The Truth About Cars » Nostalgia The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 16:29:19 +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 » Nostalgia Deliverance Fri, 11 Jul 2014 15:02:53 +0000 Shelby Charger

An old car is a feast for the senses. The gentle curve of a fender or the sharply drawn body line pleases the eye while the clatter of valves and the whine of spinning belts combine to make mechanical music. The exhaust gasses, which smell just a tad too rich, blend with the odors of old motor oil, decaying rubber and that musty smell that wafts from the car’s interior to fill your olfactory, while the mixture of gasoline, oil and grease that makes your hands feel so slippery even finds its way onto your tongue when you bring the fingertip you burned on a hot manifold to your mouth. You see it, hear it, smell it, feel it and can even taste it, all five senses touched by one malodorous, malevolent little mechanical beast. Yes friends, if you hadn’t guessed by now, my ’83 Shelby Charger is here at last.

I had, I am ashamed to say, forgotten the physicality of old cars. As someone who lives with two fairly new, almost totally drama free vehicles, it’s easy to forget that all cars are anything but appliances. Like the washing machine I have running in the other room right now, my cars are competent, clean and perform flawlessly at the turn of the key. I could jump into either of them and drive from one coast to the other just as easily as I could drop another load of laundry into the tub of my washer and know with utter and absolute confidence that I will, in short order, have a load of clean clothes. The Shelby, on the other hand, more closely resembles the antique clock that graces my mantelpiece. It is a magical assembly of whirring gears that human ingenuity has brought together into one marvelous machine and, while it does the job, it requires almost daily adjustment to perform as intended.

shelby charger

Some of our readers may recall that, a few months ago, I posted a plaintive cry for help in choosing an older car. I set down a rather strict set of criteria: it needed to be older, not too nice lest I succumb to the desire to preserve it rather than use it, and it needed to have a manual transmission. I got a lot of great suggestions and a couple of tantalizing offers that I had to pass on but as luck would have it, one of our website’s erstwhile readers in Maryland, a gentleman named Terry, reached out and made an offer almost too good to refuse.

The photos showed a stunning little car and I was instantly smitten. In the flurry of emails that followed, Terry let slip that he was the car’s original owner but that, because like me he often works at jobsites outside of the United States, the car had spent a lot of time sitting. Eventually, it had ended up in a friend’s barn in West Virginia where time, the elements and a family of mice had worked their magic.

But Terry isn’t the kind of man who let’s things slide and although it might have been out of sight the little car was never out of mind. From the far side of the planet Terry plotted and waited and then, on a short trip home, he brought the car back over the Appalachians to Maryland where he dropped it at a local speed shop before heading back overseas. The list of things done was extensive and can’t hope to recount all of it here, I do know that the old transmission was swapped out for a stouter unit from a later model turbo Dodge, the top end of the engine was rebuilt and the car’s rust issues, which sounded extensive, were resolved by cutting out the cancer and welding in new steel. Finally, the car was repainted in its factory colors, set on a set of good looking OZ wheels shod with sticky, performance rubber and returned to its owner.

shelby charger 1

Terry enjoyed the car for a few years but, with an SRT8 Challenger, a 71 Charger and two jeeps in the garage, the little Shelby ended up under a cover in the driveway next to the daily driven Neon RT. While it didn’t exactly languish there it spent more time sitting than Terry liked and so, after reading of my undying love for 80s Dodges on these hallowed pages, Terry decided to shoot me an email. Naturally, I responded immediately and on my recent trip to DC I swung through Frederick. After a brief test drive through the rolling hills I decided that the car needed just a bit of sorting to be perfect for my purposes, but that it really was as Terry had represented a solid, original little car. At this point, because I am still working on a few of the things I think need to be addressed and because my impressions are still a bit muddled by the excitement of having so recently taken delivery, I won’t write a full review, but know now that you will soon hear so much about my adventures with this little car that you will grow to hate it.

Although I only got the car the day before yesterday, I can already tell you that it gets all kinds of attention. The cable guy and the garbage man both asked about it while it sat in the driveway before I got it registered. People asked about it at the inspection station and, once I got the plates on, it drew a small crowd when I took it to the gas station for its first fill-up. The guys in the auto parts store I stopped at all had to go out and see it and I even got asked about it from the passenger of a neighboring car while I paused at a stop light. Everyone, it seems, is excited to see my little Shelby Charger and they all have a question that they must ask or a story to share. It is a strange, visceral reaction that only the most special, elemental machine can inspire and if I cannot jump into it and drive to the far side of the country on a moment’s notice I’m OK with that. No one ever asks about my washing machine.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Leavenworth, KS 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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Beauty All Around Us: Artists Use Industrial Bi-Product To Make Jewelry Fri, 02 May 2014 15:35:04 +0000 fordite 1

Imagine Detroit at its height, enormous factories and mile-long production lines running day and night, a roiling, churning symphony of man and machine where thousands of workers joined together parts, large and small, from a myriad of sources into single, working vehicle. Although I have toured modern factories in Japan, meticulously clean facilities where technicians in spotless coveralls only complete the tasks that robots cannot, I view the old factories, places like Rouge River that were built in in the first part of the last century, with a special sort of awe. The entirety of what went on there is, to me, unknowable and, like the great pyramids, all that is left of the human toil is the end product. That’s why, when some small piece of history, some bi-product of that mysterious past, catches my attention, I stop and look.

Yesterday, Reddit user “FissurePrice” posted several images in that website’s photographic sub-forum, r/pics, of something he referred to as “Fordite.” I had never heard of the material, but I was instantly captivated by its bright colors and by the way that skilled hands had taken the raw product and shaped it into jewelry. When I found out that the material, also called “Detroit Agate,” is a bi-product of the automotive manufacturing process it got my full attention.

Fordite, it turns out, is actually countless layers of baked together paint. It is created during the painting process when paint overspray falls upon the various racks and trollies that carry car bodies through a car factory’s paint booth. When the vehicles or their parts are moved into the oven to cure, they remain on the racks and so the overspray hardens and cures in exactly the same way it does on the car body. Once the car moves on, the trollies and racks return to the starting point and repeat the process again and again until the overspray builds up to the point where it must be removed. The result then, are the many layered, oven hardened, chunks of paint you see here.

fordite 2

In the century since cars entered mass production, particular colors have come to the fore, lived in the limelight as the height of fashion and the retreated back into nothingness. Each block of Fordite, then, is like the rings of a petrified tree, capable of telling the story of the environment in which it was originally formed. Different eras have produced different color combinations, the somber colors of the early years, the bright pastels of the ‘50s, the bolder colors of the 60s and 70s, etc and, as a result, different varieties of the material attract different kinds of people.

Not being the kind of person who wears much jewelry, I don’t believe I will ever end up purchasing any Fordite of my own but, because of my interest in both autos and history, I’m happy to see people putting the material to such a creative use. In the same way that people have worked to form natural products into beautiful art, it’s nice to see something man made, something that is technically a waste bi-product, be used in such a way. It just goes to show that beauty and art is all around us, we just need to know where to look.

fordite 3

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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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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The Manly Art Of Stick Handling Sat, 22 Mar 2014 15:02:58 +0000 6-speed manual transmission

I was browsing the internet the other day and came across a website that purports to be “A guy’s post-college guide to growing up.” Normally I avoid websites like this. I learned about the manly arts the old fashioned way, dangerous experimentation, but since I have been wrestling with an especially verdant crop of nose hair recently I thought I might find some grooming tips and so I decided to check it out. Amongst all the articles on slick, greasy-looking haircuts, sensual massage techniques and the power of positive self-development, I found this handy beginners’ guide on how to drive a stick shift. Since it was one of the only things on the site I had any real experience with, I looked it over and decided it was pretty good. Naturally, I thought I would share it.

Like sword fighting and bare knuckle boxing before it, driving a car with a manual transmission is on the verge of becoming a lost manly art. One day soon I expect to tune into the History Channel and hear someone explain how archeologists think these devices might have worked and watch as historic re-enactors dress up in their oldest bell bottoms and tie dyed shirts in order to drive around in their automatic transmission equipped replicas while making shift noises and pretending to step on a clutch pedal that isn’t there.

You keep both hands on the wheel, Frankie. I’ll handle the stick.

OK, perhaps I am being just a little facetious here, but let’s face it, manual transmissions are moving out of the mainstream and there will come a time when only cars aimed at the enthusiast market will bother to offer them. History tells me, of course, that it wasn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of things that all cars had manual transmissions. Some people will say they also had crank starts, hand-operated chokes and manual spark advance too, and that no one ever laments the loss of those things. It is, they will say, the price we pay for progress. The old things go away, replaced with new things that serve the masses better and, despite the fact that a few people may lament their loss, the fact is that vast majority will hardly notice their absence.

That’s not going to be the case with the manual transmission. Learning to shift your own gears is a right of passage. It is something that people grew up watching their elders do and upon a child’s entry into adulthood, the skill was handed down across the generations, person to person. With few exceptions, those clever, intrepid people who had the gumption to teach themselves, every one of us who knows how to work a stick learned from someone else.

Click here to view the embedded video.

