The Truth About Cars » 1965 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 19:25:56 +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 » 1965 Junkyard Find: 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Tue, 18 Feb 2014 14:00:19 +0000 10 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinAs most of you know, I have some history with the 1965 full-sized Chevrolet. Back in 1990, when I bought mine, these cars were still very common in high-turnover wrecking yards; this was the result of high production (in fact, more 1965 full-sized Chevrolets were built than any other single year/model of American car in history) and low scrap value. Today, however, shredders that turn scrap cars into quick cash (I recommend this book to anyone curious about the recent technological advances in the scrap-metal field) mean that beat-up old Detroit heaps that aren’t worth restoring get funneled right into The Crusher‘s voracious maw. I find the occasional 60s full-size Chevy in wrecking yards these days, but 25 years ago they were as common as are Chrysler LHs today. That makes today’s find, a rust-and-Bondo-nightmare ’65 Bel Air coupe, even more special.
31 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI found evidence of several distinct applications of body filler on this car. It’s like counting tree rings.
33 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinBecause these cars all leaked around the rear window and trunk weatherstripping and the water ends up pooling here, even the ones from dry Western states rust like this. My ’65 sedan spent lived most of its life in Southern California and had similar rot.
09 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinJust for fun, I decoded the cowl tag. This car was built in the Janesville, Wisconsin plant in the second week of March 1965 (which happens to be the same week the first large contingent of American combat troops arrived in Vietnam). The paint color was Madeira Maroon Metallic, the interior was Fawn cloth and vinyl, and the car came with tinted glass, Powerglide transmission, and padded dash.
18 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe sticker on the inside of the glovebox door indicates that the car was sold by George Irvin Chevrolet in Denver. A little research shows that this dealership— which still used alphanumeric phone numbers after all-numeric dialing became standard— was located at East Colfax and Gaylord, which is just a few miles from the wrecking yard in which I photographed this ’65. The great circle of automotive life, nearly complete.
11 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe fenders came from some other ’65 or ’66 full-size Chevrolet, but chances are this car was built with a 283-cubic-inch small-block anyway.
08 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinA really resourceful Junkyard Finder would have scraped the yuck from this engine and obtained some block and head casting numbers. It’s a 283 or a 327 if it’s original… which it probably isn’t
24 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinRather than research the 197 trillionth small-block Chevy engine built, however, I became much more interested in what was in the trunk.
27 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinDenver newspapers from 1982! Poor Marty Feldman— he died so young.
28 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinMeanwhile, the beginning of the collapse of the Soviet Union was brewing in Poland.
25 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHowever, the Cold War was getting scarier and scarier during its final decade. Those MX missiles loomed large when Able Archer 83 freaked out Brezhnev’s equally doddering successor.
30 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinMitsubishi started selling trucks under its own name (instead of with Dodge badging) in the United States in 1982.
29 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinSo, our car-trunk history lesson tells us that this car got parked for the last time in the early 1980s, then sat outdoors in Colorado for the next few decades before getting sold for scrap.
19 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThat optional padded dash doesn’t look so great after 32 years at 5,280 feet.
32 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinTwo-door big Chevrolets are cool, but you’d end up paying ten grand to make this one worth maybe four grand. A factory 409 or 396 ’65 Impala two-door with some weird options, sure, that’s worth restoring from basket-case condition. This car… well, let’s hope its few remaining usable parts get grabbed before it gets crushed.

This swift, silent, jet-smooth Chevrolet spreads whole mountains, meadows, vales, and streams before enchanted eyes. There’s no way some spacy-ass commercial like this would get by GM’s marketers today, because they know that Americans hit ‘em hard!

01 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 21 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 22 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 23 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 24 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 25 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 26 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 27 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 28 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 29 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 30 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 31 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 32 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 33 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 34 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 35 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 36 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 37 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 38 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 39 - 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]> 52
Junkyard Find: 1965 Triumph Spitfire Tue, 19 Nov 2013 14:00:40 +0000 12 - 1965 Triumph Spitfire Down On The Junkyard -  Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinBy far the most numerous British sports car in junkyards these days— and, in fact, for the last few decades— is the MGB. We’ve seen many of these cars in this series, but today’s find is just the second Junkyard Find Spitfire, after this ’75. The Spitfire had a long production run, 19 years total, but Spitfires just weren’t anywhere near as sturdy as their MGB cousins and most of the non-perfect examples got crushed long ago. Still, every so often a forgotten project gets evicted from a garage or back yard, and that’s probably what this happened to this battered ’65 that I spotted in a San Francisco Bay Area self-service yard last month.
07 - 1965 Triumph Spitfire Down On The Junkyard -  Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Mark 2 Spitfire was built for the 1965 and 1966 model years and was replaced by a version with a 1296cc engine instead of just 1147cc.
16 - 1965 Triumph Spitfire Down On The Junkyard -  Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThere’s not much demand for tiny pushrod engines these days, nor is anyone likely to buy these cute little SU carburetors.
14 - 1965 Triumph Spitfire Down On The Junkyard -  Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinMany, many years in the California sun for this car.
10 - 1965 Triumph Spitfire Down On The Junkyard -  Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIt doesn’t seem very rusty, but Spitfires just aren’t worth enough to make this one worth restoring.
17 - 1965 Triumph Spitfire Down On The Junkyard -  Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThese cars like to break axles, so perhaps some Spitfire owner will pull the ones on this car.

01 - 1965 Triumph Spitfire Down On The Junkyard -  Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1965 Triumph Spitfire Down On The Junkyard -  Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1965 Triumph Spitfire Down On The Junkyard -  Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1965 Triumph Spitfire Down On The Junkyard -  Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1965 Triumph Spitfire Down On The Junkyard -  Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1965 Triumph Spitfire Down On The Junkyard -  Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1965 Triumph Spitfire Down On The Junkyard -  Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1965 Triumph Spitfire Down On The Junkyard -  Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1965 Triumph Spitfire Down On The Junkyard -  Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1965 Triumph Spitfire Down On The Junkyard -  Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1965 Triumph Spitfire Down On The Junkyard -  Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1965 Triumph Spitfire Down On The Junkyard -  Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1965 Triumph Spitfire Down On The Junkyard -  Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1965 Triumph Spitfire Down On The Junkyard -  Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1965 Triumph Spitfire Down On The Junkyard -  Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1965 Triumph Spitfire Down On The Junkyard -  Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]> 40
Ten Years In the Life of My Greatest Car: The 1965 Chevy Impala Hell Project! Sun, 30 Jun 2013 02:03:23 +0000 Since it took me so many months to scan the hundreds of 35mm, 126, 110, and Super 8 negatives and slides that went into the telling of the 1965 Impala Hell Project Story (tip for time-travelers: if you’re going to document a project like this, wait until digital photography becomes cheap and easy), I figure it makes sense to put together a single roundup page with links to all 20 parts in the series. For those of you unfamiliar with this series, it tells the story of a 1965 Chevrolet Impala sedan that I bought in 1990 and spent a decade daily-driving and modifying into, among other things, an art car and a 13-second drag racer. Here’s your portal to each chapter.
1. So It Begins.
1990: My high-concept performance/installation art piece takes the form of a full-hooptie, 25-year-old Impala sedan.
2. The Modifications Begin
1990: Fat tires, de-chromification, de-trimization.
3. Lowering Property Values
1990: Where art becomes The Realtor Man’s Nightmare.
4. Saddam Chooses My New Engine
1990: Forced to ditch my plan for a 454-cubic-inch big-block swap by Saddam’s gas-price-jacking invasion of Kuwait, I replace the tired 283 with a 350 small-block.
5. Three Speeds, Two Exhaust Pipes
1990: The Powerglide gets replaced by a TH350, while a homebuilt dual-exhaust system increases the volume.
6. Gauges! Switches! Buttons!
1991: The factory dash gets ripped out and replaced by a handbuilt Space Shuttle-style instrument panel.
7. Disc Brakes In, Couch-Surfing Expedition Enabled
1991: The brakes from a 1970 Impala add stopping power, an HEI distributor enhances reliability, so I take off on a month-long couch-surfing trip up and down the state of California, culminating in a road trip to the first Lollapalooza Festival.
8. Refinements, Meeting Christo’s Umbrellas
A heater and new springs makes the car much more daily-drivable, and so I visit Christo’s pedestrian-killing umbrella art installation in Southern California.
9. Fastening Shoulder Belts, Bailing From Academia
1992: Three-point seat belts added, I drive the Impala to grad school.
10. Fiat Hood Scoops, Endless Ribbon of Asphalt
1992: Fiat X1/9 hood scoops add menace, zero function. North-to-South California road trips continue.
11. Son of Orange County
1993-1994: Generation X ennui, pilgrimage to the birthplace of Richard Nixon upon learning of his demise.
12. Next Stop, Atlanta!
1994-1995: Packing up, moving from San Francisco to Atlanta.
13. Mad Max At the Confederate Mount Rushmore
1995: Writing for Year One, getting a new nickname.
14. First Taste of the Quarter-Mile
1995-1996: Running 16s at the dragstrip.
15. No Replacement For Displacement!
1996-1998: Back to California, building a healthy 406.
16. Another Heart Transplant
The new engine goes in.
17. Crash Diet, Frying Tires At the Dragstrip
1999: New engine installed, interior gutted, one-legger differential becomes limiting factor.
18. Back To the Dragstrip, Website 1999
1999: Locker differential leads to 13.67 run at Sacramento Dragway.
19. The Road Not Taken, Final Photo Session
1999: Thinking I might write about the car someday, I shoot some nice portraits at the ex-Alameda Naval Air Station.
20. The End
2000: Time to let go.

]]> 3
Junkyard Find: 1965 Plymouth Belvedere Sat, 04 Aug 2012 13:00:32 +0000 Chrysler got a lot of mileage out of their midsize B platform, which was used for just about the entirety of the 1960s and 1970s. The Charger was a B, the Cordoba was a B, and so was this well-used Belvedere that now awaits The Crusher in Denver.
The good old 318-cubic-inch A engine was much heavier than the later LA version, but had the same reputation for reliability.
Even the kind of Ayatollahs-of-rock-n-rollah that like to bomb around cities in big 60s Detroit sedans know that they can always get another one for cheap once the current hooptie breaks something that costs more than a couple hundred bucks.
That’s probably what happened to this one, judging from the telltale cryptic stickers in the back window.

16 - 1965 Plymouth Belvedere Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 01 - 1965 Plymouth Belvedere Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1965 Plymouth Belvedere Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1965 Plymouth Belvedere Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1965 Plymouth Belvedere Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1965 Plymouth Belvedere Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1965 Plymouth Belvedere Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1965 Plymouth Belvedere Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1965 Plymouth Belvedere Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1965 Plymouth Belvedere Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1965 Plymouth Belvedere Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1965 Plymouth Belvedere Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1965 Plymouth Belvedere Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1965 Plymouth Belvedere Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1965 Plymouth Belvedere Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]> 26
Junkyard Find: Toasty 1965 BMW 700 Sun, 29 Apr 2012 13:00:12 +0000 It’s pretty rare that I’m completely stumped by an old car in a self-service junkyard, but at first glance this car looked like some sort of mutant Renault Caravelle, or maybe a member of the Glas family. Then I saw the (somewhat melted) air-cooled boxer twin in the back and knew that those crazy Bavarians must have had something to do with building this car.
Sure enough, it’s a BMW 700, which occupies a place in the BMW family tree somewhere between the not-really-cars Isettas and the high-admission-price Neue Klasse machines.
It’s weird to imagine BMW competing head-to-head with the Type 1 VW Beetle and the Renault Dauphine, but that’s what the 700 was for.
There can’t be many usable parts left on this charred hulk.
Maybe the front suspension and brakes are salvageable. If you’re restoring a 700, any parts car is a treasure trove.

17 - 1965 BMW 700 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 01 - 1965 BMW 700 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 02 - 1965 BMW 700 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 03 - 1965 BMW 700 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 04 - 1965 BMW 700 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 05 - 1965 BMW 700 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 06 - 1965 BMW 700 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 07 - 1965 BMW 700 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 08 - 1965 BMW 700 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 09 - 1965 BMW 700 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 10 - 1965 BMW 700 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 11 - 1965 BMW 700 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 12 - 1965 BMW 700 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 13 - 1965 BMW 700 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 14 - 1965 BMW 700 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 15 - 1965 BMW 700 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 16 - 1965 BMW 700 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 10-1965-BMW-700-Down-On-the-Junkyard-Pictures-courtesy-of-Phil-Murilee-Martin-Greden-thumb ]]> 22
Junkyard Find: 1965 Mercury Park Lane Breezeway Fri, 02 Mar 2012 14:00:56 +0000 Of all the crazy ideas to come out of Dearborn in the 1960s, the Breezeway option on big Mercury cars is one of my favorites. You had a rear-canted back window that rolled up and down, providing a hurricane of wind through the car at speed, and no doubt enhancing the passengers’ intake of Vitamin CO. It made no sense, but so what? Not surprisingly, mid-60s Montereys and Park Lanes (the Mercury-ized Ford Galaxie), aren’t worth much in beat condition these days (nice ones are another story), but I still wasn’t expecting to find this one in a Northern California wrecking yard last month.
Mercury really went overboard on the wild trim and weird gingerbread during this period, but it ended up looking pretty good.
Here’s a good example of Northern California rust; the quarters and floors are fine, but the places where rainwater pools during the winter end up rusting through. This car probably sat outside for a decade or three.
There’s not much demand for 390 parts these days, though someone— probably a Mustang guy— has grabbed the carburetor and valve covers off this one.
Let’s return to the trim around the Breezeway window. Such style!

27 - Mercury Park Lane Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 01 - Mercury Park Lane Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 02 - Mercury Park Lane Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 03 - Mercury Park Lane Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 05 - Mercury Park Lane Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 06 - Mercury Park Lane Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 07 - Mercury Park Lane Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 08 - Mercury Park Lane Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 09 - Mercury Park Lane Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 10 - Mercury Park Lane Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 11 - Mercury Park Lane Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 12 - Mercury Park Lane Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 13 - Mercury Park Lane Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 14 - Mercury Park Lane Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 15 - Mercury Park Lane Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 16 - Mercury Park Lane Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 17 - Mercury Park Lane Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 18 - Mercury Park Lane Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 19 - Mercury Park Lane Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 20 - Mercury Park Lane Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 22 - Mercury Park Lane Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 23 - Mercury Park Lane Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 24 - Mercury Park Lane Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 25 - Mercury Park Lane Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 26 - Mercury Park Lane Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 51
Junkyard Find: 1965 Mercedes-Benz W108 Wed, 01 Feb 2012 14:00:27 +0000 You see quite a few W126s in junkyards these days— in fact, the rise in scrap steel prices seems to have doomed all but the the most flawless of the big 1980s Benzes— but the S-Class of the late 1960s is seldom seen in The Crusher’s waiting room. Here’s one that I found in a Denver self-service yard last week.
This car is profoundly rusty (by Colorado standards), which suggests that it may have migrated from a more oxide-friendly state to the east.
I think it’s a 250S, but the trunklid (or maybe just the emblem) from a V8 car indicates that we may be looking at a mix-and-match special.
Everything seems intact, if grungy, under the hood. There’s no telling when the last time this car moved under its own power might have been, but it may be decades.
The KPH speedometer may be the result of parts-swapping, or we could be looking at a gray-market import. Either way, The Crusher will be eating this old German soon enough.
21 - 1965 Mercedes-Benz W111 Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'McScrewdriver' Greden 01 - 1965 Mercedes-Benz W111 Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'McScrewdriver' Greden 02 - 1965 Mercedes-Benz W111 Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'McScrewdriver' Greden 03 - 1965 Mercedes-Benz W111 Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'McScrewdriver' Greden 04 - 1965 Mercedes-Benz W111 Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'McScrewdriver' Greden 05 - 1965 Mercedes-Benz W111 Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'McScrewdriver' Greden 06 - 1965 Mercedes-Benz W111 Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'McScrewdriver' Greden 07 - 1965 Mercedes-Benz W111 Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'McScrewdriver' Greden 08 - 1965 Mercedes-Benz W111 Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'McScrewdriver' Greden 09 - 1965 Mercedes-Benz W111 Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'McScrewdriver' Greden 10 - 1965 Mercedes-Benz W111 Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'McScrewdriver' Greden 11 - 1965 Mercedes-Benz W111 Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'McScrewdriver' Greden 12 - 1965 Mercedes-Benz W111 Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'McScrewdriver' Greden 13 - 1965 Mercedes-Benz W111 Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'McScrewdriver' Greden 14 - 1965 Mercedes-Benz W111 Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'McScrewdriver' Greden 15 - 1965 Mercedes-Benz W111 Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'McScrewdriver' Greden 16 - 1965 Mercedes-Benz W111 Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'McScrewdriver' Greden 17 - 1965 Mercedes-Benz W111 Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'McScrewdriver' Greden 18 - 1965 Mercedes-Benz W111 Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'McScrewdriver' Greden 19 - 1965 Mercedes-Benz W111 Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'McScrewdriver' Greden 20 - 1965 Mercedes-Benz W111 Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'McScrewdriver' Greden

]]> 20
1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 20: The End Fri, 13 Jan 2012 16:00:36 +0000 More than a month has passed since Part 19 of the Impala Hell Project series, partly because I’ve been getting sliced up by sadistic doctors and flying on Elvis-grade prescription goofballs but mostly because the final chapter has been so difficult to write. Here goes!
By the year 2000, I’d accomplished most of what I’d set out to do with the Impala Hell Project. I’d started as a stone-broke performance/installation artist with an ambitious vision of a real art car, to show that the artist who works with the automobile as a medium isn’t required to disrespect the canvas.
I never lost touch with that vision, even as I turned the car into a bulletproof daily driver and traveled California looking for slacker thrills in it.
As I matured, the Impala stayed with me. It moved me and all my possessions from San Francisco to Atlanta, then served as my foot in the door for my first automotive writing job.
In my 30s and finally having achieved a toehold in the middle class, I built a potent 400-cubic-inch small-block to replace the 350 I’d installed in 1990. My goal was to get the car to break the 14-second barrier at the dragstrip, and I succeeded in the summer of 1999: 13.67 seconds.
Then I found myself asking Now what? I hadn’t used the Impala as a daily driver since I’d discovered the quick, reliable, gas-sipping ’84-87 Honda Civic/CRX upon my return to California in 1996, and having two or three Civics plus a big, seldom-driven Detroit monster was proving to be a real parking headache in my crypto-urban neighborhood on the Island That Rust Forgot.
No car had ever held such emotional significance to me, and I felt certain that no future car ever would come close. I’d put more creative energy and sheer work time into the Impala Hell Project than I had for any project I’d ever worked on… and I was beginning to recognize that as a problem for a man who really wanted to put those creative energies into fiction writing. I was pushing 35 and feeling increasingly chained to a 3,500-pound link to my lifetime-ago early 20s.
Having moved 13 times during the decade of the 1990s, I’d gradually learned to pare down the possessions in my life to the bare minimum. Tools, sure, keep ‘em… but after having packed, lifted, and unpacked all my crap all those times I’d developed a horror at anything that resembled hoarding of possessions for sentimentality’s sake. But the Impala was special. Surely I could start a new project with it, maybe make it into a road racer, or an electric car, or… something. For the time being, I avoided any decision with the Impala, moving it enough to keep ahead of street-sweeping tickets and driving it to work every few weeks.
Then I dove headlong into a real Hell Project: a 900-square-foot cottage on Alameda’s main downtown drag, built sometime between the Gold Rush and the late 1870s. A seriously cool structure, built of massive hand-hewn redwood beams and sweating Bay Area history, but battered by 140 years of hack-job repairs by cheap-ass absentee landlords. My new house had just two off-street parking spaces, accessible down an easement-ized driveway on the next block over (though a third car could be made to fit, barely, provided it was an Austin-Healey Sprite). Now all my spare time was being taken up with carpentry and wiring and plumbing, I still wasn’t advancing my fiction-writing skills, and the Impala was just sitting there as a sort of souvenir of the previous ten years of my life. The dilemma!
My friend and future 24 Hours of LeMons teammate Dave Schaible, who went on to create the incredible Model T GT, had given me a lot of very useful advice about building the Impala’s new engine, and he was always building some street rod project or other in his shop. I knew he had a ’32 Ford in the works, and that he’d been so impressed by the performance of the Impala’s engine that he wanted to build one just like it.
I decided to cast the die. I made an ironclad resolution: No more fun car projects until I write and sell a novel! I meant it, too; to rip off my favorite Knut Hamsun phrase, my eyes were like two knife points. I was as serious as an Old Testament prophet on the subject. There was no way I’d be able to sell the Impala to anyone who would keep driving it; it had a lot of good parts, but the battered shell of an incredibly plentiful mid-60s full-size Chevy was essentially scrap metal. None of my hipster friends wanted anything to do with the car (such would not be the case today, what with all the 24 Hours of LeMons freaks who groove on this sort of absurd machinery), so I called up Dave and offered him the whole mess for not much more than the money I had in the engine. “I’ll take it!” he said.
Dave pulled the engine, the Powertrax locker differential, and a few more bits and pieces.
The 406 got a paint-and-chrome job and looked great in the ’32. I never rode in this car, but I assume it was a handful with that uncivilized, lumpy-cammed engine in place.
I was too heartbroken to ask what happened to the rest of the Impala for a few years. Later, I found that Dave sold the shell to a guy in Hayward with a shop specializing in Impala lowriders. I’d like to think that some pieces of my car now live on in a candy-apple-red Impala coupe with hydraulics and a mural depicting an Aztec sacrifice.
Starting that day, my only car projects were those that made money— no fun projects until I sold a novel, remember? I’d go to the San Francisco towed-car auctions, located at Pier 70 (not far from my dot-com tech-writing job) every month or so and buy Tercels, Civics, or Sentras for $100 each. I’d sell whatever stuff remained in the trunks after getting picked over by the tow-truck drivers (one time I got a few hundred bucks for a bunch of water-ski gear I found in a Sentra’s trunk), fix whatever needed fixing, and turn the car around for a grand or so.
Then, between software jobs in 2004, I got a call from a friend-of-a-friend in London who worked as an editor for the “erotic fiction” division of Virgin Books. He’d pay me good money, in genuine pounds sterling, for 70,000 words of high-class smut, he said. I did it, the book sold 5,000 copies (and still sells today, as a Kindle edition), and I got paid. The smut scenes were nothing special— what can any writer do with a schtup scene that hasn’t already been done ten thousand times?— but I remain proud of parts of the novel. So proud, in fact, that I’ve created a quasi-de-pornified, still-probably-not-quite-safe-for-work excerpt for your reading enjoyment (PDF). Crafting a novel, even in such a disreputable genre, gave a much-needed boost to my writing skills and confidence, so the “no more fun car projects” vow I’d made was worth it. On a related note, the pseudonym I used for Torment, Incorporated turned out to be quite useful; here is the entire complicated story of How I Got This Silly Name.
Of course, selling that novel meant that I could resume wasting time on fun car projects; the first one was the Black Metal V8olvo 24 Hours of LeMons car in 2008, followed by the 20R Sprite Hell Project, the Dodge A100 Hell Project, and whatever I buy next; right now, I’m torn between a Leyland P76, an early Toyota Century, a ZAZ-968, and a ’71 Chrysler Newport coupe with 6-71 blower and manual transmission. Do I wish I still had the Impala? Yes, every day. Am I glad that I forced myself to write that first novel? Yes, every day. The next Murilee Martin novel is in the works for 2012, by the way.

Alameda house. Photograph by Phillip Greden. 1965 Chevrolet Impala. Photograph by Phillip Greden. 1965 Chevrolet Impala. Photograph by Phillip Greden. 1965 Chevrolet Impala. Photograph by Phillip Greden. 1965 Chevrolet Impala. Photograph by Phillip Greden. 1965 Chevrolet Impala. Photograph by Phillip Greden. 1965 Chevrolet Impala. Photograph by Phillip Greden. 1965 Chevrolet Impala. Photograph by Phillip Greden. 1965 Chevrolet Impala. Photograph by Phillip Greden. 1965 Chevrolet Impala. Photograph by Phillip Greden. 1932 Ford with Chevrolet 400 engine. Courtesy of Dave Schaible. 1932 Ford with Chevrolet 400 engine. Courtesy of Dave Schaible. 1932 Ford with Chevrolet 400 engine. Courtesy of Dave Schaible. 1932 Ford with Chevrolet 400 engine. Courtesy of Dave Schaible. Cover of "Torment, Incorporated" by Murilee Martin. Courtesy of Nexus Books. 1965 Chevrolet Impala. Photograph by Phillip Greden. 1985 Toyota Tercel engine swap with 1990 Toyota Tercel in foreground. Image by Phillip Greden Cover of "Torment Incorporated" by Murilee Martin. Image courtesy of Nexus Books. 1965 Chevrolet Impala Driving Into Mushroom Cloud. Image by Phillip Greden.

