29 December 2006

Where I work ...

Our intern Samantha's boyfriend on life since she started working at the shop:

"It's like she inherited four bad-attitude uncles."

Heh, keep it on the straight and narrow, boy.

19 December 2006

Metropolitan



I always wanted one of these. Still do. Here's a guy with thirty of 'em.

The Metropolitan was a diminutive car that epitomized so much that is romantic and quirky about America's infatuation with the automobile. A "clown car," by Metz's own description, the zany, even precocious Metropolitan had a run of eight model years, 1954 through 1961, with nearly 95,000 of them sold.

It was a car that was way ahead of its time. It was small, especially compared with the wallowing Cadillacs and Buicks of the postwar years. It was economical -- it cost $1,445 in 1954, four years after Buick was asking more than $2,100 for its Super -- and it got up to 40 miles per gallon. Above all, in the words of contemporary collectors like Metz and others, it was cute.

If you didn't have to go very far very fast and didn't have to haul many people, these things made a lot of sense. And they're cuter than a bug's ear. The only thing cuter was Urkel's "Bimmer", the Isetta.

Metrosexual? Have a chiropractor on call if you try it!

The photo, and everything else you could possibly want to know about these little sneezers, is from NashMet.com.

14 December 2006

Old Friends



That photo was sent from Steve, on the left, to Larry, on the right, who forwarded it to me. I'll probably hear from both of them about the "old" in the title. Heh. Sue me.

Those guys are the best of friends, and they're both friends of mine for about 35 years. The photo warmed my heart so much I wanted to share. I asked their permission to post this, and since neither of 'em looks like their wanted posters any more, they OKed it.

The common denominator that brought us all together lo those many years ago is, you guessed it, motorcycles. Specifically, English racing motorcycles of the Flattrack and TT Scrambles persuasion, back when Motocross hadn't quite screwed everything up yet. Smooth tracks and high speed weren't good enough, I guess. Go figure.

I cannot begin to describe how much fun it is when a buncha young guys with a buncha fast bikes get together to go handlebar to handlebar on Saturday night or Sunday morning on a racetrack, of which there were plenty in Southern California in those days. Thrills, maybe a few spills, braggin' rights and maybe a beer or two. Good times.

Larry had quit racing when I met these guys, but Steve and I were in the same motorcycle club and raced with each other quite a bit. He could always beat me on the half-mile, and I could occasionally beat him on the TT.

Larry first threw a leg over a 500 Matchless single in 1950, when he was ten years old. That's a big bike for a 10-year-old, but when you tell a kid "if you can start it, you can ride it", the kid'll figure it out! He raced for several years, and went on to become a race mechanic, building and tuning Triumphs for professional racers Lloyd Houchins and "Little John" Hateley. At some point, I think when he started raising a family, sanity overtook him and he pursued other interests, but he has always been, and still is, involved in the motorcycle industry.

He and I talk on the phone quite a bit, but I think we put the government eavesdroppers to sleep. Just the other day we had an exciting chat about late-model Triumph timing gears and various ways of timing cams such as 'splitting the overlap' or the '10 to 2 method'.

There's two things we agree on: One is that each of us has forgotten half of everything we ever knew about motorcycles, but as long as we don't forget the same half, we're in business. The other is that retirement is designed so you can start lots more projects in the hope of completing a couple.

I didn't use Larry's last name because he's a regular citizen and I don't need to out his identity here any further than I already have.

Steve Storz, on the other hand, is already out, an internationally known figure in the motorcycle industry.

He started out welding chopper frames and went on to being a professional tuner for John Hateley at Triumph, and then to the Harley-Davidson factory race team, tuning for 'Rocket' Rex Staten, Ted Boody, Corky Keener and Steve Morehead.

He has a real technical frame of mind. He built a flow bench in his apartment at one time. It went where the washer and dryer would normally go. He was a bachelor motorcycle racer and mechanic. What the Hell did he need clean skivvies for anyway? More power!

In the late '70s, Steve returned to California to start a business. He actually flew me back to Milwaukee to help him move back out here. We towed all his extensive shit machine shop gear behind a van. The van and trailer weighed 13,500 pounds, and I'm not all the way over the experience yet. PTSD, I think. That's a whole 'nother story, but they have real good German food in Milwaukee. And, oh yeah, you can blow all the tires you want to without harm if the rig is heavy enough...

Steve's business is Storz Performance. He manufactures and sells quality parts, primarily for Sportsters and Big Twins. He also manufactures Ceriani forks and has connections in Italy and Sicily. Don't fuck with him. Heh. Click on the link to see some first-class parts and accessories, as opposed to the run-of-the-mill bolt-on Chinese chrome crap you can see on H-Ds outside any tavern in the land.

The motorcycle in the photo is a 1970 Triumph TR6C that I sold to Steve about sixteen years ago. The best you could say about it then was that it was rough but ridable. I think you'll agree that he did a fine job restoring it and converting it to TR6R specs. He did the project pretty quick, as he had his first son on the way, and knew if he didn't do it quick it'd never get done! Said almost-grown-now son, Neil, is 3 times National Youth Motorcycle Trials Champion. Different kinda 'trials' than I'm used to...

Steve sold stuff that would fit Triumphs, so he used the completed bike in his catalog so he could deduct the expense. Cagey devil!

Between Steve and Larry and me, we know everything there is to know about motorcycles. Larry knows half, Steve knows half, and I know the rest. Compared to those guys, I'm chopped liver, but they let me hang out with 'em anyway.

The photo was taken last month at the British Bike Rally at Hansen Dam in the San Fernando Valley, sponsored by the Norton Owners Club. Go see some cool old Limey Iron, along with some German, Italian, and Japanese bikes.

As you scroll down, look for Pat Owens' 'gazillion mile Triumph'. Pat is also a friend, and was my instructor at the L.A. Trade-Tech College of Motersickle Knowledge. He's pretty well known in the bike industry, and as Service Manager for Johnson Motors, the early Triumph distributor for the Western U.S., built quite a few winning race bikes.

Check out the bike. It has a blue gas tank with the names of all the places he and his bride, Donna, have been. The old sled has about half a million miles on it. I think they've been from Circle, Alaska, to Tierra del Fuego on the damn thing, and everywhere in between. He'da rode it to China if he coulda got it to float! Every time he managed to coax 99,999.9 miles onto a succession of Smiths speedos (no mean feat in itself, but they can be rebuilt with any mileage showing that you want), he'd mount it on a bracket.

Pat's a practical mechanic. He had an oil leak once that he couldn't fix without a teardown, so he ducted it to lube his chain. He taught me all I know.

I hope you enjoyed my ramble back through time, folks. There's so much more. I just can't remember it all right now....

13 December 2006

Very cool

As I mentioned over at the Brain this morning, I had to pick up the Mrs. from a late flight last night. A lot of you know, she's an executive for a big Japanese insurance company who has some big clients. Well, Honda's one of them and they're unveiling a new product. The Mrs. got the first-hand experience while she was away. Lucky woman.

11 December 2006

Hey Gord ...

What can ya do with these?

I hate NY 2

So today I have to go to Mercedes to pick up parts (for some reason, the uppity Krauts are the only dealership in the area who doesn't deliver). It's about 5 miles and on the way back, I stopped in several other inspection stations (I know everybody within 10 miles of the shop) to share my misery. Seems the state has been around. Out of 10 places within the 5 mile radius, 9 got the same letter I did. Looks like New York State is trying to keep us all honest and raise a little revenue in the process. Bastids.

I got a laugh in this guy Timmy's place. He's singing tales of woe because not only did he get nailed, he got nailed cheating on it to get the guy a sticker. They jerked his shit on the spot. At least I can still do inspections until the hearing. What would posess him to cheat for somebody he never met, somebody who doesn't spend any money in his place is beyond me. Moron. I don't cheat for long-time customers. In addition, he got a letter the same day from the IRS telling him to prepare for an audit. Merry-fucking-Christmas. I was laughing all the way back to the shop.

I just hope the state ain't dumb enough to schedule all our hearings on the same day. Lotta badasses to have in one place, all pissed off. Heh ...

Winter Driving 101

This article is geared to conditions in my town, but is more entertaining than most. From the Sierra Sun.

Tricky winter driving is just one of the facts of life for locals in the Tahoe-Truckee area.

Whether it's dealing with slippery roads after a storm, dodging chunks of ice flying off a car's roof as the driver motors blissfully unaware down the road, or watching car after car slowly spin out into a snow bank - everybody has had an experience.

That is, everybody but people like me.

Going into my first winter in the mountains after a snow-free life in the lower elevations of California, I thought it may be wise - and slightly entertaining - to seek out the experiences of others to prepare for the coming season.

After speaking to people whose jobs put them out in the elements all winter long - cops, tow-truck drivers and other locals - I found driving in the winter is more than a "winter driving tips" list in a Caltrans pamphlet (even though I read mine with absorption from cover to cover).

After talking to those people, sitting in on a winter-driving class and riding along with the CHP, I got the best winter driving tips and techniques, where to drive and where to avoid, and what one does and doesn't do to keep from irritating local cops.

One thing came through loud and clear, however: Winter driving is serious business.
"Our officers are going from crash to crash - constantly moving," says California Highway Patrol Officer Steve Skeen. "In a good snow storm we could get 20 to 70 crashes in a shift."

Hounded by students in the winter driving class for hands-on experience, Bousquet says an empty parking lot could be used as a place to practice, but as a liability-minded police officer he hesitates to suggest any place in particular. And, of course, he stresses being careful.

