The Truth About Cars » Enthusiasm The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 11:48:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Enthusiasm The Deuce’s Coupe – Henry Ford II’s Personal Prototype Mustang Sat, 19 Apr 2014 01:56:20 +0000 IMG_0600

Full gallery here.

Fifty years ago this week, the first Ford Mustang went on sale. While Lee Iacocca is considered by many to be the father of the Mustang, the simple reality is that without the approval of Henry Ford II, the chief executive at Ford, the Mustang would never have happened. That took some doing. After American Motors had shown the viability of compact cars, in 1960, Ford introduced the Falcon, Chevrolet introduced the Corvair, and Pontiac brought out the original, compact, Tempest. When GM introduced the sportier Monza versions of the Corvair, Iacocca, who by then was a Ford corporate VP and general manager of the Ford division, wanted something to compete with it. Henry Ford II, aka “Hank the Deuce”, had to be convinced to spend money on the project, just a few short years after FoMoCo took a serious financial hit when the Edsel brand did not have a successful launch. Iacocca, one of the great salesmen, not only sold his boss on the concept of the Mustang, the Deuce came to love the pony car so much he had a very special one made just for himself.


Multiple accounts from other participants in the story affirm that HFII was reluctant to give the Mustang program a green light. By early 1962, Iacocca had already been turned down at least twice, with Ford shouting “No! No!” when Ford’s division boss asked for $75 million to go after the youth market with a reskinned Falcon. Iacocca’s unofficial “Fairlane Committee”, an advanced product planning group that met every couple of weeks at the Fairlane Motel, away from prying eyes and ears at the Glass House, Ford’s World headquarters, had been working on the Mustang idea, but the team despaired of getting HFII’s approval.

In an interview on the Mustang’s genesis, Iacocca explained his challenge:

Henry Ford II had just dealt with one of the biggest losses in Ford history with the Edsel. It was dumped just one year earlier at a loss of $250 million. Henry was not receptive to launching a new, unproven line of cars which would present further risk to the company.

I made a number of trips to his office before I gained approval to build. He told me if it wasn’t a success, it would be my ass, and I might be looking for a new job elsewhere.

Surprisingly, Iacocca got word that Ford would let him pitch the as yet unnamed sporty car one more time. With the meeting scheduled for the next morning, Iacocca convened an emergency meeting of his secret committee. Things had to be secret because in the wake of the Edsel debacle, Ford’s corporate culture had become very cautious.

According to Ford head of public relations and Iacocca’s speechwriter Walter T. Murphy, who was at the meeting, the group included: Don Frey, Ford’s chief product planner; John Bowers, advertising manager; Frank Zimmerman, Ford division head of marketing; Robert Eggert, the company’s chief market research authority; Hal Sperlich, who wore many hats as Iacocca’s right hand man (and would follow him to Chrysler): and William Laurie, senior officer of Ford’s advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson.

In a 1989 account that he wrote for Ward’s Auto, Murphy described the scene:

“What I need are some fresh grabbers for my meeting tomorrow morning with Henry at the Glass House,” Mr. Iacocca told his committee (Note: we always called him Henry at meetings when Mr. Ford was not present), Bob Eggert, the researcher, was first at bat: “Lee, let’s lead off with the name of the car we’ve decided on.”

The feeling was that Henry didn’t know we were picking the Mustang name and he’d be entranced. Mr. Frey supported Mr. Eggert. “That’s a good way to go, but emphasize that this stylish pony car will kick GM’s Monza square in the balls.” Henry should love that! “I’ve got it,” Mr. Iacocca responded as he snapped shut the little car research binder that Mr. Eggert had slipped in front of him. “Murphy, put together some notes for me by early tomorrow morning. Thank you. The meeting is adjourned.”

The following morning Mr. Ford stretched out in his leather chair, fingers clasped atop his expanding belly. Mr. Iacocca stood holding a few index cards. He was not smoking or fingering a cigar, as he usually did. Mr. Ford asked “What have you got, Lee?”

Lee launched into his pitch on the market for the youthful low-cost cars that Ford once dominated but had surrendered to GM along with a bushel of profit/penetration points. “Now this new little pony car, the Mustang, would give an orgasm to anyone under 30,” he said. Henry sat upright as if he had been jabbed with a needle. “What was that you said, Lee?” asked Mr. Ford.

Lee began to repeat his orgasm line but Mr. Ford interrupted. “No not that crap, what did you call the car?” “It’s the Mustang, Mr. Ford, a name that will sell like hell.” “Sounds good; have Frey take it to the product planning committee and get it approved. And as of now, you’ve got $75 million to fund your Mustang.”

In the end, Henry Ford II’s approval of the Mustang came down to the name. I’ll note that Walker’s recollection is slightly different than that of Iacocca, who says that Ford initially committed just $45 million for the project.

The Mustang team first developed the four cylinder midengine Mustang (now known as Mustang I) concept for the 1962 show circuit, gauging interest in a sporty car targeted at young people. Because of cost concerns, they were likely to never build such a car (the Edsel failure guaranteed that the car would have to be based on an existing Ford car), but the reaction was positive, leading to the Falcon based Mustang II concept (not to be confused with the 1974 Mustang II production car). The Mustang II was based on a very early preproduction Mustang body shell, first used for a styling study with stretched front end (with “Cougar” badging – the name that convinced HFII was chosen very late in the process)  and then taken out on the ’63 auto show circuit to drum up interest in the new car. The Mustang II is owned by the Detroit Historical Museum and it would be hard to put a dollar value on such a rare and historically significant Mustang.


Henry Ford II with the Mustang at Ford’s pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, where the Mustang was first introduced to the public. Above and behind him you can see one of the convertibles used in the Walt Disney Co. designed Magic Skyway that carried visitors through Ford’s exhibit.

Before the official start of Mustang production on March 9, 1964, in February Ford started to build actual preproduction prototypes of the Mustang, about 180 of them in all. The bodies-in-white were pilot plant units built off of body bucks by Ford Body & Assembly in Allen Park, which explains the leaded seams. The bodies were then trucked to the nearby Dearborn assembly plant where they were assembled as part of the validation process.

lee-iacocca- deuce bordinat

From left to right: Lee Iacocca, Henry Ford II, and Gene Bordinat

One of of those preproduction prototypes was set aside for special treatment by Ford Design. Ten years later, it was just another old Mustang when Art Cairo spotted a classified ad in a Detroit newspaper that read, ”1965 Mustang once owned by the Ford family.” The asking price was a very reasonable $1,000 so Cairo went to look at the car. He found what appeared to be a Hi-Po 289 hardtop in black. It had some unusual parts, though. The vinyl roof was leather, not vinyl, as was the interior upholstery and dashpad. The brightwork on the wheel arch lips was die-cast, not anodized aluminum as on production cars. Door jams and trunk openings had fully leaded seams, and there were features like GT foglights in the grille, exhaust tips and styled steel wheels that were not available on early production Mustangs. Under the hood, there was an alternator instead of a generator, which was what ran the electrical system of early Mustangs. The only Ford products that offered alternators in mid 1964 were Lincolns.

On the interior, in addition to leather seats there was real teakwood, molded leather door panels with pistol-grip door handles, and a factory reverb unit and rear speaker under the package shelf. Door strikers and latches were chrome plated. In addition to what appeared to be an authentic High Performance 289, the car had disc brakes up front, a “top loader” four speed manual transmission and a 9 inch rear end with a 3.50:1 final drive ratio.

When Art read the VIN, 5F07K100148, and realized that it was a genuine “K code” Mustang, an early production “1964 1/2″ model, with a real Hi-Po 289 and lots of oddball parts, he recognized that it was a special car and that he needed to buy it (it would turn out later that Cairo’s Mustang was the very first K-code Mustang built). In the glovebox he found an owner’s manual for a ’65 Mustang written with the name “Edsel B. Ford II” and a Grosse Pointe address. The VIN in the manual, however, was for a fastback and didn’t match the one in the car.

Edsel, Henry Ford II’s son, would have been in high school when the car was new so Cairo figured it was an authentic Ford family car and bought it, assuming it was the younger Ford’s personal car. In 1983, when Art was interviewing Edsel for the Mustang Monthly magazine, Edsel revealed to him that the hardtop was not his, but his father’s and that somehow the owner’s manual for his fastback ’65 ended up with his dad’s car. Since the car’s restoration, Edsel autographed the teakwood glovebox door.

It turns out that while the cars were built for Ford family members to use, they were not titled to the Ford’s but rather remained the possession of the Ford company. After Henry and Edsel were done with their Mustangs, they were returned to FoMoCo and sold. The story that Cairo had heard was that the Deuce gave his Mustang to his chauffeur, who then sold it to the person who sold it to Cairo.

In addition to the changes mentioned above, other modifications were discovered when the car was finally restored. The alternator meant that the car had a custom wiring harness. A steel scatter shield was welded into the transmission tunnel in case of a failure of the clutch or flywheel. The engine was a real Hi-Po 289, but it had experimental cylinder heads, and even the steering box was not a production unit. The original headliner was leather, to match the roof and upholstery and in addition to all the real wood and chrome plating, a custom AM radio with die-cast knobs and buttons was installed.


“X” stands for experimental. The Hi-Po 289 V8 in Henry Ford II’s personal Mustang had experimental heads.

The fog lamps, exhaust trumpets and die-cast moldings were developmental parts planned to be introduced the following year, installed by Ford Design.

As mentioned, when Cairo bought the car, he knew it was special, being an early K-code car, but he didn’t take the Ford family provenance that seriously. He loaned the car to his brother, who beat on it pretty hard until something broke in the 289′s valvetrain. Art retrieved the keys, overhauled the heads and did a mild restoration and respray.

He didn’t drive it much because his job involving new vehicle launches at Ford kept him on the road a lot, moving from assembly plant to assembly plant. Though he drove 5F07K100148 sparingly, for the most part the car was unknown to the Mustang community.

In 2002, Cairo started getting worried about the long term effects of inactivity and humidity and a deep inspection found significant decay, rust and rodent damage. Rustbusters, a restoration shop in Redford, Michigan was entrusted with the car.

This was going to be a complicated job. Some parts, like the headliner and upholstery are so original they cannot be “restored”. How do you restore a one off with a replica?

The car was carefully taken apart, with copious notes and photographs taken. Once disassembled, they discovered that the rust had eaten through body panels, floors, frame-rails, wheelhouses, quarter-panels, inner fenders, doors, and the cowl vent. Had this been a run of the mill ’65 Mustang, most owners would have removed the VIN and bought a replacement body from Dynacorn.

Instead, with the help of reproduction company National Parts Depot, Rustbusters used a body jig custom designed for vintage Mustangs and repaired all of the sheet metal. A modern self-etching primer sealer was used as was polymer seam sealer, but Cairo was able to locate some vintage Ford Raven Black enamel, and after spraying, the Mustang was color sanded and hand rubbed old school style to replicate a 1964 era paint job. Unfortunately, the die-cast prototype wheel-lip moldings were too corroded to use.

Early production Mustangs came with an unimproved hood that had sharp edges, replaced in 1965 with a hood that had a rolled lip. Since all preproduction and Indy Pace Car Mustangs (Ford provided the pace car for the 1964 race) that have surfaced so far feature the later style hood, Art decided to go with the “1965″ hood, which is how he found the car when he bought it.

The engine was rebuilt to factory specs, other than a .030 overbore, but inspections revealed that both the transmission and rear end just needed new seals and gaskets.

The car was finished just in time for Ford’s centennial in 2003 and Art was invited to display his car in front of Ford World Headquarters as part of the 100th anniversary celebration. This month it’s appropriately back in the lobby of the “Glass House”, whose official name is the Henry Ford II World Center, along with some other historic Mustangs, to celebrate the Mustang’s semicentennial.

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QOTD: Special Feature, Special Weakness Mon, 14 Apr 2014 04:04:21 +0000 IMG_0244.JPG - Copy

On a busy freeway, a first-generation Scion xB putters along. Ahead, a confused medley of dump trucks, semis, and passenger cars performs the lane-change dance that we all know and loathe. For the driver and passenger of the toaster, things are about to get interesting- and infuriating.

The dump trucks are fully laden, and there’s already plenty of junk on the road. The xB has a well-worn bug deflector, one which has spared the windshield from an unfortunate contact many times already. But this time, it won’t get the job done. Suddenly, a car darts across lanes in the traffic ahead. It picks up a rock, an asphalt clod, or some other piece of detritus. The missile arcs backward at the perfect angle. It misses the deflector by millimeters, hitting dead on right below the driver’s wiper. THWACK. Time to call the insurance company.

This isn’t the first time. The toaster is already on windshield number two, which itself has seen the business end of a resin gun. Half a dozen or so years prior, it took a stone right at the top, where the glass joins the roof. That time, the trauma wasn’t immediately apparent. However, a single cold, clear day later, the glass was split from top to bottom. The nice man from the glass shop told us that xBs were a great revenue stream for his company. Now he’ll be back to collect another check.

