The Truth About Cars » TTAC Future Writers The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 17:37:15 +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 » TTAC Future Writers Different Reactions To Getting Rear-Ended Wed, 10 Jul 2013 18:08:31 +0000 shocked_woman-700490

Yesterday I was out for a walk when I saw an accident happen. It wasn’t a bad one, the driver of a small delivery truck came off the clutch and his rig hopped forward and smacked the back of the small SUV stopped at the light ahead of him. The light changed and the two trucks involved pulled across the intersection and the drivers got out. The driver of the SUV was a well to do looking woman in a business suit and when saw the damage to the back of her car, smashed rear bumper and piece missing from the plastic bumper cover – there may have been other things, but I really wasn’t that close – she absolutely flipped out in the middle of the street. It go so intense that I am sure the sound of her shrill shrieking is still suspended in space somewhere over the city even now.

Last week, I took a trip to antediluvian Toronto and, thanks some massive construction project that left me sitting in traffic for almost three hours, got back to Buffalo just after midnight. My wife was waiting for me in the garage when I rolled in and I could tell from the expression on her face that the conversation wasn’t going to be a good one. Sure enough, while I had been gone, she had managed to strike the front fender of our Ford Freestar against entrance of our garage while she was backing out. The passenger side fender had a pumpkin sized dent and the damage included the headlight, which had broken out of its mounts and now hung by its wires in front of the van’s bumper. Since I take some pride n my vehicles, she assumed I would be quite upset. Oddly, I, a tried and true “car guy” wasn’t upset at all.


Years ago I read Mario Puzo’s The Godfather and this one sentence jumped out at me the moment I read it: There are men in this world who go about demanding to be killed. They argue in gambling games; they jump out of their cars in a rage if someone so much as scratches their fender. These people wander through the streets calling out “Kill me, kill me.”

I decided then that I would not be such a person. While it pains me to see one of my vehicles damaged, I understand that these things can be repaired and, so long as no one is seriously hurt, there really isn’t much to be upset about.

The next morning, I wandered out to the garage and took a good look at the Grey Lady’s “red badge of courage.” I unscrewed and pulled back the inner fender lining and with the help of a hammer around the edge of the dent managed to get it popped back out. The body line is still not perfect and the places where I hammered so gently ended up with a few dimples but all in all it looks pretty good considering how bad it was. The headlight was cracked in several places where it broke away from its mounts, but I jury rigged it with some zip ties and ordered a brand new unit from Rock Auto for less than $100. When it arrives in the next few days I will fit it and the entire episode will be done.

Before you assert that these two incidents have nothing else in common let me tell you about the young woman who backed into the side of our Freestar at the supermarket a few months ago, scraping the corner back bumper. I wasn’t pleased, but since she had managed to miss all the fragile sheet metal and only left few scuffs and some baby blue paint off the back of her Chevy Cruz – paint that I removed with some polishing compound and elbow grease – I let her off scott free. Then there was the time a guy in Japan rolled into and scuffed the back bumper of my MPV at a stoplight and still another time before that a woman in Seattle rush hour traffic gave my 200SX Turbo a pretty good jolt as well. In those cases as well, after deciding the damage was minimal, I let the offending parties walk.


To be sure, the stories I am relating about my own vehicles all involve minimal damage while the car I saw struck is going to require some professional attention, but I still think the woman’s overreaction was totally uncalled for and I pity the poor delivery driver who hit her. I am certain the “victim” of the accident has already called her insurance agent and has probably made an appointment with her doctors to check for possible back injuries as well. This whole thing is going to cause them both a whole lot of stress in the days and weeks to come and I feel bad for both of them, her the victim of the driver’s carless mistake and he the victim of her senseless, over-the-top reaction. Better, I think, for everyone not to get too carried away lest we end up sleeping with the fishes.

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

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Highway Star: Road Tripping In The Ford Freestar Fri, 05 Jul 2013 16:14:18 +0000 1978 Ford Freestar

2005 Ford Freestar

Sometime in the predawn hours of a day in early August 1974, my father loaded his wife and five children into his recently purchased Chevrolet ¾ ton pickup truck, the adults isolated safely in the cab while we kids were locked like monkeys in a cage under a canopy in the back, and left Snohomish, WA for Horton, KS. It was a trip we made several times during my childhood and I have vivid memories of waking up in the predawn hours when the air was still cold and first rays of the sun were just beginning to paint the sky in the East. In the decades since, my road trips have always begun that same way and so now, having just completed their first big road trip from Buffalo, NY to Washington D.C. my children will share those memories as well.

With my glorious, mile-eating 300M now in another man’s garage and my daily driven Pontiac Torrent far too small for three car seats in the second row, there remained only one choice of vehicle for our trip: the “Gray Lady,” the 2005 Ford Freestar van that I have previously written about because of its transmission issues. Despite my previous assertions that I was entirely happy with the repairs my local Ford dealer had made, I must confess that the discussion that accompanied that article, and the long list of problems many of TTAC’s best and brightest recounted about this particular model made me a little concerned about making the 8 hour jump to DC. The good news is that the Ford made the trip without incident, on days when the temperature hovered solidly in the mid 90s, air conditioner blasting the whole way.


I have always thought the inside of the Freestar is a comfortable place to be for driver and passengers. With my daughters in car seats in the second row captain’s chairs and my son atop a booster in the back row our ability to cram in the necessities of a life with young children was somewhat limited. Still, the well at the back of the van, an area large enough to swallow the third row seat to create a flat floor for loading larger cargo, had enough room for a large cooler, a folding stroller and three medium sized suitcases. In addition to the booster, the back seat held my son’s electronic-filled rucksack, presents for the people we were visiting and our Jack Russell Terrier in her medium sized travel carrier. On the floor between first and second row seats, a space made possible only by the fact my girls are still too small to have their feet reach the floor, were bags with still more personal electronics, DVDs, toys and other things and between my wife and I was small cooler with drinks and snacks. Even loaded to the gunnels, I was able to have the driver’s seat in its rearmost position and the seat back tilted the way I liked it. My wife, too, had her entire foot well to herself.

Out on the New York State throughway we wicked up to speed and ran on cruise control right at the posted limit all the way to Erie,PA where we peeled off south across the rolling hill country towards Pittsburgh and the Pennsylvania turnpike. The van handled well, our new transmission transitioning on its own between overdrive and the lower gears without so much as a judder in order to perfectly maintain the speed I had set on the cruise control. The steering wheel was steady and firm, and the van’s soft suspension soaked up the road’s imperfections without transmitting them to my velour ensconced back side. As I have said before, the view out the front of the van is unobstructed and I soaked in the sights as they rushed towards me.


The Pennsylvania turnpike is a miserable road to drive. Road crews are working hard to make it better, but using it to cross the state remains arduous. Steep grades slow the big trucks down below the limit and force most of the cars to the left where those of us who are not interested in doing 20mph over the speed limit end up obstructing those who are. To passengers it feels like you are on the ocean, the vehicle pitching and heaving on the grades and rolling ponderously to one side and then the other as you continually change lanes. Eventually you hit the turn-off to DC, a maelstrom of traffic known as Breezewood, that puts you on city streets and subjects you to stoplights and a left turn across oncoming traffic before putting you back on another freeway, which leads to another that soon fills with ever increasing traffic as you bore in on our nation’s crowded capital.

Thanks to a couple of big accidents on the highway and backups that stretched into the dozens of miles I also had a chance to test my van in stop and go traffic. The brakes worked great and the van accelerated smoothly six or seven feet at a time everytime I pressed the pedal. We were, at the end of our long wait, rewarded for our patience by the sight of a broken car in the middle of the highway, both ends smashed as it contacted the cement barriers fore and aft while it spun. That sobering sight passed, we headed on into DC and arrived in time for a late dinner.

Enola Gay

If you have never visited Washington D.C. it is a trip worth making. The Smithsonian is free, but the parking is not so don’t forget your wallet. We visited the National Air and Space Museum annex at Dulles airport one day, played in the pool the next and went to the National Mall the third. It was not the kind of mall my kids were expecting, but they persevered. The fourth day we loaded the Freestar back up with our luggage, electronics, dog, still more presents and souvenirs and placed our now sunburned bodies back in our seats and made the trip back across Pennsylvania home to Western New York.

We ran through some vicious thunderstorms and the Freestar responded well. The wiper blades I had changed out prior to our trip did a good job of clearing the water off the van’s massive windshield and the tires I bought new when we got the van two years ago had more than enough tread to channel away the water on the roadway. We dropped our speed according to the conditions and despite the incredible downpours I never felt anywhere near the limits of control. We rolled into Buffalo just after suppertime, still running on the tank of gas I put in before we left our hotel in Arlington, VA, put the van into the garage and our trip was completed without incident and totally trouble free.

Once again my Ford Freestar has impressed me with its comfort, cargo capacity and its solidity. I have never been a Ford guy, in fact this is the first FoMoCo product I have ever owned, but other than the vehicle’s somewhat dowdy styling I haven’t a single complaint about my experience. I see these rigs selling on Craigslist for just a couple of thousand dollars these days and, if one is prepared to deal with the possible mechanical issues, they are an appealing alternative to their much more expensive competitors. Although I would rather have kept the rather large amount of money I had to pay to replace my van’s transmission in my pocket, I am glad that I did not dump it at a loss and purchase something else when it ran into trouble. She truly is a Gray Lady and although she is aging she remains graceful and competent in all that she does. I am proud she is a part of my family.

2003 Ford Freestar

2005 Ford Freestar

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

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Reeling In The Years: Tugging Americans’ Hearstrings Tue, 02 Jul 2013 17:38:18 +0000 Your Author, All American Boy

Your Author, All American Boy

July 4th is almost upon us and all you bashers of things American made can suck it. We won the wars with our All American can-do attitudes, our American know-how and our All American steel. If it wasn’t for us you’d all be speaking German and Japanese and be using the metric system to measure things other than just cocaine. We are the most powerful nation to ever stand astride the Earth and the best part about us is that, no matter who you are or where you live, our government is interested in what you are doing and will take the time to listen to everything you have to say.

The year 2013 is a confusing time to be an American. The economy continues to struggle forward and the signs are mixed as the stock market surges forward and then falls back. Leaks and revelations have aired our government’s dirty laundry and it has become ever more apparent that we have over the past decade been slowly trading our liberty for an increased sense of safety. Recent discussion on this site have raised the specter of license plate readers tracking people’s movements and, although I am by no means one of the tin foil hatters who like to comment on so many of our posts, even I am beginning to wonder just what the hell we are doing to ourselves.

The last time I can remember our national mood taking this big a hit was in the 1970s after the Watergate scandal broke. Our national adventure in Vietnam had failed spectacularly and the experience had left us deeply divided. The economy was headed into the dumps and thanks to the Arab oil embargo fuel prices were hitting new highs. Cars of that era, the reliable ones at least, were big, simple machines that for the most part relied upon aging technology. They were inefficient, ungainly and had a lot more in common with old tractors than they did with the rockets our government, in a fit if fiscal restraint, had decided to stop sending to the moon. They were, for the most part, out of date before they left the factory but they still needed to be sold so the ad men went to work.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Chevrolet has long played upon it’s All American image to sell cars and the “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet” is one of the earliest ad campaigns that I can actually remember. Looking at the commercial on You Tube today, it seems a little saccharine sweet as it attempts to connect the cars of 1975 with the more storied cars of the brand’s past but given the context of the times it worked well. Of course, I can tell with 20/20 hindsight that almost every one of the cars on display was a total dog. Unless they rolled right off of the set and into the corporate museum my guess is that every one of those cars were in the junkyard before The Captain and Tennille dropped out of the top 40, but buy them we did.

