Re-blog of a Classic: JALOPIES I CURSED AND LOVED by John Steinbeck

According to the piece below, Steinbeck owned two Ford Model Ts.

According to the piece below, Steinbeck owned two Ford Model Ts.

John Steinbeck is of course among the world’s great authors. I enjoy his immaculate writing and grand sense of humor and drama. And I though you might enjoy a read of this classic he wrote about cars, as published in the July 1954 issue of Holiday magazine. It’s a classic bit of Steinbeck….

RECENTLY I drove from Garrison-on-Hudson to New York on a Sunday afternoon, one unit in a creeping parade of metal, miles and miles of shiny paint and chrome inching along bumper to bumper. There were no old rust heaps, no jalopies. Every so often we passed a car pulled off the road with motor trouble, its driver and passengers waiting patiently for a tow car or a mechanic.
Not one of the drivers seemed even to consider fixing the difficulty. I doubted that anyone knew what the trouble was.
On this funereal tour I began to think of old times and old cars. Understand, I don’t want to go back to those old dogs. Any more than I want to go back to that old poverty. I love the fine EFFICIENT CAR I have. Rut at least I remembered. I remembered a time when you fixed your own car or you didn’t go anyplace. I remembered cars I had owned and cursed and hated and loved.
The first car I remember in the little town where I was born was, I think, a REO with a chain drive and a steering bar. It was owned by a veterinary who got himself a bad name in Salinas for owning it. He seemed disloyal to horses. We didn’t like that car. We shouted insults at it as it splashed by on Stone Street. Then, gradually, more automobiles came into town, owned by the very rich. We didn’t have a car for many years. My parents never accepted the time-payment plan. To them it was a debt like any other debt, and to them debt was a sin. And a car cost a lot of money all in one piece.
Now it took a long time for a car to get in a condition where I could afford it, roughly about fifteen years. I had an uncle who ran a Ford agency but he didn’t give free samples to his relatives. He got rich selling Fords and himself drove a Stutz Bearcat—four cylinders, sixteen valves. Those were proud times when he roared up in front of our house with his cutout open, sounding like a rolling barrage. But this was dream stuff and not for us.
My first two cars were Model T’s, strange beings. They never got so beat up that you couldn’t somehow make them run. The first one was touring car. Chickens had roosted on its steering wheel and I never their marks off. The steering wheel was cracked so that if you put a weight on it, it pinched your fingers when you let up. The back seat was for tools, wire and spare TIRES . I still confuse that car with my first love affair. The two were inextricably involved. I had it a long time. It never saw shelter or a mechanic. I remember how it used to shudder and sigh when I cranked it and how its crank would kick back viciously. It was a mean car. It loved no one, it ran in spurts and seemed to be as much influenced by magic as by mechanics.
My second Model T was a sedan. The back seat had a high ceiling and was designed to look like a small drawing room. It had lace curtains and cut-glass vases on the sides for flowers. It needed only a coal grate and a sampler to make it a perfect Victorian living room. And sometimes it served as a boudoir. There were gray silk ROLLER SHADES you could pull down to make it cozy and private. But ladylike as this car was, it also had the indestructibility of ladies. Once in the mountains I stalled in a snow stoma a quarter of a mile from my cabin; I drained the water from the radiator and abandoned the car for the winter. From my window I could see it hub-deep in the snow. For some reason now forgotten, when friends visited me, we used to shoot at that car trying not to hit the glass. At a range of a quarter of a mile with a 30-30 this was pretty hard. In the spring I dug it out. It was full of bullet holes but by some accident we had missed the gas tank. A kettle of hot water in the radiator, and that rolling parlor started right off. It ran all summer.
Model T’s created a habit pattern very difficult to break. I have told the following story to the Ford Company to prove their excellence. The cooling system of the Model T was based on the law that warm water rises and cool water sinks. It doesn’t do this very fast but then Model T’s didn’t run very fast. Now when a Model T sprang a radiator leak, the remedy was a handful of corn meal in the radiator. The hot water cooked the meal to mush and it plugged the leak. A little bag of meal was standard equipment in the tool kit.
In time, as was inevitable, I graduated to grander vehicles. I bought an open Chevrolet which looked like a black bathtub on wheels, a noble car full of innovations. I was living in Los Angeles at the time and my mother was coming to visit me. I was to meet her at the station, roughly thirty-five miles from where I lived. I washed the car and noticed that the radiator was leaking. Instinctively I went to the kitchen and found we had no corn meal, but there was oatmeal which is even better because it is more gooey. I put a cup of it in the radiator and started for the station.
Now the Chevrolet had a water pump to circulate the water faster. I had forgotten this. The trip to the station must have cooked the oatmeal thoroughly.
My mother arrived beautifully dressed. I remember she wore a hat with many flowers. She sat proudly beside me in the front seat and we started for home. Suddenly there was an explosion—a wall of oatmeal rose into the air, cleared the windshield, splashed on my mother’s hat and ran down her face. And it didn’t stop there. We went through Los Angeles traffic exploding oatmeal in short bursts. I didn’t dare stop for fear my mother would kill me in the street. We arrived home practically in flames because the water system was clogged and the limping car gave off clouds of smoke that smelled like burned oatmeal, and was. It took a long time to scrape my mother. She had never really believed IN AUTO ¬mobiles and this didn’t help.
In the days of my nonsensical youth there were all kinds of standard practices which were normal then but now seem just plain nuts. A friend of mine had a Model T coupé, as tall and chaste as a one-holer. It rested in a lot behind his house and after a while he became convinced that someone was stealing his gasoline. The tank was under the front seat and could ordinarily be protected by locking the doors. But this car had no locks. First he left notes on the seat begging people not to steal his gasoline and when this didn’t work he rigged an elaborate trap. He was very angry, you see. He designed his snare so that if anyone opened the car door, the horn would blow and a shotgun would fire.
Now, how it happened we don’t know. Perhaps a drop of water, per¬haps a slight earthquake. Anyway, in the middle of the night the horn went off. My friend leaped from bed, put on a bathrobe and a hat, I don’t know why, raced out the back door shouting “Got you!”—yanked open the car door and the shotgun blew his hat to bits. It was his best hat too.
Well, about this time the depression came along and only increased the complications. Gasoline was hard to come by. One of my friends, wishing to impress his date, would drive into a filling station, extend two fingers out the window, out of the girl’s sight, and say, “Fill her up,” Then, with two gallons in the tank he would drive grandly away. This same friend worked out a way of never buying a license, which he couldn’t afford anyway. He traded his car every time a license fee was due, but he only traded it for a car with a new license. His automobiles were a little worse each time but at least they were licensed.