But oh, the glory of driving a fish tank. A virtually unobstructed view from any angle, the tiny blind spots totally confound the current zero-visibility trend in styling. When dad first bought it, I hated it. It was a dork’s car through and through. But when I got my license and my own ride, I began to appreciate its virtues. Those vast expanses of glass were fantastic for a young, nervous driver. They made it easy to watch the road, and to negotiate the tight spots. Dad appreciated it for much the same reason. At the time, no other car on the road offered the same level of visibility, unless it was a convertible. That’s even truer today. Perhaps that’s why he’s held on to it for longer than any other car he’s owned. Even if that fishbowl feeling comes at a price.

xB, Wrangler, FJ, van, and pickup drivers know all about the hazards inherent in steep windshields. Even so, they accept it as part of the costs of ownership. Many drivers tolerate possible headaches in maintenance and repair to get the special features they really want. A sunroof is a good example, as are convertible tops more generally. Heated and power seats don’t always last the life of a vehicle, but for many in northern climes they verge on necessity. Premium wheels can look great, even if they aren’t always resistant to potholes. Material quality and careful engineering can help special features last longer without requiring repairs. But some, like steeply raked windshields, can’t overcome the basic limitations of their design.

What weaknesses are you willing to tolerate in the design of your vehicle, to get exactly what you want? Or is durability your sole criteria? Have you ever been seduced by a trick feature that turned out to be an expensive source of woe later?

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Smart Cars Damaged In Stupid Prank Tue, 08 Apr 2014 13:33:38 +0000

Photo courtesy of NBC Bay

San Francisco’s NBC affiliate is reporting on a new wave of vandalism sweeping the City by the Bay, car tipping. At least four Smart cars were flipped over Sunday night, by what one hooded-sweatshirt wearing witness described as a group of six to eight people wearing hooded sweatshirts. The case has drawn national attention, sparking the creation of a Facebook parody site, comments by the website, who called the car tippers “heroes,” and at least one cheekily written article on the website regarded by many as the seedy underbelly of the car blogging world, The Truth About Cars.

Many people believe the attacks on the Smart cars, which sell new beginning at around $13K, are a new form of class warfare in which the poor people still residing in the newly gentrified San Francisco neighborhoods take out their frustrations on the property of their wealthier, status seeking neighbors. Proof of these assertions are borne out by the fact that heavier luxury vehicles parked on the street near the damaged Smart cars were not overturned, causing this author to speculate that the larger cars could not be targeted because of rampant malnourishment among the lower classes. Others, however, think the incidents are just a stupid prank by stupid people who simply resent people with Smarts. Whatever the case, police are investigating and any suspects apprehended are likely to be charged with felony vandalism.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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Final Fight Of The 300 Fri, 04 Apr 2014 16:56:21 +0000 300m2

At the big blue water tower, Interstate 90, known locally as the New York State Thruway, sweeps in from the east and turns sharply southward to skirt the city of Buffalo. The main interstate is joined there by I-290, one of the loop roads that comes in from the north, and although the roads are both heavily traveled, the intersection is not especially well thought out. The 290, three lanes wide, makes a clean split, the leftmost lane joining the eastbound lanes of the 90 while the rightmost lane heads up and over an overpass before joining the westbound lanes. The middle lane offers drivers the opportunity to turn either way but most people opt to take the west bound exit and, because the right most lane is eventually forced to merge into the left lane prior to actually joining the 90, most people tend to hang in the middle lane prior to the split and, during rush hour, traffic tends to slow. Naturally, wherever cars slow, dickheads want to use the open lane to pass and then merge at the last moment.

Headed south in the early morning hours, traffic was moving along fairly well and I, in my 300M, was in line with dozens of other cars in the center lane when the big blue water tower and the 290/90 split hove into view. As usual, traffic began to slow, but there were no brake lights. Gradually, our speed dropped from the posted limit to around 40 miles and hour and I, along with everyone else in-line, stayed to the right as the center lane divided, a bare car length between me and the driver ahead. Given the distance, my attention was focused up the road rather than my mirrors so I was shocked when, out of the corner of my eye, I detected something that simply should not have been there, a car on my left.

Photo courtesy of Buffalo Spree Magazine

I hadn’t seen him approach, but there was only one way the light blue Nissan Cube could have shown up there. He had run up the left most lane faster than those of us in line and then, instead of staying left and heading east towards Rochester, he had gone straight-on across the center lane split and was now on the left shoulder and moving a good ten mph faster than the rest of us. In a millisecond he swept past, narrowly missing the side of my prized old Chrysler and then, hard on the brakes, stuffed his little econo-box into the small space between my car and the one I had been following.

Generally, I’m not prone to road rage, but in the moments that followed I saw red. Instead of jumping on the brakes and opening the space between us I stayed right in position bare inches from the offending car’s back bumper. The road moved up and over a small bridge and, on the other side, headed down to the 90 where it became the rightmost lane. At that point, most of the fast cars will generally shift left and scoot away while those of us headed downtown will shift onto the exit for Route 33. To my surprise, instead of moving left and making his getaway, the Cube turned right and since I just happened to be headed the same way I did so too. We ran down the off ramp just inches apart and, as we joined the highway headed downtown, I bumped the big Chrysler into “autostick” mode.

Nissan Cube

As we hit the merge I bumped the 300 down a gear and mashed the gas. The engine spun up and the sound that came out of the back was glorious. I drove the car into the left lane fully expecting to outgun the little Cube and to give him a taste of his own medicine as he attempted to merge but, alas, he wasn’t there. As the Chrysler surged forward, so too did the little economy car and, foot by foot as both of us stayed hard on the gas, the Cube slipped smoothly away.

Looking back on it, I didn’t act very smart that day. Had the Cube caused an accident I might have been justified in being upset but once he had managed to stuff his car into the gap I should have backed off and let him go. Still, I learned something about how quickly technology has advanced and how smaller cars with better performing engines are more than a match for older, larger “performance” (if that’s the right word for a 300M) sedans. The best thing is, of course, that no one had to be hurt to learn that lesson.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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2014 Detroit Autorama: Crafty-B ’32 Roadster, An Elegant Concept, Well Executed Fri, 28 Mar 2014 04:18:24 +0000 IMG_0261

Full gallery here.

From the ridiculous to the sublime. After subjecting you to that curious Hudson Terraplane “coupe”, please consider this my apology. A visual palette cleanser, if you will. Before organizers let the public in to the Detroit Autorama at noon on the Friday of the show, members of the media can get in at 9 AM while the Ridler Award competitors and other top-quality, high-dollar customs are still being set up in their sometimes elaborate displays. Those displays in the front part of Cobo Hall include stands to jack the cars up off the floor so you can see the undercarriages, mirrors to do the same, professional lighting, build books and hero cards. There was one car in the front of the hall, though, that had a decidedly minimalist display, just enough machine turned aluminum floor tiles so the ’32 Ford roadster’s retro bias ply tires weren’t sitting on bare concrete.

It wasn’t built quite to the level of the Ridler competitors, some panels weren’t perfectly flush and the like, but there was a reason why it was in the front of the hall. As a matter of fact, Kirk Brown, whose Crafty B shop in Caledonia, Michigan fabricated the car (Brown also uses the Nostalgic Speed brand), and his wife told me that originally they were just going to show the car farther back in the hall mostly to help promote the cast aluminum hot rod parts they sell. However, when show organizers got an idea of how their Ford looked, the promoters moved it up to the front, where the Ridler Award competitors and other top shelf custom cars are given prime viewing space. Brown told me they were notified about that move three weeks prior to the show, resulting in a complete tear down, rebuild, and detailing to make it suitable for its new place of honor.

You can see why the organizers moved Crafty-B to a more prominent location. As I said, it’s not built to Ridler level, there are a few little flaws, nothing that spending another hundred thousand dollars or two couldn’t fix to make it a competitive show car, but it’s just a great looking car. In, in terms of a clear, elegant concept that’s been faithfully executed, it’s damn near perfect. With the powder blue paint, you can say that it’s a pretty car, but the brushed aluminum gives it a purposeful look, a masculine yang to the body’s more feminine yin.

I wasn’t the only person who thought this car looked great. Just about everyone that I spoke to at the Autorama on Friday that was there in some kind of professional capacity, either writing or taking photographs, as well as people who had a broad variety of cars of their own on display mentioned “the powder blue roadster with the brushed aluminum trim.”

The aluminum parts represent Crafty B / Nostalgic Speed’s product line, whose motto is the melifluous and descriptive, if ungrammatical, “Hand Crafted Sand Casted”. All of the aluminum castings used on the light blue roadster were sand cast using hand crafted wood forms shaped in-house. The same is true for the lights, shifter arms, friction shock absorbers and gas caps that form the basis for their product line. The gas caps are available in a variety of finishes, with your choice of stainless steel or brass (for that really old school look) closure levers. They’re also the reason for the company ribald motto, “we have your gashole covered”.

Damn near, but not quite perfect. I don’t like the shape of the convertible top, it seems too square for the car’s lines.  I’d like to have seen it with the top down. Also, the flat and rectangular aluminum rear window frame makes the top seem even more square shaped. From the rear 3/4 angle, though, I can see what the Browns were trying to do with the roof.

The interior is as minimalist as the exterior, with simple brown leather upholstery crafted nicely by Mrs. Brown, who does upholstery under the trade name of The Stitch (I don’t mean to slight her by not mentioning her given name but I can’t find it in my notes). The Brown’s are a nice looking couple and they made a nice looking car.

This post will be wrapping up TTAC’s coverage of the Autorama this year (unless there is a clamoring demand for a post on The Brown Hot Rod Appreciation Society – earth tones are back). One of the pleasant things about the Autorama is the delight owners and builders get from people enjoying their cars on display. Kirk Brown looked to me to be doubly tickled because the show goers’ positive reactions were amplified by how the organizers had moved his car to the front of the event and how the public attendees’ approval was echoed by the professional builders whose cars were also given prominent locations. It’s always nice to be validated.

Another nice thing about the Autorama is that in many ways it’s about the most diverse car show that you could think of. Sure, it’s a bit heavy on domestic brands (though I noticed a Lamborghini Gallardo and a Lotus Turbo Esprit), but it hosts cars from original condition and restored vehicles to completely radical customs and everything in between. Even if you’re not particularly into hot rods or customs, if you’re a car enthusiast of any stripe you should find at least a few cars of interest to you at a show of this scale. Since each car reflects the owner’s personality and interests, in sum total the cars (and trucks, and motorcycles, and bicycles, and scale models, and go karts) at the Autorama are as diverse as human personalities are.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Tom Carrigan’s 1375 HP V12 Powered ’39 Chevy – The Allison Car Sat, 22 Mar 2014 12:08:50 +0000 IMG_0123

Full gallery here.

The Detroit Autorama has a definite blue collar vibe. Even those of the half million dollar cars competing for the Ridler award that are “bought, not built” are paid for by couples who obviously are affluent, but who have made their money not as doctors or lawyers or financiers but rather from operating some kind of small business enterprise. Most owners participate one way or another in their builds and most also have some experience working with their hands. Last year I had the chance to visit the facility where Chevy has the COPO Camaros built and I was present to watch two owners take delivery of what is essentially a $100,000 toy. One of them, Dan Sayres, of Waverly, West Virginia, now owns a number of automotive related businesses, including a collision shop and a recycling yard. He told me that he started with a single tow truck. It takes some smarts to go from one used tow truck to buying purpose built drag racers. Of course, you don’t need deep pockets to come up with a big idea. From the mid six figure Ridler competitors to the unfinished projects in the basement, there are lots of big ideas at the Autorama, not all of them successful. One of the biggest ideas, both figuratively and literally, is the car that Tom Carrigan built because he thought he could do it.

Tom Carrigan is a retired pipefitter and has a familiar, almost “aw shucks” and somewhat self-depreciating affect. Don’t let that fool you, Carrigan is a very smart guy. How smart? He’s wrapping up a project building a 1,375 horsepower, V12 powered midengine car in his garage. Okay, that’s impressive you may say, but with 1000+ horsepower cars like the Bugatti Veyron or Koenigsegg’s amazing vehicles, or the supertuned engines from Hennesey, Lingenfelter or Callaway, that’s not completely outrageous in this day and age. However, Carrigan’s doing it by putting a 70 year old Allison V-1710 aircraft engine built for a WWII era P-40 warplane in a car even older than that engine, a 1939 Chevrolet two door Deluxe.

$_57 (2)


The Allison engine is sitting on a frame he fabricated himself out of box steel sections, the front end of a full size GMC van converted to rack and pinion steering, and a 9 inch Ford rear end. Now most of us would be happy, if we were into such things as powering old cars with huge airplane engines, just to see the thing run. That wasn’t enough for Tom as he’s cooked up his own sequential multiport fuel injection system, managed by a Megasquirt electronic fuel injection controller that he’s fine tuning so he can run that Allison reliably on the street. As a guy who wants to build a low-buck Lotus Se7en inspired do-it-yourself sports car, only using a V12 Jaguar as the donor for the suspension and powertrain instead of a four cylinder Ford Ranger, you can understand why I like Mr. Carrigan and his car. Some ideas are just too silly not to do.

