Monthly Archives: December 2010

My Automotive Influences

My automotive viewpoint and writing “style,” if you can call it that, owes an equal debt to former Car Craft and current Hot Rod editor David Freiburger and internet car-junkie superhero Murilee Martin.  Both lean heavily toward the greasy-fingernail, swap meet and junkyard side of the spectrum (as opposed to the wine and caviar Pebble Beach set), which tickles all the right parts of my cerebrum.

Freiburger was the editor at Car Craft right around the time I was old enough to start wrenching on my own crap, so he had a distinct impression on me.  His hare-brained tales of back-alley wheeling and dealing for old cars and crazed attempts at going fast – like the article in which he took a beater 1968 Plymouth to the drag strip and proceeded to shave 4 seconds off it’s elapsed time by shedding “unnecessary” parts and cranking the timing to seriously unsafe levels – allowed an inexperienced gearhead like me to live vicariously through his four-wheeled insanity.

More recently, Murilee Martin (a strangely popular nom de plume) has come to represent the best kind of busted-knuckle writing.  He (yes, he) has a knack for expressing the love-hate relationship that many people have with their cars and the automotive industry.  Anybody who has ever turned a wrench has wondered “why couldn’t this have been made differently” or “why did this fastener decide to fail NOW?”  But Murilee captures that combination of awe and frustration better than anyone.  For an example of why I’ll never be as good as he is, I point you to this passage from a recent blog post about a gas pedal repair on his Dodge A100 van project:

“The A100 has a throttle-linkage mechanism that appears to have been designed, on cocktail napkins, over shots of happy-hour well bourbon at some Keego Harbor dive. I’m picturing a trio of junior Dodge Truck Division engineers, all decked out in cheap 1962 suits and chaining unfiltered Pall Malls, looking down the barrel of a tomorrow deadline. ‘If I don’t have a throttle linkage design to bring to the meeting tomorrow morning,’ thundered their boss, a bullneck who ground out his cigars in an ashtray made from the skull of a Japanese Navy cook he offed with his teeth on Tarawa, ‘You’ll be lucky to find jobs scraping the calcium deposits off the urinals at the Greyhound station!'”

After finding a replacement pedal at the junkyard, he goes on:

“I said similar, because while the overall shape and all-important metal-backed rubber hinge at the pedal’s bottom was identical to the A100′s pedal, the newer van used a Stone Age lever-sliding-on-plastic-backing-plate connection to the throttle linkage, while the A100 used a ball-and-socket/down-through-the-floor connector that must have cost 11 cents more per unit. The whole mess, in both cases, involves a Soviet-grade crude-yet-sturdy rubber-molded-around-steel construction method, no doubt stamped on a press in Indiana that stood five stories tall, shook the earth, and polluted the groundwater for generations to come.”

I don’t think anyone has ever described a busted accelerator pedal in such lurid, perfect detail.  Heck, just read the whole thing already.

So while I may not be as nuts as David Freiburger or have Murilee’s writing chops, I hope the fine people who visit my blog are half as entertained by reading it as I am by writing it.

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As Seen On Craigslist – 1967 Ford Falcon

For this edition of As Seen On Craigslist, I wanted to pretend to be JFK and run a mid-60s Lincoln convertible that I found last week, but apparently someone decided that a 40-year-old, suicide-doored president-mobile made for a good Christmas gift.  So instead, I’m lusting over this compact wagon.

I’ve gone on about my wagon fascination already, so I’ll spare everyone the reasons why this car appeals to me.  Suffice it to say it’s only missing some woodgrain paneling for the complete effect.  From the ad, it sounds like the seller has done quite a bit of work to the car, much of it racing related.  The engine compartment and the body look super clean, so I’d lose the drag race springs and shocks to eliminate the stinkbug stance and throw my kids’ booster seats in the back for a cool little family cruiser.


Car Thieves Are Scum

I know I’m not exactly going out on a limb with the title of this post, but I feel the need to vent.  As you have likely already seen on my Facebook page (since I don’t think anyone who reads this comes from anywhere else), my father-in-law’s car was stolen from his office parking lot yesterday afternoon.  It’s a 1984 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser station wagon, so it’s not exactly the most desirable car.  But he liked it, and I thought it was cool, because I’m weird like that.