Once, after taking a squad car up to the parking lot at Boreal to train for winter driving - spinning out and regaining control - Bousquet says he came across a car full of snowboarders that had slid-out on eastbound Interstate 80.

"A passenger told me they had seen a police car doing it up in the parking lot," Bousquet says with a laugh.

Snowboarders are kinda spun out anyway...

Talking to locals about the traffic that comes with heavy snow and big ski weekends, I watch suppressed frustration come to a boil. But when I ask about secret backroads to avoid the mess, a few have a mischievous glimmer in their eyes.

"I'm not telling my secret back roads, that would ruin them wouldn't it?" jokes Tal Fletcher, owner of Mountain Cab and Squaw Valley Taxi.

That guy lives about a block from me. Most of his taxis are Ford F350 4WD crew cab pickups.

"One of the more annoying things I deal with is people not cleaning their windshield" of snow, says Truckee police Sgt. Jason Litchie. "That will get you a big ticket."

Nonetheless, we've all seen the snow-on-the-windshield, head-out-the-window driver and the four foot pile of snow on the mini-van roof. Some of us may even be guilty of such acts.

"I don't know why people do it. They may not have the tools to remove the snow or they may think it looks cool," says Placer County sheriff's Lt. Jeff Granum. "But the snow comes flying off and either blocks the view through the windshield, or can go off the back and hit another car or even a pedestrian."

A foot or so of snow will lay chilly (heh) and be forgotten until the car heater has warmed the roof a little and broken the bond between the snow and the roof. The first time the driver hits the brakes, the roof-size chunk of snow will slde off and come down right in front of him. This is wonderful in traffic.

Looking for the right gizmos for my car, I find different tools and technologies can help drivers get through the winter; some are under-utilized and others can make drivers over-confident.

Fletcher says besides having an all four-wheel-drive fleet, using studs is the most important thing he does to prepare for winter.

"It's one thing for people coming up for the weekends, but it blows me away when locals don't have studded tires in the winter," Fletcher says.

Studs are fine. They work good. I've run 'em, but they're a real pain in the ass if you leave town for warmer climes during the winter. Like your daily commute to or from Reno. They're louder'n shit on clear pavement and the pavement tends to shove the studs into the tire. It's called a 'stud puncture'. Carry a plug kit and a pair of pliers to pull the offending stud out with. Also a spray bottle of soapy water to find which of the hundred or so studs did it this time and an air pump. This is a real fun deal on the shoulder of I-80 at 8 in the morning in freezing weather. It's not worth the hassle to me, but maybe I'm just lazy.

During Sgt. Bousquet's winter driving course, nearly every-other slide in his Powerpoint presentation says "slow down, stay off the brakes, slow down, stay off the brakes, slow down, stay off the brakes."

That's it in a nutshell.

The CHP's Skeen says it is important to stay aware and not get too over-confident.

"More of the accidents are people who are unfamiliar - locals do a pretty good job because they have better experience and are better equipped," Skeen says. "But sometimes locals' confidence level can be too high and they will speed. But that goes for anybody really."

Fletcher, meanwhile, simply says, "Watch out for crowds. Watch out for Northwoods."

I'm glad he mentioned Northwoods. Northwoods Boulevard is the main thoroughfare out of the large Tahoe-Donner subdivision. The top of Tahoe-Donner is the same elevation as Donner Summit and right on the same storm track. They get a lot of snow in big storms, measured in feet, not inches. The plows do their best to keep up with it, but you know how that goes. The road is very steep, dropping 1000 feet in just under a mile. Heavy weekend traffic compacts the snow and turns it into ice. The locals will go ten miles out the back roads to avoid that one mile stretch, which tees at the bottom directly across the street from the High School.

Tahoe-Donner has a high percentage of second-home owners who just come up to ski and may not be all that road-wise under heavy snow conditions. City drivers, they tend to follow too close and drive too fast.

Here's why you always want to carry your skis bottom-up on the roof rack of the Bimmer X5 that you don't really need in the Bay Area, but feel justified in lugging around four wheel drive components the rest of the time because you go to the mountains three times a year and it really impresses the neighbors.

You're heading out for the slopes of a fine winter's morn, and you're in a hurry to beat the crowds so the lift lines won't be so long. Maybe you're on the phone telling the folks you left three minutes ago how you're doing. You're maybe just a little too close behind that slowpoke local who doesn't understand how important it is that you save thirty seconds. His brake lights go on just for a second. You hit your brakes just like you would at home. Funny thing, instead of slowing, your car speeds up! You push 'em harder. Still won't slow down. Won't steer either. Must be something wrong with the car...

There's a little jog in the road here. Your car slides off the road up onto a snowbank. Then it turns over, and it's a straight shot to the traffic light at the bottom of the hill, a quarter of a mile away.

The skis are now flat on the ground. Should you avoid hitting any cars (locals coming down that hill watch their mirrors for this very reason) you'll be going as fast as you possibly can when you schuss upside-down through a main intersection into the High School.

Locals may applaud and hold up numbered signs for style points.

That scenario has happened more than once. I may have made up the part about the style points.

Drive safe, folks. Common sense is the key.

Drivers who are learning winter driving techniques the hard way are very entertaining if they don't include you in the learning process.

10 December 2006

I hate NY

Well, not really. I love my home state but the folks running it piss me off. Let me explain.

As most of you know, I'm a New York State Vehicle Inspector. That means I'm licensed to inspect your car for safety and do emissions testing and issue you a new sticker. Every once in a while, the state slides an undercover test car though. Now, I realize there is a lot of fraud going on when it comes to the issuance of inspection stickers and the need for them to do this. For $150 (as opposed to $37 for a legit inspection), you can go into Brooklyn or Queens and get somebody to put a sticker on your car, no questions asked. But, on the day before Thanksgiving, didja have to set me up?

It was 2:30 in the afternoon, Indian was gone, Harry was at lunch, and it was just PDB and me there, scrambling to get everything done so we could get out on time. This idiot in a '97 Taurus asks me if I had time to inspect his car. In the holiday spirit, I told him to leave it for a while and get a cup of coffee. Usually, I would have made him an appointment for later in the week but we were going to be closed Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving and I didn't want the guy to get jammed up over the holiday.

So, I inspect the car, fail it because the 'check engine' light didn't come on with the key turned to the 'run' position, charge him the $37, and send him on his way.

Day before yesterday, Harry gets a letter at the shop that somehow, while inspecting this car, I broke a motor vehicle law (even though I failed the car and it didn't get a new sticker). He and I now have to go to a hearing where we'll probably both be fined and have our licenses suspended for a period of time. I need this.

So, here goes. All you people who need an inspection at the last minute and I tell you I can't do it today, you can thank the state of New York. I don't give a fuck if you have to drive through a police roadblock on the way home and your sticker is expired. If you're depending on me to save your ass from a ticket, think again. Like they say, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions and I ain't taking another fine for you. Sorry, but being a good guy will cost me a couple hundred bucks at the least. You, and your little problems, ain't worth it.

03 December 2006

Eye Candy



If you think of motorcycle engines as art in metal like I do, go see The Up-N-Smoke Engine Project by Daniel Peirce. There's 30 of 'em to look at.

30 November 2006

Even yet still more Tesla

A road test review, with video, in the LATimes.

But I can tell you, even from my brief spin in this dog-eared prototype, the Tesla Roadster delivers on its promise, which might be summarized as "stupid fun for smart people." I think the Latin translation of same should appear on the company crest.

Once the transmission is warmed up a bit (by the way, Tesla will use a dual-clutch gearbox instead of the Xtrac-supplied unit, which has proved balky), I nail the throttle. It's not the violent, near-breakaway acceleration of a Porsche 911 or Ferrari F430. It is, instead, an instant, fluid, irresistible surge that doesn't hesitate for mechanical housekeeping like gear changes. The oft-quoted number of 0-60 in 4 seconds is impressive but unfairly limited, since the real heart-flutters begin after that. The motor torque (about 205 pound-feet) stays constant until about 6,000 rpm then gradually falls off until about 13,500 rpm, which is dentist-drill territory.

I only dared a few short bursts up to 85 mph before having to choke off the electrons, but clearly, this car will sling itself up to three-digit territory like a ride at Six Flags Over Hell.

It's over too soon.

Sounds like good sex!

28 November 2006

Where I work

A continuing series:

So, I'm bent over the hood of a car, changing a vehicle speed sensor, basically lying on the engine. PDB, sensing my vulnerability, comes up behind me, grabs my hips, and starts making like he's sodomizing my nether regions. Sam, our 17 year old intern, walks into the shop with some papers Harry has to sign for school. She looks at us and, without missing a beat, says "you know, we have a Gay/Straight Alliance at the high school. Maybe you guys would like to lecture there one day?" Yup, she's working out well.

***

So, we have a cusomer's old (25 years) Ford E-150 van. It's shot and we finally talk him into junking it instead of sinking more money into it. Fine, someone listens. So it has dual gas tanks and he just filled them up before the piece of shit gets drug in on the hook and he wants the gas out of it. PDB, in his infinite wisdom, lets him use our electric fuel pump and a battery to run it.