Carrying a 1,300 lb powerplant on a wheelbase that’s been stretched 4 feet to accommodate it, one might think that what Carrigan calls simply “The Alison Car” won’t handle well once it’s on the road. With a 163.5″ wheelbase, it certainly won’t be set up to win any autocross events, but all that weight is nicely distributed. The front, well actually the rear face of the engine (remember this is an airplane engine whose propeller drive is in its front) sits well behind the front axle line, at least a foot and a half, hence my midengine classification. Also, the inline Chevy six that it replaced is no lightweight itself, weighing in at 630 lbs dressed. I bet the finished project doesn’t handle worse than the original 1939 Chevrolet did. My guess is that it will have less body roll and could probably pull higher g forces on a skid pad than a stock ’39 Chevy could as well. There are a few other advantages to the engine swap, 1,375 of them.


With the heavy engine along with the 6″ frame sections and 4 feet of sheet metal added in (Carrigan says that the project used more than six 4′ X 10′ sheets of steel), the finished car weighs 6,300 lbs. That’s a lot of weight but last year I tested a Land Rover that weighed 5,400 lbs and with ‘just’ 370 hp, it could move rather smartly. Even at over 3 tons, the power to weight ratio of the Allison Car  is still going to be better than just about anything on the road.


For comparison’s sake, at 700 hp and 3,472 lbs, the Lamborghini Aventador has a power:weight ratio of 0.202. The Bugatti Veyron is nearing the end of its production run with engines currently outputting 1,200 hp. The Veyron is not a light car, over two tons at 4,162. That gives it a power:weight ratio of 0.288, which is impressive, but significantly lower than that of the Swedish supercar with the unpronounceable name, the Koenigsegg Agera R. With 1,114 hp and a weight of only 2,844 lbs, the Agera R has a power:weight ratio of 0.392. In between the Aventador and the Veyron are the Porsche 918 and McLaren P1 hybrid supercars at 0.217 and 0.270 respectively. With a P:W of 0.320 even the Ferrari La Ferrari comes short of the Koenigsegg .

At 0.218, Carrigan’s Allison powered Chevy won’t be able to keep up with the quickest of today’s production supercars but it will get down the line in less time than Lamborghini and Porsche’s most powerful sports cars. What it loses in the corners it will certainly make up and then some on the straights. That’s at the tune that Carrigan thinks will be appropriate for the use he plans. He does have the option of tuning for more power.

The turbo-compound version of the V-1710 engine could put out more than 2,800 hp.

The turbo-compound version of the V-1710 engine could put out more than 2,800 hp.

Late production V-1710 engines used in P-38L aircraft were rated at 1,600 hp, and if that’s not enough, it should be noted that there was a version that Allison developed called the V-1710-127, which replaced superchargers (and turbosupercharging in some models) with exhaust driven turbines that returned that recovered energy to the crankshaft. That “turbo compound” engine was static tested at 2,800 hp. Installed in Carrigan’s two-door Chevy Deluxe, that would yield a power to weight ratio of 0.444, capable of blowing the doors, gullwing, scissor, Lamborghini style, or conventionally hinged, off of any production car on the road today.

Power, though, isn’t everything. With that much weight sitting that far back in the chassis and the 2,400+ lb-ft of torque the Allison generates, my guess is that when Carrigan does take it to a drag strip, he’d better mount some wheelie bars because with that much twist, the overpowered Chevy can probably do wheelies all the way down the 1/4 mile track. I hope he does take it to the drag strip because the car’s provenance includes famed exhibition drag racer E.J. Potter, the “Michigan Madman”, notorious for his small block Chevy V8 powered motorcycles. Potter had a thing for Allison V12s, using them in a couple of insanely fast drag racers. Potter also used an Allison engine to power the generator for his “Super Slot Car” electric drag racer. Allison produced over 70,000 V-1710s from 1930 through the end of WWII so they were available as surplus well into the 1960s and popular with extreme drag racers and unlimited hydroplane boat racers before jet engines supplanted them.


The water-cooled 1710 cubic inch 60 degree V12 in Carrigan’s car is one of several that he bought from Potter. Like many WWII era aircraft piston engines, the specifications sound fairly modern even by today’s standards.


The heads, crankcase and water jacket are made of aluminum, while the oil pan is made of magnesium. Forged aluminum pistons are located inside steel cylinder liners. It has four valves and two spark plugs per cylinder. The valves are operated by one overhead cam per cylinder bank, it has a dry sump lubrication system, and to perform well at an altitude the ’39 Chevy will never achieve, the 1710 has a two stage supercharger, with 7 pounds of boost.


Being the kind of guy who prefers 289 Windsors or 351 Clevelands to small block Chevy V8s in Ford hot rods, I like the fact that Carrigan kept it in the family – when the V-1710 was designed Allison, just like Chevrolet, was part of General Motors.

dashboard gauges

To get access to the engine, the entire front end is forward hinged and two hydraulic cylinders and a 12 volt hydraulic pump scavenged from a marine application open and close the engine compartment. He’s still using the original dashboard but he’s had to add more than a couple of new gauges to monitor the new powerplant.

fan in trunk

While the Allison Car does have a radiator up front, a much larger main radiator is mounted in the trunk, cooled by a fan run by a two cylinder 16 hp gasoline engine. Through a Rube Goldberg combination of belts and pulleys the same engine drives a 24 volt alternator for the engine’s electrical system, an auxiliary water pump, a 12 volt alternator for the car’s electrics, and a power steering pump. Carrigan has no plans currently to fit an air conditioner, but if he decides to do so, he’d add another pulley and use the auxiliary engine to also run the compressor. Since the car will be used primarily as a show and parade car, Carrigan has contingency plans to add electric fans to the front radiator should it overheat at parade or cruise night speed.


Wherever it goes, it will get attention. Anytime you’re going to stretch a car four feet between the cowl and the front wheels, the result is going to look cartoonish, and the Allison Car indeed looks like it could have been in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? or on the cover of a Little Feat album, but I mean cartoonish in a good way. It’s exaggerated but the widened front end looks fine from a front view and even the weird proportions work, at least for me. Some of the most classic car designs have short rear decks and stretched out front ends. Carrigan has given the car a terrific stance and from the rear 3/4 view, that long continuous line from the trunk’s bustle to the front grille looks great. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pair of more purposeful and ominous looking side pipes.

Bugatti Royale, Henry Ford Museum

Bugatti Royale, Henry Ford Museum

Earlier, I compared the Allison Car to a Bugatti Veyron. While it’s in the Veyron’s class in terms of engine power, Carrigan’s car actually reminds me of another Bugatti, Ettore and Jean Bugatti’s majestic Royale. The Royale is even bigger and heavier than the Chevy with power by Allison (6″ more wheelbase and about 600# more weight), but with its very long hood and passenger compartment set far back on the wheelbase, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that the Allison Car and the Bugatti Royale share at least some proportions.

Click here to view the embedded video.

After starting the video, click on the settings icon to select 2D or your choice of 3D formats.

Tom said that it’s very close to being on the road. It can run well enough to go up and down the driveway under its own power, but Carrigan is still working on “the tune”, as he calls it, before he drives the Allison Car in earnest. Once its running to his satisfaction he says that the first thing he’s going to do is see what kind of burnouts the V12 powered Chevy can do. Then he’s going to take it to Onondaga Dragway near his home in Vermontville, Michigan, where it’s already undergone a safety inspection and approval. He also plans on measuring fuel economy, figuring it should get better mileage than the 5 mpg Jay Leno gets in his fuel injected M-47 Patton tank engine powered Blastolene Special, which at 9500 lbs. is quite a bit heavier than Carrigan’s Chevy. When I asked about converting gallons per hour from the Allison’s aircraft specifications, Carrigan said that data doesn’t correlate well to earthbound fuel consumption. He does calculate that at 60 mph, the Allison will be turning a leisurely 1,000 rpm, in part because the half-speed gear reduction propeller drive has been flipped around to get an output shaft speed suitable for automotive use. Peak power is at an engine speed of 3,000 rpm, so to go from cruising speed to the car’s top end shouldn’t take very long. I didn’t ask Carrigan about that top speed, but the Chrysler 727 RWD transmission he’s using isn’t usually an overdrive unit so you can probably calculate theoretical top speeds based on the final drive ratio and the circumference of the rear tires. With that much power and torque, I’m sure the Allison will pull all the way to the redline, though my guess is that the Chevy’s body will need some aero appurtenances to stay on the ground at full speed.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Tom’s invited me to see the finished project and he said that as long as everything works safely he doesn’t see any reason why I can’t drive it. Would you pass up an opportunity to drive a 1,375 hp ’39 Chevy? Would you pass up the opportunity to drive anything with 1,375 hp.

Click here to view the embedded video.

In the meantime, you can watch the videos that Carrigan has posted about the project and even hear the big V12 start up and roar.

Click here to view the embedded video.

When I asked him if he thought the Chrysler Torqueflite automatic transmision he’s installed will hold up to that much power and he said, “we’ll see”.

Click here to view the embedded video.

To get a feel for Carrigan’s automotive look on life, I’ve included a gallery below of photos from the build and his own Q&A on the project:

I used the GMC Van for a start because I car pooled with an electrician for 10 years and it was a wonderful time. The electrician is the brother of Max Simson of tractor pulling fame. His whole family are geniuses and every time I sit in the seat I will remember all the good times and technical discussion we had.

Why am I doing this?

  1. I love engines, The bigger the better.
  2. I want to be the guy that anyone who sees this car at a show will never forget.
  3. As a retired pipefitter who very seldom got to use his talents and abilities at work, I get to use them now.
  4. After riding in a B17 bomber and when they started the first engine a smile started on my face that did not leave for over a week.
  5. How much fun it will be to give people rides.
  6. Because I think I can.
  7. 1 % for all those folks who said “ It will never work” “you will never succeed” “ why don’t you sell that junk before it is not worth anything” ect. Know anyone like that?

The next project will be the T-53 Lycoming turbine engine. I am thinking of a T-Bucket, but that may change. (not much body work). After that I have 3 more Allison engines and am considering building a replica of one of E J Potter’s drag cars, but who knows. When I get this all done I am sure I will dream up something else to do. P. S. If you had a chance to drive [Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top's] Caddzilla or my car witch would you choose?

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

db_1b db_1a db_1 db_1 (1) dashboard gauges carrigan062209 50a 42a 41a 30a 24a 22a 20a 13a 9a 8a 7a 4a 3a 2a 2a (1) 1a 2 fan in trunk db_ready db_91 db_17 db_16 db_15 db_14 db_13 db_12 db_11 db_8 db_10 db_7 db_5c db_5a db_5 db_4a db_4 db_3 db_1c ]]> 34
2014 Detroit Autorama: Al Grooms’ Amazing and Original Bassackwards Midengine 1950 Ford F-1 Pickup Thu, 20 Mar 2014 10:00:29 +0000 IMG_0158

Full gallery here.

I’m so glad that Al Grooms brought his truck back to the Detroit Autorama this year. Last year it was the car that everyone that attended the show with whom I spoke mentioned. He hasn’t made any changes to it, but there are so many clever touches that it’s hard to take in all at once, which is why I was happy to have a second look. Al lives in Ohio and works in a steel mill and he is undoubtedly a deviously clever man. He was having so much fun with the people coming up and admiring his project that I’m sure his facial muscles were sore from grinning.

If I got the story straight, Grooms started out by turning the hood and front end of a 1950 Ford F-1 pickup into the forward seated cockpit of a very low rat rod. Since there was no room for the engine up front, he had to put the Ford Y-Block 292 V8 back in the bed, but again space was an issue. There wasn’t enough room between the cockpit and the rear axle for both the engine and transmission, so he turned the engine and four-speed manual gearbox around 180 degrees. The front of the engine now faces the back of the “truck” and the output shaft of the gearbox points forward. The transmission tailpiece sits between the two seats, and Grooms has mounted some expanded metal to act as console/armrest on top of the tailpiece. Speaking of expanded metal, the floors are made of that grating so you can see the pavement rushing by underneath you. The output shaft of the transmission is connected to a short drive shaft with two universal joints. All this machinery is exposed and spinning rather closely to the driver and passenger’s arms and legs so I’m guessing that for safety’s sake (safety??!!) the U-joints are slightly enclosed inside shrouds. After the second U-joint, the shaft goes through a bearing block and terminates in a large sprocket that drives a double row of very heavy roller chain that is connected to another sprocket sitting in the front of the passenger’s foot well. An idler wheel keeps the chain tensioned. Don’t worry, Grooms mounted a couple of Moon gas pedals as dead pedals to keep your footsies out of the works. That second sprocket is at the head of a driveshaft that then runs to the back of the car (there’s a section of pipe that it runs through to keep the passengers’ pant legs from getting caught in the spinning shaft).

Last year, when Grooms first brought his creation to the Autorama “Extreme” show in the basement of Cobo Hall, I just assumed that the driveshaft just went back to the front of an offset Ford rear axle. Of course that would be too simple for this project. This year I noticed that the axle is flipped around so the nose of the differential is facing the back of the vehicle. The driveshaft that starts in front of the passenger’s feet runs to the back of the car, where another sprocket and roller chain setup transfers power to the final drive. Copper plumbing connects the engine to the rear-mounted radiator, sitting right in front of a mesh panel where the tailgate would normally be. An electric fan moves air past the radiator.

