Driven: 2015 Ford Transit Vans

Great looking vans offer a ton of flexibility in terms of size, power, and packaging.

Great looking vans offer a ton of flexibility in terms of size, power, and packaging.










I love full sized vans, particularly Ford Econolines. Now the outgoing 2014 version of the Ford E-Series (nee Econoline) has been around a while and served well, but Ford has been long planning to replace them with a lineup of commercial level vans that are more fuel efficient, more cost effective to build, and can do as much or more in a more modern package. So comes the new Transit lineup. You may be familiar with the Transit vans Ford sells in Europe and other world markets, and even though these new North American Transits share the name, and somewhat resemble, the “international” Transits, they are very different; developed exclusively for the North American market, with our needs, roads, and drivers in mind.

The North American Transit is as new as new can be, offering packaging combinations not duplicable on the old, wonderful, outgoing E-Series vans

The North American Transit is as new as new can be, offering packaging combinations not duplicable on the old, wonderful, outgoing E-Series vans











The new Transits share practically nothing with the old E-Series vans, save for the wearing of Blue Oval Badges. The new chassis architecture is now a unibody design, still rear wheel drive, and is offered in a dizzying array of wheelbases, box lengths, payload ratings, and roof heights. There’s lots of clever design work packed into them, such as super wide opening rear box doors, and interior floors, side panels and roof panels filled with “weld nuts” — in other words, nuts that are welded into the seams of the body panels that allow for the mounting of all kinds of racking and other stuff, preventing the need to drill holes through the panels to mount stuff. Smart!!! Since the weld nuts are part of the body panels prior to corrosion proofing and painting, you don’t mess up the body’s built in rust protection by having to bore holes through the metal.

Even on “base level” models, the standard equipment levels are high, including rear view backup cameras and screen, great for a big van that its tough to see behind.  I also like the smattering of 12V plug in power ports spread around the cabin.

Need a chssis/cab van?  Transit can be had that way.

Need a chassis/cab van? Transit can be had that way.










Three powertrains are offered; a standard 3.7-liter naturally aspirated V-6, a twin turbo Ecoboost V-6 right out of the F-150, and a new inline 5-cylinder turbodiesel that offers a ton of low end torque and outstanding fuel economy. No more V-8s, at least for now, as Ford claims these three powerplants can meet any owners towing and cargo capacity needs and deliver better fuel mileage and lower emissions in the process.

What?  no overhead console or shag rugs>

What? no overhead console or shag rugs>









I was skeptical in that regards, so I drove all three configurations, each backed by an automatic transmission. NO manual trans are offered or needed. The nat asp 3.7 has plenty of punch, but sounds a little thrashy at mid to high rpm.  For some reason, the EcoBoost version of virtually the same engine is much smoother and sounds better, plus it’s downright fast.  I also did time behind the wheel of the I-5 TDI, and its a jewel.  It has that wonderful, soothing low level diesel rattle at idle that sounds like power to me.  And it runs beautifully, smoothly boiling out lots of low to mid range torque and adequate upper end urge, with no smoke or smell or noise or other old school diesel bad habits.  Among the three, this would likely be my personal choice were I buying one of these fans.


Van cabin design has come a long long way

Van cabin design has come a long long way









I am also impressed at how rattle free these big boxes are; old school vans are usually a bit noisy and rattly inside, but not these.  The structure is drum tight, the cabins are comfortable, and the instruments and controls logically designed and laid out.  I could absolutely drive one of these every day and be happy doing so.

Lots of upfitting opportunities for sure

Lots of upfitting opportunities for sure

There are already several companies that produce a wide variety of up-fit equipment for these vans, from shelving and racking to stakebed truck bodies.  And Galpin Auto Sports has already built a few of them into Lear Jet like Limos with fabulous seating, and high tech infotainment on board.


I’ve of course not been able to put one of them through 100,000 miles of daily testing with a full payload, but I have confidence that these trucks are built well and tough, and should be able to handle any task you have in mind or need for them.  Higher build quality, more options, choices, and capabilities, plus greater efficiency, than the models they replace sounds like a good deal to me.  And they are handsome, and great to drive.  I’m thinking some mag wheels, tinted windows, and orange shag carpeting, and its 1974 all over again.