With the depression came an era of automotive nonsense. It was no longer possible to buy a small car cheaply. Everyone wanted the Fords and Chevrolets. On the other hand, Cadillacs and Lincolns could be had for a song. There were two reasons for this. First, the big cars cost too much to run and, second, the relief committees took a sour view of anyone with a big expensive-looking car. Here is a story somewhat in point.
A friend of mine found himself in a condition of embarrassment which was pretty general and, to him, almost permanent. An old school friend, rich and retired, was going to Europe and suggested that George live in his great house in Pebble Beach in California. He could be a kind of caretaker. It would give him shelter and he could look after the house. Now the house was completely equipped, even to a Rolls-Royce in the garage. There was everything there but food. George moved in and in a first flush of joy drove the Rolls to Monterey for an evening, exhausting the tank. During the next week he ate the dry cereals left in the kitchen and set traps for rabbits in the garden. At the end of ten days he was in a starving condition. He took to staying in bed in luxury to conserve his energy. One morning, when the pangs of hunger were eating at him, the doorbell rang. George arose weakly, stumbled across the huge drawing room, across the great hall carpeted in white, and opened the baronial door. An efficient-looking woman stood on the porch. “I’m from the Red Cross,” she said, holding out a pledge card.
George gave a cry of pleasure. “Thank God you’ve come,” he said. It was all crazy like that. It was so long since George had eaten they had to give him weak soup for quite a while.
At this time, I had an old, four-cylinder Dodge. It was a very desirable car—twelve-volt battery, continental gearshift, high-compression engine, supposed to run forever. It didn’t matter how much oil it pumped. It ran. But gradually I detected symptoms of demise in it. We had developed an instinct for this. The trick was to trade your car in just before it exploded. I wanted something small but that I couldn’t have. For my Dodge and ten dollars I got a Marmon, a great, low, racy car with alu¬minum body and aluminum crankcase—a beautiful thing with a deep purring roar and a top speed of nearly a hundred miles an hour. In those days we didn’t look at the car first. We inspected the rubber. No one could afford new tires. The tires on the Marmon were smooth but no fabric showed, so I bought it. And it was a beautiful car—the best I had ever owned. The only trouble was that it got about eight miles to the gallon of gasoline. We took to walking a good deal, saving gasoline for emergencies.
One day there was a disturbing click in the rear end and then a crash. Now, anyone in those days knew what had happened. A tooth had broken in the ring gear of the rear end. This makes a heartbreaking noise. A new ring gear and pinions installed would come to ninety-five dollars or, roughly, three times what I had paid for the whole car.
It was obviously a home job, and it went this way. With a hand jack, I raised the rear end onto concrete blocks. Then I placed the jack on blocks and raised again until finally the Marmon stuck its rear end up in the air like an anopheles mosquito. Now, it started to rain. I stretched a piece of oilcloth to make a tent. I drained the rear end, removed the covers. Heavy, black grease ran up my sleeves and into my hair. I had no special tools, only a wrench, pliers and a screw driver. Special tools were made by hammering out nails on a brick. The ring gear had sheared three teeth. The pinions seemed all right but since they must be fitted, I had to discard them. Then I walked to a wrecking yard three miles away. They had no Mormons. It took a week to find a Marmon of my vintage. There were two days of bargaining. I finally got the price down to six dollars. I had to remove the ring gear and pinions myself, but the yard generously loaned tools. This took two days. Then, with my treasures back at my house I spent several days more lying on my back fitting the new parts. The ground was muddy and a slow drip of grease on my face and arms picked up the mud and held it. I don’t ever remember being dirtier or more uncomfortable. There was endless filing and fitting. Kids from as far as six blocks away gathered to give satiric advice. One of them stole my pliers, but pliers were in the public domain. I had probably stolen them in the first place. I stole some more from a neighbor. It wasn’t considered theft. Finally, all was in place. Now, I had to make new gaskets out of cardboard and tighten everything all around. I put in new grease, let the rear end gently down. There was no use in trying to get myself clean—that would take weeks of scrubbing with steel wool.
Now, word got around that the job was done. There was a large and friendly delegation to see the trial run—neighbors, kids, dogs, skeptics, well-wishers, critics. A parrot next door kept saying “Nuts!” in a loud squawking voice.
I started the engine. It sounded wonderful; it always sounded wonder¬ful. I put the car in gear and crept out to the street, shifted gears and got half a block before the rear end disintegrated with a crash like the un¬loading of a gravel car. Even the housing of the rear end was shattered. I don’t know what I did wrong but what I did was final. I sold the Marmon as it stood for twelve dollars. The junkman from whom I had bought the ring gear hauled it away—aluminum body, aluminum crank¬case, great engine, silver-gray paint job, top speed a hundred miles an hour, and pretty good rubber too. Oh, well—that’s the way it was.
In those days of the depression one of the centers of social life was the used-car dealer’s lot. I got to know one of these men of genius and he taught me quite a bit about this business which had become a fine art. I learned how to detect sawdust in the crankcase. If a car was really beat up, a few handfuls of sawdust made it very quiet for about five miles. All the wiles and techniques of horse-trading learned over a thousand years found their way into the used-car business. There were ways of making tires look strong and new, ways of gentling a motor so that it purred like a kitten, polishes to blind the buyer’s eyes, seat covers that concealed the fact that the springs were coming through the upholstery. To watch and listen to a good used-car man was a delight, for the razzle-dazzle was triumphant. It was a dog-eat-dog contest and the customer who didn’t beware was simply unfortunate. For no guarantee went beyond the curb.
My friend in the used-bar business offered a free radio in every car sold for one week. Now, a customer came in who hated radios. My friend was pained at this. The customer said, “All RIGHT , how much will that car be without a radio?”
My friend wrote some figures on a pad. “Well,” he said, “I can let you have it for ten dollars extra—but I don’t want to make a practice of it.”
And the customer cheerfully paid.
It’s all different now. Everything is chrome and shiny paint. A CAR USED to be as close and known and troublesome and dear as a wife. Now we drive about in strangers. It’s more comfortable, sure, but something has been lost. I hope I never get it back. ◊

