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Ain’t That America

 Mels 2

There are very few things we can all agree on in this country. We’re divided into sets and subsets and subsets of subsets. We’re divided by gender, race and beliefs, but one of the very few things we can agree on, is we all love our cars. It defies all divisions, we all love our cars.

Mark Lambrecht, Mildred Lambrecht

Still there are detractors, the cars manufactured today do pollute. That is true, but I once heard an engineer for Toyota explain, “Automobiles are only a hundred years old and we’re still learning. We must study nature; nature has made things for billions of years.” I have great faith that we will progress with new automobiles and will meet the goal of a clean and safe vehicle. This confidence comes from the knowledge that we American’s love our cars!

Tesla S

Tesla S

 

In 1959, this country couldn’t get a rocket off the launch pad, by 1969; Buzz Aldrin was posing for the MTV statue on the lunar surface. This country properly motivated can do anything; the moon landings prove that point. So building a safe clean car? Pfff, give us a hard one.

Mtv

 Do you know how much American’s love their cars? I can illustrate how much with just two words – Drive In. Try to think of any business in America without a drive in. Drive in restaurants of course, drive through banking, drive through convenience stores and even drive through liquor stores. Drive through Funeral homes, “Yeah, I really loved you, but not enough to get out of the car.” Churches operating on Sunday mornings in the same Drive in theaters, where sinning went on Saturday night!

 Drive in Churches

Drive through car washes offering hand-detailing, because nothing is too good for baby. I’m guilty; I have fallen in love with engineered steel and cast iron power plants. I have spent ridiculous amounts of money on automobiles, treated as one of the family and what’s more, I’d do it again! I’ve spent Saturday nights taking tooth-brush to a front grill, you name it, and I’ve cleaned it or replaced it. This was my car, there were many others, but this one was mine. It was forty years old and I wanted it to be perfect, because I loved that car.

 

1965 Mustang Coupe

1965 Mustang Coupe

Fixing a car because you have to go to work on Monday is one thing, but putting a shop rag inside the socket so as not to mar the mounting bolt head, that’s something else entirely. One is labor the other is joy, the feeling of knowing, it is absolutely perfect. To pop open the hood of a 1965 Mustang and it shines with perfection.

under the hood

The best of everything is what she deserves and the best is what she’ll get. She is pride and joy, she is engineering and technology, she’s history and memories of good times past. She is family and she is my friend, she rarely argues or complains, when I leave her. She knows I’ll be back, she knows, I love my car.

http://youtu.be/4W6dV2OCZPQ

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The Mother Road

By David Glenn Cox

 Route 662

The Mother road is the stuff of which legends are made and yet, she’s real. Even if she weren’t real, it would be necessary to make her up. Every country or continent needs such a road, a mythical road which leads to a golden paradise. A road of dreams and mythology, where the poor and disheveled can make their way to the promised land and return prosperous and golden, wrapped in happy endings. Before the interstates and before super highways, it was the road across America. Before, the invention of the automobile, if you wanted to travel, you took the train or you walked.

Route 661

Travel was unlikely and uncommon, travelers for the most part, were well healed, to be able to stay in hotels and eat in restaurants. Route 66 was established in 1926, but the signs weren’t erected until a year later. This road was itself was a sign of changing times, a sign of new things and a changing world. Route 66 was a highway across America and while we take that all quite casually today, in the 1920’s or 30’s it was as novel an idea as the latest i-phone. America was a rural nation of farms and small towns, where you were born was most likely, where you would stay.

Dorrance Kansas 1900

Dorrance, Kansas circa 1900

Mechanization turned America upside down, farm boys dreamed as they’d always dreamed; only now, there were jobs available in factories far from home. The water pump and the tractor had changed farm life and these machines were themselves, built in factories by former farm workers. Built in Chicago or Omaha or Stillwater, Minnesota because transportation in this country was so rudimentary, it was easier to open multiple factories, than it was to ship heavy goods.

1918 Case 10-18

1918 Case 10-18

The World War had also changed American boys. Over a million young men had been overseas and how ya gonna keep em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree? Indeed, either trying to bury the nightmares of war or seeking dreams of the future, the answer was to be found down that road, either direction, made no difference. They’d been here and they wanted more. They didn’t want to live and die hoeing a small patch of Earth, the world was alive and these men wanted to experience it and to be a part of it. This was the roaring 20’s, filled with jobs, prosperity and excitement.

roaring20s

Route 66 stretched over 2,400 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles, from the farm belt through the Sunbelt to the golden state of California. If you were born in 1900 in the Mid-west, you’d never seen an ocean or a mountain and if you wanted to, well, there it was…waiting. Daring you to pack your bags, say your good byes and head down that ribbon of asphalt to where ever. When the roaring twenties crashed suddenly, into the desperate thirties, the mother road became holy, as the road of salvation. Starved off the farms, the mother road held hope and promise to American’s with very little of either.

Oakies Driving to California

Oakies Driving to California

Like the generation before, she offered, someplace better, as anyplace was better than here. This is the road of Woody Guthrie and John Steinbeck’s Joad family.

The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath

Tom Joad repaired a bad connecting rod along this road. The Joad’s buried Grand pa along this road and Woody Guthrie wrote about the California Highway Patrol turning back anyone without $50 in their pocket at the state line. This was a road of struggle, winding through small towns, transient camps and crooked cops. As the millions headed down this road, the merchants prospered, selling gas, food, water, fixing flats and business was good.

Route 664

For the traveler, this wasn’t today’s high speed interstate run. Top speed in a thirties vintage car was forty-five, miles per hour, no radio, no heater and no air conditioning.