5 or 10 minutes go by and the customer runs in the shop, goes into the bathroom, gets a towel soaking wet and runs back outside. PDB and I had 2 sets of tires to mount and balance, one of the reasons we let him get the gas out himself. We look at each other and yell, "what's going on" at him but he doesn't answer. Harry comes running in a second later yelling "dipshit set the lot on fire". He was trying to put out burning leaves and gasoline with a wet towel. Dope. I run out with a fire extinguisher as Harry and PDB frantically start moving customers' cars.

Seems the moron was done filling one gas can and was too lazy to disconnect power to the electric fuel pump before taking the hose from the full can and sticking it in the empty can. As soon as he pulled it out of the first can, gas sprayed everywhere (over all the dead leaves that have fallen) and it startled him. He drops the pump and a wire disconnects from the battery, creating a spark ...

Needless to say, I got the fire out before the fire department showed up and no customers cars were damaged, but it was hot enough to melt the aluminum running boards on the van. Never a dull moment ...

16 November 2006

Advice

If your business depends on having a vehicle in good running condition, buy one. I had an argument with a customer yesterday and I told him to take his crap to somebody else.

This guy is a carpenter and he works out of a 20 (180,000 miles) year old Chevy Cavalier station wagon that we've been keeping together for the past 10 years. The car is 1000 pounds overweight, we've already put 3 sets of rear springs in it, and underpowered. The transmission is failing and he can't keep motor mounts in it thanks to the extra weight.

I've been telling him for the last 3 years to get rid of the thing before it falls apart like the Blues Brothers' car at the end of the movie. His reply: It's still a good car.

So I tell him fine, you need a new transmission. He doesn't want to go for that ($2500 when the car ain't worth scrap value). I'm supposed to pour some shit in it to make it shift like an Indy Car. Ladies and germs, miracles do not come in cans.

The car also has an intermittent 'runs like shit' condition (correction, runs shittier than normal). Personally, I think it's the torque converter going to full lockup at low speed (again the transmission has to come out) but he doesn't believe me. He thinks I can turn a few wrenches, make some adjustments, and the thing will be ready to race at Talladega. I tell him it gets to a point where I can't adjust out the effects of wear and abuse from doing a job the engineers at Chevrolet never intended it to do.

And all this time I hear the car, like a dying old dog, begging me to put it out of its misery.

So I tell him I can't work on the damn thing anymore. The car is dying and the only right thing is to let it go peacefully. Either that or dump five grand into it, and that's not including the body work it needs. Did I tell you the thing is rusting away?

So suddenly I'm an asshole and I'm trying to rip him off by pointing a metaphorical gun to his head. Fine, take your piece of shit and get out of my shop.

Look, if your livelihood depends on having a vehicle in good running condition, get one that's up to the job. It's a cost of doing business, just the way the equipment in our place (tire machines, wheel balancer, lifts) is. I can't do my job with shitty equipment and when it breaks it gets fixed the right way. I don't ask it to do things it can't do because if it doesn't work, I'm out of business. If I can't afford to maintain my shit, I gotta start thinking I'm doing something wrong, or maybe I'm in the wrong line of work.

01 November 2006

V-A Lot!

I'm a big Mopar fan, but this proves the old adage that "wretched excess is barely enough". I'll bet them Krauts had a hand in this!

V-10 Motorcycle Tomahawk


With a cruiser set-up, this might even keep Fixer calm for a while.

29 October 2006

More Taurus

Here's the Wes' Coas' take on the demise of the Taurus. LATimes:

The Ford Taurus, which entered the world as a revolutionary new take on the American automobile, will exit Friday as a forlorn reminder of things gone wrong with the American auto industry.

Good article. Go read.

27 October 2006

"Red hair and black leather, my favourite color scheme..."



As a socially responsible gearhead blog, we present a cautionary musical tale of what youth, raging hormones, a fast motorcycle, and a no doubt somewhat speedy redhead can do for you:

Richard Thompson - 1952 Vincent Black Lightning


If you understand this Englishman singing in English as well as I do, here's the lyrics:

Oh says Red Molly to James "That's a fine motorbike.
A girl could feel special on any such like"
Says James to Red Molly "My hat's off to you
It's a Vincent Black Lightning, 1952.
And I've seen you at the corners and cafes it seems
Red hair and black leather, my favourite colour scheme"
And he pulled her on behind and down to Boxhill they did ride

Oh says James to Red Molly "Here's a ring for your right hand
But I'll tell you in earnest I'm a dangerous man.
For I've fought with the law since I was seventeen,
I robbed many a man to get my Vincent machine.
Now I'm 21 years, I might make 22
And I don't mind dying, but for the love of you.
And if fate should break my stride
Then I'll give you my Vincent to ride"

"Come down, come down, Red Molly" called Sergeant McRae
"For they've taken young James Adie for armed robbery.
Shotgun blast hit his chest, left nothing inside.
Oh come down, Red Molly to his dying bedside"
When she came to the hospital, there wasn't much left
He was running out of road, he was running out of breath
But he smiled to see her cry
He said "I'll give you my Vincent to ride"

Says James "In my opinion, there's nothing in this world
Beats a 52 Vincent and a red headed girl.
Now Nortons and Indians and Greeves* won't do,
Ah, they don't have a soul like a Vincent 52"
Oh he reached for her hand and he slipped her the keys
Said "I've got no further use for these.
I see angels on Ariels in leather and chrome,
Swooping down from heaven to carry me home"
And he gave her one last kiss and died
And he gave her his Vincent to ride.

*"Douglases and Rudges and Nortons" in this version. He wrote it, he can change it.


More on the motorbike that led our hero astray. You're on your own for the redhead and the raging hormones, dammit.

Goodbye, old pal ...

In my book it was the best all-around automobile ever built (this coming from a man who made his money building winning race engines). I worked for Ford when every 3rd car they sold was a Taurus. I enjoyed working on them and I'll miss them. One of Ford's biggest mistakes was letting the brand stagnate and wither. Browsing the net, I found a kindred spirit:

It's twisted and a bit pathetic, but I will be shedding a tear next week in honor of the Ford Taurus officially and finally going out of production. It had a 21-year run that in retrospect is the longest fall from grace in history. During that time Ford sold 7 million Tauruses and another 2 million Mercury Sables. Since January 1st of this year, however, Ford had halted sales of the Taurus to the public, accepting orders only from fleet and rental companies. Despite that, the Taurus remained Ford's best selling passenger car almost every month this year, selling more units than the Focus and even the red hot Mustang. The Taurus saved Ford when it was introduced in 1985 and immediately sold 263,000 units during that first year. That number would rise to 410,000 units in 1992 when the Taurus overtook the Honda Accord to become the best selling passenger car in the U.S., a title it held for five straight years.

...


The last Taurus rolled off the line this afternoon.

25 October 2006

Classics at Castletown

This YouTube deal's got me feelin' like a super-annuated kid with a new toy. Here's a 5-minute video of a Vintage Motor Cycle Club (VMCC) Rally at Castletown, Isle of Man, during the '06 Manx Grand Prix. All the photog had to do was stand in one place and push the button!

Lotsa neat old primarily English bikes, with single-cylinder machines well represented. I like one-lungers. The longer-stroke models fire at about every telephone pole.

From about 42 to 47 seconds in is a very unusual motorcycle with a very distinctive sound: A Scott Flying Squirrel 500cc or 600cc twin. I've seen 'em, but I never heard one run before. Now I know why they call 'em "the yowling two-stroke"! More at the Scott Owners' Club or Wikipedia.

Please enjoy this. I did.

22 October 2006

Tires

We harp on tires every year at this time. A little tip. If your right side tires have a whitewall from scraping up against the curb, spring for a new set before the really bad weather gets here.

And just a little rant:

I used to love working on Volvos. Ugly cars but easy to work on. I did an alternator on an XC70 this week. What a fucking clusterfuck getting the thing out. I don't like working on Volvos anymore.

28 September 2006

Motorcycle Mayhem

So, how do ya like standin' on the seat of yer sled waving to the throng, on the sidestand, in a cloud of smoke from your own melting rear tire? Oh, yeah, do it all the time!

From the EssEffChron. Where else?

The moment Darius Khashabi felt his motorcycle wobble at 80 mph, he knew he was headed toward pavement. He was speeding along Highway 242 near Concord, and it didn't help that he was doing a wheelie in the fast lane while attempting to stand up on his gas tank -- an acrobatic move that required Khashabi's videographer to follow him in a car. On the video -- which is part of Khashabi's popular line of "Servin' It Up" DVDs, a 5-year-old genre of illicit street racing and extreme motorcycle stunts filmed mostly on Bay Area streets -- his feet slip off the gas tank and his front wheel slams down to the asphalt. At the high speed, the bike pitches like an angry bull, throwing Khashabi's body into the next lane of traffic.

"I was so amped on adrenaline, I barely felt it," Khashabi says at his Walnut Creek home as he prepares to leave for a stunt bike contest in Fresno. "I just got up, started running to the edge, and that's when I felt my foot start to burn."

Khashabi had shattered his right wrist, broke bones in his right foot and lost a few layers of skin from his back, thighs, palms, knuckles and kneecaps.

But those were the old days, Khashabi says with a hint of nostalgia. Three years later, the nationally known stunt rider credited with helping to launch the trend of "stunting" is trying to go legit. Khashabi, 32, aims to transform stunt riding from an illegal hobby that has long frustrated police and angered drivers into an internationally sanctioned extreme sport with an eye toward the 2008 X Games. To do so, he has tirelessly promoted his DVDs, which have sold an estimated 100,000 copies at $25 a pop, and over the past year he has appeared in 35 demos and contests, from Sweden to Sydney. His sport has yet to catch the attention of X-Game producers, but Khashabi believes that with the right organizing body and an image makeover, stunting will soon gain acceptance.

