Monday, May 31, 2010
Hi folks -- I went to the hottest Indy 500 in history yesterday. Going there brought back memories from childhood, of that very special day that marks the beginning of summer. A family tradition (at least around age 5) we had back in Kenmore, NY was going to my aunt's house on Delaware Avenue to watch the annual Memorial Day parade from the second story porch. A bit later in age, I would sit with my cousins in the living room and listen to the Indy race -- no talking allowed! I can also remember one Memorial Day going out to drive with my learners permit during the morning, and being hard-headed, staying in the right lane despite my father's objections of not wanting me over there due to road debris. I was plenty hard-headed back then. memorial day was a day in which cars were at the center of my life, either listening to the race, learning to drive, or washing and shining them up.
Now to yesterday's race. I was fun sitting with all the folks drinking in the stands despite the heat that would subsequently turn their brains into mush by lap 50. Florence Henderson and Jim Nabors sang (how old is that guy anyway!). The fighters did their fly-by. But I was not terribly impressed with the excitement of the race, with exception of the accident near the end. Not enough blood and death? Maybe. But also since all the contestants drive cars with the same engines, same body-maker, same Firestone tires, where are the differences that lead to inherent competition. There is not enough aggressive driving, passing, heated rivalries. Too much cooperation and not enough free market Darwinism in America right now.
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Originally a counter-reaction to the traditional hot rod, a label recently applied to undriven cars and super high priced "customs". The rat rod's beginning was a throwback to the hot rods of the earlier days of hot-rodding, built to the best of the owner's abilities and meant to be driven. Rat rods are meant to loosely imitate in form and function, the "traditional" hot rods of the era. Biker, greaser, rockabilly, and punk culture is often credited as influence that shapes rat-rodding.
The typical rat rod is an early 1930s through 1950s coupe or roadster. Early (pre-World War II) vehicles often have their fenders, hoods, running boards, and bumpers removed. The bodies are frequently channeled over the frame, and sectioned, or the roofs chopped for a lower profile. Later post-war vehicles are rarely constructed without fenders and are often customized in the fashion of Kustoms, leadsleds, and lowriders. Maltese crosses, skulls, and other accessories are often added. Chopped tops, shaved trim, grills, tail lights, and other miscellaneous body parts are swapped between makes and models. Most, if not all, of the work and engineering is done by the owner of the vehicle.
Recently, the term "rat rod" (or rat car, as modern cars are not actually hot rods like the name suggests) has been used to describe almost any vehicle that appears unfinished or is built simply to be driven.
The origins of the term and cars is most interesting. Again, from Wikipedia:
The December 1972 issue of Rod & Custom Magazine was dedicated to the beater, a low-budget alternative to the over-polished, slickly-painted, customized early car. The beater could easily be considered a progenitor of the rat rod with its cheap upholstery, primer instead of paint, and lack of chrome or polished metals. However, owners of these beaters often had a high-dollar machine sitting in their garage.
As with many cultural terms, there are disputes over the origin of the term "rat rod". Some say it first appeared in an article written in Hot Rod Magazine by Gray Baskerville about cars that still sported a coat of primer. Some claim that the first rat rod was owned by artist Robert Williams who had a '32 Ford Roadster that was painted in primer. Hot Rod magazine has since verified this.Although the term likely started out as derogatory or pejorative (and is still used in this way by many), members of the subcultures that build and enjoy these cars have adopted the term in a positive light.
The Dash from a 1962 Chrysler Crown Imperial. Not many of these cars made. The old guy who owns this car was a pleasure to talk to.
The mill from a modified Camaro. I bet this sings!
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Bloomberg is reporting that Mercury is going by the wayside, officially so only after a July meeting at Ford. How sad -- but in a way, nothing much lost by the decision. The current model line up for the most part is nothing but re-badged Ford products, and a Grand marquis that is favored buy the oldest demographic group in the American market.