Grapes

Loaded with family and belongings, you’d be lucky to make 300 miles per day. From Chicago to California, meant a week to ten days, of road dust by day and hard ground at night, always with the ever present fear of not making it, of a breakdown and then what? Tom Joad said it best, “Don’t take no courage to do somethin, when you ain’t got no other choice.”

It was 1938, before all of Route 66 was finally paved. It’s hard to imagine, a federal highway, no more than a graded dirt road. It was a different America, but with Americans seeking out the same things, we still seek today. By the 1950’s the Interstate Highways system and modern autos with radio, heater, whitewalls and air conditioning, did her in.

Atlanta

No longer was travel a struggle or an ordeal, with limited access and high speed you could do 300 miles before lunch, but all you see is highway. On the mother road, you saw America, the pretty parts and the not so, pretty parts. When you’d arrived, you’d done something, you’d always remember. The story of the time you crossed a continent in an open car, not much different than crossing in a covered wagon, a generation or so before.

Derelict house at Ragdoll on Route 66 California

Derelict house at Ragdoll on Route 66 California

It is a page out of our history; it is this road which leads us from our past to the present.

Route 66. Santa Rosa. The Route 66 Restaurant.

Route 66. Santa Rosa. The Route 66 Restaurant.

This road which pioneered, truck stops, chain gas stations and food to go, also pioneered motor courts, camp grounds and travel associations. The effort is gone, along with the scenery, along with the experience of being someplace new. Today, it’s a blur; the rest stops are all the same in Omaha or Oakland, the same hamburger stands and gas stations. All choreographed and color co-coordinated, Portland Maine to Portland Oregon.

Free TV

400px-Route_66_in_Painted_Desert

Just history now, duded up gas stations and commemorative plaques. Once, this was the mother road, Main Street USA, if you didn’t like where you were, it was the road out. It was the freedom road, across America. Better still, it was the freedom road through America.

Arizona Route 66

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Buried Treasure!

classic-car-auction1_wide-4bf760e0f3c478ab976acfd445bd0ba75590448e-s4-c85

Lambrecht Chevrolet

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Old Car Auction Nebraska

 

 

 

I guess, it’s really all for the best that I’m not rich; I’d only get myself in trouble. Now if you’re a run of the mill millionaire, you might fill your garage with a Ferrari or two, and maybe a Porsche or Mercedes and that’s fine, who could blame you? See, that’s the problem, if I were rich, those cars are nice, but they aren’t the cars I’m looking for.

Ray Lambrecht

Ray Lambrecht

Every now and then there are strange occurrences, I read about one years and years ago. A Kansas, Oldsmobile dealer had selected one new model from his inventory each year and placed it in a warehouse. The man had died and they were auctioning off fifty new Oldsmobile’s from the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50, and 60’s. At the time, it was declared a once in a lifetime find, but it’s happen again.

Ray Lambrecht

In tiny Pierce Nebraska, Ray Lambrecht had operated Lambrecht Chevrolet, for fifty years until 1996. He’d didn’t sell trade-ins and he didn’t sell last year’s model. Most of the cars, were wholesaled out to other dealerships, but either through plan or serendipity, Lambrecht Chevrolet accumulated nearly 500 classic cars. These cars are  going up for auction at the end of this month. Many of these cars have less than ten miles on the odometer, but many have been exposed to the weather. You see my problem, don’t you?

tmb_022 Lambrecht

If I had the money, I would so be there and if I had crazy money to spend, I would most definitely go crazy with it. For a car guy, Lambrecht Chevrolet is King Tut’s tomb, a veritable candy store of automotive delights. It’s Christmas, New Year’s, the Fourth of July and your birthday, all rolled into one!

1978 chevrolet_corvette_f34_ns_82113_717

 

The 1978 Corvette is an obvious first choice, but how about a 1961 Apache pick-up, truck with 2 miles on the odometer! Lot 87, 1961 Chevrolet Apache ½-ton pickup (I6, four-speed manual transmission), two miles.

Old Car Auction Nebraska

Corvairs, Corvairs, Corvairs!
Lot 97, 1960 Chevrolet Corvair Monza four-door, one mile

Lot 5, 1963 or 1964 Chevrolet Corvair two-door sedan (140 cu. inch H6 engine, four-speed manual transmission), 17 miles

Lot 86, 1964 Chevrolet Corvair two-door sedan, 15 miles

1964 Chevrolet ½ ton pick up trucks – half a dozen to choose from.

How about a 1977 Chevy Vega, brand new, with 6 miles on the odometer. It hasn’t even burned through its first quart of oil yet.

tmb_1029L

A 1966 Chevelle, a 1965 Bel Air Station wagon with 5 miles on the odometer and the list just goes on and on, it’s a treasure trove. Admittedly, most of the cars need work, but they’re survivors. They’re jewels, we once thought were gone forever, but Lambrecht Chevrolet is going to be back in business again for two days at the end of this month. They’re selling Chevy’s again and this time, the whole automotive world is coming. But the fates are cruel and I can’t afford to be in Pierce Nebraska, let alone, to make a purchase.

I might be able to afford this pedal car, but it's not the same

I might be able to afford this pedal car, but it’s not the same

But if I had millions, I could buy my way into a life time of hard work and restoration. I guess, it’s really all for the best that I’m not rich; let somebody else be the happiest men on Earth!

ns_82113_717 lambrecht

 

 

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Come On, Let’s Go!

Marquee

Marquee

 We Americans love our cars; they’re extensions of our personalities, displaying our wealth, status or our age. Even more, are the destinations we choose to drive our cars, long before these classics cars became classics, they had their haunts. Car shows, what’s a car show? We drove these cars, everyday. They took us to work or to school and on the weekend, they took us to the Drive-in! It was a great place to take a date and if you didn’t have a date, a good place to find one. Only in America, would we invent a theater where we could take our car to the movies.