I'm glad the bikes I came up on weren't powerful enough to do shit like that. We were nuts enough to try it, but the thought never crossed our minds because the sleds just wouldn't do anything like that. We did wheelies, jumped 'em, powerslid 'em, and rode 'em balls-out in the desert. Sometimes we unloaded hard, too. It was all part of the fun.

"Faster, faster, until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death!" is one thing, but gettin' trunked on the sidestand, or doin' a high-speed wheelie in traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge, ain't on my program. Kids these days!

15 September 2006

Young people

I've written before about how we used to have local kids working for us up until a couple years ago. They got to learn about cars (and a lot more) and make a few bucks and we got slave labor. We stopped hiring kids when we hired Dead Ed to work in the office. Well, now that Dead Ed is really dead a year, we were talking the other day about how none of the neighborhood kids have come around looking for a job. We've been really busy the last couple months and can use the hand.

Well, wouldn't you know it, one of our customers, her kid, and the high school guidance counselor show up at the shop today. The kid wants to get into the automotive field and wanted to intern at our shop. After laughing our asses off for a couple minutes, Harry just shrugs his shoulders and walks away, his look telling me it's up to me.

Fine.

I look at mother, kid, and guidance counselor and ask. "Do you realize the language and subject matter gets discussed around here?" Nod 'yes' and a grin from the mother (she's been a customer for 25 years), a shake of the head 'no' from kid and guidance counselor.

I say to the kid. "If I said I was going to sodomize you with a telephone pole, would you look at that as sexual harrassment?" The kid turns red, the guidance counselor turns plaid.

"I can deal with it," the kid says.

"No whining?" I ask. I get a shake of the head 'no'. "Do you mind using that bathroom?"

Kid looks in, makes a face. "No."

I turn to the guidance counselor. "This is the real world," I said. "This is the way it is in every shop I've ever worked in. The kid will learn how to swear like a sailor but will learn a lot about cars and being a good person. Is the school all right with that?"

Guidance counselor turns to mother and I get a nod 'yes' from both of them.

"Fine," I say. "Welcome aboard, kid." And we shake hands. The kid is 17, starts in a couple weeks working 2 hours a day after school, three days a week, and her name is Samantha.

After they leave, Harry walks up to me and says. "If she fucks up, it's coming out of your ass."

So now I'm a mentor. Oy gevult!

14 September 2006

Picky, picky, picky...

To its credit, the LATimes is one of very few newspapers that actually does stories on motorcycles. To its discredit, it's too cheap to hire a motorcycle writer and uses automotive writers. I'm sure these folks know all about cars (What's to know? Gas goes in, wheels go 'round! [Just kiddin', Fixer!]), but they don't really seem to know much about motorcycles. I guess ya take what ya can get, since bikes are in the "Car Culture" section, but the car guys need a proofreader, a fact checker, and a 'sickle-speak translator.

I volunteer.

I read this article about a bike I am positively in lust with, the new Triumph retro-scrambler. Since I actually know a little bit about '60s-vintage English bikes, and even some newer ones (they make motorcycles in Japan now. Imagine that!) I was sorta taken aback by Mr. Neil's lack of knowledge about stuff. Little things, but the Devil is in the details. So here's the Triumph portion of the article, with footnotes from moi.

Let's keep it real. In terms of engineering, handling and performance, mid-century motorcycles were kind of awful, crude and wobbly protomorphs of the ultra-fast, super-stable, ever-starting wonder machines of the modern era. I rode an old BSA a few months ago and felt like I was going to fall off as soon as I heeled the kickstand. (1)

(1) Don't pick yer feet up 'til it starts ta move, ya idjit! Mr. Neil must be very young. Those sleds were fast and stable back in the day, and we didn't know any better anyway.

The fundamental changes in moto-tech - fuel-injection, monoshock/swingarm (2) rear suspension, disc brakes, emissions controls(3), you name it - make riding vintage-era bikes feel like trying to log onto the Internet with a rotary phone (4). And yet bikes were cooler back then(5) - raw and elemental, with a stark, stripped functionalism. So it's no surprise that "modern classic" design should appeal to the growing population of older, first-time riders(6) looking to buy the kinds of bikes they imprinted on in their youth. Here are three(7) that reprise a classic, emotional design from the grand era of two-wheel rebellion, in the context of current technology.

(2) "Monoshock" is a registered trademark of Honda. Most bike writers use the term "single shock", although it's kinda like using "Kleenex" for "tissue" or "snot rag".

(3) It's a legal requirement, not a "fundamental change".

(4) I like that!

(5) Fuckin' A! The Fonz rode a Triumph.

(6) I think he just plain missed the mark here. A lot of us old not-first-time riders like these too for the same reason.

(7) Retro-lookin' Ducati and Harley-Davidson. Go see.

Triumph: McQueen for a day

No footnote, but the image that conjures up is awful, like yer gonna get a new washing machine and a spa day. Probably inevitable, though.

First question: What, if anything, has Triumph Motorcycles - reconstituted after a devastating factory fire in 2002 - paid the estate of Steve McQueen? The iconic leverage of the new Triumph Scrambler pivots almost entirely on McQueen, who rode a Triumph Enduro(8) in the 1971 documentary "On Any Sunday"(9) and a Triumph in the WWII thriller "The Great Escape" (racer and stunt rider Bud Ekins doubled for McQueen in the famous jump scene, and the Triumph doubled for a BMW, lore has it). For guys who really want to channel the Steve, the Triumph Scrambler obliges. You can even order an optional "278" number board(10), McQueen's entry when he raced in the 1964 International Six-Day Trials(11) in East Germany. How bad do you have to have McQueen Fever to know that?

(8) There has never, ever been a Triumph model called an "Enduro"

(9) McQueen rode a Husqvarna in On Any Sunday.

(10) That term is never used. It's a number plate.

(11) He's got the 's' in the wrong place and there's no hyphen. It was the International Six Days Trial.

The Scrambler is the latest of four Modern Classics bikes from Triumph, and it might as well conjure '60s California with a Ouija board: the two-tone paint, chrome escutcheons(12) and rubber knee grips on the tank, bench seat with white piping, exhaust pipes intertwined like crossed fingers (though back in the day, the pipes were on the left side). Much like the echt Bonneville Scramblers(13), it has gaitered front shocks(14), wire wheels, wide flat handlebars and relatively knobby tires (Bridgestone Trail Wings).

(12) Elitist! Just call 'em "tank badges".

(13) Triumph never had a model called a "Scrambler" until now. The model that did very well in scrambles was called the "TT Special", and the street bikes with high pipes weren't officially called that until Honda did it.

(14) They are called "front forks". Period. Some kinds of forks such as leading- or trailing-link or Earles forks do have shock absorbers.

Which in no way should lead you to believe this is a true dual-sport bike, a la Ducati Multistrada(15). As soon as the tires touch gravel, form and function part company. The Scrambler - based largely on the Bonneville T100 streeter - has a wet weight of about 500 pounds and tires that are not much more trail-able than your average street tire. Also, the historically faithful rear coil-overs(16) don't surrender much suspension travel, so the Scrambler rear starts to jackhammer at moderate speeds on chuck-holed fire roads.(17)

(15) Just plain wrong. The Multistrada is, like the Scrambler, a little bit dirt-road capable, more properly called an "Adventure Tourer". A "true dual-sport" bike is a dirt bike with minimally legal street equipment, like these.

(16) This is an automotive term not used by bike riders.

(17) Try to miss the chuckholes, fool! Don't look right at 'em. Look just to the side of them. "Look where ya wanna go". An off-road novice mistake.

This is essentially a road-purposed bike - more specifically, an urban commuter. Between the gloss-black frame rails is Triumph's 865-cc, dual-overhead cam parallel twin - the same mill(18) as in the nostalgia-themed Thruxston(19) and Bonnie T100. However, the engine has been slightly detuned for more low-end torque (51 foot-pounds at 5,000 rpm) at the expense of horsepower (54 hp at 7,000). The bike steps off the line nicely and can clear four-wheeled traffic without much trouble. But the bike strains a bit at higher rpm and quasi-legal interstate speeds. The rider strains a bit too. The lack of a windscreen, combined with the very upright riding position, makes for a face-first buffeting that would shame a North Sea gale.(20)

(18) "Mill" is a car word, not often used by motorcyclists.

(19) Misspelled. It's "Thruxton".

(20) Wussie! Motorcycling is called "gettin' in the wind" for a reason. Real buffeting is a product of a poorly designed windshield or a poorly adjusted one.

What this bike truly is, is easy. Make that effortless. The seat height and relaxed riding position is a huge relief from the Nigel-the-human-cannonball posture required on sport bikes(21). The handlebars are easy to reach. The seat is soft, the engine note well-tempered. This bike is two-wheeled Paxil. It is also - though I'm sure this isn't the sales pitch Triumph would trumpet(22) - a perfect beginner's bike(23).


(21) No shit, Sherlock!

(22) A probably-unintended pun. Triumphs have been called "Trumpets" for years. Detractors, usually Panhead riders, also call 'em "Turnips".

(23) Just a matter of opinion, but I still think beginners should start with a smaller, lighter bike.

