Archive for the ‘Motors’ Category
One day in 1965 a woman who had never driven a car received her first lesson. The driver was the grandmother my St. Pius X schoolmate; the instructor was his aunt. Rounding our corner at 9705 Grant Street, in Omaha, the novice driver kept on turning. The 1963 Oldsmobile F-85 shot through the mouth of our driveway, ran over the maple sapling—which sprang upright again like an acrobat—and crashed into the house next door. The inhabitants, Red and Marty Thibault, and their three daughters, Julie, Cathy, and Holly, heard a loud bang and registered the impact.
No one was injured. The milk box wasn’t knocked off the side porch. (How advanced, those Thibaults, with their window air conditioner!) Still, what an event. Neighbors came over to enjoy the moment, leaning against our garage door, reflecting, with the shaken driver, that no one had been undone, thank God.
Between the houses, the view is of curving Seward Street in the middle distance. And a cornfield: we Omahans claimed wild farmland for suburbia.
The weird fleet of cars in the Ahrens family’s driveway must be remarked. My parents, Walter and Mary, had bought the 1959 Volvo 544 new. When it was two or three years old, it suffered a carburetor fire. The multiple carbs needed regular synching and may have been neglected. The blaze, a Sunday morning occurrence while en route to Mass, scorched the paint off the hood. The scorch mark ever remained, a sign of Walter’s growing disenchantment I can’t explain why the tire leans against the humpbacked 544.
Sometime around then we acquired an old panel van, which would sit in the driveway’s other lane. Wally’s Conoco, 49th & L was emblazoned on the sides. People often asked if Walter’s nickname was Wally. He bought the van for about $75 to tow his stock car, which was stationed behind the garage door on the Volvo’s side, to the local tracks. Red Thibault became mighty provoked when Walter tuned up the unmuffled V-8 engine. Walter’s attitude was that he would do and say whatever he wanted, and if Red Thibault or anybody else didn’t like it, that was his problem.
My brother Dan’s toy road grader is in the driveway. And of course the Nash Metropolitan. We were a family of automotive freaks! My mother once took, as I remember, some of us and some neighbor kids, eight in all, to a movie: everybody piled in. It was before I’d ever heard of the Guinness Book of World Records, but we may have qualified.
Nebraska’s license plate slogan in 1965 was The Beef State. We made beef, and by God we were proud of it. When it was later decided to sex up Nebraska’s image, the new slogan was The Cornhusker State.
My story has a mixed ending. The sapling maple tree survived the incident, although always bearing a scar where a strip of bark was sundered.
And the Beef State slogan is back, bigger and bolder than ever.
But my schoolmate’s grandmother, unnerved by the accident, never got her license.
California car culture expresses wit as well as beauty.
One cultural subspecies, the rat rod, is perfectly suited for humor, as we see in this ’71 Beetle, in Yucca Valley, California.
In distortion, the Bug reflects reality. Its parody accentuates truth.
There’s plenty of the above with this faded, pockmarked peanut.
Olive drab and white-stenciled, the Beetle crosses lines as a U.S. Army staff car. It would be the motor pool’s bon vivant.
With torches and tools, the fabricator strips away fenders, bumpers, and handles. He flattens, elongates, and squeezes the body.
By adding implausible ornamentation, he suggests a finishing course onstage at the Improv. Exaggerated rear tires fatten up the punchline.
Much skill required in this job, but even more imagination.
I love my Roland Sands Design Vandal jacket. It’s my winter wear for two-wheeled travel. Anything above 70 degrees, and I’m roasting in it. Yet, for all its warmth, I find myself wanting some extra loft inside the breast when encountering the freshest, friskiest zephyrs.
It seemed this deficiency could be remedied by an item produced by J. Augur Design. Wouldn’t I be warmer, and look better, if the Vandal jacket were topped off by an antique Japanese indigo boro patchwork scarf? One of the windowpane-check variety, in particular?
So arrangements were made.
Meanwhile, I contemplated the J. Augur Design credo:
This is a one-of-a-kind scarf. It is made from antique (early 20th century Taisho period) Japanese indigo-dyed cotton fabric, referred to as ‘boro’.
BORO translated from Japanese variously means: ragged, tattered, worn to shreds or pieces…. fundamentally it is ‘rag’. This peasant fabric was created, used, salvaged and reused by country folk over a century ago. Before ‘recycling’ became an environmental movement; hardship and impoverishment necessitated frugality, and every scrap of fabric found a purpose…again and again.