Drive In PicturesIt was way back in 1933, when Richard M. Hollingshead Jr. of Camden NJ opened the first Drive-in Theater. In less than ten years, Drive-in’s were a phenomenon nation-wide.

pole speakerIn 1941, RCA patented the once famous, wired speaker box on a pole, allowing patrons to choose their own individual speaker volume. Now, I realize that some of you have no idea what I’m prattling on about, but imagine, you’ve just pulled into your spot at the Drive in. You’ve lowered your window and taken the speaker box off the poll, only to discover, no sound! Only then, do you begin to notice the dance going on all around you, as cars seek out the best working speakers, you begin to understand why that great space was empty.

Life imagesThe Drive-in was a great way to take the family to the movies, many is the time as a kid when the family would load up in Dad’s 59 Chrysler and head for the Drive-in. But first, we’d dust off the cooler, dump in a few ice trays (see ancient definitions) mom would make some sandwiches and we’d stop for chips, dip and soft drinks and head for the Drive-in.

Drive in lineOn a Friday or Saturday night, there would most always be a line waiting to get in, sometimes extending back to the highway. I’d sit in the backseat, watching the brightly lit marquee, waiting patiently, for a chance to play on the playground! Arriving near dusk, once in our parking spot, we’d be allowed to head for the playground beneath the screen. The rules were quite simple; we were to return to the car, before the first cartoon was over.

playgroundThe Drive-in owners had it down to a science; the playground was to give the adults some peace and quiet, while hopefully, tiring the kids out. They would play a family film first and then a romance or at the very least, a more mature second feature .

Between the features, there would be the ads for the great foods in the snack bar, which normally wasn’t that good. But dad would give us a quarter and off we’d go, with mom admonishing us to “Watch the traffic!”

220px-SnackBarAd

concession standTexas Drive-inThe snack bar was usually a cinder block building painted white and adorned with yellow bug lights. Entering from the darkness, always made the room appear to be very bright. Crowds would be waiting for hot dogs or hamburgers, and once they’d received their order, the fun would begin. They would exit from that brightly room into the pitch black darkness, carrying four hamburgers, two hot dogs, a bag of popcorn, a snickers bar, an ice cream sandwich and four Cokes in a thin cardboard tray,  and do it, while totally blind. It wasn’t at all uncommon to see trays which had failed or their carrier’s who’d stumbled in the darkness or those lost, still carrying their tray with melted ice cream and cold hot dogs, almost certain their car was on this row.

OverviewAt their zenith, there were over 4,000 Drive-ins across the country and the big Hollywood studios had a love /hate relationship with the Drive-in. The studios enjoyed the revenue generated from the Drive-ins, but Drive-ins were the poor relations of the theater business. Because of this, the studios were hesitant to put their blockbusters into drive-ins forcing them to show second-run features. In response, American International Pictures was formed in 1954. The idea was to produce low-budget films, exclusively for the Drive-in audience.

200px-AIP_1966At first, American International struggled to find their niche when they began to understand the market. With more adults watching Television; their market was in the increasing numbers of teenagers with cars. The AIP publicity department called it “The Peter Pan Syndrome”

a) a younger child will watch anything an older child will watch;
b) an older child will not watch anything a younger child will watch;
c) a girl will watch anything a boy will watch
d) a boy will not watch anything a girl will watch;
therefore-to catch your greatest audience you zero in on the 19-year old male.

This would seem to explain such AIP features as, High School Hellcats, Reform School Girl and that classic, Girls in Prison. This was just the beginning, because the next genre for AIP became the automobile itself. Was this life imitating art or art imitating life, going to the Drive-in in our cars to watch films about people in their cars?

220px-Dragstriphollow1

Beachparty1RavenPoster

Road Racers, Drag Strip Girl and the immortal classic, The Ghost of Drag Strip Hollow, the sequel to Hot Rod Gang. American International also gave us monster movies, I was a Teenage Werewolf and I was a Teenage Frankenstein and The Man with X-ray Eyes. American International had discovered something, in the era before Netflix, DVD’s or rentals. They’d discovered teenagers went to the drive-in primarily to be alone and unsupervised. The features were almost secondary, but still, they stuck to the formula, 1963’s Beach Party with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. 

Whatever the trend or craze, American International Pictures was there, Hippies, surfers, bikers, you name it.

Motorcycle Gang (1957)

The Hand (1961)

Assignment Outer Space (1961)

DR. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965)

Blacula (1973)

Hell up in Harlem (1973)

Empire of the Ants (1977)

Some of the films were pretty good, others…oh well, we still had a good time at the Drive-in. American International called themselves the Woolworth’s of film making, but Woolworth’s was being priced out of the market, by rising production costs. The Drive-in’s themselves, once located on the edge of town, now found themselves sitting on prime Real Estate and many sold out, while the getting was good. Color Television and the VCR helped to end the era of the Drive-in Movie Theater and yet, even today, some survive.

starlight 1

starlight

Those awful speakers on the pole now replaced with a low powered FM signal broadcast into your car. Many of the surviving Drive-ins have digital projectors and as always, they have warm summer nights under the stars, bring a lawn chair or spread out a blanket in the back of the SUV, it’s still fun. It was always fun, only now it’s a rarity.

Family Drive in

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Everything Old is New Again,

1912 Baker Electric

1912 Baker Electric

Technology and the development of technology, never seems to travel in a straight line. The Wright Brothers developed the aircraft, after years of careful study and continual development. The brothers were the research scientists of their day, working out each problem individually, until they’d built a working airplane, principles the new Boeing 787 use were first developed by the Wrights. Automotive technology by comparison, has been a jumble. While maybe a hundred or so wide-eyed, half-crazed inventors dreamt of building aircraft, there were thousands of backyard automobile designers, some well-educated, others just tinkerer’s.