Calling this a rat rod really doesn’t do it justice. While my description makes it sound like it was thrown together, in fact it’s a very well thought out project and even looks good. The suspension is a bit primitive, a solid axle up front suspended on what I think are technically called quarter elliptical springs – leaf springs cut in half. There doesn’t appear to be much suspension travel up front but Grooms says the ride is comfortable. Consider the source is a man who sits on bare metal over floors that he deliberately left as open as he could. The rear axle is suspended between two pairs of oppositely arced leaf springs. Looking at the photos, there’s another link in there so I’m guessing there’s some kind of Panhard rod or other kind of laterally locating device.

I’m not sure what kind of frame members there are up front, but judging by the large square section tubing that makes up the rear part of the custom frame, I’m sure that they’re sturdy.

In the cockpit another nod to safety are serious racing seat belts and shoulder harnesses. The steering wheel was originally part of a very large valve and has been cut down butterfly style. It looks great. Grooms mounted some gauges on a stack made of brass banister parts, which gives the cockpit a bit of a nautical look that goes well with the valve handle steering wheel.

As I said, there are so many touches on this car that I could go on and on. A lot of people think that the basement of Cobo during the Autorama is where you find “real Detroit car culture”. It’s where the rat rods, works in progress and oddball cars go but you’ll find that the people downstairs can be just as clever as the shops who build the Ridler Award competitors upstairs. As a matter of fact, if you look closely you’ll see that Troy Trepanier of Rad Rods by Troy autographed the dashboard of Grooms’ truck. Last year, when a ’56 Buick that Trepanier’s shop had built was one of the Great 8 finalists for the Ridler, Groom’s midengine masterpiece got Trepanier’s vote in the Autorama’s Builders’ Choice competition.

Human creativity is an amazing thing.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Still Thinking About A Small & Sporty Car: On To Something Wed, 19 Mar 2014 18:00:05 +0000 149

I’ve spent the past few weeks examining the possibilities. Some of you might remember an article or two that I wrote back in January about my desire to find something sporty and fun to drive once the family and I get safely relocated to our new digs down Leavenworth way. A few folks who read our fine website contacted me by e-mail to offer up various vehicles that meet the requirements I set and I had a good time imagining myself behind the wheel of each and every one of them. One of those cars struck a special chord with me and its owner and I have exchanged several emails in the weeks since. I am thinking now, should fate somehow not manage to intervene in the best laid plan of this large but mousey man, that I might take some of the mad amounts of money I make writing for TTAC and purchase it. Don’t tell my wife.

I don’t feel bad about my scheme, really. We have two drivers in my house and only two vehicles. Some people think that’s normal, I suppose, but I’m the kind of guy who likes to have a back-up. Today, for example, I emerged from my home in the pre-dawn hours to find that the battery in my Pontiac Torrent was dead flat. Maybe it’s my own fault, I was working in the front yard and the kids, who demanded to be outside with me, decided it was too cold and, rather than simply go back inside, demanded to be put into the car to play. I like it when the kids play in the car, after all I spent a lot of my time as a kid playing driver and it’s an interest I want to encourage, but when they flip a switch and leave the lights on all night it can be problematic. Since it takes time to re-charge a battery I’ve ended up spending the day at home and that wouldn’t have happened if I had some kind of small, fun to drive, sporty car just sitting there as a back up. See my logic? I know my wife will…

Of course she will, right?

Of course she will, right?

Anyhow, the real reason y’all hit the jump wasn’t to find out that I let my kids play driver, it was to find out just what car is the subject of my machinations and that car is (ready for it?) a one-owner 1983 Shelby Charger. The car was purchased at Reed Brothers Dodge in Rockville, MD on July 20, 1983 for $9435 and recently came out of storage to receive an extensive rust repair and repaint. Underneath it has all new brakes and shocks and, while the engine internals haven’t been touched, it also sports a new clutch, oil pump and timing belt. The transmission has been swapped out for a stouter, recently rebuilt unit from a turbo car and the shift knuckles have been upgraded from plastic to steel. Over all, the car sounds really well sorted and the photos I have received back-up the sellers assertion. The best part is, without being so crass as to discuss numbers in public, the price is right.

shelby charger

Naturally, I’m excited, and I’ve spent a good deal of time over the last few weeks learning everything I could about the 1983 Dodge Charger. It turns out I knew a lot less than I thought I did. For one thing, I had just always assumed that all Shelby Chargers were turbocharged. It turns out, however, that in 1983, the first year Shelby decided to slap his name on a car that, up until 1982, had been called the Omni 024, the car was still much closer to its econobox roots that it was a fire breathing muscle car. The 2.2, which had entered service in late 1980 as a part of the 1981 model year, originally made just 84 horsepower.

Realizing the limitations of the cars he was working with, Carroll Shelby hedged his bets and, according to Peter Grist in his book “Dodge Dynamite: 50 Years of Dodge Muscle Cars” that “The main parameters were to have as good a handling FWD car as there is anywhere, that it be unique in appearance, and that it perform adequately.” The car certainly looks unique, its hard to miss a Shelby Charger’s wild graphics, and by all accounts Shelby’s people were able to work real magic with the car’s suspension as well. The High output engine that was created, however, only managed to eke out 110 horses. A few years later, of course, the addition of fuel injection and turbo charging would add many more ponies to that rather modest number, but this car marks the beginning of the process that would eventually lead to those things. That makes it, I think, special. Now, the only question is if I can control the urges that would have me try and preserve it or simply use it as God and Carroll Shelby intended. I’ll be sure and give it my best shot.

shelby charger 1

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Alternative Technologies: The Power Of Steam Fri, 14 Mar 2014 20:58:21 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

The verdict is in. After two popular articles on the inner workings of the transmission, it is clear that TTAC loves technical articles about complicated mechanical devices. Always one to try to get into the middle of the latest fad, I thought that maybe I too could use my own hard won technical knowledge to write an informative article. The problem is that the only thing I really know how to work on involves technology that is seldom seen in cars these days: steam.

Many people think the days of steam power has come and gone but the truth is that it is still with us. It’s true that the immense locomotives that once thundered across our great land, pistons pounding wildly as they flung themselves along the rails at speeds that often exceeded 100 mph, have all but disappeared, but the reasons for their demise have little to do with the efficiency of their power plants. No, the steam locomotive was undone by the fact that most of them were one-off creations, each one of which required specially constructed parts and that, when General Motors finally began to apply the miracle of standardized parts and the production line to the creation of diesel engines, the great beasts were finally driven to extinction. No, steam simply retreated to places where it could be used to its best advantage and where it still works with such efficiency that it is utterly unremarkable.

The power of steam comes from its expansion. To people accustomed to thinking about the automobile, the way steam works can easily be compared to the combustion of gasoline which takes power from a liquid fuel, gasoline or diesel, and then ignites it into a gas which forces a piston to travel downward in a power stroke. In the case of steam power, water is heated under pressure in a boiler until it turns to vapor and is taken from the drum via a series of pipes, scrubbed of its moisture and sometimes superheated, before being released through a nozzle or inlet valve into an area where it can fully expand. That expansion can be used to cause a piston to move through its stroke or a turbine to spin. Of course, this is a simplistic explanation but just to give you an idea of the power available, just understand that water expands into steam at a rate of 1700 to 1, meaning that one square foot of water heated to 366 degrees F at 150psi will expand to 1700 feet of water vapor at Zero psi.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

The big, high pressure marine power plants I used to work with were giant systems. The boilers themselves were several stories high, had a firebox big enough for several people to walk around in and thousands of water filled tubes leading into an immense steam and water drum. The steam and water drum mounted several pieces of equipment, including several that were intended to dry the steam so that water droplets could not move through the system and impact sensitive parts downstream, and a superheater to give the steam one last burst of energy prior to its release into a high pressure steam turbine. Once the steam had gone through its initial expansion in the HP turbine, it would then flow into a low pressure turbine where it expended the rest of its energy and then flow into a condenser, basically a big radiator, to condense the steam back into water. That water was then pumped back up to a preheater which brought it back up to temperature so it could be re-injected back into the boiler.

For the most part, boiler water is recovered by the system and never really allowed to cool much below the boiling point. Once the system is up and running the energy demands are not really outrageous considering the amount of power generated and the good news is that the boiler will run on the worst kinds of fuel so long as it is liquid enough to inject into the firebox and burns well enough to make heat.

Of course, a ship’s engine room has a lot of other things going on to support the process I’ve just described. Some parts of the steam are siphoned off to run the high speed, high pressure feed pumps required to inject the feed water into the boiler at the beginning of the process and still more is taken to run other systems like the fuel heating systems and the evaporators that ships use to turn sea water into fresh water. The result is a space crammed full of machinery and a maze of pipes, many of which that are hot enough to burn you right through your boiler suit should you happen to brush up against them in the wrong place.

The steam and water cycle of a steam piston engine is much the same as what I have described above for the steam turbine. Water is heated in the boiler, run through the pipes and recovered in the form of condensate the exact same way. The difference is the where it is allowed to expand and how the energy is drawn from it, this time into a piston rather than a turbine.

Most steam piston engines are two strokes, meaning that they only have power and exhaust strokes because the gas being used does not require and induction or compression stroke. Steam is released into the chamber where it expands and forces the piston to the bottom of the stroke. The exhaust stroke is completed by injecting live steam on the bottom of the piston through a second set of intake valves and forcing it back to the top of its stroke, in what is called a “double action.” The advantage to this system is that every time the piston moves it is making power. That power is put to the ship’s propshaft or the locomotive’s wheels by a transmission in much the same way it would be with a gas or diesel engine. The exhausted steam is then recaptured in the form of condensate and then reintroduced to the boiler where it can repeat the process.

The most famous application of the steam engine to the automotive world is the Stanley Steamer. That vehicle, which was for a time the fastest in the world, utilized a simple boiler and a steam piston engine that featured two cylinders. Produced in various sizes for almost 25 years the design was a great success. The engines were rated by their steaming capacity at 10, 20 and 30 horsepower but had they been rated at their actual numbers produced at their cranks the 20 hp variant would have produced a solid 125 horses.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Although it is easy today to look back at the Stanley Steamer as some sort of quaint attempt to marry the newly developing modern age with the Victorian era, the truth is that these were well built, high powered cars that were well regarded in their era. The technology was and is solid and, were it not for the lengthy start-up times due to the need to bring the boiler up to temperature in order to initiate the process, I think it would still do well on the road today.

In the years since the Stanley Steamer left the road and steam locomotives left the rails, marine steam powerplants continued to develop and some of the problems that the early boilers faced were eventually overcome by technology. Things like automated feedwater controls, devices that ensure the boiler water isn’t over or under filled, and reliable relief valves, valves that activate in emergencies to release pressure and prevent boiler explosions, have made the highest pressure boilers safe and easy to use and it seems to me that, today, given the willingness of people to plug their car into a wall socket, that the steam car could make a quick comeback by using electricity to maintain the boiler temp while the car isn’t in use.

Today, almost a century after the car settled into the recognizable form that it has taken today, the need for greater efficiency is driving new innovation. New types of cars are being developed every day and in our rush to embrace the alternative technologies of future I think the potential of steam power deserves a second look as a well. With so many new manufacturers looking to capitalize on bygone glories, perhaps one day soon we’ll have a new version of the Stanley Steamer back on the road.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself

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Mercedes-Benz Lets You Enjoy The Outdoors, One Steppe At A Time Sat, 08 Mar 2014 22:13:14 +0000

Photo courtesy of

Mongolia. The name evokes images of vast, sweeping plains, burning deserts, high mountains and deep, crystal clear lakes. Born to the horse and with restlessness is in their blood, the wanderlust of the Mongolian people fits the greatness of their land. History tells us that under the Khans, they once swept across the entirety of Asia conquering every kingdom that dared to stand in their way and stopping only when Kublai-Khan died and his empire fractured into four separate, competing kingdoms. Today, hemmed in by Russia and China, the country has become a cultural backwater, but the spirit of the people and their connection to the land remains as intense as ever. Given all that, what you are about to see makes perfect sense.

To those of us in the United States, Mercedes-Benz is the purveyor of high end luxury vehicles and the occasional delivery van but the rest of the world receives a much wider range of their product. In fact, their large trucks are famous throughout the developing world for their longevity, toughness and off-road ability and, given that reputation MB was the natural choice for two wealthy Mongolian businessmen who decided they needed to get back to nature and engage in traditional activities like hunting wolves with eagles.

Photo courtesy of

The men chose the Mercedes Zetros 2733, a 6X6 all wheel drive commercial truck chassis that puts its 7.2 liter inline 6 cylinder engine out front of the driver and added a custom made mobile home body, specially made to be able to deal with the climactic extremes of the Mongolian wilderness. As the photos on Daimler’s website show, the living quarters are well appointed units featuring all the comforts of home, including a full galley and bathrooms that feature heated marble flooring. The vehicles are also outfitted with large flat screen monitors, DVD/CD players, wireless LAN systems for computers and self aligning satellite dishes so the trucks’ occupants can be in constant contact with the outside world no matter how far they may choose to roam.

Truth be told, I am not much of an off-road guy and I have little interest in mobile homes, but I like exploring and the idea of a nicely appointed, large off-road truck that can take me further than the local KOA campground really fires my imagination. That said, I think I’ll leave the wolf hunting to the locals, I’m not so sure I have the heart for it.