]]> 61
Piston Slap: It Ain’t Easy Being on the Front Right, either! Mon, 28 Nov 2011 16:26:56 +0000

Jeff writes:

I have owned my 1965 Mustang convertible for 30 years. It has a problem that puzzles my trusted mechanic and me. The right front wheel cover rotates on the rim, counter-clockwise, as I drive, which pinches the valve stem in about 50 miles. I have swapped wheel covers and had the tire remounted on the spare’s rim with no joy. There is no vibration felt in the body or steering wheel or body when driving, nor is there any uneven wear on the tire.


Sajeev Answers:

Quoting the great Ned Flanders, “As the tree said to the lumberjack, “I’m stumped.”

This shouldn’t happen. And while vintage steel wheels don’t have the torsional rigidity of the newest, latest CAD inspired unit, the wheel cap shouldn’t spin around like a centrifuge when you hit a bump. But maybe it does.

I have two bits of advice, the first is free and possibly helpful, while the second could very well fix it.

1. Pull off all the wheel caps and use a pair of pliers to “open the mouth” of the clips that hold the cap to the wheel. There are multiple tabs with “mouths” around the circumference of the cap, they all need a slight bend to get the mouth opening bigger, pressing stronger against the steel wheel. But only a slight bend! No need to induce further metal fatigue to a 46-year-old piece of metal.

2. Replace one (or more) steel wheel with an aftermarket reproduction…or a similar unit from a 1980s vintage Ford Fox Body. The Fox wheels have 20 years less metal fatigue, look significantly more efficient which–if they are anything like the Ford Fairmont from whence they came–might be from computer assisted design. I assume you have 14” wheels with 4 lugs, therefore the base hoops from any Fox Body Ford give you a fair shot at having a stronger, less-flexy wheel…hell, it might even be a touch lighter for less unsprung weight!

Send your queries to . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

]]> 28
1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 19: The Road Not Taken, Final Photo Session Fri, 18 Nov 2011 16:00:57 +0000 After getting the car to run 13s in the quarter-mile with the new engine, I found myself— at age 33— in a sort of “what am I doing with my life?” period of agonizing reappraisal. Ten years of the Impala Hell Project absorbing most of my creative horsepower, and what had I really accomplished with all that work?
By this point (late 1999) I’d blundered into a fairly successful career as a technical writer and (thanks to the dot-com boom) was raking in good money— such a contrast to my starving, couch-surfing lifestyle of the early 1990s. In my mid-20s, the idea was that I’d work whatever jobs I could and write novels as my “real” work. However, even with a thousand pages of notes and outlines, I couldn’t get the fiction projects really rolling… and then the Impala project was always there, hungry for my time and more fun to mess with than a keyboard. Meanwhile, my wife— who had been a teenage runaway and high school dropout— had started law school at a high-powered East Bay joint after 20+ years of of up-by-boostraps struggle, which intensified my sense that I’d made the easy choice too many times.
Also bugging me was the vague feeling that my love of wrenching on hooptie-ass cars had derailed me from what could have been a very interesting right-place-at-the-right-time career in the software business; at age 15 I’d picked up a Sinclair ZX81, learned BASIC in one all-nighter, and wrote a series of dumb games (the only title I remember is “Tinhorn Dilemma,” a very slow side-scrolling bombs-dropping-on-blocky-animals game). By 16, I’d arm-twisted my parents into buying an Apple II Plus (which took real persistence during the early 1980s recession) and took to spending 48-straight-hour stretches writing code— Applesoft BASIC at first, then right into the hexadecimal world of 6502 processor machine language. I had no friends who were into this stuff, and 1982 was about a half-decade before you had any kind of computer classes in high school; everything I learned came from weird Xeroxed manuals I picked up at weird electronics stores in Berkeley. My big obsession during those days was to write a program that would generate rhyming poetry in a pure gibberish language of assembled syllables (I’d like to claim that I was inspired by the Talking Heads’ I Zimbra, but I didn’t discover that song until a couple years later), the sort of thing that was hard as hell if you’d never heard of a database and required all your code to fit on a single 5-¼” floppy disc.
I was on the same path that led a lot of Bay Area kids to later wealth and 200-proof creativity… but then I started messing around with cars. First, a 1969 Toyota Corona I got for 50 bucks. The amount of stuff to mess with you got with a car was incredible— take it apart, find junkyard parts, mess around with big satisfying slabs of metal and bundles of wires. It was the same sort of feeling I got from solving a code problem, but even more fascinating.
And cars were cheap! It wasn’t long before I had a truly wretched (but fast and Hurst Dual-Gate-equipped) ’67 GTO and the car that really got me hooked: an incredibly dangerous ’58 Beetle. I spent less and less time in front of the computer and more and more time spinning wrenches, hanging out with scurrilous car buddies, and lurking at various low-life Oakland junkyards. By the time I got to college, I retained enough code-writing ability to master FORTRAN with zero sweat for my engineering classes, but by then I’d made my choice at the fork in the road that led to Code Geekdom on one side and Car Freakdom on the other.
So, back to 1999: I’d put so much work and love into the Impala Hell Project that I felt an increasing sense of obligation to tell its story in some artistically fulfilling and— ideally— writing-career-enhancing manner. For that, I would need a full set of high-quality photographs of the car, shot in an ironic-yet-picturesque setting on Fujichrome Velvia.
So, I dragooned a friend with some decent photography skills, handed him my AE-1, and headed over to the recently-closed Alameda Naval Air Station.
Some of you may recognize this setting from my Fiat 500 Sport review in April. These days, the Area Formerly Known As Alameda Naval Air Station (AFKAANAS) is all full of businesses (including an outfit that makes damn good booze) and fairly well populated, but right after the Navy left it was a ghost town. Perfect for burnout photos!
And so that’s what I did. In fact, the western edge of the AFKAANAS was still technically on the San Francisco County side of the county borderline that crossed San Francisco Bay (said borderline being irrelevant during the period in which the landfilled-in-1940 base was federal property), which meant that the Alameda coppers couldn’t do squat about some primered-out beast’s Exhibition of Speed violations; they’d have to call the San Francisco cops, who would have to drive across the Bay Bridge and down the Nimitz Freeway, a 15-minute drive even with no traffic.
After a bunch of burnouts, I killed yet another junkyard TH350 transmission— the fourth or fifth since I’d built the new engine. the car still drove, but the tranny slipped like a sumbitch. I headed over to the hangers for some more still shots.
Man, I loved this car. What was I going to do with it? Next up: The End.

IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14Part 15Part 16Part 17Part 18 • Part 19 • Part 20

13-99-WindowNumber-200 01-99-JBWeld_Patch-Close 02-99-NAS-03 03-99-NAS-05 04-99-NAS-06 05-99-NAS-07 06-99-NAS-08 07-99-NAS-Burnout-01 08-99-NAS-Burnout-02 09-99-NAS-Burnout-03 10-99-NAS-Burnout-04 11-99-NAS-Burnout-05 12-99-Scoop-Close 82-Me_AppleII 82_Toyota_Corona 83-GTO_LH_Rr 11_Fiat_500_Review-12 99-NAS-Burnout-04-close ]]> 42
1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 18: Back To the Dragstrip, Website 1999 Thu, 10 Nov 2011 15:00:58 +0000 Summer, 1999: I’d managed to get the Impala into the 14s, barely, with a screamin’ 406-cubic-inch small-block under the hood, but I knew the car would do much better with more traction. Meanwhile, my desire to tell the car’s story coincided with a job move into the maelstrom of dot-com madness.
I’d enjoyed writing manuals for transit buses, but a lifer job in an office full of well-adjusted, wholesome coworkers wasn’t really right for me. Once I figured out that HR goons at wild-eyed dot-com boom startups in San Francisco’s Multimedia Gulch would kill puppies with pinking shears if that’s what it took to find tech writers to document their no-chance-in-ever-being-profitable software, I was able to more than double my salary overnight. Thanks, dead-broke-by-2002 investors! Even better, I’d gone from being the weirdo of the office, the one whose everyday conversations caused a lot of nervous laughs and edging away in the break room, to fitting right in. Above is a photo of my new cubicle in a hip SoMa building, the San Francisco office of mighty, global, founded-18-months-back (name changed because the mysterious corporation that bought their assets would have Yakuza thugs break my kneecaps if I used the real one). had offices in Rio de Janeiro, Berlin, Guangzhou, New York, and probably Nunavit, and their frenzy to steal all “the good employees” away from the competition (i.e., all the other doomed dot-coms) meant that our office full of code geeks and marketing pukes had all manner of employee-spoiling perks the likes of which The Man will never permit again. For example, the “break room” was something like an upscale convenience store with huge sliding-glass-door refrigerators full of every high-end snack and drink that Webvan could deliver, and if your optimum work efficiency depended on a steady supply of organic, squeezed-under-a-full-moon citron juice from the Holy Land, why, they’d get it for you. When the clock hit 12:01 PM, my boss would mix a round of margaritas for all of us in the MemoCranker™ 3.0 Development Team, using the blender that lived in the middle of her desk. Naturally, the MemoCranker™ folks did a lot of “team-building” at the foosball table.

My cube-mate was a pink-haired web designer who taught welding at an Oakland artists’ collective at night (later, after we all got laid off and plunged back into the torment of The Man’s harsh salt mines, she joined the Metal Maidens and won the Junkyard Mega Wars “Great Race”). It had only been a half-decade since I’d been a starving tropical-fish delivery driver, and now I found myself getting paid big bucks to work with genius freaks who cranked Renaldo and the Loaf at their desks and would gladly drop a boring discussion of the latest MemoCranker™ memory leak in order to debate over the merits of Bulgakov‘s work. This environment made me even more resolved to do something with the project that had consumed so much of my creative energy over the previous decade.
I really wanted to write the Impala’s story and sell it to a car magazine that could tolerate artsy gibberish, or maybe an art magazine that could tolerate grease-stained gearheadery, but first I decided to warm up with The Next Big Thing, according to late-1990s wisdom: a website about the car. It took about an hour for a couple of my coworkers to teach me sufficient HTML, after which I scanned a bunch of my Impala photos and got to work writing up the site on my ancient Centris 650 Mac.
It was all no-frills, hand-coded HTML with minimal formatting, made to load quickly for users on dial-up modems. I kept the “Anti-Restoring a 1965 Impala” site on my ISP’s 10MB of free web-hosting space; the tiny images were made so small as much for storage reasons as for download speed. For those of you who’d like to see the earlier version of the Impala Hell Project story, I’ve reconstituted it on In 1999— before Google made internet searches easy— it was tough to get your personal site noticed, but eventually I started getting emails from readers who’d found my story and enjoyed it. I wasn’t getting paid, but I was writing about cars!
While I refused to use the cheezy-ass marquee or blink tags in my site (and let’s not get into the even more horrible MIDI sound files that were so popular, circa 1999), I did add a cheezy-ass animated GIF. Hey, it was the 90s!
I felt that I’d be moving on to the next project soon, but there was still some unfinished business with the Impala: I needed to get it to run a 13-second quarter-mile. The engine had more than enough power, but there was no way to get the open differential in the car’s 3.31 12-bolt rear to put any power to the ground; launching at more than quarter-throttle simply blew away the right tire, I couldn’t get past about half throttle anywhere in first gear, and the first-second shift resulted in another space-saver-spare-on-ice-style, zero-grip nightmare. Clearly, I had to throw some money at the differential problem. I debated the pros and cons of finding a decent factory Positraction unit, but limited-slip differentials still allow a certain amount of right-tire spin. I’d already made the car fairly uncivilized with its cammed-up engine, so I decided to put a locker in the 12-bolt.
I settled on the Powertrax locker. I can’t recall how much I paid for it in ’99, but Summit sells the 12-bolt Lock-Right for $348.81 nowadays. It was a fairly simple installation (the Powertrax unit replaces the entire spider gear assembly, so you don’t have to futz with ring and pinion backlash adjustment), but it involved a lot of super-stinky 90-weight saturation. The difference between the one-legger and the locker was impressive as hell; the 406 still made so much power that launching was tricky (now instead of spinning one tire, it would spin both tires and get sideways), but I could pretty much stand on the gas once the car got rolling. It clicked and clanked when I drove around corners, and I dreaded the coming of the rainy season, but so what? Time to return to the dragstrip!
Even with 92-octane pump gas, I had to add octane booster to avoid pinging. I suspect that my compression-ratio calculations may have been off; I’d been shooting for 9.9:1, but the big power and tendency to detonate seemed to indicate that I’d gone higher. Here’s my convenient octane-boost bottle storage location.
Back at Test-N-Tune Day at Sacramento Raceway Park, I removed the spare tire, jack, and tools from the trunk, and handed the camera to my ’51 Chevy daily-driving friend, Anthony. If I managed a 13-second run, I wanted it documented.
Watching all the 13- and 14-second Mustangs and Chevelles making their passes, I suddenly realized that my trusty old daily driver might be able to keep up with the hairier muscle cars. A good feeling.

I’d decided I wasn’t going to give a damn about reaction times, because this was all about the car. All I cared about was launching the Impala as hard as it could manage, avoiding any guardrail-bashing, and keeping the revs below the 400-destroying 5,500 RPM limit.
Here we go! The car didn’t hook up very well, but it was orders of magnitude stickier than my last quarter-mile attempt. My ET? 13.983 seconds. Yes!
Getting into 13-second territory on my first try was somewhat anticlimactic, but the car still had plenty of power that wasn’t making it to the asphalt. How about 13.5 seconds? Hell, how about 12 seconds?
I tried and tried, using every trick I could think of to keep wheelspin to a minimum, but I couldn’t get the thing to really dig in at launch. I did, however, manage to do a bit better than 13.983…
A real-world 13.67-second quarter-mile run out of a four-door full-size Chevy with a low-buck small-block engine, which I think is pretty respectable.
That’s me on the right. 13.677 seconds at 100.735 MPH, and pay no mind to the Slow Loris-grade reaction time; this is about the car, not my (lack of) driving skills. I was about to see if I could talk some other racer with Chevy-bolt-pattern wheels into loaning me a pair of slicks for just one pass when a couple of angry Sacto Raceway tech guys stopped me on the return road. “Helmets are required for anything quicker than 14 seconds!” one shouted. “You don’t have a helmet! You’re outta here!” And that was the end of my Test-N-Tune Day fun. Next up: Agonizing reappraisal, serious photo session.

IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14Part 15Part 16Part 17 • Part 18 • Part 19

Rotato 01-99-OctaneBoostInTrunk 02-99-SactoDragstrip-Burnout11 03-99-SactoDragstrip-Burnout12 04-99-SactoDragstrip-ET-Close 05-99-SactoDragstrip-ET 06-99-SactoDragstrip-FinishLine 07-99-SactoDragstrip-Imports 08-99-SactoDragstrip13 09-99-SactoDragstrip14 10-99-SactoDragstrip15 ImpalaWebsite-RHRearCorner-550px ImpalaWebsite-WelcomeImage-550px 99-Diff_Cover2 ImpalaWebsite-RHRearCorner-550px ImpalaWebsite-WelcomeImage-550px DotComCube Powertrax 13SecondPassTimeslip ]]> 23
1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 17: Crash Diet, Frying Tires at the Dragstrip Thu, 03 Nov 2011 18:30:59 +0000 After dropping the hopped-up 406 small-block I’d built from scratch in place of the worn-out 350 I’d swapped in 1990, I was geared up to take the car to the dragstrip and see if I could better the high-16-second ETs I’d managed in Atlanta; an important part of this process involved stripping a lot of unnecessary weight out of the car. At the same time (early 1999) I was reevaluating the Impala Hell Project’s role in my life, and thinking about how I might best realize my original vision for the car which had gone from art project to daily driver.
I decided the Pontiac Rally wheels, which I’d installed in order to clear the disc brakes I’d installed in 1992, weren’t really in keeping with the car’s hooptie/official vehicle/street-racer American car-archetype trinity, so I gave them to a neighbor who was restoring his ’72 Firebird. In their place, I got some 15×8 factory steel wheels from a junked Caprice cop car and added mid-70s Chevy van dog-dish hubcaps. I painted the dog-dishes flat black with primer-gray centers, and they looked mean.
The rear wheelwells had no problem fitting 275s, so that’s what I got.
Around this time, I was getting a little bored with my lifer job writing manuals for transit buses. It wasn’t long before I solved the job-boredom problem by crossing the Bay over to Multimedia Gulch, diving right into the frenzied maelstrom of the Dot-Com Boom (more on that in the next episode), but what I really wanted to do was write some sort of article about the Impala Hell Project and sell it to a magazine. Art magazine, car magazine, I wasn’t quite sure which, but somebody would be interested in the story, I felt. That meant that I needed some photographs showing the car in each of its three archetypal guises.
So, for the “drive-by-shooting hooptie” part, I shanghaied my sister and her boyfriend into donning ski masks and brandishing a deuce-deuce pistol for my photo session.
What I really needed was some assistants that looked like the cast from Boyz N The Hood and a bunch of TEC-9s to wave out the windows, but you work with what you’ve got.
Hmmm… not really what I had in mind. Putting the Three Archetypes photo-shoot project on hold, I decided that the car would need to lose a few hundred pounds for its new engine’s dragstrip debut.
First to go was the heavy steel heater/blower unit. Since I was no longer depending on the Impala as a daily driver by this time, luxuries such as climate control seemed frivolous.
Likewise, who needs carpeting or a glovebox?
The truck tiedowns I’d installed for my move to Atlanta back in ’95 didn’t weigh much, but every ounce counts. The bike rack on the trunk lid also had to go.
The galvanized-plumbing-pipe-based trunklid bike rack ended up getting repurposed as the carrying handle of the 91-pound Junkyard Boogaloo Boombox eight years later.
Interior trim, door panels, inner fenders, speakers, climate-control parts, and so on. If the car didn’t need it to run, stay legal, or keep the rain out, I removed it. I sold the very nice rear seat for a C-note to a guy restoring his ’66 Impala, making my car a sporty two-seater.
This experience served me well 9 years later, when I helped gut a Volvo 244 for race duty.
With a completely uninsulated interior, a high-compression engine with lumpy cam, and two-chamber Flowmasters, the interior of the car became markedly less luxurious. I never did weigh the car (the dragstrip scale was on the fritz), but I’m guessing I cut 300 pounds from the original 3,595-pound curb weight. That’s pretty close to second-gen Camaro weight, and about the same as a late-60 V8 Chevelle (or ’12 Camry).
As I went to job interviews at excessively exuberant San Francisco dot-coms (coming close to joining Mike Bumbeck at the gradual-downward-spiral-doomed Ask Jeeves), I thought about all the thousands of hours I’d put into goofy car projects. Thousands of hours I might have put into other creative projects, writing in particular; were those hours justified, long-term? I’d need to do something with the Impala story, use it to get myself some paid writing work that wasn’t instructions for bus mechanics or junk-mail copy.
It was still bugging the shit out of me that Bay Area hipsters and artist types— the majority of my friends since I’d been in my early 20s— still thought that an “art car” was supposed to be a sneer at the very concept of the automobile, reclaiming the car for the forces of peace and love rather than incorporating the canvas itself into the painting; these folks were drawn to the Burning Man milieu. The flip side of this attitude, found among my artistic-minded friends who’d drifted into the Yunnie (Young Urban Nihilist) embrace of Survival Research Laboratories and the like, involved flooring the irony gas pedal and driving apocalyptic creations straight into a really cool self-immolation. I needed to wrap up the concept of my not-particularly-ambitious art car project and package it in a way that would make the piece accessible to non-car-geek readers and, ideally, get my foot in the door of a more satisfying writing gig. For that, I’d need a complete set of high-quality photographs of the car in its final, drag-race-ready guise, so I loaded up the AE-1 with some high-buck Fujichrome Velvia and took the Impala to a parking lot with a neutral background.
The 360° circle-the-car set of photographs I shot that day in June of 1999 became the template for my photographs of street-parked cars in Alameda nearly 10 years later.
The layers of vendor-sample primer paint applied during my Mad Max In Georgia era had faded to exactly the texture and color blend I’d had in mind when I started the Impala Hell Project.
In the nine years since I’d bought the car, it had never been washed, nor had it ever spent a night in a garage. If greasy handprints, blobs of Form-A-Gasket, spilled Schlitz, or seagull poop happened to get on the car, I painted over it. Like the coating that builds up on a good cast-iron frying pan, the patina on my Impala had taken nearly a decade to achieve. Rat-rodders, take note: it takes dedication to apply the years of neglect and abuse needed to get this look.
Because I still wanted to lock tools and a jack in the trunk, I left the cross-country-move-security padlock hasp installed. The extra ounces might slow the car down 0.00004 seconds in the quarter-mile, but I was willing to make that sacrifice to keep my toolbox in my possession. Note the Stanford sticker in the back window; a friend in grad school there applied it on my car in order to, in her words, “Lower the property values of the place and make my tuition cheaper.”
In spite of the many layers of black paint on the bumper, you can still make out the Negativland “No Other Possibility” bumper sticker I applied soon after buying the car in 1990.
Even though the process ate up expensive film, I bracketed the hell out of these shots; you’re only seeing about a quarter of them in the gallery. I wanted the art directors at Car Craft, or maybe RE/SEARCH, to have their choice of images. Look, the three-year-old window numbers from the car’s last Georgia dragstrip trip are still visible!
I had to remove one of the Fiat X1/9 hood scoops I’d installed in 1993 in order to clear my dryer-duct-hose cold-air-induction system.
My plan was to saw off the underhood portion of that scoop to make it clear the ducts.
But at this point, the monoscoop look worked fine.
They say California cars don’t rust, but give a GM car a sufficient number of California rainy winters and eventually the water that gets past the leaky rear-window seal and pools in the trunk will make this happen. Air-cooled VWs have the same problem, only the water leaks past every seal and the process happens three times as quickly.
OK, enough of this artsy gibberish. Let’s go racing! The 406 was making frightening amounts of power; after putting 1,500 low-stress break-in miles on it during months of work commuting, I was finally able to really get on the gas. It became clear that traction was going to be the limiting factor at the dragstrip, with the 3.31-geared open differential sending all the power to the tire with the least traction. The Powerglide-optimized gear ratio was acceptable, and the good ol’ GM 12-bolt could handle the power without breaking, but I was getting absurd amounts of wheelspin under acceleration. It was so bad that the car would spin the right tire forever when shifting into second gear, unless I backed off the throttle. Sometimes it would get rubber going into third, which didn’t bode well for my dragstrip ETs. I’d thought that I could keep the project below two grand by omitting a limited-slip or locker differential (I’d had this crazy idea that the car’s weight coupled with fat tires and a rear swaybar would keep the wheelspin under control), but it looked like I’d be investing another few hundred bucks in the near future.
I’d heard that the dragstrip tech inspectors at Sears Point were real ball-busters, so I decided to make Sacramento Raceway Park the site of the new engine’s drag racing debut. Since the Sacto dragstrip was just under 100 miles from my Alameda home, I got a AAA roadside-service policy that covered four 100-mile tows per year; I figured I might need a tow home if I blew the fragile TH350 transmission at the strip (I’d already fried one $45 Half-Price-Day junkyard-special transmission doing parking-lot burnouts).
The Test-N-Tune crowd didn’t pay much attention to the Impala, except for a few approving nods at its evil-sounding cammy idle. Time to line up!
I’d learned from my freeway-onramp adventures with the new engine that I’d need an extremely delicate touch on the throttle to avoid a humiliating sit-&-spin one-legger non-launch my first time out. I contemplated strategies as I waited my turn.
Perhaps a super-gnarly burnout will help make that all-important right tire gooey enough to grab some pavement when the light goes green!
Well, probably not. But it’s still fun.
My plan was to baby the car off the line, then mash the pedal once it got rolling.
Here we go! The driver of the Fox Mustang next to me must have been slow on the draw, because the Impala jumped ahead even at quarter-throttle. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get any grip whatsoever off the line— it felt like I was driving on ice— and the first-to-second shift was a tirespin disaster.
Still, it felt great hearing that glorious engine roar. The result: 15.479 seconds. That was a full second-and-a-half better than my best ET with the old engine, but the lack of traction was costing me plenty.
After nearly a dozen passes, I finally cracked the 14-second barrier… barely.
Back home, I decided to toss the two-grand budget out the window and fix the differential problem before returning to the quarter-mile. I’d also try to sell the Impala’s story. Next up: My first website, return to the dragstrip.

IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14Part 15Part 16 • Part 17 • Part 18

99-Tire_Rear-1280px 98-HeaterOut-1280px 98-Pinhole_ValveCover-1280px 99-360View-Front1-1280px 99-360View-Frt_RH1-1280px 99-360View-Frt_RH5-1280px 99-360View-LH_Rr-1-1280px 99-360View-LH_Rr-2-1280px 99-360View-Rear1-1280px 99-360View-RH1-1280px 99-360View-RH2-1280px 99-360View-RH3-1280px 99-360View-RH_Frt3-1280px 99-360View-Rr_RH-2-1280px 99-BatteryHoldDown-1280px 99-Criminals-02-1280px 99-Criminals-05-1280px 99-Criminals-10-1280px 99-Criminals-15-1280px 99-Criminals-18-1280px 99-Dash2-1280px 99-Dash_Gutted-1280px 99-Diff_Cover-1280px 99-DogDishes-JackStands-1280px 99-FuelPump-1280px 99-Gutted_Interior-1280px 99-Gutting-Glovebox1-1280px 99-Gutting-Glovebox3-1280px 99-Gutting-PartsOnGround2-1280px 99-Gutting-PartsOnGround3-1280px 99-Gutting-PartsOnGround4-1280px 99-Gutting-PartsOnGround7-1280px 99-Gutting-PartsOnGround8-1280px 99-Gutting-PartsOnGround9-1280px 99-Hood_No_Fiat_Scoop-1280px 99-HoodScoop-LH-1280px 99-JBWeld_Patch-1280px 99-LH_Rr_Flank-1280px 99-OaklandToilet2-1280px 99-QuarterRust-1280px 99-RH_Rr_Flank_w_350_on_Ground-1280px 99-SactoDragstrip01-1280px 99-SactoDragstrip02-1280px 99-SactoDragstrip04-1280px 99-SactoDragstrip05-1280px 99-SactoDragstrip08-1280px 99-SactoDragstrip09-1280px 99-SactoDragstrip10-1280px 99-SactoDragstrip16-1280px 99-SactoDragstrip-Burnout1-1280px 99-SactoDragstrip-Burnout2-1280px 99-SactoDragstrip-Burnout3-1280px 99-SactoDragstrip-Burnout4-1280px 99-SactoDragstrip-Burnout5-1280px 99-SactoDragstrip-Burnout6-1280px 99-SactoDragstrip-Burnout7-1280px 99-SactoDragstrip-Burnout8-1280px 99-SactoDragstrip-Burnout9-1280px 99-SactoDragstrip-Burnout10-1280px 99-SactoDragstrip-Launch-1280px 99-Taillight_Rust-1280px 99-Tiedown_Holes-1280px Boombox_Top 99-Dragstrip-Timeslip2 99-Dragstrip-Timeslip1 ]]> 29
1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 16: Another Heart Transplant Mon, 17 Oct 2011 18:30:31 +0000 After painstakingly building a medium-hot 406-cubic-inch small-block engine to replace the Impala’s very tired 350 (motivated by the car’s lackluster quarter-mile performance), 1998 became 1999. Finally the New Engine was ready for swapping.
The old 350, which I’d bought as a long-block from a cheap rebuild shop in L.A., had served me well, but its power output probably wasn’t much over 150 horses and it was starting to smoke under heavy throttle.
While the car was getting a power upgrade, I had some other plans for it. The Pontiac Rally wheels, which I’d had in place since my 1991 Generation X couch-surfing expeditions, would be replaced by something more in line with my original artistic vision for the car.
There was no way the worn-out Turbo-Hydramatic 350 transmission I’d installed in 1990 would survive more than a couple of pedal-to-metal beatings behind the new engine (it was slipping pretty badly on the second-third shift), so out it came.
I know how to swap transmissions, but there be monsters inside them— I don’t have the faintest idea how to go about messing with the deep innards of an automatic transmission, and I wasn’t about to start learning at this point. I thought about buying a TH350 rebuilt with drag racing in mind, but the price tag on such a transmission was sort of a budget-nuker. Instead, I went to Pick Your Part on Half Price Day and bought several maybe-recently-rebuilt-looking TH350s from six-cylinder Novas for $40 apiece. That way, I figured, I could just keep blowing up transmissions and swapping in “new” ones as needed. Hey, a transmission swap in a 60s GM B Body takes about 20 minutes, even at my slow wrenching pace.
I picked up a B&M Shift Improver Kit and installed it in the first of my junkyard transmissions, choosing the “Stage 2″ U-joint-bustin’ options.
I had a patriotic Lydia Lunch portrait watching over this process. If you’re going to have a pinup, do it right!
I’d installed an Addco sway bar in the front a couple years earlier, thanks to my Year One employee discount. I’d bought a rear bar at the same time, but installation required drilling honkin’ big holes in the rear control arms and I didn’t get around to doing that job until it was time for the new engine to be installed. I figured the rear bar would help limit wheel-lifting tire spin when launching at the drag strip, plus make it easier to spin out when getting on the throttle in turns.
Unfortunately, I didn’t think to photograph the process of mounting a rear sway bar on my Impala, so you’ll just have to imagine the sight of a 1/2″ drill bit chewing through big-ass control arms.
I removed the carburetor, disconnected the headers, tied the power-steering pump out of the way, and all the other little jobs you do when pulling an engine. Hook up the chain, start lifting!
More than eight years of service from this engine, but it was time to go.
As was not the case with the rear swaybar installation, I felt the need to document the hell out of this moment. I shot the 350 extraction from many angles.
Including the view from behind the wheel.
Out! And my long-suffering parents (whose back yard I’d commandeered for this project when my own driveway on the other side of The Island That Rust Forgot proved too small) experienced a flashback to my high-school years, when all manner of horrible, parts-shedding hoopties and associated components lowered their property values. Yes, the 350 sat there for a few months prior to me finding a buyer, I’m not very proud to say.
I painted the 406 flat black, after an old racer told me that it helped with engine cooling. Actually, I did it because it looked cool.
By the late 1990s, my income had risen to the point where I was no longer forced by poverty to swill terrible piss-yellow beer while working on cars… but here’s a can of Pabst on the fender. I must have been raiding my dad’s beer stash that day; his Minnesota-ized tastes die hard.
Installed! The whole swap took just a couple of hours, an experience that Those Kids These Days with their finger-bustingly-tight Civic engine compartments will never know.
I pored over the J.C. Whitney hood scoop selection, thinking I’d rig up a seriously redneck-looking cold-air-induction system, but finally settled on the much more functional grille-mounted-ducting solution. I grabbed another air cleaner at the junkyard, grafted its snout onto the existing air cleaner, and ran dryer ducting to home-heating vents on either side of the radiator. Unfortunately, the left-side duct interfered with one of the Fiat X1/9 scoops I’d installed in ’93, so I had to remove the scoop.
I figured that this setup should be good for force-feeding a good supply of cold outside air into the Quadrajet (which I’d pulled from a ’70 Eldorado with a 500, on the assumption that the jetting for a 500 ought to be about right for a cammed-up 406). I’d also modified the HEI distributor with high-performance advance weights.
For cooling, I added a fan clutch to the factory engine-driven fan and retained the BMW 7 Series fan I’d been using for auxiliary cooling since the early 1990s.
The BMW E23′s electric radiator fan is by far the best pusher-style unit you can find in the junkyard. It forces a typhoon of air through the radiator (caveat: it also draws ridiculous power— 15 amps, if I recall correctly— so you can’t run it with the headlights at the same time if you’ve got a small alternator). I used a pair of these fans a decade later, when attempting to rig up a rear-radiator setup in a V8-ized Volvo 240 race car).
My long-term plan was to see if the car could stay cool on junkyard electric fans alone (dispensing with the horsepower-sucking engine-driven fan) so I also purchased a W114 Mercedes-Benz fan.
Yes, it ran. Oh, did it run! Next episode: Glorious return to the drag strip!

IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14Part 15 • Part 16 • Part 17

55-99-Wet_Hardware-1280px 01-98-350-AirCleaner-1280px 02-98-ColdAirIntake-1280px 03-98-Frt_RH_Corner_Low_2-1280px 04-98-Frt_RH_Corner_Low_3-1280px 05-98-Intake_Pulled-Old2-1280px 06-98-Intake_Pulled-Old3-1280px 07-99-350-ValveCoverClose-1280px 08-99-350HookedUp-1280px 09-99-350Out-Hanging-FrontView-1280px 10-99-350Out-Hanging-InsideView-1280px 11-99-350Out-Hanging-InsideView2-1280px 12-99-350Out-Hanging1-1280px 13-99-350Out-Hanging2-1280px 14-99-350Out-Hanging3-1280px 15-99-350Out-Hanging4-1280px 16-99-350_Out-Overhead1-1280px 17-99-350_Out-Overhead2-1280px 18-99-350_Out-Overhead3-1280px 19-99-350_Out_OnGround-1280px 20-99-406-Belts-1-1280px 21-99-406-Belts-2-1280px 22-99-406-Hanging1-1280px 23-99-406_350_in_Background-1280px 24-99-406_Intake-1280px 25-99-406_Me-1280px 26-99-AirIntakeDucting-1-1280px 27-99-AirIntakeDucting-2-1280px 28-99-AirIntakeDucting-3-1280px 29-99-AirIntakeDucting-4-1280px 30-99-AirIntakeDucting-5-1280px 31-99-BMW_Fan_TransCooler-1-1280px 32-99-BrakeRotor-1280px 34-99-DollHutSticker-1280px 35-99-DragRaceNumbers-1280px 36-99-EngineCompartmentEmpty-1280px 37-99-ExhaustDangling-1280px 38-99-FenderDent-1280px 39-99-FrontShock-1-1280px 40-99-Garage_LydiaLunch-1280px 41-99-LH_Flank_w_extracted_350-1280px 43-99-PatinaClose-1280px 44-99-Rr_LH_Corner_Patina-1280px 45-99-Swap-350ComingOut-1-1280px 46-99-Swap-350ComingOut-2-1280px 47-99-Swap-350Out-FrontView-1280px 48-99-Swap-ToolsOnFender-1280px 49-99-SwayBar-1-1280px 50-99-Taillight_Close-1280px 51-99-TH350-Ground-1280px 52-99-TH350-Side-1280px 53-99-TH350-UpsideDown-1280px 54-99-TrunkOpen-1280px 99-BMW_Fan_Junkyard 99-Benz_Fan_Donor_Junkyard ]]> 32
1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 15: No Replacement For Displacement! Thu, 06 Oct 2011 15:00:12 +0000 Before packing up the Impala and leaving Georgia in the fall of 1996, I took the car to Atlanta Dragway and ran some semi-disappointing low-17-second quarter-mile passes. Back in California, I resolved to make some improvements to the car’s running gear. After 15 years as a cheapskate, junkyard-centric gearhead, I was finally willing to spend substantial cash for new aftermarket performance parts. The main question was: what kind of engine would I build?
My plan upon returning to California was to find a place to live in San Francisco, but the first stirrings of the dot-com boom had sent rents in non-crackhouse neighborhoods to worse-than-Manhattan levels. So, I went to the other side of the Bay and rented a Victorian in my old hometown, the Island That Rust Forgot. Though I had left Atlanta, I remained a part-time employee of Year One, going to California car shows and photographing “correct” GM and Chrysler cars, then sending the film back to Year One HQ. That meant that I still enjoyed YO’s generous employee discount, which enabled me to keep my T-shirt collection 100% Rat Fink. This was a photo I shot for a passport application, by the way.
I’d also taken full advantage of S-K’s vendor status at YO to replace my crappy Taiwanese tools with the real stuff. When I decided on what I’d be building for the Impala’s new engine, I’d be using the same discount to score parts for the project.
I toyed with the idea of building a Cadillac 500, an engine that doesn’t weigh much more than the small-block Chevy yet grunts out battleship-grade torque, but the connecting rods can be weak in performance applications, plus aftermarket parts were way too pricey for me. After endless calls to my friends at Year One HQ in Georgia (thanks to their toll-free work number) and debating the pros and cons with them, I decided to stick with the small-block Chevrolet engine family for my project.
The decision to go with an improved small-block Chevy still left me with an absurd number of options. Build a small-displacement engine with good-flowing heads and spin the hell out of it? Get a stroker crank and build a 383? In the end, I decided to go for torque. I found a dirt-track racer near Sacramento with a fully-machined, 0.030″ over, four-bolt-main 400 block and crankshaft, and that served as the starting point for my project. I decided I’d try to keep the whole thing under $2,000 total expenditure, which meant I’d be using factory cylinder heads and stock connecting rods. I wanted it to run on pump gas, so I needed to keep the compression ratio below 10:1. The heads would determine what pistons I’d get, so I started hitting the swap meets (though Craigslist was in full effect by 1996, car guys hadn’t really discovered it yet; to buy used car parts, you had to seek them out the old-fashioned way).
In early 1997, I got a job as a technical writer for transit-bus manufacturer Gillig Corporation, in Hayward. Gillig has been building excellent buses since about the time the New Testament was written, and the assembly line was manned by legions of tough old wrenches who’d been putting together Phantoms and their predecessors for decades. My job was to write all the shop manuals and driver’s handbooks for each custom-ordered series of buses. They were just getting geared up to start producing the Low Floor when I showed up, so things were quite hectic in the office.
Even though I spent a lot of time climbing around half-finished buses in the factory, the job of actually producing the manuals took place in a veal-fattening pen in the Parts Department building. I’d gotten into pinhole photography at the time, and I think this image captures the fluorescent-lit/smell-of-burned-microwave-popcorn essence of cubicle life.
In spite of a certain amount of Cubicle Ennui (exacerbated by the fact that I was forced to do my job on an elderly System 7-equipped Centris 650 running PageMangler), I enjoyed my new writing gig. Moving up from copywriter to tech writer was a positive step, and the infinitely customizable Phantoms and Low Floors meant that every customer— whether it was Seattle ordering 2,000 units or Tyler, Texas ordering four— got a set of manuals custom-written for their bus order. I geeked out on creating a modular system to speed up the process of manual creation… but thoughts of the Impala’s Big Engine sometimes preoccupied me on the job.
My coworkers were very nice, but most of them were on the normal side and I’m sure they thought I was a little odd, what with my tirades about Enver Hoxha and my hideous hooptie of a daily driver out in the parking lot. Fortunately, the guy in charge of the Gillig parts-sales team was a fellow car freak. Not just any normal car freak, mind you; this guy has several orders of magnitude more car knowledge and fabrication skill than I’ll ever possess. Yes, LeMons fans, this is where I met future Black Metal/Death Cab V8olvo and Model T GT mastermind Dave Schaible.
Dave was the only guy whose commuter vehicle gave my car a run for its money in the property-value-lowering department, and his sense of humor helped relieve some of our workplace’s Cubicle Ennui. His Cadillac 331-powered ’27 Model T was a rat rod before anyone had heard the term (sadly, this car— including the ’49 Cad engine— got destroyed in a wreck a few months back). With Dave giving me engine-build advice, I set my sights on a certain type of swap-meet cylinder head.
And, soon enough, I found them! A pair of the “Camel Hump” aka “461″ aka “fuelie” heads from high-performance Chevrolet 327s built during the 1964-66 period. Corvettes got them, Nova 327 SSs got them, they were seriously cool, but their value had dropped a lot by the late 1990s, thanks to all the superior aftermarket small-block heads that had become available. These were the less desirable heads with the small (1.94″ versus 2.02″) intake valves, but Dave assured me that they’d work just fine on a low-revving 406. $150 and they were mine. Dave recommended nearby Al Hubbard Machine Shop as the correct old-school shop to rebuild and drill my heads for the required 400-block steam holes (Al Hubbard was Vic‘s brother, for you Bay Area racing-history buffs), and I paid $465.04 to get the job done. That included new valves, springs, hardened exhaust valve seats, and a three-angle valve job.
About this time, I picked up an ’85 Honda CRX to use as a gas-saving daily driver while reworking the Impala into its next incarnation. It was cheap because the engine was bad, but that’s no big deal.
Not when Pick Your Part Hayward is having Half Price Day on New Year’s Day 1998 and you have a big Detroit car with vast trunk space. Complete D15A2 engine, air cleaner to oil pan, for about 100 bucks.
Of course, that engine had a bad head gasket, but an afternoon’s work fixed that. Now I could yank parts off the Impala and not worry about being able to get to work the next day; it was sad to end its 8-year-reign as my semi-daily-driver (I owned many other cars for brief periods during this time, but the Impala got 95% of the miles). Doubling the horsepower would make me feel better, though.
The CRX proved to be a pretty good parts hauler itself, as I found when I couldn’t resist grabbing this 200R4 transmission on another Half Price Day sale at the junkyard (it didn’t take me long to figure out that The Big Engine would vaporize a stock 200R4 in seconds, and I ended up selling it to some guy with a Camaro).
I had the block, crankshaft, and heads, which meant I could go ahead and order an employee-discount $325.91 Engine Master Kit (including L2352F forged TRW pistons and Speed-Pro moly rings, giving me 9.9:1 compression) from my friends at Year One, for whom I was still shooting car shows on weekends. I also ordered a Competition Cams 280H Magnum from Summit for $82.95. Other parts followed those (I’ll provide a complete parts breakdown with pricing later in this episode). But I still needed to get connecting rods, flexplate, harmonic balancer, and a bunch of nickel/dime small parts. The easiest way to do that? Back to Pick Your Part for a Half Price Day 400 long block! Back in 1998, you could still find a few 400s in every California self-service wrecking yard (those days are long gone), and so I had a choice between a couple of GMC pickups and this 1975 Caprice wagon. They were all two-bolt-main engines, so I went for the vehicle with the lowest mileage on the odometer.
My friend and future brother-in-law Jim, who’d accompanied me on my scouting-out-Atlanta mission a couple years before, volunteered to don his “Steal Your Face” SF Giants shirt and help with the project.
Pulling an engine from an old-time GM wagon is pretty simple, but it’s still a sweaty, filthy task.
I got under the car and disconnected the torque converter bolts, admiring the Olds sedan next door as I did so. Chevrolet small-blocks tended to leak oil like crazy, and this Caprice was no exception; the wagon’s underside had a thick coat of road-dirt-fortified oil crust all over everything.
This sort of thing goes a lot quicker nowadays, with the advent of battery-powered impact wrenches, but having four hands makes the job take less than an hour. Since I only wanted to pay for a short block, I had to remove the intake and cylinder heads before bringing the engine to the cashier’s counter. More bolts to turn!
Voila! One V8 short block, $60 out the door.
It should go without saying that a 400 short-block fits just fine in a ’65 Impala’s trunk.
We’re outta here! Note the classy red satin sunvisor covering.
The easiest way to get at the rods turned out to be disassembly with the whole mess still in the trunk. I had no problem finding a buyer willing to pay a C-note for the crankshaft and 2-bolt block, which enabled me to turn a profit on the short-block-purchase transaction. From there, the rods went to Al Hubbard for rebuilding, which set me back $79. The newly rebuilt rods and my nice new forged pistons went off to EMOS Machine Shop in Alameda, a few blocks from my house, to get the rods pressed onto the pistons. Price tag for that: 40 bucks.
The car was getting closer to getting its new powerplant, so I drove it the two miles to the home of my long-suffering parents. My rented house across town didn’t have a garage, so I managed to talk the long-suffering parents (or LSPs for short) into allowing me to build my engine in the two-story former 1870s stable in their back yard (this in spite of the LSPs having endured every manner of wretched, hooptie-ass, property-value-obliterating heap on their property during my teenage years).
The stable made for a great engine-building facility, except for the indifferently-repaired-with-cheap-plywood-in-1960 creaky 120-year-old floor, which threatened to collapse under the weight of heavy engine parts.
The last thing you want with the short connecting rods and funky balancer on a 400 (actually, a 406 in this case, due to the .030″ over bore job) is for the rotating assembly to get out of balance at speed, so I brought the crankshaft, rods, pistons, flexplate, and harmonic balancer to Ashland Grinding & Balancing in Hayward and gave them $100 to do a top-notch balancing job on the works.
I was still experimenting with my pinhole camera around this time, so the gallery for this episode is full of artsy pinhole shots. Here’s a shot of the rods in a box.
And the old valves and springs in another box.
I degreed the camshaft, hand-filed the piston rings for the obsessively correct ring gap, checked all the bearing clearances with Plastigage, and did all the geeky stuff that supposedly makes the engine fail to blow up when you beat the hell out of it at the dragstrip. The rods went in with a set of ARP bolts. The classic guide, How To Rebuild Your Small Block Chevy, became my Bible during this period.
The car was still drivable at this point, but I was getting closer to pulling the cheap rebuilt 350 I’d installed in 1990; with close to 100,000 miles since that swap, the 350 was getting very tired. Check out the Ford Escort buckets, plywood “center console,” and beige household shag carpeting in that luxurious interior!
I used Summit hydraulic lifters and a set of Crane roller-tip rocker arms ($32.95 and $109.50, respectively). Since I planned to use a Quadrajet carburetor (plucked from a 500-equipped ’70 Eldorado), I got the Quadrajet-compatible Edelbrock Performer RPM intake manifold for $149.69 at Summit (I think the intake in this photo may be an SP2P I had lying around; the Performer RPM went on during final assembly).
During the engine build, I listened to just two cassettes— which happened to be in the Impala’s glovebox when I dropped off the first batch of parts at the LSPs’ stable— on the garage boombox, over and over. One was Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and the other was the Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream. Not really my favorite albums at the time (or now), but they became the strangely appropriate theme music for 406 Building Hell.
For those of you who want to see a real-world parts-price breakdown for a project that took place 13 years ago (according to the CPI Inflation Calculator, $100 in 1998 is worth $135.98 now, though many of the parts in my build are cheaper today), here ya go; click on the gallery image (below) for an easier-to-read version. Total cost was $2,105.81, minus what I made from selling off duplicated parts and the old 350 (we’ll get to that in a later episode).
Eventually, the 406 was assembled and ready to swap. I immobilized the Impala by preparing for the swap. Next up: Engine swap!

IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14 • Part 15 • Part 16

SK_Sockets 97-CRX_Head_Gasket-1280px 97-Gillig-BusLine-1280px 97-GilligCubiclePinhole-1280px 98-350_Installed_NoCarb2-1280px 98-350_Installed_NoCarb-1280px 98-350-EngineCompartment-1280px 98-400_On_Stand-1280px 98-400_On_Stand-RockerArmDetail-1280px 98-400Block-Junkyard1-1280px 98-400Block-Junkyard2-1280px 98-400Block-Machined_Bare-1280px 98-400Block-PistonsLinedUP-1280px 98-400-CamelHumpCastingNumbers-1280px 98-400-CastingTimeStamp-1280px 98-400-Crank_In-1280px 98-400Pull-EngineDangling-1280px 98-400Pull-EngineDangling-CarView-1280px 98-400Pull-In_Trunk-1-1280px 98-400Pull-JimBreakerBar-1280px 98-400Pull-JimFaceEngineCompartment-1280px 98-400Pull-JimGrimy-1280px 98-400Pull-JimOnHood-1280px 98-400Pull-JimThroughWindshield-1280px 98-400Pull-JimWrenching-1280px 98-400Pull-SelfPortraitLow-1280px 98-400Pull-UnderWagon-1280px 98-400Pull-ViewNeighborOlds-1280px 98-400Pull-WagonDonorFront-1280px 98-400Pull-WagonEngineCompt-1280px 98-400Pull-WagonFanShroud-1280px 98-400Pull-WagonFrontBlurry-1280px 98-400Pull-WagonInteriorView-1280px 98-400Pull-WagonOldsJim-1280px 98-400Pull-WagonView_w_Door-1280px 98-3223_Garage_Prep-1280px 98-3223_Garage-Cam_PNP_Flyer-1280px 98-3223_Garage-Carbs-1280px 98-Civic_Engine_Impala_Trunk-1280px 98-Civic_Yosemite_Snow-1280px 98-DollHutSticker-1280px 98-Driver'sSeatView1-1280px 98-Frt_RH_Corner-1280px 98-Intake_Pulled-Old1-1280px 98-Interior-Buckets-WoodenConsole-1280px 98-LH_Frt_Wide_Sun-1280px 98-LicensePlate-HOPClose-1280px 98-Me_SatinSunvisor-1280px 98-OilPickups_Plastigage-1280px 98-Pinhole-CylinderBore-1280px 98-Pinhole-GilligCube-Screws-1280px 98-Pinhole-LifterBore-1280px 98-Pinhole-QJet-1280px 98-Pinhole-Rods-1280px 98-Pinhole-Tools_Block-1280px 98-Pinhole-Valves-1280px 98-Pinhole-Valves_Springs-1280px 98-SelfPortrait_w_RatFinkShirt-1280px 98-SelfPortrait_w_Transmission-2-1280px 98-SelfPortrait_w_Transmission-1280px 98-ToolBench1-1280px 98-ToolBench2-1280px 99-LH_Flank-1280px 98-GilligManual DavePullingB23 Hellhammer_ModelT-23 EngineBuildPrices ]]> 23
Junkyard Find: 1965 Rambler Classic 770 Convertible Tue, 04 Oct 2011 13:00:54 +0000 Many of the older cars you find in the junkyard clearly spent a decade or three moldering in a side yard or driveway before taking that final ride behind the tow truck. The project that never gets started, or the once-reliable car that needs a new transmission, or sometimes just Grandpa’s forgotten daily driver. We don’t know that this Rambler ran when parked, but we can tell when it was parked: 1986.
That’s because the trunk is still full of Denver newspapers and phone books from 25 years ago.
This convertible is pretty well thrashed, far beyond the point of being a worthwhile restoration. You can get a fairly straight restoration candidate for cheap, so why pour ten grand into a basket case to make it worth five grand?
Still, it is sad to see this car headed to The Crusher. Perhaps some rat-rod Rat Fink type will save this 287-cube V8 for a fenderless ’26 Nash Ajax project (though a Jeep Tornado OHC six in a Graham-Page 612 would be even cooler).
Weather Eye!

DOTJ-65RamblerConvert-14 DOTJ-65RamblerConvert-01 DOTJ-65RamblerConvert-02 DOTJ-65RamblerConvert-03 DOTJ-65RamblerConvert-04 DOTJ-65RamblerConvert-05 DOTJ-65RamblerConvert-06 DOTJ-65RamblerConvert-07 DOTJ-65RamblerConvert-08 DOTJ-65RamblerConvert-09 DOTJ-65RamblerConvert-10 DOTJ-65RamblerConvert-11 DOTJ-65RamblerConvert-12 DOTJ-65RamblerConvert-13 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 18
1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 14: First Taste of the Quarter-Mile Thu, 29 Sep 2011 18:30:30 +0000 After I moved from San Francisco to Atlanta and then got a job writing Year One’s catalogs, rubbing elbows with all those drag-race-crazed Southern gearheads on the job meant that it wasn’t long before I took the Impala to the dragstrip.
Back in 1996, Year One advertised pretty heavily at nearby Atlanta Dragway, and so we often made “field trips” to the track. You know, for work. My coworkers drove some pretty quick machinery, with plenty of 12-second Detroit bombs and the occasional excessively boosted Omni GLHS. I refused to run the Impala down the quarter-mile the first couple of Test-n-Tune Day visits, because A) I’d never run a car at a dragstrip before and B) I knew the Impala would be humiliatingly slow. Instead, I drank Schlitz in the paddock and kibitzed as my coworkers readied their cars.
This was fun, of course, but the peer pressure continued to build.
Finally, my coworker Clint— who spent his spare time finding correctly-date-coded U-joint end caps for his numbers-matching, 383/4-speed Road Runner— picked up a Poly 318-powered early-60s Belvedere and brought it to the track. It completed the quarter-mile in a stately and dignified 21 seconds. I figured that my car, with its smog-headed, Quadrajet-and-headers-equipped 350, should be able to beat that time!
So, I got the car through the tech inspection and lined up. I was a little nervous, but I figured I’d escape the ruthless ball-busting of my peers as long as I didn’t redlight my first time out. Screw the reaction time, I figured.
With 3.31 gears and an open differential, I decided to skip the burnout completely. The car didn’t have enough power to do much more than chirp one tire at launch, anyway.
I had Ministry’s “Jesus Built My Hotrod” on the cassette deck for this historic moment, because its combination of lines from Georgia native Flannery O’Connor’s second-best novel, drag racin’ imagery, and Gibby Haynes vocals seemed right for the occasion.

But, really, why settle for a rubber-burnin’ song with Gibby as a mere guest vocalist when you can hear him on a genuine, 200-proof Butthole Surfers track? Electriclarryland came out a few months after my first dragstrip visit, so I had to wait until a later dragstrip visit for this more appropriate musical accompaniment.
Dreading a redlight foul and resulting derision, I waited for the green light before I even thought about launching. Here we go!
The Impala is #111, on the right. 17.278 seconds, which turned out to be pretty much right in line with the “low to mid 17s” prediction of my coworkers. The 1.201-second R/T is a bit on the, er, conservative side, but I’ve gotten a lot quicker since that time.
After more practice and some engine tuning, I was able to crack the 16-second barrier— just barely— on a later visit to the strip, but I knew that I’d need to add another hundred or so horsepower if I wanted the car to live up to the original art-car concept I’d had for it. Meanwhile, as the spring of 1996 became another hot Georgia summer, my girlfriend decided that she wasn’t happy at Emory, or in academia in general. While I enjoyed hanging out with my new Southern friends, I didn’t like the hyper-suburban-sprawl that lay at the heart of the Atlanta way of life (captured fairly accurately, a couple of years later, in Tom Wolfe’s A Man In Full), and so we decided to pack up the Impala and head back to California in late August.
As was the case with the trip from California a year earlier, the drive was hot and stressful and I didn’t shoot many photos. In fact, I shot a grand total of two photos on our journey, which took us on a southern route in order to visit relatives in Austin, Texas, along the way (and both photos were taken in New Mexico). Here’s an end-of-film-roll shot of our motel in middle-o-nowhere New Mexico.
And here’s a shot of the Impala in front of the UFO Museum in Roswell. The car ran perfectly, and we were back in San Francisco a few days after leaving Georgia. I knew that the Impala would be getting a power upgrade in the very near future, once I’d settled down and found a job. Next up: More bad influences, building the New Engine.

IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13 • Part 14 • Part 15

96-Roswell-1280px 95-Commerce_Paddock_Schlitz-1280px 95-Dragstrip_Burnout-1280px 95-Dragstrip_Launch-1280px 95-Dragstrip_Waiting-1280px 95-Dragstrip-SelfPortrait-1280px 95-Dragstrip-Staging-InsideCar-1280px 95-Dragstrip-w_CRX-1280px 95-Dragstrip-w_CRX-low-1280px 95-Dragstrip-w_Peanut-1280px 95-Dragstrip-Waiting-1280px 96-AtlantaDragwayTimingSheet 96-IdealMotel-1280px 95-Dragstrip_Burnout-crop ]]> 20
1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 13: Mad Max At the Confederate Mount Rushmore Thu, 22 Sep 2011 14:30:53 +0000 After I hauled all my stuff 2,500 miles in the Impala and settled in Georgia, it was time for me to go job-hunting. After a few boring office-temp jobs, I spotted an ad that got my attention: Copywriter needed to write catalogs for large auto-parts company. Must know classic American cars. Within minutes of showing up for my interview at Year One, I had my first full-time writing job… and a nickname inspired by my car: Mad Max.
The Impala didn’t exactly fit seamlessly into its new neighborhood in Decatur, which was populated mostly by fairly refined CDC and Emory University employees, but it was very well-suited for trips to nearby hipster-centric Little Five Points and jaunts to Deliverance country in the northern part of the state. I got used to the lack of air conditioning in the car, which never overheated even in stop-and-go traffic during triple-digit heat waves.
The beer-can-and-JB-Weld patch I’d put in the corner of the rear window finally solved the car’s chronic rain-leakage problem.
In addition to the heat, I also had to get used to Georgia-style rain. In California, it only rains in the winter and you get plenty of warning when rain is coming. That means you can count on not getting soaked when you start an outdoor wrenching project. It doesn’t work like that in the South; I had to replace a water pump in the parking lot one sunny afternoon, got halfway through, and then an Old Testament-grade thundershower got me. Here I am test-driving the car while filthy and soaked.
It got a lot easier to fix up my car once I started working for the Year One Graphics Department, since my coworkers were a bunch of super-obsessed Detroit-iron fanatics and I could get just about any ’65 Impala part (not to mention tools and Rat Fink T-shirts) on my employee discount. The parking lot was always full of wild, daily-driven drag-race cars, hooptied-out parts cars, and everything in between. Normal people don’t drive, say, 12-second Buick Skylarks or primered-out Slant Six Coronet 440s to work, but these were not normal people. The Graphics Department, which created all the various YO catalogs and publications, was home to a half-dozen or so designers, photographers, and writers. Hardcore Southern gearheads, every one, and probably the sharpest, funniest group of coworkers I’ve ever had. Everyone had a Graphics Dude nickname; the tall skinny writer was Ichabod, the black-bearded designer was Chong… and it took only one glance at my Impala for them to assign my name: Mad Max, or just Max for short. To this day, my former Year One coworkers (including South Carolina LeMons hero Walker Canada) all call me Max.
At that time, the company would put out a fat glossy-covered catalog for each line of GM or Chrysler car every six months or so, and as new parts came in they’d be added to the “New Products” catalog, which would be shipped to customers as an addendum to the big book. Eventually, the contents of the New Products catalogs would be added to the big catalog… but they’d been short a writer for many months and the backlog of un-catalogued parts was enormous. My job was to grab a new part, find the photograph of it, write up a description that combined useful specs and information with a bit of humorous ad copy, and incorporate the whole mess into the catalog layout. Repeat. Endlessly.
The three writers were seen as being even weirder than the rest of the Graphics Department crew, so we had our own corner of the office. Black-light posters, thrift-store lamps… and, if you look closely at this photo of my desk, you’ll see the drawer full of 8-track tapes. Yes, we had an 8-track-only music policy, which kept us all hitting the thrift stores in search of new tapes; while I never was able to get the Holy Grail of 8-tracks (the Sex Pistols’ “Never Mind The Bollocks”), I did manage to find some good Shocking Blue tapes. I did my work on a Quadra 950 Macintosh with a whopping (for 1995) 20 megs of RAM, and I learned to hate the evil and crash-prone Aldus (later Adobe) RageMaker and its enabler, the equally evil and crash-prone System 7 operating system.
So, I’d get a new product— say, an oil pump— and use the Paths tool in Photoshop to knock out the background of the photograph shot by our overworked photographer on the fantastically expensive digital camera in the Year One photo studio. Then I’d try to find some way to liven up a bunch of application specs with some entertaining copy.
Multiply this by eight catalogs, several of which were still laid out using the prehistoric waxer-and-process camera method, and I faced a several-month period of 16-hour days spent chained to PageMangler. It was very stressful— I’d shoot bolt upright in the middle of the night, sweat-soaked and hallucinating Chrysler A-body door panels and the System 7 Bomb Dialog.
Fortunately, my boss was this Firebird-racing Tennessee madman, Keith Maney. Some of you may be familiar with Keith from various muscle-car-centric TV shows (My Classic Car, Dream Car Garage, American Muscle Car, Hot Rod TV, MuscleCar TV, and Horsepower TV, among others), but I saw him as a great example of what it means to be a deadline-hitting, quality-prose-every-time, professional writer. I learned more about the craft of writing from this guy than I ever did from any college class. Someday he’ll finish the Not Too Sharpe Racing Datsun roadster and we’ll see him run in LeMons.
My wrenching skills and general car knowledge also underwent great improvement during this time, thanks to my immersion in Southern Gearhead World; here’s a lesson from a coworker in Full-Size Chevrolet Rear Control Arm Bushing Replacement. Once things calmed down on the deadline front, we’d take regular field trips to the dragstrip, where I received yet more crucial education (more on that in the next episode).
One thing nobody told me about Atlanta was that it snows there in the winter. Worse yet, sometimes it rains and then the rain freezes, rendering road travel very difficult for a large rear-wheel-drive sedan with an open differential and torquey V8. How is this possible in the Deep South? So, one December morning I woke up to find the car completely covered with a thick layer of ice. The door locks were frozen completely solid, and I had to call my Minnesota-native parents for advice (pour hot water over the locks, they suggested). All the advice in the world couldn’t prepare this soft California boy for his first-ever snow driving experiences, however.
Then it turned out that the door latches would freeze in the open position, once I got the car moving, which resulted in a huge, primered-out Chevy sliding all over the road with its doors flapping open and shut. Other drivers gave me a wide, wide berth. Fortunately, my years of experience with parking-lot donuts and related hoonage in rear-drive Detroit bombs made me reasonably skilled at recovering from skids, and I hit nothing.
But, damn, it just wasn’t fair, this weather! The Impala’s heater, and particularly its defroster, proved inadequate under these conditions, but our forefathers survived just fine with cold car interiors and frosty windows.
In spite of the crazy writing workload, I was enjoying my job. My coworkers drove silly cars and were excellent storytellers in the Southern tradition; I argued politics with them constantly— inevitable with the San Francisco/Deep South culture clash— but we hung out, played poker, drank whiskey, and wrenched on cars together. Meanwhile, my girlfriend was hating every minute of her Southern experience; she’d gone from being a respected chef and restaurant manager in California to an ivory-tower academic at Emory University, and the bullshit was getting to her. On top of that, neither of us dug the relentlessly suburban/exurban, mall-centric sprawliness that was the Atlanta metropolitan area.
Then there were all the echoes of the Civil War and Civil Rights Era, which Georgians saw as different battles in the same war. In California, history is sort of unreal and distant, like Disneyland, with all the victims hidden safely from view… but in Georgia, you can just about see heaps of Gatling-gunned CSA soldiers and lynched sharecroppers bleeding on the asphalt of the mall parking lot, and that makes for a lot of tension. Just down the road from us was Stone Mountain, aka “The Confederate Mount Rushmore” and the ceremonial birthplace of the 20th-century Klan, where you can see a laser light show projected onto the stone faces of Confederate heroes while Lynyrd Skynyrd plays on the loudspeakers. Naturally, my Nixon obsession led me into frequent rants on the Southern Strategy, which didn’t go over so well in Gingrich country. With my girlfriend’s increasing unhappiness with her academic career, it was looking as though our stay in Georgia might not last quite as long as we’d planned.
But I did like deep-fried okra, Georgia junkyards, going to the dragstrip, and shooting the shit with my coworkers. I used my Year One employee discount to get my first really good tools, full sets of S-K sockets and wrenches, and I started planning a bigger and better engine for the Impala. In the meantime, though, I slapped a 327 sticker I found in my desk onto the car’s air cleaner. 327 is just a cooler number than 350.
We’d get all sorts of sample cans of spray paint from manufacturers hoping to sell their products in our catalogs, and so I established a policy under which any sort of primer paint could be tested on my car (provided the paint fell somewhere on the black-and-white continuum). This resulted in a sort of “concrete camouflage” effect.
The car was looking meaner than ever as a result of this treatment, and so it became the inspiration for the photographers and designers, who were working on a new publication.
The Graphics Department would be putting out a slick car magazine entitled Restoration Review, and the designers decided to use photos of my car for the original concept mockups. Here I am, the genius who created Super In-Destruct-O Paint!
My girlfriend and I took the Impala on trips to Savannah, Lexington, Chapel Hill, and Nashville during late 1995 and early 1996, and it proved a great Southern road-trip machine.

One of my fellow YO Graphics Department writers was a musician who’d been knocking around the Atlanta music scene for many years, and I started joining him to see bands at various scurrilous dive bars. I became a fan of Smoke (I recommend the excellent documentary film about Smoke’s late singer, Benjamin Smoke) and I went to some great country/punk/rockabilly gigs during this era. I also had the opportunity to see Doc Watson in a small venue at Little Five Points.
I put my improved wrenching skills and access to wholesale parts to use by replacing the remaining original suspension components. Still not satisfied with the car’s handling, I splurged on a set of decent tires and a fat Addco front swaybar. This brought the car up to late-20th-century handling standards. All it needed was more power… and that was in my plans.
The real question was: What would the Impala do in the quarter-mile with its mildly upgraded, smog-headed 350? Next up: The dragstrip!

IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12 • Part 13 • Part 14

Keith_Dragstrip_494-1280px 95-Bumper_Icicles-1280px 95-Commerce_Paddock_Schlitz-1280px 95-Front_CoventryRd-1280px 95-FrontSuspJob-HighView-1280px 95-FrontSuspJob-Low-1280px 95-FrontSuspJob-Strut-1280px 95-FrostyCarInterior-Mjoy-1280px 95-GrimyTestDrive-1280px 95-RH_Flank-1280px 95-Snow_Atlanta-1280px 95-Underhood_Chain-1280px 95-WhiteLightnin_Trunk-1280px 95-YearOne_Desk-1280px 96-327_AirCleaner-1280px 96-LH_C_Pillar-1280px 96-LH_Frt_Door_Me_at_Wheel-1280px 96-LH_MeAtWheel-2-1280px 96-LH_MeAtWheel-5-1280px 96-LH-MeStanding-1280px 96-Rear_Susp_Bushing_Job-1280px 96-RestorationReview_SuperIndestructo-1280px 96-RH_JBWeld_Body_Patch3-1280px 96-RH_JBWeld_Body_Patch-1280px 96-Taillights_LH-1280px 95-ChevyOilPump-YOCatalog YO-LineClipCatalogCopy YO-BuickCatalogCover StoneMountain-550px ]]> 27
1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 12: Next Stop, Atlanta! Thu, 15 Sep 2011 21:00:36 +0000 After the Nixon-head-hood-ornamented Impala’s pilgrimage to the birthplace of Richard Nixon in the spring of 1994, I left Oakland and moved across the Bay to an apartment on Valencia Street in San Francisco’s Mission District, home of the best burritos in the world. Little did I know that it wouldn’t be long before I’d be packing all my possessions into the Impala and blasting 2,500 miles to the southeast.
By early 1995, I’d settled into a routine of office-temp work in the Financial District, cheap burritos for dinner (El Toro and El Farolito were— and still are— my favorites), and evening drives over Twin Peaks to see a girlfriend who lived about 50 yards from the Pacific Ocean (this was only a five-mile trip on paper, but a grueling 40-minute/thousand-stop-sign slog by automobile; San Francisco makes blocks seem like miles). I used BART to get to work, because only Daddy Warbucks can afford to park in downtown SF, so the Impala spent its days parked near the corner of Valencia and 24th. In those days, back when this part of the Mission was cheap and not yet fully hipsterized, any car parked in my neighborhood had about a 100% chance (per week) of being broken into, vandalized, or bashed into by a drunk in an Electra 225 running three space-saver spares. Actually, the gentrification of the Mission hasn’t changed a damn thing; the cars are nicer today, but they still get just as trashed on the street.
But my car didn’t get touched. Even the most desperate crackhead could sense that it wasn’t worth smashing a side window with a chunk of spark-plug porcelain in order to rummage for 16¢ in the glovebox. Parallel parkers with 11 sloe gin fizzes under their belts exercised unprecedented caution when squeezing 18 feet of car into an 18.5-foot space bounded by my car. It’s possible that my car got key-striped or tagged, but I wouldn’t have noticed. I’d remove my 20-pound pull-out octophonic sound-system rig, leave the glovebox door open to show its emptiness, and the car would be left alone.
In short, my Impala turned out to be not only an ideal long-distance road-trip machine but a perfect urban survivor as well. About the only drawback was its size; the big Chevrolets of this era have a surprisingly tight turning radius, but in San Francisco you’ll find a lot of spaces that only a CRX or smaller can squeeze into.
Everything was going fine. I’d settled into a decent-paying long-term temp gig with a junk-mail-mill of an environmental charity I won’t name because they’d probably sue me out of existence, removing the names of dead donors from the mailing list and answering angry letters from live donors upset about said charity taking money from Pollutco, Inc. (by the way, I learned that gluing a junk-mailer’s Business Reply Envelope to a chunk of 2×4 or stuffing the envelope with lead plates from a car battery totally works, or at least it worked in 1995; I was the one who threw out such objects every day). As winter became spring, my coast-dwelling girlfriend’s graduation from San Francisco State loomed. In spite of my warnings about the perils of academia, she decided that she really wanted to pursue a PhD in American History. Emory University near Atlanta offered her a fat fellowship— in essence a free-ride tuition deal with a juicy stipend check on top— and it was an offer she didn’t refuse.
So, the decision had to be made: dump her or move to Georgia with her. All I knew about Georgia came from obsessive reading of Flannery O’Connor’s work, supplemented by Eric Foner’s no-punches-pulled history of Reconstruction, and I was uneasy (to put it mildly) about moving there. This sort of dilemma calls for a road trip!
My friend— and future brother-in-law— Jim was itching to drive a circuit of the country in his much-traveled ’88 Toyota pickup, and I figured we could visit Atlanta on the way and see if I could stand living in the place. I put together a special mix tape, we loaded up the camping equipment, and we hit the road.
Our route was a circuit around the perimeter of the country: up to Idaho, across the Upper Midwest to New York City, down the Atlantic coast and then west across the Deep South, Texas, and the Southwest. We’d sleep in campgrounds or on friends’ couches at various cities along the way, cook our own meals, and do the whole trip in 22 days. It was a blast, but The Man kept sweating us (I’m pretty sure the Toyota’s California plates and Grateful Dead stickers contributed to John Law’s low opinion of the vehicle). The South Dakota Highway Patrol pulled us over outside Rapid City, put us in the back seat of the Crown Victoria, and dumped the contents of the truck onto the shoulder in a quest for nonexistent drugs and guns (“There’s a regular traffic in stolen firearms from California to Minneapolis,” one cop grated, “and you boys fit the description perfectly”). We got hassled at rest stops, where the cops were doing random warrantless searches of vehicles with dogs, and we happened to be entering Atlanta during Freaknik, a gathering of black college students that had every law-enforcement officer in Georgia roaring about the highways in a heavily-armed frenzy… and then some nutjob mass murderer went and blew up the Federal Building when we were a few hours east of Oklahoma City. We heard reports on the radio that “two men in a blue pickup” were seen fleeing the scene and we figured we’d be arrested and/or lynched any minute. To us, the best move seemed to be to continue to drive toward OKC, because that’s the one direction the perps probably wouldn’t be going. We were spared a nightmarish experience with law enforcement and/or vigilantes when McVeigh and his beater ’77 Marquis made the world’s lamest getaway, and we passed through Oklahoma without incident (other than being freaked out by the horror that had taken place).
The upshot of all this was that I figured Atlanta looked interesting as a place to live, and that cross-country driving in a sketchy-looking vehicle with California plates is extremely stressful. What the hell, I thought, it will be an adventure. We’d leave San Francisco in August.
I wasn’t sure how well we’d be able to fit all our stuff inside the Impala (even after ruthless culling of our respective book collections— including most of my first-edition Philip K. Dick paperbacks— we still had hundreds of pounds of the things), so I screwed some junkyard-sourced tie-downs on the trunk lid and rear quarters. That way we’d be able to travel in true Joad Family style, with crates of squawking chickens and kitchen utensils tied to the outside of the car, though we’d be leaving California instead of fleeing to it. Too bad about the Doll Hut sticker, but I’d get a new one during my next Orange County trip… whenever that might be.
It appeared that the only way to haul our bicycles— which were worth more than the car— would be on the trunk lid, so I devised this trunk-mounted bike rack to keep them secure from motel-parking-lot thieves. We’d lock the bikes to the bar— which was a galvanized steel plumbing nipple with a few hacksaw-jamming 283 pushrods inside— using our San Francisco-grade U-locks. This bar now lives on as the grab handle of my Junkyard Boogaloo Boombox, which provides tunes when I’m working in the garage. As it turned out, the disassembled bikes fit inside the car, stacked on all the boxes in the back seat, so the trunk bar served only to confuse onlookers.
I felt confident that no thief would be able to figure out the bewildering array of dash switches and hot-wire the car, but what about battery thieves? Cutting a few bars of grille out of the way and attaching a chain to a carriage bolt through the hood solved that problem.
And I didn’t want the same motel-parking-lot thieves who’d be frustrated by the locked-down bicycles to have a shot at the valuables in the trunk, so I added this hasp and bolt-cutter-proof padlock. I thought about adding hasps to the doors as well, but decided we’d just keep the not-worth-stealing boxes of books in the back seat and put everything else in the trunk. Just as well, because I wouldn’t have wanted my car to look like this Cadillac.
The plan was to drive I-80 through Nevada and into Utah, then turn right at Salt Lake City to visit some relatives in southeastern Utah. From there, we’d take I-70 east, visit some more relatives in Kentucky, then head south to Atlanta. Driving a 30-year-old car loaded with a half-ton or so of cargo across the desert in the height of summer seemed like a bit of a gamble, so I invested a couple hundred bucks in a new Modine radiator (the old one had a JB Weld patch about 4″ wide, from a baseball-sized rock that had bounced off a gravel truck and put a huge hole in the radiator a few years earlier, and I didn’t quite trust the patch) and added a junkyard transmission cooler. All my tools would be on board, and I figured I’d have no problems finding parts in the event of a mechanical failure. Pack it up, move it out!
At this point, we run into the limitations of the pre-digital-camera era again; this cross-country drive was so hectic and stressful that I managed to take only a handful of photographs, all on a point-and-shoot camera loaded with color print film (yes, the old days sucked in so many ways). The car made it to Moab just fine, with the only incident being a busted tailpipe caused by the car bottoming out in a gas-station entrance. A little beer-can-and-hoseclamp work fixed the tailpipe, and the car kept rolling. Note how low the rear of the loaded-down car is in this photo; I considered adding some JC Whitney overload springs before we left, but ran out of preparation time.
The mercury hit 115 degrees on the day we left Utah, and it stayed above 100 for most of the drive to Kentucky. We were sweating like crazy with no air conditioning (rolling all the windows down and spraying our faces with a plant-mister bottle helped some), but the engine never came close to overheating.
While the Impala got a lot of double-takes from the Smokeys, we didn’t get pulled over even once. My assumption is that the car was just so shockingly blatant in its California wretchedness that the law figured “Damn! Anybody this obvious couldn’t be doing anything illegal.” Such a relief— I’d counted on having to unload everything for police searching on a scorching road shoulder while 18-wheelers blared by, at least a couple of times.
The stop at the Kentucky in-laws’ place was a nice break, and then we turned south. Tennessee was my first real experience with the Southern flavor of surrealism. We started seeing stuff like this more and more frequently the further south we went. Tin Can Baby… Test Tube Baby… Stick Baby… Just Say No!
I wasn’t one of those Yankees (are Californians considered true Yankees?) who based his entire conception of the South on “Deliverance” and Lynyrd Skynyrd songs, but coastal California is full of ex-Southerners who fled the place and then scare the shit out of Californians with endless horror stories about their homeland. I was nervous. So when I stepped out of our room at the Stonewall Jackson Motor Lodge in Murfreesboro, Tennessee and found a couple of overalls-with-no-shirts-wearin’, tobacco-chewin’, toothless, gristly, possum-innards-eatin’ cronies leaning on the Impala’s fender and drinking tall cans of Colt .45 at 8:30 in the morning, well, I didn’t know what to expect. The tall skinny one looked at the short fat one, took a swig of Colt, then looked at me. “You gwine pint thet car?” he asked. Why, no, I wasn’t. “I like the way it looks right now,” I replied. That seemed to satisfy them, or at least that’s how I interpreted their nods.
Atlanta was a very weird place in the summer of 1995. The Olympics were coming the next year, and the whole state was wild-eyed with excitement about Atlanta emerging from the games as a “World Class City,” a destination for international dealmakers and tourists from all corners of the globe. The Olympics would change everything!
At the same time, the screaming matches over the state flag— which had received its Confederate-ization treatment in 1956, as a response to the Civil Rights movement— were freakin’ deafening, what with the international attention it would be receiving as soon as all those Olympic visitors showed up. Atlanta’s unofficial slogan, “The City Too Busy To Hate,” seemed pretty defensive, and also a dig at archrival Birmingham, which Atlantans sneered at as “The City of Lazy No-Goodniks That Always Have Time To Hate.” This Olympics-fueled civic pride translated into landlords believing they’d be rich once the athletes showed up (apparently believing that high-buck renters would start showing up six months before the Games), and it was a real challenge finding a place to live at a price we could afford.
After a week or two of living at a crackhead motel, however, we found an apartment just off Ponce de Leon (that’s pronounced “Ponse duh LEE-on”) in Decatur, walking distance from Emory.
I roamed around exploring the area and looking for jobs, and found that a non-air-conditioned car in dark primer paint was not ideal under conditions of hundred-degree heat and 98% humidity, especially when wearing an interview suit.
It felt cool getting some Georgia plates for my ride— the peach color looked great in contrast with the grim grayscale look of the car— and I enjoyed eating biscuits and gravy in old-time Southern diners full of chain-smoking 100-year-olds. Other than the interior temperature, the Impala was well suited to its new home.
We took a brief trip south to visit a relative near Talahassee and a turn down the wrong dirt road led to a long Heart of Darkness-style drive on muddy trails in the jungle. I never did find Mistah Kurtz, but I did find the long-sought Refrigerator Graveyard, a swamp where thousands of dying refrigerators and other large appliances crawl off to die. The Impala turned out to be an excellent dirt-road machine, even with its open differential. I wish I had more Heart of Darkness Impala photos from the jungle expedition, but this is the only shot that came out.
I found plenty of interesting cars during my travels, including this “ran when parked” Cad, and Georgia junkyards were great (more on them later).
I also found plenty of historically interesting stuff as I roamed in the Impala. Here’s Martin Luther King’s church, located a few miles from my apartment in Decatur. General Sherman’s headquarters during his stay in Atlanta— or, rather, what was left of Atlanta after he got through with it— was also near my place, and the locals had allowed it to become completely buried under tons of kudzu.
The Impala’s leaky rear window (a GM trademark for decades), which I thought I’d fixed forever with silicone and roof cement, became a real problem during Atlanta’s torrential summer-afternoon thunderstorms. The right rear corner was the main trouble spot, with California-style rust-through where water had sat for months at a time during 30 years of West Coast winters. I decided to get serious, ground away all the rot with a wire wheel, and applied large quantities of JB Weld to the problem spot. It worked perfectly.
My employment search turned up nothing but more office-temp work for the first month or so of Georgia residence, but then I stumbled into the perfect job. Next up, Mad Max at Year One!

IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11 • Part 12 • Part 13

96-TrunkPadlock-1280px 95-DashOut_w_Mao-1280px 95-Emblem_RH_Fender-1280px 95-GasketStain-1280px 95-HOP-1280px 95-Moab_Frt_RH-1280px 95-Moab_RH-1280px 95-Moab-Front-1280px 95-Patina_C_Pillar-1280px 95-Patina_C_Pillar_RH-1280px 95-StickBabyMadness-1280px 95-TaillightsSun-1280px 95-Talahassee_Jungle-1280px 95-TieDown-1280px 96-HoodPadlock-1280px 96-MarkerLightPatina-1280px 95-SteeringWheelSunGlare-1280px 95-Underhood_Chain_2-1280px 95-AtlantaBuildings-1280px 95-Atlanta-EbenezerChurch-1280px 95-AtlantaPoverty2-1280px 95-AtlantaPoverty-1280px 95-ChopChopRestaurant-1280px 95-JBWeld_Patch-1280px 95-GeorgiaPlate 95-BadlandsTrip 95-I90_onramp 95-GrabBar GeorgiaStateFlag 95-RanWhenParkedCadillac ]]> 27
1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 11: Son of Orange County Tue, 06 Sep 2011 23:30:48 +0000 In Part 10, the Hell Project Impala got Fiat scoops on the hood and hit the I-5 trail again. By late 1993, the car looked more or less the way I’d planned when I started the project and had become a surprisingly good daily driver (thanks to more modern brakes and a reliable, HEI-equipped 350 engine). I still planned to do some suspension and horsepower upgrades, once the early 1990s recession relaxed its grip enough for me to land a decent-paying job, but the setup I had was fulfilling my driving needs very well. Then, in the spring of ’94, Richard Nixon died, and I decided to take the Nixon-hood-ornamented car down to his birthplace and mingle with the mourners.
Before all this happened, however, I’d finally managed to ditch the office- and light-industrial-temp gigs and get a full-time job: delivery driver for a tropical-fish wholesaler.
Every morning I’d drive the Impala to the company’s East Bay warehouse and report to the 120-degree, 100% humidity Fish Room to help pack the day’s merchandise.
The entire aquarium/tropical-fish business is a festival of cruelty from start to finish, particularly with the salt-water varieties; first, starving divers in various Third World coastal towns in the Pacific jump into the water while breathing from a compressor air hose, and they hose down fish habitat with cyanide to stun the fish. Most of the victims die, but some get netted and put into plastic bags, and after another death-filled journey that culminates in the few sickly survivors making it to an American airport’s cargo facility, a Fish Driver (that was me, generally at SFO) arrives in a Mitsubishi Fuso van to pick up a bunch of insulated boxes full of plastic bags containing dead, dying, and (a few) living tropical fish. The fish then take a ride to the Fish Room, where they live in aquariums until being ordered by a retailer. Then the employees of the wholesaler net the fish and dump them in 5-gallon buckets full of salt water, at which point the Fish Driver puts them in plastic bags, fills the bags with oxygen, and dumps them in a styrofoam box for delivery to the customer. Then the fish— those that survive— are sold to the public, and they spend the rest of their abbreviated lives swimming in tiny, desperate circles, searching in vain for an ocean that will never again be their homes. Yeah, this part of the job sucked. If you’re now an underemployed 20-something who’s been on the same sort of not-so-encouraging career path for a couple of years after graduation, you are experiencing a harsher, less forgiving version of the job market of the early 1990s recession, and you probably have a pretty good grasp of the Fish Driver-type jobs out there.
I had no complaints about my commuter vehicle at this time; it drove very well and looked great. My commute covered about 15 miles of some of the nastiest traffic in the East Bay, so I spent a lot of time on the plush green upholstery of my Buick (or maybe it was Oldsmobile) bench seat, inching forward in stop-and-go traffic on I-880 and listening to music on my eight-speaker, twin-amplifier, all-junkyard stereo system.
Being a Fish Driver was pretty stressful, and so I made a special mix tape to listen to while driving to and from my route. Its name: I, Fish Driver.
The vehicles in the Fish Warehouse motor pool were the Fuso, a battered diesel Ford Econoline van, and a diesel Isuzu pickup with rattly-ass camper shell. In order to play cassettes while driving, I drilled a hole in the back of a cheapo Emerson boombox (seen here with a Les Faquins sticker) and ran some long power leads terminating in alligator clips. After loading all the boxes of fish into the Isuzu, Ford, or Mitsubishi, the final step in preparing for my fish-drivin’ day involved crawling under the vehicle’s dash and connecting the alligator clips to 12V+ and ground.

At this point in my life, the Flaming Lips song “Jesus Shooting Heroin” had become more or less the theme song for my days toiling on the Fish Route. In truth, it became the theme song of my life, and my incessant replaying of the song drove everyone around me nuts in a big hurry. When the album containing this fine song first came out in 1986, I wrote off the band as an Oklahoma-fied Butthole Surfers ripoff (which, of course, they were, in most glorious fashion), and I was such a Butthole Surfers fanatic at the time that it took me until the early 1990s to begin to appreciate the genius of the Lips. It goes without saying that “Jesus Shooting Heroin” was the first song on my “I, Fish Driver” tape.

Sometimes I would allow “I, Fish Driver” to run past the first song, in order to hear the mournful Sister Double Happiness song “Wheels A Spinning.” Yes, those two songs make for sort of a Generation X, diminished-expectations/downward-spiral one-two punch, but it made perfect sense at the time. Following them up with Hüsker Dü‘s “Never Talking To You Again” and the Minutemen‘s “Jesus and Tequila,” on the rare occasion that I didn’t hit the Rewind button right after Gary Floyd’s voice stopped.
As a Fish Driver, my days started very early. Into the Impala at dawn, slave in the Fish Room for a couple hours, load the truck, then drive for the next ten or so hours. Repeat. Endlessly.
None of the Fish Driver vehicles had working air conditioning, and my route took me to the broiling-ass Central Valley at least two days a week. Here I am sweating in a Jenny Holzer T-shirt, which is appropriately meta-irono-Gen-X-esque.

I’d usually bring a camera along, so that I could capture old Buicks on Interstate 5 and weird scenes like this “Get Hooked On Fishing, Not On Drugs” bait shop in Stockton.
I shot quite a few proto-DOTS-style interesting street-parked cars during my travels. How about a partially-stripped RX-7 parked in front of an abandoned Pinto?
But mostly I saw strip malls, grim pet-supply chain stores, and about-to-go-out-of-business independent aquarium stores.
I’d finally managed to put a stop to most of the leaky windshield and rear-window weatherstripping— a common GM weak point of the era; my $113 GTO got so bad that crops of mushrooms sprouted from the carpeting by about February— using copious quantities of caulk, Henry’s #204 Roof Cement, and JB Weld. That meant that the Impala’s interior no longer reeked of mildew during Northern California’s rainy winters.
I had gotten used to having weeks off between temp jobs and taking lengthy couch-surfing expeditions to Southern California, but being a Monday-through-Friday Fish Driver meant that my Interstate 5 expeditions had to be weekend-length.
One trip to Los Angeles seemed to promise a job much more interesting than being a Fish Driver.

My friend Ben’s girlfriend had taken a job as “Mistress Nina” at a dungeon in City of Industry, and the dungeon management wanted somebody to weld up some proper torture equipment, preferably using rusty old car parts. Yes, underemployed 20-somethings in a recession will jump at any quasi-interesting job possibility with ice-water-in-hell enthusiasm, an effect one can see all around us today.
Truth was, Mistress Nina’s employer— I’ll call the joint Humiliation-’Я’-Us, because I can’t recall the real name— had some pretty lame torture equipment. There was a medium-cool Triumph chopper sitting in the waiting room, and this head cage was sort of menacing… but check out the weak-ass chain running to the ceiling. How could a client of Mistress Nina feel the proper mix of fear and arousal, knowing that he could just snap the chain by not-very-desperate struggling?
Clothespins and Icy Hot are fine, sort of your bread-and-butter dungeon implements, but wouldn’t the addition of some gnarly, oxidized jumper cables and a big jar of well-used hose clamps add that extra dungeony je ne sais quoi? The mistresses wouldn’t actually have to use that stuff, so my additions to this sort of gear would be purely cosmetic. Humiliation-’Я’-Us, after all, was a legitimate, tax-paying business, not some fly-by-night operation that sent its customers to the ER with hard-to-explain injuries.
And this so-called rack? Why, this spindly thing would be smashed to kindling by any real struggles. Why should the customers of Humiliation-’Я’-Us have to exercise such suspension of disbelief during their ministrations at the hands of Mistress Nina and her coworkers? What this place needed was a rack based on bumper jacks! You know, the big ratcheting jobs preferred by Detroit in the 1960s, the ones that would let you hoist a Chrysler Newport at the top of a teetering shaft of cast iron. Imagine being chained to my rack, with hefty steel manacles at wrists and ankles (attached to clanking, logging-truck-grade rusty-ass chains you’d know you could never break no matter how desperate your struggles). My rack would be vertical, for a greater sense of vulnerability. Mistress Nina and her assistant would, with great deliberation, insert their tire irons into the twin bumper jacks behind your back and, at the count of three, crank down another notch. The glorious fear! Who knows what those evil torturin’ mistresses might do next? I’d use drum-brake return springs as safety devices, to limit the amount of torque on the victim. What could possibly go wrong?
Sadly, the job of dungeon-implement-maker never panned out. Negotiations with Humiliation-’Я’-Us broke down over the subject of remuneration. First, they wanted to pay in services. No, thanks. How about speed? Hell, no! I wanted cash, and that seemed like a foreign concept to the graduates of the Dungeon School of Business.
That was sort of a bummer, because it would be unimaginably hip to be able to put “Sex Torture Equipment Designer” on my resume today. Still, I was able to put the knowledge I acquired about the world of dominatrices and dungeons to good use more than a decade later, when I wrote Torment, Incorporated (now available for the Kindle!). Actually, my disdain for the low-budget, make-believe setting of the Humiliation-’Я’-Us facilities led me to come up with my own ideas for a really effective dungeon, and most of you will be pleased to know that I won’t subject you to any more of this digression here; jump over to for a semi-work-safe excerpt from the novel.
The Impala was really looking and running great around this time; the Fiat hood scoops were the crucial finishing touch for the car’s look, and now only a few more years of patina acquisition were needed.
I was still loosely affiliated with the anti-nuclear canvassing organization for which I did occasional wrenching work on the donated cars used to transport canvassers to door-knocking “turf” (a great San Francisco-to-Reno road trip in a ’76 Nova with one such canvasser is documented here). After spending most of 1993 suffering under the cruel lash of the Fish Master, I finally quit my Fish Driver job, which gave me time to visit my friends protesting imminent thermonuclear annihilation at Lawrence Livermore Labs aka Edward Teller‘s Commie-Vaporizin’ Playground. The sight of the Impala among all those hippie-driven Tercel wagons and lefty-sticker-encrusted Vanagons caused some consternation among the jaded CHPs who were keeping the rabid peaceniks from storming the facilities, but no harm came to me or my wheels.
I was surprised that nobody seemed upset about the Richard Nixon hood ornament (which started life as a rubber shower-nozzle decoration, for those who wanted to feel that Tricky Dick was spitting on them in the shower) above the car’s grille. I was also surprised that no Mission District hipster ripped the thing off while the car parked in San Francisco, since the Nixon Head was held in place by a just couple of easily-sliced lengths of speaker wire.
Most who saw my car just tuned it out as “yet another hooptied-out Detroit heap,” but a few recognized it as the art car I’d intended to build all along. Here’s a note left under the windshield one night in early 1994: The Sinester (sic) Car of the Week!
Greasy handprints, three-dimensional texture, and blacked-out trim. I’d returned to the temp-gig lifestyle; the light-industrial gigs were too similar to Fish Driving, so I stuck with office-temp jobs this time around. I had some sort of weird job working a microfilm camera at a Ross Perot-owned facility with an incomprehensible purpose involving billions of cancelled checks being pumped through thousand-yard industrial lines; I still don’t know what they did in that place, which had a spy-movie-style security tunnel with remote-operated doors (through which bewildered temps had to pass after being interrogated via PA speaker every morning) and such uptight security that my job was never explained to me.
I was eating lunch in my car in the parking lot (all office temps have an aversion to eating in the break room with the perms, who look upon temps as not-quite-human creatures) when the news came over the radio: Richard Nixon was dead. At that point, I thought to glance at my car’s Nixon Head hood ornament and found that someone had cut one of the wires affixing it to the car, so that Nixon’s face was now facing the ground. It meant something, and I decided in that moment that it meant I’d better tell Ross Perot that I was done working in his mysterious check-eating facility… and head down I-5 to Richard Milhous Nixon’s homeland: Orange County, California.
So, I finished my last shift, told the temp agency I was through with that gig, packed up the Impala, and headed south. My destination: Yorba Linda, California, birthplace of Richard Nixon and home of the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum.

A bit of background might be in order here. At this point, Frank Zappa’s ode to the 37th President of the United States, “Son of Orange County,” seems the appropriate background music (my dad, a big Zappa fan since the days of “Freak Out,” i.e. my entire life, played this song endlessly during the era of the Watergate hearings; therefore it’s etched forever in my mind as “the Watergate theme song”), so crank it up.
Where did my Nixon obsession come from? As a kindergartner and first-grader in Minneapolis during the run-up to the 1972 presidential elections, I didn’t have a very clear grasp of politics; I knew we had been bombing the shit out of Southeast Asia going back to before I was born, for some reason that didn’t even make sense to the grown-ups, and that somehow the upcoming election had something to do with bombs and protesters, but that was about it. What I did know, however, was that my mom (a tough ER nurse from union-stronghold St. Paul) hated this Nixon guy’s guts, and the anti-Nixon tirades I overheard her delivering had me convinced that Terrible Things would ensue if Nixon won the election. I wasn’t sure quite what these things were (nor did I get that Nixon was already president at the time), but I somehow came up with the idea that we’d all be rounded up and sent to concentration camps in the desert if McGovern lost the election… which he did by the biggest blowout in United States presidential election history.
So, Nixon won… and a few weeks later, my parents quit their jobs, sold their house, bought a 1973 Chevrolet Beauville passenger van (shown here after the family got totally 1970s-California-ized, down to the floppy leather cowboy hats), and we left Minnesota for California… or that was the cover story. I knew that we were really heading to Nixon’s camps in the desert, where we’d be put to work digging holes and filling them up again, or whatever evil presidents did to innocent Minnesota families.
Actually, my parents left Minnesota because they’d gone to visit friends in California on a week when the temperature in Minneapolis was 25 below and the temperature in the San Francisco Bay Area was 75 above. That 100-degree difference was all they needed to ditch the Midwest, forever. The Beauville survived long enough for me to wreck it as a teenager, incidentally; here are my sisters on a family trip in the red-and-white Chevy, circa 1981.

Even though the camps in the desert never happened, I remained fascinated with Nixon. During the period starting with the Watergate hearings and peaking with the Fall of Saigon, the Malaise Era was in full effect, with a downward-spiral sense that all principles had been betrayed, no institution was trustworthy, life would always get worse, etc., and Richard Nixon’s face was always front and center for me throughout all of it.

Nixon would be regarded as a flaming socialist liberal these days, what with such Trotskyist big-government/nanny-state moves as the EPA, Clean Air Act, radical economic moves, and so on, and he might have made an OK president (in spite of his SoCal-real-estate-money-backed reprehensible campaign tactics and general lack of moral compass), but unfortunately he was driven completely insane by having the ’60 Presidential election stolen for Kennedy by the vote-generating machines of Mayor Daley and LBJ and then— a mere two years later— losing the race for Governor of California to liberal Pat Brown (no, not this Pat Brown). Nixon had spent his life up to that point convinced that he needed to crush his enemies before they crushed him (an activity at which he excelled), but after the ’62 elections he became convinced that everyone, particularly the “East Coast media elite,” was out to destroy him. By the early 1970s, he was all hopped up on Dilantin, obsessed with legions of real and imagined enemies, and surrounding himself with cronies who felt it necessary to burglarize the offices of the (obviously hapless and doomed) opposition. As I got older, I read everything I could find on the subject of Richard Milhous Nixon, and came to see him as a profoundly American tragic figure— I didn’t exactly empathize with him, what with the permanent damage he inflicted on everything America was supposed to stand for and all, but I couldn’t look away.
When the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace had its grand opening in 1990, I was living 20 minutes away and had just purchased a 1965 Chevrolet Impala sedan. Naturally, one of the first trips I took in the car was to Yorba Linda, to be there when two ex-presidents and one current president (Ford, Reagan, and Bush I) dedicated the site honoring yet another ex-president.
Even though I was an obvious freak with a huge red beard at the time, I figured that my appreciation of Nixon’s significance would be understood by the wholesome Orange County Republicans running the show, and that I’d be welcomed to the ceremony outside the little house that lemon farmer and grocer Frank Nixon had built with his own two hands.
Unfortunately, the Secret Service guys saw it differently. The nice old ladies in red-white-and-blue dresses who guide visitors around the place (right side of the above photo) are very friendly and welcoming to visitors, no matter how unlike clean-cut La Habra Republicans they might appear, but the SS guys obviously figured I was about to produce a five-gallon bucket of pig blood and dump it on Gerald Ford, screaming about millions of dead Southeast Asians, tit-for-tat presidential pardons, and so forth.
I probably risked getting hustled off to an unmarked van and given a very unpleasant lecture about the lack of wisdom shown by photographing Secret Service personnel with four United States Presidents nearby, but this guy just gritted his teeth and told me to take off and never come back.
I did come back, of course, returning a few months later to tour the place. It may be different now, but the Nixon Museum was extremely… well, Nixonian. In stark contrast to the LBJ Museum (where they’re proud of the fact that LBJ stole elections, treated his subordinates like crap, sold out his allies, and lied like a sumbitch every chance he got), the Nixon Museum is a temple to spin and revisionist history, like the sort of thing Assad will set up if he gets booted out of Syria. The Silent Majority speech has its own little house with a white picket fence, the Vietnam War is blamed entirely on Democrats (fair enough, until 1969, not counting Eisenhower and the French), and Watergate was a conspiracy to destroy the Executive Branch of the United States government. Needless to say, I loved the place, especially the gift shop that provided me with the pewter Nixon Museum & Birthplace keychain shown here with my Impala keys.
So, I steered the Chevy onto I-5 south. The Northridge Earthquake had occurred a couple months before, and the freeways south of the Grapevine were a nightmare of construction and detours.
But I persevered, because I knew that I had to be present at the Richard Nixon Museum & Birthplace when the distraught Orange County mourners showed up to pay their respects to their idol.
In truth, I was a little worried that I’d be lynched by a yowling mob of enraged retirees from Laguna Hills and .38-packin’ Tustin housewives the very moment anyone caught sight of my wretched-looking car and its disrespectful hood ornament, but I had no choice. The Nixon Head hood ornament would stay, lynch mob or no.
I needn’t have worried about getting strung up on a lamppost at some Yorba Linda strip mall, because the mourners at the RNM&B were so caught up in their own grief that they didn’t even notice my car rumbling into the parking lot. The nice old Republican ladies in their red-white-and-blue dresses just wanted to make sure I had a chance to sign the guest book.
The steps of the Museum were covered with flowers, flags, and heartfelt notes. “Love from my children. Sleep well, sweet Nixon.” You can’t make this stuff up!
I hadn’t thought to bring flowers, but I did feel a sense of loss that we wouldn’t have Dick Nixon to kick around any more. Not quite the sadness that I felt when, say, Frank Zappa, Charles Bukowski, and Kurt Cobain died during the several months prior to Nixon’s death, of course, but it did feel strange knowing that Nixon was gone.
“Soon. Very soon. Under golden skies and in fair clime. We’ll all be there again to meet & greet you again.”
Maybe so, if heaven turns out to be something like a Corona del Mar guard-gated community, peopled with honest small businessmen out of Yorba Linda, circa 1922. I hung around the mourners for a while, then climbed in the Impala and headed out of Yorba Linda. Perhaps it’s time to let the late Hunter S. Thompson, a man whose life often seemed bound to Nixon’s, have the last word here:

If the right people had been in charge of Nixon’s funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.