I started out the way most young people do, pretending to row the gears in an old broken down Opel Kadette in my parents’ garage and eventually wheedled a lesson from my older brother Tracy who took me out in his, then, fairly new 1978 Nova. It was a pretty little car, a red on red two door coupe that had a 250 cid six cylinder under the hood and was as utilitarian as they come. I started out shifting gears from the passenger seat to get the feel of the shift lever and by the time I slipped over behind the controls had a fairly good idea of what I needed to be doing with my hands. Learning how to work the pedals took a little longer but, with my brother’s encouragement, I eventually got the hang of it.

I won’t say the experience changed my world, but it did open up a part of it that is, unfortunately, closed to many young people today. By the time I got my first car, a slightly older six cylinder three speed manual Nova of my own, there was no doubt about my ability to work the thing and, over the years and in the many manual equipped cars that would follow, I built upon the skills my brother taught me.


Running a car with a manual transmission connects man and machine in a way few other things can. In that same way the bumps and judders transmitted to a driver’s fingers through steering wheel gives one a connection to the pavement rushing beneath their seat, the vibrations transmitted to the palm of your hand by a shift ball and the sole of your left foot by the clutch pedal gives you a direct connection to a car’s drive train. Also, because you don’t have computer managing your engine speed and choosing the best gear, a manual transmission forces you to watch your gauges, to monitor the tachometer, and to actively think about the process of driving. These things pull driver and car together and when a driver has real focus they can join with the vehicle in the way that jockeys talk about becoming one with the animal during a race. That experience is, in a nutshell, enthusiasm is its purest form.

As a fat, hairy, old-school ape man, I have a special disdain for the “self-improvement” media and magazines that try to tell young men what it means to be a man while, at the same time, attempting to sell them a plethora of products to make them ever softer and ever more sensual, but this time I think they nailed it. Perhaps driving a manual is no longer a skill that every man must have, but it is a skill that every man – and every woman, really – should aspire to. It doesn’t matter if you learn if from your brother or a magazine, just get out there and learn it before it’s too late.

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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Ecto-1 and the Working Cadillac Tue, 18 Feb 2014 14:18:17 +0000 21108_1-1024x768

You have to hand it to Lego: years after the patents on their plastic interlocking bricks expired, the company has become expert in parting kids of all ages from their cash. The Lego Movie, a concept that would have boggled the mind of any child of the ’80s, is a certified blockbuster. The Lego Harry Potter and Lego Star Wars video games – that’s a game of a toy of a movie, if you’re counting – are best-sellers across multiple platforms.

Now there’s this, an assemblage of beige-overalled 1980s misfits rendered in blocky, multi-part format, ready to do battle with spectres while making off-the-cuff quips. Talk about shut up and take my money: the Lego Ghostbusters set is relatively affordable, at just under fifty bucks, and is everything you were hoping for. By June, thousands of them should be parked proudly on the desks of all kinds of dudes who are far too old for this sort of thing. I’ve already cleared a space on mine.

The centrepiece of the set, aside from minifig versions of Venkman, Stantz, Zeddemore, and Spengler, is the gloriously recreated Ectomobile – Ecto 1. Thirty years ago this year, the white and red original burst on-screen, sirens blaring.

As a fit for the role, the Cadillac might have been an even better casting choice than Bill Murray as Venkman. When there’s something strange in your neighbourhood, you know who you’re gonna call.


Before Hollywood got hold of it, Ecto-1 started life as a 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor Futura Duplex. The Futura designation indicates that it had limousine windows rather than a landau top, and the Duplex that the car could be used as both an ambulance and a hearse. Technically, I suppose the Ectomobile could be called a Triplex in that it could ferry you to hospital with a minor cough, take your corpse to the cemetery after some careless orderly put an air bubble in your IV, and then bust a proton-pack cap in yo’ ass after you returned from beyond the grave to haunt the intensive care ward.

Much like the Armoured Rolls-Royce’s underpinnings, Cadillac once supplied a bare chassis for custom coachwork, available through their commercial division. Essentially a strengthened Series 355 frame, the 390 V8-powered chassis was bare of bodywork except for the front clip, and might include optional extras like air-conditioning and air suspension. Most were considerably lower in the rear than the civilian versions, making for a lower load height.


Companies such as Superior, Eureka, and the aforementioned Miller-Meteor took this bare frame and created ambulances, hearses, a very rare vehicle called a flower car (used for transporting floral arrangements), and stretch limousines. Quarter-panels and other signature Cadillac bodywork would often be supplied along with the bare essentials, but the coachwork usually involved customized doors, windshields, a heightened roof, and unique details like curved glass in the rear for a better view of the casket.

While a lucrative business for Caddy in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, these professional vehicles weren’t all that common. In 1959, just 2102 chassis were made, the lion’s share going to the Miller-Meteor company in Ohio. Divided again between ambulance, limousine, dual-purpose and the odd flower car or two, not many more than several hundred Futura Duplexes were made in total. Stringent EMS regulations introduced in the late 1970s would eventually force the change to van-based ambulances – the last Cadillac commercial chassis was delivered to Miller-Meteor in 1976.


By comparison, the similarly iconic DeLorean DMC-12 of the Back To The Future trilogy is relatively commonplace, with somewhere in the neighbourhood of 9,000 cars made between 1983-84. The bullet-shaped tail-lights and the quad foglights of the ’59 Caddy are a one-year oddity.


Thus, there was only ever one Ecto-1. Where the set designers got the car from isn’t clear, but the news that it was originally brown will certainly please Style Editor Sajeev Mehta to no end. While versions of the script as late as 1983 indicated the Ectomobile should be a 1975 Excelsior ambulance, drawings commissioned by Dan Ackroyd for his original screenplay seem to show a much earlier car.


At any rate, the ’59 Miller-Meteor got the part, and was transformed into a screen legend first by concepts drawn up by John Daveikis, and then more properly realized by Steven Dane, credited as a hardware consultant. Dane also fabricated up early models of the proton packs you probably tried to make as part of your Hallowe’en costume in 1984.

Two cars were used in the film, the first an ex-fire-department ambulance that was rented by Sony Pictures to portray the black-primered “before” car that Ray Stantz so proudly pulls into the firehouse, “Everybody can relax, I found the car. Needs some suspension work and shocks. Brakes, brake pads, lining, steering box, transmission, rear-end…”


All that for just $4800. Well, it did need rings, mufflers, a little wiring – point is, the fictional Ray Stantz got a heck of a deal on an extremely rare machine. Thanks to the work of the non-fictional Steven Dane, the slightly-beat Desert Rose Caddy ambulance that was actually purchased by Sony was transformed inside and out into an iconic bustin’ machine.

In the mind of Dan Ackroyd, Ecto-1 should have been more ghostly hearse than ambulance – painted a menacing all-black with purple underglow and sirens. Fortunately, since so much of the film was to be shot at night, the car donned the red and white livery we all know so well. The Ferno-Washington gurney held the proton-packs, and a series of avionics gauges were fabbed up into spirit containment devices and ghost detectors.

It was a hell of a machine. Nearly twenty-one feet long, eight feet high and nearly seven feet wide, Ecto-1 weighed nearly three and a half tonnes. Sure, the V8 cranked out 325hp, but the floaty suspension and mausoleum curb-weight blunted performance somewhat. Blunted? Sorry, I mean slimed.

After the movie, Sony ended up buying the primered car as well, and using it as a promotional vehicle. George Barris, famous for any number of other famous movie and TV cars, made another Ecto-1 out of it, and it eventually passed into private hands. Among other differences from the original, the promotional car has a red interior rather than black.


Another car was used as a rolling feature at Universal Studios, and Ghostbusters II featured Ecto-1a, an “upgraded” version of the original. Any number of replicas have followed, many of them based off of Superior and Eureka ambulances.

The appeal of the Ecto-1 has been something of a double-edged sword in the view of Professional Car enthusiasts. While some far-gone ambulances and hearses have been pulled back from the brink by movie enthusiasts, the rarity of the standard cars might well have been increased by Ecto-1 replicas made out of hard-to-find ’59 Miller-Meteors.

It’s not like movie star status did anything for the original. Left outside for nearly two decades in the Sony Pictures backlot, Ecto-1 was weathered and brutalized by the years. Eventually, right around the 25th anniversary of Ghostbusters, the car would be sent to Cinema Vehicle Services of North Hollywood for a full restoration. The Ectomobile was stripped down to the bare bones and built up again. Even after the renovations, it spent another five years baking in the California sun on the backlot. Ecto-1a is a ruin after the same sort of shabby treatment.


For those of us who remember Ghostbusters from the complete first picture, the idea that a trilogy might be on the horizon is both exciting and terrifying. Think of just how bad the fourth Indiana Jones movie was, as best represented by the car-chase that destroyed the warehouse seen at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark – a childhood memory sacrificed to CGI nonsense.

But Ecto-1 (apart from the siren) was never purely about movie magic. It’s an antiquated rolling piece of American automotive history given new life by a mortgaged-to-the-hilt gearhead Ghostbuster; an unlikely, outdated rescue vehicle suddenly imbued with silver screen immortality.