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Rusnak’s Morning Octane Cruise-In


photos by Kirk Gerbracht


As you know, I love Cars N Coffee style morning cruise-ins. Get your car out of the garage, see some other cool cars, have a cuppa, BS with your pals, and be home in time to get after your weekend schedule or chores. These things are a great invention, and now springing up all around the world, although remember the first one was the original Crystal Cove morning cruise in, born here in the Newport Coast area of Southern California.


The Rusnak auto group is one of the more visible, and high style automobile dealership groups in Southern California. Paul Rusnak and his family have an impressive fleet of stores, including Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Porsche, Bentley, Audi, Volvo, Lotus and probably a few more I’m forgetting. And they throw a dandy once-a-month cruise-in called Morning Octane, most often held in one of the parking lots at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. It’s open to all and any, but draws mostly Porsches and a lot of high end exotics.

For its final Morning Octane event of 2014, Rusnak switched up the venue, and put the whole show on the streets of the Pasadena Civic Center, right in front of its magnificent City Hall. The streets are wide and smooth, surrounded by beautiful buildings and landscape; perfect. The’s a wide curved street running right in front of the City Hall building making it a really attractive spot anyway, and especially for a car show.

Of course I brought one of my own cars; the black 911 on the left is my '89, and the beautiful gray 996 at right is that of shooter Kirk Gerbracht.

Of course I brought one of my own cars; the black 911 on the left is my ’89, and the beautiful gray 996 at right is that of shooter Kirk Gerbracht.

I thought you might enjoy the photos (lots more below), and I for one hope that Rusnak puts this event on here again.

Rusnak was first known as a Porsche dealership, and still is, so lots of Porsches always at their events

Rusnak was first known as a Porsche dealership, and still is, so lots of Porsches always at their events

lots of Jags too...

lots of Jags too…

...and pretty girls...

…and pretty girls…

...and just how elegant is this lovely little Fiat cab?  Its the gray and red top/cabin color scheme that makes it.

…and just how elegant is this lovely little Fiat cab? It’s the gray and red top/cabin color scheme that makes it.

Plenty of Ferraris and Mercedes too...

Plenty of Ferraris and Mercedes too…

and lots of Lambos too.

and lots of Lambos.

Got Loti?

Got Loti?

New 991 Turbo S...yum.

New 991 Turbo S…yum.

Among my most favoritest Vettes of all time, a C3 gen LT-1

Among my most favoritest Vettes of all time, a C3 gen LT-1

Something for everyone at Morning Octane

Something for everyone at Morning Octane

Car Show Alert – The Best of France and Italy show is this Sunday


One of my very most favoritest local car shows is The Best of France and Italy coming up this Sunday November 2, in the San Fernando Valley’s not so famous Woodly Park.

This show is free to attend and cheap to enter. French cars, Italian cars, lots of car talk and a day in the park with your friends, what could be bad? The organizers are still looking for more great cars to enter. Doesn’t matter if you have a show car, a driver, beater or barnfind; if its french or Italian its likely welcome.

Here’s all the scoop you need to know:

More great Kirk Gerbrach photos from last year just below…

Tired of Ferraris yet?  If so there will be many Maseratis on hand at Woodley Park this Sunday.

Tired of Ferraris yet? If so there will be many Maseratis on hand at Woodley Park this Sunday.


Never seen a Qvale Mangusta?  This Sunday might be your chance

Never seen a Qvale Mangusta? This Sunday might be your chance


Talk about rare!  This handsome Ford of France Comete runs a Ford flathead V-8

Talk about rare! This handsome Ford of France Comete runs a Ford flathead V-8


All the Euro American hybrids are welcome Iso, DeTomaso, Facel-Vega and even Italian bodied Jensen Interceptors

All the Euro American hybrids are welcome Iso, DeTomaso, Facel-Vega and even Italian bodied Jensen Interceptors


I know I'm not yet tired of fabulous Lancias and Alfas

I know I’m not yet tired of fabulous Lancias and Alfas


and who just doesn't love 2CVs?  That would be like hating a cute puppy.

and who just doesn’t love 2CVs? That would be like hating a cute puppy.