Click here to view the embedded video.

You know that campaign worked because in the late 1980s Chevrolet took another shot at our heartstrings when it pulled out its “Heartbeat of America” campaign. This time the cars weren’t bloated disco barges with landau tops, they were instead smaller, more efficient and generally unremarkable front wheel drivers. The images in the ad are unabashedly blue collar America and I can’t help but look at them and see reflections of real people that I know. Looking back now I can still see that most of the cars are unsophisticated crapwagons but Ronald Reagan’s America was a different, leaner time and after the excesses of the 70s a return to a more utilitarian, if not Spartan, mode of transportation seemed warranted. At the very least, it felt like the General was trying to get with the times and, although we bought less of them than we had of their predecessors, a great many of us still took the plunge.

Click here to view the embedded video.

In the new millennium Chevrolet hit us in the gut yet again, this time with its Chevy Runs Deep campaign. Chevrolet’s products were better than they had been in years and it seems to me that there was very little actual need to rely so heavily upon a connection to the brand’s storied history to generate sales. The ads did not, apparently, generate the amount of sales that the company had hoped for and the campaign was quietly dropped at the beginning of this year. The ads do a good job of showing us the connection Chevrolet has with the hearts and minds of many in middle America, but I think the lack of sales the campaign generated may be a result of the fact that, over the past four decades, fewer and fewer Americans have actual long term memories associated with the brand.

The future is forever rushing forward and its arrival banishes those things we once knew and loved to history. We will always continue to hold the memory of those things in our hearts and so long as we do, advertisers will continue to attempt to access the positive feelings associated with them. As more and more American families have moved into imports, fewer young people feel strong connections to the American brands. When nostalgia becomes useless, I wonder then what will replace it? Happy Independence day…

Click here to view the embedded video.

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Traffic Tickets On A Sliding Scale? Maybe It’s Time Thu, 20 Jun 2013 18:21:54 +0000 ferrari_458_italia_supercar_4-wide

In January 2010 a Swiss court handed down a $290,000 fine on a traffic violation. To be sure , the violation in question was a big one and involved speeds approaching 180mph. Police say that, once they rolled in behind the speeding car, it took it nearly a half mile to come to a complete stop. Apparently the driver had avoided earlier detection by radar controlled cameras because his speed was so high that it exceeded the cameras’ ability to measure the car’s velocity. Despite the severity of the offense, it was not the car’s speed that caused the severity of the fine, it was the driver’s income. That’s an idea I think I could get behind.

Think about it. As the gap between the rich and the poor in our society continues to widen, we are setting ourselves up for a situation where the elite can do virtually anything they damn well please. Drive like an ass and that’s a $1000 fine. For you and I that’s quite a bite but to a hedge fund manager making well into the six figures it’s chump change. He can pay that with a smile and go right back to putting the rest of us in danger.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Of course our hypothetical investment banker will eventually score enough points to lose his license, but before that happens he may have other options that will keep him on the road longer than you or I. Higher insurance rates are no bother. The cost of driver retraining and other methods used by state to reform habitual traffic offenders is minor. In some states they even let you choose your own driver’s school, and if the option exists he may end up hooning around on a racetrack as part of an advanced driver safety course rather than spending our Saturday in an overheated classroom with the rest of us budget conscious rejects.

Thank God the rich have enough political influence to stamp out this idea before it can even take root, but let’s ponder an egalitarian society where people are actually expected to redress their wrongs. As my old man used to inform me before he had to do what hurt him more than it hurt me, you aint gonna learn if you don’t feel the burn. Call it “class warfare” if you like, but if I have to feel the heat, why shouldn’t everyone?

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

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Life On Wheels: Mobility SVM Tue, 18 Jun 2013 12:00:39 +0000 Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Here’s a confession. I found this cool thing and I want to tell you all about it because, frankly, it is interesting and if it reaches the right person it might just change someone’s life for the better. My problem is that I don’t know how to begin an article in a way that doesn’t pull on your heartstrings or otherwise involve some bad pun that leaves me looking like a total ass. The subject is sensitive and it needs to be handled delicately, but at the same time I can’t write anything makes me feel like an overly PC tool, either. Since I am trapped, I guess I’ll just say it outright: I found this company that will convert a full size GM pickup for use with a wheelchair in such a way that it preserves the vehicle’s lines and doesn’t tell the entire world that the truck is a handicapped conversion unit. What’s more, this truck can be set up so the wheelchair bound person can be either the passenger or the driver. That’s cool, and whether or not someone in your life is confined to a wheelchair, I think you’ll want to see this too.

According to the Mobility SVM website, the design in question began life as the product of two friends, one a mechanical engineer named Go and the other a quadriplegic named Shichi. The story goes that Shichi was tired of the conversion van that he relied upon for transport and discussed is desire for a pickup truck with his friend Go. Go set to work and eventually came up with a design that would allow his friend to travel by truck. By 2009 their product, then called the GoShichi, was ready and once the design was fully tested and patented, the two set about establishing a company to do the conversion. In 2012 that company was purchased by new owners who have since worked to further improve upon and promote the design and the end result is the product you see upon these pages.

The best thing about Mobility SVM’s product is the fact that it can be mounted on a normal GM truck without extensive modifications to the vehicles roof or floor. Often, conversion vans set up for wheel chair use have lowered floors, that leaves them lacking sufficient ground clearance for rough roads or winter driving conditions. Additionally the long ramps they often employ can be made useless in certain situations where people park too close or in areas with insufficient space to unfold a long ramp. Mobility SVM’s side loading life does away with the hassle of the ramp altogether.

Click here to view the embedded video.

I can’t even begin to imagine the daily challenges of living my life from a wheel chair but one thing I think I would miss would be the ability to blend in with everyone else. The way the Mobility SVM attaches to a truck while leaving its factory lines and ride height unmodified would greatly appeal to me. I might still be in my wheelchair, but out there on the road I would once again be just one of the guys on my way to or from wherever life takes me. I’d like that. If you, or someone important to you is confined to a wheelchair and wants more out of life than a minivan, Mobility SVM may be the right answer.

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

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In Celebration of Fathers: Cars in the Blood Thu, 13 Jun 2013 13:12:35 +0000 My son Harley, raised with a love for everything on wheels.

My son Harley, raised with a love for everything on wheels.

As I paused in the driveway and waited for the garage door to open, I felt an unexpected presence by my side. Unbeknownst to me, my six year old son had slipped the confines of his booster seat in the rearmost row and made his way forward past his sisters with surprising stealth. Now he stood between my wife and I as we prepared to travel the last few feet of our journey.

My first thought was annoyance. Little kids are supposed to remain in their seats with their hands and arms in the vehicle at all times. Yet for some reason here he was walking around inside our van in bold defiance of everything that he had been taught since we first strapped him into a car seat as a squalling, red faced infant. Didn’t he know most car accidents happen close to home?

Caught off guard I opened my mouth to say something harsh, but before I could an old memory clawed its way to the surface. Reaching around behind my son, I swept him onto my lap, “Take us in.” I told him. My wife gave me a surprised look but said nothing as my son gripped the wheel with eager anticipation. While I handled the pedal work and gave the wheel an occasional assisting nudge, my little guy brought us into the garage with amazing skill. He was absolutely delighted with himself, and in that moment my life came full circle.

The clan Kreutzer circa 1972.  I'm the youngest, my father, Harley, is on the right.

The clan Kreutzer circa 1972. I’m the youngest, my father, Harley, is on the right.

Almost 40 years earlier, at around the same age, I too had been between my mother and father in the front seat when I also tested the bounds of good sense in the last few feet of a family journey when I innocently asked if I could drive. My own father, not one to brook any back-talk from any of his 5 kids looked at me hard, but instead of a quick rebuke responded with the unexpected. Setting me in his lap, he let me guide the our car, an Oldsmobile Dynamic 88, into our garage.

It was a moment for the ages. I can still feel the Oldsmobile’s thin plastic wheel in my hands, the back side scalloped to fit my fingers and the vibration from the mighty V8 under the hood, as we slipped smoothly into the garage. The experience changed my life and from that day forward, no matter how far we traveled, those last few feet were always spent on my father’s lap the two of us bonding over the joy of driving.

As car enthusiasts, we’ve all heard talk about how the new generation of kids lack a real interest in our hobby. We’ve all read about hot the cell phone and social networks have usurped the role of the car in the transition to adulthood, too, but I see other reasons for this generation’s attitude towards cars. Belted in the back seat with a DVD player to occupy their time, most little kids view the car as a sort of mobile living room. Prohibited by law from the front seat until they become “tweens,” kids don’t get the opportunity to see what is happening up front and, as a result, they never fantasize about what it must be like to slide over one spot and actually sit behind the wheel. Without the fantasy, the seed doesn’t take root.

My daughter Maiko in the big seat.

My daughter Maiko in the big seat.

Not on my watch. I love everything about cars and, much to my wife’s dismay, I have been programming all three of my children to be motor heads from the day they were born. Due to my efforts, my son Harley wants to be a race car driver and my oldest daughter, Maiko, wants to be a doctor-princess.

I won’t give up on her though. I want all my kids to feel same the joy I get from driving and, as much as I hate little footprints all over my nice leather seats, I let my children play in my car whenever I am cleaning it. I let them crawl behind the wheel, roll down the windows, open the sunroof and crank up the tunes. I let them sit in the big chair with the wheel in their hands and the gearshift under their right hand and I let them imagine what it must be like to be in control. Then I tell them that it isn’t a fantasy, it’s a preview. It’s only a matter of time until the seed takes root.

The circle complete, my son Harley and I pose for a picture with the last Oldsmobile my father, also Harley, ever bought.  A 1984 Cutlass Supreme.

The circle complete, my son Harley and I pose for a picture with the last Oldsmobile my father, also Harley, ever bought. A 1984 Cutlass Supreme.

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

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Gettin’ Lubed: I Was A Minit Lube Minuteman Wed, 12 Jun 2013 22:06:33 +0000 oil light

I still remember them. Tall and clear eyed, their square jaws clenched tightly as a sign of their strict discipline and inherent resolve, they dressed in perfectly pressed brown shirts and marched in straight, ordered ranks before the camera. For them there was only duty and their duty was their honor. Nothing would sway them from their purpose. As they marched they sang, and their song was a call to action. “We’re the Minit Lube Minutemen, trained to do the job and do it right.” God help us, we loved them for it.

They are gone now – so gone that not even their commercials exist anymore. Other companies purchased their shops and changed their names, but they helped start it all and, like some other things started by some resolute men in pressed brown shirts, the reality ended up being somewhat different than the idealized image that appeared on film. It was hot, sweaty and more than a little greasy. Still, I was proud to be among them, selected to be a leader and made a “Management Trainee” by the powers that be, and I was determined to lead from the front. Despite the fact that I had been hired primarily because of my sales experience, something that should have had me close to the register, working with customers and encouraging them to buy add-on services like air filters and optional fluid changes, I knew that as a leader I must earn their respect and so I too did my time in the trenches.