It is, funnily enough, a dead car resurrected by a movie franchise that ran on putting down spirits who wouldn’t remain deceased. To end with a quote from Dr. Peter Venkman, “Generally, you don’t see that kind of behaviour in a major appliance.”

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A Testament To The Urealized Dreams Of My Youth Wed, 12 Feb 2014 13:00:53 +0000 Nova 1

According to the clock, it would still be more than an hour before the sun slipped over the Western horizon and sank into the Pacific, but from my place behind the wheel of my 74 Nova beneath the leaden November skies and running through the steady drizzle, the dark of night was already beginning to ooze its way up and out of the hidden spaces of the great forest that lined either side of the narrow roadway. Ahead, a single mailbox loomed up and out of the mist and I checked its number against the one I had written on a small scrap of paper some hours earlier. To my satisfaction they matched and I pulled off the pavement and onto a long gravel driveway, my headlights cutting a bright swath through the increasingly murky darkness as I worked my way back into the woods.

At the top of the driveway I emerged into a broad clearing that had been hacked out of the living forest and, at the edge of a wide gravel turnaround, found myself looking at a double-wide trailer with several cars parked out front and a recently constructed metal garage. Dogs barked loudly at my arrival and, in response to their cheerful noise, the porch light flicked on and the door suddenly opened. A grizzled man in his mid-thirties man stepped out and extended his hand as he met me at the bottom of a set of roughly hewn wooden steps that led to the door of is humble abode. “I was beginning to think you weren’t going to make it.” He said with a smile.

“It was a little further than I expected.” I answered, straightening up from my typical teen-aged slouch and giving him my firmest handshake. Despite his rough looks, he seemed friendly enough and I felt instantly at ease. Looking around, I noted the different cars in the driveway and but it took another moment of to before I found the reason I had come so far up into the mountains, a forlorn looking Nova parked alongside the metal outbuilding, practically invisible in the growing dusk. Together we crunched our way across the gravel toward the old car and it was only when we drew close that I noticed the silver SS badge at the center of its blacked-out grill.

Taken aback, I paused. The classified ad had only mentioned that the man was parting out an old Nova, I hadn’t expected a super sport. When I had called, he had described the car and told be that it still had its bucket seats, a console and some other interior parts that I needed for another old Nova I was trying to fix up and so I had made the trip but now, faced with a real SS, and one that seemed to be in fairly decent shape, I was at a loss how to proceed. “Wow.” I gasped. “Would you like to just sell me the whole thing?”

The man shook his head. “No,” he answered, “I need the sub frame for a truck I’m building. I’m just parting the Nova out to get back some of the money I spent and once people stop coming I’ll cut off the parts I need and graft it onto my Ford.”


I was shocked. “You know,” I offered, “This is a pretty nice car on its own, it seems a shame to cut it up for an old truck.” The man replied with a simple shrug but it spoke volumes and I knew then that he would not be swayed from his chosen course of action. I opened the car’s door and found a beautifully preserved black and white interior, just waiting to be taken. “I can use a lot of this stuff,” I said, “But I only have $50.”

“No one else has asked about it,” he answered, “you can have everything you can carry.” It was almost too good to be true so I paid the man and went to work.

It took about an hour, but by the light of a flashlight I removed the door panels, the console and the buckets and then added a few exterior trim pieces, things like chrome rain gutter trim that I bent horrible trying to remove, in an effort to fill every bit of available space before my long return home. When nothing more would fit, I bid the man a happy farewell and headed home. I had done well, but I felt bad. Sure the car wasn’t perfect, but it was still too good to be scrapped.

My $50 had purchased quite a lot but, had been a little older and a little wiser, there are a lot of other parts I would have taken instead. In my rush to get all of the obvious bits I forgot many of the most important parts, things like the mounting plate and linkage to go with my floor mounted shift lever I had taken and all of the interior trim pieces that would have been required to complete my planned interior swap but in the end it doesn’t really matter. The next morning, in the full light of a new day, I realized that the parts I had seemed far too nice for the gutted piece of junk I was trying to repair and instead I chose to put them into the attic of one of my father’s outbuildings where I knew they would be safe while they awaited their eventual installation in the much better car I was so certain that I would eventually purchase. That purchase never happened and so I imagine that they are still there today, some thirty years later, a moldy, forgotten testament to the unrealized dreams of my youth.


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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Up And Out Of A Hopeless Situation Sat, 01 Feb 2014 14:00:34 +0000 1991 GMC Jimmy SLE

1991 GMC Jimmy SLE

Sometime in the middle of the night, while I was hard at work moving pallets, opening boxes and arranging Christmas merchandise on the sales floor of the giant wholesale buyers’ club, the clouds moved in and it began to rain. The earth was cold and as soon as the first drop hit the ground it turned to ice. More drops followed, untold millions upon millions of them, and, in the matter of minutes, everything they struck was encapsulated in a growing coat of ice. The rain continued through the night and by the time the sun rose the storm had moved off towards the Cascades, where the increasing elevation forced the clouds higher into the sky and turned the rain to snow. But in the valley the damage had been done and people awoke to a crystalline world in which everyday objects had been transformed into works of art and where every branch and wire were hung with rows of dagger-like icicles.

I paid little attention to nature’s wonderful trick as I emerged from the store and shielded my eyes from the light of the morning sun. I was a night dweller, one of the nameless rabble who worked through the dark hours in order to fill the shelves with merchandise that the good, normal people of the world would happily purchase amidst warmth and light while I struggled to sleep. I hated my job, I hated my life and I hated anyone who had the those things that I, too, had worked so hard to attain but had found denied in what should have been my hour of triumph.

College hadn’t been in the cards for me when I had left high school more than a decade earlier, but a chance encounter with Japanese cartoons in the darkened exhibition hall of a Sci-Fi convention had shown me that there were more things in the world than the Snohomish district had managed to impart in 12 long years of basic education. I was amazed by the images I saw and I promptly sat down and remained in the room until the convention ended two full days later. Those cartoons led me to a lifelong study of the Japanese language, the Merchant Marines and eventually back to college at the ripe old age of 28 years old. For five years I chipped away my education, just over two years of which I spent in Junior College while I worked full time in the warehouse of a local hospital, and then another two during which I got my first taste of grinding poverty as I tried to live on student loans as I finished up my Bachelor’s degree at a four year school on the far side of the state. When it was done I was 33 years old, a new college graduate with a degree that included the words “Cum Laude” above my name, and ready to step into that better, brighter future that I had worked so hard to attain.

But the world doesn’t want 33 year old entry level white-collar workers. And it doesn’t want 33 year old college educated truck drivers, either. I was unemployed and no matter how many I sent, my resumes generated little interest. Without even the meager subsistence afforded by student loans to sustain me, I was forced to returned to my mother’s home where I resumed the residence in my childhood bedroom and where I soon found a pistol in my hand. Every day I pulled the .45 Caliber Springfield automatic from its cushioned bag, removed the trigger lock and turned it over in my hands while I decided whether or not to use it on myself. Every day, after examining its lines and feeling its weight, I told myself I wasn’t a quitter and returned it to its place. Eventually, as the early Summer turned to Autumn and Autumn gave way to Winter I was able to score a job as a seasonal temp worker for a Seattle area warehouse chain.

To this day I have mixed feelings when I walk into a warehouse store. I walk along the rows of pallets and note their perfectly aligned edges. I see how some worker has worked to pull product up from the backs of the pallets and form the boxes into rows along the aisle to give the impression that the store is stuffed to the gills with merchandise. I keep my cart in the middle of the lane to avoid accidental contact with the carefully positioned goods and anything I chance to pick up but not buy is returned to its prior position perfectly faced with the other packages, right-side-up and label out. I know the effort that has gone into the presentation, that some worker has laid hands upon and carefully positioned everything that strikes my eye. And I know that if any part of it was less than perfect, some 21 year-old dickhead shift-manager would have berated the poor worker who had chanced to leave it that way while still exhorting him to work faster.

The truth was I couldn’t give a shit if the world was encased in ice or fire at that point. My shift was over and I was exhausted. My bedroom, such as it was, lay back up in the hills some 20 miles away and I had an appointment with the pistol I kept under the bed there before going to sleep. My big GMC Jimmy had crossed the mountain passes in the dead of winter more times than I could count so, no matter what the weather was, a trip across the valley and then up a few hills was an easy morning’s work. I locked in the hubs, flipped the floor mounted lever to 4 Wheel High and rolled smoothly out of the parking lot while other the other workers were still fishtailing their pitiful econoboxes around in circles next to their parking places.

The interstate was jammed and I eased my truck into line with everyone else unfortunate to be going somewhere that morning. We headed North at a snail’s pace to the scene of a massive pile-up. I looked in awe at the twisted wreckage, one of the cars on its side, still smoldering despite the steady stream of water the firetruck on-scene poured upon the hulk. Later, I learned the accident was fatal. Likely some other poor work-a-day shlub like myself trying to get to or from the place that barely paid for his daily bread. God rest his soul.

Where Interstate 5 North met Highway 2 I slipped off the three lane freeway and onto the two lane bridge known as “the trestle” that first spans the Snohomish river and then crosses the width of the flood-prone valley elevated upon row after row of concrete columns. This road, too, was crammed with cars moving no faster than a slow walk and the normally quick trip took an interminable amount of time. But as the end of the bridge gradually approached, I noticed one place where the cars dared not go.