Funny thing, sometimes the tinkerer’s, did a better job of it than the engineers. 113 years ago when most automotive development was done in barns and empty buildings, the breakdown for the U.S. automotive fleet was as follows:

Number of Automobiles registered – 33,842

40% were powered by steam
38% were powered by electricity
22% were powered by gasoline

1908 Stanley Steamer

1908 Stanley Steamer

Operating a steam car

Steam of course, was just a logical progression, as the trains, farms and factories of the day, all ran on steam-power. But steam-power was limited by long start-up times, as long as 45 minutes. The efficiency of a steam engine is in direct proportion to the quality of the operator, requiring almost constant attention. In the end, all these factors contributed to eliminating steam from the automotive competition. If it takes a ton of coal to propel a steamship at twenty miles per hour, it will take two tons to propel it at twenty-five miles per hour. Steam engine development had reached its maximum capacity. There were no new innovations or progress, forthcoming in steam and because of its short-comings; it lost out, becoming a curiosity.

1906 Baker Electric

1906 Baker Electric

Yes and electric cars were going to be the wave of the future! This was in the days of Thomas Edison; everything was going to be electrified. But electric cars had a major marketing problem, only 20% of Americans had electricity and for the rest, it was a hard sell. Even if you did have electricity, a car with a forty mile range, when you live 18 miles from town, could be cutting the margins pretty close. The electric car did have some advantages; compression starting a gasoline engine was dangerous. The electric car offered similar speeds to gasoline powered cars at around 20 mph. The electric cars were quiet and didn’t vibrate, like the gas models and didn’t have the fumes associated with the crude gas-burners.

So here’s where we hit the design wall, head on. Tinkerer’s and back-yard mechanics could easily modify a gasoline engine. But how does a tinkerer improve an electric vehicle, how do they design a new high-tech storage battery? Technology is like a coral reef, building on the backs of what’s comes before. Steam had gone as far as it could go, but, electricity was brand new. The Wright’s designed their aircraft from the drawings of gliders, they learned to fly a glider and then they motorized it. Electric cars had a flat development curve, having no role models to follow. The gasoline powered automobile quite literally, over took the electrics.

1916 Packard Twin Six V12

1916 Packard Twin Six V12

Larger valves, more accurate camshafts and higher compression meant by 1912, gasoline cars were much faster than electrics. The muffler had been invented and more efficient carburetors meant less fumes, and besides, tooling along at thirty or forty miles per hour, left the fumes far behind. The electrics languished, each company closing its doors or moving on to different products. Electric cars were labeled as ladies cars, further tarnishing their reputation in a male dominated market.

432px-Baker-electric_1911-0515

The continual development of the internal combustion engine has been non-stop for more than a century. Until, everything which could be done has been done, since the advent of computer control of the engine. The power plants in our cars today might be made of lighter materials or of exotic designs, but are basically the same as they were in 1950’s. Fuel injection dates back to 1902, the first Hemi’s 1905 and 1907 and Gottlieb Daimler, patented turbo charging back in 1885. The exhaust driven turbo chargers we know today were patented in 1905.

Wankel Rotary Engine

Wankel Rotary Engine

The Wankel rotary engine was first new power-plant development in half a century and that was in 1957, Over half a century since, has shown the rotary engine to be practical, but clearly, not the answer for the future. Even water injection goes back to WW II, when gasoline was more precious than new engines. It was during WWII, when designers first faced the limitations of piston powered aircraft. As aircraft neared the speed of sound, air could no longer flow over wing surfaces fast enough and caused a buffeting and loss of control. Adding larger engines was no longer an option; a 2000Hp Wright cyclone engine wouldn’t fly twice as a fast by adding another.

Like our steamship, the answer was in replacing steam with diesel power and the piston-powered fighter aircraft were replaced by jet propulsion. Even after the buffeting problem was solved by swept wings, the piston engines just couldn’t be made to go any faster. Of course, jet powered cars are only for movies and cartoons, as jets are wholly unsuited for automotive use. For years the stories have persisted about black boxes or carburetors claiming, a 150 MPG crushed or otherwise smothered by the big auto manufactures.

Pogue carburetor

Pogue carburetor

 

So you’re the CEO of a struggling auto company and you have in your desk drawer, plans for a device or a carburetor that will put your company, light years ahead of the competition. And you’re going to bury it because…? You’re loyal to your competitors or to big oil; maybe you’d rather face an angry Board of Directors? Yes, I know, GM killed the electric car, and wouldn’t sell them. GM had proprietary developments in the car, and just because they weren’t going to sell them, didn’t mean they’d just give the technology away. Could we be witnessing a change in automotive technology today? Just as gas and diesel once overtook steam and electric cars, could that tide be turning?

“Just what the public demands in a stylish yet conservative car – A genuine automobile – not an electrically driven coach. It has increased roominess; Full limousine back; longer wheel base; graceful, low-hung body lines, with both interior and exterior conveniences and appointments which have set a new mark in motor car refinement.” ~ Baker Electric car ad 1913

Tesla Model S

The Motor Trend Car of the Year 2013 – “By any measure, the Tesla S is a truly remarkable automobile. It’s the performance that won us over. The crazy speed builds silently and then pulls back the edges of your face. It had all of us endangering our licenses”

The Tesla S isn’t an electrically driven coach; it’s a performance luxury sedan. It rivals the best from Europe or Japan in roominess, features and conveniences. This isn’t just an electric car; this is an automobile which is electrically powered.