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The 1980s: When Worse Was Better Tue, 04 Mar 2014 21:06:48 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

With the wife and kids out of the house on Sunday I finally had a little private time. Naturally, I did what a lot of men do when they find themselves home alone – I caught up on the current season of Top Gear. To be honest, I have mixed feelings about the world’s most popular television program. On the one hand I am generally unimpressed with lengthy reviews of million dollar hyper cars or high end luxury cars, the seats of which my ass will never grace, but I do enjoy the challenges and the occasional look back at cars of the past. Naturally, I was quite taken by this season’s premiere episode, a modern day test of the hot hatches of the 1980s.

For those of you who are too young to remember, the ‘80s was the greatest decade ever. Beginning with the official death of Disco on July 12, 1979 and ending only with the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind on September 21, 1991 it was a decade that lasted almost 13 years. That’s astounding! Moreover, blah blah blah, Reagan, blah blah blah, MTV, blah blah blah cellphones the size of bricks instead of the size of a suitcase. Yeah, it was great. We had some things and we did some stuff but the best part was the cars.

Click here to view the embedded video.

In the Top Gear episode, our trio of aging heroes set out to prove that the small, sporty cars of their (our) youth were better than the youth oriented small cars of today. To support their claims, they are each given a small sum of money and are told to bring back an aging hot hatch. Because it’s Britain, the only car I could actually recognize was Jeremy Clarkson’s VW Golf GTI, but all three seemed to be small, “sporty” and, compared to today’s cars, terribly lacking in options or sophistication. They then put these cars through a series of “tests” in that special way that only Top Gear UK can manage and the results are a lot of fun. If you get BBC America, I highly suggest tuning in and watching the fun for yourself.

The episode put me in an introspective sort of mood. I lived through the entirety of the 1980s, actually beginning my first year of high school in the fall of 1979, but I was not a creature of the ‘80s. My tastes ran towards ‘60s muscle cars, ‘70s hard rock and that special sort of Pacific Northwest fashion sense that Nirvana made a grungy part of the ‘90s. Still, by the end of the ‘80s, with the arrival of my own Tuuuuurbo Dodge I had adapted enough that I at least (sort of) fit in.

Photo By T Kreutzer

It turns out that, like our Top Gear hosts, I miss those days and I find myself spending a good deal of time looking back at the cars of that era. I have this nascent idea of bothering poor unsuspecting people on Craigslist by posing as a buyer for their old car and then writing articles about my test driving experience, but of course, I have a problem in that, first, I’m not very good at telling lies and, second, cars of that era are a might thin on the ground in the Western New York region. Perhaps I will try this ploy once I relocate to less salty climates but for now I am stuck living in my own memories.

Compared to modern performance cars, the cars of the 1980s are pitiful pieces of machinery. The turbo Dodge I recall so fondly had a peaky turbo, suffered from massive amounts of torque steer, and blew a head gasket at just 90K miles, but it was light, flickable and, punched way above its weight. The 200SX Turbo I lionized at the beginning of my tenure here at TTAC was much better composed than my Shadow and was a speedy little thing but it turns out that it had just 120 horsepower – that’s actually 2 horsepower less than dowdiest little car Nissan makes today, the Cube. I could find other examples too, I am sure, but there is no point in beating a dead horse there is only one right answer to the question at hand. Today’s cars are far, far better in every way.

But the right answer is, I think, wrong. What we had then may have been technically worse, but it was also so much better. In that same way that a modern jet fighter can outperform a P51 Mustang the new cars have it all over the old ones, but ask any pilot which bird he wants to strap himself into and the vast majority will choose the old one. So it is with cars. I might lose a contest of seed and handling, but at least I’ll go down fighting with a smile on my face. And that’s what it’s really all about anyhow.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Help Me Solve a 30-Year-Old Mystery: What Car Is Depicted In This Taqueria Painting? Wed, 19 Feb 2014 14:00:19 +0000 03 - Taqueria Painting - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOne of the things I miss most about living in the San Francisco Bay Area— OK, maybe the thing I miss the most— is the proper Mission-style burrito. Here in Denver, the Midwestern-influenced salty/bland flavors, brown rice, and incorrect shape of the Chipotle-style burrito dominates, and so whenever I head back to Northern California to shoot some junkyard cars, I try to hit the taqueria that got me hooked on Mission-style Burritos in the first place: Ramiro & Sons Taqueria in my hometown of Alameda, California. Inside this place (whose burritos, good as they are, don’t quite measure up to what you’ll get in the actual Mission District about five miles due east and on the other side of the Bay; this place is my personal favorite), you’ll find a painting on the wall that’s been hanging there since 1984, and that painting depicts a yellow two-door hardtop of some sort parked in front. For 30 years now, I’ve puzzled over that painting, trying to figure out what kind of car I’m seeing.
01 - Taqueria Painting - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIt looks like something from the heart of Malaise Detroit, no doubt with some air shocks in the back to give it the rake that was all the rage in early-80s Alameda. It appears that the artist is still around, but I thought it would be cheating to ask him. Instead, I’m asking you.
02 - Taqueria Painting - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinBack when I was shooting street-parked Alameda cars for the Down On the Street series at Jalopnik, I couldn’t help thinking of the Yellow Mystery Car when I shot this yellow 510 across the street from Ramirez & Sons.
1973 Pontiac Grand Am - Picture Courtesy of Old Car BrochuresMy strongest hunch has always been that we’re looking at a 1973-75 Pontiac Grand Am Colonnade with the blinds or louvers (or whatever you call those colonnade-y things on the rear quarter-windows) removed.
1977 Pontiac Grand Prix-  Picture Courtesy of Old Car BrochuresIt might be a mid-70s Pontiac Grand Prix.
1982 Ford Fairmont Futura- Picture Courtesy of Old Car BrochuresOr perhaps it’s a Fox Ford, say an ’82 Fairmont Futura?
Toyota Corona Coupe - Picture Courtesy of Bosozokustyle
Maybe it isn’t even an American car at all. The Toyota Corona RT132 Coupe wasn’t available in the United States, but perhaps a sailor at the Alameda Naval Air Station brought one over from Japan. All right, let’s solve this mystery— what is this car?

01 - Taqueria Painting - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - Taqueria Painting - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - Taqueria Painting - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 1973 Pontiac Grand Am - Picture Courtesy of Old Car Brochures 1977 Pontiac Grand Prix-  Picture Courtesy of Old Car Brochures 1982 Ford Fairmont Futura- Picture Courtesy of Old Car Brochures RamirezPainting1280px-3 ]]> 112
Testing The Limits Of Civil Obedience: An Experiment Thu, 13 Feb 2014 11:00:04 +0000 2013 Taurus Police Interceptor -02- Picture courtesy David Hester

Yesterday, while folks in the Southeast were getting hammered with their second severe winter storm in two weeks, the skies over Buffalo were wonderfully bright and sunny. Of course, when you count the wind chill factor, the temperature barely climbed into the double digits but as a result of the sun and a whole lot of road salt, the highways here were mostly bare and dry. That means my evening commute was a breeze. I hit Route 33 and ran my little CUV up to just over the 55 mph limit and sailed right out of town. Things were going great, but then, unexpectedly, traffic began to slow.

I shifted left into a place I really don’t run that much these days and wicked the speed up to a smidge over 60 in order to keep up the pace. I found myself fourth or fifth back in a line of cars that was whizzing up the fast lane overtaking car after car and, as a student of the road, I began to wonder just what the hell was holding all these people up. I found the reason at the head of the line, a Buffalo City Police cruiser running right at the limit and, like all the good people of the Earth who don’t want a senseless speeding ticket, I found myself easing off the gas. But as I noted his lack of response to all of the cars ahead of me that were simply accelerating away into the wide open space the officer had created, I decided that for whatever reason he simply wasn’t interested in writing tickets and so I continued on, barely adjusting my pace.

Always on the lookout for something that will make a meatier TTAC article than my usual shtick of old time reminiscences, I came home and spent some time on the computer looking at traffic patterns and wondering just how these rolling roadblocks affect the flow of traffic. What, I asked myself, is the point of setting a speed limit that is so low that people simply disobey it as a matter of course? Virtually everyone, I found, pushes the limit and. unless an officer is looking for an excuse to stop a suspicious vehicle, the least of these transgressions are simply ignored and so we receive a sort of tacit approval to speed. Knowing how fast to go can be a problem, however, but most people are pretty good at judging the speeds of the cars around us and we usually just fall into line and run with the crowd. When that happens, people who follow the strict letter of the law become road hazards.

Click here to view the embedded video.

In 2006, a group of Georgia college students decided to point out the absurdity of the 55 mph speed limit by getting in their cars, lining up next to one another on the interstate and then actually following the rules as they drove around the city of Atlanta. Their Youtube video “A Meditation on the Speed Limit” explains the genesis of their plan and gives us the opportunity to observe first hand as we ride along during their daring act of “civil obedience.” It’s like most amateur videos, shaky, poorly framed and without enough shots of the girls, but its an interesting watch. If you are in a place where you can’t actually view the video now, just know that the beginning has several young people railing about the speed limit and talking about their plan, the middle cuts to the car where we see the kids annoying a whole lot of people and nearly causing an accident as they proceed to back up traffic for miles and miles and then ends with them talking about how great their plan was and how they proved the absurdity of the speed limit.

What grabbed my attention were the reactions of the other drivers around them. We all know the law, American roads generally have signs telling us the limit every few miles, but every driver also understands the unwritten rules of the road that tell us we can exceed that limit in a reasonable way so long as everyone else on the road is running somewhere around that same speed. It is a social norm and, when faced with the rolling road block, the social contract we have with other drivers broke down. People were outraged and they started doing anything they could to break through. They even got downright dangerous at times, a couple of people going so far as to use the breakdown lane to make high speed passes!

Writing this now, had I been driving one of the cars stuck behind them, I’m not sure how I would have responded . I would like to think that I would have enough sense not to make a dangerous and illegal pass, but I probably would have followed too closely, hit the headlights, blared the horn and eventually made some pretty threatening gestures after the blockade ended and the kids were busy patting themselves on the back. This kind of thing really makes me angry. We may be a nation of laws but we are a society of norms and whenever the two clash people can get seriously hurt. It is generally accepted that we get at least 5 to 10 mph over in most cases and we damn well better get it.

The strange thing is that I could find no proof that anyone involved in this stunt was ever punished. I found contradictory statements in the press from Georgia State Police officials who said that it was against the law to block the fast lanes, but that the kids did nothing wrong because they were running at the posted speed limit. I expect similar confusion when we hit the point where our in-car technology is used to report speeding violations or to assess us fines. It will be interesting to see if the government continues to allow us the traditional few over or whether they decide to turn this into a cash-cow and get people for every little infraction. The lure of easy money is there and if the whole traffic camera fight is any indication, some municipalities will take the bait. If people react to that intrusion into their daily lives the way they acted towards these kids’ silly experiment, you can expect a revolution. Let’s just hope it happens in the voting booth.

Obama angry.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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True Confessions: Revealing My Secret Crush Fri, 07 Feb 2014 13:00:32 +0000 Photo courtesy of wikipedia

Photo courtesy of wikipedia

I was about eight years old when I fell in love the first time. She was a long, lanky and curvaceous piece of work, sexy and sophisticated, and I knew the moment that I first laid eyes upon her, her and her sister for there were two parked alongside one another in the driveway, that one day I must possess her. Looking back I can tell your she was a big girl, but compared to the my father’s Oldsmobile Delta 88 she seemed impossibly lithe and trim. Her chrome nameplate told me she was called “Jaguar” and once I spied her no other car would ever be quite good enough.

It’s funny how you can use a car every day for years and years and, when it is finally gone, be unable to recall a single detail. You know the make and model, of course, and probably have a general image in your mind, but when it comes to specifics you have only the vaguest of recollections, more an emotional impression of how the car made you feel than a single, hard and fast memory you can point to. But to this day, and despite the fact that I probably only spent about ten minutes next to them, in the driveway I still can recall enough of the details of the two cars I saw that just now I was able to get on line and identify them as Mark IIs. That says something.

The Jaguar Mark II is, of course a sedan – saloons as the British call them – and because of them I have always had a thing for the manufacturer’s larger offerings. To be honest, I wouldn’t turn down on of their sports cars if it were given to me, but the only one I have ever actually imagined owning is the most sedan-like XJS. I can’t tell you what it is about the big cats, but they have always had a special appeal to me. They ooze sophistication, and the thought of finding myself ensconced on a hand stitched leather seat, surrounded by old world craftsmanship as I survey the world across a long bonnet and monitor my progress via a set of clock like gauges mounted in burled walnut makes me a giddy as an English schoolgirl.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Of course, the brand’s reputation for unreliability, especially among the older models, means I will probably never actually own one but in my mind they are still the perfect combination of power, good looks and luxury and I still find myself pausing to look whenever I find one for sale. I’m not sure why that is. Logically I know it’s a relationship that could never work, but I still I have that hope that owning a Jag could turn out to be the craziest, wildest, greatest thing that ever happened to me and so I have to pause to consider that whenever the chance presents itself.

