Sunday, November 30, 2014

Parenting A Teenager Through Heartache

Our 17 year old, college bound high senior broke up with his girlfriend last night.
What started out innocently and sweetly had evolved slowly but steadily into an almost adult like relationship. Albeit a dysfunctional, one sided adult relationship one rife with jealousy, mistrust and ultimately, disgust. This is just from what my wife and I saw with insight gleamed from what he's told us about this girl and their relationship. My wife, with a kinder heart than I, believes her to be shy and blamed a lot of her issues on her family and upbringing.  Nonetheless, dare I say, I disliked her. This breakup was not unwelcome at least as far as I am concerned. 

We did not encourage nor in any way dissuade the burgeoning relationship but I was concerned about how needy she was and how much she demanded of our son. He complained about her to his mother and I incessantly about how petty, manipulative, intolerant, harsh, controlling and jealous she was. When we'd press him for any positives about her and he wouldn't say anything. It was time for this to end.

Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, several of our son's friends who had graduated last year invited him out for dinner. It was during that dinner that our son told his friends about this girl and their steadfast recommendation was that he end the relationship. Our son then promptly began the arduous process of ending the relationship with his girlfriend of 15 months. 

After an evening long process our son came back into the house and collapsed in my arms. He appeared to be laughing hysterically, convulsively even but I quickly realized that he was hysterically crying. Aghast and heartbroken, I asked what had happened and he said that he felt like a bad person for ending their relationship. She had pleaded with him to give her one more chance and that he had said no. It was over.

His being so upset reminded me of years ago, when he was just 7, when he first found out we were moving away from the only home he had known. I did then just as I did the other night, I let him vent. I let him get all the emotion out. That is the only way to manage not just teen heartache but anyone's heartache because try as we may, there is no "managing" someone else's emotions when they are most raw. Even in situations that are hard to understand like why he would have been so upset at ending a relationship that had to end. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Toyota FJ Cruiser - Lost In Translation

Twenty to twenty five years ago "retro" was the new thing.  While it's hard to pin point when it all began many point to the Mazda Miata as being the first of the retro styled automobiles that would promulgate the market. Ford broke design ground with the 1994 Mustang, Volkswagen had their "old", Golf based Beetle. Chrysler had their PT Cruiser which Chevrolet subsequently and unabashedly copied with their HHR. Chevrolet also ripped themselves off with their 1969 Camaro esque "new" Camaro in 2010. Remember the car/truck that was supposed to replace the Camaro, the SSR? Now defunct Plymouth had their funky, retro-rod Prowler and let's not forget about Ford and their 2002 Thunderbird which was a modern day homage to the '55 Thunderbird. All of these cars/trucks? had one thing in common - they were answers to questions nobody was asking.  That's particularly true with Toyota and their "what the hell is that?" FJ Cruiser.

Far be it for me to say anything considering the rolling cartoon of a car that I drive, but my metaphoric wheels have always come off in my attempts to get my arms around the FJ Cruiser. Part of me thinks it's cool and edgy while the other part of me thinks it ugly, ridiculous even. As if something got lost in translation. It's as if all the coolness of its inspiration got sucked out of it in the homogenizing process.

In fairness, though. with all of the vehicles mentioned above I do appreciate the originals they're all based on more than their reboots. However, there's nothing farther from what the FJ Cruiser is from what it was inspired by. How this became that is anyone's guess but it's not for a lack of trying if that's any consolation to anyone who worked on the FJ Cruiser. This 1978 Toyota Land Cruiser the stuff of dreams even for a shameless car junky like myself; me being usually immune to the charms of utility based vehicles but, oh my, Land Cruiser. You certainly are something.

Perhaps if the FJ Cruiser was an evolution of design I wouldn't be as quick to dismiss it as I am. Perhaps if did not know that its inspiration was something as iconic as the old Land Cruiser I'd find some way to appreciate it too but knowing what I know, I find that all but impossible.  With the economy fairly healthy after years of being on a morphine drip retro cars actual sell well enough to warrant updates and continued refinement. Same for the FJ Cruiser; just don't look for one in my driveway anytime soon. To each their own.

