Hooray! We’re going to Jalopyrama #11 on Saturday. Nothing but 1962 and earlier American hot rods, customs, and race cars. I will be bringing a good camera and a big memory card. We’re also meeting the Morrises there to hand off their iMac and maybe see the sights in Annapolis.
My home laptop is now running Yosemite, and seems to be pretty happy. I like a lot of the new features they’ve baked into things, although I won’t be able to take advantage of a lot of the phone -> computer functionality until I upgrade my iPhone (dialing and making calls on my laptop, Continuity with my files, or tethering). Most likely I’ll wait until 2015 for a new phone, as the holidays and some home renovation projects demand my extra cash. Or maybe they’ll have a good update to iOS 8.1 that makes my old 4s happy.
Also, I used a feature of Mail.app I never knew existed until last week: Preferences -> Junk Mail ->Reset. I’ve been getting more and more spam mail over the last two years, to the point where 95% of my inbox was junk (at a rate of about 150 messages a day). Each evening I’d waste 5 minutes of my life weeding through spam mail and moving it to the junk folder. Having reset the filter I’m seeing 3-5 junk messages make it through and another 2-3 valid ones get marked as spam, but that’s a much better average than before.
Here on the East Coast, classic cars are hard to find. So when there’s an opportunity to see a bunch of them in one place at one time, I jump on it. I took Peer Pressure up to a Cars & Coffee meet on Saturday in Hunt Valley, where we were undoubtedly one of the ugliest vehicles in attendance. I parked next to a Volvo Amazon, a perfect teal blue Mustang, and a few spaces away from a Cobra replica. There were Ferarris, a McLaren, a Pantera, and several more Cobras. There were also two Shelbys, a gaggle of stanced BMWs, and a group of Corvettes. Mixed in among the group, there were oddballs: an early ’50’s Chevrolet, a Buick woody wagon once owned by Roy Rogers, several British sportscars, and a gorgeous stock Chevy pickup. I met up with a couple of Scout friends and we had a total of three in attendance, but I was the only one with the stones to park amongst the other cars.
I stopped over to look at a pair of gorgeous early 60’s Thunderbirds and immediately noticed an 8-track player in one. Leaning closer, I laughed and mentioned my appreciation for the owner’s selection. He was pleasantly surprised and pulled out another Sergio Mendes cartridge, as well as Mancini’s greatest hits and some Tijuana Brass from the console.
“Al, at the wheel, his face purposeful, his whole body listening to the car, his restless eyes jumping from the road to the instrument panel. Al was one with his engine, every nerve listening for weaknesses, for the thumps or squeals, hums and chattering that indicate a change that may cause a breakdown. He had become the soul of the car. ”
-John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
Driving an antique car is often an act of faith. Unless one is an ASE certified mechanic, every mile put on a historic vehicle is a leap into the unknown, carrying one further away from help and closer to an expensive problem. It forces one to become intimately familiar with all of the complicated moving parts that make things work, if for no other reason than to be able to tell a mechanic what to look at first.
Peer Pressure has spent the majority of the winter slumbering like a bear in her cave, waiting out fierce December winds and wet March snows. Winters are always hard when starting carbureted engines. I don’t have a trickle charger yet, which means I’ve got about five good tries in the battery before I have to bust out jumper cables. Usually I pour a little gas in the carburetor to get the fuel system moving, and that does the trick. Whenever the roads are dry and salt-free, I let her idle in the driveway for ten minutes, then get her out for a trip around the block to spin the tires and get fluids moving through everything. Then she goes right back in the garage.
Meanwhile, I’ve been driving modern, fuel injected vehicles which start instantly and glide over the road at lightning speeds. They have clean carpeting, clear glass, warm heat, and soundproofing. I’m removed from all of the smelly mechanical bits that make things work; modern cars have been engineered to make me forget there’s even an engine attached to the vehicle: This vehicle is powered by unicorn farts. They are appliances, and we take their very existence for granted. And we become ignorant of the clanking, whirring, gnashing machinery that makes it all possible.
When spring comes, I pull the Scout out onto the road, wind up the engine on longer trips and listen intently to multiple different noises. That tapping–are those lifters starving for oil? I gauge the familiar droning of Mud Terrains on pavement. I parse squeaks from the rear of the chassis. Is the exhaust sounding a newer, deeper note this year?
Other cues I pick up from the vibrations through my feet and hands. How does the clutch feel? Is that wobble a flat spot in the tire, or is that just an oscillation at speed? Is the engine straining above 50mph? The brakes are wearing unevenly. Does the shift point feel different this year? It feels like the steering is wandering more today.
All of these reactions change my relationship with the road. Every trip I take in the Scout at the beginning of the year is carefully considered. Do I have enough gas to make it there and back? Do I have a backup plan if I break down? What’s the number for towing and recovery? All of these questions make me appreciate the ride a lot more; I’m in tune with the machine and the road, instead of just gliding over it, there and back.
