Monthly Archives: July 2011

A Day at the Junkyard

I haven’t had much time to work on the Tempest lately, but I was able to check one thing off my to-do list this past weekend.  The 60’s-style seat belts don’t play nice with modern child seats, preventing me from driving the car on days when I have to take the kids anywhere or really driving it at all on the weekends.  So, after a few failed attempts, I finally made it to my local Pull-A-Part on Sunday.  This particular junkyard is located (naturally) in a semi-burned-out industrial area just south of downtown.  Being part of a chain, it’s surprisingly nice and well-kept, and despite the 9,000 volt electric fence, it’s normally a pretty decent place for a gearhead to spend an afternoon.  Sunday started out overcast and humid.  By the time I got there, the sun had come out, turning it from “gee, it’s uncomfortable” to “words-I-can’t-print-here” hot.

After letting the employee inspect my tool bag to make sure I didn’t have any torches or a stick of dynamite and paying the one dollar entrance fee, I started walking up and down the GM aisles of the yard, looking for cars with beige interiors.  I needed something before the advent of rear-seat shoulder belts, which I thought would be easy to find.  However, the yard was a little sparser than usual and had a higher number of late-model cars.  I also forgot that most of the cars in the yard have either broken windows, open trunks, or both.  Since all that rainwater eventually makes its way under the back seat, most of the belts I ran across were moldy and rust-stained.  I was starting to lose hope when I stumbled across a 1994 Buick Roadmaster station wagon, not unlike this:

I made my way around back, realizing that the seat belts under the folding, rear-facing 3rd row seat would likely be undamaged and rarely used.  I was right.  They were more copper-colored than gold, but close enough.  Someone had already removed the gas struts from the glass tailgate, so I pushed up on it, intending to bend the hinges back over the roof of the car.  Instead, the glass shattered loudly in my hands, scaring me half to death and showering me and the inside of the car with pebbles of safety glass.

Undeterred and uninjured, I liberated the seat belts and their buckles from the rear of the car, adding a good bit of my own perspiration to the already (I’m sure) abundant bodily fluids in the back of the Roadmaster.

I normally spend a good bit of time wandering the yard, even after I’ve found what I was looking for, checking for anything weird or unusual.  Despite the heat, I couldn’t help but take a look.  In the past, I’ve found late-40’s Chryslers and a few mid-60’s cars, but this time, I didn’t find anything of note besides the usual smashed and used-up Cutlasses, Intrepids, and Sentras.  I did find this metal-flake green, side-pipe equipped “Hell Camino” in the parking lot, however.

My treasure safely in the trunk, I should have the new-to-me belts installed in the Tempest in time to go for a Sunday drive with my girls.


As Seen on Craigslist – 1955 Thunderbird

I’m generally more of a muscle car guy, but I wouldn’t kick an early T-bird out of the garage.  These cars typically demand big dollars, and this one is priced accordingly.  Still, for roughly the price of a new Malibu, you’d have… something far less useful and reliable, but way cooler.  The styling is timeless and undeniably beautiful, and I’d probably rather have one of these rather than the equivalent Corvette.  Of course, part of that stems from an early exposure to the Bruce Springsteen “I’m On Fire” video, which I would likely find myself trying to replicate if I bought this car.  Definitely more cruiser than sports car (in spite of the two-seat configuration), it’s probably worth the 25 grand.


Brake Early, Brake Often – Racing at Mid-Ohio

For my birthday a few years back, my wife gave me a pass to the Acura High Performance Course at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio.  This year, my mom (of all people) gave me a pass to their advanced course, which took place on Tuesday the 19th.  In addition to learning basic racing techniques like braking and cornering, the opportunity to thoroughly wail on someone’s car, using their tires, gas, and brakes on a track is a complete blast.  You are allowed to bring your own car provided it meets some basic safety standards and you sign a waiver; while it would be fun to race the Tempest, it would only result in me oiling down the track when the rods inevitably escaped from the block (stock Pontiac V8s are not designed for road racing) and a fiery death when the old-school, single-piston, organic-pad brakes faded to oblivion.

After about a half an hour of in-class breakdown of every section of the track, the group of 15 students was split into groups of 3 or 4 and assigned to an instructor.  We then followed our instructor on half-speed laps around the track in our assigned cars.  The track is sponsored by Honda, so I spent the day in the number 18 Acura TSX.  The cars are pretty much stock with the exception of upgraded brakes, louder exhaust, and a rollbar.

After a few laps, our group pulled into the pits and the student immediately behind the instructor parked and rode along with the instructor for three increasingly faster laps, focusing on one section of the track at a time.  We then rotated through the group in this fashion until shortly after lunch, when it was time for open lapping.  After being repeatedly warned that the racetrack is an unforgiving place and that we would be liable for any damage to our cars, regardless of fault, we were turned loose with permission to pass only on the front and back straights.