Monday, November 24, 2014

1981 Pontiac Bonneville - Power Hungry

Having worked at a number of radio stations over the years that had what we call "signal issues", I can tell you that you want to avoid those situations if at all possible. Now, there are times when in a best attempt at gainful employment an underpowered station might be the best we can do but, again, it's best to avoid those opportunities since, in my experience, attempts to rectify the problems that signal issues cause always fall on programming; you can't make people listen to a radio station they can't hear. Much like an underpowered automobile where the blame for the car's lack of power falls  everywhere but with the engine.
I had recently done a loving ode to a 1979, Buick 350 powered Bonneville coupe. I thought the car handsome but it was that big engine that got my attention. Gas mileage be damned. Having spent considerable wheel time with cars of similar ilk, I can tell you that while the car could hardly be described as being fast, you wouldn't want for power. Much like a radio station that does not have signal issues; you never have a problem with something that clearly is not a problem. If a station with a strong signal has issues they are, in theory at least, somewhat simpler to rectify since the issue falls at programmings doorstep.
Power is nothing without control of course and a powerful car that  other wise does not perform well is not a good automobile. Just as a powerful radio station with no signal issues is nothing without compelling programing. With an underwhelming, even for 1981, 120 horsepower and barely 200 foot pounds, the Pontiac 301 de-bored "Pontiac 265" or "4.3" turned what was an otherwise very nice car into an underpowered, flaccid, rolling sofa. 301 powered Bonnevilles were no rocket ships either; a smaller, less powerful version of the 301 only exacerbated the dreary numbness. By comparison, the 155 horsepower and 275 foot pounds of that lusty Buick 350 seemed NASCAR powerful by comparison. Ah, the good old days of just a couple of years prior. That Buick 350, incidentally, was no longer available on the Bonneville for 1981 as Buick was moved to making V-6 engines exclusively after 1980.
Even if that Buick 350 was still available, the conventional thought process was at the time that many buyers would have opted for smaller engines regardless of how bog slow they made their car. Back in 1981 gas mileage was a major concern to buyers (much more so than today even) and the large car market was imploding. By marketing smaller V-8 engines, dealerships could sell traditional large car buyers on the fact that their car still had a V-8; a V-8 that delivered V-8 performance with V-6 economy. While that V-8 provided no more power than a comparable in-line six or V-6; the thinking went that a smaller engine meant better gas mileage but you still had a "V-8".  However, that house of cards collapsed when in reality the 265 delivered V-6 performance with V-8 mileage.
Such were the cars of my tender teenage years, though. Big on the outside and small on the inside in more ways than just claustrophobia inducing interiors. Actually, cars like this Bonneville did have large, airy and comfortable interiors but hopefully you get my point. And my point still stands about working at an underpowered radio station; there's a difference between working at a small station and an underpowered radio station. You can have some fun at the former but stay away from the latter.  
Pontiac killed off not only the 265, 301 and making V-8's in general after 1981 but they killed off the big Bonneville as well moving the nameplate to a smaller G body based sedan for 1982. Oddly enough, in 1983, Pontiac began selling the Canadian version of this car as the "Parisienne" powered by a Chevrolet V-8. Pontiac's days of making V-8 engines was over. For good.  


