Next up: Packin’ up, movin’ to Georgia!

IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 12

94-WindowCaulk-1280px 90-NixonMuseum1-1280px 90-NixonMuseum2-1280px 90-NixonMuseum4-1280px 90-NixonMuseum5-1280px 90-NixonMuseum-SSGuardClose-1280px 92-CarKeys-1280px 93-FishDriver_BoomboxLesFaquins-1280px 93-FishDriver-FishRoom5-1280px 93-FishDriver-Fuso_PetClubStop-1280px 93-FishDriver-SelfPortrait5-1280px 93-FishDriver-SelfPortraitSweaty1-1280px 93-HookedOnFishingNotDrugs-1280px 93-MistressNina-1280px-1280px 93-MistressNina_w_Rack-1280px-1280px 93-MistressNina-DungeonImplements-1280px 93-MistressNinaGear-1280px-1280px 93-MistressNina-HeadCage-1280px 93-MistressNina-SelfPortraitMirror-1280px 93-NixonHead2-1280px 93-RearDeckSpeakers-Frost-1280px 93-SinesterCarOfTheWeek-1280px 94-ColiseumPermit-1280px 94-FenderDent2-1280px 94-FenderDent-1280px 94-Frt_High_Scoops_Nixon-1280px 94-Hood_RH_Flank-1280px 94-LH_Frt_Door-1280px 94-LLLProtest-Me-1280px 94-Nixon_Hood-1280px 94-NorthridgeQuakeRepair1-1280px 94-NorthridgeQuakeRepair2-1280px 94-Patina_Trunklid-1280px 94-Rain-Highway2-1280px 94-Rain-Highway-1280px 94-Rain-Highway-Mao-1280px 94-RearWindow_Speakers-1280px 94-RH_Frt-1280px 94-RH_Frt_Corner_High-1280px 94-RH_Frt_Fender-1280px 94-RH_Frt_Marker-1280px 94-RH_Rr_Corner-1280px 94-Roof_Windshield-1280px 94-Scoops_Nixon-1280px 94-Trunk_Antenna_Mount-1280px 94-TurlockParkingPass-1280px 93-FishDriver-FishRoom4 RoadMixCassettes-SongLists 93-FishDriver-PNP_Hayward_2 81-Girls_Beauville 73-Van 94-NixonMourning6 94-NixonMourning2 94-NixonMourning5 94-NixonMourning5-close Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 32
1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 10: Fiat Hood Scoops, Endless Ribbon of Asphalt Thu, 25 Aug 2011 19:00:17 +0000 Last week, the Impala roared into 1992 with more refinements and spun quite a few digits on its Buick odometer. Late in ’92, with Bill Clinton packing up his Astroturf-enhanced El Camino and heading for the White House and the days getting shorter, I decided to celebrate my escape from the looming menace of an academic career by tricking out the Impala’s hood with some Fiat X1/9-sourced scoops… and getting back to Interstate 5, where I belonged.
The car was really starting to look the way I’d envisioned the project by this time, with random application of primer paint, greasy handprints, and road dirt giving it the proper finish, but I felt that was coming up a bit short in the jacked-up-street-racer portion of its image. I asked myself what a young Bill Clinton would have done to, say, a beater ’51 Olds Super in 1965 to impress the young ladies of his fevered Arkansas fantasies. The answer came immediately: Hood scoops!
I thought about going with one of J.C. Whitney’s fine selection of fiberglass scoops, but didn’t see one that really seemed right for the Impala. What I needed, I decided, was a pair of junkyard scoops, something made to mount on a flat surface without too much hassle. First-gen Toyota MR2s had pretty interesting square air-intake scoops, but Pick Your Part didn’t have many 8-year-old Toyotas on the yard in 1992. The choice was obvious: Fiat X1/9!
The X1/9 was a common sight in California self-service junkyards of the early 1990s; the little mid-engined Fiat (and, later, Bertone) had been quite popular during the Late Malaise Era. The plastic side scoops (which, if I recall correctly, were used for carburetor air intake and engine compartment cooling) mounted using two screws and required about 15 seconds apiece to remove from a junkyard specimen. Five bucks each from El Pulpo.
A few minutes’ work with a metal-cutting-blade-equipped Sawzall, two trapezoidal holes in the hood, a couple of screws per scoop, and I had hood scoops that had a vaguely ’64 GTO-ish look about them. I wish I had better photos of the installation, but one works with the photos one has on hand.
The scoops were “functional” in that they weren’t blocked off, but they simply directed air downward, into the engine compartment. I thought about rigging up a cold-air intake for the carburetor, fed by dryer hose to the scoops, but the scoops had square outlets and I couldn’t figure out an easy way to route the hoses so that they’d have enough slack to allow the hood to open. Anyway, they looked good; here’s a view of the back side of the scoops from the driver’s seat, while rumbling through the Fruitvale BART Station parking lot in East Oakland.
By early 1993, I was living in East Oakland, near the intersection of Seminary and MacArthur. This meant that I spent a lot of time driving up Seminary from the Nimitz Freeway, and I shot quite a few Seminary Avenue photos out the window of the Impala during this period. Here’s what the scene in this photograph of Seminary near Foothill looks like today.
The crazy clown face on this long-boarded-up candy store on Seminary was the stuff of nightmares.
Having grown up on an island just off the “coast” of Oakland, I was quite comfortable living in the home of Jack London and Gertrude Stein. Unfortunately, the early 1990s weren’t the best time to be living near Seminary and MacArthur; gun battles over prime crack-dealing turf broke out, on what seemed like a nightly basis, within a few blocks of the crowded slacker house I was renting. First you’d hear a lot of shouting, followed by one or two lone gunshots, followed by a couple of minutes of a half-dozen combatants spraying bullets, followed by screeching tires… and then, much later, ambulance sirens.
The Impala seemed properly apocalyptic for this environment, and it seemed to inspire respect in the ‘hood. Other than the occasional kid yelling “HOOPTIE! HOOPTIE!” as I drove by, nobody in East Oakland seemed to notice my car.
Most of my Bay Area friends were living in similarly rough neighborhoods across the Bay in San Francisco at the time, and the Impala turned out to be admirably suited for climbing SF’s steep hills and squeezing into tight parking spaces. Perhaps because so many mid-60s big Chevrolets were sold to police departments and taxi companies, GM designed the car with a very tight turning radius. As an added bonus, the hordes of San Francisco smash-window-grab-glovebox-change thieves stayed away from my car when it spent nights parked in the Lower Haight or Western Addition. Strangely, my 28-year-old sedan had turned out to be an extremely practical daily driver for a Generation X slacker on a tight budget (had gas prices been higher at the time, of course, it wouldn’t have worked out so well for me).
Life was pretty good at this time; I had a good car, I had found a way to keep office-temp jobs from driving me too crazy, and I’d found a set of housemates that didn’t make me feel like doing murder every few hours. Here’s a photograph from an early-1993 party we threw, with a “disreputable characters” theme for participants. That’s me on the left, dressed as a Lodi meth dealer. The other costumes were, left to right (if my memory isn’t too faded after 18 years): a crooked real-estate hustler from Oklahoma City, a Ponzi-scheme operator from Pittsburgh, an Earlimart junior-high dropout who’d just scratched her rival’s eyes out in the Dairy Queen parking lot, and a Talahassee strip-club owner.
Since I was doing so much driving in sketchy neighborhoods full of Olde English 800-fortified drivers in mechanically-challenged Buick Electras, I became quite conscious of my car’s difficult-to-see urban-camouflage finish. With visions of being T-boned by some bleary-eyed Chrysler Newport driver, I decided to channel the spirit of Ralph Nader and install side marker lights and more visible front turn signals on the car. I picked some lights off of Japanese subcompacts and rigged them up on the Impala; I believe this marker light— used here as a turn signal light, mounted above the headlight— came from an early-70s Datsun 1200.
For the rear flanks, I used the little square marker lights from a late-1960s Toyota Corona. A ’69 Corona sedan was my first car, and I never forgot those goofy square marker lights.
My sister went to China for a few weeks and brought back this tasseled Mao Zedong mirror icon for me; Young Mao on one side, Old Mao on the other. It seemed just the decoration for my car.
Of course, there was always the chance that some enraged survivor of the Three Terrible Years would flip out upon seeing my Mao icon, but it never happened.
Likewise, no fanatical Richard Nixon zealot ever snapped at the sight of my Tricky Dick hood ornament (in a later episode, we’ll see what happened when I drove my Nixon-ornamented Impala to Nixon’s birthplace on the day after his death in 1994).
It was fun driving the Impala to temp jobs and ironic Generation X parties, but the open road was where the car really belonged.
Even though most folks had gone to CDs for in-car music by the early 1990s, my tunes collection was all on cassette at the time. The Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head was on extremely heavy rotation for me in 1993, as were several road-trip mix tapes I created around this time; here’s my long digression on the subject.
Even though I’d left Orange County to return to my homeland 430 miles to the north a couple years back, I kept returning to visit friends behind the Orange Curtain. During 1992-1993, it was rare that more than two months passed between Impala trips down I-5.
Mostly I went by myself, but you’ve always got a pool of quality traveling companions when you’re hanging around underemployed Generation X types. Yes, that’s a taxi-fare list sticker on the rear side window; I have no recollection of where it came from.
With no air conditioning in the car, the best time to drive through the Central Valley in summer is late at night.
How many cars today have room for the driver and two sleeping passengers in the front seat? I think it’s time for the automakers to de-clutter their vehicle interiors!
The first beer after an all-night drive is always most welcome, although only dire slacker poverty could make a 40-dog of King Cobra seem like a good choice. Shudder.
The whole brigade of couch-surfing slackers would join the party when the Impala rolled into Santa Ana. Here’s a future Ivy League professor contemplating what looked like a downward-spiral future of office-temp days and King Cobra evenings… and, given our current economic conditions, she might be looking down the barrel of a similar future today.
We paid a visit to my steel sculpture, entitled “The Electric Man,” (much enlarged after my departure from UCI by artist Lars Israelson) in the Irvine Meadows West sculpture garden.
What’s that I’m standing on?
It’s the Impala’s original 283 block, now used as ballast to keep the Electric Man from tipping over. Sadly, drunken UCI frat boys kept climbing the sculpture in later years, and lawsuit-fearing university officials had it torn down and scrapped.
After a day or two down south, it’s time to pack up the gear and point the Impala’s snout north.
Palm trees and smog.
And, on closer view, a billboard hawking the execrable ’93 Pontiac Grand Am.
Goodbye, land of excellent tacos al pastor and junkyards bigger than Disneyland!
The Glendale Boulevard overpass over I-5 in Los Angeles is my all-time favorite freeway overpass in the whole world.
But the real I-5 experience starts once you get out of the Grapevine and into the Central Valley. Then you watch the number of miles to San Francisco get smaller as the cotton fields and almond orchards go by.
As Tower of Power says, Back To Oakland. Next up: getting on Nixon’s posthumous Enemies List.

X19_Scoop_2-1280px 93-DollHutSticker-1280px 93-DollHutSticker_Taillight-1280px 93-DoorFlankPano-1280px 93-ElectricMan1-1280px 93-ElectricMan2-1280px 93-ElectricMan3-1280px 93-ElectricMan_Me-1280px 93-ElectricMan_w_283-1280px 93-ElectricMan_w_283_Night-1280px 93-ElectricManNight2-1280px 93-Headlights2-1280px 93-Headlights-1280px 93-JeffSunset-1280px 93-MajesticWeazles-1280px 93-MandyImpala-1280px 93-MeDrivingFlash-1280px 93-MeKingCobraJeffHouse-1280px 93-MiaLemonTree-1280px 93-MistressNina-1280px 93-MistressNina_w_Rack-1280px 93-MistressNinaGear-1280px 93-OCHighway2-1280px 93-OCHighway-1280px 93-OCHighway_GrandAm_Billboard-1280px 93-OCHighway_GrandAm_Billboard-close-1280px 93-OneEyedCat2-1280px 93-OneEyedCat-1280px 93-PaulMustang_w_Impala-1280px 93-RearFenderDent-1280px 93-RH_Night-1280px 93-RoadsidePanorama-1280px 93-RoadTripRoadSoda-1280px 93-RoadTripStopNight-1280px 93-SanFranciscoTaurus-1280px 93-SantaAnaDisposCam2-1280px 93-SantaAnaDisposCam-1280px 93-SantaAnaMustangII2-1280px 93-SantaAnaMustangII3-1280px 93-SantaAnaMustangII4-1280px 93-SantaAnaMustangII-1280px 93-SantaAnaOpenTrunk_w_Cat-1280px 93-SkullAbacus-1280px 93-SleepingBrits-1280px 93-Taillights_Negativland-1280px 93-TrunkLidParkingLot-1280px 93-TurnSignal2-1280px 93-UCI_w_63Imp-1280px 94-CokeSign_LH_Window-1280px 94-DashMao-1280px 94-FruitvaleBART-1280px 94-GlendaleBlvdOverpass-1280px 94-HeadlinerRHSide-1280px 94-HighwaySideView-1280px 94-I5_North-JCT119-1280px 94-I5-LA-1280px 94-I5-Mao-1280px 94-I5-Rain-Mao-1280px 94-I5-SelfPortrait-CleanShaven-1280px 94-ImpalaDoorPanel-1280px 94-MirrorViewHighway-1280px 94-RH_Flank_Tire-1280px 94-SeminaryOakland2-1280px 94-SeminaryOakland3-1280px 94-SeminaryOakland4-1280px 94-SteeringWheelMao-1280px 94-SteeringWheelOaklandCrane-1280px 94-SteeringWheelTach-1280px 95-HoodScoopsOverhead-1280px 99-RH_Flank_Scoop-1280px X19_Scoop_1-1280px Impala7-43 92-Grille_w_Nixon 92-RoadMixCassettes ]]> 17
1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 9: Fastening Shoulder Belts, Bailing From Academia Thu, 18 Aug 2011 16:00:49 +0000 IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8 • Part 9 • Part 10
Once the Impala had been modified sufficiently to function as a 1992-grade daily driver, the long-term project of converting it into an art car that drew upon the Holy Trinity of American Car Archetypes (drive-by-shooting ghetto hooptie, official vehicle, redneck street racer) took on less urgency; I planned to “finish the work of art,” whatever that meant, but along the way I’d created an excellent road car. And when you have an excellent road car, you have no choice but to hit the road.
Back in the early 1990s, cheapo Chinese-made point-and-shoot 35mm cameras flooded the world. At that time, my love of photography had veered from an obsession with shooting razor-sharp, depth-of-field-calculated-to-the-millimeter shots on my prized Canon AE-1 to a fascination with shooting blurry, bleary, headache-inducing shots with the likes of the $1.99 Guangzhou Special panorama camera that took the photograph above.
With disc brakes, a rebuilt front end, stiff shocks, and new rear springs, my 27-year-old Chevy drove and handled like a much more modern car; the design of the advanced-for-Detroit-at-the-time four-link-with-Panhard rear suspension had held up well (especially compared to the leaf-spring setups on the GM B platform’s contemporary Chrysler and Ford competitors), and improvements in tire technology helped a lot.
The car’s 350 small-block, with its Malaise Era smog heads, woke up a bit once I installed headers, a Quadrajet, and HEI ignition; my Impala wasn’t particularly quick, but it had the edge over Camrys, Tauruses, and the like when it came down to freeway-onramp drag races. Fuel economy (about 17 MPG highway, much less city) wasn’t great by early-90s standards, so I resolved to wait for the day when small-block Chevy throttle-body fuel injection systems started showing up in Pick-Your-Part in large numbers.
Around this time, I burned out on bouncing between rejected job applications and working for temp agencies and surrendered to the inevitable: I started graduate school. With a University of California undergrad degree under my belt, the skids were already greased for my quick acceptance into my choice of California State University campuses, and so I looked for the Cal State in the area with the cheapest living expenses. With presidential candidate Bill Clinton excoriating Sista Souljah and Ice-T as background noise, I packed up the Impala and moved to my new home in… Turlock, California.
Yes, I was no longer an underemployed San Francisco slacker driving a primered-out Detroit heap. As the spring semester at California State University, Stanislaus (aka “Turkey Tech”) began, I was an academic driving a primered-out Detroit heap. American Grafitti was filmed in Turlock, allegedly because it resembled the early-60s version of George Lucas’s hometown of Modesto (located just a bit down Highway 99), and its bovine-scented farm-town ambience was just the thing to force me to focus on my studies. Ideally, I’d have a master’s degree in Rhetoric and Composition (a fancy name for “teachin’ writin’ to the young’uns”) in two years’ time, at which point I’d be able to snag a soft job teaching sullen small-town stoner kids how to write five-paragraph essays at some backwoods-ass junior college. I would have preferred a warehouse job staring at stacks of boxes, punctuated by the occasional forklift race with my coworkers, while the Dead Kennedys played on my workplace boombox, but such jobs were no longer available in 1992 California.
Graduate school turned out to be fairly pleasant, if somewhat boring. While Los Angeles burned during the Rodney King riots and Clinton, Bush, and Perot duked it out, I cranked out gibberish essays about the hermeneutical reification of the work of John Donne. The English Department at CSUS boasted perhaps a dozen graduate students, half of which were cynical Generation X types like me, sheltering from the Unstoppable Downward Spiral of Civilization and half of which were jaded, chain-smoking high-school teachers hoping to nail down a fatter paycheck by adding a master’s degree to their resumes.
My life settled into a low-stress routine. Every couple of weeks, the professors would scrounge up English Department funds sufficient for us to buy barbecue food and a keg of beer, and we’d all spend a day getting drunk and sunburned and playing volleyball. Every night, I’d stay up until about 4:00 AM with some of my fellow impoverished grad students, drinking Milwaukee’s Best, listening to Cypress Hill and Primus, and playing cribbage. Most weekends, I’d hop in the Impala and drive the two hours back to the San Francisco Bay Area and hang out with my friends there. It was a dignified life and an easy one, and the months went by fast.
During this period, a couple of my cribbage partners drove off a freeway overpass while drunk-driving a mid-70s Celica back from a Social Distortion show in San Francisco. They were pretty well banged up, with the un-seat-belted driver being thrown from the wreck and having an Evel Knievel-grade quantity of bones broken; when he recovered enough to move under his own power, he fled to the Czech Republic Czechoslovakia to avoid probable jail time for a DUI-with-injuries crash. These events had two effects on me: first, no more nightly cribbage marathons. Second, I became more aware of the crash-safety limitations of my pre-Ralph Nader GM car. I had installed some junkyard Olds 88 lap belts soon after getting the car, but visions of my face getting mashed by the steel dashboard in a wreck sent me to the Modesto Pick-N-Pull to buy a 1969 Caprice shoulder-belt setup. Due to the inherent inferiority of the film-camera era, I don’t have any photographs of my seat belt installation, but it was simple enough: the first generation of US-market shoulder belts used separate belts and buckles for the shoulder and lap seat belts, which meant that I could keep my bright green Oldsmobile lap belts and add some brown Caprice shoulder belts merely by drilling holes in the B pillars and mounting the upper mounts of the shoulder belts with Grade 8 hardware through the pillars. This worked well, although the lack of spring tensioners in the early shoulder belts meant that I had to unbuckle the belt in order to lean over and adjust the stereo volume or turn on the heater.
During my second semester as an R&C scholar, I began to realize that the life of an academic wasn’t a good fit for me, and that my envisioned future teaching writing at Butcher Holler Junior College wouldn’t be to my liking. Accelerating this realization was the fact that I had been taken under the wing of the angry, sociopathic professor of feminist literature who had poisoned her relationships with academics on several continents (I was heavy into Virginia Woolf at the time, which apparently convinced her that I would one day be just as angry and poisonous as she was); this meant that my academic career, such as it was, would forever be tainted by my association with a mentor loathed by everyone in my field. Things got weirder by the day. At one point, I attended a party at the home of one of my fellow grad students, one of the bitter/master’s-degree-chasing high-school teachers, and she cornered me and a couple of my cynical 20-something peers (as we were in the process of guzzling a bottle of Bailey’s we’d found in her liquor cabinet) and launched into a scary tirade along the lines of “All you young guys, you think you want to teach… but YOU’RE NOT SHOWING ME ANYTHING!” That was the tipping point.
I decided to take a leave of absence from my academic career and head straight to the land that inspired me to write (what I thought was) good fiction and take4 (what I thought were) good photographs: southern California. So, I rounded up my friend Judy (the only San Francisco resident I’d ever met who was actually born in San Francisco) as a traveling companion and steered the Impala onto Interstate 5.
By that time, I had spent seven years driving between the Bay Area and Southern California on I-5 between five and thirty times per year. When driving I-5, I had the sense that everything that had taken place between the current drive and the previous one had been a weird dream, and that I-5 was the place to evaluate the dream. As the Impala had proven to be the best I-5 car I’d ever owned (better even than my Competition Orange ’68 Mercury Cyclone), I slipped into the requisite I-5 mental groove very easily while behind its wheel.
So, while I pondered existential questions as the mileage signs to Los Angeles showed progressively smaller numbers, Judy read fashion magazines and enjoyed the nostalgic sensation of riding in the same type of car she’d ridden in during early childhood.
During my performance-art career, I spent quite a while working on my never-to-be-finished magnum opus, a piece entitled “I-5.” In it, slide projectors would show an endless series of through-the-windshield photographs of I-5 between I-580 and the Orange County line. Meanwhile, Murilee Arraiac (my Negativland/Throbbing Gristle-influenced band) would perform a short musical piece representing every freeway exit during that drive. I got as far as shooting a few hundred slides and recording perhaps a half-dozen songs, including “Twisselman Road”.
I had decided that I would photograph this journey using only the Guangzhou Special panoramic camera, loaded with Kodak Tri-X. It’s difficult to shoot a flying bird out the side window of a moving car with a 1/30th shutter speed, but I managed this one.
Even though my Impala looked like a clanking beater, it ran perfectly at this point, and the ride was quite comfortable. I had never expected this 27-year-old Chevrolet to win me over as a driver the way it did, but sometimes things sort out in unexpected ways.
These days, I prize the images on this single roll of film more than just about any other. I became a jaded hack long ago when it comes to photography, and I’d never go back to film, but I’m glad I put in my time in the darkroom.
I must admit that the P71 Crown Victoria I bought in the 21st century was an even better long-distance-drive car than my ’65 Impala, but not by much.
Just around sunset, we made it through the Grapevine and entered Southern California proper. Little did I know that the Southern California journeys would soon end, as the economy picked up and full-time employment loomed its ugly head. Next up: Fiat X1/9 hood scoops, spinning that Buick odometer.

IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8 • Part 9 • Part 10

ImpalaPart9-01 ImpalaPart9-02 ImpalaPart9-03 ImpalaPart9-04 ImpalaPart9-05 ImpalaPart9-06 ImpalaPart9-07 ImpalaPart9-08 ImpalaPart9-09 ImpalaPart9-10 ImpalaPart9-11 ImpalaPart9-12 ImpalaPart9-13 ImpalaPart9-14 ImpalaPart9-15 ImpalaPart9-16 ImpalaPart9-17 ImpalaPart9-18 ImpalaPart9-19 ImpalaPart9-20 ImpalaPart9-21 ImpalaPart9-22 ImpalaPart9-23 ImpalaPart9-24 ImpalaPart9-25 ImpalaPart9-26 ImpalaPart9-27 ImpalaPart9-28 ImpalaPart9-29 ImpalaPart9-30 ImpalaPart9-31 ImpalaPart9-32 ImpalaPart9-33 ]]> 48
1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 8: Refinements, Meeting Christo’s Umbrellas Mon, 08 Aug 2011 18:00:30 +0000 IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7 • Part 8 • Part 9Part 10
In the last Impala Hell Project episode, the now-disc-brake-equipped Chevy and I hit Interstate 5 for some Generation X-style road tripping. Through late 1991 I continued my process of junkyard upgrades, and the car racked up some serious highway miles.
I’d enabled the heater by fashioning a block-off plate to cover the torn-out evaporator core housing, which made my second winter with the car much more pleasant… but then the blower motor’s bearings started to scream. 26 years out of a part that The General’s low-bid supplier probably charged $1.04 for wasn’t too bad, but I’d become spoiled after a few months of not being forced to wear several grunge-grade flannel shirts while driving.
In case you were wondering what happened to the Impala’s original air-conditioning gear, I’d given all the parts to my friend Paul (who provided invaluable help during the 283-to-350 engine upgrade in the summer of ’90). He ended up knocking together this Field Expedient Engineering AC setup in his ’67 Mustang, using a weird mashup of 1965 Impala and 1980 Fiat Brava climate-control components. This rig gave the Mustang meat-locker temperatures on even the hottest Anaheim days, though it did have a tendency to spray condensation all over the passenger.
Since this generation of full-sized Chevrolet was designed to be bashed together by a bunch of dudes who started each shift with a six-pack of Country Club apiece, I figured the heater blower fan would be easily accessible. Sure, it was accessible on the assembly line, before the fenders and hood were installed, but it turned out to be a serious pain in the ass on a complete car. Not anywhere near as bad as replacing the heater core on a Volvo 240, mind you (if the heater core in your 240 goes bad, my advice is to scrap the car), but way more work than I’d expected.
The replacement blower motor was under 20 bucks new (and still is, 20 years later), so I decided to splurge and avoid the junkyard-parts route this time.
Aaaah, the pleasure of driving in winter without bundling up like the Michelin Man!
Replacing the sagging rear springs, along with new front ball-joints and control arm bushings, solved most of the car’s wandering-in-freeway-lane problems. However, the completely played-out shock absorbers— no doubt installed by Manny, Moe, and Jack in about 1979— made the car way too bouncy and ill-handling. I scored a full set of new KYB Gas-A-Justs on sale at Lee Auto Supply, and the car started taking the turns in semi-modern fashion.
Applications of various shades of gray and black primer paint, plus the normal patina acquired when you never wash a car during coastal California’s dry season, were really helping me achieve the look of the art car I’d had in mind all along.
Around this time, I’d become more serious about photography in general and hacked-up thrift-store cameras in particular. I’d been bulk-loading my own Kodak Tri-X 35mm (film of choice for generations of news photographers), and I’d discovered that you could pry open the early disposable cameras and reload them with your own film. Just the thing for gloomy winter shots of the Impala with skeletal trees and a Pinto wagon!
The car was really starting to look exactly the way I’d envisioned the project when I bought the car; the glossy industrial-gray paint that a previous owner had hosed over the original Tahitian Turquoise had been transformed into a gritty urban camouflage with texture.
I’d load the car up with disposable cameras, pinhole cameras, $2.99 panorama cameras, and so on and take it out on long photographic expeditions. At night, I’d set up a darkroom in the bathroom and huff Dektol for hour after hour.
It wasn’t a bad life, but the ongoing early-1990s recession and the Vietnam/Watergate/Energy Crisis experiences of my formative years made it clear to me that I’d spend the rest of my life working a series of shit jobs while The Downpresser Man drank the big champagne and laughed. Eventually, The Downpresser Man would round up everyone who didn’t have at least $10 million in his or her bank account and ship them off to shovel radioactive uranium-mile tailings in the Spiro Agnew Memorial Re-Education Facility in the Utah desert. In the meantime, I was going to enjoy driving my Impala.
My long-suffering parents were cool about me and my wretched car staying at their place when my various 10-slackers-in-squalid-apartment living situations fell through, and so I helped them out by re-foundationing and reinforcing the 1880-stable-turned-useless-garage in their back yard; a dim-witted do-it-yourselfer had destabilized the structure by installing a half-assed garage door in the 1950s, and the ’89 earthquake had come within seconds of knocking the whole thing down. By the time I got to the project, the entire building was being supported by two come-alongs stretching steel cables diagonally from corner to corner.
Still, I had to put in my time in The Downpresser Man’s salt mines. There were exactly zero real jobs available in California for recent college grads during the early 1990s, but temp agencies had a vast assortment of low-pay/low-prestige gigs available. Since I could type 60 WPM and lift 150 pounds, I qualified as both office temp and light-industrial temp. This meant that, one day, I might find myself in a tie and shiny black shoes, filing medical records or answering the phone in some grim, fluorescent-lit veal-fattening pen… and the next day I might be stacking boxes of laundry detergent at a soap factory. For one two-week period, I drove fresh-from-Japan, plastic-wrap-protected 1992 Honda Del Sols the two miles from the Port of Richmond docks to the yard where they were loaded onto train cars and transporter trucks. Hundreds, thousands of Del Sols; I became expert in filling the 30 seconds while the other temps climbed into their Del Sols by finding the radio security code (remember those?) in the glovebox, entering it into the stereo, and finding some gangster-rap or metal song to blast during the five-minute drive from the docks.
The Impala didn’t cause any real problems when I showed up for light-industrial temp jobs, since most of my fellow temps drove equally grimy-looking machinery, but managers at office-temp gigs usually ordered me to park my car far, far from the premises. That meant that I didn’t have time to walk to and from my remotely-parked car to enjoy some blissful solitude during lunch breaks; instead, I had to endure the slow death of office gossip in the break room. Fortunately, most office lifers ignore temps and I wasn’t required to participate in conversations.
Around this time, I obtained this very expressive Richard Nixon hood ornament (originally intended for installation over one’s shower nozzle, so that a shower feels like Nixon is spitting on you) and wired it to the Impala’s grille. I’ve spent most of my life obsessed with the Son of Orange County (a digression far too lengthy to get into here), and so the Tricky Dick hood ornament just felt right.
The Impala had become an excellent long-distance road-trip car, comfortable and reliable. Late in 1991, I headed south on Interstate 5 in order to do some sort of meta-art-car installation with a much more famous work of public art.
On October 9, 1991, Christo and Jean-Claude’s 3,100 gigantic umbrellas were opened up along inland valleys, one in Japan and one in the United States.
Christo’s American umbrellas were set up along the Grapevine portion of Interstate 5 (immortalized as the setting for “Hot Rod Lincoln”), about 75 miles north of Los Angeles.
At the time, you could still get 126 film, and I shot a lot of grainy, blurry photos on 50-cent-at-yard-sales Instamatic cameras. Nowadays, you just use an app in your phone’s camera to get terrible shots like this.
But you can’t get Flash Cubes for your iPhone!
After visiting the Christo Umbrellas, I headed south to visit my friends at UCI’s Irvine Meadows West trailer park.
Incomprehensible rituals were still the order of the day at IMW.
The Impala’s back seat, a ’66 Caprice unit I’d found in near-perfect condition for cheap in The Recycler, proved to be most comfortable for road-trip sleeping.
On the way back north, I visited The Umbrellas again. By this time, high winds had toppled some of the umbrellas, killing a woman and injuring several others, and Christo dismantled them soon after.
Time to head back to The Downpresser Man’s offices and warehouses. Next up: Shoulder belts, bailing from academia.

IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7 • Part 8 • Part 9Part 10
92-TurnSig_Markers_Frt 91-AC_Blockoff 91-BackSeat 91-BenTrailerNastyPhotos 91-ChristoUmbrella-2 91-ChristoUmbrella-4-126Film 91-ChristoUmbrella-5-126Film 91-ChristoUmbrella-126Film-3 91-ChristoUmbrellas_w_EuroCars 91-ChristoUmbrella-wCar-1 91-ChristoUmbrella-wCar-2 91-ChristoUmbrella-wCar-3 91-Engine_Firewall 91-Grapevine-126Film-2 91-Grapevine-Umbrellas-126Film 91-Impala_on_I5-foggy 91-Paul_Homemade_Mustang_AC 91-Quadrajet-On-Fender-Pieces-1 91-Quadrajet-On-Fender-Pieces-2 91-Rear-126Film 91-SelfPortrait-I5 92-3223-Garage-DoorGone 92-3223-Impala_Driveway 92-Alternator 92-AntennaHole 92-Battery1 92-Battery2 92-DeadShowTripRanger 92-Driveway_w_Urinesport 92-Frt_RH_High 92-FuelFilter 92-GrapevineTraffic 92-Grille_w_Nixon 92-HeaterBlowerInstall-1 92-HeaterBlowerInstall-2 92-HeaterBlowerInstall-3 92-HeaterBlowerInstall-4 92-HeaterBlowerInstall-5 92-HirsuteHeadragged-ChicoTrip 92-HOP200-Front 92-Impala_w_Pinto 92-ImpalaFender3223 92-ImpalaRoofPinto 92-LH_rr_quarter 92-NimitzAtMarina 92-NixonHead 92-OaklandAirport2 92-OaklandAirport 92-OaklandDriving1 92-OaklandDriving2 92-OaklandNightScene 92-Pinto_Rainstorm 92-PontiacWheel 92-RaceCarChico 92-Radiator 92-RearShock 92-RearWindow_TrunkLid 92-Skylark_GasStation Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

]]> 13
Blimp or Rented Rustwagon? The Toughest Organizer’s Choice Decision in LeMons History Thu, 04 Aug 2011 11:00:55 +0000
The Organizer’s Choice, which goes to the team that most epitomizes what LeMons racing is all about, is one of the trophies that many teams chase for years. You can take the Org Choice home by racing a monstrous piece of rolling sculpture, dressing the team up in ridiculous costumes and having them stay in their bewildering roles all weekend, slogging through an all-weekend death march to keep a never-belonged-on-a-race-track car in semi-trackworthy condition, or some combination of all of the above. The LeMons HQ staff chooses the Org Choice recipient via a highly scientific procedure involving a lot of shouting and hand-waving during the panic-stricken, million-things-to-get-done 20 minutes before we drop the checkered flag on Sunday; sometimes the decision is an easy no-doubter, but other times we’re ready to tear out our spleens using rusty bottle openers, so agonizing is the choice. The Organizer’s Choice decision at the Detroit Irony 24 Hours of LeMons, a few weeks back, was definitely of the latter type.

Here we see Ununquadium Legend of LeMons honoree Christ Overzet grabbing a well-deserved Organizer’s Choice trophy for his stretch limo entry at Buttonwillow ’10; clearly, this is a serious prize! There are two real Org Choice powerhouses in LeMons racing: The Cannonball Bandits in California and (The Team Currently Known As) Bust-A-Nut Racing in Michigan. Each team had three Org Choice trophies on the mantel, going into the Detroit Irony race; the Cannonball Bandits (a couple of members of which have day jobs making parade floats) achieved Legend of LeMons status with their totally credible Wienermobile, Tiger Woods And His Girlfriends entry, and their Canadian Illegals entry. Team Bust-a-Nut knew they’d need to step it up for Detroit Irony ’11 if they wanted to be the first team to nail down four Organizer’s Choice trophies, and they weren’t messing around this time.

Bust-a-Nut scored their first Organizer’s Choice trophy way back in 2007, at the third-ever LeMons race, which was a crash-and-bash-fest held at Flat Rock Speedway (trivia question: which TTAC writer was a driver on the team that took the overall win? Hint: his first name starts with a J). Back then, the award was called the People’s Choice, and the team was known as It’s The Libyans. They converted their Toyota Celica into a totally plausible Back To The Future-ized DeLorean DMC-12 and pretty much owned the award from the moment they showed up at the track.

For the following year’s “Detroit” race, this time held at Toledo Motor Speedway, Team Bust-A-Nut changed their name to Team First Blood, and they ditched the Toyota in favor of a six-wheeled, Rambo-ized GMC Sonoma.

The First Blood GMC was a horribly slow, parts-dropping pig on the race track, and the team scored a LeMons first by winning both the People’s Curse and the People’s Choice at the same event. LeMons Chief Perp Lamm is still shocked that nobody got mangled during the “mob violence” Curse destruction method that he thought was such a good idea at the time.

Fast-forward to the 2010 Bull Oil Grand Prix. Bust-A-Nut, now calling themselves Team Sleigher, obtain a 1996 Mazda MX-6 and convert it to Santa’s Evil Sleigh.

It is not possible to deny the Organizer’s Choice trophy to a car that looks like this, especially when it turns out that it still has license plates and gets plenty of street time in Detroit. But with that award, Bust-A-Nut Racing put themselves up in the big leagues with the Cannonball Bandits, and they knew that the Bandits had something big planned for (this weekend’s) Arse Sweat-a-Palooza race.

So, the genius artists and fabricators on Bust-A-Nut started brainstorming for their Cannonball Bandit-stomping entry for Detroit Irony. They’ve got at least one pro-quality illustrator on the team, and he put their ideas on paper. How about turning the Mazda into this “Twisted Carnival” machine, complete with disturbing Insane Clown Posse overtones?

Or the super-heavy Mazdallica, complete with mullet and devil’s-horns salute?

Perhaps the “Neverglades” swamp-boat would be just the ticket to Org Choice glory! This is just a small sampling of the ideas in the brochure that Bust-A-Nut showed me during the Detroit Irony BS Inspection; be sure to check out the rest of their illustrations in the gallery, below.

The Bust-A-Nut brainstormers knew they were onto something with the Pimp Blimp. The pimp theme has been somewhat overdone in LeMons (and really nailed down perfectly by LeMons Legends Eyesore Racing, back in ’08 when they were Eyesore Pimping), but the big blimp on the roof gave them some ideas.

How about a Good Beer Blimp, complete with beer-bong “hat” for the car?

One thing led to another, and that led to plans for cutting a blimp skeleton out of plywood…

…and to plans to actually build a 20-foot-long, four-foot-diameter blimp on the roof of their car.

Which they went ahead and did!

At this point, early in the BS Inspection process on Friday morning, we had what appeared to be a slam-dunk Organizer’s Choice winner right in front of us.

Of course, the team had the costumes to go with the car, and they stayed in them all weekend.

And, it should go without saying, we knew the Blimp would look great on the track… which it did.

But then… what the hell just rolled into the paddock?

Yes, one of only four Unununium Legend of LeMons medal winners for 2010, the scourge of Washington DC protesters and Index of Effluency pursuers alike: Speedycop!

Yes, driving all the way from Maryland to Michigan, there to join up with arch-accomplices DC Doug (of Parnelli Jones Galaxie LeMons car fame) and Texas IOE winner Brandon (of B League Film Society ’67 Mercedes-Benz 190 fame) to accomplish what had never been done before: drive 1,000 miles, then obtain, cage, and fully race-prep a LeMons car after arriving at the track on the day before the race.

The original plan, as discussed at great length on the 24 Hours of LeMons Forums, was for Speedycop and henchmen to show up in Michigan, buy this nightmarish, six-wheeled El HexaMaroMino, get it ready to race, and raise the bar for, in his words, “batshit crazy LeMons action.”

Unfortunately, the El HexaMaroMino’s owner must have been A) hitting the hubba-rock pretty hard when it came to accepting reality about the true worth of his car and B) able to sense Speedy’s need for the car. No deal! A deal for a ’70 Cadillac Eldorado near the track fell through when the owner couldn’t be reached. What to do? Why, load up the ’89 Maserati Biturbo 425i— the extremely rare sedan Biturbo that Speedycop had scored cheap with the idea of making it into a LeMons racer at some indeterminate future date— and bring it to Michigan. We’ll cage it! We’ll race it! It will be great! The Maserati suffered from multiple scary electrical-system problems, but it could be coaxed into starting and, by Speedycop standards, was thus ready for a full weekend of all-out racetrack thrashing.

That’s all pretty normal stuff out of the Speedycop and the Gang of Outlaws playbook, but something interesting happened when the Maserati-towing trailer got in the vicinity of South Haven, Michigan: Speedycop spotted a very rusty, but intact, 1965 Chevrolet Impala wagon sitting in a driveway off a two-lane blacktop highway. He’d been following my 1965 Impala Hell Project series on TTAC, he loves old Detroit wagons, and the gears started turning even faster than usual in his boiling brain.

He knocked on the owner’s door and learned that the wagon was intended for use as a frame-donor car for an Impala SS coupe project and wasn’t for sale… but then the discussion took some no-doubt-weird turns and the owner ended up renting the wagon to Speedycop for 300 bucks, with the promise that the frame would still be intact at the end of the weekend. Otherwise, cut and paste as needed. Forget the Biturbo, full speed ahead with the Impala!

The plan was to gut the Impala, fix whatever rust damage might make the thing bust in half on the track, and install the roll cage torn from carcass of the team’s ’63 Cadillac Fleetwood LeMons racer. The process began late on Friday afternoon, with an all-nighter planned.

Hundreds of pounds of rust flakes and not-needed-for-racing parts began pouring from the 283/Powerglide-equipped wagon.

Sparks flew, metal clanged, and a crude tune-up progressed. The Impala had allegedly been driving as recently as “a couple” years before, which was good enough for Speedycop and the Gang.

The Malaise Era Radial TAs looked beautifully vintage, but would they hold together on a race track in 90-plus-degree weather? For that matter, would that ratchet strap hooked into the fuel-filler door keep the fuel tank from falling off?

So, the all-night/all-next-morning thrash began. Here’s a timelapse video showing a couple of segments of the madness.

Speedycop and his minions had the idea that they would make the green flag on Saturday and roll to Index of Effluency glory. That didn’t exactly pan out, because A) their overnight-camping pit neighbors started pleading for relief from the sound of screaming Sawzalls at 2:00 AM Friday and B) unforeseen pitfalls always crop up with a project like this.

The Bust-A-Nut Güte Bier Blimp, however, hit the track at 10:30 AM on the dot, proceeding to knock out surprisingly quick laps.

The Mazda sounded good, and you could see that blimp from any location in the paddock.

Meanwhile, Speedycop wasn’t giving up. The Impala inched ever closer to its racing debut.

The cage was more or less completed by midday Saturday, but so many nickel-and-dime projects remained. The driver’s seat and harnesses would need to be mounted, the kill switch would need wiring, and so on, before the official inspection could proceed and slap the “Good Enough” inspection sticker on the windshield.

Then the Güte Bier Blimp came clattering off the track in a cloud of smoke. Blown head gasket, at a minimum.

Then shit got worse. The Blimp’s V6 had a broken camshaft, and no replacement seemed forthcoming in rural Michigan on a Saturday afternoon.

But Team Bust-a-Nut is made of stern stuff, and they weren’t giving up. We’ll take apart the engine and think of something! they decided, knowing that they’d need to rack up more laps in order to make an unassailable Organizer’s Choice case.

At about this time, the Impala finally rolled up for its prerace safety inspection. Looks good— go race!

With Speedycop behind the wheel, two forward gears behind the engine, and 35-year-old rubber underneath, the Impala hit the Gingerman Raceway course. It wasn’t very fast, but it looked incredible out there, particularly with Speedycop getting the rear end way wiggly in the corners.

The Impala managed to pass the Zero Budget Racing Chevette Diesel (which ultimately won the Detroit Irony Index of Effluency trophy) a few times on the straights, though the Zero Budget guys were quick to point out that they got it back on the turns. The ol’ wagon turned out to be fairly reliable out there, with occasional pit stops for minor repairs.

When the race session ended that evening, the Impala had racked up a fair number of laps, while Team Bust-A-Nut was still wrenching away in their now-very-cluttered pit space. The Blimp pilots were determined to get back into the race on Sunday morning, in spite of striking out on every possible engine-parts source, and so they decided they’d convert their V6 to an I3. First, they’d block off the intake ports on the bad bank by using a manifold gasket as a template for this galvanized-steel blockoff plate.

Block-off plate in place, they’d put the intake manifold back on and let the pistons suck and blow through the empty spark plug holes (they considered removing all the bad pistons and rods, as they’d seen the One Cylinder Fiero team do the year before, but the horrors of a crazily unbalanced V6 scared them away from that approach).

They grounded the orphaned spark plugs and tied them off to the side, so as not to confuse the engine computer too much. When I asked them how the ECM would feel about the O2 sensor on the disabled bank reporting ambient, i.e. 20%, oxygen in the “exhaust,” they replied “We don’t know! It’ll work fine!” In other words, exactly the attitude we like to see in a LeMons team!

By this time, the start of the Sunday race session had come and gone, and Bust-A-Nut was finally buttoning things up.

The Speedycop and the Gang of Outlaws Impala had hit its full stride by this time, screeching and groaning its way around the track and trailing rust flakes and burning-brake smoke all the while.

LeMons Supreme Court Judge Sam took a stint behind the wheel of the Impala and pronounced it “a fine racin’ automobile.”

But what’s this now? Team Bust-A-Nut’s ridiculously hooptified repair actually worked! The Güte Bier Blimp, now running on three cylinders, clanked back onto the race track. It sounded terrible, and there was this ominous trail of smoke behind it, but the Blimp was racing again!

In the Hollywood feel-good version of this story, the Güte Bier Blimp would then go on to pass everything on the track, climbing the standings for the rest of the afternoon and claiming not only the Organizer’s Choice but the Index of Effluency at the same time. Sadly, South Haven isn’t Hollywood, and the Blimp’s three-banger crapped out for good within a handful of laps.

Right about this time, here comes this beautiful two-tone ’65 Impala rolling into the Speedycop pit space. Its engine sounds like it should be good for 12-second dragstrip passes, it’s got Moon discs on the wheels, and all jaws drop in its path.

Of course it’s got a four-speed and Hurst shifter! Yes, the wagon’s owner decided to show up in one of his nice Impalas and see just what the hell all this craziness was about.

Just in time, too, because the wagon had torn one of its suspension strut rods free from its rusty moorings and its big-Chevy-expert owner knew just how to fix it in a hurry.

Speedycop got right to work… building a trophy for the car’s owner out of parts scavenged off the car.

Back on the track and now equipped with new brake shoes to replace the completely fried originals, the Impala got back into its grind-out-laps groove. At HQ, with the checkered flag looming, Assistant Perp Nick Pon and I started to figure out who would get what award, a process officially referred to in LeMons procedural manuals as “Getting In The Fucking Place And Doing The Thing With The Shit.” The Index of Effluency would be going to the 40th-place Zero Budget Chevette Diesel, no question there (the Impala came in 52nd), but what about the Organizer’s Choice?

We went back and forth, with the clock ticking on the checkered flag. Finally, with maybe 20 seconds for me to hop on the scooter and make a frenzied dash to the track exit to congratulate the racers (a standard LeMons Supreme Court ritual dating back to the earliest races), we decided that a thousand-mile drive to race a rented 46-year-old wagon just barely beat out a Mazda with giant roof-mounted blimp that managed only 67 laps. But it just about killed us, this choice, and I knew it would be giving me guilty nightmares for weeks to come.