What cannot be lost are memories of the Mercuries of the past that had an impact on my life. In particular, a 1953 Mercury that my cousin Richard (who was 15 years older than I, had in 1955 when he married his first wife Laureen. I loved the shape of that car for some reason, and its maroon color. And then school friend Don Izard's father's 1957 turnpike Cruiser, a wonderfully overly- accessorized model at a time when the dinosaur in the drive reigned supreme in American life.
Edsel Ford's Mercury may be gone after 2010, but in the hearts and minds of us who grew up loving cars, how can we forget the car that was at the center (along with James Dean!) of Rebel without a Cause.
I have only had one recent experience with a VW dealer related to service, and that was actually several years ago when I took my daughter's 2003 Jetta in for routine matters in San Antonio. Most certainly, my first reaction to the entire affair was that it was expensive, far more expensive than it should have been. These people take their customers for granted, no way to be in today's business climate. And it seems that VW's office in the U.S. either doesn't have the will or the guts to clamp down on its dealers and force them to either be customer centered or to be forced out of the relationship.
We need a new generation of business leaders world wide it seems, ones who sweep away complacency and if need be, rule with fear, driving out the many bad apples that now are a part of our institutions.
The other issue with VW which is evident from reading consumer reports for years now is where did your quality go? There was a time when "Made in Germany" meant something. It seems now that VW, BMW, and Mercedes all make products that are at the bottom of the quality lists.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
May 20, 2010
My auto-biography is about the family car I drove throughout high school until I bought my own car. This car was a 2002 Toyota Echo. I will never forget how well that car treated me nor the memories I had with it. The reason we had a third family car before I was able to drive was because my grandfather had recently purchased it a month before he passed away and the dealership wanted to buy it back for two thousand dollars less than they sold it to him. It was a great car for a new driver and had the remainder of the warranty. Needless to say it was a perfect car for me for a number of reasons. Primarily, it only has a 1.5L engine with 108 horsepower. If I would have been driving any other car with a bigger engine, I probably would have gotten a few speeding tickets. The amazing fuel economy of 35 city miles per gallon and 40 highway created one of my now favorite pastimes. Driving for fun with the windows down and the stereo turned up, all while achieving spectacular gas mileage.
Now, do not be fooled by that tiny, golf cart-like engine. The car weighs under 2500 pounds with two passengers, which meant it could get up and go in city traffic. Passing on a two lane highway took a little bit of timing and gall. I definitely drove that car as if it were a racecar, and not an econo-car. That Echo has been on four, three, two, and zero wheels before while I have been behind the wheel. I did my share of doughnuts in wet and snow covered parking lots and ramped it once. When most people ramp a car, they do it on a short hump normally over railroad tracks; however that was not the case for me. I launched that 2500 pounds of steel airborne off a thirty foot hill going 87 miles per hour. There could not have been a more perfect, smooth landing. This was the most reckless thing I did in that car, and I am happy to say my driving habits have substantially calmed down since then.
I used that car as a stress reliever if I was ever worked up about something. There is nothing better than cruising with the windows down going 55 miles per hour down a country road listening to your favorite tunes. My brother now drives that car and I do envy him from time to time, because of all of the times I had in it while I was an adolescent. I do worry from time to time that one day it will just fall apart on him for no reason; however it will probably have something to do with how I drove it.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Since I am young, I don’t have too many experiences with vehicles. I’ve been driving since I was sixteen years old and am proud to say I have never gotten a speeding ticket, gotten in a fender bender or had any major car problems. That doesn’t mean I haven’t come close quite a few times....but I’ve been lucky.
I have been lucky enough to have parents who own their own auto repair shop. Both my Dad and Mom have been auto mechanics for close to 35 years. Ever since I can remember, I spent most of my time at the shop doing small chores. These included taking out the garage’s trash, sweeping floors and going on tows with my Dad.
I have seen the strangest things happen in cars. Some of which involves bird’s nests under the hood causing fires, ground hogs sleeping in the engine block and raccoons tearing appart anything it could in the car. However, none of these memories compare to the trips I have taken in my Dad’s 1929 Model A Ford pickup truck.