Photo courtesy of WA State DOT

At the end of the trestle, Highway 2 takes a sharp right turn and heads South along the edge of the Snohomish valley before eventually resuming its Easterly route up over Stevens Pass. At the same point, an exit branches off towards the North and the town of Lake Stevens via another local highway. There is, however, a third option: a branch exit onto a road that leads dead east, right up and over the rim of the valley.

The road is one of those pieces of pavement that would never be built today. More than 300 feet tall, Cavalero Hill rises up like a sheer escarpment above the floor of the Snohomish Valley. From its top, a trip down the hill is like a ride over a waterfall. As you approach the edge of the precipice, the landscape on either side falls away and the horizon fills your vision. Ahead, the City of Everett sits atop what seems to be a small knoll and beyond it lies Possession Sound, Whidbey Island and finally the snow covered mountains of the Olympic Peninsula. For a moment it seems as though you will fly off into space, but then the road tilts and your perspective skews into a headlong dive towards the valley below. In the old days, that road went all the way to the floor of the valley and then up and onto a rickety two lane trestle where cars sped towards one another inches apart with no margin for error, but in the early ‘70s some thoughtful civil engineer designed an on-ramp that reaches up fully a third of the hill’s towering height and slingshots you down onto a Westbound bridge that whisks you safely across the valley.

Headed East, the way I was going that icy morning, an improved off ramp similarly reaches up onto the slope. But once you begin the ascent of the hill itself, engines strain to make the climb and drivers find themselves pushed back against their seat cushions while their vehicle struggles upward like an airplane fighting against a stall. Even in the heat of summer it is an arduous climb and now, that road stood as empty and icy as the Matterhorn

Photo by Thomas Kreutzer

From my position on the floor of the valley, the situation seemed hopeless. Everywhere I looked was a line of cars blocking my progress. To the South an endless, slow moving procession headed towards my home and to the North a similar line headed more-or-less away from my house. But ahead the hill was open and, deep inside of me, something simply snapped. I pointed the Jimmy’s hood ornament at the slope and mashed the gas.

I saw them looking. Mortal men and women trapped in their tiny cars as my massive GMC thundered by and accelerated towards the slope. People gaped, mouths fully open in shock and one man had the audacity to lay in his horn in a hopeless attempt to dissuade me from my chosen course of action. But no fucks were given that day my friends and I hit the hill at fully 50 miles per hour.

The earth tilted upwards and the sky filled my vision. The weight of my body shifted onto my back, like an astronaut preparing to launch into space, and the GMC began to claw its way up the hillside. The tires skittered on the icy pavement and the truck slipped to the side but I corrected the steering and stayed hard on the gas. One tire found traction and then the next and with increasing confidence and speed I rose up and out of the valley on a plume of snow and ice, ascending to the edge of the precipice and onto the flat ground beyond without incident while those below could only watch in amazement. I could not – would not – be stopped.

Maybe it’s crazy but something inside of me changed right then and that morning and before I went to sleep I made a conscious decision to leave the .45 where it belonged under the bed. The next day I did the same and, although my life didn’t get better right away, I never again picked that pistol up with the thought of turning it against myself. The world sucked, I knew, and the roads that I thought should have been opened to me after years of hard work and sacrifice had been jammed by the narrow minded bastards who had achieved their stations in life before I had thought to go there, but there was still a way ahead. I could stay trapped behind them forever or I could climb the hill and go farther than they ever dreamed. There was only one real way to go.

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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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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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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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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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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American Graffiti – X Sun, 15 Dec 2013 12:00:08 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Way back in 1973, a relatively young and inexperienced director by the name of George Lucas made a movie that starred a whole bunch of nobodies. Called “American Graffiti,” it turned out to be the little movie that could. Co-Produced by Francis Ford Coppola and Gary Kurtz for just $775,000, it went on to become one of the most profitable films of all time, making an estimated $200 million dollars and, in the process, turned several of those “nobodies,” people like Ron Howard, Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfus, Suzanne Summers, and Cindy Williams, into bankable stars. In 1995, the National Library of Congress declared it to be “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation by adding it to the National Film Registry.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, I won’t ruin the story by revealing any of the finer points of the plot. Generally speaking, it is the story of teenage angst and antics set amid classic cars and punctuated by great old-time rock and roll music and the action follows several teens on a hot August night in the far away year of 1962 as they cruise their cars around the California town of Modesto in search of action and adventure. The movie hit theaters just as the first wave of the baby boom generation, people born between 1946 and 64, began to close-in on the ripe old age of 30 and to see it now is to look back upon the days of their youth through the rose colored glasses of nostalgia.

It has taken me a long time to appreciate it. I was all of 7 years old when American Graffiti went into theatrical release and didn’t actually sit down and watch it until VCRs became commonplace in the American home sometime in the early 1980s. Frankly, I didn‘t get it. For me, a founding member of Generation X who was born in 1966, the movie seemed a cloying tale of ancient silliness that had long since been wiped away the decades that had followed them. I think now, however, that the real problem was that, even though I was the same age as the kids depicted, I would never have done the things they did. Having nothing real in common with any of the characters, I ended up listening to the dated, but admittedly wonderful, soundtrack and watching that old Detroit iron endlessly circling the town. In that regard, at least, the movie reflected a reality that I actually knew. That’s because, despite the 20 years that had elapsed between the action depicted in American Graffiti and the tawdry days of my own youth, virtually nothing had changed.

Yours truly, master of the pin-stripe tape.

Yours truly, master of the pin-stripe tape.

I got my driver’s license in early 1983 and by my senior year of high school, 1984, my Nova and I were a regular part of the street scene. My car, armed with a six cylinder and a three on the tree, was never competitive but, thanks to my ability with pin stripe tape and a set of rallye wheels that came from my brother Tracy I had a good looking little cruiser that was both reliable and about as fuel efficient as I could get. It was my buddies who had the heavy iron, Rick with his Javelin at first and later a 69 Charger and Denny with a 340 Demon, who carried the honor of our small group. Even so, we were never the “fast guys.”

The fast guys were older than us. Already working solid $4.00 and hour jobs 40 hours a week, they had real money to throw at their cars. There was Jim, who had an Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser with a 442 front end grafted on. It wasn’t fast, but it was custom. Then came Dave, whose father owned a local body shop, who had a wickedly fast 68 Camaro but who spent most of his time selling and smoking pot rather than actually racing. Next was Bob, who had a custom bodied Comet Caliente that mounted square headlights above a front spoiler do big we called it “The Bulldozer.” And finally Tye, our own local hot-rodder who had finished school just a year earlier. His 68 Mustang had none of the shine or polish the other cars enjoyed, but he worked relentlessly to make it just a little bit faster each week.

Perhaps it was because their cars were so similar beneath the skin, or perhaps it was because, when everything was said and done, they were both a couple of jerks way down deep inside, but for some reason Bob and Tye who should have been, in my opinion, friends were instead mortal enemies. I remember them now, a couple of wanna-be toughs in greasy pants and with cigarettes dangling from their lower lips as they glowered at one another from opposite ends of our local video game arcade’s parking lot. They got there early and staked out their spots, their supporters filling in around them while the rest of us endlessly circled around like a giant school of fish.

Like stags in the rutting season, each boy was compelled to trumpet his prowess in the loudest way possible and every so often, one or the other would jump into his car to start and rev his uncorked engine. If we were lucky, the other boy would respond to the challenge and a burn off contest would ensue. Back and forth it would go, the pressure of imminent conflict gradually increasing by the hour as the witching hour drew nigh. Then, just before midnight, when most of us had to be home, both boys would lead their troops to the battlefield.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

We had a special spot close to the Everett Boeing 747/777 assembly plant. The factory is immense and tens of thousands of people work there. Every shift change floods the roadway with commuters and as a result the plant is served by its own 6 lane wide highway spur. At one end, close to the factory gate is a stoplight to control ingress and egress from the huge parking lots that line the roadway and approximately ¼ mile away is a giant overhead sign that directs traffic onto the main highway, East to Mukilteo or West to Everett. The course was wide, safe and, at anytime other than shift change, totally desolate.

The two caravans of cars, and those of us who had dared to break our curfews to become hangers on, would converge on the spot just prior to the main event. Looking back on it now, the local police had to know what we were doing but for the most part they left us alone. Generally they were good to us so long as we were good to them and, unlike the movie (spoiler alert!) we played no shenanigans. Usually we would get about 30 minutes on-site before a single cruiser would roll through with its lights on reminding us that we needed to go home.

In that 30 minutes we had, however, the ritual was unvaried. Bob and Tye would stage up singly and make a practice run while the other watched. Final adjustments would be made and burn offs would follow. At last, the night culminated as they came to the lone, door handle to door handle.

The stoplight switched to green and both drivers hammered the gas. The sound of their Fords’ engines pounded the night and reflecting back at us off the wall of the factory as the two cars accelerated. Bob hit his shifts perfectly while Tye’s automatic did the work for him as they came out of the hole and ran up to speed. It was neck and neck and then, slowly the Bob’s Bulldozer began to inch away. He stretched out his lead to one car length as then two before they passed the finish line. The winner would slow and turn, making a victory lap along the line of kids while the loser, unwilling to face the jeers of the masses, would continue up the on ramp and onto the freeway.