I’m not nuts, am I? Please tell me you feel the same way about some brand or another. Tell me that there is one car that you have always admired but, for whatever reason, have never indulged in. One of those cars that you could not resist if only they sold on this side of the ocean or that specific model you would buy if you had that extra spot in the driveway. That car you swear you will get when your children get out of their car seats, or that other one you are looking forward to owning when they finally get out of the house altogether so you don’t need to worry about rear seat legroom. You cannot be a lover of all things automotive if you do not have at least one secret crush. What is it? We must know.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Rolling History Or Rolling Junk Pile: Which Would You Own? Tue, 28 Jan 2014 16:51:16 +0000 Photo courtesy of golden2husky

Photo courtesy of golden2husky

Last week, I wrote a short article about my impending relocation to Kansas and asked for your input on my plan to purchase some kind of an old car to play around with while I am there. I got a huge response and, thanks to so many people’s thoughtful responses, I’m already considering cars I might otherwise have passed right over. Since the move is still some months away, the article was intended to help launch my search and I was having fun reading everyone’s replies and cross checking the various suggestions on Craigslist when, about 235 comments in, I got an interesting offer…

One of TTAC’s most consistent commenters, golden2husky, wrote and asked: “How about a near flawless 1995 Probe GT 5 speed, 71K, spent its life in a heated garage and never saw salt? A Corvette will be taking its place and it needs a loving home….and in Leavenworth KS, the discreet Melissa Etheridge window sticker will be a bonus!”

I won’t lie, the second generation Probe GT was already high on the list of possibilities. They seem to regularly appear on the Kansas City Craigslist at good prices and I’ve always thought they were good looking little cars that have aged really well over the past two decades. They have a sleek, modern design that makes them look surprisingly up-to-date and, although they may not be as powerful as most of the cars being built today, the 164 horsepower that wikipedia says the V6 made is more than adequate for my purposes. With a five speed stick under your right hand, a car like that can be a lot of fun and this one sounded like a peach. Naturally, I responded right away.

The pictures I received backed up golden2husky’s claims of a low mileage, garage kept one owner car and it was clear to me that the little Probe had been affectionately cared for since the day it was purchased. It was a stunning, ruby-red jewel of a car with a grey leather interior and, although he wanted a little more than I had stated I wanted to pay, his price was not outrageous for such a fine car. I was tempted, but in the end I had to decline. The reason, however, has nothing to do with the car and everything with my state of mind.


Over the past decade or so I have owned two older cars that may have been as nice as golden2husky‘s Probe, my father’s 1984 Cutlass Supreme and my 2002 300M Special. In both of those cases I started out with the full intention of driving the car every day and, for a while, I did. It’s a lot of fun owning and driving an older car in great shape. People notice it. They see it parked on its own at the back of the supermarket parking lot. They ask about it when they see you pumping gas and sometimes they even chase you down with offers to buy it. Your heart swells with pride and you begin to think you have something really special, something that needs to be protected and preserved.

Soon, you buy into the notion and find yourself driving your “classic” car less and less. Every day becomes once-in-a-while and then, when the car enters the garage and you get it snugly secured under its cover, once-in-a-while becomes the occasional sunny day. Driving and tinkering goes by the wayside and you fall into an endless pattern of washing, waxing and self admiration. You feel good that you own such a wonderful car, but gradually it dawns on you that no one ever asks about it anymore, they don’t see it anywhere in the supermarket parking lot and it isn’t on the road enough to cause anyone to chase you down, either. The same impetus to protect and preserve your car has left it locked away in the garage, like a fairytale princess in a tower and you, the formerly happy owner, have become the dragon that protects it from all who could possible do it harm.

In my case, because I couldn’t find it within myself to turn my “classics” back into daily drivers, I ended up walking away. In the case of the Olds, I gave it to my nephew who used it for a while and then wisely sold it before he became trapped in the same untenable situation I had been, and in the case of the 300 sold it to a local man here in Buffalo who, for at least the time being I am sure, uses it on a regular basis. As I looked at the photos of Golden2husky’s Probe I realized where purchasing it would lead and, after a long hard look in the mirror, knew I had to take a pass. I just don’t have the self control it takes to use such a fine car every day but if you do, you know where to find it. For me, so long as I want to have any real fun at all, there can be only junkers.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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For Just $50K, A 570 HP Limo Fit for Royalty Mon, 27 Jan 2014 17:10:45 +0000 IMG_0444

Let’s say that you’ve had a large enough measure of material success that you have budgeted fifty thousand dollars for a car that befits your socio-economic status, something that makes you feel good while announcing to others that you’ve arrived at a certain social station. Perhaps the obvious choice would be a 5 Series BMW. The base 528i starts at $49,500, though that means you get a 2.0L turbocharged four cylinder engine. For fifty grand you can also get a 2014 Cadillac CTS with an option package or two, but that also comes with the now ubiquitous turbo two liter. Those are both nice cars and at that price point you have many other choices, but for the same $50K, you could have gotten something with considerably more panache, cachet and exclusivity than you can garner with a new Bimmer or Caddy.

Richard Kughn made a great deal of money working with real estate financier Al Taubman. He and his wife Linda amassed a collection of toys, model trains, motorcycles and automobiles that was so extensive that they established CarRail, their own private museum, housed in a former bowling alley in Detroit. Kughn’s love of model trains is so great that he even owned the Lionel company for about a decade. He also loves motion pictures, producing A League of Their Own, and trading cards, being a co-founder of Upper Deck. In 2001, after a half century of collecting about 250 cars, many of them show winners, Kughn came down with a still undiagnosed lung disorder that put him on oxygen and in a wheelchair. Many collectors consider themselves caretakers, just part of the object’s provenance, and when he got sick Kughn sold off most of his collection so that others could enjoy it. After he recovered he started buying cars again and at the time of this 2009 article in Forbes, the Kughns owned about 90 cars.

Last summer, the Kughns decided to cull out about two dozen of their cars, selling them at RM’s auction held in conjunction with the Concours of America at St. John’s (formerly held at Meadow Brook). Many of the Kughns’ automobiles have been meticulously restored or outstanding original condition examples of some of the finest cars ever built, like classic Packards and Duesenbergs. As built by Jaguar, I’m sure that this 1985 Daimler limousine was spectacular, but it’s had some modifications that I think make it even better.

IMG_0546Every British monarch since the start of the 20th century has ridden in limousines made by Daimler in Coventry. Just to clarify, Daimler is a British company that licensed the name from a couple of German firms. After ownership by BSA for 50 years, the firm passed in 1960 to Jaguar’s ownership. Jaguar then used the brand name on limousines and high level trim versions of Jaguar sedans and also bespoke limousines. The last Daimler limousine made was the DS420, which stayed in production from 1968 to 1992. Based on the Jaguar Mk X chassis, with handbuilt bodywork by Jaguar’s Vanden Plas coachbuilding subsidiary, the car was originally powered by the great “XJ” 4.2 liter Jaguar double overhead cam inline six cylinder. It has disk brakes and independent suspension at all four corners. The passenger compartment in back has a bench seat but it’s really meant for two. There are also two fold up jump seats.


That’s how this 1984 DS420 was delivered, reportedly one of two made for the use of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth while in North America, though that particular part of the vehicle’s provenance has never been proven. Whether or not it was actually made for her highness Liz, the house of Windsor apparently likes Daimlers. The DS420 was reportedly the Queen Mother’s favorite limo and a hearse version led Princess Diana’s funeral procession. This particular Daimler was built, as mentioned, for use on this side of the Atlantic so it has left hand drive.


After the DS420 left its supposed royal service, a subsequent owner did what many less noble Jaguar owners have done. He replaced the Jaguar six with a small block Chevy V8, for better serviceability and supposedly greater reliability (the Jaguar 4.2 six is perhaps the most reliable part of that era Jaguar), as well as more power. A lot more power… the professionally installed 350 CI engine has been dyno tested at 570 horsepower and 540 lb-ft of torque. With that much power it was probably a good idea that they got rid of the less-than-robust AW automatic transmission the car likely came with. There may have been more Jaguar owners that have replaced their car’s AW with a GM unit than have swapped engines. The bow-tie powered Daimler now has a 700 series TurboHydramatic put together by Phoenix performance transmissions.

In addition to the modifications under the hood, the electronics and entertainment systems have been upgraded to modern equipment:

Finished in a handsome and very regal shade of dark blue, the DS420’s elegant, handmade body shell wraps around an interior that can only be described as sumptuous. The chauffeur’s seat is upholstered in grey leather, and matching broadcloth can be found in the rear compartment, which is fitted with two folding jump seats to hold additional passengers. The compartments are divided by an electric-powered glass partition, and a two-way intercom is provided to direct the driver, who can find the way home on a GPS navigational system. Passengers have access to a full bar, which contains a set of crystal decanters and is perfect for enjoying a beverage while watching one’s favorite entertainment on fold-down LCD screens.

The body has also been discretely modified. Since it was built to carry passengers, as originally constructed this DS420 had no trunk (apparently the royals always had a spare car in their entourage dedicated to carrying their luggage), so the same previous owner who did the engine swap also had a trunk fabricated into the Daimler’s bustle back, making the car suitable for distance traveling. According to the auctioneers, over $65,000 was spent on the modifications. Frankly, the descriptions don’t do the car justice. The passenger compartment is finished to a level one would expect in a car that cost a quarter of a million dollars or more.


That would make the purchase price of $50,600 a bit of a bargain even without the provenance of someone described by Forbes as the King of Classic Cars, along with the possible use by the actual queen of England. Now I’m quite sure there are those among you that will note that a 2014 BMW or Cadillac would be much more reliable than what is essentially a 1980s vintage Jaguar, and having owned a Series III XJ I’d be inclined to agree with you. However, the Kughn’s provenance would lead me to believe that this DS420 limo is likely in superb and reliable mechanical condition. At the hammered price I can’t imagine being able to buy another vehicle that combines this amount of exclusive style and luxury with muscle car levels of performance. A 528i wouldn’t make nearly the same statement when pulling up to the red carpet.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

IMG_0444 IMG_0445 IMG_0446 IMG_0447 IMG_0546 IMG_0547 IMG_0548 IMG_0549 IMG_0555 IMG_0553 IMG_0554 IMG_0550 IMG_0551 IMG_0552 ]]> 52
Thinking About An Older, Sporty Car: What Do You Suggest? Thu, 23 Jan 2014 21:07:13 +0000 Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

The decision is in, and my long awaited overseas assignment has been postponed for another year. I still have a move in my future, however, but it won’t be outside the border it will be the heartland – Leavenworth, KS. After looking at the alternatives, I’ve decided that this is the best opportunity I was presented with. It’s a chance to work with some folks I might not have otherwise worked with and, while I am there, maybe I’ll even learn a few things. The added bonus is that the move gets me out of the rust belt and back into a place where old cars are a lot more common.

Since the 300M went to a new home a little less than a year ago I’ve had an empty place in my heart to match the one in my driveway. The family mini-van and my Pontiac Torrent are both wonderful, competent daily drivers, but they aren’t really what I think of as “fun.” There’s never a hint of drama with either of them, they just do their jobs every day without complaint and, while I admire and rely upon their stolidity, I miss having something to play with. The time has come to rectify that.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

With an eye towards understanding the local used car market, I’ve already spent a little time perusing the Kansas City Craigslist and I’ve found some things that I have liked. Some of the usual suspects have flitted through my brain, if you’ve ever read anything I have written you know I have an unhealthy obsession with Turbo Dodges and the mid-80’s Nissans, but I’m open to all suggestions within reasons and I thought we might have some fun discussing the alternatives. My ground rules are thus:

Given the short-term nature of my assignment, I’m not willing to drop a whole lot of cash so I’m going to set a limit of $4K for the initial purchase and that’s already on the high side so my mantra is “cheaper is better.”

Projects are OK, but even though I’m not against solving a few mechanical gremlins, I won’t be swapping out entire engines, getting involved in a “frame-up” anything or ending up in a car that needs major body work.

I’d prefer something from the 80s or 90s, but would consider a smaller car, say some kind of Japanese or British classic from the 60s or 70s, but no old luxury barges. The point is that I want something small and sporty, not big and heavy.

I would like something with a manual transmission, I’ve really missed those over the past few years, but I have no real preference for which set of wheels get driven. Front and rear wheel drive cars are both on the table.

That’s it. I know there is a lot of experience on this site so I am interested in your suggestions and expect a healthy debate about the various merits of some fun old cars. Because I won’t move until summer, I’m not ready to purchase this minute and don’t need to be hooked up with a specific seller so please, for the love of God, don’t call anyone up and bother them. Besides, most of the time, thinking about what I could buy proves to be more fun than actually buying it. Let’s prolong that feeling as long as possible. What would you get if you were in my position?

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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A Road Runs Through It Tue, 21 Jan 2014 13:00:27 +0000 Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The road led out of town, crossed over a set of rusty, unused railroad tracks and spanned the Pilchuck river via a rickety, one lane, wooden bridge before beginning its climb into high hills above the town of Snohomish. For the most part, the road was long and straight, it’s only when you get up into the hills and forest proper that the landscape becomes rugged enough to force the roads to follow the lay of the land, and although I haven’t been on it in years, I can still see every inch of its length in my mind’s eye. Every dip and bend along its course, the veritable spider web of cracks that decorate its surface, and the broken bits along the edge that claw at the tires and attempt to wrest control away from drivers who are unwary enough to allow their vehicle to stray too far from the center line, are as familiar to me as the faces of old friends and I have carried them, quite literally, around the world and back again.