Mid-Ohio is what they call a “momentum” course, meaning that there aren’t many places where you can make up time through sheer power – the key to fast times is maintaining speed through the corners.  There are really only a handful of spots where you can go flat-out, at least in these cars: the front and back straights (the latter after exiting the trickier-than-it-looks keyhole), the short straight after turn 1, and a short section between turn 6 and turn 9 (the most fun part of the track).  Since we were all driving similar cars, we were instructed to let any obviously faster drivers go by on the straights; I’m surprised to say that I only had to do this once or twice.  I’m frankly shocked to say that I frequently caught up to cars that were in front of me, once having to pull into the pits to let a pack of cars get ahead of me on track because I was tired of following them through the corners.  For not having driven anything close to this fast in nearly two years and having several experienced drivers on the track with me, I’m very happy with my performance. Even better, I never went off the track, spun, or knocked over any cones, which a few other drivers did.

One thing that struck me was that I never once felt bored.  Despite making dozens of laps around the same track over the course of a day, I never felt my mind wandering or wanted to take a break.  It really is that addictive.  Despite the hot day – it was hovering around 91 degrees during the afternoon – the cars performed admirably, even if the brakes and tires became noticeably less effective as the day wore on.  After reaching speeds of ~110 mph on the back straight, it took increasingly longer distances to slow the car down to make turn 4, and the tires were allowing the car to drift further through turn 2 than they had earlier in the day.  Making these kinds of adjustments is something I never gave professional drivers credit for.

Despite not wanting to quit when the day was over, I was physically and mentally exhausted – it takes complete concentration to not wreck and continue to improve on the track.  I can’t imagine what it takes to compete at a higher level, with speeds double what I was doing and races that last hours at at time with no breaks.  I don’t see myself taking up racing as a hobby – as they say, the easiest way to make small fortune in racing is to start with a large one – but it is undeniably one of the most fun things I have ever done.


As Seen on Craigslist – 1951 Chevy Sedan Delivery

The Professional Car Society’s annual meet was in my area this weekend, and while I did not attend, perhaps it was on my mind when I saw this listing.  I’ve never really wanted to own a hearse or an ambulance, although I see the historical appeal – up until the 1970’s, those duties were usually completed by a modified station wagon, rather than the purpose-built vehicles we think of today.  Being a wagon aficionado, I generally like the style of these cars, especially the utilitarian “sedan delivery” (essentially a windowless, two-door station wagon) featured here.  However, the glossy black paint and unique sculptured rear fenders can’t overcome the tackiness of the tilt front-end and the weird factor of the “accommodations” in the rear.  This might be the right car for somebody, but not me – hopefully for another 60 or so years, anyway.


Car Guy Hall of Fame – ZZ Top

While I’ve never been enough of a ZZ Top fan to buy one of their albums (although I did own “Eliminator” on cassette as a child), their contribution to car-guy music cannot be underestimated.  Fast cars and rock and roll have long been intertwined, but rarely to the degree and with the regularity that occurs in the ZZ Top discography.   Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, and Frank Beard, aside from being excellent musicians – Jimi Hendrix famously called Gibbons his favorite guitarist – also feature hot rods in their lyrics, album imagery, and most visibly, in their iconic early-80s music videos.

I was thinking about this last week, when I decided to listen to some music in the Tempest.  The car hasn’t had a working radio for as long as I’ve owned it (and in fact now has a block-off plate in the dash instead), so I’ve never actually had the chance to listen to anything, let alone music.  But I got a shiny new iPod touch for my birthday, and it has an external speaker, so I thought I’d put it to use.  I knew I needed to pick an appropriate soundtrack for the inaugural ride, and the first thing that came to mind was “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide,” which I’m not nearly cool enough to make my personal soundtrack, as much as I’d like to.  I don’t think I could call the Cameo White Tempest “cold blue steel,” and Mrs. Magicboltbox isn’t a beautician, but I think I made the right choice.


As Seen on Craigslist – 1971 Citroen 2CV6

Like most unique (at least in the U.S.) cars, I know the Citroen 2CV has a distinct cult following.  And like VW Beetles, they certainly have their charm and certain benefits.  But personally, I have no desire to putt around in a dangerously underpowered tin can designed seventy years ago to motorize French peasants.  It might be fun for an afternoon, but I’m pretty sure I’d be finding a way to shoehorn a big-block Chevy under the hood within a week, just for the fun of it.  And then I’d wrap the thing around a pole within a week of that.  So I guess it’s a good thing this car holds no appeal for me, because it would result in both an expensive divorce and a fiery death.  However, if you are so inclined to pretend you’re a French beet farmer or something, this one looks quite clean and is offered by a very reputable dealer.  Just don’t pull out in front of anything faster than, say, a Model T.


As Seen on Craigslist – 1963 Coupe de Ville

I’ve made some questionable automotive purchases, but even I would be wary of buying a car that is only photographed on a trailer.  That said, there’s something strangely appealing about a white car with a pea-green interior, especially at this price.  I’d want to check thoroughly for any evidence of the rust monster and make sure the “needs manifold” disclaimer isn’t there to mask a different, more ominous engine noise, but if the car is complete and relatively rust-free, you could probably do worse for the money.  The shrunk-down fins atop looong flanks are pretty much standard Caddy fare for this era, and stand out in a crowd even more today than they did 40 years ago.  Just don’t try to parallel park it.