Anyone who has ever taken their car to a Quick Lube has a pretty good idea of what happens. Part of that is by design, the bays are open and the waiting areas are often simple alcoves where a customer can enjoy a cup of coffee while they watch the show. The techs call out their every movement to one another, partially because safety (no one wants to be under a car when oil gets spilled) and partially because the more activity and noise the generate the more it seems like something important is going on. It gives the customer confidence in the work being done and to also allows them to feel that they are getting value for their money. And, like it is for every business that sells a service, money is what this is really all about.

JL customer service

The experience always begins outside of the shop when the customer pulls up and a customer service representative rushes out to speak to them about the kind of service they want. The truth is many customers don’t really know what they want, so this person’s job is simply to help them along but suggesting products or services here is a part of the game and often a simple phrase like, “Would you like synthetic oil?” can add real dollars to the company’s bottom line.

Once the customer signs the consent form, the car goes into the bay and over the pit where the action begins in earnest. Since most cars look a lot alike from the bottom, the customer service rep will tell the pit man the type and year of the car as well as the kind of service requested. The pit man always repeats this back in a loud voice, looks-up and stages the oil filter and begins to drain the oil. While the oil is draining, he will move back along the car, checking the various gear boxes he has access to and putting small samples of their oils on a plate that he will eventually pass to the customer service rep. If needed, he will lube the chassis and once the oil has fully drained he will change the filter, being careful to wipe the engine plate to ensure the gasket comes off with the old filter and re-install the drain plug.

JL pit

The pit man’s job It is a simple job, really, but it is also one of the most important. It is hot, dirty and more than a little dangerous working around extremely hot exhaust parts. Also, out of sight of the supervisor, the pit man is the most independently working guy in the shop, his attention to detail is critical and any mistakes he make can get really expensive really quickly. Personally, I liked this job best, but bouncing from car to car kept me busy and the truth is that my mechanical skills were not as good as my selling skills. The manager knew this and left me down there long enough to get the hang of it, but pulled me up on top where I could help make the shop money.

Up on top the hood man will begin by checking the automatic transmission fluid before the driver shuts off the engine. Then he will then move around the car, checking lights asking for signals to be switched on and off etc and finally make a big show of working under the engine. For the most part, with the exception of windshield washer fluid, only tiny amounts of any fluid are actually required if the car doesn’t have some type of real mechanical problem. The hood man will also pull the air filter and, unless it is brand new, will pass it to the customer service rep who, by this time, has also gathered the sample plate from the pit man.

JL hood man

A smart customer service rep will pull a new air filter and have samples of clean fluids with him when he approaches a customer. He will find them in the waiting room and explain what the condition of the filter and fluids are and, hopefully, up-sell the customer on an additional part or service and add even more to the company’s bottom line. My own approach here, total honesty, actually worked well. There are always several customers waiting in the room and they are all watching as you make your sales pitch. If you tell a customer that his obviously clean looking fluids look fine, you have just made a dozen friends. When you come back later and tell others that their dirty fluids are “border line” or worse, you will get their buy-in almost every time.

Back out at the car, the customer service rep will tell the service techs what additional services, if any, are required and the service will start to approach completion. The hood man will verify verbally with the pit man that the oil plug is in and that it is OK to add oil. That completed, he will verify the engine oil is in and that it is OK to start the car. While he does so, the pit man will stand by to make sure there are no leaks on the bottom side. That done, the hood man will shut off the engine and go to the front of the car where he will physically get down on his knees and watch while the pit man verifies that every drain plug is tight with a pull of his wrench. The service is completed, the hood goes down and the customer settles up.

For the most part the technicians who work at Quick Lubes are young people at the beginning of their working lives. Most are not professional mechanics, but everyone I worked with went through a fairly rigorous in-house training program and all were skilled at what they did. Each of us, of course, had varying degrees of experience and ability but for the most part the way the shop was run, with a constant communication between the techs and actual cross checks prior to the completion of a car’s service ensured that the work was done to an acceptable standard.

It was the 80s and this was the kind of thing we worked on.

It was the 80s and this was the kind of thing we worked on.

I won’t lie and say we never had a problem. Sometimes things got broken under the hood and our company paid to have them fixed. One time a drain plug on a differential wasn’t tightened sufficiently and our company replaced it and agreed to handle any problems when the customer brought it to our attention. The vast majority of our customers, however, came in, received their service without any problems and went on happily with their lives. That’s a good thing.

Looking back today I can see that the work we were doing was not terribly difficult and despite the searing pain of burned hands and wrists, the constant grit and grime under our fingernails, our oil stained uniforms and the constant smell of Dexron that wafted about us, we had an enjoyable job. Today when I roll into a Quick Lube I spend as much time watching the people as I do watching their performance and for the most part they are like I was back then, young, hardworking people who are trying to get ahead. I hope they go on to as much success in life as I have.

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

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South Carolina Studying Computer Networked Electronic License Plates Tue, 11 Jun 2013 15:53:54 +0000 Plate

South Carolina’s WSPA TV is reporting that the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles is considering doing away with stamped metal plates and replacing them with new, electronic tags that would be linked to a central computer database. According to WSPA’s website, the new plates use “electronic paper” technology that can hold an image without power for up to 10 years. A clear coating on the plates could also generate small amounts of electricity, which would be required to change the image, from sunlight or even vibrations generated when a car is in motion.

The new plates would be linked to a central network and the image could be changed at the push of a button to alert law enforcement when the DMV receives notice that a car is stolen, uninsured, has expired tags or an when an operator’s license has been revoked. The DMV is quick to add that, while they would be able to receive signals, the electronic plates will not mount transmitters and cannot, therefore, be used to track a vehicle.

Currently, metal plates cost between $3 and 7$ to produce and the new plates are still more than $100. Despite the additional costs, South Carolina believes they will come out ahead as the new technology will help the state collect an estimated $150 million that the state loses each year to people who fail to renew their registrations. They also claim that consumers may also benefit from reduced insurance costs as uninsured drivers become easier for law enforcement officers to detect.

I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords and look forward to a better, brighter future in their service.

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

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Dark Days: Broken Hearts and Blown Gaskets Fri, 31 May 2013 14:41:50 +0000 1988 Dodge Shadow

She done me wrong. I was beside myself with grief, anger and stress. Things had been going so well when, suddenly, a former lover waltzed back into her life and caused her to leave me in the lurch. Part of me wanted to win her back, to show her I was better than him. The other, darker part of me wanted to find that guy and kick his ass. It was a terrible time, and to make matters even worse, by faithful Dodge Shadow wasn’t running right.

By 1993 my little Turbo Shadow, purchased new in 1988, had almost 100.000 miles on the clock. It had traveled the length and breadth of the United States, making nonstop drives from Seattle to Los Angeles twice and a trip from Seattle to Washington DC, the return leg of which was done in just three days, without a single hiccup. It still looked great, not a single scratch marred its brilliant graphic red paint, but under the hood my heavy foot and childish antics had taken their toll and the car was losing water.

If it had been a leaking radiator or a shot hose, I could have easily understood what was happening. The problem was that the water was simply vanishing from the reservoir, I thought about the options and didn’t like where the logic lead me. I checked the tail pipe of course, but found no feather of steam in the exhaust. The radiator showed no sheen of oil and the dipstick showed no sudden increase in level, nor any emulsification either. Still, I reasoned, it must be a head gasket, bad but not yet critical.

Photo courtesy of

It was a bad feeling. Everything in my young life was in turmoil, women troubles compounded by car troubles. My heart was empty and my outlook black, but like so many men in similar situations I struggled on and worked with I knew I could repair. Life would not get better on its own, I knew, and so I must make it better.

I went to the auto parts store and purchased a rebuild manual and a gasket set and rolled the little Dodge into the garage at my parents’ house. With a nonstop soundtrack of the heaviest of heavy metal soothing my wounded soul, I worked like a mad scientist, carefully plotting every movement while evil lurked in my heart. The valve cover came off, then the timing belt, the intake, turbo and finally the head itself.

I looked into the heart of the beast. Four pistons, three scored black but in generally good condition and one that was too clean and fresh. Next to that piston I found the trouble, a small breach in the all important head gasket, just enough to let the tiniest amount of water wick out with every piston stroke and into the chamber where it was burned with the gas and sent out the back.

My outlook brightened as I replaced the gasket and slowly began reassembly process. The head went back on, carefully torque to the specs listed in my rebuild manual. I matched the marks on the crank and camshafts and secured the timing belt. Bit by bit the engine went together and little by little I regained control over my life. At the end of the project I reattached the hoses and topped up the fluids and I was done. The dark clouds in my mind lifted as I swung the garage door open, and the sun shined brightly into my soul as I slipped into the driver’s seat and fired the engine. One crank, then two and suddenly, blessed music as the engine fired and ran.

The little car sat there at idle and spoke to me of all the things we had been through together. We were a team, this little car and I, with good times behind us and the promise of even more ahead. Women would come and go, I realized, but good friends look out for one another. When the car required my help I put aside my own problems and I had saved it. In doing so, I had saved myself. Together we would endure.

Photo Courtesy of

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

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A Little Context From A Forgotten Photograph Tue, 28 May 2013 21:46:43 +0000 s1

We have all been there, posing proudly with our car alongside some curvy country road on a sunny afternoon. It doesn’t matter if the car is new or old, is just going through the break-in procedure or is on its last legs, what matters is the moment. A photo like this is a powerful talisman against old age, wherever we go and whatever happens to us, we have simply to gaze upon it and we are transported back to that special time in our lives when the road was clear and the only thing we needed to be serious about was having a little fun.

The above photo was posted on Reddit by user “Slow_Dive” who found it left in a car at a pick-n-pull lot in Gillman, a suburb of Adelaide, Australia. It turns out that he wasn’t actually looking for Subaru parts, but when he saw the old “Vortex” as they are known down under, he just had to take a closer look. On the steering wheel of the car he found a photo of who can only be assumed to be the car’s previous owner with the vehicle in a better days and with the discovery came an unexpected flood of emotion. “Seeing it just sitting out in the rain, rusting away, being picked apart slowly made me just a little bit sad.” He wrote, “It made me think about where my old cars are and where all of our current cars will be, some day.”


Its easy to walk through a wrecking yard and remain emotionally detached while look at the various cars. We seldom think about the lives that these vehicles touched, that they were all once desired bits of cutting edge technology and design that carried their owners through the highs and lows of their lives. Without their stories, they are just hulks waiting their turn for a date with the crusher. Thanks to this photo, however, this car has the context that all those other cars lack. It is easy to see that this bit of late 1980’s Japanese design had someone who cared about it, someone who cherished it and someone who enjoyed it until every last bit of fun was squeezed out of it. In time things changed, they always do, but while they lasted those days were glorious.

We’ve all been there, going through a box of old photos or leafing through a musty old album when we come across a photo of our younger selves beside some curvy piece steel that meant the whole world to us. How would we feel if for some reason that photo was lost? Take a good look at the photo and see if you know the person pictured. It would be nice to think that, with the power of the internet, we could solve the mystery of who this young man is. For now, there is still the chance for him to reclaim it.