In this spirit of conservation and thrift, we have collected textiles from Japan for many years and transformed futon covers, kimono robes, and furoshiki wrapping cloths into scarves. Our scarves are repaired, patched, laundered and restored for a multitude of uses: warding off a chill, enlivening a table or dresser top, decorating a wall, shading a window, making a fashion statement, lending a room texture and color… and celebrating the industry and artistry of those who came before us.
No surprise, the scarf has proved highly functional on a 1250-mile trip in four states. It’s January, mind you, and even though I was in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, it was cool out there. Sometimes, on the summits at 4500 feet above sea level, it was blatantly chilly. Did I ever turn blue, with teeth chattering? Not at all.
The scarf came through with only one small grease spot.
Now home for 48 hours, I’ve done some washing, and while ironing in the afternoon sun I found myself wondering about those who had worn the fabric before me. What had their lives been like?
No such thoughts would have occurred to me concerning the scarf I might have bought at the dollar store.
Today’s temperature in Palm Springs was 77 degrees, so I hardly needed to swaddle my neck in indigo boro.
But cooler weather may lie ahead. I have the Harley for a while longer. Another momentous pairing could happen.
I find myself being asked about Edward Herrmann, who died on Dec. 31. Besides his extensive acting credits, people forget that Edward was spokesman for Dodge in the 1990s–the long-running, successful campaign with the tagline “The New Dodge. We’ve changed everything.”
Fifteen years ago this month, when I was a copywriter for Dodge’s marketing communications agency, I went to Salisbury, Connecticut, with my art director partner Lori Soenen to interview Edward and get a portrait for our planned cover story for the Dodge owners’ magazine, which I edited.
His mother was ill. There was record cold.
Yet they gave us two full days of their time, opened their home to our crew, provided a catered breakfast and lunch, took Lori and me to dinner at the White Hart and insisted on paying the tab. (I remember him striding, refreshed, into the kitchen on the second morning and declaring to all of us, “I’ve got my libido back!”)
Edward told me the Dodge part was “big” for them, and probably as the result he had been able to build what he called “a man’s garage” for his collectible cars: an Aston Martin, a Packard, Rolls-Royce…I think there were five. He posed before it, standing outside in the snow, no matter that it was 10 degrees. Whatever we asked of him. And always he kept up a good-natured patter.
Among his many points of erudition, the guy could recite automotive history up and down. He was very well acquainted throughout the car hobby. In fact, for some years, he emceed the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
I’m most privileged to have known him. I saw him again in 2011, at David E.’s memorial service, and had the chance to gain absolution for something terrible that happened.
After all the trouble he and Star had gone to for us, for the agency, the client killed our story, and the matter was handled disgracefully. As it turned out, our timing for the cover story couldn’t have been worse. What we didn’t know was that Dodge was finished with Edward as spokesman. Classy and cerebral was out.
The New Dodge campaign was succeeded by Aerosmith and the ridiculous, short-lived Mayor of Truckville.
Edward said he never held it against me–a good thing to know.
As a freelance contributor to Automobile, Robb Report, BBC Autos, and JeanKnowsCars.com, I jumped in and out, and on an off, a lot of automobiles and motorcycles in 2014.
Here are some favorites:
Where: Marbella and the Ascari racing circuit, Spain; Gingerman Raceway, Michigan
When: May, October
Summary: Breathtakingly good looking, comfortable to sit in (once you collapse butt-first over the sill), great interior layout with trim that can be as tasteful or garish as you please. The car drives like a peach around town but unleashes real fury on the track.
Better than: Skydiving, a threesome in Vegas, and maybe any other Lamborghini
Where: Palms to Pines Highway (twice)
Summary: The established motorcycle press seems to think the new Monster 1200 S is too big and unwieldy, but Ducati says owners had asked for more room for a passenger. Those overindulged journalistic geniuses are splitting hairs awfully thin. This bike fascinated me. There is so little chassis, for one thing. (Someone labeled the overall design “cyborg insect.”) And the 1.2-liter V-twin has immense soul.
What Molly says: “It doesn’t smell as good as a those biscuits you get me at Trader Joe’s, but I still wish I could go for a ride.”
Where: Borrego Springs, California
Summary: The last variant of a great design. Its age admittedly shows. For example, the oval headlamp openings. Yet it’s bewitching. It makes me drool. And the very idea of such a short wheelbase and a 6.0-liter V-12 is purely outrageous. When you’re happy and you know it, close the top.