Coming Soon, My New Book; James Garner’s Motoring Life

James Garner Book Cover final

James Garner, Steve McQueen, and Paul Newman. My three original Hollywood Car Guy heroes.

Somehow I wrote books about them in reverse alphbetical order. Steve McQueen first, then Paul Newman, and now the trilogy is complete, as my piece on the car guy life of James Garner is off the press and will be out in a few weeks.

As you know, Mr. Garner passed away in July, but lest you think this was one of those hurry up hearse-chaser books, I can tell you it was not. I’d been working on it for a year now, and the book went to press two days after he died. So the book was written in present tense as if he were still alive, because he was virtually the whole time I was doing it.

All the great Jim Garner stuff is there: cars he owned, trucks he drove, off-road racing, his tenure as a sports car racing team owner, Grand Prix the movie, Baja, Daytona and The Rockford Files.

You can pre order now directly from the publisher, on Amazon, or at Autoboks in Burbank. Or buy your personalized and autographed copy at Autobooks during my book signing there October 4: http://www.autobooks-aerobooks.com/display.php?id=000664&title=JAMES-GARNER%27S-MOTORING-LIFE—Grand-Prix-the-Movie-Baja-the-Rockford-Files-and-More

James Garner In 'Grand Prix'

Its a great story about some wonderful acting performances, a real racer and a damn fine human being. I hope you pick up a copy and enjoy it. Here’s the poop:

• Hardcover: 160 pages
• Publisher: CarTech (September 15, 2014)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 161325136X
• ISBN-13: 978-1613251362
• Product Dimensions: 0.4 x 11 x 8.5 inches
• Pre-order now from CarTech, Amazon.com, or at Autobooks-Aerobooks in Burbank
• Stay tuned on www.mattstonecars.com

Driven — 2014 Cadillac CTS 3.6L Performance Collection

P1010395

The original Cadillac CTS of two decades ago convinced me that GM hadn’t forgotten how to develop a car, and that it wasn’t going to make every vehicle in its lineup a badge-engineered clone of a half dozen others. It hasn’t always stuck with that mantra, but the CTS proved that it was committed to Cadillac not just being a tepid luxury sedan brand. Up until then, its model roster was hurting; Mercedes had the E-Class, BMW the 5 Series, and Cadillac had the Catera, a modestly remodeled Opel. Plus a bunch of ageing front drive sedans, and not a crossover or SUV to its name.

P1010394

Cadillac General Manager, John Smith (no, really!) fought hard to get a standalone, rear drive chassis architecture for the CTS, one that had good underpinnings that would help it ride and handle on a competitive basis with other upwardly mobile and premium luxury cars. The CTS broke the cover on Cadillac’s then new, and very fresh design language. Not perfect, but different and exciting. Many CTSs have come and gone since then, so I was excited when a 2014 example landed in my driveway. This platform and design was updated and refreshed just a year ago, with muscular features, tightly drawn lines and upscale jewelry, chrome, lighting and rolling stock. A great looking car.

Strong, lusty, and silky all at once: GM has finally gotten its mid sized V-6 right, after so many years or "we've really done it this time" or "wait until you drive the next one" this 3.6 is now world class

Strong, lusty, and silky all at once: GM has finally gotten its mid sized V-6 right, after so many years or “we’ve really done it this time” or “wait until you drive the next one” this 3.6 is now world class

My tester had nearly every option you could put on a “non V” CTS; the CTS v-Sport (think “AMG-like” version of the CTS). Aboard is 321 horse all-aluminum V-6 with the latest tech and plenty of punch; an 8-speed multi-mode automatic transmission with manual shift control and steering wheel paddles, and a full window sticker’s worth of luxury, performance and infotainment options.  And it was a stunner in (optional) White Diamond Tricoat paint over a Kona Brown and Jet Black leather and wood filled cabin.