If you push the Scrambler, it does have some reserves of street performance. It drops into a corner with finesse - all that extra leverage from the big handlebars(24) - and holds a line well. It has good lean angles and makes side-to-side transitions with less drama than Sunday morning C-SPAN(25). The handling is seamless and reliable, with low-speed agility(26) and parking-deck maneuverability. Like I said: easy.

(24) The width of the handlebars has nothing to do with how well a bike corners. It's a function of rake, trail, wheelbase, and center of gravity.

(25) That's maybe a little too easy! Borr-ring!

(26) Wide handlebars help a little here.

The bike is carbureted, not fuel-injected, so riders will have to pull the choke and let the engine warm up a bit before it falls into a shuffling chuff. With a fuel economy in the neighborhood of 50 miles per gallon, the dead-simple Scrambler makes an excellent commuting bike, while offering a hugely romantic presence on the street. Expensive? Rather(27). Nobody said being Steve was going to be cheap.

(27) MSRP $7,999. Pretty cheap these days. My '69 Triumph TR6 was $1350 out the door with a Bell helmet thrown in.

To be fair, Mr. Neil didn't do any worse than most journalists do. Scary.

By the way, my first job in the 'sickle biz was at Bud Ekins' shop in Sherman Oaks CA. A real character and a true icon of the sport. He also gave me my first (and only!) shot as a movie star in The Thing With Two Heads wherein he set a new record for the number of cars wrecked in a movie! Go read about The Great Escape jump at his name link, or his Motorcycle Hall of Fame bio.

Well, I had fun tearing the poor guy apart. ! guess I'll just sit back and wait for someone to do it to me. Probably Badtux. Later.

07 September 2006

Bentley

LATimes

THERE are just not that many cars in the world that blow up my finely tailored skirt, but the Bentley Continental GT is one. I like to think of myself as a man of environmental principle, so it would be ethically inconsistent for me to own Bentley's 12-cylinder, 552-hp, 2 3/4-ton siege engine of class warfare, a car that vaporizes premium petrochemicals to the tune of 15 miles per gallon and wafts its own muggy microclimate of greenhouse gases behind. Never mind the fuel economy - the monster tires alone probably represent a barrel of oil each.

And yet, even along Wilshire Boulevard - where the cars now are as common as taxis - every sighting of the long, prow-intensive fastback is a cardiac event, an aching reminder of the Bentley-shaped hole in my heart. The silent thunder of its approach, the shimmering grille of mithril, the perfect rhythms and symmetry of the body contours streaming back like the folded wings of Valkyries. The Bentley's presence seems to funnel the cosmos until all you see is that car.

In the face of this suffused wonderfulness, all I can think is: Now, where did I put my knickers?

After that, mine are down around my ankles!

Stashed discreetly behind the rear headrests are hydraulically actuated roll hoops that will, if the car senses an incipient rollover, burst through their composite covers to help protect occupants from a drastic hair-restyling event.

Acceleration is still, well, obscene: 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds. The car is then merely gaining its feet. It's a surreally smooth ride up to triple digits and it's fair to say if this car isn't fast enough for you, you should definitely join the Royal Air Force. Speaking of obscene, get a load of those ventilated front brake discs: 16 inches in diameter, the biggest in any production car.

How fast is it with the top down? According to Ulrich Eichhorn, Bentley board member in charge of engineering, the top-down top speed is 190 mph, and he even volunteered to sit in the back seat while the car made its top-speed test run. "It wasn't as tempestuous as you might think," the charming Eichhorn reports. "The wind wasn't that bad."

And yet, when the car is released this fall, I'm sure it will blow a few skirts up.

OK, I'm sold. Do they make it in a pickup?

28 August 2006

Temples of vroom

If you're at a loss for what to do the next time you're in Germany, the LATimes has a few suggestions:

In Germany, automakers are in fierce competition to come up with the most jaw-dropping shrines. Car-loving travelers, come peek under the hood.

And why not? Germany's automakers are locked in a fierce competition - reminiscent of medieval city-states' cathedral wars - to see which can build the grandest temple. For travelers tired of schlepping from one Our Lady of Whatever to another, the German automakers' building spree offers a rich new itinerary - showrooms, museums and tours - that traces the technological triumphs of the Automotive Age, the passion for motor sports, the renaissance of postwar Germany and the cost-is-no-object ambitions of brand-name architects.

Also included are VW, Audi, BMW, and Porsche, with links. What, no Opel, NSU, or
Trabant? Horch? I guess there are some German brands best forgotten.

By all means go peek under the hood.

27 August 2006

Shop pics

[Over at our political blog, Alternate Brain, we're supporting Dave Mejias for Congress in NY-04. The other day I posted these pics of how I've put up signs and campaign literature in the shop. I figured I'd cross-post here because they're shop-related. Click on the link below for more. - Fixer]


My toolbox.


The front window.


I Dave-ized the shop* this morning.

You know the drill.

Dave for America

ActBlue

Because we've had enough of Peter King**.

*A couple unrelated pics from the shop here.
**Link to State of the Day (thanks, Creature) added after the fact.

20 August 2006

Driving

Regulars here know how I hate dealing with stupid, shitty drivers on my commute. This morning, Aunty Annti has some commandments for the road. Very good:

...

3. NO MORE CITY TRUCKS. Y'all know the ones that I mean. Anybody who puts too much chrome, oversized shiny rims, ground effects, air dams or scoops, or sparkly paint & airbrushing on a pickup truck, or even THINKS about dropping it to the ground and using those extremely useless flat tires around the giant rims --- should be pulled off of the road and pantsed in public, so that their teenaged kids won't be humiliated by them anymore, and they will finally have to admit that pickup trucks are not now, nor have they ever been, intended to impress hoochies at the club, nor are they designed to stand in for sports cars or bling-bling. IT'S A TRUCK, GAWDDAMMIT --- SHOW IT THE RESPECT THAT A TRUCK IS DUE, AND STOP MAKING IT LOOK LIKE A LITTLE DRAG-QUEEN BITCH OF A VEHICLE.

...

16 August 2006

Toyota Rules The Road in California

LATimes

If you've ever wondered as Toyota after Toyota after Honda rolled by on the freeway just how big a lead those automakers had in California, the numbers are in.

And they're big.

In its first published look at new-vehicle registrations in the state, the California Motor Car Dealers Assn. found that in the second quarter, Toyota-brand cars and trucks accounted for 23.4% of all sales, followed by Honda at 12.4%.

The strong performance of the Japanese brands put them ahead of overall U.S. market leaders General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. The Ford brand was third in California in the second quarter, with a 9.6% share, and GM's Chevrolet followed at 8.2%.

Add Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus luxury brand to the tally and its April-to-June share of the California market rises to a dominating 27%.

Six foreign nameplates - Toyota, Honda, Nissan, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus - accounted for 53.8% of the new passenger vehicles sold in the state in the second quarter.

This one's for you, Fixer:

Ford's full-size F-150 pickup, however, remained the leading model in the state, accounting for 3.9% of sales in the first half, and five of the top 10 models were pickups or big SUVs - a testament to California's love affair with trucks, regardless of what's happening at the gas pump.

None of this comes as any surprise to me. We've had our Tacoma for a little over a year now and we're still in love with it. The gas mileage isn't stupendous - real world 16/20, but in comparison with the Dakota at at 13/18, it's better. The Tacoma is faster, more comfortable, and loaded with features. F'rinstance, the passenger seat weighs the passenger so it won't set the air bag on "stun" if there's a kid in it.

Also, it has three, count 'em - three, odometers, one of which is used to turn off the "maintenance required" light, which is an oil change reminder every 4500 miles. We don't go that long between changes, so I had to learn how to turn the light off (read your owner's manual. Duh.).

I can lock the doors from inside my house. Handy.

My neighbor Joe, an old Dodge man like me, even bought a Tundra. I think he likes it, but all he'll say when I ask him is "It's not a Dodge". His lovely bride of 45 years snitched him off, though.

Mrs. G calls our truck "Ruby" because of its color. I call it "Recon Ruby" because it's swift and silent. My one beef about it is, it's so quiet I can't hear it coming. You can hear the tire noise, but not the engine. My dogs don't even alert to it until they hear the door close in the driveway twenty feet away. If the exhaust system ever rots away, I'll fix that. The Dakota has a "big American V-8" rumble you can hear a block away.

Even though I bought the truck in Nevada, it put Californians to work. It was assembled at an old GM factory in Fremont, so the term "Jap shit" just don't fly anymore, and nobody does that anymore, anyway. GM exported their old assembly line to China. Quite a few of the former "Big 3" cars and trucks are assembled in Canada and Mexico. "Buy American" does not mean what it used to.

Note to GM: You better wise up. Toyota's passed Ford nationwide for No. 2 and the handwriting is on the wall. It's not just Japanese graffiti. What it says is, "Too bad, so sad. Sayonara, dinosaur."

15 August 2006

You know ...

It's gonna be an interesting day when PDB gets out of his Jeep, walks into the middle of the shop, and announces to me and several customers: "I don't have enough time in my life so I'm changing a few things. I've stopped taking showers and wiping my ass."

It's just another day ...

07 August 2006

Cruise Night New York Style

An East Coast retro car scene in the LATimes

HARTSDALE, N.Y. - Steve and Marie Michaels maneuver their black '55 Chevy with the "MOB HIT" license plate so the rear faces into the parking lot of a Carvel ice cream shop, where everyone can see the trunk's "Godfather" mural. It shows Brando as Vito Corleone, Pacino as Michael Corleone, and the guy who plays Luca Brasi, the hulking henchman who winds up sleeping with the fishes.