Sunday, November 23, 2014

Chevrolet Monte Carlo ABS and Traction Control Adventures

I bought this now 13 year old car just over four years and almost 70,000 ago when it had just under 15,000 miles on it. Save for the time just after I first got it when the original battery went bad it's been rock solid reliable. Aside from normal wear and tear items like brakes and tires I've had no complaints with this car.
Just like any long term relationship though, there have been a couple of chuck holes. For instance, there was the very strange windshield wiper fiasco and these TRAC OFF, ((ABS)) and SERVICE TRACTION SYSTEM NOW idiot or "warning" lights that began coming on intermittently about 18 months ago. The check engine light, as is often the case,  has since stopped coming on. It was not related to what I refer to as the "ABS issue". These lights blinking in my face were followed by a moaning and groaning indicating that the ABS and Traction control systems, which are actually different applications of the same system, struggling to work before finally and gallantly giving me a "no mas" before succumbing to an electronic coma. Early this past spring these lights started coming on every time I started the car without even a shudder or whimper from the system telling me that whatever was going wrong had finally and completely gone wrong. That was fine during the spring and summer months, well not really since I had no ABS,  but here in Northeast Ohio come winter time, something had to be done.
Time to do some research. I put my car, a 2002 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS and the "TRAC OFF" and "ABS" into Google and sure enough, tons of info on the problem popped up. Now, if you frequent car blogs and Internet "chat rooms" you probably know to take most if not all of what you read there with a grain of road salt.
The first thing I did that was recommended by one of those forums was take my car to a local auto parts store for a free scan of my car to get the codes that would tell me what was wrong. Through my research I had demised that the issue was either the ABS wiring harness or the massive wheel hub/speed sensor/ABS Traction sensor but I didn't know which side of the car was bad. Heck, both sides could be bad. Let's get scanned.
The guy at the auto parts store was really nice but understand that those guys are not mechanics. No sooner did he get error codes on his scanner indicating that there was a problem that he told me that it was up to me to research what the codes meant. Thanks, pal.  With error codes in hand, I couldn't find any definitive correlation as to what the codes meant. It could be this, it could that.  
Stumped, I splurged and had a local chain service center run their diagnostic scan on it knowing that for just $50 they'd tell me exactly what was wrong. Sure enough, they found there was an "open loop" in the passenger side ABS system but there was no way to determine if it was the harness or the hub. I thanked them for their diagnostic and was on my way towards getting at this.  Money well spent if I may say so myself.   

There's a rule in auto repair that you start with the simplest and least expensive thing first and work your way up in expense and complexity from there. Having bought both the ABS harness and the hub at NAPA,  $40 for the harness and $90 for the hub and not wanting to pull the hub off, it holds the wheel to the car---it's behind the rotor and oh my god what a job that would be,  I held my breath that the issue was going to be "just the harness".
I've never liked getting under my car and even feel spooked walking under a car that's on a lift but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. With my car on jack stands and the left wheel chucked with a 4X4, I dragged myself under here divorcing myself psychologically from what "could happen".  Honestly, replacing the harness was actually very straight forward; I've done house wiring projects that were infinitely more complicated than splicing the two wires of the harness into the cluster of wires the old harness came out of. The narrow confines of "under here" and the unforgiving hardness of my bone cold garage floor the only real obstacles. Oh, that and the spectre of instant death if the car fell on me but I digress.
My aching back and numb finger tips suddenly warming up when I went to start the car and for the first time in probably six months, I didn't have the TRAC OFF, ((ABS)) and SERVICE TRACTION SYSTEM NOW lights yelling at me. Net savings, around $100 after I return the hub to NAPA that I thankfully, don't need. At least not right now.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

1977 Lincoln Continental - In A World...Of Smaller Cars...

It was the summer of 1975  when I first learned that General Motors was going to downsize its lineup starting in 1977. A foot shorter and nearly one thousand pounds lighter? I was heartbroken. Luckily, save for the ugly Chevys, GM's 1977 downsizing program became the stuff of automotive legend. However, as great a job as GM did I had a hard time accepting the fact that I would grow up in a world of "smaller" cars. This little nipper from the concrete and asphalt jungle of South Nassau liked 'em big. Really big.

So, one would think, I'd become a Ford kid what with their UN-downsized lineup of giant automobiles that somehow always seemed to be larger than the my beloved GM barges.  Well, much like "Old What Was Her Name", that pretty girl, who was everything you'd want in a girlfriend but for whatever reason you don't even like let alone love, the big Fords, particularly these late '70's Lincoln Continentals, left me yearning, no, wait...more like pining for, those GM's dreadnaughts of yore even more.
I never cared for Fords because in addition to my liking GM designs, in general more, I felt that Ford designs were nothing more than an attempt to be GMs. Throughout the 1970's, the Ford Motor Company didn't have an original design idea in their collective graphite pencils and the Continental, not to be confused with the lovely Continental Marks which originally came out in 1969, way back in the '60's, was never more than Dearborn's attempt to do a Cadillac. A Cadillac with a little Chrysler fuselage thrown in. 

Now, to be perfectly honest,  I thought the Continental a rather handsome design from 1970-1972. This is a glamour shot of a 1971 from a brochure. The coupe is even better looking although it is more Cadillac DeVille than this four door sedan is.