This car isn’t quick; its genuinely fast.  Absolutely competitive with any of the six cylinder offerings from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and Infiniti.  The engine is smooth yet lusty with snarky exhaust and intake snarls that speak performance.  And the ZF 8-speed transmission is the perfect dance partner for it.  A ratio for every condition, seemingly always in the right gear, and very responsive to driver commands with the paddles or shifter.

P1010388

For decades, General Motors’ interior quality and design has most often been “almost but not quite” good enough.  Fit and finish, and materials quality has improved a ton since the company’s bankruptcy, and this CTS’s cabin is a gem.  Really high quality stuff everywhere you look and touch.  The leather upholstery is firm and sturdy yet still supple, and the satin finished genuine wood trim deeply grained and didn’t look like highly polished plastic for a change.  Complete instrumentation, a sophisticated entertainment and nav, logically placed controls, nice place this.  Many online and magazine reviews of this car criticize the CUE (Cadillac User Experience) touch screen interface; I don’t think it’s the most intuitive I’ve ever seen, but with a little practice and a review of the car’s owner’s manual, it works pretty well.

The 18-inch polished aluminum 7-spoke wheels will run you an extra $750

The 18-inch polished aluminum 7-spoke wheels will run you an extra $750

No complaints about the driving experience either; with over 300 horse on tap, 18-inch rolling stock and a performance tuned suspension, this CTS eagerly gobbls up most any type of road, maintains a firm yet comfortable ride, and handles aggressive corners with aplomb.  A real driver’s car to be sure.

Red 'em and weep...or not.  Lots of content, but lots of dough for a mid-sized Caddy IMO

Red ‘em and weep…or not. Lots of content, but lots of dough for a mid-sized Caddy IMO

The aspect of this car that put me off the most was the sticker; this car based at $60,100, and all the options ran the tab up to a somewhat eye-watering $68,980 all in.  I doubt you’ll find a comparably equipped premium German or Japanese brand competitor for less, but for some reason this struck me as a big number.  When shopping at this level, I suggest you compare prices and options very carefully.  But the content and the quality are present and accounted for.

 

Is the wreath and crest again the "Standard of the World?"  That's up to you, but it is indeed again a high standard

Is the wreath and crest again the “Standard of the World?” That’s up to you, but it is indeed again a high standard

So, taking the value equation out of it for the moment, I’d say job well done Cadillac, but it’s a desirable package you’ll pay somewhat dearly for IMO.

 

Mazda SkyActiv Prototype program showing innovation and gaining speed

P1000642

I love big game sportscar racing. Or even small time, not so big game sportscar racing. Over the years I’ve had ebbing and flowing interest in drag racing, NASCAR, and off-road racing, but I’m a road racer at heart. Probably from spending many a dusty Sunday afternoons at the late and perennially great Riverside International Raceway. I went to Trans-Am races there, F5000, IROC, club races, IMSA, and countless SCCA regional meets too. Now without Riverside, I consider Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca my home track; actually Willow Springs is much closer, and I’ve logged many more laps there, but I love MRLS as a marvelous and historic spectator track, and the home of many great pro races I’ve attended over the years.

Sportscar program cover

So it was great fun to visit recently for the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix weekend, running a full schedule of the new Tudor United SportsCar Championship.

And, in any sort of racing, I’ve always admired the cars that were different, and innovative. Maybe not always the winners, but interesting machines that demonstrated technical and design innovation.  One such effort built around considerable technical and design innovation is the Mazda SkyActiv Prototype.  Racing with diesel engines isn’t particularly new, but its is fairly new to what was the former Rolex series run in the old Grand-American road racing organization.  As you know, Grand-Am and the former ALMS merged, being reborn as the Tudor United SportsCar Championship for 2014.  There are four classes of racer in the top Tudor category, comprised of two levels of prototype sports racers, and two production based levels of Grand Touring machines.

Mazda's substantially production engine based SkyActiv turbodiesel, good for 600 pounds-feet of torque

Mazda’s substantially production engine based SkyActiv turbodiesel, good for 600 pounds-feet of torque

Diesels ran at Indy as far back as the 1950s, and Audi has dominated the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Sebring with them for many years.  Mazda’s new prototype effort is much different from those.  Early on, the Audis were powered by massive turbocharged V-12s that had little in common with production engines or the company’s road cars.  Not so the Mazda; while the chassis is certainly a race-only prototype (called a Multimatic, which is an outgrowth of what used to be Lola) the turbocharged four-cylinder diesel has a lot in common with that which you’ll find under the hood of a Mazda6 sport sedan.  So much so that in fact Mazda raced the previous generation of this engine in the Grand-Am series last year…in a four door Mazda6!

The two car Prototype program is run and developed by SpeedSource, which in the past contested the old Rolex series in Mazda RX8s.  The team leader, and one of the four drivers, is veteran driver Sylvain Tremblay, often a winner in the previous cars and series.  He’s teamed with long time Mazda supported driver Tom Long, plus Tristan Nunez and Joel Miller, who also helps engineer the car’s development.

