Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mechanical Relationships

Its spring. The grass is getting green and the road is calling.
That got me to thinking about my relationship with the mechanical toys in my life. I used to work with Mark Amato and one day in a conversation about motorcycles, he said that he would rather ride the bike than work on it. At the time I thought, what a strange idea Mark has.

Personally, I get great pleasure out of thinking about how my toys work and how I can make them better. Or least make them the way that I want them. I guess that means that I spend more time working on them. After talking to many other people, I've come to the realization that I'm the one with the strange idea. Most people think like Mark does.

I have friends in the Points and Condenser Preservation Society that always seem to have 3, 5, or more toy cars at any given time. And they always seem to be looking for the next one to buy or selling one that they have had for a year or two. I once asked one of the guys about this and he said that he hoped to own 30 or 40 interesting cars in his life time. He couldn't afford to own them all at once, but he could still enjoy owning each of them for a time. He added, that after a while, he understood the experience of a car and was ready to move on to the next thing. He never considered modifying his cars. Each car's personality was fixed in his mind and that may be why he kept changing cars for variety.

On the motorcycle front, Doug Klassen over on his "40 on 2" blog talks about having ridden motorcycles for more than 40 years. More than that, he has owned more than 40 different motorcycles, some models he has owned more than once.

For me, that is just amazing. I wouldn't know how to go about it. I tend to buy a car or a bike and start thinking about how to make it work the way I want it to. The next thing you know, 5 or 10 years has gone by and I'm just getting familiar with my new acquisition.

I counted up the cars I have owned and in almost 40 years of driving and more than 50 years of being a car nut, I've only owned 9 cars total. Well 10, if you count AREX which has been more of a project than a car. That total includes 2 racecars, one of which wasn't steetable, and 2 winter beaters that didn't last long but got me through winter when Gidget didn't start reliably.

I have to admit that, because I work in the car industry, I had the use of company cars for about 20 of those 40 years. By taking my work home every night, I only had to own toy cars for those 20 years.

But the psychology must go deeper than not needing a newer transportation vehicle every couple of years. Part of it may be that, at 6' 5", nothing in the world is designed to fit me. When I find a car or motorcycle that is close, then I hang on to it and take the time to modify it to fit me.

Another part maybe that I take after my father as an engineer. I remember as a kid having my father bring home a new toy and the first thing he did was take it apart. I can't help thinking that it is just as interesting understanding how something works and maybe improving it, as it is using it.

I know I'm not completely alone. Ed Argalis has had his Honda TransAlp since it was new in the late 80's. And by the way, my motorcycle count is only 2. That is a little easier to explain. When I was in my early 20's, I bought a used Yamaha RD 350.

I had two problems with that bike. First, it was a small frame bike, so I sat back where the passenger was supposed to sit. That, in turn, left very little weight on the front tire and the steering would get scary light on the freeway.

Second, I was in my early 20's and just could not stay out of the throttle. As a Dynamics engineer, I knew that it took twice as much distance to avoid an obstacle on a motorcycle as it does in a car. But as a young man I just kept that throttle open.

One fine January day, because the sun was shining, I found myself riding the motorcycle at 10 degree F, charging into a blind corner at 70 mph, and finding a strip of ice across the road where the sun had melted the snow which had run across the road and refrozen. I was lucky to get away with only a major wobble, but I swore that I would sell that bike and not ride another until I had better judgement and self control. It took me 20 years to decide to buy a bike again. And then years modifying it to fit me.

Visiting my Dad after a 7000 mile motorcycle trip. Dirty bike, helmet hair, and all.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Car and Classic website

I bumped into a website in England that has the most interesting collection of cars and bikes for sale. How about 187 Lotus' (or is it Loti?), more than 100 TVR, and 2 Stanley Steamers?

I also like that Lotus, TVR, Ferrari, and Lamborgini are listed as "Popular Makes".


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Rinspeed Splash

I love it when I get an email like this. I don't know where Corena finds these, but thanks.

Of course, the question is; Why did they build it? Because they can.