With the main movers done, the rest of us would take our own turns. Rick or Denny would take on all comers, sometimes winning sometimes losing, while I looked for someone whose engine was as deficient in acceleration as my own lest I be beaten to a pulp every time. There was never money involved, we never had more than a few dollars in our pockets anyhow, it was all for fun and, perhaps, just a bit of pride. And then, as he 30 minute mark would approach, that single police cruiser would come and, as quickly as it started, it would end.

At the end of the movie, we get to find out what happened to the kids those “nobodies” played. As the credits rolled, a single subtitled line told us their fates. Without ruining for you, all I can say is that some of them went far in life and some of them didn’t. I would imagine it is the same for the kids I knew too. Some of us have found our way to places no one would ever have believed we could go while others of us still struggle. The one thing we have in common now are those nights and the heady days that came at the ends of our own childhoods. Maybe one day, someone will make a movie about that.

Snohomish High School Auto Shop 1983/84

Snohomish High School Auto Shop 1983/84

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 Value Of A Father’s Love Thu, 12 Dec 2013 17:09:39 +0000 Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

I am sure the diagnosis came as a shock. It was cancer and the prognosis was not good. The man must have looked at what he had made of his life, weighed the good and the bad against one another, and realized that his 13 year old son was his crowning achievement. He was a good kid, honest, innocent and open to the experiences of the world, but not without that streak of mischievousness that all boys his age had. He would, in time, become a fine man but there remained a long road to manhood. A road he would soon have to walk alone.

The man knew he would miss so many important moments in the boy’s life, the baseball games, high school, his first date, his graduation, college and career. He would never meet the boy’s wife or be there to see him hold his children. Still, there was one thing he could do, never mind the fact that there were years left to go before the boy could get his driver’s license, a rite of passage that had bound father and son together for decades. He could buy the boy his first car and then pass on in the knowledge that he had been able to help his son reach at least one of life’s great milestones.

I was always on the lookout for a cheap car. Of course I had a fairly late model Dodge Shadow at home and didn’t really need another, but the old Plymouth Scamp caught my attention the moment I saw it sitting alone and unloved beside the ramshackle trailer house. I knew all about old Plymouths and Dodges, my family had enjoyed a long relationship with a 1968 Dodge Dart so I knew the old cars were solid. My father had found it for sale under a coat of thick dust at the edge of a farmer’s field and brought it home for my oldest sister, Lee, when I was about 10 years old. It was as plain as they came, as simple as a stone axe and, with its venerable slant six engine and an automatic transmission, practically as indestructible.

After Lee had finished college and switched to a brand new Chevrolet Chevette, the Dart had gone to my other sister, Connie, who hated its Spartan simplicity. She chaffed at is lack of style and sluggish performance and eventually dumped it into a ditch beside the highway, tearing the front suspension out from underneath it. My father had it towed home and proceeded to fix it in the driveway with nothing hand tools and a big damned hammer in less than a day. Despite her hopes to be rid of the basic old car, Connie ended up using it for another three years before finally splurging on a little, white convertible and then, eventually, to a Nissan 200SX.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

The old Plymouth piqued my interest and I kept my eye on it for a week or two. It sat, forlorn and unloved with the grass growing up around it and when I was satisfied that it never moved, I turned into the driveway to make my offer. I was met by a tired looking woman, a man who I took to be her husband and several kids ranging in age from a few years to mid-teens. The woman was eager to talk about the old car, it was supposed to be her son’s she told me, and from there the whole story spilled out. Her former husband had purchased the car for the boy prior to his death, had it put into good mechanical shape and then passed away. Despite the tragic back story the boy, she told me, had no real interest in the car. His father, it seems, had also left a motorcycle and the boy wanted that instead.

After a bit more conversation, we struck a deal and I took the car home. There were a couple of small mechanical issues to sort out, but once it was up to snuff the old car ran like a top. It was a fun weekend cruiser but eventually I headed back to sea and I ended up using the little Scamp as a pier car. When I was at sea, the car spent most of its time stashed under a viaduct near the Port of Tacoma waiting for me to roll in from a 35 day trip to Asia whereupon it would be put into immediate service carrying me on a full day’s worth of errands before being returned to its place just before we cast off for another run. It made my life a lot easier and I was glad I had it, but when I gave up the sea for life as a college man I let the car go.

I won’t say I didn’t enjoy the old car. It had a sort of honest, upright styling that seemed so old and outdated at the time and so enviably classic today. But looking back, I’m not sure now if I should have purchased it. There is something sacred about a man’s dying wishes and his desire to be there for his son after he is gone. It doesn’t matter if his widow and her new husband, or even the son himself thinks different, the man’s desire to help his son into manhood should have been honored. It’s sad to think that his final act of love was worth just $800. Sadder still that, in the end, I may be the only one who remembers it.

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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Reminder: Win A ’99 Skyline GTR JDM Sales Book Tue, 26 Nov 2013 20:50:21 +0000 book

With the original post that explains how you can win a hardcover sales brochure for the 1999 Nissan Skyline GTR now buried a couple of pages deep, I thought I would give you this reminder that the contest is still open and runs until Thanksgiving Day. Originally, I asked The Best & Brightest to look through the last year’s worth of articles and share their favorites but have, upon reflection, decided that may be a barrier to entry to some of the people who have only recently joined our nonexclusive club. If you have been waiting to do less and win more, here’s your chance – respond to either this or that previous article and sometime on Thanksgiving Day I will throw your name in a hat with all the others and choose a winner. One entry per person, please.

As I mentioned in that earlier article, I received this book from one of my students who worked for Nissan when I was teaching English in Kyoto back in the day. It has remained safely on my book shelf ever since and is in perfect condition – no stuck together pages or dried out boogars. Based on a little research it seems that these books are rare on this side of the Pacific and the only one I found was being sold on Ebay for around $40.

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Tell Us What You Liked, Maybe Win Something Cool Sat, 23 Nov 2013 18:35:28 +0000 book

111 articles. I’m a little surprised by that number. Some months ago, when I submitted my snippet to TTAC’s Future Writers’ Contest, I had no real idea that it would lead to a regular place on these hallowed pages. Like a lot of you, I had read TTAC for years and even commented from time to time, but until that contest began I had never thought about becoming a contributor. I am not an industry insider nor do I have any real insight into car design, manufacturing, sales or even repairs. I am just a regular guy who loves cars. Still, I knew I could write and so when the contest came up I thought I would go ahead and send in a piece to see how I stacked up. I’ve always had a way with words and I figured I would win hands down – boy was I wrong about that, I didn’t even win my own day. Still, I received enough votes to get a full try-out and once I got the editors’ email addresses I just kept on sending them stories until they gave me access to the back side of the site. For some reason no one has told me to stop and now, whether you like me or not, you are stuck with me.

With Thanksgiving just a few short days away I’ve been looking back over the past year and thinking about all those things I have to be thankful for. Being able to write for TTAC is high on that list. This is a special place with an incredibly diverse readership. We come from many nations and all walks of life. Some of us have spent our lives designing, building, selling, repairing or recycling cars while others are just getting started. Like all families we speak the truth to each other and sometimes we fight. Some of us don’t really like each other but at the end of the day, though we may go away mad, we always come back. I’m damn proud to be a part of that.


Yesterday when I was going through the many Japanese books on the family bookshelf I came across something that I had forgotten about, a hard backed sales brochure for the 1999 R34 Skyline GTR. Whether or not you can actually read it, it is a beautiful book, with many wonderful photos of a truly awesome car. I thought I might write and tell you all about it, how I received it from a student who was an instructor at Nissan’s Technical College (Nissan Gakuen) and how I have quite literally carried it all around the world for more than a decade. But then I thought, rather than write an article and then return it to its shelf where it will surely be forgotten, why not give it to someone?


And so dear friends, here is your opportunity to own this special bit of history. Of course, to get it, you are going to have to do a little work. In line with the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, click through the past year’s worth of articles and choose your favorites. In your comments, tell us why the article your chose hit-home, what you liked about it. Easy, right? On Thanksgiving Day, in between the parade, dinner and the pumpkin pie, I’ll decide the winner and the book will be mailed to you the following day.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Best and Brightest, friends, Romans, countrymen thank you for giving me your time and attention over this past year. It is my continued pleasure and a true privilege to have the opportunity to write for you each week. Have a wonderful and a safe holiday season.

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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Pride Before the Fall Tue, 19 Nov 2013 20:38:27 +0000 GSXR1100

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

They say that most people who die in accidental shootings are killed by “unloaded guns.” I would imagine that most people who die on motorcycles are riding relatively “safe” bikes. You know the kind, usually big and slow. The ones that inspire confidence in their riders. The GSXR was the opposite of a “safe” bike. It was big, powerful and with a short wheelbase was exceedingly ill-mannered at slow speeds. On the move it was roughly sprung and, despite the steering damper affixed to the bars, prone to a bit of headshake when you laid on the power.