"Luca, he's the man," says Bronx-born Steve Michaels as he folds his cigarette pack under the left sleeve of his white T-shirt.


LiVecchi concedes that there are challenges to being car crazy in New York, as opposed to, say, California. Owners need a good garage, for starters, and can't be planning to drive in snow, ice and road salt. Of course, those indoor months give them time to work on cars such as the "Godfather" Chevy. Next on the drawing board for that one?

"You know the scene where Sonny gets killed at the toll plaza?" LiVecchi says. "We're going to do a mural of that, under the hood."

A message to the guy checking the oil, perhaps?

02 August 2006

Hot August Nights

Going on now from July 29 to August 6 is the 20th annual Hot August Nights in Reno, Nevada, not too far from me. This is more of an event than just a car show. We're talkin' poodle skirts on gals that are old enough to know better, folks.

You can read all about it at the site, and watch streaming video at KOLO-TV. Be sure to go see the band lineup.

I had a buddy named Grape who's moved away now, but he loved the old iron. He worked (and lived) at a local wrecking yard. His ride was a '55 Ford pickup with a Rocket 88 mill he found on the ground. The motor mounts were various length pieces of chain, and all the door and window handles were small vise grips, except for one window that wasn't there which he covered in duct tape in winter. It was a low rider, partly by design and partly by the old suspension pieces he used. The thing was finished in gray primer and the mufflers didn't very well. The license plates were whatever he could find with a current tag.

Obviously, this thing wasn't a candidate for the Show 'n Shine, and Grape couldn't take part in the cruising, mostly because the truck was an instant bust and he couldn't outrun the cops in downtown Reno. To its credit, Hot August Nights even had an event for this bucks-down old load in amongst all the stuff for the high dollar restorations: the burn-out contest. Grape ran real wide tires that didn't cost him anything, and that Olds could really light 'em up! He'd burn rubber 'til he ran out of gas. He had as much fun as anybody, maybe more. The crowd loved it too.

I have many funny stories about Grape. He and I were pals for years. Maybe I'll tell a few of 'em. Stay tuned.

01 August 2006

It's hot

We have a sign in the shop:

We don't work on:

French cars
British cars
Italian cars
Russian cars


I'm too old for the hassle and Harry's of the same mind. So today, the hottest fucking day of the year so far, Nunzio brings a car up to be inspected. An ancient Peugeot 405.

Me: Is that the same Frog piece of shit that caught fire on the dyno last year?

Nunzio: Yeah, I fixed it.

Me: What did I tell you last year, after I got the fire out, you crazy I-talian?

He thinks for a minute.

Nunzio, quoting me: Don't ever bring that Frog piece of shit back here ever again or I'll push it out in the street and burn it the rest of the way.

Me: And?

Nunzio: But the guy is a good customer. Look, he pays me to keep this thing running. I'll leave it with you.

Me: It's the hottest fucking day of the year.

Nunzio: Pleeeeeeze.

Me: Fine. I hate to see a grown man beg.

Nunzio heads back to his shop (a couple blocks up the road). About a half-hour later, Harry and I strap the car down to the dyno and run it up. Four minutes on a variable speed course, ending up at about 60 mph before the test ends. It fails the first run and we have to do it again. We're almost finished with the second run, Harry bringing up the speed, and at about 50, I see smoke begin coming out from the hood seams. I move to the wall to grab the fire extinguisher, muttering 'I'm gonna kill that Ginzo bastid'.

Harry sees me move and then he sees the smoke. 'Is it on fire,' he yells, continuing to put on speed, following the test.

I look under the car and I see green fluid pouring out from underneath. 'Nah, overheating,' I yell back as the left side tank of the radiator blew off, spewing 250 degree water all over the place. Harry finishes the test as I start tossing Speedy-dry on the steaming antifreeze. Would you believe the fucking thing passed?

I dial the phone. 'Nunz, bring the wrecker, the fucking thing passed but it needs a radiator.'

Nunzio: Cha-ching.



So how did your day go?

29 July 2006

More Tesla

Some follow-up on Fixer's post (scroll down a little) from the LATimes.

When Tesla, the upstart auto company based in Silicon Valley, unveiled its all-electric Roadster at a swank affair in Santa Monica last week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger dropped in for surprise visit. Recognition hung in the air. The man who became famous for playing one seriously aggressive electric appliance had come to pay his respects to another.

That's not too germane to the subject, but I couldn't resist! Also see photo "Assault with battery". Ah, the pun electric!

The Tesla is a toothsome sports car. The EV1, um, wasn't.

Perhaps most important and most unlike the EV1, the Tesla offers something beyond mere virtue as a reward to its buyers. Fun, in large, hair-raising voltages. The company claims 0 to 60 mph acceleration in four seconds and a top speed of 130 mph.

Big brakes, racy suspension, optional leather and navigation system, air conditioning, heated seats. There's even room for golf clubs. With the Tesla, the electric car seems poised to move past its groovy-granola beginnings.

"There's a big market for green," says Chris Paine, EV advocate and director of "Who Killed the Electric Car," "but not as big as the market for something more primal. Speed and power have always sold cars."

There are more variables than an algebra textbook and Tesla's success is far from a sure thing. GM, with all its technological prowess and financial depth, couldn't make a business case out of the EV1 - and I submit that those who think otherwise don't understand the car business.

The Big 3 don't seem to understand the car business much anymore either, other than "build what sells". Expensive gas will change that more than green thinkin' will. Dinosaurs historically have not been receptive to evolutionary change. Seen any of those lately?

Shorter "The times they are a-changin'": We're goin' from dirty-dirty suck-squeeze-bang-blow to cleaner 'whirrrr'. I hope we're in time.

23 July 2006

Yeah, what he said

Our pal, Badtux the Penguin gets stuck on the highway thanks to the cheapness of others:

...

And YOU, random blog reader: This heat ain't nothin to fuck around with. If you're not a mechanic yourself and you haven't taken your car to a mechanic lately to have him check your coolant mix, radiator cap, radiator hoses, and everything else that's a normal service item to make sure everything's working right when the weather gets hot, *DO IT*. The last fuckin' thing your kids need is for your stupid cheap ass self to strand them in the middle of fuckin' nowhere in 100 degree weather without any fuckin' water to drink on some mountain grade where there's no real shoulder to pull off so you're all just kinda dangling on the edge of a fuckin' cliff because it's too goddamned hot to stay in the car and cars are blowing by honking their horns and shit at you and the tow company says it'll be at least four hours before they can come get your car because every tow truck in the whole fuckin' region is tied up hauling fucking morons back home where said morons thought takin' their car to Jiffy Loob every few thousand miles was "maintaining" it... is that what you want for yourself? No? Then TAKE CARE OF YOUR GODDAMNED CAR, for cryin out loud. And no, I don't mean take it to fuckin' JIFFY LOOB for some fuckin moron even dumber than you to open the hood and look in it and say, "Doh, there's an engine under here awrite!". Shit, you could do that much yourself and get the same goddamned result. Take your piece of shit car to a MECHANIC. Someone who actually KNOWS somethin' about cars. Got it?

...


Yo, didja get it or are you still clueless?

22 July 2006

Tesla

John turned me on to this via email this morning and I poked around a little more.



Last night Tesla Motors unveiled their uber-chic Roadster, a supercharged electric vehicle that looks, feels and drives like many other high-end sports cars. The main difference is the noise. Powered by a 3-phase, 4-pole AC induction motor, the Roadster can go 130 mph and does 0-60 in about 4 seconds, all completely silent. [my emphases]

...


This is the beginning of the end for the internal combustion engine. Cars with this type of styling and performance will garner interest with the die hard hotrodders. Unlike Reaganomics and Bush's ownership society, this stuff trickles down to the general public. "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday" isn't just a happy little saying.

15 July 2006

Branded!



Note to self: Be more careful with the exhaust probe after running a car at 60 mph on the dyno.

13 July 2006

Chickasaws Chisel Chinks, Revive MG

LATimes

A struggling Chinese manufacturer, the remnants of a failed British automaker and an ambitious American Indian tribe plan to pool their resources to rescue the iconic MG sports car from the automotive junkyard.

A consortium led by Nanjing Automobile Group announced a $2-billion plan Wednesday to construct a state-of-the art production facility in China, reopen a shuttered MG factory in England and open an assembly plant and a distribution center in the small town of Ardmore, Okla.

The Nanjing-led group - knowing that customers may well be skeptical of an upstart Chinese manufacturer - will have to produce a car that is well-designed and without flaws right out of the gate or risk damaging the brand's reputation.

Good for them. The old MGs were well enough designed, and a lot of fun to drive. Without flaws? Hardly.
The new MG team also is counting on additional help from the Chickasaws, a 38,000-member tribe based in Ada, Okla. Under federal law, Indian tribes are considered sovereign nations and are exempt from paying taxes. Hale said his group was researching ways that the MG operation could benefit financially from a partnership with the tribe.

"I can tell you, there may be some unique tax advantages there," he said.

Marc Nuttle, a partner in the MG project, said he was working with the Chickasaws on a plan to develop a 3,000-acre parcel north of Ardmore, Okla., where the MG facility would be based.

That site was selected because it has a long runway that could be expanded to accommodate large cargo aircraft and is close to a rail line and freeways.