Tesla S interior
With a 264 mile range between charging, it rivals gas / diesel in range. Most Americans, drive less than fifty miles per day and this car will do that five times over. The Tesla S isn’t just the best electrically power car on the market, it’s the best electrically powered vehicle in the world, bar none. It’s not from Stuttgart or Tokyo, it’s manufactured in Fremont, California.

Yes, it’s expensive, so was your first color TV, DVD player or microwave oven. The original Tesla roadster sold less than 3,000 units world-wide, so far, the Tesla S has already sold 13,000 vehicles in little more than a year of production. Ladies and Gentleman…the future has arrived.

Tesla Model S

 

 

Tesla Model S

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You Just Never Know!

67 Mustang Convertible

67 Mustang Convertible

     In all the range of human emotions, one of the most popular is the excitement of the unexpected. We enjoy roller coasters or scary movies, because we’re unsure what will happen next. It’s that anticipation, the giddy excitement of the unexpected, and even though, we know it’s only a movie or an amusement park ride, still, we loved being surprised by the unexpected. We know what we will find at the big box retailer, we don’t know what we will find at an auction or a yard sale and likewise, you never know what you’re going to find at a car show.

My Pictures 140

I admit it, I love cars shows. Sometimes though, the surprise car show that you didn’t even know were going on, are the best. You’re riding down the road and you begin seeing these classic cars in traffic with you. Okay, one classic car and you think, “Nice car” but after you’ve seen the second or third, you start keeping your eyes peeled. It’s around here somewhere, I just know it. Then you find the show or you begin following the classic cars, hopeful they’re heading in and not out. It’s the anticipation of never knowing, what you might see or find, or what’s just around the corner.

Boca Raton Concours d' Elegance

Boca Raton Concours d’ Elegance

Of course, not all car show are created equal, good ole boys with their pride and joys parked beside a local burger joint, all the way up to champagne sipping billionaires, in Palm Beach. I love them all, but given a choice, I’ll take the good ole boys, because they have better stories. Each of these cars and their owners has stories to tell. I once saw a 1956, Chevy Bel air, midnight blue with a snow-white top and white accents. The hood and truck were opened, and under the hood; a 327 tastefully upgraded with a high-rise manifold, 4 barrel, flex fan, chrome alternator and chrome valve covers.

56 Bel air

56 Bel air

The car had been meticulously restored, to better than original condition. In the back of the car, lying open in the trunk, was the car’s baby book. This guy had rescued this car from a field, were it had sat, for God only knows how long. Each page, illustrating the cars restoration and what set this car apart, was this fellow’s other hobby of leather work. The upholstery was white leather; the carpet was a deep, deep blue. In the center of each back rest, a blue, leather Chevy bow-tie. The dash panel had been upgraded with white-faced, electronic gauges, which displayed in blue numbers, of course. In the trunk, the spare tire had a custom white leather cover with matching leather, blue bow-tie emblem.

56 Bel air  custom interior

56 Bel air custom interior

This car was one of a kind; you won’t see another one just like it… ever. It was so much more interesting than, “Muffy and I were wintering in Scottsdale and when I saw it, I knew, I just had to have it. I  wrote the man a check immediately for  $400,000 and had the car transported home.” Where is the love in that? Writing a check isn’t a skill, arguably, the ability to write such a check might be a skill, but there’s no story involved. The restored 56 Chevy, told about the man and the woman, as his wife was equally involved. The car of spoke hours of labor, of sweat and blood and hard-earned cash and this car was his baby, his statement to the world, this is who I am. This is the kind of work I am capable of doing. And when you see a car and a man such as this, you never forget them.

1964-chevrolet-impala-ss

1964-chevrolet-impala-ss

I was at a car show once and this younger guy was standing next to 64 Impala Super Sport and on the card in front of the vehicle was proudly marked “One-Owner”.

1964 Impala Super-Sport Interior

1964 Impala Super-Sport Interior

Let’s see, at the time, the car was about 40 years old and the man was not yet 30, so I bit, asking, “How can this car be a One-Owner?” He smiled, explaining, “It’s my Dad’s car.”

“That’s nice of your dad to let you drive it,” I offered.

“Oh, he passed on, a few years back. He ordered this car, new from the factory. He custom ordered the 327 with high-compression heads, a high-rise manifold with dual four barrels.”

The car was flawless, inside and out, but I couldn’t resist, “you know, technically, you’re the second owner.”

“No”, he insisted, “This is my dad’s car and always will be.”

I nodded in understanding, before moving on saying, “Your dad was a lot cooler than mine was.”

I’ve often wondered about the pride and obligation, of owning such a vehicle. Owning a car your father was so proud of, a car you grew up in. It would be like having a piece of your father with you forever, but never being able to change anything about the car or to ever sell it.

1950 Mercury Coupe

1950 Mercury Coupe

Then are the ones that got away, I could have bought a 1950 Mercury Coupe, at a car show for seven hundred bucks, but my better half put her foot down. The car was complete, but needed everything. I didn’t want the car to drive, I wanted it to sell.

A little of this and a little of that, and I could have pocketed some nice coin. Ah, but that’s the rub, isn’t it? The allure of thinking, we see something no one else sees. That Mercury was number one, on my list of cars that got away. Number two on the list, was a 1970 Shelby GT-500 Mustang convertible for $9,000. The car was in fair shape, but needed work and again, the wife said, “No!” She had this hard and fast rule, I was only allowed to buy one classic car per year and I’d already used my franchise on a 1969 Mustang Mach One.

1970 GT- 500 Convertible

1970 GT- 500 Convertible

It was for the best, I suppose, I would have been over my head, over my budget and out of the house if I’d bought it.

1966 Mustang Convertible

Number three, was a cherry 1966 Mustang convertible. The top was in tatters, but the interior was still good. The body was straight, the car ran and nothing was missing. Under the hood, a tired 200 six cylinder, mated to a three-speed tranny. The fellow was asking…are you ready, $1,400.