P1000679

You may not think that the relatively small displacement 2.2-liter Mazda diesel can keep up with the big-inch Chevrolets, BMWs, and twin-turbo Ford EcoBoost engines, but with around 600 pounds feet of torque on tap, the Mazda aquits itself well enough.  The car has yet to win in the series, and as you’d expect of such a new and innovative effort, has been set back by a variety of teething problems in this its first season.  But reliability is improving, and the cars seem to get faster nearly every race weekend.  And its intended fuel economy advantage will likely pay large dividends in the future.

The Mazda’s didn’t do so well during the Mazda Raceway weekend, one car running well before an uncerimonious punt off the track by another prototype; the other team car finished but well off the pace and the podium.

No matter, I find this effort tremendously exciting, and one that shows great promise.  I sincerely hope that Mazda continues to support (and pay for) the effort, because I can see a day when the 2.2-liter diesel Mazda prototype sits in the winner’s circle at Daytona, Sebring, or Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, drapped in chequered flags.

www.mazdausa.com

www.mazdaraceway.com

 

Speed Reading: Beast, by Jade Gurss

9781937747336

The 1994 Indy 500 was special for me for many reasons. First was that it was planned as my here and friend Mario Andretti’s final crack at the Brickyard. Second is that I planned to be there, with my now late father; we’d gone twice before and had a blast. Another reason was a very special engine that Ilmor, Penske Racing and Mercedes-Benz had cooked up for just this one race, knowing that pending rules changes would immediately outlaw it. It was a turbocharged pushrod engine that dominated qualifying at the skilled hands of Al Unser, Jr., Emerson Fittipaldi, and Paul Tracy, and was odds on favorite to win the race.

It was developed in a very short amount of time, and the quiet rumor was that in qualifying trim, it put out nearly 1000 horsepower — unheard of stuff in mid 90s Indycar racing. The engine suffered untold teething problems during development, a large group of the IndyCar community said it was a “cheater” motor that bent or at least abused USAC’s engine rules, but the Ilmor-Mercedes V-8 ultimately got fast and reliable, and I knew the race would be something special. Little Al won the pole, Emerson nearly won the race, and Little Al took over the catbird seat for his second 500 win. Even after the race, rumor continued to fly abou the engine’s strange birth and development process, and this new book tells it all. How the engine was designed and developed in near total secrecy, and how Ilmor and Penske put it all together for a big win. The engine’s birth wasn’t an easy one, but persistence and the pursuit of perfection got the job done. If you enjoy interesting business stories, plus the behind the scenes action of racecar development, testing, and associated drama, you’ll enjoy this book. In it you really get to know the players; many you’ve heard of, some you have not. The writing is clear and lively, getting chewy only in a few places, but overall well done, and I’ll read it again some time.

Available in hard cover, or on Kindle at Amazon.  Do it.

Driven: 2014 Chevrolet SS V-8

Carve corners or burn rubber, the SS is happy either way

Carve corners or burn rubber, the SS is happy either way

Sir, your four door Camaro SS is waiting…

When I was visiting Australia a few years back, I borrowed this Holden SS, which gave me a wonderful taste of the Chevrolet version in my future

When I was visiting Australia a few years back, I borrowed this Holden SSV, which gave me a wonderful taste of the Chevrolet version in my future

The new Chevrolet SS Super Sport sedan has lived many lives in many different countries under several names and badges. In Australia, it’s a Holden. In England, A Vaxhuall, and an Opel in Germany. It was here in the United States a few years back as the Pontiac G8 and G8 GXP. And with the dismissal of Pontiac from GM’ brand roster, it’s been reborn as a Chevrolet, which is great. It really fits the mold of a Chevy SS; with its muscled four-door platform and rear wheel drive; even as Chevy put supercharged V-6s and later small V-8s into its previous gen front drive Impala SS, the marketplace never bought into them as real American musclecars. Now that’s all fixed with the replacement for those cars with this. And this SS is something special. So good and so ballsy is this car that it is also offered in police interceptor form. Which makes sense, since its got good bones, and the old Caprice and Crown Vic cop cars are gone. The new SS chassis architecture stems directly from the Aussie Holden, which is a serious performance car in that country, and both share considerable underpinnings commonality with the current gen Camaro.

Yeah baby...about 380 cubic inches of throbbing Chevy V-8, it does the business and sounds like a race car

Yeah baby…about 380 cubic inches of throbbing Chevy V-8, it does the business and sounds like a race car

The SS is available in somewhat more pedestrian V-6 powered form, but thunder lovers will head straight for the Camaro’s 6.2-liter V-8, in this application rated at 415 horsepower and 415 pounds-feet of torque. This magnificent most current iteration of Chevy’s ageless small-block V-8 is a stormer, and backed by a 6-speed multi mode automatic transmission that offers a sport shift mode and paddle shifting. 0-60? Around five seconds — and passing power you just won’t believe. Fully independent handling-oriented suspension, huge Brembo front brakes, serious wheels and tires. And all the trimmings inside, with high quality fit and finish, and comfy leather sport seating. Nice instrumentation, electronics and infotainment.

Chevy SS fact sheet

For this money the best yo you could hope for would be a used, several generations old M5 or E55, and it wouldn't be a better car than this one

For this money the best you could otherwise hope for would be a used, several generations old M5 or E55, and it wouldn’t be a better car than this one

Just take a cruise through the window sticker for my Phantom Black tester ad you’ll see that the equipment level is high. And the price, for what you get, isn’t.

