Monday, June 27, 2011

Ed's West Virginia Roadtrip in his New A5 Audi -- Sutton, WVA

Beside the County Clerk's Office, Sutton, WVA.

A Face Even a Mother Could not Love!

Hudson nash Next to Court Housse, Sutton, WVA.

Reopened theater, Sutton, WVA.

Main Street, Sutton, WVA.

The Audi A5 proved to be an excellent performer on both the really fine Interstates in West Virginia but also on the twisty backroads with their "S" curves. Quattro hugged the curves like glue. I now know why we increasingly are seeing so many car magazines using West Virginia's senic highways and by-ways for featured test drives. We drove into the little town of Sutton that once was a thriving small town with three new car dealerships and an economy based on the timber and logging industry. No more, as Sutton, like many small towns off the beaten path in West Virginia is, if not quite a ghost town, at least a town where time seems to have slowed to a snails pace of a bygone time. A town caught in a time warp.

Looking down Main Street one sees mostly empty shells of once finely crafted detailed buildings. Stepping into the country courthouse right off of Main Street we noticed a large framed photograph beside the Country Clerk's office that was titled "The Presidents of the United States." The president's photographs stopped with Lyndon Baines Johnson. Or perhaps that's the time when federal monies were coming in big time to help this impoverished state. Right next to the Courthouse was a vacant, largely unkept yard where a sad and battered 1957 Hudson "Hash" was parked bearing a face that only a mother could love.

But the kicker came when we walked to the end of Main Street and saw the marque on the long closed movie theater, now reopened on weekends for limited times and currently showing the film "Cars 2." My first thought was "maybe there is a future for Sutton, West Virginia." Everybody loves cars, even in a town where there is little to do and where time seems to have stood still.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Summer School 2011 -- The Automobile and American Life

HST 344 -- Science, Technology and the Modern Corporation: The Automobile and American Life

Class Meeting: MTWTHF 9:25-10:40 a.m., HM 125

Instructor: John A. Heitmann

Office: 435HM (x92803).

Office Hours: By appointment


Texts: John Heitmann, The Automobile and American Life.
Ben Hamper, Rivethead.
Lee Iacocca, An Autobiography.

Grades: The final grade for this course will be based upon one Mid-Term Exam, (30%), Two Critical Book Reviews (40%), and Final Exam (30%). The grade scale is as follows: A 94 to 100; A- 90 to 93; B+ 87-89; B 84-86; B- 80 - 83; C+ 77-79; C 74-76; C- 70-73. A similar pattern applies to lower grades. Letter grades are assigned a mid-point numerical grade. Additionally, attendance can influence your final grade at my discretion: if you miss more than 2 classes, one letter grade will be deducted from your grade; if you miss more than 4 classes, a two letter grade reduction will take place. Grade averages may be influenced by such factors as trends over the time of the course; for example, how you finish is far more important than how you start. Policies for exams strictly follows History Department Guidelines, and make-ups will only be offered with a valid, documented excuse.

Critical Book Reviews: Three critical reviews of assigned books serve as integral assignments in this course. Each review should be 3-5 pages in length, typed, double spaced. One should aim to critically summarize the book, aiming sure to discuss the authors content, themes, and perspectives, and then also provide an introspective response to the book that incorporates one’s own evaluation of the work’s authenticity and value.

Attendance at lectures is crucial if you are to expect a good grade in the course, and I want you to be at every class if that is at all possible. On many occasions material presented is not covered in the readings, and so many of the ideas discussed central to the development of modern science are complex and often confusing. Your attitude and what you bring in to the classroom can make the difference between a mediocre offering and a most positive educational experience.

Cheating and plagiarism will not be tolerated and offenses will be punished accordingly. A first offense will result in a failing grade for the exam or paper in question; a second offense will result in a failing grade for the course.