66 Mustang 200 CID six banger

I didn’t buy the car, (see wife’s hard and fast rule) I consoled myself thinking, by the time I got back with the money, it would have been gone anyway.

But by far, the best deal I ever saw at a car show, was a man who’d bought a 1956 Studebaker Hawk for $700. He said he’d seen the car parked in a driveway on four flat tires, under a tarp. He passed the car every day on his way to work and one day, after age and a thunderstorm had finished off the tarp, he got a good look at it. Stopping on his way home, he knocked at the door. The women said, he’d have to ask her husband, she didn’t know if he was interested in selling it or not. On his third trip back, an older gentleman answered the door. After asking if the car was for sale, the old gentleman scratched his head and answered, “I don’t know, what’ll you give me for it?”

1956 Stuedebaker Hawk

The guy bought that car for $700 and sold it, that night, for ten grand and never took it off the trailer. You just never know what you’re going to see at a car show, that’s what makes Car shows really great, the cars, the people and the stories they tell.

Conejo Weekender - Father's day car show

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It Was Like We Was All Crazy

Junior all dressed up

He was born Robert Glenn Johnson Jr. in Wilkes County, North Carolina. His father was a farmer and bootlegger, who’d, spent twenty years of his life in prison. Young Robert Glenn attended country schools, before leaving, in the Eighth Grade. It has all the makings of a sad story, a poor man from a poor back ground, little education, crime and few job prospects, but it’s not a sad story.

Robert Glenn had something inside of him, an intelligence which can’t be taught and a cunning, which cannot be learned. Bruce Springsteen wrote a song about him, he’s published his autobiography (being made into a movie) and they’ve already made one movie about his life. He’s a multimillionaire living in the same town he grew up in and he’s a living legend. In NASCAR racing, he goes by just one name, like Elvis or Madonna, but he’s Junior, Junior Johnson.

Junior Johnson 1960

Junior Johnson 1960

 What in your opinion makes a driver fast?

 Junior: Nerve, one word, that’s it.

 Junior Johnson has nerve, asked by a reporter, “How old were you when you started hauling moonshine?”

 Junior: Fourteen

 “So, you didn’t have a driver’s license?”

 Junior: Didn’t need one, I wasn’t planning on stopping.

 From his earliest days Junior loved cars, watching as his two older brother’s drive in the driving business, before NASCAR, better known as moonshine running.

 Junior: I had two brothers that was very influencing on driving. Both of them was older than I was, and they was kind a in the moonshine hauling business. I picked up on fast cars and stuff because I seen them doing ‘em and driving ‘em and had an opportunity to see their mistakes and stuff. And I picked up on the fast cars and driving, basically, when I was just a young boy through my father’s effort of trying to have fast cars to haul whiskey with and my brothers.

Well, they’d wreck cars and tear ‘em up a lot, that type of thing. I tried to avoid all that stuff I could, because I could see what kind a shape they was in when they wrecked. Sometimes, I was with them in a car and the car would get away from ‘em and they’d tear it up, that type of stuff.

 Junior spent a year in an Ohio prison, for an illegal still, but was never caught behind the wheel.

Junior exits the vehicle

Junior exits the vehicle

Junior: They built a local speedway there close to where I lived, and one thing led to another. I was sort of the brave type young boy that lived in the community. If there was something that nobody else couldn’t do, I’d either try it or do it, one of the two. I became a little bit more braver than most of the other guys did. And it wasn’t long until I was in the racing, proving that I was braver than the rest of ‘em. And it just kept growing from that on to, the first thing I knew I was in racing full-time.

 This wasn’t the multimillion dollar operations of NASCAR today. This was outlaw, dirt-track racing, where anything goes. You might go to the winner’s circle for beer money or you might go home in a box.

 Junior: I worked on the cars a tremendously lot when I was driving ‘em because it become pretty, well, it become pretty important that you know what it took to make the cars do what you wanted ‘em to do, that you knew what the car was going to perform like. So you can take care of the unexpected basically. That was basically the reason I wanted to work on them, so I’d know what it took.

427

There’s no doubt Junior knew what it took, in 1955, Junior began his NASCAR career winning five races, finishing sixth in the points standing. He won six more in 58 and five more in 59, lot’s of driver’s win lots of big races, but there is something special about Junior, he’s the genuine article. In 1960, Junior and his crew chief were preparing for the Daytona 500. Their car was slower than the leader and they knew it. It wasn’t a just little slower, but a lot slower, 22 miles per hour slower. Junior noticed, when he’d close on the car in front of him, his own speed increased. Junior hung to the lead car, until the last lap, and then sling shoting  past him to win the race.

If it had been a NASA engineer, who discovered drafting, well, that would have been one thing. But a good ole boy, moonshine runner from North Carolina… that’s something else entirely.

 Junior

This is what makes Junior more than just a race car driver, his brains and his never say quit attitude.

Junior: Once you’ve seen it done, you know it can be done, and you’ll try it if you’re a race driver. I think a lot of these things was instrumental in pushing a lot of people forward in racing. I think myself, I came from nowhere and come to where I’m at today, and it’s basically living proof that if you try hard enough and work long enough, you can succeed in this sport. And I think it’s been instrumental in a whole lot of race teams, that they didn’t give up and quit because they had living proof that it could be done.

Junior 1968

Junior 1968

Junior won over 50 NASCAR races with a 148 top ten finishes in 313 races, before retiring in 1966. He then fielded his own racing team, winning 139 races and six NASCAR Winston Cup Championships.