For better or worse, the man who found the photo did not keep it. Although he used the serial number to research the car’s registration history, he was unable to come up with a name. Unable to connect the photo to an actual person, he opted to leave it where he thought it belonged, right there on the wheel of the old Subaru. If it can’t be returned that seems an appropriate place. Perhaps it will still be there when the car meets its ultimate fate, a final reminder of better days now past.


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

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Snow Drifting Fri, 24 May 2013 17:31:32 +0000 Photo courtesy of

The black Nissan 200SX Turbo was only a few years old but it had been solidly thrashed over the years. It had obviously been an expensive, well optioned little car when it was new, but the people into which its well being had been entrusted had obviously not respected that fact. Now it slumped on its sagging suspension, any number of small dents defacing its once gracefully straight bodylines and its once beautiful aluminum wheels, now torn by contact innumerable curbs, were shod with cheap, mismatched tires. This car was supposed to be fast?

The little Nissan’s owner was almost as scruffy as the car. Tall with long flowing hair that fell down over his collar and got in his eyes, Kazu, a Japanese exchange student from the far Northern Island of Hokkaido, looked like a real life anime hero. The son of an Olympic ski jumping champion, Kazu was a handsome guy and women swooned whenever he appeared. He seemed to care little for his natural good looks, however, and dressed in shabby, worn clothes that stunk from the many cheap cigarettes he liked to smoke. Like so many young Japanese men I have met, he was congenial and since we had a common interest in cars we had things to talk about whenever our girlfriends decided we should do things together, but there was no genuine friendship between us.

Over the few weeks we had known one another, Kazu had educated me about the Japanese car scene. He had any number of Japanese car magazines and because I couldn’t read the language he often had to explain the content of the various articles. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize the future when it is staring you in the face and, truth be told, I was a little incredulous at some of the things written in those magazines. Four or five hundred horsepower out of a four cylinder seemed extreme to me, even if it was turbo charged and, what’s more, much of this power was coming through adjustments made on a computer! How could that be? real power required V8 engines, lumpy camshafts and big carbs. I was dubious.

One of the things Kazu was into was called “Dorifuto” and many of the magazines showed pictures of small Japanese cars sliding violently through corners on wet or icy pavement. Being from Hokkaido, an island that spends much if its time under a great deal of snow, Kazu knew all about this and was eager to demonstrate his skills. So, on one rare Seattle snow day, he invited me along for a ride and we headed out into the hills in search of slippery roads.

Highway 2 led us out of Everett and up into the hills where the previous day’s snowfall still lingered on the back roads in the shadows of the tall trees. Despite the recent snowfall, warming weather was having its effect and much of what had only hours before been dangerous compact snow and ice had turned to sloppy slush. Kazu smiled when he saw it though and we charged into the first corner way too hot.

Photo courtesy of

In one swift, smooth motion, Kazu whipped the wheel and with a quick heel to toe movement of his feet pitched the Nissan into the curve. The back end slipped out and the nose of the car pivoted towards the inside ditch. Kazu mashed the gas, found the groove and held the car there on the edge of control as we slipped through the corner. Upon our exit, he straightened the car and raced towards the next curve here he completed the process in the opposite direction. The curves came faster and Kazu continued to navigate them with remarkable skill, the car always on edge but never out of control in his capable hands. The overall feeling from the passenger seat was not one of jerky, violent motion like I had imagined when I had first seen the photos in Kazu’s magazines but was instead smooth, the car pivoting and slipping in a gentle rhythm controlled by the constant steering and pedal inputs the of driver. I was surprised.

The next corner was a blind left hand sweeper cut into a steep hillside, the inside of the curve up against the mountain and the outside of the corner falling steeply away into a deep, brush filled ditch. As we approached, Kazu made his usual motions and the car pivoted again. We dove headlong into the corner, the little Nissan stretched sideways across both lanes as it slid sublimely into the curve.

The car in the opposite lane came as a total surprise. Kazu reacted instantly, grabbed the emergency brake and whipped the wheel. The car responded to the inputs and the front end pivoted back onto the right side of the road a moment before impact and the oncoming car passed by us on the left with just inches to spare. Still sliding, Kazu released the e-brake, whipped the wheel the other direction and punched the gas. The car pivoted back into the corner and resumed its full slide. The whole process took only an instant and the effect was like opening and then closing a door around the other car.

The road straightened and Kazu got back on the gas and set us up for the next corner, but after a couple of more slides it was clear the fun had gone out of the moment. Caution returned and he slowed the car’s speed. At the first turn off, we headed back down towards the valley below and down out of the snow. Later, as usual, we would speak little about the ride but from that point on, whenever I had the opportunity to look at Kazu’s strange magazines, I had a new appreciation for this strange new world I saw reflected in those pictures. It looked like fun. Maybe one day, I thought, car guys in America would do something similar. Maybe one day…

Photo by Thomas Kreutzer

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

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The Tipping Point Fri, 17 May 2013 15:34:44 +0000 300m1

Years ago, I was paid to help a neighbor clean out his garage. It was an old, ramshackle building with a dirt floor and over the years it had been filled with an amazing amount of crap. At the very back, under a canvas tarp, I found a long neglected late 60s Honda CB750 in fairly rough condition. When I asked about it, my neighbor told me how, as a younger man, he had purchased the bike new and travelled the highways and byways of the American West for many years before finally coming home a settling down to start a family. To him, it was an icon of his youth and a time of freedom. To my young eyes, however, it was just a neglected old bike covered in dirt and cobwebs, found forgotten, alone and unloved and condemned to spend its remaining years as a lifeless touchstone of another time. It struck me as a particularly sad end to a life of service and I decided then that no vehicle of mine would ever languish its remaining life away in a barn or under a cover.

It was the arrival of my third child that sparked my family’s need for a bigger vehicle. Up to that point we had been fine with my Chrysler and the Pontiac Torrent I had purchased for my wife after our return from Japan. Both cars had a pair of car seats in the back for our two older kids, but neither proved to be wide enough to add a the necessary third seat. It was obvious we needed a minivan and I soon began a long search that netted us the Ford Freestar that I have written about on these pages before. With my wife firmly ensconced in her new mommy mobile, the low mileage Torrent that had previously been hers became my daily driver and the Chrysler slipped to the side of the drive where it sat snug and secure under its cover as the Buffalo winter swept towards us.


The following year, whenever the weather looked nice, I rolled the Chrysler out of its spot from time to time for various work-related jaunts around Western New York. I took it to work on the nicest days and at other time used it for those few, infrequent errands that didn’t involve carting a kid around. It was nice to have and I used it a few times while our van went to the shop but for the most part, it simply sat and waited. That autumn, as inspection time rolled around, I found that I had put a grand total of four thousand miles on the clock. Somewhere in the back of my mind, a long unused synapse fired and a memory of a rusty, sad-looking motorcycle flashed into my consciousness. I pushed the vision back into its place and, with another winter on the horizon, slipped the Chrysler back into its place at the side of the drive way and secured its cover.

The memory continued to work at me, however, and the site of the car hunkered down under its cover and covered in autumn leaves, then snow and finally the yellow pollen of a new spring, gnawed at me. A few weeks ago, I took the car out, prepped it for the summer and doted on it as usual but the seed that had been planted last fall had grown large enough that events had crossed the tipping point. I made a last work related road trip three weeks ago and upon my return posted an ad to Craigslist.

I asked too much money but, regardless, someone responded quickly. Our first conversation went well and the interested party, a man named John, seemed like a good guy, Even better he had spent much of his life in Arizona, where I had purchased the car after my return from Japan in 2010, and he knew the dealership in question. What sealed the deal was when he and his wife arrived to check out my car and I saw he was driving his own less-than-Special Chrysler 300M.

There was tire kicking, a look under the hood, a test drive and a conversation but surprisingly little haggling. John and I are men of a similar type, I learned, and he knew exactly what he was buying. Maybe it was more expensive than every other 300M in Western New York, but it was truly unique and, like me, John was smitten as soon as he slipped behind the wheel. He thought about it overnight and, after working out the finances, came back on Wednesday evening with his cashier’s check. We swapped another story or two as we wrapped up the paperwork and then he opened the door, sunk down into the seat and started the engine. The car burbled at idle as he adjusted the seat, the mirrors and took a moment to survey his purchase. He slipped the car into gear, pulled the parking brake and then, slowly, majestically, the 300M slipped slowly down the drive, onto the street and out of my life forever.

The logical side of me knows that machines are things to be used up and discarded. If a person is especially devoted to regular service and maintenance they can stretch the lifespan of a given vehicle well beyond the norm. If they have the necessary mechanical skill, or the money to access those who do, they can keep a machine running indefinitely. But if a person lacks the time or interest to do the maintenance, make the repairs or even drive a vehicle then there can be only one, ultimate result. If, as I have often posited in my articles, cars really do have souls, the deserve better than to be held prisoner of a man’s past. They deserve a chance to live out their lives in the sun, with the wind streaming over them, the road rushing towards them and the miles falling away behind. Godspeed.


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

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Mustang by Mazda? When Ford Probed The Possibility Fri, 10 May 2013 16:17:52 +0000 Photo courtesy of

In the early 1980s, as the economy continued to slump and gas prices soared, American car makers were desperate for a way forward. The good old days were gone forever. Under pressure from the Japanese, whose small cars had gone from rolling jokes to serious, high quality competition in little more than a decade, the big three knew they needed to make a radical departure from their traditional approach before it was too late. Although some of the more stodgy cars would soldier on and continue to sell to members of the Greatest Generation well past their expiration dates, for the rest of us the future was a smaller, lighter and more efficient. The winds of change were blowing and even the Ford Mustang felt the chill.

In 1982 Ford began to take a good, hard look at their strong selling V8 powered, rear wheel drive pony car. Introduced in 1979, the Fox body mustang was a radical departure from the Ford Pinto based Mustang II that had carried the name forward through the disco era and it was a good car, but all indications were that the front engine rear wheel drive platform appeared to be on the way out. Most domestic manufacturers were headed towards front wheel drive platforms, Chrysler was already heavily invested in its K car and rumor had it that even GM was considering moving its Camaro and Firebird to FWD. Fortunately, Ford’s 25% stake in Mazda offered them quick and relatively inexpensive access to a FWD platform already under development, the Mazda 626, and they chose to examine that option.

Toshi Saito of Ford’s North American Design Center prepared the initial concepts, one of which was chosen and the project moved forward into a full sized clay mock up and eventually a fiberglass model was constructed and sent to Japan where Mazda headquarters in Hiroshima. Mazda’s management approved of the design, but after some thought Ford decided that it wasn’t quite what they were looking for and came back with a longer, leaner and more rakish design that required some re-engineering from Mazda. The car was to be produced in the United States and Mazda purchased a Ford property in Flat Rock, Michigan to produce the car alongside their own 626 and Mx-6 models.