Still, on the smooth pavement of the Japanese expressway, the bike was a marvel of precision engineering. The slightest input translated into immediate action. A simple turn of the wrist became instant acceleration. A modest pull of the brake lever would slow even the most determined head-long rush with surprising aplomb. The GSXR was a true thoroughbred and, when it was doing what it was built to do, the division between man and machine was nonexistent. Like living thoroughbreds, however, it could be sensitive and fickle, too.

The problem began with the slightest of judders when I rolled on the throttle. The bike still surged forward upon command, but the edge wasn’t there and I noticed the change immediately. The problem was more pronounced the next time out. As I hit the gas, the bike stumbled as it came up to speed. Over time, these little vibrations became a full-on epileptic fit as the bike surged and shook whenever I added more than just a smidgen of gas. I knew I would have to address the situation and ran, one at a time, through the possible problems.


Sportbikes are a pain in the ass to work on. Like an old muscle car, the premise of a sportbike is simple – take the biggest, most powerful engine you have and stuff it into the lightest, smallest package you can. Needless to say, clearance is limited and getting to the various bits and pieces I needed to work with proved to be a problem. I started by replacing the spark plugs but there was no effect. next, I made certain the fuel petcock was working and that no lines were pinched before finally deciding to access the air filter.

I hated the idea of opening the air filter. Located behind the carbs, under the gas tank and in the area that normally rested directly between my thighs, it was easy to see but next to impossible to get open. To make matters worse, the airbox, like so many other things on my bike was modified as well. To get into it, I had to pull the gas tank and seat and then disconnect several electrical connections before pulling the battery and then the battery box. After that I had to use a stubby screw driver to unfasten several screws and then another to loosen the large clamp that held on a single, large filter element. It took time, effort and a lot of scraped knuckles but I managed to do it without losing my sanity.

Once it was out, the filter didn’t appear to be especially dirty and so I figured that I had gone down yet another false path. Regardless, I washed it out in a bucket of fresh gasoline and started the tedious process of putting the bike back together. It took time, but when it as done the bike fired right up and idled fine. Grabbing my helmet, I wheeled the bike out of its parking spot and and headed for an access road that ran along beneath the expressway close to the Port of Yokohama.


At the first stoplight I checked for the cops and grabbed a handful of throttle. The old bike surged strongly as it shot its way towards the redline. I grabbed second gear and held the throttle wide open. Able to breathe correctly for the first time in a long while, the old bike ate up the road without missing a beat. Shifting into third I got off the gas and let the bike slow before working it through a series of roll-on accelerations to make sure the problem was fully resolved. It was and I felt good.

A couple of miles out I turned around and headed home. I stayed off the gas a let the bike chug along in the higher gears. It was a relief that my notoriously finicky bike was working so well and I decided at the last moment to head through the port facility to a small park at the base of the harbor light house. The Port of Yokohama is a sprawling place and the central road is easily six lanes wide. Normally filled with idling trucks waiting to pick-up or drop-off loads at the port it is, for the most part, a featureless, pancake-flat stretch of pavement split by frequent railroad tracks. At its far end, the road meets a high cement sea-wall and curves around the barrier in a set of sweeping S-curves. Given the width of the road and the lack of traffic I hit them hard and slipped through them without a hitch.

At the lighthouse, I turned around and headed once again towards. It was a nice day and I wasn’t eager to be back inside so I went slowly, trudging along in the higher gears, the engine stumbling along just above idle. As the S-curves approached I dropped down a gear but the bike’s engine abruptly died. Unphased, I pulled int he clutch, downshifted again and dumped the clutch to bump-start the bike. The engine sprang back to life and I rolled smoothly through the first corner, righted the bike and then leaned into the next. It was there, mid-apex, that the engine died again.

Things happened fast. The back wheel locked and the tire began to slide. To prevent a “low-side,” a type of accident where the back tire of a bike slips out from underneath you and leaves you sliding on your ass, I grabbed the clutch and got the back wheel rolling again. But skidding loads a bike’s suspension and, as the back wheel regained traction, the rear spring was free to unleash its pent-up energy. As the spring sprung, the bike bucked, turning into an angry bronco as it attempted – and then succeeded – in throwing me off.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Free of its rider, the bike continued to follow its momentum over onto its far side while I was thrown, still in seated position with my legs beneath me, high into the air almost like a fighter pilot being ejected from his stricken aircraft. The odd thing was that, despite the amazing height I achieved, my forward momentum was not really that great and I had let go of the bars quickly enough that I hadn’t been thrown head over heels. I straightened my body and landed hard on my feet, breaking into a run as soon as I touched down. In a mere moment I was safe on the sidewalk looking back at my stricken bike as it attempted to disgorge the contents of its fuel tank into the street.

Adrenaline pumping, I ran back to the big bike and levered it back onto its wheels. One of the handle bars was twisted and a side mirror broken off, but otherwise the bike looked to be in decent shape. After pushing it to the side of the road, I pulled off my helmet, bent the bar back to where I could use it and tried to refire the bike. The starter growled for a fraction of a second and then clicked off, the battery was obviously dead. How odd. I pulled off the seat and looked to see if there was anything I could do. The problem was immediately obvious, in my rush to complete the project I had failed to reconnect one vital part of the bike’s charging system and had made the entire run on battery power alone. I cursed my own stupidity.

I snapped the wires back together and tried bump starting the bike. It took several runs up and down the flat street and by the time the old bike eventually fired I was nearly sick to my stomach with exhaustion. I waited to recover while the bike idled unevenly and, when the worst had passed, I clicked it into gear and limped home. It was a walk of shame.

In 20 years of hard, fast riding I had never had an accident on the street. Sure, once or twice I had put my foot down wrong at a stoplight and fallen over, but I had never been thrown or had any kind of real accident. I had been extremely fortunate. There was no real damage to the old bike and the only injury I suffered was to my own pride. You know pride, right? It’s that thing that comes before the fall. It’s the one injury that, I think, can never fully heal.


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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TTAC Author Gets Schooled: Tries Again Thu, 14 Nov 2013 15:47:33 +0000 engine3web

Earlier this week I wrote a little article about the SEMA show and those weird little auto add-ons that so many people choose to stick all over their otherwise decent looking rides. In it, I contrasted performance add-ons with “auto accessories” and tried to poke a little fun at those plastic chrome doo-dads and the people who abuse them. It wasn’t really intended to be a heavy “think piece.” It was supposed to be light, fun and maybe elicit some cheerful banter from the best and brightest. Nice and easy, right? Hell no. As usual, the TTAC readership doesn’t make anything easy…

No excuses, the premise of my article was silly. I said performance add-ons were a good thing and that auto accessories were by their very nature, stupid. Despite that, a couple of you guys took the ball I punted so lazily downfield and ran it right back up the field. The points you made are really good and since my earlier article wasn’t intended to start a serious discussion I’m not sure they got the attention they deserved. But you made me think, and when someone does that I figure they might make others think too. That means another article and, hopefully, a fuller discussion.

El Carlismo en Castilla-La Mancha Image courtesy of

El Carlismo en Castilla-La Mancha
Image courtesy of

In response to my assertion that performance mods were justifiable while appearance mods were not, Carlisimo wrote:

I scoff at mods that looked tacked on, as many of them do. But I understand them. Even a small mod can make your car feel fresh for a little while, and that’s a good feeling. Especially when you know your car isn’t everything you’d like it to be. And I have a soft spot for underglow that I won’t admit to out loud.

Those modders are more honest than those of us who install performance mods. What could be sillier than increasing our car’s top speed from 137 to 140mph when we never exceed 80? Oooh, my coilovers save me a second when I drive around in a circle on a loop in the middle of nowhere. Best $1,000 evar! (I did install coilovers on my Miata. I like them, but it wasn’t a purchase I try to justify.) In contrast, visual mods make their difference 100% of the time, including when parked, and in heavy traffic. That’s value.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Athos Noble wrote:

Personally I don’t care, even in the most offensive of the cases. And I saw plenty of those in Venezuela. Here not so much, but they’re still out there… Brembo brake caliper covers anyone? chintzy 20″ chrome wheels? As far as I’m concerned, people can spend their money in whatever they want.

For example, I would use the aftermarket to upgrade my headlamps to projectors, complete with angel eyes. I also would like a fancier stereo and some “sport” seats would spice up my current ride. Some 18″ wheels would make it look more actual too. And retrofitting later model suspension bits would make it drive nicer. A turbo kit would certainly give it more oomph and coupling it with a LPG kit would make that “affordable” to run. I could sort those issues via OEM bits, aftermarket or a wrecker.

There were other comments as well, and while they were all great these are the two I want to focus on. Part of me wants to follow Carlisimo’s point to its logical conclusion and decry any form of performance add-on for the street but Athos raises a great point when he talks about improving a lot of your car’s basic characteristics through the aftermarket and selective scavenging. It’s clearly not the black-and-white issue I tried to lay out in that earlier, sillier article and I am hoping this new discussion allows us to fully explore the topic.