But Junior is more than statistics, he is, as he was called by Tom Wolfe; The Last American Hero. Do or die clever, smart and if you’re not smart enough, you work harder and find an angle. Junior was once accused of pressurizing his roll cage with nitrous – oxide and maybe he did, and then again, maybe he didn’t. Behind the wheel, you couldn’t catch Junior, period.

Last American Hero

Last American Hero

Junior: To start with, it was like we was all crazy, and we might have been cause, like I said before, we did it mostly for fun to start with because we all enjoyed the challenge. And we didn’t make that much money, so the crews, the guys that we’s friends with, would pool their money. We’d put it all in a car and go see if we could beat the other guy. So it was definitely a challenge to us more so than the money cause wasn’t that much money in it.

Junior on racing: It’s a very hard life. You’re on the road a lot. You’re away from your family a lot. You extend your ability and physical ableness beyond what you believe you can do. And if you extend your energetic system twice what it’s capable, because your determination not to give up. It’s a very tough life. It’s basically, like you say, like a circus. You come here and you set up and do this. It is like a circus to a certain extent, setting up and getting ready to perform. But when the time comes to perform, the circuit that our stock cars, is physical ability to produce and give the strength and energy beyond any belief. A circus is a performance that you perfected. You do it because you’re good at it and you won’t extend yourself to the physical ability that you would be exhausted, or you couldn’t go no further and that type stuff. That’s the difference in the circus and what we do.

http://youtu.be/b0Ess16zoTI

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Somethings, Money Can’t Buy

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Buick City

 006

On Water Street, in Flint Michigan, was factory one of the Durant-Dort Company. The mother of the General Motors Corporation was located in a former woolen mill, built in 1880. Over on Hamilton Avenue, the company opened it headquarters in 1904, including engine manufacturing, parts and Buick Automobiles. This was only the beginning, eventually, this site covered over 235 acres.

Buick City 1919

Buick City 1919

The AC Delco Spark Plug facility on Industrial Avenue was added in a building constructed before 1912, replacing its original facility, inside the Buick Building from 1908. In the mid 1920’s AC took over the Dort Automobile plant, manufacturing air, fuel and oil filters, becoming known as Flint East. The Flint Manufacturing Division opened a plant on Chevrolet Avenue before 1913, building engine assemblies and engine parts manufacturing. I could go on for days with lists of GM facilities and this is just GM, GM had thousands, if not, tens of thousands of vendors and suppliers.

Buick City 1966

Buick City 1966

When you look at a classic car, it seems impossible to fully understand it all. To take all the parts and sub-assemblies, putting them all in the same place, available at a particular instant, to bolt on to your car. Somewhere in this maze of building and factories, someone was paid by GM to design window moldings or ash-trays or headlight switches. Say you’re building 350 small-blocks at the rate of a hundred an hour, how many gallons of Chevy orange paint will you need, for an eight-hour shift? You’d need 6,400 pistons and that might sound easy enough. Only, even standard pistons, aren’t all standard, manufacturers allowed for boring variances by having a .001 over standard and a .002 over standard. Technically, three standard pistons.

Head bolts? 17 per head x 2 = 34 x 100 per hour now, allow for shortage and waste. How much room will they take up, how much do they weigh, how are they packaged? This army of workers in all of their functions, built these great cars. Someone stamped the fender or the hood, your steering wheel was sitting in a bin, with all the other steering wheels. It was ordered months before, by staffers and engineers who worked at designing your car for two years. These designers fought battle royals over costs, materials and styling. Everything had to be checked and re-checked, lab-tested, road-tested, each part meticulously designed, until the day it was assembled on the line, destined to become your car.

Buick City Map

Buick City Map

 From the Buick City blogspot;The combined factories of Buick City were known as Factory #86. The tank farm was where the chemicals for the paint shop were off loaded, held in tanks then piped to the appropriate places. Factory #44 built in 1974 was the paint dept. Factory #84 was still division #78 Engineering. Old #40 first floor was the tire and wheel room, with the other 3 floors belonging to maintenance. New #40 first floor north end was engine dress, midway south was the body marriage, the south end was all the other things like car pamphlets, floor mats, and front and rear fascia’s. From there the car proceeded to the second floor for all it’s trim, tires /wheels and such then back down to the first floor, before either going to repair or the final audit. The cars were then reloaded onto a carrier for the long overhead trip to the first floor, north west corner of factory #94 for shipping either by truck or rail. The second floor of #40 was always like my home away from home. At the end we were just considered another trim department, the second floor was connected by four bridges, 2 going to factory #04 and one that crossed Division st. going to factory #02 plus one going to old #40. You could also go all the way over the tracks to #94 second floor or to truck repair in factory #17, you could also exit onto Division st. At the end of Buick City our fork truck repair was located on the second floor factory#02. Factory #44 first floor when first built was the engine line but after Buick City was created the first floor was all large tanks filled with primer which the cars body was submerged in. The second floor was (mostly) robots spraying paint. The first floor of factory #04 was where the seats and other interior parts came together, with the second floor south-end being the sealer line. The north end was another trim dept, with the extreme north end for management office’s. The third floor was mostly where the cars just ran around kind of in a holding pattern until they were sent to final assembly, with the north west corner being the Buick crib/stores. The fourth floor may have still contained the ovens but I don’t remember. The body shop #12 was where the Robogate was located, then what was called the five line were smaller presses but still huge for stamping numerous smaller parts. The #12c annex was the home of the giant presses, welders, side buildup, floor buildup, doors, hoods, deck-lids, everything you can imagine. Annex #12c still had an inside rail dock. Factory #02 first floor south-end was for welding operations (day shift only), the north-end for fascia storage(where I worked), the old train shed, was for A.G.V. setup (automated guided vehicle). Factory #29 was from start to finish the tool makers plant. Old factory #11 was now #31, building oil and water pumps but previous to Buick City was the axle plant and before that the famous engine plant. That building still survives. Factory #85 was now used just for metallurgy and we held meetings there on different matters. Buick personnel had the hospital and fire department on the first floor. The Union hall is self explanatory. Last but not least Oak Park is still surviving even today.”