Photo courtesy of

Much like the now oft-derided Mustang II, the new Mustang was set to be a radical departure from the Fox car. First, no V8s were to be offered. Instead, the front wheel drive Mustang would mount a Mazda sourced transversely mounted 4 cylinder good for about 110 horsepower. For the first year, GT Mustangs would feature the same 4 cylinder with turbo good for about 145 horsepower – comparable to what the Mustang V8 was making at the time – and the next year move to the Mazda V6 which was good for about 175 horsepower. The design was sleek, slippery and generally well liked by those who saw production models and images.

The public backlash against the car came as a real shock. Mustang enthusiasts and red blooded ‘Murricans everywhere were appalled at the thought of a Mustang based on anything other than good old American design and sent up a howl of indignation that resonated all the way back to Ford’s executive offices. Firmly in the Reagan era, a resurgent America would simply not tolerate the venerable Mustang name attached to a Japanese design. As thousands upon thousands of angry letters poured into the corporate offices, buyers rushed into dealerships and sales of the Fox body Mustang, which had been slipping as the design aged, suddenly increased.

Photo courtesy of

People, it seemed, were anxious to own what was sure to be the last “real” Mustang rushed into the dealership before it was too late and, in a moment of “Classic Coke” vs “New Coke” brilliance, Ford capitalized on the controversy. The classic Mustang would remain on sale, but the new car would live too, and so Ford reached into the bag of names and pulled out one that had been attached to an especially well received aerodynamic concept car just a few years earlier and, with a knowing wink to proctologists everywhere, dubbed it the “Probe.”

Photo courtesy of

The rest is well known history. Introduced in 1988, The Probe was a success and it went on to win the hearts and minds of many of those who cross shopped it with its primary competition, the Chrysler/Plymouth/Dodge Turbo K variants, the small FWD GM cars, the Cavalier and the Beretta and Japanese turbo cars of all makes and models. Sales were brisk and the Detroit News reported in 1989 that Ford was selling around 600 of them a month. The design was refreshed in 1993 and almost 120,000 were sold that year. By 1997, however, the design had run its course and only 16,777 were sold. Meanwhile, the “Classic” Mustang soldiered on, was continually refreshed and, although it has been updated and redesigned over the years, it is still with us as the front engine, rear wheel drive pony car that God and Lee Iacocca originally intended.

Looking back, the 80s was a time or real, small-car innovation. Car companies, both domestic and foreign, put forth an amazing number of designs across all price ranges as they fought for market share. In that regard, I suppose, Ford really didn’t hurt themselves by keeping the ‘Stang and adding the Probe to their showrooms. I’m guessing the Probe really didn’t steal buyers from the Mustang as they each appealed to different market segments. I wonder, however, what would have happened if Ford had made the decision to stick with New Coke? Would GM have followed suit and put the Camaro and Firebird on a smaller FWD platform? Would the Chrysler K Turbos have eaten all their lunches? I wonder…

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

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Something Fun: The 30K Millionaire Challenge Wed, 08 May 2013 14:34:58 +0000 Photo courtesy of

Yesterday, the astute Derek Kreindler added to his already excellent body of work on TTAC another installment of his “Generation Why” series in which he explored Land Rover’s resistance to the current trend of marketing lower cost vehicles to young people. In the body of the article a couple of sentences in particular jumped out at me –

While the parents of today’s college-age consumers still associate Mercedes-Benz and BMW with stratospheric price tags and unique dynamic qualities, the next generation seems them as cars that can be leased by any $30k millionaire because they’re too proud to drive a Honda Accord. If you drive a BMW 320i, girls won’t think you’re rich; they’ll think you’re a try-hard.

Naturally, that got me to thinking and I was hoping that we might discuss it a little further. Tell me oh best-and-brightest of TTAC, what car (new or used) can we 30K millionaires buy on a budget that will convey the sense of wealth and success that we so earnestly seek?

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A Celebration of My Mom, Woman Driver Fri, 03 May 2013 18:20:48 +0000 My mom around 1955

My mom around 1955

As mother’s day approaches I think now about my own mother on the other side of the continent and about the journey her life has been. Born in the mid 1930s and raised in poverty, she was dumped into an orphanage by her father after her mother’s sudden death from breast cancer in the late ’40s. It has never been discussed in detail, but I know that she and her younger sister were rescued by their older sister, my aunt Evelyn, herself just a recently married teenager, and raised as one of her own. At barely 18 years of age, my mother married my father, had the first of her five children and worked hard to build a home for herself and her family. The amazing part of this is that she was able to do it all without ever driving.

Being a mom has never been, and probably never will be, easy. Modern moms work hard to ensure that their kids use every moment of their free time in the most productive ways possible. Gone are the days when a child came home from school, jumped on their bike and headed to the park or a neighbor’s house to play. To be a child today is to be constantly running from one activity, lesson or play date to the next and modern moms spend a lot of time behind the wheel. It’s hard to imagine that my mother raised five complete, productive people eight miles outside of town without ever loading us into the car and taking us anywhere. I wonder if it could be done today.

The routine around the Kreutzer house in the early ’70s was simple. On weekdays, Dad got up before dawn and worked all day long. With a lot of mouths to feed, if he had the opportunity to work overtime he took it and he was generally gone from sunup to past sundown. We kids got up just as he was leaving, ate our breakfasts and were at the school bus stop early because if you missed the bus there was no one to drive you. For us there were no afterschool activities, no sports and, of course, no play dates you couldn’t get to under your own pedal power. On the weekends, if dad wasn’t working, the younger kids would load into our station wagon and go to the supermarket while the older kids stayed home. On Sundays we would all go to church. In the summers we stayed out in the hills, rode our bicycles as far as they would carry us, fought endless mock wars with the neighbor kids and swam in the lakes. If we were injured during any of the aforementioned activities, we either suffered until dad came home or, if the situation was deemed serious enough, called a neighbor to take us to the hospital.

My mom and dad around 1983

My mom and dad around 1983

It seems odd today, but the reason for our plight was not because we couldn’t afford another car. Truth be told, the reason is that it was because my mom simply didn’t want to drive. She had, she told me, tried to learn once back-in-the-day but the pressure was just too great and she had suffered a panic attack at the wheel. The terror she felt left such a strong impression that she had decided it was better to leave the responsibility of driving to others. The family soldiered on and, as we kids matured and eventually got our own licenses and cars, the situation improved. As she moved towards the golden years of her life, it seemed that my mother’s status as a non driver would be forever secured. And so it was until my father passed away.

Tough times call for tough measures and it is amazing how my mother and all of our neighbors rallied in the face of adversity. With an empty nest at home my mother found herself stuck at the old homestead far outside town. At first the neighbor ladies were quite generous with their time and included my mom in all sorts of senior activities but one morning she was a few minutes late to the end of the driveway and they left without her. That day my mother swore she would never be dependent upon anyone ever again.

That evening after I came home from work, I rolled my father’s perfectly preserved Cutlass out of the garage and we headed to the local school parking lot to practice the basics of driving. The next day, another neighbor who was a driving instructor at a local high school came to our house with a driver’s guide and began working with her as well. Between the two of us, we covered all the basics and two weeks later my mother, then in her fifties, passed her road test and got her first driver’s license. To this day, almost 20 years later, she remains a licensed driver.

Think for a second about the kind of guts that takes. As car enthusiasts we are immersed in the culture of cars. Those of us who truly love cars have, for the most part, been enamored with them from the time we were little kids and we jumped at the chance to get behind the wheel. We admire the beauty of their lines, thrill at the power and enjoy the actual act of driving. It’s hard for us to imagine how anyone would choose to forgo what is to us, one of life’s great pleasures.

No matter who you are, however, cars are really all about freedom and if you really want to be free you can’t live your life in fear. I’m proud that I had a small part in sharing that freedom with my mother and prouder still that she had the courage to face her fears. But given where she comes from, I guess I should have expected it. Happy Mothers’ Day to all of you and yours.

My mom and her husband Guy a few years after they married.

My mom and her husband Guy around 2001, a few years after they married.

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

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Swimming In The Pond Of The Japanese Garden Thu, 02 May 2013 13:00:17 +0000

In some ways my initial move across the Pacific was a lot easier than my return. I was at the end of my personal rope when I went to Japan in 1999 and, even though I was stepping into a dead end job, there was nowhere to go but up. Coming home was quite the reverse. Of course I had a job offer, but I had learned the hard way about birds in the hand versus the two in the bush and, truth is, I was scared. I had carved out a nice little life for myself in Japan. I had friends, a decent place to live and, for a change, money in my pocket. I had even purchased a car and a motorcycle, but now it was time to sell out and move on.

The car in question was my 1986 Twin Turbo Supra and it was in great shape. In the two years I had owned it I had taken good care of it, corrected a few minor paint issues with rubbing compound and special wax that turned the paint back to its original brilliant white, added new tires, a kick ass stereo and even completed the shakken. Back home in the States a similar car would have sold for several thousand dollars and there was no way I could have lost money, but in Japan, as usual, it was a different story.

Someone once told me long ago that Japan is like the pond in the center of a Zen rock garden. From the outside it looks tranquil, placid and is a perfect reflection of the sky above. Underneath, however, everything that happens in every other pond is taking place. Bugs are laying their eggs, frogs are eating the bugs and the fish are eating the frogs. The entire circle of life is going on under that water and it isn’t until you decide to plunge in that you really understand how deep and how murky the pond really is.

The Japanese, as I had learned during my initial purchase of the Supra, don’t generally do person-to-person sales of used cars. Sure, you might sell a vehicle to a family member or a good friend, as I discovered when I sold my Mazda MPV to my “Japanese family” when I left Okinawa in 2010, but selling a used car to a stranger is practically unheard of. I’m not sure if anthropologists have ever conducted a study as to why this is the case, but rumors about the Japanese belief in evil spirits attaching themselves to things that others have used in a personal way aside, I think it is because public transportation is nearly universal, parking is limited and cars are expensive to own. The result is that young people don’t need to own a car to get around and, thanks to all the fixed costs of car ownership, are effectively priced out of the market. Therefore, most cars are purchased by adults who can and usually do buy new because of status issues, increased reliability and other benefits given to new cars under the shaken inspection system.

The average Japanese person trades in their old car when they buy a new one. The money they receive in trade is ludicrously low, but given that most people don’t have the need, desire or even the extra space to keep an older car it works out well. Sure, like anyone who trades in a car they lose out on some money, but they are essentially paying for the convenience of disposing their old car. I had learned, however, that a little elbow grease and an unconventional approach could often circumvent the natural way of things in Japan and so I determined to turn to the “international community” for a solution.

There are quite a few foreigners in Japan. The vast majority of them are tourists, then in decreasing frequency come the international students on exchange trips, the Mormon missionaries, the JET teachers, company-men on temporary assignments and finally the dregs of Western society that end up as ESL teachers at for-profit English conversation schools, spouses of Japanese citizens and all the other flotsam and jetsam of the world that get swept into the relatively sheltered waters of Japan and end up staying there for years at a time. As with many communities that fail to fully integrate into their host countries, Westerners in Japan have built for themselves a vibrant and fun sub culture all their own and all it takes to access it is the time and willingness to sit down in an Irish pub and listen to people who have no intention of ever returning to their home countries bellyache about how much they hate Japan.