Completely original except for the bed and the bench seat, this truck has been one of the many treasures of our family. We bought it in 2004 and since then, have gone to a number of car shows and gone on many small trips. I personally have used it in two films I have made during college. I can remember my Dad trying to get me to hurry up and get my shots because the headlights were draining the battery. We were concerned the truck wouldn’t be able to make it through the scenes I needed it to. I appreciate the cars we have today for that reason.
From the trips I have taken, all I can say is “legroom”. There is none. The seat takes up a large portion of the cab. I soon found out that there is only one certain way to get in and out of the truck. When we took it out during the winter months, there is an after-market heating system in it that blew engine heat through the front portion of the floor board. Again, I appreciate the cars we have today for that reason as well.
The best memory of the Model A I have was on a day when we decided to load the entire family, dogs and all, into the model A and drive 6 miles to a Dairy Queen. My parents were in the cab and my sister, 2 dogs and I were in the back. The bed was just big enough for us to fit. On the way down to the DQ rain clouds appeared and it started raining. Needless to say, after we got our ice cream, ate it and headed home, the rain soaked my sister, dogs and I. Through the trouble and the wet cloths, it was just another family trip in the Model A Ford.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
My Auto-Biography: Betsy
One of the first cars I remember riding in as a kid was a 1995 Ford Explorer. I can even recall going with my dad to test drive the car before he purchased the grey SUV. At the time I was 5 years old. I had a good few years before I could get behind the wheel. I had a childish excitement about our family getting a brand new car. The coolest part to me was that the rear row of seats could fold flat. This was a function that I had not seen before. Even though I had excitement, it was not immediately obvious to me that I would someday be the driver of this car. In fact, that thought did not cross my mind until I was about 15.
8 years after my dad originally bought the Explorer, my brother Dave, who is 3 years older than me, got the opportunity to drive the car. My dad went out and got himself a new car so that my brother could drive to work and high school. During Dave’s time driving the Explorer, the car survived a small fender-bender and had the transmission replaced. It was around this time that we began to think of our Explorer as rugged and tough. It had made it through a plethora of challenges. When I began high school as a freshman I rode everyday with my brother to school, baseball practice, or basketball practice. There was a certain attachment we had with that car. We even named her “Betsy.” With giving our car a name we realized what our car meant to us. We did not love it because it was flashy and new, but because it was tough and had lasted in our family so long.
My brother would soon graduate, and I finally received my driver’s license. Betsy was solely mine to drive. She treated me well, and we shared some great times together, like getting out of snow banks, and nights at the drive-in. Betsy was a big part in my teenage life. Unlike public schools where friends may live just down the street, I went to a catholic high school so most of my friends were a half-hour drive away. This meant that I got to drive fairly often. I am not sure if it was the frequent use or simply the years that had worn on her, but during the summer after I graduated high school Betsy finally died. For 13 years Betsy gave our family some good miles, and I would still drive her today, but the repairs that were needed cost more than she was worth.
I have had 2 cars since that 1995 Ford Explorer. I have named both cars, but still I have not been as close with them as I was Betsy. Some people are skeptical of becoming attached with their vehicles, and do not name their cars. Maybe those people would call me crazy, but I think there is a bond between a person and his/her car. When functioning properly an automobile acts as an extension of a person’s body. After you have driven a car for a few years, the physical motions of driving become second nature, and you become accustomed to the location of the controls. It only takes sitting in the driver seat of a different car to realize this. In general, automobiles and people have been specially connected for years. For some it can be a love-hate relationship, but I have been fortunate enough to have Betsy.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
"Auto-Biography" -- Tyler Griffith and his 2002 Civic -- Don't forget that the Ohio State Patrol also uses aircraft!"
13 May 2010
My ’02 Civic
I got this car my senior year of high school after previously driving a beat up ’91 Honda Accord that gave up its transmission and was not worth repairing. When my parents were searching for a used car to replace it, my only stipulation was that no matter make or model, it had to be a stick shift. As a result of too many car movies and the influence of friends, I decided that driving a manual would just be more fun. As a result, I will probably never drive an automatic ever again, if I can help it.