Course Purpose: It has been said that the automobile is the perfect technological symbol of American culture, a tangible expression of our quest to level space, time and class, and a reflection of our restless mobility, social and otherwise. In this course we will explore together the place of the automobile in American life, and how it transformed business, life on the farm and in the city, the nature and organization of work, leisure time, and the arts. This is a most complex transition that we will study, as the automobile transformed everyday life and the environment in which we operate. It influenced the foods we eat; music we listen to; risks we take; places we visit; errands we run; emotions we feel; movies we watch; stress we endure; and, the air we breathe.


The week of:

Week 1/June 27 Introduction; What our cars tell us about ourselves. The car in everyday life: the automobile age and its contradictions. Automotive Pioneers; Putting America on the Road; Henry Ford and the Model T; The Rise of General Motors; “Master Hands.”

Reading: Heitmann, .Introduction, Chapter 1-3.
Films: “Wild Wheels”; “Horatio’s Drive;” “Automobile Parade;” “Gussle’s Day of Rest”

Monday, July 4, Holiday!

Week 2/July 5 Advertising, Styling, Design and the Art of the Automobile
On the Road;
Reading: Heitmann, chapter 4.
Film: “Grapes of Wrath;” “Route 66;" “Detour.”

Review of Hamper’s Rivethead is due on July 6

Week 3/July 11 Religion, Sex, and The car as a Home
Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 5
Film: “Automobile Advertising 1910-1940;” “Thelma and Louise”; “Motorcycle Diaries”

Mid-Term Exam is July 15

Week 4/ July 18 The Interwar Years: The Great Depression, Aerodynamics, and Cars of the Olympian Age
Readings: Heitmann, Chapter 6.
Films: “The Crowd Roars;” “Burn Em’Up Barnes.”

Week 5/ July 25 World War II: Detroit, the Arsenal of Democracy; The Post War Industry and Technological Suppression; Chrome Dreams of the 1950s
Readings: Heitmann, Chapters 7-8.
Film: “Jitterbugs;” "Tucker;" "Rebel Without a Cause;" "Thunder Road;" "American Graffiti;"“Goldfinger;” “Thunderball” “Bullitt.”

July 27 Review of Lee Iacocca’s 's Autobiography is due.

Week / 6 August 1 Oil Shock I: Japan, James Bond, and Mobile Lovemaking; The Automobile World Upside Down, 1980s to the Present.

Readings: Heitmann, Chapters 9-10, Epilogue.
Films: “Gone in Sixty Seconds.” “Fast and Furious;” “The Bourne Identity.”

Final Exam, Friday August 4 9:25-10:40 a.m.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Targa Restoration II -- Inevitable Issues

OK folks -- now the outer skin and the headliner are off, and clips and block nuts need attention. I ahve been corresponding with Dan Pechtel, who is probably the master targa top restorer around, and he is very skeptical whether I can do this in any way but half-assed. I need new M3.5 screws; a few clips, as three were destroyed when I got them off the first time; and now, Dan tells me, some webbing. Ouch. This is getting more difficult than first anticipated. My initial impulse is to plow ahead no matter what the obstacles. We'll see how it turns out in due course.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Beavercreek, Green County, Ohio, Cruise-In, June 17, 2011

A very nice 1973 BMW 2002. Last year of the stylish, non-Federally mandated bumpers.

1971 Lotus Europa.
Greg's 1959 Alfa. The engine is slightly tilted to accommodate the Weber carbs. This car has lots of originality left.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Rebuilding an Old Porsche 911 Targa Top: Part I