As I crossed the bridge and began my ascent into the hills on that hot August afternoon so long ago, my relationship with the road was still in its infancy. At fifteen years of age, the lessons the road had to teach about driving were still more than a year away and, instead of being ensconced in air-conditioned comfort behind the wheel of a car, I was out in the heat of the day mounted atop my trusty old Schwinn. It was an ugly, battered bicycle, something my father had found at the curb or fished from some farmer’s junk pile, and it had taken some creative repairs to make it road worthy. Now, it worked well enough that it had become my regular mount for the long trip into and out of town but, like all Schwinns, it was stoutly constructed and weighed almost as much as a horse.

The bike’s weight, though, was no problem as long as you were headed into town, but once you made the turn-around and started back up the hill, you felt every ounce and as the bridge fell away behind I shifted into the lower gears as my real assault on the slope out of the valley began. It was slow going, each turn of the bicycle’s crank sapping some tiny portion of my strength in exchange for a few feet of forward travel. But like all young men, I had a great reservoir of strength and although there were miles ahead, I was confident that I would not be completely tapped before the trip was completed. I had been here before, dozens of times on the back of this very bicycle, and like any kid from the country who wants the excitement that even a small town can bring, I knew this was the payback for my day’s adventure.

Image courtesy of

One turn of the crank followed the next and I was making slow but steady progress when the rear tire gave a sudden snap. As the air that had been captured in the inner tube began to hiss its way back into the atmosphere, I felt the tire go soft and the bike begin to settle onto its rear rim. Knowing that my day’s ride was at an end, I gave the pedal one last kick and, when the bike would roll no further, swung my leg up and over the seat in a fluid, well practiced dismount and stepped off of the pedal and onto the roadway. There wasn’t any point in looking at the tire, I knew, I had neither repair kit nor pump, so I simply started pushing.

I had walked about a mile and was just nearing the top of a small knoll when a Chevrolet pickup truck exploded over the crest of the hill. It was an older truck, but in nice condition, and I would have paid it little attention but for the fact that the driver was someone just about my own age. In fact, it was a someone who had been in my Freshman gym class a year earlier, a skinny, gangly outsider named Rick. He had been new to our school that year and, although he and I hadn’t become close friends, we hadn’t become enemies either. We were, at the very least then, friendly acquaintances and so I gave a slight wave as he sped past and then turned my attention back to the road and the long trip ahead.

I hadn’t very gone far when the truck pulled up behind me and its driver gave a friendly honk. We had a brief exchange, both of us shocked to see someone we sort of knew outside the confines of a high school classroom and after a few seconds Rick told me to put my bike in the back of the truck. It was a simple thing really, but not the kind of thing everyone will do for someone they barely know. It was a nice gesture and it formed the basis of a friendship that lasted through the remainder of our high school years and even into the first few years of adulthood.

But time took us in different directions and by the time I joined the Merchant Marines when I was in my early 20s, it was clear that our lives were already leading us in different directions. While I spent months at sea, life at home went on without me and gradually many of my oldest friends, Rick among them, slipped away. By the time I was closing in on 30 and decided to trade a life at sea for life as a college student, we seldom encountered one another and I heard through mutual friends that Rick was getting a good start on life and holding down a steady job somewhere in town. I suppose I could have tracked him down, but with college on my mind it didn’t make sense to try and pick up old friendships. Too much time had passed.

1988 Dodge Shadow

The road stretched out before me and I pushed my little Dodge hard as I made my way down out of the hills. Gravity pulled on the car as it sped down the long slope of a steep hill, but I paid no attention to the added speed and by the bottom of the hill was running well above the posted 35 MPH speed limit. Ahead, the road dipped as it crossed over a culvert pipe and then rose up and over a small hill where, I knew from prior experience, the car would shrug off a great deal of its excess speed. Still, I was kicking along well above the limit as I crested the hill and flashed past the place where so many years earlier Rick’s kindness had made us friends and I paid it scant attention.

At the bottom of the road, at the point where I could have turned and gone into Snohomish, I headed instead towards the highway on ramp that led to the City of Everett and wound the car out on the long, flat road that followed the river up the valley. The road was wide and fast and I thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of the fast little car as it sped along on the hot August afternoon. Racing along above the speed limit, it would have been easy to ignore the man I saw walking alone alongside the road but as I neared, the long, gangly form became strikingly familiar. Although it had been years since we had seen one another, as our eyes met for that one fraction of a second as I raced past, recognition flashed between us.

The man gave a slight wave but I noted in my rearview mirror that he did not turn to watch me pass as I accelerated away. At the first opportunity, I turned around and went back for him and, sure enough, it was my old friend reduced to walking because his ratty old Dodge Charger had run out of gas. He seemed shocked that I would come back for him and I noted as I drove him home to retrieve his gas can that he was both the same person I once knew but also someone profoundly different. Later, I waited while he filled and then started his old Charger and, after a few friendly final words and platitudes about meeting again soon, we parted ways, him towards wherever it was that life was taking him and me in my own, new direction. Our friendship had lapsed, but in the end we were at least, once again, friendly acquaintances.

A year or two ago, more than a decade after I finally left the Pacific Northwest for good, I made the long trip home and, although our family homestead has long-since been sold and my mother has relocated to a smaller place in the valley, l found myself drawn to the deep forest and the high hills of my youth. The road, of course, still leads down into the valley and every dip and bend along its course remains much as I knew it. At base of the road, close to town, however, the one lane bridge has been replaced by a new cement structure so wide that it even has breakdown lanes and the old, abandoned railroad tracks have been pulled up in order to create a nature trail.

The veritable spider web of cracks that decorated the road’s surface and the broken bits along the edge that once clawed at the tires and attempted to wrest control away from drivers who were unwary enough to allow their vehicle to stray too far from the center line have been paved over and I noted that, although many of the houses remained, the names on the mailboxes were new. It was the same, yet profoundly different. Better, but somehow worse. Another old friend and I, reduced once again to a casual acquaintanceship. I guess that’s just how the world works.

Your author at 17

Your author at 17

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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The Clones: Send Them In Or Send Them Out? Fri, 10 Jan 2014 20:00:03 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Trent was a poser. He was the kind of guy who wore a fake Rolex, an imitation Italian suit and “alligator” shoes that were actually made out of vinyl. His $100 hair style cost $8 at Supercuts and his midwinter suntan, the one made him look like he had just returned from a lengthy South American stay, came from a spray can. Determined to climb from the bottom rung of society, he was forever trying to get over on people by manipulating his image and the truth is I really could have cared less. What really tore it for me, however, was the day he decided to put SS emblems on his tatty old Malibu.

Although the car magazines and collector sites would have us think that, once upon a time, top drawer muscle cars were in every American’s driveway the truth is somewhat different. Back in the day, most people purchased modest cars with sensible powertrains and surprisingly few luxury options. It took someone special to walk into a dealership and order something more exotic. It turns out that a lot of these special people were young men, and despite their best intentions, the sad truth is that young men are rough on fast cars.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The result is that a great many of the fastest cars didn’t live to see old age and by the early 1990s the ones that were left were beginning to cost serious money. For a guy like Trent, a social climber who wanted the look of an expensive car without the associated costs, the obvious answer was to buy up some old parts and graft them on to his old dime-a-dozen daily driver. The result was, as he called it, “a clone.” I was incredulous at the concept. Trent was a phony.

Looking back over the years, I can say that my opinion of Trent has changed. Age and experience has taught me that the world really isn’t black and white and that if a young guy like Trent, a small town kid who wants to break out of his shell and appear more worldly than he really is, needs a knock-off Armani suit and plastic alligator shoes to feel better about himself then I’m OK with that. My feelings on what he tried to do to his car, however, remain split and that’s what I’d like to have a discussion on.

Original cars can be worth big money these days. Unless you are a millionaire with plenty of money burning a hole in your pocket, you are never going to own a real exotic. Original Yenko prepared cars, for example, are well into the six figure range and if a mortal man (or woman) is going to own anything like one, chances are they are going to end up with what is now being euphemistically called a “tribute.” Some tribute builds are quite authentic, and the people who build them provide rigorous documentation on the original “donor” car and how it was modified to match the collector car it is trying to emulate. So long as that car is sold as a tribute and never ends up being offered for sale as an original then I see nothing wrong.

photograph taken by Michael Chiolero Courtesy of Wikipedia

photograph taken by Michael Chiolero
Courtesy of Wikipedia

What I have a real issue with, however, are the down market, quick conversions of daily drivers into cheap knock-off SS cars which are then foisted off on unsuspecting buyers. Sure, there is a certain element of caveat emptor in every car purchase, but I don’t feel like someone should have to become an expert in decoding VIN numbers prior to purchasing a car on the used car market. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen cars on Craigslist that look like real SS cars that are obvious fakes. Here’s a hint kids, if you want to build a 73 or 74 SS Nova clone, start with a hatchback. The last thing I want to do is go out to your house and crawl around in the mud getting serial numbers from your old car because “You don’t know for sure if it’s an SS but the guy you bought it from said it was.”

That’s my take, anyhow, and now I’d like to hear your thoughts. Is this as big a deal as I think? Should it really fall to the buyer to check every piece of paper relating to an old car prior to making the transaction? Are clones or tributes something you would even want to own? It seems to me that if I owned a tribute car that I would get tired of forever telling people that it’s a knock-off, but that’s just me. Where do you stand?

Disclaimer: I just want to put on the record that all of the photos used to illustrate this article came from the internet and I have no way of knowing whether any of the vehicles are clones or original. By using the photos, I am not claiming that any of them are anything but what they appear to be, beautiful cars.

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Little Car Lost: When Thieves Come Calling Tue, 07 Jan 2014 13:00:28 +0000 Honda

The joke was that the little Honda was so old and undesirable that it would take a ten dollar bill on the dash and the key in the ignition to attract a thief. With 300K miles on the clock, the little car was old and tired, but my sister Lee and her husband Dave aren’t the kind of people who replace their cars very often. The Chevy Chevette they bought new in 1981 lasted ten long years under their care so the little Civic, purchased used in 1991 from one of my father’s workmates, was on target to last forever. Other cars came and went in the driveways of the other houses up and down the street, but in their driveway the Civic endured, a fixture of solidity and reliability in an ever changing world. And then one day, it was gone.

The little car had aged in the 21 years since it had left the assembly line. On the outside, its body was still in good shape but its rubber pieces had gone grey in places and its bright red paint had had faded from decades under the summer sun. Inside, daily use had made the car’s once plush velour seats worn and threadbare and the touch of human hands had removed the texture from the plastic shift knob, leaving it cue-ball smooth. Those same hands had worked on the steering wheel as well, leaving patches of shiny black plastic where they rested the most while other body parts, a resting elbow here a rubbing knee there, had worn other interior pieces. Below the line of sight, the edges of the pedals were worn smooth from use while the carpets, protected by at least three generations of thick rubber mats, still looked surprisingly good. It was not a luxurious place to sit, perhaps it never had been really, but time and familiarity had made it comfortable.

Photo courtesy of:

Photo courtesy of:

Mechanically, like almost all Hondas, the little Civic was solid. Thanks to regular oil changes and the kind of thorough maintenance routine that only an aerospace engineer like my brother-in-law could abide by, under the hood the car was as good as ever. Sure, things wore out once in a while, but they were supposed to, and when they did they were replaced. The efforts paid off and, despite the decades that had elapsed, the car remained a reliable daily commuter; a testament to its engineers and its owners.

The theft of the little Civic hit my sister’s family hard. Like anyone who is a victim of theft, they took the loss of the car personally. They may have joked that the old car was undesirable and toyed with the notion that not even a thief would want it, but that didn’t mean the vehicle was unloved. Losing it was like losing a member of the family and anger welled up inside. Within minutes of noting the car’s loss they were on the phone to the police.

Salt Lake City isn’t a hot bed of criminal activity. It’s a safe, clean city filled with upstanding, honest people who take pride in their community. Even so, the theft of the Honda wasn’t front page news and, although the police took the report and promised to get right on the case, the return of the car in useable condition wasn’t likely. Most “vintage” cars, my sister and her husband were told, end up in chop shops and even a simple joyride could end in a crash or vandalism. Chances were, the police informed them, if the car wasn’t already in pieces, it soon would be – one way or another. They steeled themselves for the worst.

Photo Courtesy of   Photo Credit: Brett Neilson

Photo Courtesy of
Photo Credit: Brett Neilson

Sometimes, however, there are happy endings and just two days after the police were made aware of the car’s theft, the little Honda turned up abandoned downtown, the flotsam and jetsam of a night’s worth of petty criminal activity, and a bag of half-eaten gummy worms, left scattered around the interior. There was no real damage, no bashed in body panels and no sliced up seats. In fact, the worst thing the thief, or thieves, had done was to shake up a can of Red Bull and spray it all over the headliner. Overall, the damage was light and with a little elbow grease the cars was soon restored to its former glory.