Better than: Kim Kardashian’s assets, six Mustang convertibles together
Where: Isle of Man
Summary: Honda U.K. let me borrow it for a little tour of the Isle of Man and a trip over the Mountain Course. I returned it with almost no gas in the tank. Sorry, Honda, but thanks for the great time on a bike with a brilliant V-four powerplant and a dual-clutch automatic transmission that was always in the right gear.
Better than: Italian beer being on tap in public houses, the Isle’s “financial services” industry, perhaps most other motorcycles in the class
Where: Big Island, Hawaii
Summary: Toyota put a big effort into revising its popular midsize sedan. The new face has attitude. There are additional features inside. Nothing changes under the hood. Still, it’s such a value, and I enjoyed driving the XSE way more than expected. It’s about as good as a front-wheel-drive car can be.
Better than: Madeleine Albright twerking, whatever they post on Jalopnik
Where: San Bernardino, California
Summary: A most pleasant surprise. The turbocharged 1.4-liter engine performs great in all situations. And the cabin is quiet!
Better than: Sitting down low and being unable to see ahead
Where: North Palm Springs, California
Summary: The 847cc three-cylinder engine kicks ass. And the bike’s price of $8190 is hardly believable. Yamaha’s pushing the right buttons.
Better than: Either Yamaha I bought new.
Summary: Multi-mode electric driving without the geek factor of a Leaf or Prius. And built on the same line and in sequence with other Golf models, it’s a manufacturing triumph, as well.
Better than: a-b-c-d Golfs
Where: Downtown Los Angeles
Summary: Think they’re sitting on some engineering talent at the Motor Company? Project LiveWire presents us with a highly refined electric motorcycle. Hey, this is only a prototype. Not only is the electric powertrain well integrated, but the design is nicely conceived (although the rearview mirrors weren’t too effective).
What I found myself saying when leaning slightly forward streetfighter-style over the straight bars and riding away from the L.A. Convention Center: “This is a Harley?”
Better than: Being locked inside a limo with Miley Cyrus
Where: Henley-on-Thames, England
Summary: What Jeep did with a four-door Wrangler, Mini Cooper is doing with its new 4 Door. It makes perfect sense to offer rear doors—a first for Mini—and add functionality for those who want to nevertheless express their individuality. It still drives great. And I like the way looks. Nice job, Mini!
Better than: A lot of Maxi cars
Where: Long Beach, California
Summary: It almost makes me a believer in 800-pound motorcycles. The bike is stable in a crosswind, and the ride over choppy pavement is equanimous. Coming home from Long Beach at night, I had the sense that other vehicles were aware of my presence because of the bike’s size and ample lighting. It cruised ever-so-relaxed at 80 mph and 3000 rpm. All the custom flourishes charmed me, even when I was just seeing it in my garage.
Better than: Motorcycles without whitewall tires
Where: South Haven, Michigan
Summary: A turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine teaming with an electric motor to power a supersports ultraluxury car with swan-wing doors is just what the world needed, and BMW gives it to us–a rare, fine thing for $136,650.
Better than: Every car that lacks a sound symposer
Where: Palms to Pines Highway
Summary: As the Monster increases in size, capability, and price, Ducati seeks a new generation of buyers with the Scrambler. The Scrambler Icon, seen here, is $8495. Another $1500 gives the choice among Classic, Full Throttle, and Urban Enduro models. The gas tank’s accent panel can be individualized (red and green checks, anyone?) and a panoply of saddlebags and apparel make this bike a means of personal expression.
Better than: A whole album of fuzzed out guitar riffs, a maxi scooter, your next tattoo
Where: In my driveway now
Why: To haul bags of mortar mix, a load of fill sand, and maybe a motorcycle
Summary: This is the fourth General Motors pickup I’ve driven this year. Whether GMC or Chevy, heavy- or light duty, they’re so useful (and more efficient than you might think). Even though they’re a handful in the supermarket’s parking lot (backup cams are definitely a help, though) I desperately want one. What’s cool about the Silverado: LED lamp for the cargo box, integrated bumper step, EZ Lift-and-Lower tailgate that drops gradually.
Better than: Listening to a hoarse whisperer, a weekend in Woonsocket, a midsize pickup
What I’m eager to get my hands on in 2015:
Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe
Ducati Multistrada 1200 S
Early contender for 2015 Automobile of the Year: