It is 52 degrees outside. That means the dead of winter is upon us once again. It is a dreadful period, and I find myself slipping into a dull state of monotony, looking for an escape from this grisly reality. Normally, I wouldn’t be in such dire straits, but normally we wouldn’t be experiencing springtime in February, either. Instead, we’d be basking in the wonder of winter and the sub-freezing temps that go along with it.
I happen to thrive in winter—a proper winter. I much prefer going out into -5 degrees to the sweltering heat of 95 degrees. I’ve always said “You can always add more layers to stay warm, but you can only take off so much before you’re arrested.” (Sadly, I am always the only one listening to this endless wisdom and, frankly, find myself quite boring.) You can imagine my dismay when faced with the timid, meek attitude displayed by this current winter–the seasonal equivalent of a Corolla driver. So I find myself plotting an escape from this existence.
I tend to prefer fantasizing the old fashioned way. None of this new electronic animated and easy scrolling stuff for me, thank you. I like the old fashioned ink on paper media to escape my reality. I go to the old standard: road atlas*. So, several times during every January and February I will dedicate a portion of the kitchen table, fix a beverage of my choice, grab a pencil, and open up my North American Atlas** to slip into a slow stupor of potential road trips. Read more
Today I have the opportunity to work on another old car. While it isn’t exactly a “classic” like an Alfa GTA or ’55 Chevy (the ‘57s are just too gaudy for me) it is very near and dear to someone’s heart, so I am taking great care with it. I am cautious when I drive it and try to let the wrenches caress the fasteners, rather than just man-handle them. In reality, the car isn’t worth much to most of the world, but after spending some time with “Nellie” I have come to a conclusion: they don’t make ‘em like they used to.
The beautiful thing about Nellie is how she is the last from a bygone era. She’s not a big German luxury barge, nor is she powered by an American small-block V8. She’s not even rear wheel drive. (the horror!) She’s just a humble baseline 1990 Honda Civic, but a completely capable car. She’s as basic as they come—a reminder of simpler times before power windows, power door locks, power steering, and power outlets became necessities to get from Point A to Point B. It makes me wonder what we’re doing wrong as consumers.
Over the years we have become lazy. We have forgotten how to drive. We’ve demanded the fastest, quietest, most coddling cocoon to wrap ourselves in. We need air conditioning. We can’t live without cup holders. Our arms ache at the thought of having to exert effort while parallel parking. The wheels beneath us cannot slip. Brakes mustn’t lock. A haunting voice will guide us to our destination (or not). Wind must be seen but not heard. And in the event of a collision (who allowed that to happen, anyway?!) we want to be surrounded by pillowy curtains on which to rest our weary heads. (never mind that those same pillows explode with such force that they will take your head clean off if they hit at the wrong angle) Read more
I enjoy getting together with a good group of motorheads. I’m not sure if it is the comradery of carburetors that draws us together or the simple fact that most of us are so passionate and opinionated about our transportation choices, that sooner or later blood will be drawn (like the pending horror of a train wreck that simply must be watched. Or the pain of Bobby Unser on television). Whatever the reason for getting together, the conversation always seems to flow without pause (and often without purpose, point, or poignancy, according to many onlookers) as we dive into the history, present day, and future of mechanized transportation.
Try as we might to come to an agreement on what makes a car “great,” the segregation inevitably happens: as the discussions continue the group breaks into smaller and smaller subcomponents, a sort of reverse-assembly line. Eventually, everyone finds themselves grouped in with one clique or another. This is not a choice that can be taken lightly, nor made at that very moment. Rather, it is the culmination of choices and attitudes that one exhibits over years of development. Some may even declare it to be genetic.
The Japanese fans quietly keep to themselves, presumably in an attempt to grasp the concept that cars might actually vary in character and personality from, say, a baseboard heater. Read more
How To: Change Your Oil, Part 2
How to actually change the oil
Keep in mind that this is only a guideline for the actual procedure. This is where you should check a service manual to be sure you’re not screwing anything up. (Honestly, my Land Rover is the only vehicle I’ve had that is very specific about the operations procedure, but you never know) Failure to follow the factory instructions can result in the oil pump losing its prime and, thus, its capacity to pump oil. Remember: oil serves as a much better lubricant than air does. The same principle applies if you forget to purchase all your oil and filter prior to getting started. It is tough to drive to the store with no oil in the engine*so be sure you have ENOUGH OIL and the PROPER FILTER and the PROPER TOOLS before you proceed. Got it? Good!
Step 1: Get the oil flowing
The purpose of changing the oil is to get all the worn out oil and dirt out of the engine and replace it with clean, fresh lubricant. Draining cold oil isn’t recommended, as you will be leaving all kinds of dirt inside the engine. By driving your car a few miles before draining the oil, you’re stirring up all the sediment into suspension so it will flow out of the sump with the old oil. Plus, as an added benefit, hot oil running down your arm will warm your extremities if you are forced to service your car in sub-freezing temps. Read more
How To: Change Your Oil, Part 1
The question I get asked almost more than any other is: “How do I change my own oil?”* This always makes me smile because I am eager to help those who want to get their hands dirty under the hood. So, I will attempt to help others with similar desires to discover their inner-mechanic with a quick and dirty How-To guide.