About a month before I returned home I put an ad in the local Gaijin (foreigner) classified ad paper, known as the Kansai Flea Market and waited for the calls to roll in. I got some quick bites on my bike and sold it after just a week at a small profit, but the car languished in the paper and generated just one call from an Australian bloke who was hoping I knew about any laws that might prevent him from taking it home. As my departure neared I checked with my girlfriend’s friends to see if any of them wanted it and was given a resounding “no” by everyone we asked. Finally I decided to take it to a place called “Gulliver” that ran frequent ads on TV about buying used cars.

In retrospect I should have probably guessed that any company that has the money to run almost constant ads on TV wouldn’t pay much for the cars they bought, but when the guy told me my car was so old that they would only take it for free I wasn’t very happy. Still, as the time for my departure was drawing ever nearer, I went ahead and struck the deal and told him I would bring the car back the next day. Of course one thing led to another and I didn’t bring the car back until the following week but since I was giving it to them who would have thought it would be an issue? Well it was, and imagine my surprise when the guy told me that because I had failed to honor my word and bring the car the next day the terms of the deal had changed. Now, instead of simply giving them my car, they wanted me to pay them $50 to take it. I wasn’t happy, but with my tickets to go home in hand, I went ahead and paid the money and bade my Supra farewell.

Had I known that I would eventually get the job of my dreams, marry my Japanese girlfriend and end up living in the same region of Japan just three years later, I would have paid up my parking fees in advance and let the car sit until my return. But at that point in time, with the future still uncertain, I know that it was better that I let the car go. Still, whenever I visit Japan and return to my “hometown,” I feel a sudden flash of shame and anger every time I drive by that shop. I know I was cheated and, frankly, it grates on me. Of course, outside of a snarky article on a car blog, I will never exact revenge. Still, it’s nice to think that someday, maybe someday, I will.

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

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More Than 550 Classic Cars For Sale In One Ebay Auction Wed, 01 May 2013 13:20:35 +0000

If you have a half million dollars in your pocket, you can be the opening bidder on a lot of 550 classic cars located at a family owned towing and storage lot in Apache Junction, AZ and listed for sale on Ebay right now. According to the ad, the business has been in operation since the 1960s and the lot is filled with cars from the 1940s through the 1980s, approximately 97% of which are complete with motors, transmissions and body parts. You can even negotiate to leave the cars where they are – that way your wife will never know…

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Discovery’s Fast N’ Loud, Where Cars Meet Reality TV Thu, 25 Apr 2013 17:17:34 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Time was, the only time you could see cool cars on TV, outside of reruns of the Rockford Files and Starsky and Hutch, was on Saturday Mornings on The Nashville Network. Those programs, aimed at shade tree mechanics and the average do-it-yourselfer, were about as interesting as a high school auto shop class’ instructional videos. Things have definitely changed and today, thanks to hundreds of cable channels and the advent of Reality TV, car related programming is easy to find. The problem is that Reality TV is character driven and you have to endure colorful personalities in order to see the cars.

The first Reality Show that really grabbed my attention was American Chopper. I know it’s not about cars but, when you think about, it wasn’t really about bikes, either. American Chopper was about fathers and sons, and how working class men pass along their work ethic and values to their children – at least for the first few seasons. After that it was about how money and fame corrupt and about how families and relationships can self destruct as father and son compete with one another for time in the limelight. Watching American Chopper for the first few years was like spending time in the garage with my own dad, learning a lot about being a man while getting yelled at for being stupid, unskilled and lazy. Watching American Chopper as the show churned through its final episodes, and as the entire Teutul family descended into chaos and mutual hatred, was painful. If the events depicted in the show happened in real life, the Teutels should be ashamed of themselves. If those events happened because of clever editing, the production company should be ashamed. Either way, because I felt something of a personal kinship with those characters, it felt personal.

Since then I have sought out lighter Reality fare and now I have a new guilty pleasure, the Discovery Channel’s “Fast N’ Loud.” The shows premise is simple. Basically, two guys with a small shop shuck-and-live their way around Texas looking for old cars that they can fix quick and the sell for a big profit. This is a subject I personally know a lot about, after all I did help to kill the American Muscle Car and, truth be told, the show strikes me as being fairly true to life.

If Fast N’ Loud was a typical reality car show, our greasy looking heroes Richard Rawlings and Aaron Kaufman, would buy a piece of junk and then, in the name of drama, inflict some crazy-short deadline upon themselves which they would then meet with seconds to spare. Then, they would sell their crazy creation to a corporate customer for about a bazillion dollars. Although I wonder about the Ford Bronco, which had seats upholstered in a red and black plaid pattern suspiciously close to the halter tops the well endowed waitresses at a certain restaurant were wearing at the end of the show, that sort of thing doesn’t generally happen here. More often than not, Richard buys a piece of junk, drags it back to the shop where Aaron picks apart all the problems. Sometimes the answer is to throw a lot of money at a project and hope it pays off while other times the answer is to roll the hulk out front, put a for sale sign on it and hope to pass the trouble along to some other sucker with more time and resources to throw into it. Seems about right to me.

Then comes the cars. In American Chopper Paul Teutul thought like an artist and he always seemed to be more concerned about creating his artistic vision than he was about creating a reliably running bike. In Fast N’ Loud, master mechanic Aaron Kaufman spends a great deal of time on actual engineering and he often states that his primary concern is safety. Sure, some of the cars that emerge from the shop are show boats, but for the most part the cars end up as fairly mild customs that sell for less than stratospheric amounts of cash. I like that.

Lastly, let’s talk about the main characters Richard Rawlings and Aaron Kaufman. On the surface they seem like prototypical Reality TV chumps complete with abundant tats, crazy skull rings, various piercings and no fashion sense. Personality wise, however, they differ from the usual fare and, again, they come off as likable and especially genuine.

Richard Rawlings is the front man and I know his type intimately, I grew up around them. Fast N’ Loud’s Gas Monkey Garage is his business and like many successful small businessmen who sell to the public, he has an effusive, outgoing, larger-than-life personality. He is engaging and smart but not afraid to be silly in order to bridge the gap between himself and the customer. He does what it takes to get the sale and he knows that getting noticed is at least as important as offering a quality product. He mixes with the rich and famous one minute, talks to 70 year old Texas farmers the next and he finds something in common with each of them. That’s how sales works and if he was any different, and any less genuine, he would be out of business in a month.

Aaron Kaufman is the master mechanic and he oversees Gas Monkey Garage’s staff as they work on the various cars that Richard brings back to the shop. Thanks to his shaggy beard and slicked back hairstyle, I first expected Aaron Kaufman to be another larger than life reality show figure with a pretend bad-boy attitude. The personality that has emerged over the course of the show, however, is a quiet, thoughtful and genuinely likeable. Aaron Kaufman comes off like a guy who knows how to repair cars and who thinks that doing a good job is critical. Often there is, albeit mild, conflict between Aaron and Richard over the rising cost of this or that project as Aaron seeks to ensure the job gets done right while Richard seeks to control costs. Again, this is a compromise that all small businessmen make on a daily basis and it lends credibility to what we see on TV.

Now into its second season, I believe that Fast N’ Loud is on its way to being another huge Reality TV hit for the Discovery Channel. I earnestly hope that Richard Rawlings and Aaron Kaufmann can keep their egos under control as their fame and fortunes increase. It would be a shame to see these two very likable guys turn into raging jerks. I know that some part of reality TV will always be scripted, but as long as the set-ups are interesting cars and not silly interpersonal drama they can count me among their regular viewers. The world needs more fun, silly shows that can draw attention to the car hobby. This is a good one – check your local listings for the time and channel and sit through an episode, you might find yourself surprised at just how much fun you’ll have.

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

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Opel Kadett: The One That Got Away Mon, 22 Apr 2013 18:18:25 +0000

At around 2:00 PM on the afternoon of October 6, 1973, more than 200 Soviet built Egyptian aircraft began to assault Israeli air bases and missile emplacements north of the Suez canal and the established line of defense, known as the Bar Lev Line. During the night that followed, Egyptian combat engineers crossed the canal in small boats and used gasoline powered pumps to throw streams of high pressure water against the massive sand wall the Israeli forces had erected at the water’s edge following their 1967 conquest of the Sinai. The water eroded the wall with amazing efficiency and by the next day more than 50,000 Egyptian troops and 400 tanks had made their way across the Suez, through the remains of the Bar Lev line and out onto the Sinai desert where they forced the Israeli military back in disarray. The offensive, known as Operation Badr was the opening of the 1973 Yom Kippur War and it makes interesting reading. The conflict had lasting effects in region and some say that it helped to set the stage for the Camp David Accords and eventually led to the peace treaty that President Carter helped negotiate between Egypt and Israel. The war also had effects closer to home and, thanks in part to the Arab Oil Embargo that was a direct result of America’s support of Israel during the conflict, it led to a new, fuel efficient car appearing in my family’s driveway.

The Opel Kadett wasn’t running right. My father’s coworker had purchased the little car, 1.1 liter Coupe, new back in 1969 and it had always been a spry little car. It was never a power machine, but with its light weight and manual transmission it could scoot when you wanted to go and it looked good doing it. For some reason, however, the car’s performance had begun to degrade and now, just four years old, it was proving to be a disappointment to its owner. Naturally, my dad bought it for next to nothing.

Once the car was safe at home, my dad, who could fix anything, took a closer look at it. The car ran smoothly and shifted fine, but it was definitely down on acceleration. Under the hood, and with my older brother Bruce in the driver’s seat working the accelerator pedal, my dad watched the carburetor linkage as it moved through its full range of motion. It wasn’t binding, but the butterfly valves didn’t seem to be fully opening, either. An hour of troubleshooting located the problem, two screws under the accelerator pedal had worked their way out over the years and, thanks to their interference, the pedal simply wouldn’t go all the way down any more. Two minutes with a screw driver completed the repair and the little car’s power was restored.

My dad used the car as his daily driver for three years and as the older of my two brothers, Bruce, approached his 16th birthday it became a given that the little Opel would go to him. Bruce drove the car for a year or two without incident and then passed it on to our brother Tracy. Between the two of them, I am sure that the car went on any number of mid ‘70s high school adventures most of which I, who am about 7 years younger than them, never actually heard about. I did hear about the big wreck, however.

There may or may not have been alcohol involved. According to Tracy, he came speeding around a corner to find several kids in the middle of road pushing a go-kart. He swerved to avoid them, put the car into the ditch where it dug into the soft earth and flipped onto its top. Tracy and his friends righted the car, popped out the dented roof and refilled the engine with oil. Unfortunately, they forgot to refill the transmission oil as well and by the time he got the car home the transmission was fully destroyed.

The Opel ended up in our garage as it awaited my father’s attention and, for some reason or other, he never quite got around to getting the parts to repair the little car. Tracy graduated high school, got his first full time job and sunk a part of his monthly salary into a slightly used 1978 Nova coupe. The Opel languished in the garage where it became my own personal play car. I read the entire owner’s manual cover to cover, learned the purpose of every switch and warning light and even taught myself how to recharge the battery to keep the radio working so I would have music as I played. I logged a lot of hours behind the wheel, fantasizing about being out on the road. Although I was only 13 at the time, I naturally assumed that like my brothers the car would eventually become mine. Despite the fact that over the years I endured a whole host of hand-me-downs, clothes, toys, and bicycles, I never did inherit the car. Somewhere around 1981 the little car left our garage and was never heard from again.