Today, the little Honda is back where it belongs and everything is, once again, as it should be. Other cars come and go from the driveways of the other houses up and down the street, but in my sister’s driveway the Civic endures, a fixture of solidity and reliability in an ever changing world. There are no more jokes about leaving the keys in the car and a ten dollar bill on the dash. The car is old but it’s not undesirable. It’s family.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Poles Vie With USA For Greatest Homemade Car Ever Fri, 03 Jan 2014 15:31:42 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

In the past few days virtually every automotive website on the intertubes has reported on the Polish man who hand built his own McLaren F1 replica in his shed. If you have been stuck under a rock and have missed it, allow me bring you up to speed. Jacek Mazur, a man who describes himself rather modestly, I think, as an “amateur mechanic” built his own tubular space frame, mounted a used BMW v12 amidships, popped on a homemade fiberglass body and built a car capable of a claimed 200mph. This isn’t the first exotic car that Mazur has built either. Previous builds include no less than three Lamborghini Countachs and a replica of the highly exotic, much sought after, Pontiac Fiero. Despite Mr. Mazur’s impressive work, America has not ceded victory in the war for the homemade car to the Poles. Not by a damnsight.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Years before Mr. Mazur even thought to begin constructing Supercars in his garden shed, loyal American patriots were hard at work in our own sheds. Today, the fruits of one American’s work can be found on Ebay. Offered to the public without reserve and a Buy-It-Now price of just $3000, undercutting Mazur’s efforts by a stunning $29,800, the incredible “Street Legal Micro Jeep Custom Body Mini CONVERTABLE 2 CYL” offers clean, All-American upright styling, a rear engine capable of a claimed 50mpg and an automatic transmission. Outfitted with a 2 cylinder Anon engine, something that turned up a whole bunch of porno search sites and probably put me on the NSA’s watchlist when I tried Google it, the “SLMJCBJMC2C” as I have just now dubbed it is capable of a stated 55 mph.

Fortunately, the world has gone through some significant changes in the years since the SLMJCBJMC2C was constructed the two vehicles will never find themselves pitted against one another. As one who yearns for days gone by, however, I almost wish they could be. It would be glorious.

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The Stroke Of Midnight Tue, 31 Dec 2013 12:00:00 +0000 Supra

At the stroke of midnight, a new millennium would begin and the whole world was supposed to come unhinged. Religious leaders were telling us that we needed to be afraid because Jesus Christ, aka the “Prince of Peace,” was coming back to wreak holy vengeance upon us all, cosmologists hinted that that an ominous planetary alignment was going to totally screw up our Feng Shui and computer experts were saying that the silicon chips that they had been relentlessly incorporating into everything since the late 1980s were going to suddenly freak out. It was this last thing that got most people’s panties in a twist. When the computers stopped, we were told, power grids would fail and modern society would grind to a halt. Anything that had an internal clock, they said, would simply stop working.

By the dawn of that fateful New Year’s Eve, I was firmly established in my new life as an English conversation teacher in Japan. My move to the Land of the Rising Sun was a jump made of the sort of desperation that only poverty can induce, but my change of scenery had done little to improve my situation. Where my previous hell had been my childhood bedroom at my mom’s house, it was now a tiny, virtually uninsulated, one-room “mansion” in the Kyoto area where I slept fully clothed under a few thin blankets atop a lumpy futon spread out on the floor over an electric carpet while the winter wind, right off the Siberian steppes, whistled and wailed as it forced its way into the shabby little room through a million small openings. Although I ran the heater almost constantly, I had given up hope of actually trying to warm the space and now the cold added just one more layer of misery. The world was a shitty place, I had decided and it t really didn’t matter to me if it ended. In fact, thanks to the sudden resurgence in popularity of “1999” by Prince, I was looking forward to it.

There is a certain mindset that comes with grinding, persistent poverty. Managing your money becomes an all-consuming thing and you pick and choose your luxuries. For me, someone who has always loved vehicles, my own personal mobility took priority over some of the other luxuries I might have enjoyed and, over the 9 months I had been in-country I had managed to acquire two reliable, but beat-down vehicles of my own, a Honda motorcycle and a Toyota Supra. Now, as Y2K bore down upon me the weight of what those computer experts had been saying was beginning to hit home. Both of my vehicles, I knew, had chips in them and, as they were both old, there was a chance they might actually be affected by the software glitch. Would they start on the day after? Could I fix them if they didn’t? I wondered.


As the fateful day approached, my girlfriend decided that we needed to ring in the New Year with a trip to Lake Biwa. Japan doesn’t really have any mighty rivers, no inland seas or anything even remotely like the Great Lakes, but given the small size of the country, at 39 miles long and 14 miles wide, Biwako does a pretty good impersonation. Set in Shiga prefecture, just across the prefectural boundary from Kyoto, the lake is a scenic attraction and its shores are lined with industry, hotels and entertainment complexes. One of these hotels was planning a celebratory fireworks show to ring in the New Year and, I was told, we would be going.

We headed out early in the evening, wending our way through the busy holiday traffic and through the center of the city of Kyoto before turning east through the small mountain pass that separated the city from the lake. Traffic intensified as we neared the shore and we eventually found a parking place in a crowded hotel garage an hour before the event was set to start. As we left the car and moved towards the viewing stands, I noticed a row of gasoline powered high intensity work lights, the kind that are often used during night time road construction, along the edge of the garage and it suddenly struck me why they were there. At the stroke of midnight, should the power fail, these would be fired up to provide the light that people would need to get back to their cars. Someone was taking this pretty seriously, I thought, it was an ominous sign.

Despite all the hype, until that moment I hadn’t thought of the Y2K problem outside of my own little miserable bubble. Now, it hit me with a real force. If the doomsayers were actually right, I realized, I was out on a limb. I would be trapped in a foreign country on the other side of the planet from my own personal support network and if things really came unglued, I would be irrevocably on my own. I felt a touch of fear rise up but just as quickly as it emerged, I shoved it back into its place. The threat of disaster doesn’t equal the real thing, I reasoned, and I wasn’t about to let it ruin my night. If poverty had taught me anything it had been to focus on the here and now. Tomorrow, for better or worse, would arrive soon enough.

My girlfriend and I climbed the stairs, found our places in the viewing stands and had a great night. As the seconds ticked down the lights dimmed and then went out as the fireworks show began. It was so engrossing that the possibility of disaster didn’t even cross my mind again until the show was over and the hotel lights came back up. As we walked back to the garage, I noticed the overhead lights burned as brightly as ever and that the line of generators stood silent and alone, sentinels against a darkness that did not come. I found my Supra safe in its parking place and smiled to myself as the engine snapped to life at the turn of the key. The world would continue, technology had triumphed and fear had been banished.

I pulled into the lane and joined a long line of cars making their way out of the facility. One by one the line of cars moved towards the street and then slipped away into the night, each vehicle whisking its occupants away into their own individual futures. When my own turn came I turned onto the street and pressed the accelerator. As the revs came up, the twin turbos on my 14 year old Supra sang their own special song and pushed the car forward with a sense of urgency and purpose. The new millenium was upon us.

Toyota Supra

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Garden City, NY Man Threatened By Police Over Washing Car In Own Driveway Mon, 23 Dec 2013 16:01:03 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

A Garden City, NY man was visited by law enforcement and threatened with a ticket as he prepared to wash his 1997 Volkswagen in his own driveway.

In the encounter, which was captured on video and posted to You Tube on November 27th, the officer can be seen walking up the driveway to what is obviously a private residence in what appears to be an upper middle class neighborhood and informing at least two men behind the camera that he is responding to a complaint from a neighbor. He states that he is there to warn the men that if they wash the car, they will be in violation of an ordinance which prohibits people from repairing or detailing autos in a public place. When questioned about the ordinance, the officer responds by showing them a Xerox copy of the rule and informing them that they are subject to the law because the area in which they are working is in public view. When the men insist that they are on private property, the officer informs them that if they wash the car in the driveway they will be ticketed.

The Truth About Cars enjoys a good legal discussion and I think there are several elements here that can be seen from different perspectives. In general, people who live in upper class communities don’t like it when their neighbors work on hoopties in their front yards and it makes sense that they would pass an ordinance to prohibit that sort of thing. This officer, who comes off as congenial and professional throughout the encounter, is charged with enforcing those rules and I think he does a good job of explaining the situation to two men who obviously disagree. Of course, thanks to the magic of the internet, you can watch the video and make your own call.

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Vintage AMC AMX PPG Indy Car World Series Pace Car Up For Sale Sun, 22 Dec 2013 12:00:34 +0000 amx 1

In 1981 the CART/PPG Indy Car series was in its third year. Formed in 1979 by racing teams who had split from the previous sanctioning body, USAC, over how races were promoted, the way that television contracts were handled and what they believed to be the small size of the winners’ purses, the ‘81 PPG Indy Car World Series had 11 races on the schedule and featured drivers like Rick Mears, Johnny Rutherford and Mario Andretti. In time the series would go on to become the sole sanctioning body for all of Indy Car racing, but in 1981 the series was still in its infancy and, despite having Indy Car as a part of it name, did not even include the Indianapolis 500 among its officially sanctioned events.

To help promote the series, CART/PPG approached several major American auto manufacturers and asked them each to construct pace cars for the different events. Five manufacturers responded, including American Motors, who produced a custom bodied AMX. Based on the production “Spirit,” the AMX featured a fuel injected, turbo charged 258CID in-line 6 cylinder engine capable of a reported 450 horsepower. The car made its debut at the Milwaukee 150 on June 7 and at the end of the season went to AMC’s Vice President of Design, Richard Teague.


Today that car very car is being offered on eBay by the West Palm Beach specialty car dealership Marino Motors. Based on the many photos offered, it looks like a very clean, well thought out car. It has a full roll cage, period safety gear and a surprisingly complete turbo themed interior that makes it appear more like a production car than something that was constructed exclusively for the race track. Currently, the bids are in excess of $33,000 and the reserve has yet to be met. To an ordinary guy like me $33K is a lot of money, but to a high end collector looking for something truly unique, this car might just be an interesting opportunity. Pop over to either of the above links to see dozens more detailed photos. Love it or hate it, at the very least, it’s one of a kind.


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Stupid Is As Stupid Does: Unless You Get Away With It Fri, 20 Dec 2013 19:09:50 +0000 1956

It wasn’t my first job, not even close. In fact, by the spring of 1986 I had been fired from several different places. I had drifted a bit in the two years since I had graduated from high school and had gone through an entire string of dead end jobs. No matter what kind of work it was, I never seemed to last more than a few weeks. I wasn’t a bad guy really, I didn’t steal or do horrible things, it’s just that I wasn’t a hard worker and for some reason, a lot of employers really objected to that. Eventually, however, something inside me clicked into place and when I finally landed a job as a clerk at an auto parts store I was determined to keep it.

When Schuck’s Auto Supply announced that they were opening a new store in Monroe, WA dozens of people were called in for interviews. To this day I’m not sure why they picked me over some of the others, but I can still recall the first time stepped through the back door, into a store that was just finishing construction. There were eight of us new-hires and our job in the run-up to our grand opening was to stock the shelves, learn the inventory and be ready to help the opening day crowds. I didn’t know it then, but the manager had hired twice as many people as he actually needed and the plan was to lay at least half of us off once the initial surge of customers had ceased.

Given my history, I suppose now that if I had known the truth I would have assumed my fate was already decided. Not knowing, however, I threw myself into the work. I came in early almost every day and found something to do every minute I was there. I helped assemble the shelves and filled them with merchandise. I hung the banners, priced the items and was in the middle of everything. My efforts got noticed by the manager and by the string on corporate VIPs that regularly came to the store to monitor our progress.

Our grand opening was a big deal. A local AM oldies station broadcast live from the store and corporate even brought up the 1956 Chevrolet they were giving away as a region-wide promotion. I spent the day in the parking lot in front of the store constantly rubbing it down and urging anyone who came to look at the grand old car to visit the store. I don’t think I stopped moving the entire day and every time the store manager or some corporate big shot came by I didn’t even have to pretend I was hard after it, I was all assholes and elbows all the time. As the end of the day approached it became apparent there was no plan to keep the car overnight. When I questioned whether we should just leave it in the lot, the store manager responded by jangling the keys and asking me if I wanted to take home.

Even an idiot like me didn’t need to be asked twice. I took the keys and hit the street. It was a magic time, a point in my life where I was responsible enough to work hard at protecting the car all day but not smart enough to just park it when they handed me the keys. I probably put 200 miles on the old Chevy that night. I hit the local strip and cruised like a big-dog for the first time in my life. I did burnouts in front of another Schuck’s store in Everett and showed the car off to everyone I knew. The next morning I was back with the car in front of the store polishing off an entire nights worth of bugs and, fortunately, no one was ever the wiser.

In the following weeks about half of my coworkers were purged from the corporate rolls, but I kept my job. A month later I was promoted to a full-time spot at a bigger store and, a couple of years after that, ended up as assistant manager of a store in Seattle. I stayed there until I joined the Merchant Marines. Of course I could have blown the whole thing that very first night. All it would have taken is a minor fender bender, a traffic ticket or even an eagle eyed Schuck’s employee to spot the car and rat me out. It was a foolish thing to do and I have matured a lot over the last few decades. But it was glorious, too, and I wonder now just why the hell I ever bothered to grow up.


Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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