I too have had a car stolen, so I know too well the sinking feeling when you walk to where you last parked your car and it’s not there.  In 2003, while visiting my girlfriend (now wife) in Toledo, my pride and joy 1987 Monte Carlo was stolen from her apartment building.  I was completely heartbroken; despite the stigma attached to that model, it had come to define me in many ways and I was – illogically – emotionally wrapped up in it.  I had spent too much sweat and blood under, over, and in that car for it to just vanish like that.  Seven years and several cars later and I still haven’t gotten over it, and occasionally (jokingly) hold it over my lovely wife’s head.  I will never be as attached to another car as I was to that one, for better or for worse (mostly better).

So I hope that big ugly wagon shows up undamaged somewhere, because even though my father-in-law isn’t as crazy about his car as I was about mine, there aren’t many things lower than car thieves.


As Seen on Craigslist – 1969 Buick Skylark

For this week’s Craigslist spotlight, I found an offbeat version of the humdrum (at least at most car shows) 68-72 GM musclecar.  The Buick version of the GM A-body (Chevrolet Chevelle/Malibu, Pontiac LeMans/GTO, Oldsmobile Cutlass/442 and the Skylark) is typically the least popular of the four makes, usually making it the cheapest and least likely to be thrashed.  This “I think I ate too many brussels sprouts” green example is a base model Skylark (instead of the more desirable – and expensive – GS trim level) which is both good and bad.  Good because it is devoid of most trim, has “dog dish” hubcaps on steel wheels with whitewall tires, and is a bench seat, column shift car.  All of this adds up to a great sleeper vibe for when you take care of the bad part of the equation – it has the small (relatively speaking) 350 cubic inch Buick V8, likely with a 2-barrel carburetor.  While that engine is perfectly fine for cruising and probably gets better mileage than you think, this car would go from Grandma’s Sunday driver to full-on moonshine runner with the addition of a readily available 455 V8 from an early-70’s Riviera or other full-size Buick.  Leave the air conditioner and factory air cleaner lid with the “350” sticker for ultimate sleeper appeal, but put a nice pair of mufflers on for a little stoplight rumble.  The car looks to have power brakes, so you should be able to keep from powersliding into a light pole while pegging the septuagenarian-spec horizontal speedometer.

Damn, now I really want this thing.  Only fear of being called a copycat by my Craigslist-surfing, moped-wanting, 1969-Skylark-driving coworker is keeping me from calling to look at it.  Well, that and the lack of $5000 in my pocket and a place to park it.


My Next Car – Dodge Magnum

I have a bit of a thing for station wagons.  There’s something about a long-roof that appeals to me beyond the additional utility; if done well, the wagon version of a four-door car takes a basic sedan and makes it look just… right.  The best recent example of this phenomenon is the 2005-08 Dodge Magnum.

It was available with the ticking time bomb 2.7L V6 (see this search result for reasons why you should never buy a car with this engine), the positively prehistoric 3.5L V6, as well as two versions of the Hemi V8.  The Magnum was produced during Chrysler’s ill-fated “partnership” with Daimler-Benz and their even more ill-fated Cerberus ownership period, which results in two easy observations: they were virtually unchanged beyond their initial design and specs, and to reiterate a tired but still relevant critique, their interiors contain enough cheap, hard plastic trim to build an entire fleet of these:

With those caveats in mind, I’m only interested in the R/T and SRT-8 V8 models.  The SRT-8 models received a 6.1L V8, good for 425 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque.  Magnums weren’t that popular to begin with, and these high performance models are exceedingly rare; only one shows up for sale within a 100 mile radius of me.  The R/T models are powered by a standard 5.7L V8 with 340 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque, making it no slouch.  A quick search shows 11 of these cars for sale within 100 miles of me, making a low-mileage example easier to find.

Pros:

  • Meets most of my criteria.
  • Due to low demand and fears of Chrysler’s stability, prices are reasonable and falling.  Low-mileage cars can be found for under $17k.
  • Despite Chrysler’s (well-deserved) reputation, these cars are pretty reliable and inexpensive to fix.

Cons:

  • Claustrophobia.  As you can see from the picture, the Magnum suffers from the same styling malady as it’s platform-mate, the Chrysler 300: while the tall-door, short-window theme might look cool, it kills outward visibility, which is further hampered by the Magnum’s angled roof line.
  • The above issue, coupled with the aforementioned Mr.-Potato-Head-skin interior, creates a driving environment that is less than ideal.
  • Complete lack of a manual transmission option.

