The Thanksgiving leftovers are still on the table when the Christmas tree goes up at the Kreutzer house. Wherever we go in the world I am determined that some traditions will survive and Christmas is one of the constants that my children can count upon no matter how hard it might be for Santa to find us some years. We have a fair amount of decorations, mostly indoor stuff, and when the season has ended I usually spend New Year’s Day pulling everything down and carefully wrapping each piece in its own individual piece of newspaper. The newspaper wrapping is just as important to me as the decorations themselves because I know that in the years to come, those crumpled bits of newsprint will become little time capsules that will show where we were and what we thought was important. One thing I am always sure to include are the car ads.
The first rays of the morning sun painted the predawn sky in glorious hues of orange and yellow as Bill stepped out of the house and took a deep breath of the cool pine scented air. He paused for a moment on his porch and took a sip of hot coffee from the large plastic travel cup he habitually carried when he had to be up early and surveyed the scene. To the East the Cascades rose up high and rugged against the sky, the sun on their far side striking a line of fire upon the barren rock at their uppermost rim, their flanks clad in a sea of evergreens split by the straight line of the occasional roadway and large barren squares where the loggers had been at work harvesting the bounty of the forest. As unsightly as the scarred tracts of land looked the trees would return in time, Bill knew. The mountains were eternal.
In the next couple of days Autumn will officially begin. For most of us, however, Summer ended back on Labor Day, that final day of freedom before kids all over the country had to get up early, stuff their new school supplies into their backpacks and board those big yellow nuisances to all of us who have a daily commute. Anyone with kids, kids, kids is tied to home so, for all but a privileged few, the season of great cross country road trips is at an end.
Sometime around 1977, the little orange Opel Kadette wagon that had carried the Stork family through the lean times of the Arab oil embargo disappeared from its place above the truly enormous oil stain on their carport and a midsize Chevrolet two door arrived. The kids in our neighborhood were unimpressed. It was, to our eyes, just another in the long line of well used cars that Wayne had brought home and, while we had all hoped he would bring home something cool, we were disappointed that he had chosen a Chevelle. They were quite literally everywhere, most often driven by little old ladies who plowed the country roads below the posted 35 mph limit, and as such could not possibly be of interest to us. Even if it did have white racing stripes and a bulging hood with a little flapping door that opened and closed when you stepped on the gas, we were all in agreement that Wayne’s most recent choice was a total disappointment.
The number 42 Dodge Charger was running well. Although it had qualified in 9th position with a top speed of only 177 miles per hour, during the race it was clocked as high as 188 miles per hour and its driver, an amateur racer who made his living singing cowboy ballads at the Grand Ole Opry, was really mixing it up with the professional drivers. The Winston 500 was a big deal and, as one of the premier NASCAR races, there as a lot at stake. Talladega was one of those legendary places that captured the imagination and the attention of every race fan in the nation was focused on the event. For older, more experienced drivers a good performance meant job security while for the new guys, like Darrell Waltrip who was making his first ever Sprint Cup start in the race, a good performance could mark a man out from his peers and maybe garner the attention of one of the big teams. Given the expense, the effort, and the experience that it took to even field a car in the race, how was it that a country and western singer in a car paid for mostly out of his own pocket could be running so well? The answer is simple, he was cheating. Read More >
The Turbo Dodge Shadow that I purchased in February of 1988 lived hard and fast but, thanks in part to my strict adherence to a maintenance schedule and my belief in the power of synthetic motor oil, it didn’t die young. By 1996 the little red car had more than 135K miles on the clock and a whole lot of hard fought-street racing victories – and maybe just a few losses – under its belt. After I changed the head gasket somewhere around the 80K mile mark, the car suffered a couple of broken timing belts, caused mostly by my inability to correctly adjust the belt’s tension, but otherwise had few problems. Still, as the miles added up, I became concerned about the car’s condition and eventually purchased a Geo Metro to take over daily driving duties. Later, after sliding the Metro off an icy highway, I traded up to a K5 Jimmy, but kept the Shadow as a my own special toy. The Jimmy came with a big loan payment, however, and all it took to totally derail my carefully balanced finances was a lay-off. Before I knew it, I was in over my head and flat broke. Stuff had to go. Read More >
The Earth has been made small by air travel. Despite the barriers thrown up by airport security, it is easy to step aboard a jet aircraft and, just hours later, emerge a full 12 time zones away, quite literally on the other side of the planet. Ground travel is nowhere near as fast or efficient. You can count the few, truly great, distance-spanning routes on one hand and have two fingers left over. They are: The Trans Siberian Railway, traversable by train, the Silk Road, traversable by camel, and the Pan American Highway which is, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the longest “motorable roadway” on Earth.