Hi folks -- one writer has said that rebuilding a targa top is as difficult as rebuilding an early 911 engine. Well, I am about to find out whether that claim is true of not. A few weeks ago, while in California, I bought an old targa top for $50, minus the latches. I really wanted the guy to give the thing to me, but he would not come down to $0. So I got it home, and am now slowly taking the old headliner and skin off to restore.
I am amazed at how complex and well built this top was. It has numerous design features that really set me back in terms of how elegant the whole thing was. Last night I got the headliner off, and now need to clean this side and also take off the outer skin. I have a skin and headliner coming form a place in California that does convertible tops. I don't know if they are any good or not, but their price of $88 for both was rather amazing. We'll see if my cheapness leads to disaster in the very near future.
Note that this is an early targa top, 1967-1969. I did fit it on my 1971 and it fit well. It differs from later tops in that it is heavier, has very different side seals, and its headliner has a perforated material.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Perhaps the best feature film centering on car theft: Spike Lee's "New Jersey Drive"

The connection between violence and auto theft was brought home to the viewer in Spike Lee's 1994 "New Jersey Drive."[1] Without doubt, this film is by far the most emotionally powerful and realistic of all 20th century films that center on the topic of auto theft. At the opening viewers are introduced to the central figure in the story, Newark car thief Jason Petty (Sharron Corley), one of a large group of aimless young African-Americans who steal cars, in the process making Newark, New Jersey the car theft capital of America. They do it to "put on a show," as it "didn't matter what the car" was. As it turns out it is a struggle between young car thieves and the Newark police that escalates into a deadly war. Lt. Emil Roscoe's (Saul Stein) auto theft squad brutalizes the young thieves at every opportunity, and excessive force only acerbates this volatile situation. The power of this movie goes beyond characterization of auto theft in a major American city; however, a complex picture of hopeless, despair, social disintegration, racism, hate, and comradeship quickly emerges.

[1] "New Jersey Drive," 1994, DVD 2005, Universal Studios.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Stealing a Volvo 240 Station Wagon: film review, "The Go-Getter"

In contrast to Ale's life on the margins in "Chop Shop," (see in a another blog entry), the 2007 independent film "The Go-Getter" paints the picture of west coast kids living in aimlessly and in angst.[1] High school senior Mercer (Lou Taylor Pucci) who recently witnessed the death of his mother, has just read Mark Twin in an AP English class and wants to journey on "the river." Impulsively he steals a 240 Volvo station wagon at a car wash in his small Oregon town and begins an odyssey to find his half brother, Arlen. Along the way he discovers that his brother is a no-good, and that humans generally disappoint. There is one exception, however. The owner of the car, Kate (Zooey Deschael), has left her cell phone in the car and begins to have an extended conversation with the young thief. She raises an important question; namely is "life random or fate?" Was Mercer's theft of the Volvo a totally random act, or is there a deeper meaning behind this crime? Mercer's trip takes him (and for a time a girl living in Fallon, Nevada that he once knew in Middle school) through such places as Shelter Cove, California; Reno, Nevada; the Mohave Desert; Los Angeles; and finally, Ensenada, Mexico, where he catches up with his half brother and Kate's love. Mercer's next stop is Pointe Coupe' Parish, Louisiana, where an aunt and two cousins live, but this time he has Kate along for the drive. In sum, the film is reflective of a generation’s fears and challenges, and the stolen car is a conveyance geographically and psychologically. In a way the old Volvo is nothing more than an appliance, so typical of the way this younger generation views automobiles in general.

[1] "The Go-Getter," DVD, Peace Arch Home Entertainment, 2008.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Do you like Porsches? A film review of "No Man's Land," starring Charlie Sheen. One of Charlie's lines is "I hate drugs!"