This car's motor music should be recorded and Podcast

This car’s motor music should be recorded and Podcast

And you’ll love the sound this car makes, at idle, under load, or cruising, its pure American muscle. A new C7 Vette doesn’t sound any better.  You’ll be throttling this car all over town just to listen to it.  And is really fast.  And my goodness does it handle too, plus the ride is firm but never punishing.  I loved the high cornering grip, feelsome communicative steering, and sharp handling response.  American muscle performance with the best European road manners bred in with it.  There’s no such thing as a perfect car, but honestly, I couldn’t find a single thing I didn’t like about this one; I’d spend my own money for one, if I needed this type of car in my stable which I don’t in the moment.  Drive one and I promise you won’t be disapointed.

Just in case you wanted to see the cop shop version

Just in case you wanted to see the cop shop version

All said and done, the formula reminds me very much of that used so effectively by BMW M or Mercedes-Benz AMG and even SRT for that matter.  Take a great mid-sized sedan platform, step up the looks, crank up the handling prowess, boost the horsepower, and amp the exclusivity just a smidge.  Its a great cake mix; bake it, frost it, and enjoy any time of day.

 

Serious rolling stock and brakes

Serious rolling stock and brakes

And, BTW, for you doubters: the 6-speed automatic is very responsive to the commands of your right foot, or your hand on the shifter or paddles, but if you absolutely must have an old school, clutch and stick, 6-speed manual tranny, I’m hearing you’ll be able to get one on this car for MY2015.

If I covered up the bowtie badges, you wouldn't know this high quality cabin didn't come from Germany

If I covered up the bowtie badges, you wouldn’t know this high quality cabin didn’t come from Germany

If you want an M5 or E63 AMG and can’t hack the sticker (or like the Camaro SS but need four doors and more room) I heartily recommend the new Chevy SS.

P1010466

The American muscle sedan lives, and in this case lives well.

P1010464

 

Highway Earth 2014 car show — A Star Is Born!

HE-PC-Horizontal-1024x552

My friend, photographer Evan Klein and I were having lunch one day and he said “hey, what would you think about a car show at Franklin Canyon Lake Park?”  That’s easy; the Beverly Hills location is beautiful, rustic, casual, genuine, and historic.  The park has been there for decades, and the site of countless movie and TV shoots.  In fact Evan and I had done car magazine photoshoots there together.  So I asked him what he was thinking.  Turns out that Evan and his fiance jog and walk their dogs there several times a week, and the idea just struck him one day  Over the years, he’s gotten to know many of the rangers who work the park, and upon asking them about the idea, they were most supportive.

 

The old Andy Griffithshow was filmed here, among many other 60s classics and movies.

The old Andy Griffithshow was filmed here, among many other 60s classics and movies.

His idea was an easy, fun, accessable car show for everybody to enjoy with family and friends.  Ferraris parked next to low riders; Porsches and Plymouths, run what ya brung.  No trophies, no judging, no hassle.  The car entry fee had to be low so that anyone could enter, with no spectator tickets or fees at all.  The car entry fees were there only to cover insurance and security costs.  Good inexpensive food available on site (or bring your picnic), with strolling ice cream cart vendors to keep you cool and satisfy the sweet tooth.

Heavy metal; this alcove was stocked full with American lux iron, all fins, chrome, and leather looking fine

Heavy metal; this alcove was stocked full with American lux iron, all fins, chrome, and leather looking fine

He set the date for June 29, and then began to worry.  What if he couldn’t get any cars?  What if he got cars and no spectators showed up?  What if what if?  OK, stop worrying Evan.  The idea captured everyone’s imagination, and soon, the show’s website was blowing up with entries.  He finally had to cut it off at around 150 cars, because the property wouldn’t hold a lot more.  The layout is most unusual, there’s a one-way road that circumnavigates some of the park and lake, with little alcove parking areas which were designated for Porsches, Hollywood cars, muscle, 50s, etc.  These are entirely seperate from the spectator parking area.  The complete loop around the road, in other words, to see the entire show, is an easy, level, one-to-one-and-a-quarter mile lap.  Easy stroll for most anyone, kids and pets welcome.  Some folks walked down to the lake, others took the loop several times to see what new cars might have showed up since their last lap.  Super casual.

I said variety, right?  Where else would you see a Morgan trike parked next to a Facel Vega Excellence?

I said variety, right? Where else would you see a Morgan trike parked next to a Facel Vega Excellence?

It quickly became the most exclusive, non-exclusive car show in town, with people calling accepted entrants at the last minute to see if they could get their car in.  Success!  And it was a great day; warm and clear but not too hot, and around 150 fun, great, and interesting cars, bikes, vans, and such on hand.  The variety was most engaging.  Evan did much of the work himself, leaning on a few volunteers to help get cars in the door and parked, but it was entirely the idea of one guy, and largely the effort of that same guy that got it done.  He’s already been bombarded with support to do it again next year, which I’m sure will happen, and if I’m in town, I’ll be there again, and you should be too.  Watch for announcements at www.highwayearth.com.

Job Well Done, Evan Klein, and photos here Well Done by Kirk Gerbracht.