At almost 30,000 miles in length, the Pan American Highway links two of the Earth’s four corners. It traverses 18 countries as it wends its way from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska on the extreme Northern edge of the North American Continent to the city of Ushuaia on the very tip of South America’s Isla Grand de Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina. In some places, the road is gravel, in others hard cement, and in still others it is a simple dirt path. In one place, it’s even imaginary. Yes I said imaginary, because, you see, the truth is that the Pan American Highway is a fraud. Thanks to 57 mile stretch of swampy, dense jungle that forms the border between Colombia and Panama, an area known as the Darien Gap, the Northern and Southern portions of the Highway are not joined together. That fact, however, mattered little when, in 1961, Chevrolet decided that their recently introduced Corvair would make the trip, road or not. Read More >
Collectors love objects with a link to the darker parts of human history. Whether it is a page of Hitler’s stationary or one of John Wayne Gacy’s clown paintings, if something has a macabre connection, some people simply must have it. If you are one of those people, now is your chance to combine your car hobby with that “other” thing you do by purchasing one of the automotive industry’s most infamous products. Read More >
Saturday was a day of reckoning for my Ford Freestar. As detailed in an article I wrote last week, my Freestar required a trip to the dealer to repair rust related issues that affected the rear wheel wells and the third row seat latches and the cost of the repairs were covered by Ford under a recall issued earlier this year. I promised then that, once the repair was completed, I would report back to you on how everything turned out. Read More >
The used baby-shit green AMC Gremlin arrived in the Stork’s driveway about the time their long lived 1967 Chrysler Newport made its last tip out of the driveway and into its final resting place in the forested acreage behind the house. The oil shock had meant a lot of changes, but Wayne had been willing to deal with the high prices so long as it hadn’t meant purchasing a new car, but by the time the old Chrysler finally gave up the ghost it was a given that the next vehicle he purchased would be smaller and more fuel efficient. Compared to the Chrysler, the Gremlin was smaller and more fuel efficient, but compared to my family’s Opel Kadett it was an anachronistic piece of junk. It’s a wonder it lasted an entire year before it broke down. Read More >
In March Ford announced another recall for their Ford Freestar minivans. The last time this happened I took my Freestar to my local dealership for transmission work and a few weeks later ended up replacing the entire transmission at my own cost when the part suffered an “unrelated problem.” This time Ford tells me that my van may suffer from corrosion in the wheel wells and that the affected areas include the third row seat mount. Presumably, the metal under the seat rusts out which could prevent the seat from latching properly. The condition, they continued, affects about 196,500 vehicle registered in the United States and that the vehicles most at risk are in states where salt is used on the roads to melt snow in the winter. I made note of the recall but then life intervened and my best laid plans to take the van in for a quick repair evaporated.
Like so many other cities in the American North East, Buffalo’s days as a great manufacturing center appear to be over. With a few notable exceptions, industry has moved on and the result has been closed factories and hard times. Buffalo must change if it hopes to survive and, like so many other cities these days, it is working to redefine itself. That doesn’t mean that it will forget its roots, however, and well it shouldn’t. It is, after all, the town that gave birth to the legendary Pierce-Arrow and thanks to one local collector it even has a museum to celebrate that fact. Now that museum is set to be more impressive than ever.
Happy Canada Day. We here in America Jr. will be spending the day in polite celebration, perhaps a few pages of a Margaret Atwood novel, perhaps a little Tom Cochrane, perhaps two or three fireworks set off in celebration of our continuing success in exiling all our worst citizens to the Los Angeles music industry; perhaps just a little self-reflection on life in a land where most of the population settles at the bottom, leaving huge expanses of airy nothingness above – less a country than a enormous family-sized bag of potato chips.
We build cars here in Canada. We make Hondas and Chevys and Fords and Dodges, and some of them we drive, and some of them you drive, but they’re not really Canadian cars, per se. The ideal of the Canadian car remains the Bricklin SV-1, Canada’s DeLorean. Neat car, that thing, with motorized gullwing doors and an integrated roll-cage. I seem to remember as a kid I had a Transformer that looked just like it. Well actually, considering the SV-1′s issues with acrylics, perhaps it was a Go-Bot.
Anyway, as today is a day for a celebration of all things maple-syrup flavoured, I’d like to take minute or two of your time and talk about a much less well-known Canadian-built car that is extremely interesting and very slightly crappy. It all starts with a man with the quite silly name of Jacques About, and before you ask, no, that is not pronounced “aboot”. Read More >
As I paused in the driveway and waited for the garage door to open, I felt an unexpected presence by my side. Unbeknownst to me, my six year old son had slipped the confines of his booster seat in the rearmost row and made his way forward past his sisters with surprising stealth. Now he stood between my wife and I as we prepared to travel the last few feet of our journey. Read More >
Chrysler’s recent decision to snub a recent NHTSA recall request is big news. I need not restate the facts of the story, if you are a “car guy” and haven’t heard the sordid details, or noticed the dramatic photos of burned out Jeep Grand Cherokees and Liberties posted all over the internet in the past few days, you must live under a rock. With 2.7 million vehicles involved the costs of conducting such a recall would be staggering but, ultimately, inaction may cost the company even more money if consumers lose confidence in the brand. Read More >