Guest Blog: Words and photos by Kirk Gerbracht

ARCADIA, CA – Ultimately, it is cars that make a great car show. But sometimes the venue just adds a little something extra. Such was the case with Mustangs in the Garden. Celebration of the Mustang’s 50th birthday continued, and the “garden” was the famed Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens, 127 acres of beautiful gardens, lawns, ponds, and waterfalls. Strategically placed along the wandering walkways of the Arboretum were Mustangs from 1964 ½ to 2014; original unrestored, to custom, to race cars.



There were several examples of the early 1965 and 1966 Mustangs on display. Most of the cars were original or only mildly restored, and were clearly drivers. There was a nice base Mustang with a straight-six, 3-speed manual and 4-lug wheels. Of particular note was an early red over red car that was all original. The paint and interior, engine and trunk were near perfect. The owner was overheard saying, when asked when the interior had been done, “ask Ford, it was done the day the car was built.”


There was a nice example of the 1967 convertible and a 1968 fastback.


From that point on, chronologically speaking, the display got a little thin. No late 60s or early 70s Bosses, Machs or Cobra Jets to be found, and not a single ’71-73, nor Mustang II. There was one handsome black over black 1969 with a touch of custom work (picture). Sadly, some of the most iconic Shelby GT350 and GT500s were missing from the display, but there was a beautiful 2007 GT 500 convertible and a custom Shelby as well . Not a single Fox era car to be found, nor any ’99-‘04s either. Just a one FOX4 car, that being the lone ’96. Representing the most recent generation of the Mustang was a beautiful 2014 convertible.

On this beautiful day there were excellent examples of Mustang history to enjoy; just not enough of them, as the expansive grounds looked a little sparse. There are no doubt thousands of Mustangs living in Southern California. The cars on hand were worthwhile, but the venue and attendees deserved so much more, as the property would have held hundreds of cars had they been procured; there’s great untapped potential here.


If you are in the Southern California area, please visit the Arboretum. In addition to the outstanding grounds, in the past two years the Arboretum has supported the car culture with “Spyders in the Garden” and “Cobras in the Garden.” The web site is

Maserati Celebrates 100th Birthday in Grand Style in Italy

Momenti Parata Maserati  davanti alla storico Stabilimento della maserati_MG_5215


A Century of quintessentially Italian Carmaking and Motorsport

This year one of the world’s most-expressive and best-loved car companies celebrates its first full century in business and forges confidently into its second hundred years. Maserati’s history is filled with equal measures of passion, speed, elegance and style, and was recently celebrated in Italy with a weeklong festival of activities starring special Maserati cars and people from around the world

By Matt Stone

Photography by the author and courtesy Maserati

The next time you’re playing a spirited game of automotive Trivial Pursuit with your friends, hit them with this one: name the Maserati brothers. There’s nothing trivial about the birth of Maserati, but too few enthusiasts are familiar with the talented family that founded this amazing marque. Carolina and Rodolfo Maserati, of Piacenza, parented a solid stock of young males: Carlo was born in 1881, Bindo in 1883, Alfieri in 1885—he sadly died as an infant, and in his honor and remembrance his name was given to a fourth son—Alfieri born in 1887, then Mario in 1890, Ettore in 1894 and finally Ernesto in 1898. Father Rodolfo was a railway engine driver, and all of his sons—save Mario who was a gifted artist—took up mechanical and engineering pursuits. Eldest son Carlo designed his own motorcycle engine while still in his teens, and later raced the two-wheelers. He worked for Bianchi, which built both motorcycles and cars. There he ultimately employed Alfieri, Bindo and Ettore. It wasn’t long before the younger brothers left to form their own company, located in Bologna and named of course for the family.




Their first modest shop was located at Via Pepoli 1 in the very oldest section of Bologna; the company considers the beginnings of its founding on December 1, 1914, with the official deed of incorporation of Societa Anonima Officine Alfieri Maserati dated December 12, 1914. Maserati didn’t begin building cars under its own name for another decade, at first modifying and preparing other cars for racing; primarily Diattos and Isotta Fraschinis.  Among the first automotive products to bear the company’s name and identifying “Trident” logo were spark plugs for aircraft, marine, and automotive uses.