I’m curious, what are good add-ons for the street? What add-ons have you mounted over the years? What did you hope to gain and did the results meet your expectations? I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Photo Thomas Kreutzer

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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Plain Jane to Bling Queen Courtesy of SEMA and the Miracle of Plastic Chrome Tue, 12 Nov 2013 15:29:48 +0000

Image courtesy of

I hear the SEMA show was last week. You know the SEMA show, right? It’s that important aftermarket manufacturers’ show held each autumn in Las Vegas where various companies try to pitch their products to customizers and retailers. Like all good automotive trade shows, SEMA features hundreds of companies and dozens upon dozens of custom vehicles. The fancy, hand-built cars draw people to the displays and form a pretty canvas on which a company can display its wares. But like any fashion show there is a hidden truth. The special parts on this or that big-name builder’s hot rod won’t have the same effect on your own, more mundane vehicle. No, for most of us beauty is an illusion; the phrase “lipstick on a pig” exists for a reason.

The SEMA show is a big deal because there is a lot of money at stake. The Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association predicts 2014 sales to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 248 Billion dollars so it makes sense that the manufacturers go all-in when it comes to the Las Vegas show. Why wouldn’t they? If they have a unique product this is their chance to get it to the consumer. My only question is who actually buys this crap?

Now I’m not talking about performance parts – not genuine ones at least. If you drop a bunch of money on a set of headers or a cold air intake and you buy something that looks clean and neat I’m not going to criticize you. A carbon fiber hood saves weight and if it just happens to look really cool on the black and white Twin-Cam Corolla you have tarted up with JDM Trueno badges I won’t laugh – much. But that’s because I believe in performance modifications. Every enthusiast knows the Feds have regulated all the fun out of the business and that new cars are tuned too lean in order to meet strict emissions guidelines. A reflashed control module and a new exhaust just puts a car right back where it should be and it’s only natural that you should want to get everything you pay for, right? Right?

Photo courtesy of

It’s the other stuff that I wonder about, the stick-on bits of bling and little doo-dads to decorate your car’s interior. Larger modifications too, things like Lambo doors and weird body kits. The economy has been tough these last few years and people are hurting. Still, for whatever reason people seem bound and determined to still squander what little they have. What is the point of buying these things? How much time do you spend in your car that you need to have the insides entirely decorated in Hello Kitty seat covers and lace throw pillows?

We’re all car folks here. We all love our cars and if you are like me you probably spend hours cleaning and detailing your ride to make sure it looks its best. But buying this stick-on crap is over the top. When you face St. Peter at the Pearly Gates he’s sure to ask you why you put those fake Buick porholes on your Saturn. What are you going to say then? Unless you are under 18 or a Japanese “gyaru” there’s no excuse.

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 Special Sort Of Mediocrity Sun, 10 Nov 2013 13:00:01 +0000 Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

My 1974 Nova was as utilitarian as they come. It was a low optioned base model with a 250 CID inline six mounting a one barrel carb and backed by a three speed manual with a column mounted shift lever. It had so few options that on the inside it had a rubber floors, vinyl seats and a pegboard for a headliner. Outside there was no decoration, nary a pinstripe nor so much as a strip of trim to protect the car’s flanks from door dings. It was a plain, gutless, spiritless little car that inspired no passion or love from anyone other than the 17 year old boy who owned it. To me it was, and still is, one of the greatest cars ever built.

We see them everywhere, plain, utilitarian tools that carry people to and fro without a bit of drama. Although our eyes register them we seldom pay them any real attention, but if we took the time to really look we would be shocked at just how many there are. They are all around us, owned by respectable people who need a good, solid car and nothing more. If other, better, cars are like fine food and drink for the connoisseur, these are the cars that fill the bellies of the masses. They are the bread and butter, the meat and potatoes of the road.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Looking over the list of cars that I have owned over the years, it turns out that most of them fall into the meat and potatoes category. Oh sure, sometimes I added some ketchup or steak sauce to the meal– the turbo on my otherwise proletarian Dodge Shadow, for example – but for the most part I have always stayed true to my working class roots. I have never owned a Porsche, a Mercedes, a Jaguar or an Audi, nothing exotic at all, really. I did for a time own a JDM Twin Turbo Supra, but, truth be told, it was old and thanks to the odd way the Japanese used car market works, I only paid around $600 for it. No, most of the time I have owned fairly pedestrian, middle of the road, mass market cars. That’s a sad thing for an auto enthusiast who writes for a car blog to admit right? Bullshit, I’ve had a good time and I’ve owned some great cars.

A car that hits all the right spots is a glorious thing. It doesn’t matter if it is old, out of style, under-optioned or unpopular, if it gets the job done and makes you smile it is something to be enthusiastic about. I remember getting up the day after we brought that Nova home and looking out the window to make sure that I hadn’t dreamed the whole thing. I’ve done the same thing almost a dozen times since and, no matter what was in the driveway, each time I’ve thrown open the curtain it has been like Christmas morning.

See anything interesting in this photo? Image courtesy of

See anything interesting in this photo?
Image courtesy of

Novas like mine once graced driveways and garages all across middle America. When their original owners moved on, they were passed to kids like me. Some were hot rodded, some were crashed and some were simply used until they could no longer be used. Over time their numbers dwindled. Most of those that have survived into the present day have been performance variants, and plain Jane, straight-six three-on-the-tree cars like mine are a rare breed. It’s sad, but oddly appropriate too. Like the people they served, us average work-a-day Americans who struggled through life, who have had our ups and downs, raised our families as best we could and worked to be, above all else, dependable good citizens, they made the world work. Like the greatest generation, they are remembered as a group for all they have done and those remaining individuals are now respected senior citizens who garner praise and admiration wherever they go.

Today I will fire up my little Pontiac Torrent and go somewhere. I don’t know where yet, but when I do I’ll do it atop scratchy cloth seats and surrounded by hard plastic. It won’t be a remarkable experience, but my trip will be completed in economy, warmth and relative comfort. I’ll do the same thing tomorrow and the day after and for years to come until the Pontiac becomes so worn and unreliable that I am forced to move on to something newer. Perhaps then I will pass it on to my son or one of my daughters. If we do our jobs right, it might even live to see the day when just seeing it makes people smile and remember that better, simpler time in their lives when their government really listened to them, politicians were honest and children were respectful. Until that time comes, I’ll be sure to give it a little pat on the hood once in a while to let it know I appreciate it in the here and now. We are, after all, the same.


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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Family Jewels: What Dribbled Down To You? Sat, 02 Nov 2013 15:08:17 +0000 Photo Courtesy of

Photo Courtesy of

Today, my wacky morning DJ, right after he said democracy was a joke and called me “dude,” hit us with this fun fact: 39% of young people choose the same brand of car their parents drove. I’m not sure if that is impressive as the previous day’s fact, that 20 million pounds of candy corn are sold annually in the United States, but it made me think about my father’s preference in vehicles and whether or not I had followed suit. Despite the fact that my old man had pretty good taste in cars, the answer, oddly enough, is “no.”

Like the late, great Jean Sheppard once wrote about his own father, my father was an Oldsmobile man. Of course today Oldsmobile is as dead as the Huppmobile and unless I want to reach back into history and buy one on the used market, I’m never going to own the same brand of car my dad did. I have owned a few other GM cars over the years, a GMC Jimmy, my current Pontiac Torrent, a Geo Metro and a few well used Novas I found dead in people’s yards but, truth be told, I am not GM guy. I, for whatever reason, am a Mopar guy.

I’m not really sure why I settled on a Dodge Shadow back in early 1988. My buddy Rick had an old Dodge Charger for a while, but other than that I really had no experience with the brand and looking back there were some really great cars on the market for similar money. I could have had a Toyota Corolla Twin-Cam, a Honda CRX like my friend John bought, Nissan had two or three little coupes on the market including the Turbo 200SX and Chevrolet offered both the Baretta and the Z24 Cavalier as direct competitors to the little Dodge Turbos. For whatever reason, I passed them all by and went to my local Dodge shop.

Which would you choose?

Which would you choose?

My experience with the Dodge wasn’t entirely trouble free, but considering the amount of abuse I dished out the little car held up remarkably well. As a result I have always thought of myself as a “Dodge guy” and always shop their products when I am looking to purchase a new vehicle. The 300M I owned and my recent purchase of our new Town & Country have their roots in my positive, early experiences with the brand and I think that more Chrysler products will eventually follow.

But will my kids be Chrysler fans? Given all the recent mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures, I‘m not sure it really matters. Eventually, they’ll have a chance to take the controls and decide whatever they like on their own, and my only hope is that they feel the same passion for cars and driving that I do. If they get that, then I’ll consider my job as one well done.

Let me ask though, how much does you parents’ brand loyalty or ownership experience play into your own brand affinity? Are you loyal to a single brand at all? A single country’s product? I’d like to hear about it.

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 Feds Didn’t Kill Pontiac, I did. Fri, 01 Nov 2013 11:00:10 +0000

Photo courtesy of

So I read earlier this week that Bob Lutz is saying that the US Government killed Pontiac. He says that GM had big plans to rescue the struggling brand with innovative, rear-wheel designs that included small performance cars that would have set the Germans back on their heels. Had these plans come to fruition, he hints, enthusiasts would have been busting down the doors and the brand would have quickly returned to good health. Sounds like new golden age for Pontiac was just around the corner. And it would have worked too, if it weren’t for those meddling Feds. That’s what Bob says anyhow, but I’m not so sure. The way I remember it, I had a hand in killing Pontiac, too.