I spent the rest of high school running around my small town and its country roads just outside of it, at speeds that would’ve easily had my license suspended had I ever been caught. In my own little world I thought I could beat anyone with my little four-banger engine. Even if I never would, I still loved to try. I prided myself on the fact that I had never been caught speeding and sped almost everywhere I went. I also later came to find out this style of driving kept me entertained and not wanting to fall asleep on longer road trips. I still have tendencies to drive above the speed limit out on country roads but my highway driving has been slowed tremendously by a recent event.
While driving home from visiting relatives in Canton, I was driving down I-77 on a sunny and dry Sunday afternoon. There was little to no traffic, and I wanted to get back to Dayton as soon as I could. While I would have been speeding regardless, I felt secure that I would not get pulled over because the traffic that was around me was going relatively the same speed. I set the cruise control for 80 mph. and relaxed. As I come over the top of the next hill, I saw red and blue lights of a cop car in the right berm ahead. I proceeded to get over to the left and slow down. As I am approaching, I realize its five or six police vehicles instead of just one. As I am about to drive by, one of the officers walks out into the lane beside me, points at me, and signals me to get over. I was quite confused because I was behind a line of cars at the time and there was no way they had clocked me before I had slowed down. Unfortunately, I came to find out that they had a plane in the air that had clocked me doing 80 as well as the 5 other people they had pulled over. There went my flawless driving record, all because of some cheap way of catching drivers speeding on the last day of the month. As a result, I am much more speed-cautious on the highways. My once invincible little car just cost me 150 dollars to the city of Tuscarawas and I don’t plan on paying another city any time soon.
As for the amount of love or hate that people give machines, it is all about how much we rely on those machines and how they perform when we need them. I cannot say that I love my current car, but when I invest money in a new car that I decide on, it would not be a stretch to imagine some sort of love for it. I think for me it is more of a pride in my car than love for it. As a result, I do not enjoy when other people drive my car because I do not trust other people to take care of it. I think these sorts of feelings are perfectly normal and fine as long as they do not consume your life. A person should have more feelings with other people than they do with machines. If that arrangement somehow becomes reversed I think it becomes a problem.
Friday, May 21, 2010
May 13, 2010
Softball games, family parties, trick-or-treating, and road trips to Hilton Head Island; “the Bubble”, a metallic garnet-red 1993 Previa, has seen it all. This bulbous red van grew up with me and my family for ten years. Although just a van, the Bubble truly seemed to be another little part of our family.
Every summer we used to drive to Hilton Head for our family vacations. Being a 13 hour ride, we got to spend a lot of time with our Bubble friend. Before the age of portable flat screen T.V.’s and XBOX’s in cars, my sister and I used to think we were riding in a luxury-mobile on the long drives down to South Carolina. The middle captain seats were able to be rotated so they’re facing either the back or the front, so my parents would turn one of them around and bungee-chord a little T.V. to the seat, powered by a cord plugged into the cigarette lighter. My sister and I would then turn the back row of seats into one big bed. Not only did my sister and I think this was one of the coolest ideas, but my parents loved it too because it gave us distraction to prevent (at least some of) our sisterly fights on the long drive. To this day, although we don’t have The Bubble anymore, my family still talks and laughs about the bungee-chorded T.V. road trips.
Along with getting my family to and from vacation every year, the van also made sure my friends and I could get the most possible amounts of candy on Halloween. The van would patiently wait for us to finish our neighborhood rounds of trick-or-treating in the drive way. But when there came to be just about 20 minutes left of candy-time to the evening, the bubble would save the day. My dad would drive to another neighborhood and drive us very slowly so we could keep the sliding door open in order to blast in and out of the van, marine–style, to quickly get to the next house.