In addition to casinos, the Chickasaws operate a medical services company, a historic hotel and a factory that makes chocolate-covered potato chips. This year, the tribe projects that its businesses will net nearly $200 million.

A long runway near a rail line and freeways, huh? In a 'sovereign nation', huh? Look for an influx of Chinese. They could be the 'new Mexicans'. Ha!

As far as the car itself goes, it may look like a retro MG TF, but it'll more likely have just a family resemblance. Those things were fine in their day, but there's no way they could produce anything remotely like it today that would even be legal to sell in the U.S. in terms of emissions and safety standards, not to mention reliability. It will be interesting to see what Nanjing comes up with.

They're serious, though. They've sent their own chefs to Birmingham. Apparently, the Chinese don't like fish and chips.

I wonder what they'll think of mutton stew and fry bread?

07 July 2006

Is it really worth it ...

To sit in traffic on the Long Island Expressway for 3 - 6 hours to get out to the Hamptons and your timeshare, only to have to do it again Sunday night in the other direction? I mean, the high-brows who actually live out there either have a chauffeured limo or a helicopter bring them out. All the rest of you assholes are stuck with me in traffic. I don't get it.

And another note, if your car's nose dives and the ass jumps up every time you barely touch the brake, threatening to go wildly out of control, it might not be a good idea to drive around at 80 mph. You might want to think about getting new struts and/or shocks before you kill your damn self.

03 July 2006

Love and Hate

As most of you know, I'm a mechanic. Before I started working for Harry, I was an engine builder at Ford Motorsport. It doesn't take much imagination to know I love high performace cars and racing. I got into the life early, my dad racing a car at Islip and Freeport Speedways on Long Island.

That said, much as I love NASCAR, I find myself becoming more averse to it. The problem is their close association with the Republican-Conservative-Neocon agenda. It's things like this that turn me off, as well as the blatant displays of 'patriotism' that are nothing more than the use of our troops as props. After being a die hard fan for over 40 years, I'm not so much of one anymore. If NASCAR is losing me, I'm sure they're also losing a lot of others who love the sport but can't abide the politization of it.

Cross-posted at the Brain.

02 July 2006

Sweet!



How cool is that? I saw pix of this a couple months ago and it immediately brought back memories of the Challengers and 'Cudas of yore.

And yes, that's King Richard on the left.

27 June 2006

Smart

These things are all over Europe and the Mrs. and I have been saying for years they are great urban transportation. Every European city we've been to has specially marked parking spaces for them where other cars won't fit.

Cross-posted at the Brain.

25 June 2006

New look

Comments? Suggestions?

Update:

Is the blue text easier on the eyes than the white?

Is the background under the posts better?

Okay, this is the way it's going to be.

Car Culture

The Los Angeles Times has more articles about cars than you can shake a stick at in its Cars Commemorative Edition. Just go. You'll find something ya like, I'm sure.

22 June 2006

Why?

Why do people have to watch me work? I mean, what is so fascinating or entertaining about what mechanics do? Do I come to your office and sit next to you, watching you do whatever it is you do? Giving you advice? Would you like me to stand over your shoulder as you're doing your job, asking stupid questions and making stupid commments? How long would it be before you told me to get lost? Okay, so don't get mad when I tell you to get out.

See, I don't care how many hot rod magazines you read, how many auto repair idiots you watch on TV or listen to on the radio, until you have 35 years of experience doing my job, making your living doing it, shut up, leave the keys, and get out. I've forgotten more than you'll ever learn about cars, and while your suggestions may be well intentioned, I don't need you buzzing in my ear about 'what it might be' because you heard Frick and Frack on the radio talking about it this morning. All you do is end up sounding like an idiot. In addition, I don't have the time to explain to you why you're wrong.

I am also not entertainment. How many times have people said, 'you guys are fun' after I just told PDB to suck my ass, shut the fuck up, and get back to work. This isn't for your benefit. It isn't Cique du Soliel of the car world. You want to see grouchy men yell at each other? Watch American Chopper. Those guys don't have a line of customers showing up at 5 this afternoon, expecting their cars to be fixed and running. You want me to entertain you? I'll start charging admission. Go buy yourself a puzzle or something if you're so bored that I'm actually entertaining.

Note: This does not apply to women. The fairer sex is always welcome to grace our little establishment and ask as many questions as they want. We'll spend as much time with you as you need to understand the problem with your car and what it takes to fix it. And I sure as Hell am not going on a road call with 2 feet of snow on the ground to help a guy; you're paying for a wrecker, pal. Yes, it's sexist (or reverse sexism), and old fashioned, but it's our shop. Tough shit.

04 June 2006

Finally...

I spent yesterday morning and this morning getting the Indian to join the 21st Century. He finally got connected to the Internet, getting a desktop PC for him and a wireless laptop for Mrs. Indian. She has experience with the Internet at work so I left his tutelage in her hands. My job was setting up the computers, the cable modem, and the wifi router. As of high noon today, my pal gave up smoke signals for email. The mountain comes to Mohammed.

31 May 2006

Prius Recall

LATimes

Toyota Motor Corp. said Tuesday that it planned to begin a global voluntary recall of nearly 320,000 of its hot-selling Prius gasoline-electric hybrid sedans to repair a potentially faulty steering system component.

The campaign will involve about 170,000 vehicles sold in the U.S., said spokesman Sam Butto of the Japanese automaker's Torrance-based U.S. sales unit. That represents about two-thirds of the 268,000 sold since the hybrid's introduction here in July 2000.

The recall also covers eight other Toyota models - none sold in the U.S. - that use the same steering system. In all, Toyota is recalling 986,000 vehicles, more than half of them in its home market, the company said in a statement issued in Japan.

The Prius recall does not involve any of the car's propulsion system components but a potentially understrength piece of the steering shaft assembly that could loosen or crack.

Toyota said no owners in the U.S. had complained about the fault, which was discovered in vehicles sold in Japan.

The part can fail if the steering wheel is turned forcefully to the locked position at low speed or if a front tire strikes a curb or other solid obstacle while the car is in motion.

13 April 2006

Port Security finds stolen Yamaha after 34 years

LATimes

Let's hope they're as good at keeping out the bombs as they are at keeping in the beauties.

For the second time in recent months, the Department of Homeland Security has prevented a stolen collector's-item vehicle from being shipped out of the Port of Los Angeles.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers Wednesday returned a classic Yamaha motorcycle swiped 34 1/2 years ago off a Long Beach street to its surprised and delighted owner.

The motorcycle, still in good shape and running condition, was discovered in a shipping container destined for Lahti, Finland. A man there purchased it last fall on EBay from an unsuspecting Visalia, Calif., resident for $1,725.

As authorities returned McMeen's motorcycle to him, they had former Long Beach Police Officer John Finn hand over the keys. Finn, who retired from the department 16 years ago, took the stolen vehicle report Oct. 4, 1971, when a chain was cut and the Yamaha RT 360 was taken from outside McMeen's apartment on Nieto Avenue in Belmont Shore.

"I told Mr. McMeen we'd probably get it back," but not to expect it right away, Finn said.

I think that may qualify as the understatement of both centuries!

McMeen received a helmet from Long Beach Police Sgt. Dave Cannan, who reminded him that a helmet safety law had been enacted since the pilot's last California cycle ride. McMeen climbed aboard the Yamaha and gave it a couple of kick starts.

With a loud, lawnmower-like putt-putt-putt and a cloud of blue smoke, it started right up. He made several circuits around the impound lot.

A Long Beach police officer volunteered to help him crate the cycle for shipping today. It will be sent to New Hampshire by Amtrak rail. "They have a great shipping service," McMeen said.

Why not just fly it east in the baggage compartment of an American Airlines passenger plane?

"They'd lose it," McMeen said with a laugh.

He should know. Mr. McMeen works for American Airlines.

07 April 2006

Descriptions

A customer came up with the best description of what the shop is like:

"You guys are a cross between American Chopper and Taxi."

01 April 2006

Wires

Okay, I've noticed the popularity of the satellite radio services and hardware. A word of advice to those who've gone down that road, have it professionally installed in your car.

More and more, I have to get into cars where there are wires dangling from everywhere, wrapped around shit to take up the excess. This is not safe. It's not safe when I get into your car to bring it in the shop and the sat radio antenna wire lashes my foot to the brake or gas pedal. You know how I'm gonna untie myself, don't ya? Odds are, your shit won't work when I get out.

I don't want to be road testing your shit and the radio head falls off the dash and into my lap, or the wire you hung over the visor falls in my face at 50 mph. It's gonna piss me off if it does and you'll probably wreck your car if it happened to you.

The same goes for all the car adapters for your phone, fax machine, laptop, Sharper Image air freshener, vibrator, whatever. If it flops around when you make a turn, consider it unsafe. In an accident, every little piece of loose shit in your car becomes a missile. Get the crap off the rear deck, get the toys off the dashboard, and keep the wires out from around your ankles. I've said it a million times.

Your car is not your fucking living room, it is transportation. I wish I could fail a car for safety if there is too much crap floating around in it.

03 March 2006

A squealing tire is a happy tire

Here's an article in the LATimes about "drifting". There's video as well.

The kids love this shit, but there's nothin' new about mashin' on the foot-feed and goin' sideways.

Ferrari Follow-up

There's stuff coming out about the crash in the previous post that's kinda fun and mysterious. From the LATimes:

The trail leads to a nonprofit operating out of a Monrovia repair shop. More puzzling is its police force and 'anti-terrorism' unit.