The Opel looms larger in my brothers’ transition into adulthood than it does my own but, like so many machines I have bonded with over the years, the little car was more than just the sum of its mechanical parts. Maybe she was a little too old for me, and maybe she had been around the block a few too many times, but the Opel’s clean, utilitarian design helped to shape my view of what great cars should be. The little car took everything my brothers could throw at it and still brought them home safely every time. Its toughness and reliability are legend and, to this day, that Opel holds a special place in every Kreutzer’s heart. It was the one that got away.

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

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Selling Snake Oil: Great Automotve Ads Of The Past Fri, 19 Apr 2013 16:26:19 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Sweet, sweet publicity. Although I am loathe to admit it, I am a sucker for a slick ad campaign. Those catchy jingles, perfectly posed photos, and quick camera cuts work their way into my psyche and demand that I throw down my hard earned cash for something I may not need, but God how I want it! Done right, an ad campaign can have a lasting effect on me – I’m not sure if Bertel is to blame, but does anyone else remember when Volkswagen used Elvis Presley’s “Devil In Disguise” to promote their GTI? I sure do- too bad I can’t find it on you tube! So let’s talk car ads – here are some of the greatest car ads of all time:

Nissan 300ZX

Click here to view the embedded video.

Nissan had a real string of clever commercials in the early 1990s. I think the company really understood that people weren’t buying some of their cars on cost or features, they were buying them because they were some of the coolest cars going. The above ads spring right from the mind of every boy who ever owned a classic GI Joe.

Isuzu Impulse

Click here to view the embedded video.

Joe Isuzu was the pitchman in one of the most popular TV commercial series of the 1980s. You may or may not know it, but not everything he says is the truth…

Dodge Shadow

Click here to view the embedded video.

Today computerized graphics and morphing from one shape into another is old hat, but way back in 1987 that technology didn’t exist. This commercial was incredible and it drew a direct line between the legendary Dodge Dart of the past and the new, modern K car based Shadow. It got my attention for sure, this commercial is the reason I got my ass down to the local Dodge dealership when I went looking for my first brand new car.

Mercury Cougar

Click here to view the embedded video.

This is one of the earliest car commercials I can remember from my childhood. Back then I was more interested in the cat than I was the car (or the woman.) I guess it’s a sign of my age that today I am more interested in the car than I am the cat (or the woman.)

Bonus: American Home Direct

This is actually a Japanese advertisement for life insurance but it is a touching story about a man, his cars and how his life’s priorities change as he moves through life. Keep your handkerchief handy for this, it’s a beautiful, touching ad featuring some cool classic Japanese cars. (Big thanks to Japanese Nostalgic Car for turning me onto this a couple of months ago.)

Click here to view the embedded video.

There you have it, food for thought. As always, your own contributions and suggestions are more than welcome. Also, if you have better internet sleuthing skils than I, feel free to find that Golf GTI Elvis ad I mentioned!

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

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Psycho Love: Sticking Your Key In Crazy Mon, 15 Apr 2013 17:19:00 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

I saw it this morning. Slipping along the in the dim, pre-dawn light and shrouded in the thin early morning fog that wicked up in wispy tendrils from the damp pavement, it was an apparition, a beast from another age. Like poor Yorick, alas I knew it well and although, in time, it has become the subject of infinite jest, it was in its day the most excellent fancy of many young men and it bore my youthful dreams upon its back a thousand times. It had, I thought, no right to be among the living when so many other, better, vehicles of its era were consigned to their graves, rotting away in fields, pulled apart for their components or crushed, shredded and melted wholesale back into their base elements. Why then, knowing through the clarifying lens of history the terrible truth about the trouble that lurked beneath its slick sheet metal, did its unexpected appearance stir a long-forgotten longing in my heart?

“May you live,” So goes the Chinese curse, “in interesting times.” Now well into my 40s, I can tell you that the times, especially from an automotive standpoint, have indeed been interesting. Waxing less rhapsodic, there has been a whole lot of suck built in the last four decades but the awful truth is that some of those cars still set my heart aflutter. I’m not sure what the attraction is, honestly. Is it the curve of a fender, the sweep of a windshield, or is it the fact that just seeing one sends me back to a more innocent time in my life when many of these cars were aspirational? I don’t know.

20/20 hindsight tells me many of these cars lack power and have an unacceptably high level of fuel consumption. They lack most real, modern safety equipment. They lack build quality, hell most of them came off the assembly line with issues, but I still fantasize about them. Crazy as it may seem, the following are “bad cars” that I would like to own –

Pontiac Grand Prix GTP

It’s hard to tell people today what a breath of fresh air the 1991 Pontiac Grand Prix was. It looked clean and its plastic body cladding accentuated just the right spots, making the car look wide and muscular. Door handles up on the door frame seemed like a real innovation as well and the interior, complete with buttons on the steering wheel and various switches mounted on the gauge cowl made feel like you were sitting in a rocketship. In GTP trim, the V6 produced more than 200 horsepower and could be had with an automatic or a stick. Frankly, I thought these cars looked great back in the day, and I think they look pretty darn good today, too.

Chrysler LeBaron Turbo, Coupe

When Kitty changed her name to Karen and traded her MG for a white Chrylser LeBaron, this is the one the she got. With their long hood line and short rear deck lids, the mid to late 80s Chrysler LeBarons are still, in my opinion, one of the best looking cars ever. By 1990 a V6 had been added to the mix, but I am a Chrysler Turbo guy and that would be my first choice. I understand that the 148 horsepower turbo could also be ordered with a 5 speed manual, but I have never seen one in person. Inside they are “budget plush” and they don’t come anywhere equaling the interior design and build quality of a modern sub compact like the new Dart, but they were functional and comfortable enough for long trips. Many convertible LeBarons have survived into the present day and I even see them offered occasionally on the Buffalo area Craigslist at reasonable prices, but my preference is for the coupe.

Jaguar XJS- V12

When I was a kid I used to stay up past my bed time and watch a British TV show called “The New Avengers.” I don’t remember much about it, but one thing that has stuck in my mind was the car used in the show, a pre-production Jaguar XJS-V12. They have terrible reputations, I know, but that classic shape, the hand built interiors and the idea of 12 cylinders under the hood stills sets my heart aflutter. I would love to own one of these, providing I could find one in good condition and then not have to rely upon it. As usual, my inclination is to avoid the convertible and stick with the coupe.

So there you have it, three “bad cars” that I would still love to own. Don’t try to talk me out of it, love is a funny thing. Fortunately, I am in a committed relationship so I won’t be sticking my key in crazy anytime soon. Tell me though, validate my unexpected rush of emotion and tell us about the cars that bring out your own psycho love.

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

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Better Brighter Future Delayed: Commercial Airliners Vulnerable To Hacks Via Android Fri, 12 Apr 2013 15:22:09 +0000

As the technology that will one day network cars together and reorganize the roads in the name of safety and efficiency continues to rush towards us, word comes that the computerized systems used to control commercial aircraft in flight are now vulnerable to hackers via android devices. is reporting on an April 10th presentation at the “Hack in the Box Conference” by German security consultant Hugo Teso during which he demonstrates how a wireless device can be used to transmit malicious code into an aircraft’s computer through at least two different systems currently used to exchange information between aircraft and ground stations. Those of you who are already afraid to fly will want to read all of the excruciating details here:

Like many people, I believe that the highways of the future will be heavily automated. The possibilities of computerized roads are enormous and the technology could change the way our society functions by combining the benefits of cheap, efficient public transportation with the convenience enjoyed by car owners today. Imagine a world where a car will arrive at your doorstep moments before you leave for work, carry you in comfort and privacy on a trip that will meet with no traffic jams, stop at no lights, and during which you will be free to watch TV, browse the internet, catch a nap or just look out the window. Upon dropping you off, the car will then head off to its next customer or, if you are one of the Neanderthals who insist on owning your own vehicle, head off to a designated parking facility until you summon it again.

That future is heavily dependent upon the seamless integration of a number of networks and like modern aircraft, cars of the future will need to exchange a great deal of data to coordinate even the simplest of trips. Within that coordination lies the opportunity for mayhem and our lives will hang in the balance. While I look forward to that better, brighter future, for the time being I will keep my feet firmly on the ground and my hands wrapped around the steering wheel.

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Mooneyes: Breaking Down Cultural Barriers, One Hot Rod At A Time Thu, 11 Apr 2013 14:22:25 +0000

Honmoku street is a wide, tree lined avenue that bends through the southern “Naka” district of the city of Yokohama. Close by sits the massive port, the gateway through which so much of Japan’s industrial output is sent to the world, its tall cranes working ceaselessly and with no regard for human concerns like the time of day. Above it all the Yokohama Bay Bridge soars like a vision, lifting cars and trucks across the entrance to the harbor as effortlessly as it straddles the line between art and infrastructure. Although the massive bridge and its double decked feeder highways encircle the entire district, the sense one has on the ground is of open space and nature, rarities in the second largest city in Japan. In the midst of it all sits the classic American Hot-Rod shop, Mooneyes.

Mooneyes is legendary among car guys. Its iconic eyes have adorned the sides of race cars and hot-rods since Dean Moon started the company in a small garage behind his father’s Norwalk, California café in 1950. An avid car guy, Dean Moon was heavily involved in the local drag and dry lake bed racing scenes in California as they gained momentum through the 1950s and 60s and his sense of innovation and style helped shape the nascent “hot rod” culture as it was emerging. Many of his stylistic innovations, things like spun aluminum disc wheel covers and the foot-shaped gas pedal are must-have items on any period correct classic hot-rod.

When Dean Moon passed away in the late 1980s, the company took a brief break and then stopped work altogether after the passing of his wife a few years later. In the early 1990s, Moon family friend Shige Suganuma, a long time dealer of Moon Products in Japan, reformed the company as Mooneyes USA. The US Branch of the company continues Dean Moon’s work at the shop’s location since the early 1960s, 10820 S Norwalk Blvd, Santa Fe Springs, CA where, according to the Mooneyes website, visitors are welcome and where there will be an open house from 9:00AM to 3:00 PM on Saturday July 13, 2013.

The subject of this article, Mooneyes’ Japanese location, is a place worth checking out. It combines a full service hot rod shop with a parts store, gift and novelty shop and an American 1960s style café complete with oversized hamburgers, milk shakes and apple pie. At night, its neon lights beckon you forward with a welcoming glow, and a row of classic cars, both American and Japanese, stand ready for inspection as they await just the right person to take them home. After a hard day’s struggle with the Japanese language and culture, stepping inside feels a lot like coming home to a better, vanishing America where the cars are cool, the gas is cheap and where no one counts calories.

Out back, rows of cars sit ready for the full hotrod treatment. During my time in Yokohama, I noted the progress of these cars on my way to and from work as they arrived in the rearmost parking lot in various states of disuse and decay and then moved to the area behind the garage from where they eventually disappeared into the shop for weeks or days before turning up refreshed, renewed and reformed for sale at the front of the building. My favorites were always the classic Japanese iron, the most common of which were variants of the Toyota Crown, including sedans, station wagons and even an El Camino-like trucklet. Some of these ended up as beautiful restorations, others as slick looking hot-rods and still others as mechanically solid rat-rods. All of them were appealing.