A decade later Ron Howard's penchant for the subject of auto theft resurfaced with a far more violent and serious twist in the feature film "No Man's Land."[1] Howard was an Executive Producer of this action film, written and produced by Dick Wolf (and Joseph Stein). Starring Charlie Sheen (Ted Varrick), and D.B. Sweeney (Benjy Taylor), it is a tale of luscious cars, camaraderie among thieves, and one beautiful and rather innocent young woman. Sweeney is cast as an undercover cop, while Sheen plays the role of a cocky rich kid turned master auto thief and ring leader. Rookie cop Benjy takes on the identity of mechanic Bill Ayles, and gets a job at Technique Porsche, a shop that is suspected as being a place where stolen Porsche 911s are cloned and chopped. Indeed, the film opens with a scne form this hsop in which a Prosche 911 VIN number is being cut from the frame of the car, while its speedometer and steering wheel are being removed. (Too bad that the parts shown actually came from a Prosche 356, while the car shown is a 1980s Porsche 911 Targa!). As the plot evolves, mechanic Bill not only develops a friendship with master thief Ted Varrick, but also Varrick's gorgeous sister. Gaining Varrick's confidence, Ayres teams up to steal a number of Porsches, but their success leads them into a conflict with a rival gang. As the undercover cop gets deeper and deeper into the ring, where does his allegiance lie? In the end the violence turns deadly, the romance goes sour, and Ted is shot to death by his former friend Bill.

"No man's Land" highlighted the significance of the chop shop in organized auto thievery, a place where "every car gets a new life." Skilled thieves stole 1980s Porsches with only "Slim Jims," slide hammers, and some force to break a steering wheel lock. Aided by insider collaboration from both the police and "a guy at the DMV," these thieves thrive at the expense of the wealthy, some of whom no doubt live the "life style of the rich and aimless." There seems to be no sympathy expressed for the car owner in this film, and perhaps its greatest virtue are various scenes in which Porsche 911s are driven hard on the street. And the real danger in doing this kind of crime was not from the police or the actual act, but from rival rings and contested turf.

[1] "No Man's Land," DVD, Orion Pictures, 1987, MGM Entertainment, 2003.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Film Review of the 1978 Release, "Corvette Summer"

Oh, I wish I was back in 1978. I didn't watch many films that year, and in retrospect probably didn't miss that much. Here is the review of Corvette Summer, a version of which will appear in my next book, Stealing Cars: Technology and Society from the Model T to Today.

1978 must have been a good year for goofy comedies about car theft, because that year "Corvette Summer" was also released.[1] Starring Mark Hamill as Kenny Dartley and Annie Potts as Vanessa, the film is to a point entertaining before it's slow pace takes over. The story begins with a high school shop class going to a salvage yard in order to pick up a project car. Kenny ends up saving a Corvette Stingray from the crusher, and soon he leads the class in what becomes a custom restoration of the shark-nosed vehicle. Kenny sees the final product as "perfect;" his shop teacher, Mr. McGrath, cautions his student not to get to involved with the car, as automobiles "always let you down." This viewer saw the car as one of the most garish creations in all of automobile history!

During a night of celebration at a local cruise-in, the car is stolen by organized car thieves, and while authorities are resigned to the loss, young Kenny refuses to give up and consequently begins his search for the vehicle, an odyssey that eventually takes him to Las Vegas.

On the road Kenny eventually meets a young woman who will become the love of his life, Vanessa, a wanna-be hooker who drives a customized love-making van. At first, Kenny resists Vanessa's come-ons, preferring the love his lost car to that of a young woman who was excessively thin before that thin was "in." Indeed, his love is for a car that is not his, but rather the high schools, and thus his obsession is with his work and creation, rather than with personal property.

After making it to Las Vegas and several sightings, Kenny finally tracks the car down to the Silverado Auto Body Shop where he discovers not only the car, but the fact that his mentor back in Los Angeles, Mr. McGrath, is a part of the stolen car ring. After a time of acceptance of the loss of the car and actually taking on work at the body shop, Kenny decides that the right thing is taking the car back to LA anyway, even though he has heard arguments that "a car is a commodity to be bought and sold," that "the crime was victimless," and that the insurance Company can afford it. Finally, after a chase scene in the desert outside of Las Vegas, and the return of the car to the high school, Kenny comes to his senses and walks off with Vanessa. In the end, the girl does become more important than the car, and human relationships triumph over one with a machine.

[1] "Corvette Summer,"DVD, 1978, Turner Entertainment.