If it sounds like I’m being a bit hard on the Magnum, I’m just trying to be honest with myself and not talk myself into a flawed car.  However, it is a true muscle car wagon – a definite rarity.  I’ve been saying for some time now that wagons are due for a comeback, even though these cars failed in the marketplace – but that just makes them cheaper and more interesting.  As a result, I can have a faster, more stylish family truckster than Clark Griswold could have hardly imagined.


The View From My Better Half – Part II

At the risk of turning this into my wife’s blog, I thought I’d share another email she recently sent to a mutual friend.  If you’ve ever read the If You Give A Mouse A Cookie books, you’ll know what she’s talking about:

If You Give Your Husband An Old Car

If you give your husband an old car he will want some parts to go with it.

First he will get some door hinges. Six months later he will finally pay someone to install them correctly after many failed attempts.

With new hinges he will want a transmission to go with it. But that will just sit in the garage.

That will remind him of the old-man-gold carpet sitting in the basement.

But when he rips up the old carpet he finds out the floorboards need replaced.

Once he replaces the floorboards he can install the carpet.

Once the carpet is installed he will want to drive it.

When he drives it the brakes will fail… and so he has to order more parts – new brakes and brake lines.

While the brakes are being shipped to your house he will tell you about a car he found on Craigslist… “the steal of the century.”

He says that buying it would be “like making money.”

In the meantime the brakes are delivered during nap time, causing the dog to freak out and the baby girls to cry!

Since he has the brakes, he will go ahead and install them so he can sell his car.

Once he sells his car he will want an old car.

And if you give a husband an old car, he will want some new parts to go with it.

The car that was “the steal of the century,” interestingly enough, was actually a steal – a Craigslist scam.  I contacted the seller of a mint looking 1970 Chevelle that was listed for a very low price.  I eventually received an email stating that the seller had moved to Maine to find a job, but I was welcome to come look at the car (red flag #1 – why would a Maine seller advertise on the Ohio Craigslist?).  They assured me that the car came with all the appropriate paperwork and I would have no problem getting the car titled in any state.  Better yet, the seller had won a free shipping coupon from a company called Dependable Auto Shippers in a raffle, so the transportation fees would be covered (red flag #2 – that just sounds fishy).  A quick internet search turned up this.  Apparently the scam artist copies an older Craigslist ad, puts up a low price, and waits for some sucker to wire them money up front.  In my case, the ad was pulled the same day I got the email, so either the scammer got spooked or some poor fool lost a few thousand dollars.

So while I can’t dispute that I failed miserably at replacing the door hinges on my car or that a simple carpet replacement turned into major floorpan surgery, at least I’m not a total idiot.


As Seen on Craigslist – 1964 Corvair

This week’s Craigslist find comes courtesy of a coworker, who was actually looking for a moped or scooter (which is an entirely different story) when he stumbled across this beauty.  Unsafe at any speed, you say?  That’s the worst of your worries when the “engine runs but won’t draw fuel.”  In other words, as long as you can backyard-engineer a gravity-feed gas tank on the spot, I’m sure you’ll have no problem driving it home on the new brakes and tires – which aren’t pictured, because why would you bother to take current pictures of a car you’re trying to sell?

Besides the typical “vaseline on the lens” Craigslist photos, the ad also highlights the precision-cut 2x4s that are apparently keeping the car from rolling away – wait, I thought this heap had new brakes?  I’m also unsure how “some rust holes” and “mostly surface (rust)” don’t immediately contradict each other.  But truth be told, if it’s mostly solid, and the brake job is up to snuff, it sounds like a new fuel pump would probably solve the “won’t draw fuel” issue and you’d have a neat little runner for a negotiated $1500 (or less if you happen to have a moped you’re willing to trade).  Of course, that’s assuming you could actually title the thing, because those don’t look like any Ohio plates I’ve ever seen – which means it hasn’t been licensed in God-knows-how-long.  And even if you manage to get it past the DMV, you’ll still have to deal with the under-designed rear suspension that was the basis for Ralph Nader’s aforementioned screed, just for the right to drive a pea-soup-green, ill-proportioned deathtrap.  But it would still be pretty fun.