Out of all of my family members, my dad had a special love for the Previa. On the bubble’s 200,000th mile, my dad pulled off to a parking lot where he asked my sister to take pictures of the miles while he smoked a celebration cigar. To some this may seem silly, considering it’s just a van, it’s not the only vehicle that’s made long road trips or broke the 200,000 mile marker. However, this van allowed my family to share hundreds of fun, funny, sad, or frightening memories. It just had a mystical quality to the interior that made it a space for fun and adventure. A vehicle is just a vehicle until it’s been through life with you, and you’ve broken each other in a little; to a point where that little scratch or stain transports you to the memories which created them.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
14 May 2010
She Was Never Much but She Was Mine
There are a few people that have never been in a motor vehicle accident. My mother is one. I, on the other hand, have been in more than I can even remember. They range from the fault of others to the responsibility resting on my shoulders. They also range from 100cc motorcycles to city buses that were my method of transport until a car, pole, or dog got in the way. No groundhogs though; they’d be a hood ornament before anything. Some accidents are fun to sit back and chuckle about; one that was years ago still makes me thankful to be alive.
That is not what comes to mind, however, when writing an auto-biography. My car does. The gun-metal grey 1993 Mazda Protegé was my first car. Actually second, but the Audi 5000 Turbo Diesel was only mine for a month or two, and no that car did not fall into the wrecked category. I digress. The car was nothing special to any person other than me. Well, that is not fair to say, because the previous owner took very good care of it. No fancy paint, no obnoxious stereo, no fancy rims; just four and a stick.
I had the car for all of two or three days when coming towards I-675 on Wilmington-Dayton Road (most would know it as Wilmington Pike but south of 725 in Bellbrook it is still Wilmington-Dayton—it’s a Greene County thing) I got stuck in a jam coming up the hill just north of Centerville Station. It is no monstrous hill, but to a teenager learning to drive a manual transmission it was a formidable challenge. Still, only stalled it two or three times! This was stop and go traffic on a thirty to forty degree incline for at least 200 yards and my third day (we’ll say for benefit of the doubt) driving a stick. After that day the Protegé and I were mates.
Hands down the best story it ever gave me was a highway race on I-71. The year was 2,000 of our lord (just added that for effect). Buzzing along at a respectable 70-75mph, a car rushed up my backside. Given the opportunity I merged right to let it pass. Instead this car gets behind me and proceeds to ride my back some more. Frustrated by something that had taken me from Dayton back to Cincy for the evening, I slung into a wide open far right lane. The same time this S.O.B. that was riding me, a new model Mustang with second most recent body style, shot into the left lane. It was on! I threw old Betsy (a pet name from time to time—she wasn’t pretty but she was mine all mine) into forth at 70. That is not kind to a normal factory four-cylinder. Still my car took it. Reaching 100 in fourth-gear my car was pleading for fifth and thanked me with a smooth transition when I granted the cry. Anyone familiar with Cincinnati knows that south of I-275 there are a few turns in the interstate as it weaves through the hills. As I pleasingly pulled away from the new and slick Mustang, the Protegé crested a hill going into a turn. The car went into a drift! Smoothly at about 105, the car took the turn as the feel of a loose back end mixed fear and pleasure in my blood. Know that any kind of a controlled, or even semi-controlled, drift in a front-wheel care is an impressive feat.
The Mustang was now several distances behind, nothing to worry about. Until removing my eyes from a quick glance in the rearview, I saw a Sheriff in my lane and I was closing fast—for once. This is not as enjoyable as I may have led it to sound. A couple panicked pumps on the breaks jolted the car and loosened up the back end even more, but remember this is a great story not one of the accidents. In a moment my vision of the car went from being able to read Sheriff to reading “Grad DUI” on his plate. He panicked too; thank God, because I probably would have hit him. Chance luck there was an exit there to which he swerved into the fourth right lane. He braked. I braked. Again. There was no way he was getting behind me. Finally, he was forced to commit to the exit. I knew he would just go up to the traffic light, flip his lights on, and then come after me. Not that day. It was the exit just north of the 562 Norwood Lateral and an exit only! Chalk the one and only up for Zach.
That car has been gone for years now, but just as the memory of an old flame may creep unwantingly into your heart and you refuse to expel it for the brief joy it brings. So too does old Betsy show up from time to time in my daydreams.