A few minutes after the crash, two unidentified men arrived at the scene, flashing badges and saying they were from "homeland security," according to Sheriff's Department officials.

Deputies allowed the men into the accident scene, where they spoke to Stefan Eriksson before leaving, Sgt. Phil Brooks said.

Sheriff's officials on Thursday said they now want to question them.

Heh. I'll just bet they do! Go read it.

This "homeland security" deal is turning into an all-purpose scam, huh? One of these days we're gonna hear about two guys who go into a convenience store: "We're from 'homeland security'. In the interest of national security, give us all your money."

Update:

Having just said that, then I saw this. Damn, I'm good!

22 February 2006

So Speedy, So Exclusive, So Expensive, So Totaled

This is enough to make a gearhead cry. On the other hand, if you're rich enough to do this and not worry about the other Ferrari owners putting out a contract on you for desecrating a shrine, go for it. From the LATimes:

It was a SigAlert made for Malibu.

A red Ferrari Enzo - one of only 400 ever made and worth more than $1 million - broke apart Tuesday when it crested a hill on Pacific Coast Highway going 120 mph and slammed into a power pole.

The driver jumped out of the wreckage and ran into the canyon above, evading a three-hour search by a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department helicopter and a mountain search-and-rescue team.

The crash did not result in serious injuries. But it sent shockwaves through both the tabloid and exotic car worlds as one group wondered if the driver was a celebrity and the other mourned the loss of a hand-built car revered by many as a work of art.

Read on. The owner, who blew very slightly but legally under the influence, claims he was a passenger and that 'Dietrich' was driving and ran away. Around here, it would have been a deer or an icy road. The trick is to get away so the cops don't catch up with you until the next day.

Here's the part that got me:

Ferrari owner Chris Banning, a Beverly Hills writer who is finishing a book called the "Mulholland Experience" that will touch on the cult of sports car racing on that mountain roadway, characterized the Enzo's destruction as "a tremendous loss" to the automotive world.

"He destroyed one of the finest cars on Earth, maybe the finest. It's like taking a Van Gogh painting and burning it," said Banning, who is a leader of the Ferrari Owners Club.

Hey, rich boys break their toys all the time. They probably get drunk and burn their Van Goghs too, just because they can. That's not the part that got me.

Back in the 60s, I participated kinda on the fringes of the MAD (Mulholland After Dark) Racing. It was fun. It was run what ya brung. Sports cars, muscle cars, bikes, whatever. There was some pretty good racing, and some not-so-pretty-good racing. Probably the best racer up there was Steve McQueen in his Cobra, although some pretty good SCCA club racers would show up from time to time. Mainly it was just normal bozos.

I've seen people lose control, splinter a guard rail, barrel roll off a cliff, end up an amazing distance down a steep hillside, exit the car unhurt, climb back up to the road, hitchhike back to the 'pits', borrow a car, and keep racing!

One time I took a friend's wife for a spin on my roommate's Honda. We rode from Coldwater Canyon, near where the pits were, to Laurel Canyon. It's maybe three or four miles. On the way back, the sky in front of us lit up in a green flash. We didn't know what that was all about until we rounded the next bend and saw a Mustang leaning nose-up against a power pole, with three or four other cars in attendance. If the guy hadn'ta had the decency to crash, we'd have rode right into an oncoming race!

Ah, memories. I'm going to keep an eye out for that book.

18 February 2006

Doldrums

February is traditionally a slow month for us and this year didn't disappoint. We're usually done with the paying work by lunchtime, Harry takes 3 hour lunches, Indian makes his yearly pilgrimage to worship at Daytona, and PDB and I are left to our own devices.

So we're a couple weeks into the February doldrums and the shop has been reorganized, projects we've put off are getting done - making calls hounding customers to pay outstanding bills, going through the 'you never know' cans of parts and hardware culling the shit you never will use, cleaning in all the crevices we're too busy to clean the rest of the year, new shelves for the service manuals, redoing the parts inventory to keep up with changes, and trying to clean Harry's shit pile desk a little at a time so he doesn't notice - and doing little shit on our own cars. Needless to say, PDB and I still have too much free time. Not a good thing.

We've already designated Fridays 'Indian Sucks Ass Day' and annotated all the calendars and the appointment book. We make lewd - anatomically correct - snowmen and women, much to Harry's, and the mayor's, chagrin. And we play practical jokes. An empty plastic oil jug makes a hell of a noise when you screw the cap back on and put it behind someone's tire. Hooking the old bell for the gas pumps to the toilet seat - lift the seat, the bell over your head starts clanging - gets a rise out of folks too.

So by now, everybody is waiting expectantly for March, when the work will pick up and nobody has to look over their shoulders until next year. Well, except for the Indian. His life will be a living Hell for the next couple weeks because he has to pay for taking two weeks off and calling in every other day to remind us how warm it is in Florida.

16 February 2006

I'm so glad

So many people in Africa want to trust me with hundreds of millions of dollars.

17 January 2006

Oh so true...

This sign hangs in my shop. I just ran across the file for it and thought I'd share.

We do three kinds of work:
Good, Quick, and Cheap
You can have any two:
Cheap and Quick won't be Good
Good and Cheap won't be Quick
Good and Quick won't be Cheap

Believe it, Sparky.

11 January 2006

Hacked


Click der biti foto to embiggen

I guess we've all heard about Guv'ner Ah-nold leading with his lip in a sidecar crash. Why not? He leads with his lip everywhere else...but I digress.

Anyway, I've read in blogs and elsewhere a lot of ignorant gibberish about sidecars in the wake of this incident. The most notable was a comment somewhere impugning the masculinity of sidecar drivers. Drivers, not 'riders'. Horse pucky.

I decided to set the record a little straighter as I have a little experience with "outfits" or "combinations", as the British call them. I've ridden outfits ranging from a '27 H-D JD with factory sidecar to my own '58 Ariel Square Four with a Busmar "double adult saloon" chair. That was a fully enclosed model with fore-and-aft seating for as many adults as you could cram into it. I once set up a Harley-Davidson for Willie G. Davidson to ride the Muscular Dystrophy poster kid around in. My Service Manager told me to "add lotsa extra lights. We don't want the kid to get killed!" Heh. I have many more sidehack stories...

The photo at the top of the post shows me doing a little research on the subject. The driver is my pal Larry. He was strong and fearless. I'm the 'monkey' and all I had to do was throw my weight around and hang on for dear life. It was fun, but very strenuous. The bike is a 650cc Triumph Bonneville, and it was fast. It was a little squirrelly too, but Larry only paid $200 for it, and could run with custom-built jobs that cost a lot of money. We beat some of 'em, too. Note the attempt to lengthen the wheelbase by use of a trailing-link front fork from a 250cc Greeves! Note also the custom "clearance" grooves in the gas tank. Perhaps one good tank-slapper did that? Who knows? Hey, whatever works. The picture was taken at Perris Raceway in California in the late '70s.

Sidecars date back to about ten minutes after the first solo bike rider's wife had a baby. They were considered family transportation in an era when most guys could afford a bike, but not many could afford a car. As cars became cheaper, sidecar use diminished as most wives prefer for them and the kids to ride inside something warm and safe.

The first sidecars were made out of wicker, hence the expression "chairs" for them. There were many variations on the 3-wheel theme. There were "tri-cars" with the chair mounted between two front wheels, the driver behind. In a crash, the passenger got there first. These were especially popular amongst guys who got to ride mouthy mothers-in-law around. God only knows how far they could make 'em fly by hitting the brakes real hard.

Sidecar rigs are very popular today in third-world countries and places like Siberia and China, where they are not only family transportation but also used as a means of power take-off to run water pumps and the like, anything you can run with a coupled shaft or a belt or whatever. Just think of Tod and Buzz running a water pump with their Corvette in Route 66 and you get the idea.

Sidecars in this country are mainly used by dyed-in-the-wool enthusiasts and folks with limited use of their legs. There are aftermarket sidehacks for nearly every model of motorcycle. The only currently available factory combo is the Ural from Russia, although I expect the Chinese copy of this Russian copy of the WWII German rig to be here soon.

A few words about driving a sidecar are in order here as I feel this may have had something to do with Ah-nold's prang. These things handle like neither motorcycles nor cars. You almost cannot turn one of the damn things with a steady-state throttle. In this country, the chair is usually mounted on the right side of the bike. This means that to make a right turn, you must accelerate the bike around the chair, or brake the chair, or both. To make a left turn, you must decelerate, or brake the bike, or both, so the chair will be going faster than the bike and want to turn. You can get real creative with all this. If you don't know how to do this stuff, pick your spot and try to hit something cheap!

Sidecar rigs are specially set up, too. The sidecar axle must be forward of the bike's rear axle. The chair's wheel has to toe-in for steering and lean outwards at the top (positive camber?) to compensate for passenger weight and the crown of the road. My old Ariel had the chair on the left and it always seemed to be pining for Jolly Olde England and trying to turn towards home. I'd pour malt vinegar on it and it'd act OK for a while. Also, the front end requires more rake so as to slow the steering and lengthen the wheelbase. Harley-Davidson made the capability to make this adjustment a standard feature on its larger FL models until just a few (to me. Ha!) years ago. They also offered a gearbox with three forward speeds and reverse.

If anybody thinks sidecars are for girly-men, go find one and get a ride in it. A racing one, if you can. Then, if you still wish to run your mouth, fine by me.