Mention exclusive, exotic Italian car brands, and most people think of Ferrari and Lamborghini, but Maserati is older than both of them by decades, and just a few months prior to its actual 100th anniversary date, the company celebrated the occasion by opening its doors and hearts to many hundreds of Maserati owners, dealers, executives, employees, enthusiasts, locals, and the media, for a weeklong centennial gathering in the cities of Bologna, Modena, Cremona, and Turin Italy.  Hundreds upon hundreds of cars and participants came from 29 countries, and we were among them.


Our visit began at that very first Maserati location at Via Pepoli 1 in Bologna, a small tiny located on the ground floor of a much larger residential, commercial, and industrial building in the oldest part of town, not far from the Piazza Neptune, home to the famous Neptune’s Fountain statue which inspired the Maserati “Il Tridente”logo, designed by Maserati brother Mario, a gifted artist and sculptor; Mario was the only among the brothers that didn’t actively pursue the family business of racing cars, car parts, and carbuilding.  The Via Pepoli property is no longer an industrial shop, instead housing a small local historical society, although Maserati has access to it when the company wishes to use it.  The company only remained in this location for five years, quickly outgrowing it before moving to larger headquarters in another area of Bologna.  Following this visit, we moved to an art and history museum located in the courtyard of the same building for a panel discussion with Carlo and Alfieri Maserati, sons of co-founding brothers Ettore and Ernesto Maserati.  Given that their fathers and uncles were all born in the late 1800s, as you can imagine these two gents are up in their years, but they remain sharp, well spoken, and extremely passionate about the accomplishments of their forbearers.  They spoke with great pride about the fact that Maserati “built nearly everything on their cars” not just the “engines and the badge on the front” as is the case with so many cars today.  They proudly noted that the company was famous for its high levels of design and engineering innovation, and for its great success in motorsport and in record setting (top speed records and such).  Interesting men, of a great and interesting family and times.

The Maserati family sold the company to the Orsi family in 1937, and thus Maserati moved to new factory grounds in nearby Modena in 1939, so that was our next stop.  Many consider Modena to be the epicenter of Italy’s Motor Valley.  It is the birthplace of Enzo Ferrari, and home to the first Scuderia Ferrari raceshop, and the home of Maserati since 1939.  It was home to DeTomaso Automobili, and Automobili Lamborghini is just a few miles to the Northeast.  Ferrari’s current home, factory and test track in Maranello lie just a half hour south.


It was in Modena that we visited the Casa Enzo Ferrari Museum (the house of Enzo Ferrari’s birth, and his father’s original machine shop, all now part of a fabulous Museum campus belonging to the city of Modena and operated by Ferrari).  The Museum’s ultra-modern, avant garde main building is for this year dedicated to the Maserati 100 – A Century of Pure Italian Sports Car exhibit.  Primary exhibits rotate, and if you are ever in Modena, this property is a must see.  It may initially seem odd to see a Ferrari museum fully stocked with Maseratis, since Ferrari and Maserati were long time, cross town competitors, but now of course the two marques are brothers under the Fiat Group banner, so the old battle lines are long gone.  While at the museum,  Adolfo Orsi, of the family that owned Maserati from 1937-1968 gave a panel discussion about his memories of the company and cars during the time his family was at the helm.  Fascinating stuff, with many charming, first person remembrances of a man who was there.


Modena, as with so many European cities, has a central square (piazza grande) that is its social, architectural, commercial and political center, and proved a darn fine place to gather up several hundred Maseratis for an informal daylong display; which everyone on the Centennial program, plus countless locals, all attended.  Maserati CEO Harald Wester toured the square with Modena’s mayor, while cameras clicked and videos recorded every sparkle and flourish.  Then all the cars, old and new, fired up for a parade to the nearby Maserati factory for dinner, assembled inside the factory buildings alongside the production lines, where the wine flowed, and the Luciano Pavarotti Foundation singers gave a memorable opera performance.  Wester greeted the group noting that “it’s great to be 100 years old, and not even feel like it!”


The next day our group departed Bologna bound for Cremona, where Stradivarius violins were born and made for nearly 500 years.  Naturally all of the Maseratis parked up in display in Cremona’s Romanesque-Gothic piazza, and we visited the Museo di Violino – obviously the museum of the violin.  Our small group enjoyed a brief demonstration of Stradivari magic by a gifted young female violinist playing a 300 year-old Strad in the museum’s acoustically perfect auditorium.  After a wonderful day spent in this artistic and elegant Italian city, it was off to Turin; home base for Maserati parent Fiat, and to many of the design houses (among them Pininfarina, Zagato, ItalDesign and others) that designed and built many of the most famous Maseratis.