I bought my first Scout used, 20 years after it was built, and drove it 75+ miles home the same day, on faith that the seller was honest (he was) and the truck was in good shape (it was). One month later I drove it 2 miles down an empty beach at Assateague, an empty corner of the earth where AAA does not make house calls. It got me home. Ten years later I put even more faith in an older truck bought at auction with absolutely no provenance, using the 5-50-100 rule to shake out the kinks (500 miles is a long trip on those tires), and it’s run strongly ever since. I’ve had my issues, and it’s given me problems, but most of those were due to my own stupidity, and I’ve been able to make it home without calling in a tow truck.
I don’t know if Steinbeck had it right or not. Rarely do I feel like I’m the soul of the machine; more often I feel like my truck helps me rediscover my sense of adventure. Will I make it there and back? Maybe not, but it’ll sure be an interesting story.
Some kind of crazy front is blowing through this evening, sending the temperatures down from an agreeable 65˚to somewhere in the low 30s. What the hell, man? Just when I was thinking I could leave my winter coat on the rack. We went from having the windows open to shutting the storms down to keep the heat inside. Oh, well.
Grandma and Renie are coming down this weekend to visit, which has us running around cleaning the house in preparation. It will be great to see them for the first time since Christmas, and I know Grandma is probably levitating off the floor with excitement. Hopefully the weather will warm back up so they don’t have to suffer a wet March weekend in Maryland.
The CR-V is at the shop with new ceramic brake pads waiting to be picked up tomorrow morning; I bought rotors and pads last weekend with the intention of changing them, but when I got the grindy side up on the jack, I couldn’t get the caliper to release the rotor. Instead of bashing it with a BFH, I wisely decided on calling in the pros, and they got it done today, no muss, no fuss. Certain things I’m willing to take on myself, but any monkey business with important systems like brakes I’ll happily farm out.
I kegged my latest batch of IPA, called Sinistral Warrior, on Sunday, and it’s carbing in the cooler this week. I’ve pulled two glasses from it so far, and it’s tasty–and strong. I have to remember to throttle back my intake because it tends to hit me rather quickly. Next up is getting some time to bottle the pumpkin, which has been sitting patiently since the end of December, and ordering a session IPA from Northern Brewer for the next batch. I also cut my 4″ shank down to 3″ last weekend. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be–maybe 5 seconds with a metal blade on the miter saw, and 2 minutes with a file to clean up the threads. Now, when I install tap handles in the front of the kegerator, the tubing and inlets won’t be in the way. Half the fun of owning a kegerator seems to be hose management.
I haven’t looked at Facebook in about two weeks. I popped on there this evening to answer a question (I get alerts in my mailbox, but rarely respond to them) and lost a half an hour; nothing much has changed. I talked about creating more and consuming less at the beginning of this year, and haven’t done much to change that yet. I could come up with lots of reasons why, but the truth is I just haven’t.
I have a lot of things to work on this spring; that is only one of them, and the least important.
This post is one in a series based on a format at another website; much like music, I can measure much of my adult life with the cars I’ve driven.
Ate Up With Motor recently did a comprehensive history of the Honda CRX, a car I owned for a brief while and the sale of which I still regret to this day. Which leads me to the next chapter in my automotive history…
My CRX was a hand-me-down silver HF model from my girlfriend’s father, who had driven it, given it to her, and then let her brother rag it out for a while before parking it in his driveway and then offering it to me. My B2000 was blowing oil and beginning to get expensive. I had a desk job as a designer, having gotten out of the contracting business a few years previously, so I did what any 20-something male with disposable income would do: I sold the truck and bought a beat up sportscar.
It had about 90k on the odometer when I got it, the CV joints were already bad, the brakes were shot, it needed some muffler work, and it smelled like cigarettes and feet. I put some money into repairs, got it running reliably, and, unbelievably, got three years of dependability at 40mpg. It was a stick, and first gear was a dog. But once it was at speed, it was a blast to drive–nothing like the pickup.
It was beat up, sure. Her brother had obviously tried to drag faster and lighter cars, played tag with trashcans and mailboxes, spilled coffee, ash, fast food, and bongwater over every inch of the carpet. It rattled and squeaked. The wiring behind the radio was a rat’s nest, left over from multiple hack installations. The AC worked as long as the car was in motion, but the minute it stopped I had to turn it off. This foreshadowed future problems with overheating in Baltimore traffic and a pattern that repeated itself with several other cars until I bought the CR-V.
But, I could fit two mountain bikes under the hatch, park it in a shoebox, and the money I saved on gas more than offset the thirsty V-8 of my first Scout. Where was the downside?
In its third year, it began to show its age by leaving larger and larger clouds of blue smoke behind, and soon it was burning through a quart of oil every two weeks. The rings were shot, and I was living in the city with no tools and no garage to effect repairs. Regretfully, I placed an ad in the paper and sold it to a guy who told me he was planning on setting it up for SCCA racing against MR2s.
Had I been thinking smarter, I would have driven it up to my sister’s house and parked it in the chicken barn out back until I could have afforded a rebuilt engine, but hindsight is, as they say, always 20/20.