Buick Belief

Buick Belief

We take it all for granted, unless, we’ve rebuilt a car or two. Then we begin to have an inkling of production differences, different supplier’s, early, middle or end of the model year. These things happen on the fly and they can’t stop to figure it out. Like the railroad, if you stop a train outside of Denver, all the trains behind must alter their schedules, until the delays stretch to Saint Louis.

Even though the cars were built to be the same, somehow each one was a little different.

Each one, built by hands and heads in an unfathomable myriad of industrial jobs, pressing wheel bearings on spindle’s or making engine block castings. Keeping up with time-cards or documenting production. The Buick City facility was an industrial powerhouse, thousands of workers, each doing specific tasks and like magic, a new car. A new car destined to become a classic, capturing our imaginations or reminding us of our pasts. Built with thousands of hours of labor and know-how, by people we’ll never know, people whose work survives the factories and speaks to us still.

Buick City 2000

Buick City 2000

Buick City Today

Buick City Today

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Camaro

67camaro

1967 Indy Pace Car

1967 Indy Pace Car

Just as Ford’s Mustang program had been created amid the ashes of the Edsel disaster, Chevrolet’s Camaro was born amid the ruins of the Corvair. The Edsel had been innovative, just as the Corvair had been. The Edsel had been a family car, the Corvair an economy car, which through the Corvair Monza, had abilities to become a sporty car.

1965 Chevy Corvair

1965 Chevy Corvair

The top brass at GM also knew of the coming baby boom drivers, but they’d intended to use the Corvair to fill the gap. Ford and Ralph Nader changed that plan in a hurry. So like the Mustang, the Camaro was a rush job. GM management incited rumors of a new project on the way, of course, what else could they say? They were on the hot seat, your competitor is selling cars faster than they can manufacture them and you have no competing model to offer.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=ao8yBhqeRDE

On June 21, 1966 GM sent telegrams to 200 automotive journalists toying with them. Hinting, “…Please save noon of June 28 for important SEPAW meeting. Hope you can be on hand to help scratch a cat. Details will follow…(signed) John L. Cutter – Chevrolet Public Relations – SEPAW Secretary.”

XP-836 in clay

XP-836 in clay

XP-836 Rendering

XP-836 Rendering

At a press conference with live phone hook ups to 14 cities, Chevrolet General Manager, Pete Estes announced to attendees they were all charter members of the Society for the Elimination of Panthers from the Automotive World. Panther being the rumored name of the new car project, then Estes officially announced the car as the XP-836.  Good old fashioned PR, “We’ve got this new car, see, and boy is it great!”

What do you call it?

“It’s not the Panther! It’s the XP-836!”

Can we see one?

“Soon!”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_UIq_H4zQA

GM management was trying to prime the pump and to give potential Mustang buyers something to think about. Three months later, the Camaro débuted at the Detroit Auto show and debuted in dealer showrooms the following week.

67camaro` 

 

Henry Haga of GM design center’s Chevrolet studios, was the cheif designer and had done design work on the Corvette, Corvair and Chevy 2. Because of the Mustang’s relative low price, Haga used parts off the shelf. Pontiac designer Bob Porter remembered, “I remember a four-passenger, sporty type car of the general size and weight class of the Mustang being worked on in an advanced studio. In the early ’60s, similar cars were developed from time to time. Everyone wanted to do one, but at the time there was really no corporate interest.”

1967 Camaro Convertible

1967 Camaro Convertible

The new Camaro came in two models, the Sports Coupe and the Convertible, but Chevrolet’s Pony Car also had 60 available options packages, from grocery getter to road warrior. The now famous Z-28 had been a “Special Performance Package” as all GM option packages began with a letter followed by two numbers. Of all the 1967 Camaro’s sold only 600 had Z-28 packages, if only you had known. A special 302 V-8 engine (just for NASCAR) with heavy duty radiator and heavy duty suspension, a 3.73: 1 Positraction rear axle with power front disc brakes.  Pardon the pun, but this car’s a Hoss!

1967 Z-28

1967 Z-28

First year sales of 221,000 units were good, but GM was playing catch up and trying to play leap frog, but the 67 Mustang had sold 337,000 units. So as a decade of American astronauts raced for the moon, another great race was played out here on terra firma. The Mustang Vs. Camaro, played out ten million times. The engineers replaced by the back-yard mechanic, with a bigger carb, headers or maybe a hotter cam. Speed was just a question of money, how fast do you want to go?

69 Z-28

69 Z-28

With the Camaro’s success came they same pressures facing Mustang designers. Speed or comfort, any automotive engineer, with a lick of sense knows, weight kills speed, at the same time, any good marketing man will tell you, options mean profits. So both Pony  cars got bigger and heavier, moving away from the whole concept of the Pony Car. The Mustang / Camaro Pony car was a one off competition, there isn’t anything else like it, in American automotive lore. Two American car companies competing head to head in a production sports car competition with the public being the winner, we shall never see the like of such again.

It was years later, I was at a car show with my 1969 Mustang Mach 1. Parked beside me was a 1969 Z-28 Camaro, as we watched, a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda with a 340 shook the earth under our feet, backing in next to us. My son looked at me asking, “How did anyone ever choose a car back then?” I could only answer, “It was tough.”

69 Z-28

69 Z-28

69 Mach One

69 Mach One

 

70 Barracuda

70 Barracuda

 

 

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