Oh sure, there were probably some government guys there at the end but they just turned off the machine that was keeping Pontiac alive. I’m one of the guys who put it in the hospital. I’ll tell you honestly that I didn’t want to kill the brand, I actually really liked it, – well I liked what they said they were building anyhow – but the truth is that they never delivered. Now that I think about it, they sort of had it coming…

Click here to view the embedded video.

By the time I started buying new cars in the 1980s, Pontiac’s heyday was already long gone. Even so, if you had walked into your local Buick/Pontiac/GMC shop smack-dab in the middle of the spandex decade you would have found lots of interesting models to choose from including a mid-engine two seat sports car, a muscle car, a RWD personal luxury coupe, a smaller, more modern FWD personal luxury coupe, a full-size RWD luxury barge, a generic FWD mid-sizer, a generic RWD mid-sizer and a couple of different economy cars wearing the Pontiac arrowhead. Hindsight tells us that some of these cars were less than stellar, of course, but for the most part they were a step up from the darkest days of the malaise era and owning a new Pontiac was something a young man could be proud of. If I’d had my way, I’d have taken one home, but a person making a whopping $3.35 an hour really shouldn’t be buying new cars and so I didn’t.

Just five years later, much of that formerly huge Pontiac line-up had gone away. With the exception of the very dated Firebird all the rear wheel drivers had been dropped and customers were left with, in addition to the aforementioned F body, a choice between the Bonneville, 6000, Grand-Am, Grand-Prix, Sunbird, the Transsport min-van and the foreign built Lemans and Firefly subcompacts. With the exception of the Turbo Grand-Prix, there is nothing of interest there for me and so I stayed comfortably at home, my money in my pocket.

Click here to view the embedded video.

From this point in the article I could talk about how Pontiac’s line-up changed every so often and how, basically, they never really made anything else I ever wanted. I won’t do that because you’re probably already familiar with the cars Pontiac sold over the past couple of decades and you don’t need me to lead you on a walk through year after year of silly looking designs. So, cutting to the chase, I’m simply going to say that over the past two decades there were only a few Pontiacs that really got my attention. They are: The WS6 Trans-Am, which was pretty on the outside but cramped on the inside, later model Bonnevilles, which, depending upon your angle of approach are either really cool looking or a hopeless mish-mash of bodylines coming together at odd points, the Vibe wagon, which is actually a Toyota and the Torrent CUV, (which I did eventually buy) which is really a badge engineered Chevrolet Equinox. That’s all, folks.

Those rear wheel drivers Bob Lutz was depending upon to save Pontiac? Yeah, they weren’t even on my radar. Sure, I saw their pictures in the magazines but the G8 and the GTO were not what I was looking for. To put it plainly, the GTO looked bland and the G8 was a modern take on the 1972 Dodge Polara – big and high powered, but not really the tough-looking upscale luxury sedan I would have liked. OK, I know that’s insulting, I actually kind of like the old-school Polara so I don’t want you Dodge boys getting on my case, but you get my point. These cars weren’t going to save Pontiac and, while they were good enough that didn’t deserve to have their runs cut short, they weren’t ever going to chalk up huge sales numbers either.

Click here to view the embedded video.

So, there you have it. I stood dead center in the middle of Pontiac’s target demographic for almost three decades and the only car they managed to sell me was a badge engineered Chevy. (Maybe they should put that on the back of TTAC’s next T-shirt.) Bob Lutz can point his finger at the evil Feds and talk pie-in-the-sky Pontiacs all day long, but the truth is that Pontiac let us down year after year and eventually we cared so little about the brand that on the day it died most of us didn’t even know it was sick. Instead of blaming the evil Feds, GM needs to think about what really happened, otherwise history could repeat itself.

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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Hammer Time: Old Tech / New Tech Tue, 29 Oct 2013 11:00:18 +0000

Ah, the good old days. A time when smartphones were just PDA’s with hormone imbalances.

A time of basic cell phones, brick-thick cameras, and camcorders barely big enough to require a hand strap.

I remember all this old tech like it was yesterday, and for one simple reason: I still used all of them until recently.

Until about a month ago, I used the same basic cell phone I got for free back in 2008.

Absolutely nothing special, the bare bones MetroPCS phone enabled one-handed dialing and texting without even looking at the screen.

One thumb and dome. I mean, done.

That primitive device was brutally brilliant for yours truly because it was essentially “dope resistant”. It withstood a 45-MPH launch from  a Lincoln Town Car’s hood with nary a scratch.  I lost it dozens of times, once for two days. Yet I would invariably find it again and continue to beat it like a red-headed stepchild.

In time it was scratched, kicked, dropped, thrown, and beaten all to hell.

I treasured it. With each passing month, that miniature screen would get a little bit more faded and dim. Sometimes – not often…maybe once a month – the screen would freeze up or a button would stick.

No worries. At least not for a guy in a time warp. Even a few minutes of downtime each month was not nearly enough for me to invest in modern smartphones. Five-hundred dollars for a friggin’ phone? Ha! Not from this frugal zealot!

Then something happened…


I left it on top of a Subaru Outback and gave the keys to one of my customers. After a ten-minute test drive I heard the words that would change the course of my technological future.

“Steve, I really like this Outback. But I heard this strange clunking sound when I made my first turn. Are the CV joints okay?”

“Ummmm… I think it was my cell phone.”

A futile search on the nearby intersection yielded nothing more than a shocking amount of litter, and mild amusement from the passersby.

The time had come.

It was September 19th, 2013, and the cost of not having a phone for my business was far more dire than the relatively low cost of buying a good phone…a damn good phone…maybe even…the best phone?

So I powered up my fully-functional 2001 Pentium 4 with Windows XP and Googled “cell phones” and “best.”  A relentless assault of one-worded responses confronted me:


It was not because the iPhone was better than the Galaxy S4, which was better than the HTC One, which was…. what the hell are all these things?

No, it was because Apple was releasing the new iPhone 5C and 5S models the next day.

So I went to Wal-Mart.

And the AT&T store.

And T-Mobile.

And Best Buy.

But the iPhone 5S was nowhere to be found. It was worse than Chrysler’s release of the new Jeep Cherokee. I couldn’t find this thing in my neck of the woods to save my ass from first base.

I had to do something, anything, to get a decent cell phone.

I Facebooked. I called friends. I contacted people that I’m not even sure are my friends anymore.

One guy offered me a phone, but batteries were no longer available for that (2007) model.  However, the teenage girl working at the battery store was my savior.   She ducked in the back and emerged with something small, pink, and adorned with a Hello Kitty sticker.

I quietly sighed, but left with a new battery and the following phone for $40.


The damn thing’s called a lollipop.

Back in 2010 these phones were state-of-the-art…for the low end. But it could do pictures, voice, and even send your photos off to Kodak.

Kodak! Damn!  I was hitting the big time!

Within two days, I had it deciphered and was busy texting and calling away. The flip design would keep the sub-two-inch screen in stellar shape. All would be well again in my world.

Until, that is, I attended a nearby media event. Here, I realized brutal truth of my Luddite life.

I was the sole guy at the event without a smartphone. Not only that, I was the only journalist not typing away before the event began.

When the new car rolled out, they simply  snapped photos with their phones and sent them.

To online publications…to their social media pages…and probably a half-dozen other places thanks to various apps.

Me? I go and unsheath a 2005,  5-megapixel Sony digital camera, whose lens extends like a three-inch probe. I wait for the right exposure, take two pictures, and then the thing spontaneously seizes up in my hand like the relic it is.

Confession time: It wasn’t always like this for me; I used to be a hardcore technophile.

Party on Wayne!

Party on Wayne!

Twenty years ago, I was the first student at my college with a laptop. Thanks to it helping me overcome a fine motor impairment, my grades skyrocketed.  That’s Wayne by the way…

Technology was a beautiful thing in my life, and I almost accepted an offer with an IT consulting firm before my love for cars took over.

The car business, and the interrelated world of auto auctions, became my career, and I eventually became a ”tool guy” technologically.

If the hammer works, just keep on using it. Because “new” means “money”. And “nearly-new” means “nearly free.” And “old” means durable and often perfect for my limited needs.


A lot of long-time auto enthusiasts look at cars in much the same way. Older vehicles, especially those past a decade or even two, can perform the same functions as new models for a fraction of the cost.

Then again, you do miss a few pieces of technology as you go back in time: navigation, stability control, airbags. Everything from the steel polymers used to make vehicles, to the maintenance requirements for a daily driver, have changed substantially within the last ten years.

So here’s my question: Where do you draw the automotive line between old and new? Does a car with ABS, traction control, and dent resistant panels, like a 1992 Saturn, earn the right to be seen as a contemporary? Or does it have to Sync, Link, CUE and Think with mobile and hands-free technologies?

Where do you draw that line?

Oh, and if you happen to have a spare gold iPhone 5S with 30 times more gigabytes than my “pre-Ipod” computer, feel free to let me know.

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