Category: Auto-biography

By on November 22, 2013
'Merica

‘Merica

Paraphrasing the Drive-By Truckers; I grew up in the south back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

The dinosaurs of were the boats you see in Murlee’s amazing contributions. But at the time, the “cool” ones fit into one of three narrow categories; Camaro, Firebird or Mustang. V8s and solid rear axles enabled them to spin the tires. Our $3.37 per hour minimum wage jobs did not enable us to replace them.

Fortunately the market had a solution; retreads. Bald tires with a new tread pattern effectively glued over the top. You don’t see them very often now, but at one time, they made up 20% of the tire market.

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By on November 19, 2013

GSXR1100

The ’91 GSXR 1100 was a feral beast. It had been tame once, well “mostly tame” anyhow, but the bike’s previous owner had stripped away the thin veneer that civilization had imposed upon it and restored it to its primeval form. It hadn’t taken much, really. Larger carburetors, performance cams and a full race exhaust had transformed the bike from a wickedly fast street machine into a full-race bike that, despite the license plates, had no business being on the street. Still, it had a sort of lethal charm that attracted men like me: confident, experienced, prideful. It was a battle of wills I would not lose. I was determined to master the bike and, like a living thing, the bike was determined to kill me. Read More >

By on November 14, 2013

Headlights

“All I need is a name.” He said.

This road trip was a fiasco. A week ago we had left his home in North Carolina in my Porsche 911 on a starry-eyed quest worthy of “This American Life.

We were going to find my brother’s father.

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By on November 2, 2011

While scanning endless negatives and slides for the 1965 Impala Hell Project, I’ve run across a few images of other heaps from my past. I’m kicking myself now for letting dozens of now-interesting hoopties pass through my hands without getting any photographic record, but that’s how the pre-digital-photography era worked. My British Racing Green, chrome-bumper MGB-GT, however, served three years as my daily driver, and so it did get caught by a few photographs. Here’s a shot showing one of the many, many repairs this fine British Leyland product needed while serving as my primary means of transportation. Read More >

By on September 6, 2011

In Part 10, the Hell Project Impala got Fiat scoops on the hood and hit the I-5 trail again. By late 1993, the car looked more or less the way I’d planned when I started the project and had become a surprisingly good daily driver (thanks to more modern brakes and a reliable, HEI-equipped 350 engine). I still planned to do some suspension and horsepower upgrades, once the early 1990s recession relaxed its grip enough for me to land a decent-paying job, but the setup I had was fulfilling my driving needs very well. Then, in the spring of ’94, Richard Nixon died, and I decided to take the Nixon-hood-ornamented car down to his birthplace and mingle with the mourners. Read More >

By on August 25, 2011

Last week, the Impala roared into 1992 with more refinements and spun quite a few digits on its Buick odometer. Late in ’92, with Bill Clinton packing up his Astroturf-enhanced El Camino and heading for the White House and the days getting shorter, I decided to celebrate my escape from the looming menace of an academic career by tricking out the Impala’s hood with some Fiat X1/9-sourced scoops… and getting back to Interstate 5, where I belonged. Read More >

By on August 18, 2011

IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8 • Part 9 • Part 10
Once the Impala had been modified sufficiently to function as a 1992-grade daily driver, the long-term project of converting it into an art car that drew upon the Holy Trinity of American Car Archetypes (drive-by-shooting ghetto hooptie, official vehicle, redneck street racer) took on less urgency; I planned to “finish the work of art,” whatever that meant, but along the way I’d created an excellent road car. And when you have an excellent road car, you have no choice but to hit the road. Read More >

By on August 13, 2011

Having spent most of my driving years in car-theft-prone neighborhoods in California and preferring the please-steal-me Honda Civic as my daily driver of choice, I learned many years ago that a secret starter and/or fuel-pump cutoff switch is a must-have. Such kill switches have prevented theft of my past Civics on three occasions that I know about. Last week, the maddeningly hard-to-find kill switch I installed in my 18.2-second quarter-miler 1992 Civic left a Denver Honda thief empty-handed. Read More >

By on August 8, 2011

IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7 • Part 8 • Part 9Part 10
In the last Impala Hell Project episode, the now-disc-brake-equipped Chevy and I hit Interstate 5 for some Generation X-style road tripping. Through late 1991 I continued my process of junkyard upgrades, and the car racked up some serious highway miles. Read More >

By on August 2, 2011

IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6 • Part 7 • Part 8

After installing a junkyard-centric, street-sign-based instrument panel and 20-pound “pullout sound system,” I hit the streets on my post-college-graduation job search. After all, with a newly-minted degree from the University of California in hand and the Bay Area from San Francisco to Concord, Santa Rosa to San Jose as my search area, I’d soon be raking in sufficient Benjamins to install a 6-71-blown 427 in my Chevy, right? Short answer, learned after several hundred increasingly grim job interviews: no. I really feel for today’s recent college grads, since I had it easy compared to what you poor 22-year-old, in-student-loan-debt-up-to-your-nodules bastids are facing… but still, with no income other than the occasional junkyard-wrenchin-fer-cash gig and death-to-soul office temping (more on that later) showing up for me, I felt the abyss (i.e. graduate school) looming ever closer. What to do? Hit the highway! Read More >

By on July 22, 2011


When we last saw the 1965 Impala Hell Project, it was the fall of 1990 and I was installing headers, dual exhaust, and a TH350 transmission in place of the original Powerglide. The car drove pretty well with those upgrades, but the fact that the entire instrument panel (except for the oil pressure idiot light) was kaput became quite an annoyance. Was the engine running hot? Was I going 80 in a 45 zone? How much gas do I have? Those questions remained mysteries, and finding functioning replacement parts for a then-26-year-old car in the junkyard would be tough. I had a solution, however; scavenging Pick-Your-Part for instrument-panel components on Half Price Day weekends and building my own instrument panel from scratch. Read More >

By on July 3, 2011


In the last episode of the Impala Hell Project story, Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in the summer of 1990 made me choose a small-block engine instead of the big-block I’d originally planned as a worn-out 283 replacement. I was still running the factory single exhaust and two-speed Powerglide transmission at that point, so some more upgrades were in order. Read More >

By on June 15, 2011


When I bought my Impala, I knew that its 300,000-mile 283 engine wasn’t long for the world, what with the near-nonexistent oil pressure, clouds of oil smoke under acceleration and deceleration, and fixin’-to-toss-a-rod sound effects. Still, due to thin-wallet limitations, I was determined to squeeze one last year of property-value-lowering 283 driving before obtaining a junkyard replacement engine. This plan went well until I decided to seek chemical assistance for the oil-burning problem. Read More >

By on June 11, 2011


In Part 2 of this series, I began the process of modifying my newly-obtained ’65 Impala sedan to suit my concept of a true art car. Once I’d sprayed the chrome flat black, replaced the skinny back tires with fat Radial TAs on universal slot mags, pried off most of the emblems, and torn out the mung-saturated carpeting, the big Chevy was ready to start its first high-concept performance/installation art piece: lowering property values in the heart of the world’s first and most intensely micromanaged Master-Planned Community: Irvine, California. Read More >

By on June 1, 2011


In Part 1 of this series, I described the purchase of a 1965 Chevrolet Impala in early 1990, for use as the raw material in a complex performance/installation art piece. Within a single day of taking ownership of the car, I began the process of modifying it to suit my artistic vision. Read More >

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