When to change your oil
Step one is to determine if it is even necessary to change your engine oil. Answering a few quick questions should give you a good indication of just how much time you have before your next service is due. Read more
It happens so fast. One minute life seems a place of nearly unbearable normalcy, the next you are turned on your head (sometimes literally). It’s a difficult position to find yourself in: the forced decision to purchase a vehicle in a short time frame.
Sometimes the cause is a faulty head gasket; other times it is a faulty head. In my friend Gordon’s case, it was the latter. He was waiting patiently in his Mazda Miata for the traffic light to turn green (he has no other method of waiting, as he’s been accused of having “no concept of urgency” by some very close to him) when he was rear-ended by a Nissan Pathfinder (whose driver evidently had a very real sense of urgency). They both climbed out to assess the damage, went to the back of the car, and quickly realized that it did not look good for the little roadster. That’s it. Done. Game over. In an instant, he had to find a replacement.
I sensed what was coming next. He, in a momentary lapse of judgment, asked me to help him seek out another car. (I blame undiagnosed head trauma from the accident.) This tends to happen often when you’re pigeon-holed as a “car guy.” I’ve always found this a bit unfair since I also consider myself a guitar guy, motorcycle guy, dog guy, coal stove guy, Greenland kayak guy, and–most certainly–an boutique/vintage amp guy. Somehow people always seem to focus in on the car aspect of my limited knowledge base and attempt to employ me in their quest for The Perfect Car. Read more
There was a time in my life when I found myself mesmerized by the character of cars–those elements of design and style that set them apart from across a crowded parking lot; like heaven itself was smiling on them. Those old enough to remember Johnny Carson will recall the signature three-dimensional pendant the domestic manufacturers would adorn their flagship products with. Standing upright and proud, they were an example of how companies used to take pride in their product. “Yes. We built this.”
In the heyday of American automobile manufacturing each company seemed to have its own identity. They took pride in their work and strived for perfection in all that they did. Some of the great ones were world-class. Not “world-class” as used in one of today’s marketing department press releases, but truly, honestly World-Class. It could be argued that the best of America’s heartland offered design and quality that was above that of even the European coach-builders. Companies like Peerless Motor nearly were, if not for the existence of Packard and Pierce-Arrow. And, like the Christmas tree that isn’t complete until the delicate angel is placed on top, these pieces of rolling jewelry were still unfinished without that symbol of elegance and grace: the hood ornament. Read more
The Labor of Love
As I climbed into my beloved BMW E30, the guilt trip began before the journey started. It happens every time I walk past. Rarely does it escalate into anything more than a slight nag, but occasionally we’ll have it out.
“Why are you ignoring me?”
“Ignore you?! How can you even suggest that?”
“I don’t feel loved.”
“I drive you. I wash you. I completely rebuilt your suspension. AND interior! I just flushed your brakes. I changed all of your fluids. I even put Swepco in your gearbox and Amsoil in your differential, for crying out loud!”*
“I know. And I appreciate all of your work.”
“So why do you say I’m ignoring you?”
“When was the last time you touched me?”
I pause and try to remember. It has been too long…far too long. When I wash it, I take it to the local car wash. It is not that I’m lazy; it’s just that my home has the water pressure equal to that of an elderly man at a rest stop urinal. I attempt to justify my choice by using the foaming brush, but it never gets the car as clean as washing it with a bucket and sponge. The intimacy is gone.
An Apex of Seasons
There is magic in the air these days, and I am rather certain that it is not pollen. We have reached that wonderful point of seasonal change in the Northeast as autumn approaches at a steady pace. It is not entirely summer and not entirely fall; a seasonal apex, if you will. Like a good mutt, this time of year inherits the strengths of both seasons. It truly is a most pleasant time of year.
The landscape changes dramatically over these days as well. The once proud stands of field corn of the deepest green mellow with age to an olive-tan drabness. Forage choppers gorge themselves on the stalks and ears. The intense heat of summer has subsided, and lawns have returned to a spring-like vibrancy. Leaves are browning and dropping off the walnut trees. Pumpkins and squash ripen on the vine, dotting the soil with spots of color. Within a week’s time, it seems the hillsides have turned all shades of greens and oranges and browns, like the shag carpet covering the family room floor of a split-level house from the 1970s. (No, not that Family Room—the one on the lower floor. No, the other lower floor, just past the garage. Nope, you’ve gone too far!) Read more
There come times in your life when you have to make difficult choices. Many times you can see these crossroads on the horizon, gather information about your options, and make an informed decision. Years later, when looking back on the chosen path, one will often smile inside with the satisfaction of knowing that the correct resolution was reached and life was better for it.
Climbing out from underneath my BMW 325, I was recently faced with just such a dilemma. I am in the process of rebuilding the rear subframe with new bushings, shocks, and springs. Normally, this isn’t such a terrible task. (Normally, the fist-sized metal & rubber subframe bushings don’t break off inside the chassis, during the removal process either.) It took me nearly an entire week’s worth of evenings to get the broken bushing out of the chassis. Trying to do the job right, and since the subframe and rear trailing arms were off the car, I decided to give them a quick coat of semi-gloss black paint to freshen up the underbelly a bit. Things were starting to look up. Read more