Star Wars. (Another Lucas masterpiece!)

I was at the Paso Robles West Coast Kustoms Nationals many years ago. There were a couple of stars from AG, Bo Hopkins and Candy Clarke in attendance. They were selling autographed photos and chatting with fans. 

In an uncharitable mood I turned up my nose at buying a photo or even saying hello. Washed up has-beens is what they were. Maybe.

Later I got to thinking. These two people were part of the ensemble that produced a true American film icon, beloved by millions and going onto successive generations of fans. This movie lives on in hearts of millions of old car fans. Mine included.

What have I done, or will I ever do in my life, of any value, that will touch even a small number of people? Elite film critics can turn their nose up at this film, it may not be highbrow, but it is loved! 

This is one of the few films that I have watched multiple times. When it would appear on a cable TV schedule I will generally watch it, it doesn't even have to be from the beginning! There are certain scenes that I find memorable and I daresay iconic. One of my favorites is after Milner races Falfa on the downtown street, and the '32 is sitting alone on the street in the dark in a distant shot. I will never own a classic hot rod like that, in fact I really don't even want a classic hot rod like that. But these were the cars that I read about for years in all the hot rod magazines as a kid, and they were a part of my automotive hopes and dreams. I can easily see and admire the attraction of these machines, they have a brutal beauty. 

Now with YouTube it is easy to watch and re-watch many segments of the movie, and I have my favorites of the compilations that are presented there. I also have a copy of the movie on cd.

Today I went to a cruse in/ open house at the Modesto Graffiti USA Museum.  It was a good excuse to take my new Mustang out for a drive. 

This picture depicts what the finished museum is going to look like.  A simulated Downtown streetscape area with cars parked along the street at the curb. This reminded me of the street scene sections at the Petersen Museum. It is designed to replicate some of the scenes along the classic Modesto Cruise circle. Most cities had a cruise route around the downtown area. My hometown didn't, but we went to a nearby smaller town. It was a short route up and down E14th St. in San Leandro. This town has been famous for aggressive law enforcement, but things were still fairly mellow back in the early 1970's. The cruising itself was kind of a waste of time, unless you knew the other participants. It was all about showing off your car, meeting up with friends, maybe meeting some new people. 

It's interesting that Modesto has this strong relationship with the movie. It's true that George Lucas grew up in Modesto and the movie was based upon his experiences in that town. He graduated from high school in... 1962!

The movie was actually filmed in Petaluma, where the downtown movie filming locations are the actual downtown streets and buildings. Most of these locations are still very recognizable. The town also has it's own AG events. As a fan I have enjoyed visiting the town and seeing where the movie was filmed. 

Modesto has really taken the film and fans to heart. It is a way to draw tourism to the city. There is a Graffiti Week of activities. Car shows, cruises, movie screenings, concerts, and a parade of cars through the Downtown area.

All good clean fun, just like we like to imagine of the late 1950's.