With Mooneyes just a block from my apartment, the whole area was frequently awash with car culture and excitement. Mooneyes is the sponsor of many great events, including hot rod and chopper shows that draw cars from all over Japan and visitors from all over the world. As of this writing, upcoming events include the “All Trucks Morning Cruise” on April 14th at Honmoku Hilltop Park, and a Hot Rod Cruise Night at their Honmoku Shop the evening of April 27th. More information is available in English and Japanese at

It can be hard for a foreigner to break into Japanese culture and make friends, but I have found that cool cars and fast motorcycles are a good way to break the ice. If you are ever in Japan, take the time to head out to Mooneyes’ shop in Honmoku, Yokohama. Grab a hamburger, get the T-shirt and take the time to talk to some of the people you meet there. You will return home happy, full and refreshed. The car culture that Dean Moon helped to start so long ago and so far away conquers all.

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

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Casey Shain: Turning Pure Fantasy Into Virtual Reality Tue, 09 Apr 2013 10:40:55 +0000

Dodge Charger

They say that you don’t regret the things you do as much as you regret the things don’t do. I hope the auto manufacturers are listening, because when I look at so many of the fantastic looking four door sedans on the market today, I feel a sense of regret for what they aren’t doing, namely making two door coupes. I know there are financial considerations, probably tens of millions of dollars worth, at work behind the scenes. I understand, too, that there are likely to be engineering challenges and any number of other issues that a simple layman like myself can never really understand, but the fact that there are no really cool coupe versions of today’s hot sedans gnaws at me.

Thank God for artists like Casey Shain, a man of considerable talent who, like many of us, believes that today’s cars can be better. Unlike most of us, however, he has the talent and the ability to turn his thoughts into artistic reality. His website showcases his digitally altered “fake” cars and his love of all things automotive. It is filled with images that rival those of any professional design studio and I highly recommend checking it out. If you are anything like me, you will spend hours there.

Like so many of us, from the time he was a child Casey dreamed about designing cars. Instead, he earned a bachelor of arts from Vassar College and worked as a designer in the publishing industry for more than thirty years. These days he is a freelance book designer and a professional “starving artist,” but he spends much of his free time working with Photoshop and pretending to live that childhood dream. He says, “I’m the same doodler as when I was a child, only now my crayons are digital.”

Casey’s cars may not be real in the sense that they are made out of rubber, plastic and steel, but the detailed images he creates certainly have a life of their own. As a kid who grew up spending hours in front of the fire looking at the Sears Christmas catalog, I know there is a great deal of joy to be had simply looking at pictures and dreaming about the possibilities. Still, I hope that one day someone turns these ideas into reality. Come on car companies, don’t wonder “what if” – take a chance!

View more of Casey Shain’s work here: Casey Shain Car Photochops at Pintrest

Buick Verano “Skylark Hot Hatch”

Dodge Charger Ford Flex Country Squire Chevrolt Impala 2 door fastback 1981 Coupe Seville Buick Verano "Skylark Hot Hatch" Toyota Supra Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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

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Cop Drives Cop Car: 2012 Dodge Charger Pursuit Sat, 06 Apr 2013 18:54:55 +0000

My takedown of the Ford Police Interceptor Sedan Taurus generated almost two hundred comments. Having recognized what the people want, I immediately began scheming for rides in the Ford’s two major competitors in order to give it to them. An E-mail, followed by a visit to the municipal sales manager at Lexington’s Freedom Dodge- Chrysler- Jeep- Fiat and I was provided with a 2012 Dodge Charger Pursuit for a weekend evaluation.

Mr. Jim Sawrie is the cop car guy at Freedom Dodge and generally keeps a demonstration unit on hand equipped with a center console, protective barrier, and a lightbar. He stripes his demo cars up in various ways, even aping the decal package Lexington PD uses a couple of years ago. He gave his current model a pretty basic decal job, plain enough that you wouldn’t think it would ever be mistaken for a real police car. So, of course, when I stopped to take photos of the car near downtown Lexington I was approached by a guy who wanted to know which Federal alphabet agency was represented by the acronym DEMO.

“DEMO? Why, that’s the Department of Energy Military Operations Command. The “C” is silent and for your safety and in the interest of National Security, you need to move along…”

I can’t really blame the citizen for his concern. Even in refrigerator white and with minimal markings the Charger screams “Official Government Business” as loudly as the Crown Vic ever did. “Beautiful and intimidating,” was how the supervisor in charge of the fleet of Chargers being run by a neighboring agency described it when I called to get his views on the Dodge’s long term durability.  Compared to the plain- Jane styling of the Caprice and the bulbous, dog-with-it’s-butt-in-the-air look of the Taurus, the Charger’s long, low, and wide profile definitely has the most character.

That exterior design helps make the Charger’s interior a much more comfortable place to get to the business of police work, especially compared to the Taurus. I donned my gunbelt and spent much of a Saturday morning driving around with it on. The center console Mr. Sawrie had chosen to install in the car was fairly wide, starting at 11 inches wide at the base of the center stack and tapering to 9 inches wide by the time it reached the area of the seatbelt buckles. Even with a full gunbelt, I had plenty of room without the console pressing in on me, although a slightly narrower console wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Note to equipment vendors: Just because you have the space doesn’t mean you have to fill it.

The extra space makes entering and exiting the front seats of the car very easy, particularly when doing so quickly. Both the front and rear doors open 90 degrees, further than the doors on a Crown Vic and much further than on the Taurus with it’s nylon retntion strap that retards the opening of the front doors. Getting into the backseat is very tight, particularly for a prisoner with his hands secured behind his back. The Dodge’s low roofline is the main culprit here, particularly the way it slopes sharply back towards the “C” pillar. The routine admonition given to prisoners by cops all over the world to “Watch your head and knees” becomes more meaningful when herding perps in and out of a Charger instead of a Crown Vic. Seriously, jailbirds. Watch your heads.

The interior was quieter than I expected, even at highway speeds when air turbulence around the exterior spotlight mounted on the “A” pillar and around the lightbar tends to create a lot of wind noise in marked police vehicles. I was also surprised by the visibility. I had expected that the Charger’s low slung roofline would create a driving experience similar to that of the Taurus. That wasn’t the case at all. While blindspots still existed, particularly with a protective barrier installed, I never felt closed in and blind the way I did when driving the Taurus. Parallel parking, even without the benefit of a rearview camera, was fine.

Controls for the HVAC and stereo were handled primarily through the Uconnect touchscreen, although there were redundant controls for both mounted below. A USB outlet and auxillary port are standard. I found Uconnect to be easy to learn without resorting to the owner’s manual. The car was equipped with optional Bluetooth and paired quickly and easily with my Samsung phone. An option like Bluetooth is probably not taken up by most departments, but perhaps more of them should consider it. Like it or not, fair or unfair, the simple reality is that the cellphone is a vital tool to most patrol officers and one that will be used while driving. The nature of the job will simply require a certain number of distractions to the driver and any technology that can reduce those should be embraced, even if it costs a bit more per unit.

The car I drove was equipped with the 5.7 L Hemi V-8 and included cylinder deactivation. If anything the cylinder deactivation programming is over- aggressive. It seemed as if everytime I glanced at the instrument cluster, the computer was advising me that I was in ECO mode. The transition between four and eight-cylinder operation was relatively seemless and definitely makes a huge difference in fuel consumption. I averaged 15 mpg over 168 miles of driving. (I simulated the time spent idling in a normal patrol shift by leaving the engine running every time I got out to take photos of the car.)

That’s actually pretty good for a police car, particularly one with the 370 horsepower of the Charger’s Hemi V-8. Put your foot in it and all attempts at ECO management vanish with a roar. Testing by the Michigan State Police recorded a top speed of 152 mph. I believe it. In fact, the Hemi might be too much. Had I been given a Charger instead of a Crown Vic when I first hit the streets at age 22, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be here to write these articles today.  For most departments the 292 horsepower 3.7 L V-6 and a top speed of 141 mph would probably be a better choice.

Power is routed to the rear wheels through a 5 speed automatic, which includes Chrysler’s Autostick system. A column mounted gear selection lever is a welcome touch although it makes using Autostick almost impossible. The selection buttons for up and down shifting are mounted on the shift lever, which puts them in an awkward position for use during performance driving. I tried Autostick out on a twisty road near my home and found it nearly impossible to use while maintaining control of the wheel.

Control is definitely something you want to maintain. Overall the Charger is incredibly stable, but the Hemi will sneak up on you. The Crown Vic doesn’t particularly like to be hustled through the curves and responds with a certain amount of float and instability. Consequently you’re more aware of your speed as you approach corners in a Crown Vic.

The Charger hugs the road much better and builds your confidence until you glance down at the digital speedo readout as you enter a curve and HOLY CRAP THAT’S TOO FAST! I can report that the brakes  and the traction control work very well and kept me from having to have any awkward conversations with Bertel and Mr. Sawrie.

At least the bill wouldn’t have been too high. Fleet price for a Hemi powered Charger Pursuit starts at $23,585. For reference the most comparable civilian trim level, the Charger R/T, has a base MSRP of $29,995. For the budget minded municipal fleet manager, the V-6 powered Charger Pursuit starts at $21,949, undercutting the price of the cheapest Ford by $790.

Cheap is not usually considered a compliment and Dodge has a reputation, probably undeserved, for poor quality. My own agency’s experiences with Pentastar products has been negative. We were all issued Fords when I started in 1997, but the last of the old Diplomats had only been retired a couple of years before. No one I know who had the misfortune to have been issued one has anything good to say about them. When the previous generation of police Chargers hit the streets in 2006, we actually bought a few of them for use by detectives. Three out of eight developed transmission problems in the first two years of service.

Kentucky Law Enforcement Memorial

With that track record in mind, I called a nearby agecy that has switched exclusively to Chargers and asked how their cars have held up. The sergeant in charge of the fleet, Mister “beautiful and intimidating,” reported that their experience has generally been positive. One unit had gone through three motor mounts in six months, but my source felt that was more an issue of operator error than a failure of the car. Front ends tend to need replacing around 75,000 miles. Unlike Lexington’s experience he’d only had to have two transmissions rebuilt and both of those were in cars that had done over 120,000 miles. He only had one of the new generation of Charger in his fleet, but it seemed to be holding up as well or better than the older cars.

His major complaint was that the Chargers cost more to repair than the Crown Vics did. That’s probably going to be a complaint with all of the new generation cop cars, however. The second-best thing about the Crown Vic, after it’s size, was it’s simplicity. In a fleet maintenance situation simplicity usually equates to “cheap to fix.”  All of the new models are significantly more complex.

Still, Dodge’s quality problems seemed to have mostly been resolved, at least in my source’s experience. The testimony of one fleet manager may not be evidence of a turnaround in and of itself, but it appears that the Charger has made significant inroads into the police market in Central Kentucky.

The introduction of the first generation of Charger was the first real challenge to Ford’s domination of the police market in a decade. The second generation appears to be better than the first, while still undercutting the price of the Taurus. I concluded my review of the Taurus by noting that the competition was nipping at Ford’s heels. I was wrong. With the new Charger, Dodge has passed them.

Freedom Dodge of Lexington, KY provided the vehicle and one tank of gas for this review.

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