The day ended with a magnificent black tie reception and dinner at the Reggia di Venaria Reale museum in Turin.  Several Fiat, Ferrari, and Maserati executives addressed the crowd, as did representatives from Maserati marketing partners Zegna and Bulgari.  Plus there more classical music.  This property is superb and looks for all the world like a large, Italian medieval castle, and is also a must visit should you be in Turin.


The final day of Maserati’s Centennial celebrations included a visit to the National Automobile Museum in Turin, a tour of the new Giovanni Agnelli production plant in Grugliasco (just outside Turin) where the current Quattroporte and Ghibli sedans are produced, and where the upcoming Levante luxury crossover SUV will be assembled.  While the gathering of cars in Modena’s square was very informal, the week ended with a more formally organized and judged concours in Turin’s Piazza San Carlo.


Add it all up, and you’ll see that Maserati’s first 100 year history is quite remarkable; so many memorable production cars, and motorsports history that includes back-to-back Indy 500 victories in 1939-40, the Grand Prix world championship in 1957 at the hands of Fangio in the seminal 250F, and a business plan to produce and sell 75000 cars annually beginning in 2018.



 Many photos below; please keep scrolling and enjoy

And check out Maserati’s excellent video here:

Momenti Parata Maserati  davanti alla storico Stabilimento della maserati_MG_5215

Maseratis of all color and stripe swarm the company’s factory HQ in Modena, where the Maserati has built cars since 1939.


Italy’s celebrated Motor Valley really turned out to welcome the cars and owners from around the world, with poster, banners and flags everywhere.


Maserati’s famed Il Tridenti logo

D - Via Pepoli painting

Recent period looking painting of what the first Maserati shop looked like in 1914


Via Pepoli 1 today, the doors to the original Maserati workshop in the oldest section of Bologna


These steps cover what was originally a ramp from the doors opening to Via Pepoli, as the shop sits down about a half level


Via Pepoli 1’s original production equipment and shop tools are long gone, but Maserati rents the facility when desired and decorates it as the occasion requires.


Although this Allemano-bodied Maserati wasn’t built at Via Pepoli, it made for a divine set decoration.


Descendants of the Maserati brothers address an interest gathering of media at a museum near the location of the original Maserati shop in Bologna.


From left, Alfieri Maserati, son of founding brother Ernesto, my friend Luca Dal Monte, Maserati’s chief press, media, and public relations officer, and Carlo Maserati, son of founding brother Ettore.

K - Neptune Trident Fountain

Neptune’s Statue fountain, located in the nearby Piazza Netuno; it is the three pronged lance in this statue that inspired the design for Maserati’s famous il Tridente logo


Besides Maseratis, among Italy’s most popular and prevalent form of transportation is the ever present scooter.


When is a Chrysler minivan not a Chrysler?  When it’s finished out as a Fiat or a Lancia van, sold in Europe.



As popular and prevalent on the streets of Bologna, Modena, and Turin are human powered bicycles, common commuter transport in this part of the world where gasoline costs about triple what it does in the US.



Elegant  3500GT Vignale Spyder fronts Modena’s famous Duomo and clock tower.



Media from all over the world covered Maserati’s Centennial celebration, including this striking television reporter from Spain.


Maserati didn’t let the balloons fly until every child that wanted a balloon got at least one.



Among the several thousand balloons netted and ready for the celebratory balloon release


Modena’s historic Grand Piazza filled with Maseratis had videos and camera phones blazing away



Among the most daring, and famous, Maserati concept cars of all time is the Boomerang, the masterwork of Giorgetto Giugiaro.



New Ghibli sedan looks well at home on the cobbled streets of Italy



Although the house that Enzo Ferrari was born in still stands and is part of the “Casa Enzo Ferrari” museum property, it is currently not yet open to the public as an exhibit.