For their crazed engine repair, Team Bust-A-Nut beat out all the competition for the Heroic Fix trophy. This included the Dodge Shadow Turbo team that spent most of the weekend playing mix-and-match with various busted engine components. The Heroic Fix is a major award, of course, worthy of great bragging rights in the LeMons world, but it’s no Organizer’s Choice. Had we done the right thing?

Of course, I’d have been feeling just as torn up had we decided to hand the Org Choice to Bust-A-Nut, because what exemplifies the spirit of LeMons better than what Speedycop and the Gang of Outlaws had just done? Fortunately, Speedycop himself came to the rescue by handing over half the award (and half of the $500 in prize money) to Team Bust-A-Nut. That means that, as of right now, Team Bust-A-Nut leads the Free World in Organizer’s Choice awards, with 3-1/2 total trophies. Can the Cannonball Bandits get Number Four this weekend? Check in later to find out!

PimpBlimp BlimpBrochure1 BlimpBrochure2 BlimpBrochure3 BlimpBrochure4 BlimpBrochure5 BlimpBrochure6 BlimpBrochure7 BlimpBrochure8 BlimpBrochure9 BlimpBrochure10 BlimpBrochure11 BlimpBrochure12 BlimpBrochure13 BlimpBrochure14 BlimpBrochure15 BlimpBrochure16 BlimpSkeletonPlans BlimpPhotos-38 BlimpPhotos-01 BlimpPhotos-02 BlimpPhotos-03 BlimpPhotos-04 BlimpPhotos-05 BlimpPhotos-06 BlimpPhotos-07 BlimpPhotos-08 BlimpPhotos-09 BlimpPhotos-10 BlimpPhotos-11 BlimpPhotos-12 BlimpPhotos-13 BlimpPhotos-14 BlimpPhotos-15 BlimpPhotos-16 BlimpPhotos-17 BlimpPhotos-18 BlimpPhotos-19 BlimpPhotos-20 BlimpPhotos-21 BlimpPhotos-22 BlimpPhotos-23 BlimpPhotos-24 BlimpPhotos-25 BlimpPhotos-26 BlimpPhotos-27 BlimpPhotos-28 BlimpPhotos-29 BlimpPhotos-30 BlimpPhotos-31 BlimpPhotos-33 BlimpPhotos-34 BlimpPhotos-35 BlimpPhotos-36 BlimpPhotos-37 BustANut_Photos-16 BustANut_Photos-01 BustANut_Photos-02 BustANut_Photos-03 BustANut_Photos-04 BustANut_Photos-05 BustANut_Photos-06 BustANut_Photos-07 BustANut_Photos-08 BustANut_Photos-09 BustANut_Photos-10 BustANut_Photos-11 BustANut_Photos-12 BustANut_Photos-13 BustANut_Photos-14 BustANut_Photos-15 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-73 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-01 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-02 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-03 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-04 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-05 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-06 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-07 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-08 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-09 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-10 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-11 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-12 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-13 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-14 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-15 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-16 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-17 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-18 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-19 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-20 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-21 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-22 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-23 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-24 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-25 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-26 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-27 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-28 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-29 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-30 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-31 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-32 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-33 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-34 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-35 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-36 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-37 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-38 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-39 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-40 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-41 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-42 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-43 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-44 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-45 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-46 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-47 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-48 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-49 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-50 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-51 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-52 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-53 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-54 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-55 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-56 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-57 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-58 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-59 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-60 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-61 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-62 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-63 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-64 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-65 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-66 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-67 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-68 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-69 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-70 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-71 SpeedycopImpalaPhotos-72 BlimpVersusImpala-550px SleigherSide BTTF_Entry FirstBloodCurse FirstBloodOnTrack Santa_Leads_Pack BlimpPhotos-32 SpeedyVsProtester ElHexaMaroMino-550px OrgChoiceExample ]]> 0
1965 Impala Hell Project Part 7: Disc Brakes In, Massive Slacker Couch-Surfing Expedition Enabled! Tue, 02 Aug 2011 23:30:50 +0000
IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6 • Part 7 • Part 8

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

It was about this time that I became completely addicted to Peter Bagge’s brilliant Hate Comics, which seemed to capture the sense of diminished expectations and ironically-waiting-for-the-apocalypse mindset of my alleged generation a lot better than did Douglas Coupland with his much-hyped-by-mainstream-media novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture (note: not that I have anything against Coupland; I’ve since become a serious fan of his work and recommend his novels without reservation). I suggest that you head over to Fantagraphics and buy everything published by Mr. Bagge immediately, pausing only to read his excellent editorial cartoons at Reason.

Just like the characters in Hate, my friends and I spent a lot of energy pretending that our educated poverty somehow made us cool, like we’d choose to live with 5 flatulent hipsters in a two-bedroom apartment in the Western Addition and drink Milwaukee’s Best-grade suds if we actually had, like, real jobs. My love of cars and junkyards bought me exactly zero coolness points in this crowd (some things never change), though my Impala was certainly well-suited to survival in the ghetto neighborhoods I found myself frequenting. While it did get broken into and searched for valuables every so often, and its complement of dents and dings appreciated rapidly, no meaningful damage was ever done to it during my travels about the bohemian Bay Area of the early 1990s.

It was a great real-world daily driver, but for one small detail: the brakes. Even after I’d replaced the shoes and adjusted everything with obsessive attention to detail, the Impala’s four-wheel drums were frighteningly inadequate for any speeds above about 20 MPH. Yes, yes, cranky old geezers, our forefathers did fine with drum brakes, but that’s because they didn’t know any goddamn better! I do know better, and after I came upon stalled traffic on the Nimitz Freeway and had my brakes fade to nothingness when attempting a looks-like-I-got-plenty-of-space stop from 60 (I nearly had to resort to scraping the guardrail to avoid hitting other cars), I decided to invest a few bucks in some junkyard upgrades. Full-sized Chevrolets from the 1965 through 1970 model years have full bolt-on interchangeability when it comes to front-suspension and brake parts, and the disc brake option became fairly common on the ’69 and ’70 models. In 1991, old Impalas and Caprices were just about as common in junkyards as are Tauruses today (as you can see from my extensive collection of early-70s Impala door emblems), so it was no problem to grab the master cylinder, lines, proportioning valve, rotors, calipers, spindles, and so on from a ’70 Caprice at Pick Your Part in Hayward. By waiting for Half Price Weekend (which used to take place every couple of months in those days), I scored all the parts for not much more than a C-note.

Once again, the inherent technological suckiness of the Allegedly Good Ol’ Days comes into play here; because I was documenting the project with 35mm film and not a digital camera, major milestones in the Impala Hell Project’s progress went undocumented. Such was the case with the brake upgrade, which was your usual weekend-long thrash and would have produced all manner of grainy, artsy-looking Plus-X black-and-white images… had I not spaced on shooting photos in the first place, or screwed up developing the film in the bathroom sink, or lost the negatives, or whatever the hell happened. In any case, the brakes from the ’70 big Chevy, which scaled in at 400-800 pounds more than the ’65 due to the inevitable process of Model Bloat, transformed my driving experience from terrified nostalgia to totally pleasant, just like that. One weekend of bolting on parts and my car stopped just as well as modern-day machinery. Hooray!

Naturally, a project of this magnitude never goes completely according to plan. While the complete everything-from-ball-joints-out assemblies from the ’70 bolted right into the ’65, the hub centers ended up being about 1-1/2″ lower relative to the suspension than they’d been with the drums. That jacked up the front of the car enough to reduce its mean-looking rake. I wasn’t about to hose my comfy ride by chopping the springs, so I decided to live with the change. At the same time, my 14″ wheels wouldn’t clear the disc brake calipers, so I had to grab some junkyard 15s immediately. Fortunately, I scored a set of Pontiac Rally wheels from El Pulpo at half off.

These wheels were once dirt-common at wrecking yards and they’ll bolt right onto a Chevy. To geeks who knew enough about old GM products to identify my wheels, I’d be committing a mild breach of some unwritten GM-fanatic code. To all my Generation X friends, however, I’d just upgraded my ride with the same wheels that came on Hot Wheels cars. Finally, a tiny vestige of hipster coolness for my car!

I was also lucky enough to score an HEI distributor at Pick Your Part around this time; this electronic distributor design was so many orders of magnitude superior to the original points ignition that came with my engine that it was like finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow when I stumbled upon a late-70s El Camino with this distributor on Half Price Weekend. Chevrolet HEIs would last about 17 minutes in a self-service junkyard before getting snatched in those days, and the going swap-meet rate was still something like a hundred bucks. Ever seen the sequence in Slacker in which the junkyard scroungers score an HEI and stuff it through a hole in the fence? Whatever that film’s numerous flaws may be, that part was dead-on accurate.

I also did some tweaking of the transmission kick-down linkage, since the linkage on my Quadrajet had been intended for a ’69 Eldorado and never quite worked right on my TH350. After much futzing with junkyard linkage bits from a wide assortment of GM machinery, I came up with this low-buck drill-some-holes-in-scrap-of-metal fix.

The 350 seemed to run a little hot in traffic with the clutchless stamped-steel fan and washtub-influenced fan shroud that The General probably spent $1.24 to manufacture back in 1964, so I obtained an electric “pusher” cooling fan from an early BMW 7 Series.

Some plumber’s tape, a few homemade brackets, and wiring to the Space Shuttle-style instrument panel and I could drop the coolant temperature 25 degrees with the touch of a finger. That BMW fan drew more amps than the rest of the accessories, headlights included, combined, but you can always count on German overengineering to more than get the job done.

You don’t really need a heater in coastal California, but it is nice to warm up on a gloomy 45-degree February day. After donating the air-conditioning hardware to my engine-swap assistant, the Impala had a gaping hole where the evaporator coil housing had once lived. Since air destined for the heater core had to pass through this housing, I wasn’t getting any heated air in the passenger compartment… until I tin-snipped and hammered a piece of sheet steel into this block-off plate. I’d been trying to find a non-AC-equipped car in the junkyard, so I could use the correct factory piece, but it appears that most California full-sized Chevy buyers preferred their cars with 150 pounds of Frigidaire gear in the engine compartment, even in the 1960s.

After a winter and spring of bouncing between the home of my long-suffering parents on the Island That Rust Forgot and various flaky living situations in Oakland and San Francisco, I decided that perhaps a trip back to the car’s home turf would be just the thing: time to get over to I-5 and head south.

I’d made a few bucks replacing the entire clutch hydraulic system on an acquaintance’s Mazda 626, after she’d poured transmission fluid in the clutch master cylinder and ruined all the seals throughout the system. Paying me to replace everything with Pick-N-Pull components was way cheaper than what the dealership wanted (which shocked nobody), but it put enough gas and food money in my pocket for a lengthy Los Angeles-Orange County-San Diego journey.

I’d been experiencing some culture shock in the San Francisco Bay Area, after five years in Southern California, so it felt comforting to be back beneath the white sky, inhaling deeply of the petroleum-enhanced air down south.

Nothing but an endless grid of freeways and mysterious adventures to be had. I’d been reading Mike Davis’s City of Quartz in obsessive detail, so it seemed that I was encountering revelatory experiences on all sides.

My first stop was in Santa Ana, where some friends rented a big decaying Art Deco house. My friends in Southern California were just as broke and underemployed as their counterparts up north, but rents were cheaper and the recession’s teeth less sharp behind the Orange Curtain. Santa Ana is the city in which Philip K. Dick was living at the time of his death, having fled there from Berkeley in order to live in the least freaky region of California that he could imagine. I felt like I had come to the right place when I saw this ’65 Impala coupe in the neighborhood.

The neighborhood was one of those formerly prosperous suburbs that had been drifting in a gentle downward spiral since about the end of World War II; decaying 1920s crypto-Mission-style houses with a few hints of splendor here and there, but gang graffiti and boarded-up windows also demanding attention. Southern California has many such neighborhoods. My car didn’t attract much attention.

I drove around, chowed down at the taquerias, and shot a lot of photographs. This was the summer of 1991; Ice-T’s O.G. Original Gangster and the Butthole Surfers’ Piouhgd had just come out, and I listened to both tapes non-stop on my all-junkyard, eight-speaker Impala stereo. I started hearing more and more about the upcoming Lollapalooza Festival, some sort of Jane’s Addiction farewell concert tour that would feature Ice-T, the Butthole Surfers, and a bunch of other bands I liked. I forget how, but a friend in San Diego scored a bunch of tickets for the San Francisco show…

…and it made perfect sense for the Orange County contingent to head 80 miles south to San Diego, pick up some folks there, and then cruise 500 miles north for the show. My Impala seemed like the perfect vehicle for such a slacker hegira.

Better still, my friend Jeff had a rich girlfriend, and her arms-trader dad was overseas making Stinger missile deals with Adnan Khashoggi. His brand-new Mercedes-Benz 560SEL was just sitting there, all lonely in the driveway of its guard-gated McMansion, and so it was decided that a caravan consisting of my hooptie and Papa Stinger’s Benz would make the trip north. Fortunately, I thought to load a point-and-shoot camera with Tri-X 400 and hand it to the W126′s occupants, in order to photograph my car in its highway glory.

By this time, I’d installed a nine-foot whip CB antenna on the trunk lid, which didn’t do much good when attempting to communicate with the hardwired car phone of the Mercedes but allowed me to hear garbled smokey reports from truckers on my 23-channel Sears CB.

The level of luxury was somewhat lower in my car, what with the lack of air conditioning in the triple-digit Central Valley heat coupled with the howl of the headers and cheap 275-width rear tires, but we compensated with enhanced American Road Trip authenticity.

Still, I must admit I felt a bit of envy for the occupants of that gleaming black German luxury machine. Would I have traded places? Hell no!

I knew that it wouldn’t be many years before The Man had me chained into a veal-fattening pen in his cubicle farm, and that I’d be remembering my aimless Impala road-tripping period fondly as I smelled the burned microwave popcorn of Office Despair and waited for Death’s comforting arms to release me from the nightmare of the American white-collar workplace (I’d figured out by that point that the idea I had of making a living as a performance artist wasn’t exactly going to pan out). So, with that cynical Generation X perspective in mind, I was determined to have as good a time as possible.

Feet out the window, Midnight on cassette, the Gulf War over with no apparent nuclear annihilation in sight, and a Benz and an Impala full of real-world-avoidin’ types on their way to some sort of Gen-X mecca.

Lollapalooza #1 went all right; while I was somewhat disappointed by the performance of the Butthole Surfers in a big venue, the Rollins Band and Nine Inch Nails were pretty decent live. Time to head back south!

A couple of world-roaming Brits I met at the concert decided they needed to ride to the Mexican border in my “authentic” American hot rod (I didn’t want to disappoint them by admitting my engine probably made barely 220 horsepower), and so they dropped a couple of C-notes in my glovebox to pay for the trip back down I-5. I crashed at a friend’s place in San Diego for a while. Then I fell into some sort of deal with an art gallery in a crack-saturated ghetto on the edge of Old Town San Diego, in which me and my scurvy artist friends would do a live performance “every hour on the half hour” in the gallery.

We were called “Nureochiba and the Lizards” and we were terrible. The less said about our shows the better, I think.

I recall needle-tracked arms snaking in between the gallery’s window bars, trying to steal our effects pedals, and thousands of empty tiny plastic bags and burned-out lighters in the alley behind the joint, and tackling some junkie who’d grabbed an amplifier and attempted to run out the door with it. Gunshots and screams in the neighborhood every night. Oh yes, the crack cocaine epidemic was in full fucking effect; clearly, the collapse of Western society that would follow the end of the Cold War was just beginning.

I was certainly driving the right car for the Mad Maxian world soon to be upon us; the Impala always started, managed a steady 17 MPG on the highway if I kept my foot out of it, and could be parallel-parked in a shockingly small space (its turning radius was much, much less than that of my old MGB-GT, which should tell you something about the depressing limitations under which British Leyland had to build its cars). Even the most desperate crackhead’s theft antennae indicated “move along, nothing to steal here” when encountering my parked car, and I could sleep in fairly low-compromise comfort in the back seat if it came to that.

Even on my extremely tight budget, I could afford a few luxury upgrades for my car. A can of white spray paint, a junkyard mercury tilt switch, and an old taillight socket and bulb gave me this handy automatic underhood light. Just the thing for late-night fan-belt adjustments and the like.

Around this time, Nirvana dropped their album “Nevermind” on the world, and— seemingly the same day— the Red Hot Chili Peppers released “Blood Sugar Sex Magik.” I had done my best to avoid damn near all vestiges of popular culture up to that point, sort of a combination of snobbery and just being too damn lazy to keep up, but these two cultural artifacts swept all those principles aside and immediately became the endless soundtrack of our no-doubt-wasted lives. Give It Away and Smells Like Teen Spirit emitted from every amplified device in the world, sort of like Wolfman Jack coming from all the AM radios in American Graffiti, only without the optimism of 1961 Modesto and with the sense that life would always be getting worse from this day forward. Yeah, that was Generation X in a nutshell. I decided that maybe graduate school wasn’t such a bad idea after all, and that I could avoid both the uranium-factory Reeducation Center of all my dystopic-future tirades and the far-more-likely ennui-in-office-cubicle-land by getting a master’s degree and becoming a teacher of writing in some backwoods junior college. Plus, I still sort of had a girlfriend up north (actually, I was mistaken about that, but such are one’s 20s), so I figured I’d put the car back on I-5, crank Cobain’s voice on the cassette, and go back to the Bay Area. Next up: More primer, more junkyards, more art, more trips.
1965 Chevrolet Impala Hell Project Roundup
Impala7-54 Impala7-01 Impala7-02 Impala7-03 Impala7-04 Impala7-05 Impala7-06 Impala7-07 Impala7-08 Impala7-09 Impala7-10 Impala7-11 Impala7-12 Impala7-13 Impala7-14 Impala7-15 Impala7-16 Impala7-17 Impala7-18 Impala7-19 Impala7-20 Impala7-21 Impala7-22 Impala7-23 Impala7-24 Impala7-25 Impala7-26 Impala7-27 Impala7-28 Impala7-29 Impala7-30 Impala7-31 Impala7-32 Impala7-33 Impala7-34 Impala7-35 Impala7-36 Impala7-37 Impala7-38 Impala7-39 Impala7-40 Impala7-41 Impala7-42 Impala7-43 Impala7-44 Impala7-45 Impala7-46 Impala7-47 Impala7-48 Impala7-49 Impala7-50 Impala7-51 Impala7-52 Impala7-53 Impala7-55 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

]]> 37
1965 Impala Hell Project Part 6: Gauges! Switches! Buttons! Fri, 22 Jul 2011 14:00:28 +0000
When we last saw the 1965 Impala Hell Project, it was the fall of 1990 and I was installing headers, dual exhaust, and a TH350 transmission in place of the original Powerglide. The car drove pretty well with those upgrades, but the fact that the entire instrument panel (except for the oil pressure idiot light) was kaput became quite an annoyance. Was the engine running hot? Was I going 80 in a 45 zone? How much gas do I have? Those questions remained mysteries, and finding functioning replacement parts for a then-26-year-old car in the junkyard would be tough. I had a solution, however; scavenging Pick-Your-Part for instrument-panel components on Half Price Day weekends and building my own instrument panel from scratch.

The factory instrument panel looked cool, but there was no way I’d be able to buy new replacement gauges on my recession-grade office-temp wages. Once I had all the parts I needed, a “DIP” street sign I found somewhere (no, I didn’t steal it) donated some high quality aluminum sheet and I was ready to go.

The car was developing some nice patina at that point; I’d taken to hitting it with black or gray spray paint whenever I spotted any sort of scratch or blemish in the gloss-gray industrial paint that the previous owner had hosed over the original Tahitian Turquoise paint.

After determining that just about all GM cars of the 1960s shared a common speedometer-cable connection, I scored this speedo out of a late-60s Buick. A Wildcat, perhaps? In any case, it was round, it looked cool, and the donor car had a similar differential gear ratio to the 3.31 in my Impala’s 12-bolt.

This is the only photo I can find of the aluminum panel that became the new dashboard (damn pre-digital photography era!).

However, I do still have the original diagrams I drew up to help with the wiring. They’re pretty thrashed, because they spent 10 years in the car’s glovebox. I got a lot better at this sort of thing a few years later, when I became a technical writer, but at least these diagrams are quasi-intelligible.

I used junkyard connectors scavenged from Toyota and Nissan wiring harnesses, with surplus wire bought cheap at the legendary (and now defunct) Mike Quinn Electronics. Quinn’s, as San Francisco Bay Area electronics geeks recall, provided much of the raw material for the Grateful Dead’s scratchbuilt sound system in the mid-1960s; a decade later, Jobs and Wozniak bought many of the components used in the prototype Apple I computer there. That gave my Impala provenance!

Most of the toggle switches also came from Quinn’s, but I decided to go Italian with the warning lights. Fiats used these beautiful metal-and-glass units in their cars for years.

Back in 1991, it was pretty easy to find Fiats in self-service junkyards, so I gathered a good-sized collection of stylish indicator lights. In fact, I still have a stash of them to this day (even after using many of them in the Junkyard Boogaloo Boombox a few years back).

When it was all assembled, my car had a cockpit that looked like something out of the Space Shuttle: Voltmeter, vacuum gauge, tachometer, speedometer, transmission temp, oil pressure, water temp, fuel, clock— everything from the junkyard. For switches, I had just about everything possible wired up, including a James Bondian taillight-cutoff switch and wiring for five separate horns (inspired by the multiple horns in my ’58 Beetle; unfortunately, I never did get around to installing additional horns in the Impala). The speedometer was mounted to the back of the instrument panel with a plywood spacer, and I installed red and green speedo-face lighting in the spacer (with a three-way switch to control lighting color).

The Kienzle clock came from a 1966 Opel Kadett, featured an Opel emblem and was the gauge that pleased me most. I’d found it in U-Pull-It Auto Wrecking in Oakland during my earliest junkyard expeditions, installed it in my Beetle during high school, and hung onto it long after the Beetle got crushed.

The factory AM radio was long dead, and I needed to listen to my collection of Motörhead and Public Enemy cassettes at all times behind the wheel. So, I broke out the plywood and the jigsaw and made this removable console unit to sit beneath the dash and atop the transmission hump (held in place with a couple of brass deadbolts). With eight junkyard speakers (four in the rear package shelf, two in each front door) driven by a pair of four-channel Brand X equalizer/amplifiers fed by a not-too-terrible Sony cassette deck (veteran of at least three of my previous vehicle dashes by that time), I had serious sound for next to nothing. Because I was parking the car in a lot of sketchy rip-U-off neighborhoods of San Francisco and Oakland at the time, I rigged my semi-unwieldy pull-out stereo with quick-disconnect harness connectors salvaged from junked Corollas. To remove the unit, I just pulled a couple of deadbolts and disconnected four harness connectors; it made for quite a conversation piece when I’d set it on the kitchen table at parties. I wish I had a photo of the front of the unit, but… damn pre-digital photography era once again.

Overall, this setup proved quite reliable, although I had to replace a few of the cheapo gauges over the years. At this point, the only real problems with the car, from a daily-driving perspective, were the four-wheel drum brakes and the lack of a heater. I solved those problems soon enough, as we’ll see in an upcoming episode of this series.

The skills I learned from this project proved useful in later years; when it came time for me to build the instrument panels for the Black Metal V8olvo race car, I was up and running in a hurry.

This setup remains in the car to this day, just awaiting its new owner to fly to California and get behind the wheel. Yes, I mean the legendary donk-racin’ Speedycop.

My 20R-powered ’67 Sprite, which now sits in the Evil Genius Racing on-deck-projects yard awaiting a narrowed RX-7 rear, also benefited from my instrument-panel-creating experience. See, working on Hell Projects pays off! Next up: Disc brakes, Generation X road tripping.
1965 Impala Hell Project Roundup

Photograph by Phillip Greden Photograph by Phillip Greden Photograph by Phillip Greden Photograph by Phillip Greden Photograph by Phillip Greden Photograph by Phillip Greden Photograph by Phillip Greden Photograph by Phillip Greden Photograph by Phillip Greden Photograph by Phillip Greden Photograph by Phillip Greden Photograph by Phillip Greden Photograph by Phillip Greden Photograph by Phillip Greden Photograph by Phillip Greden Photograph by Phillip Greden Photograph by Phillip Greden Photograph by Phillip Greden Photograph by Phillip Greden Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 20