Thursday, December 24, 2009

Skara Brae

Its the time of year when thoughts turn to home and family. In my travels and reading, I've always been struck how people in other times lived lives much like our own. Not in the details of lifestyle, but in the aspirations for home, family, and a secure life.

Have you ever been travelling, out in the world exploring, and come to a place feels like home? Its almost spiritual, because you can easily put yourself into that place and imagine the lives of those people a long time ago.

It doesn't happen often. I've experienced this feeling strongly only 4 or 5 times in my life. One of the strongest of these was at Skara Brae in the Orkney Islands, north of Scotland.

Imagine yourself in the north of Scotland 5000 years ago. Even today, the Orkney Islands are a magical place. Back then, it must have been even more so. In Egypt, the pyramids are under construction, but here, in these North Atlantic Isles, its the time of Stone Henge. In Orkney, religion is centered around the Ring of Brodgar which is bigger in diameter than Stone Henge, but has smaller stones.

People lived in small groups of homes, small villages perhaps or possibly extended families. Skara Brae is such a group of homes and was found buried in sand dunes on the west coast of Orkney's Main Island.

This drawing is an artist rendering of what it may have looked like 5000 year ago. People fished, farmed, and hunted in the nearby woods. Although their technology was mainly stone, wood, and earth, they understood the world around them and their homes must have been warm, comfortable, and safe.

The houses were made of stone buried in the earth to the top of the walls with several feet of midden (garbage) between the stone walls and the surrounding earth. This was done intentionally because they knew that midden was a better insulator than earth.

The entry of the homes was a long, crooked tunnel with a branch off the tunnel that joined each home. This method kept the North Atlantic wind from the home while providing air to the fire in the middle of the house.

Scientist are guessing about the roof, but this reconstruction suggests a wooden structure covered in earth with a smoke hole in the middle.

I don't know about you, but I can imagine myself in one of these homes, sitting around the fire on a dark winter evening, surrounded by family and friends, and thinking that this is the good life.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Sad end of Saab

Today, GM announced that it will "wind down" operations at Saab, bringing the end to a unique and special brand. Although I haven't owned one yet, I've always been intrigued by their uniqueness. No one can accuse the early Saabs of being copies of any other car.

When I was about 8 years old, my family was on a vacation trip, and I was just starting to read about the things that make a car a sports car. One evening, we stopped at a motel and there was a Saab 96. Checking it out and reading about it later, I found an aerodynamic body, a monocoque structure with a built in "roll cage" for safety, front wheel drive (sounded exotic to me), independent suspension, and disc brakes. Not only that, it was Swedish back when that description alone meant 'sexy'. From what I could see, the Saab was the complete sports car and I measured every new car I came across against its design and specifications.

So much for the twisted mind of an 8 year old.

Still, Saab was a engineering statement from it first conception. Just look at how it pioneered things which are now common. Its even possible to see the first Honda Insight, even the GM EV1, as modern interpretations of the Saab 96 and its aerodynamics. In the later years, Saab engineers lead the way with efficient turbo technology and engine control electronics.

You could say that the beginning of the end was when Saab was acquired by GM. When Saab just became a more expensive version of a Saturn, then its individuality had evaporated and its ability to stand on its own was lost to the massive GM machine.

I mourn the passing of Saab. One less unique voice in the automotive world.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

AREX in Automobile magazine

As previously posted, with better pictures, Dave has completed his AREX and has it on the road. My father was kind enough to cut the article out of the current Automobile magazine and mail it to me. I apologize for the gap in the middle, etc.

Years ago, we came to know Robert Cumberford of Automobile magazine. By the way, its Robert, not Bob. As Robert has been known to say, if you call him Bob, he assumes he doesn't know you and you are probably a salesman.

In the early days, we got the AREX together as a body and chassis, but only had a mock up engine in back. In order to get some good pictures, Robert and his photographer coasted that car down the steep hill from Dave's house giving the car the blurred background of motion in the photos.

Later, when my car was running, but just in dull white gel coat fiberglass, he came back and drove it for real. At the time, he said that so many of these project cars are not well engineered. He said that he should have known that Dave and I, being in the auto industry, would make a real car.

He also noted something that I found for myself. The AREX was a friendly car. People would come up to you and just start conversations when you were in the AREX. Robert said that it was quite a different experience from driving a Lamborgini or other exotics. He felt like people assumed you would be an arrogant asshole just trying to show off in your Lambo, but the AREX was exotic without being intimidating.

Nice to see AREX in print. Congratulations to Dave for getting it done.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mid America Motorcycle Auction - Las Vegas

Sometimes, I'm just a schill for stuff I find at other websites. In this case, those who love old motorcycles need to check out the Mid America Motorcycle Auction website. Lots of pretty pictures of lots of motorcycles I could never afford.

Mid America Motorcycle Auction Consignments

The most surprising one is the Honda Transalp. Who knew it was a collector bike?
Others I like are the MV Augusta Magni Superlight, the Gilera 125 Racer, the Penton Six Day, and the 1952 Vincent Black Shadow, just like the song.

Here is my photo of a Penton from the Mid-Ohio show, just for fun. Its interesting to think they went from green to orange, from Ohio to Austria, and from a small business to a much bigger one.