The Enzo Ferrari birthplace museum is an artful display of old and new; the block building at left is Enzo Ferrari’s father’s original shop, where he fabricated tools and equipment used in the railway industry.  The yellow roofed building to the right is of course a new structure, very wide open inside, able to house hundreds of cars and large exhibits, plus conference facilities and a tasty gift shop and Ferrari store.


The gallery building at the Casa museum is fronted in glass, while much of the interior is windowless, and finished in white.


The Maserati in the foreground is an interesting contrast to the large photo in the background, of Enzo Ferrari himself at the wheel of an Alfa racer competing in the Targa Florio in 1920.


a thoughtful Adolfo Orsi discussed his family’s ownership of Maserati after its purchase from the founding brothers.


During our visit, the entire floor of the Ferrari Museum was dedicated to Maserati’s Centennial, displaying cars from the company’s earliest days, as well as current production models and racers.


There are no columns to support structure inside the new Casa Ferrari Museum building; the curved, arching roof is fully self-supporting


Elegant Maserati 3500 GT Vignale Spyder contrasts strikingly purposeful Maserati MC12 competizione coupe just behind.


Any list of all-time great Maseratis will include the still-fabulous Ghibli coupe, the original Quattroporte, and the tidy Frua bodied Mistral


This hyper rare Fantuzzi-bodied 150GT Spyder is compact, curvaceous and very elegant; its tidy size and compact proportions demonstrate how much larger cars have become over time; a modern Maserati Grand Cabrio would dwarf this beautifully detailed convertible of 1957.


The first racing car to carry the Maserati name on its nose, this is the 1929 Maserati 26B.  Just 43 were built, and its two-liter inline-8 engine was good for around 150 horsepower



Appropriately, and lovingly named, the Green Monster, is this 1932 Maserati Tip V4 Sport Zagato.  Monster indeed, as it’s powered by a 4-0-liter V-16 (yes, sixteen cylinders) engine boiling out 280 horsepower.  A similar was used to set a ten kilometer speed record in 1929 with an average of 246 kph, equal to 152.857 mph, really flying at the time on a public road.



Dinner was served on the factory floor in Modena, with many Maseratis in various states of assembly all around, including hanging above the dining tables


No canned music for this dinner, not a chance, not in Italy.



At the moment only Maserati coupes and cabriolets are produced at the Modena facility, which looks strange at night with no workers buzzing about nor sparks flying


On to Cremona, which like Modena and Turin is also home to elegant squares and piazzas, perfect places for classic car shows


Cremona’s Museum of the Violins has only been open in this location for about a year, the building sitting previously unused and now thoroughly remodeled for this purpose.


Most of the Violin Museum’s auditorium is finished in wood which enhances its acoustic properties specifically to benefit string performances


This amazing Asian violinist held the small crowd rapt with her haunting beauty and stunning musical virtuosity


The breathtaking Reggia di Venaria Reale in Turin; the perfect place for the event’s black tie reception and dinner; the cars are the Maserati Alfieri concept, left, and a Pininfarina bodied Maserati competizione coupe from the 1950s.  We expected a tuxedoed James Bond to arrive at any moment.


the venue, cars, lighting, and mood all particularly dramatic.


Another angle of the Reggia di Venaria Reale


Salute Maserati!  Major players in the Maserati script; company CEO Harald Wester, Fiat Chrysler group CEO and now Ferrari Chairman Sergio Marchionne, and Fiat Chairman John Elkann





James Garner’s Motoring Life Book Signing Saturday October 4


I’m pleased to announce that my newest book is off the press and ready for you. It’s the third in my now somewhat trademark trilogy of Hollywood’s True Car Guys biographies. First was McQueen’s Machines: The Cars and Bikes of a Hollywood Icon, next was Winning! The Racing Life of of Paul Newman,

James Garner Book Cover final

and now, James Garner’s Motoring Life, from Baja to Daytona and Grand Prix to The Rockford Files.

Please come meet me and let me autograph and personalize your copy for you or as a gift for someone special. I hope to see you there.

The Date is Saturday October 4, 2014, at one of my favorite places:


2900 W. Magnolia Blvd.

Burbank, CA 91505

818 845-0707

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 thought 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 trademark 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:—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,, or at Autobooks-Aerobooks in Burbank
• Stay tuned on

Driven — 2014 Cadillac CTS 3.6L Performance Collection


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.


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.


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.