I wonder if you could do something like this with a motorcycle by combining a bike with aquaplanes like the Waterbird (post labeled "video blogging", Dec 4, 2008)?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Gidget Stories

When I started this blog, I was partially thinking about some of the adventures I had with Gidget. I was thinking of one story in particular, but felt I needed a picture to go along with it and that sent me off looking for old photos. You few loyal readers have been subjected to the results of the photo search, but I only came on one lonely picture from the original story I intended to tell. This is it. Its pretty poor since its 32 years old and taken with a cheap, 110 film camera.

As you can see, Gidget was red in those days. Her factory color. I had taken a month between the end of school and my first job at Chrysler. I packed up Gidget with camping gear and headed west to visit friends and explore.

On this particular day, my goal was to get over the Colorado Rockies and end up at the apartment of the sister of a my college friend who lived near Aspen. Naturally, I didn't want to just take the freeway across the mountains. I had read about a little dirt road, high in the mountains that went from the old mining town of Central City, up through Virginia Canyon to the mining camp of Russell Gulch, and then down into Idaho Springs. For a history buff like me, this seemed like a fun little side trip.

When I got to Central City, it was about 3 in the afternoon and I was getting a little low on gas, but I figured to fill up in Idaho Springs which was only about 10 miles away. I found my little dirt road and headed up into the mountains. I kept going and going until it was beginning to look like I was on the wrong road because there was no Russell Gulch and less and less mining. Finally, I came around a corner and saw my road blocked with snow as it climbed up to the wall of the Continental Divide. Nothing to do but turn around.

So now I'm going down hill toward Central City, but I suddenly realize that I have even less gas that I thought. On top of that, I'm having to press fairly hard on the accelerator to make the car go down hill.

Checking over the car, the left front wheel is very hot. It looks like the brake caliper has stuck on. Finding a wide spot in the road, I proceed to pry the brake pads out of the caliper so that the car will roll, however, I can't use the foot brake in case the pistons move in and leak out all of the brake fluid. I'm also pretty much out of gas, but I manage to beg a coffee can of gas from a miner, splash that into the tank with a homemade funnel, and start down the mountain with engine braking and my handbrake to slow me down.

I managed to make it into Central City 10 minutes after the only gas station closed and conveniently after dark. My only choice is to go on to Idaho Springs by the highway, coasting engine off as much as possible to save gas. When no one was coming, I'd turn off the headlights to save the battery. Nothing like driving a mountain road by a sliver of moon. Finally arriving at an open gas station, its now about 7 pm and I have to plan my next move.

I decide to make for Denver and hope to find a place to fix the car. Since I still don't have more than a handbrake, I go slowly, by back roads down 5000 feet of elevation to Denver. Arriving on the edge of town, I check the yellow pages and find a British Leyland dealer not too far away. Yes, they still had British Leyland dealers in those days. Amazingly, there was a salesman still at the dealer and he offers to hold my car keys for the service manager in the morning.

Being a poor student, I didn't want to spend the money for a hotel, so I called on a friend that lived on the other side of Denver and asked to stay the night. The next two hours were spent crossing town at nearly midnight by walking, by bus, and finally by taxi. The freaks were out. Don't let anybody tell you that Denver is just a quiet little town.

In the morning, I called the dealer and learned that they wouldn't repair the caliper for more than 2 weeks. Too many customers in line ahead of me.

Calling around town, I was lucky to find a Lola racecar dealer that would do the job that afternoon. So it was back on the bus to the dealer where I learned that they had pulled my car into the shop. They sent a girl to get the car, but didn't tell her that it didn't have brakes, so the next time I saw my car, it was crashing through a roll-up garage door. The car had a bent fender, hood, and broken headlight. The door was toast. They had the nerve to be angry at me for breaking their door and refused to offer any compensation for bending my car.

A little shaken, I start off across Denver in the middle of the day in a car without brakes. The good thing is that when you know you can't stop quickly, you can plan for it and even city traffic is manageable.

What a difference at the Lola dealer. My personal stress level went from banging off the rev limiter to a smooth idle in no time. The mechanic was totally competent. I got to nose around some pretty cool racecars while he worked. And in an hour or so, I was back on the road. All I had to do was replace my headlight and head on west.

I guess its stories like this that make me love old cars. Today's cars are competent and reliable, but they are boring to drive and adventures are few. Adventures may not always be pleasant when they are happening, but they sure make for good stories when you get home.