Lots more pix below…

Alfa Force One; show honco Klein's own Alfa Spider

Alfa Force One; show honcho Klein’s own Alfa Spider

 

 

Again not something you see everyday; a Citroen 2 CV-based Mehari

Again not something you see everyday; a Citroen 2 CV-based Mehari

 

We Porshes got our own little parking alcove with a half dozen nice cars.  That's my own black '89 Carrera coupe, with a most spectacular 25000 mile 911 SC in dark gray, right next to me

We Porshes got our own little parking alcove with a half dozen nice cars. That’s my own black ’89 Carrera coupe, with a most spectacular 25000 mile 911 SC in dark gray, right next to me plus a rare and interesting Brumos edition 997 coupe on the end

 

Beauty and elegance collide in this Ferrar 250 GT "PF" Cabriolet, and check out this great, soft spoken color combo

Beauty and elegance collide in this Ferrari 250 GT “PF” Cabriolet, and check out this great, soft spoken color combo

Two of McQueen's machines: Steve's '76 930 belonging to Michael Regalia, and Dave Kunz '68 Bullitt Mustang tribute fastback

Two of McQueen’s machines: Steve’s ’76 930 belonging to Michael Regalia, and Dave Kunz ’68 Bullitt Mustang tribute fastback

 

Another rare duck: this Matra coupe runs the same Maserati designed and built V-6 as does the Citroen SM and the Maserati Merak

Another rare duck: this Matra coupe runs the same Maserati designed and built V-6 as does the Citroen SM and the Maserati Merak

 Czech Mate!  No car drew more attention and questions than this Czech born Tatra; rear engine V-8 with great Eastern Euro Deco design

Czech Mate! No car drew more attention and questions than this Czech born Tatra; rear engine V-8 with great Eastern Euro Deco design

 

Original LittleBirds are always crowd favorites, and this triple black '55 was tasty

Original LittleBirds are always crowd favorites, and this triple black ’55 was tasty

This charmingly displayed '51 Kaiser Traveller Deluxe carried what looked like all of Andy and Opie's original fishing gear

This charmingly displayed ’51 Kaiser Traveler Deluxe carried what looked like all of Andy and Opie’s original fishing gear

 

Wave to the Crowd - and see you next year at Highway Earth

Wave to the Crowd – and see you next year at Highway Earth

MUSTANG The First 50 Years; Two-DVD set now available

Mustang DVD set

I’m not plugging this DVD set because I appear in it.  I’m happy to tell you about it because it’s very good, well done, and every Mustang enthusiast will enjoy it and needs one for their DVD collection.

This documentary is very entertaining, and contains lots of solid information about the Mustang’s birth, development, and history along its first five decades. The producers, TM Books & Video, have included interviews with several members of the original Mustang’s design team, plus lots of really cool period advertising and auto show footage — cool stuff. And lots of good old and new footage of some of the most significant and interesting Mustangs.  The show runs about two and a half hours, and is officially licensed by Ford.

Great stuff here, I promise, and it’s a bargain at twenty bucks for the set.  Here’s the order blank…

Mustang DVD set order form

Cars & Coffee, Virginia Style

 

From Left, Bob's 550 Maranello, Bev, Bob, Linda, and a friends of Bev and Bob's who owns three Corvettes, including the '60 that her father bought new!

From Left, Bob’s 550 Maranello, Bev, Bob, Linda, and Kim, a friend of Bev and Bob’s who owns three Corvettes, including the ’60 that her father bought new!  And Bev’s Shelby GT-H convertible.

It all began last March on a hotel rooftop parking lot in Amelia Island, Florida. We were cruising the lot during Concours weekend, checking out cars as they rolled into and out of the RM auction that was taking place in the Ritz’ ballroom, as were Bev and Bob Steinhagen; one of them recognized me from television, and we all struck up a conversation. Bev and Bob live in Virginia, and own 20 cool cars; Bev likes Cadillacs, Corvettes, and her Shelby GT-H convertible; Bob has Jags and Ferraris. They seemed a classy couple, and it was clear we’d become fast friends. They said “if you ever happen to be in Virginia over a weekend, we’ve got a great Cars & Coffee in Great Falls every Saturday morning that draws about 250 cars. and we’d love to meet you there as our guests.”

Like I said: Impressive!  more than 200 cars of all price and stripe showed up on this Saturday (just for me, of course!); I had no reason to think otherwise, but didn't know there was such a fabulous car community in this particular area of Virginia

Like I said: Impressive! more than 200 cars of all price and stripe showed up on this Saturday; I had no reason to think otherwise, but didn’t know there was such a fabulous car community in this particular area of Virginia

 

 

Too much nice hardware to name or count

Too much nice hardware to name or count

I was immediately hooked, as I love these 2-3 hour Saturday morning gatherings; they are in many ways, the ideal casual car show; the perfect excuse to get your cool car out, meet up with some friends, do some tire kicking and bench racing, have a coffee, then get on about your day of chores or whatever well before noon.  No judging, no trophies, no stress.  It turns out we had been contemplating a family related trip to Virginia anyway, so any excuse to check out another area’s Cars & Coffee was good enough for me. After some emails with the Steinhagens, we had a plan, and the location was an attractive multipurpose office and commercial park in Great Falls,(Northern) Virginia, not an hour from where we were staying.  This place is the perfect spot for a Cars & Coffee; large property, plenty of parking, some shady green areas, and very handsome; the colonial style buildings housed a variety of businesses, plus a couple cute places to eat breakfast or lunch.  I piloted our utterly boring rental car into the last, far corner place in the parking lot not consumed by Porsches, Jags, Ferraris, Vettes, muscle, Mercedes, and you-name-its.  The crowd numbered at least 250 cars and was damned impressive.  Some very average yet cool run whatyoubrungers to some really rare high end hardware.

 

This fabulously original 1959 190D was bought new by its original, now little old lady owner, in 1960.  It is all original, replete with matching fitted luggage set, and the original owner was there to show the car and share her story -- most coolness

This fabulous 1959 190D was bought new by its now little old lady owner, in 1960. It is all original, replete with matching fitted luggage set, and the original owner was there to show the car and share her story — most coolness

Bev and Bob introduced us to many of their friends, who were most welcoming, and impressed that I’d travel 2500 miles to attend a Cars & Coffee.  This one started out really small, as most of these events do.  It was the brainchild of a couple guys, and then ten cars showed up, and the next time it was 30, then 50, then 100, and you can guess the rest.  We had a blast with the Steinhagens and everyone we met, and enjoyed a really diverse, fun and impressive roundup of great cars.

Plenty of Bad Boy Porsches on hand too

Plenty of Bad Boy Porsches on hand too

If you don’t have one of these events near you, I think its high time you start one.  You don’t need much more than a small group of folks that want to do it, a friendly parking lot or shopping center willing to host, and an email tree, and then these things tend to grow legs and feed on themselves.

Talk about rare; how often do you see an Intermeccanica Italia anywhere?

Talk about rare; how often do you see an Intermeccanica Italia anywhere?

What better way to invest your Saturday mornings — and believe me, your chores will wait a few hours.  Thanks Bev and Bob, and Well Done, Virginia!

More photos below…

 

I had the fantasy, for about ten minutes, of buying this barnfresh MG and driving it back to Los Angeles -- what an idiot!

I had the fantasy, for about ten minutes, of buying this barnfresh MG and driving it back to Los Angeles — what an idiot!

 

As mentioned, this great and all original '60 Vette is now owned by the daughter of the first owner -- and as a newborn, she was driven home from the hospital by her dad, in this car -- great cars, great people, and some great stories too

As mentioned, this great and all original ’60 Vette is now owned by the daughter of the first owner — and as a newborn, she was driven home from the hospital by her dad, in this car — great cars, great people, and some great stories too

As with all good Cars & Coffee gatherings, this one had a little something for everyone

As with all good Cars & Coffee gatherings, this one had a little something for everyone

As nice a Ferrari 400 as I've seen anywhere

As nice a Ferrari 400 as I’ve seen anywhere

Naturally this authentic and way cool Meyers Manx appealed to my Southern California beach sensibilities

Naturally this authentic and way cool Meyers Manx appealed to my Southern California beach sensibilities

 

San Marino Motor Classic 2014; now a show not to be missed

P1130183

My friend Jerry Rosenstock painted his small-block Shelby Cobra this fabulous navy blue because he liked it...and so do I

My friend Jerry Rosenstock painted his small-block Shelby Cobra this fabulous navy blue because he liked it…and so do I

The San Marino Motor Classic has become more than simply a great “regional” car show in a pretty park setting; it’s a really big deal show that draws magnificent cars.  The primary organizer, Mr. Aaron Weiss, is a supremely knowledgeable car guy who has a fleet of wonderful cars himself, and he and his committee curate and assemble a most memorable show.  And like so many great concours, the show benefits charitiy(ies) in this case several worthy ones, and at the end of the day, a ton of money gets donated.  The organizers assemble a well qualified roster of judges, so also at the end of the (same) day, the right cars take home the hardware.  And the San Marino folks have come up with a brilliant answer to a common question at such events: “hey, when is a post war car going to win best of show?”  San Marino handles its beautifully, by giving both pre and post war bests.

Rather than take you class by class and car by car, I thought you might enjoy these wonderful photos of a truly great day and event, and my thanks to shooter pal Kirk Gerbracht for the damn fine pix.  If you’d like to see the results, and get yourself dialed in for next year, visit the show’s official site at www.sanmarinomotorclassic.com/  And make sure to put next year’s show on your calendar, the date is June 15/15.

Super rare Euro spec 911 -- appropriately nicknamed Kermit, was a crowd favorite among the Porsches

Super rare Euro spec 911 — appropriately nicknamed Kermit, was a crowd favorite among the Porsches

Something here for everyone from heavy classics and antiques to sportscars and hot rods

 

Anyone tired of Silver Birch Aston Martin DB5s yet?  Certainly not me

Anyone tired of Silver Birch Aston Martin DB5s yet? Certainly not me

Alfas?  Yeah, we got yer Alfas right here!

Alfas? Yeah, we got yer Alfas right here!

Plenty of muscle on hand too, like this stunning '70 442

Plenty of muscle on hand too, like this stunning ’70 442

Cute never goes out of style, like this always crowd-popular Citroen 2CV

Cute never goes out of style, like this always crowd-popular Citroen 2CV

 

Some survey or another I read a few years back declared the original 1955-57 Thunderbird America's most beloved classic car, and it's not hard to understand why

Some survey or another I read a few years back declared the original 1955-57 Thunderbird America’s most beloved classic car, and it’s not hard to understand why

 

Always plenty of great Ferraris on show

Always plenty of great Ferraris on show

 

and Jags too!

and Jags too!

 

P1130029

Don't forget next year, on June 15/15

Don’t forget next year, on June 15/15