However, with the government mandated 5 mph "safety bumpers" starting with the front in 1973, this is a '74,  Ford, which did little more than bolt them onto the front and back of their existing design, ruined what was a pretty nice looking car. 

The addition of the big chrome log out back for 1974 did nothing for the car, "safety" aside, other than make the car longer. It wasn't Ford's fault that the 5 mph bumpers had to be; fault lies in that they didn't do a very good job of making it seem the government mandate was in the front of their minds when they designed the car in the first place. Like GM did. I guess someone at Ford missed the email from the government about the mandatory bumpers.
With the "C" pillar becoming more upright or what they call "formal looking" in 1975, the Continental became just a big, fat, ugly ass car that had really only one thing going for it between 1977 and 1979; it was bigger than anything GM had at the time.

You got to hand it to Ford, though and their attempt to exploit what they saw as an opening in the late 1970's when in fact they were just late to the downsizing party. Starting in 1980, Ford shrunk their wares even more so than GM did.

The 1980 Continental confirmed what I thought for years; that Ford didn't have a clue. Throw in another gas crunch just as they rolled out this thing and it's a miracle Lincoln made it to 1985 let alone still being in existence today.

Lincoln did make a lot of changes and improvements to the "1980 Continental" ultimately making it into a near iconic automobile for the limousine and service industries (Town Car). Ironies of ironies, Ford outlasted GM in the big, body on frame, rear wheel drive sedan market by more than a decade.

As for the 1977 Continental, it's refreshing, to me at least, to look at a car after all these years and have it bring back the flood of ambivalent memories that it does. I like it no less and certainly no more today than I did when I first saw it almost forty years ago. Same goes for "Old What's Her Name".

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

1978 Dodge Diplomat -(Not) Better With Age

Whiskey is good
Some things get better with age. Take whiskey, for instance. Chemical changes that occur in the barrel over time make old whiskey smoother, more complex or better. It also becomes more expensive. A bottle of 64-year-old Macallan sold at auction for $460,000 in 2010. Not bad for a sexagenarian.
The Big Dick
Legacy's can improve with age or time too. Take former President Richard Nixon. This douche bag resigned from the Presidency in disgrace in August of 1974. Forty years later he's no were near the top (or bottom) on lists of our worst Presidents. Worst human beings who were President? Perhaps. But as for the job he did while in the Oval Office, sans Watergate, "Tricky Dick" has gone down in history as being a take no prisoners, take charge, Presidential bad ass. The passage of time has been appropriately very kind to our 37th President.
The Brothers Johnson
Our take on music can improve with the passage of time as well. Much derided in its day, disco music's image has improved to the point where "oldies" radio stations play disco songs right along side "album rock" or "classic rock" songs; the very music that was perceived as being diametrically different from it years ago. Disco is lauded today for being wonderfully progressive; not so much for being lyrical rocket science for it certainly was not (for the most part) but the production values of disco music are as fresh today as they were years ago. Many of the pioneering production techniques from the Disco era are still used today in music ranging from country to reggae.  
The Dodge Diplomat; spectacularly appliance like from every angle.

Some things sadly, don't get better with age; like this 1978 Dodge Diplomat. Get da funk out ma face! 
The Dodge Diplomat was little more than a gussied up, extended wheel base Aspen with "Corinthian Leather". There wasn't much anything "Corinthian" (whatever that was supposed to mean anyway...) about Corinthian leather seeing it was manufactured in Newark,  New Jersey.
Silly me, I always though these cars were tarted up, four door Plymouth Dusters. Nope. That might make for an interesting automobile. No, after diligent research I've found that this car is based on the awful Dodge Aspen which was the replacement for the Dodge Dart/Plymouth Duster. Pull the wheelbase out a tad on the Aspen, throw in a snazzy vinyl roof, some fake wood trim and Corinthian leather and voila. Diplomat.  

Reputation aside, no one can deny that Chrysler had the right idea with its "Electronic Lean Burn System: A system similar to this has been used in every computer-controlled, fuel-injected car sold in this country for decades now.
The relentless passage of time tends to sand down our memories of the issues Chrysler had with these cars but again, it doesn't make these shit bombs any better. Shoddy build quality, weak brakes, sluggish handling, unreliable, primitive engine electronics (snaps to Chrysler for its primitive Lean Burn System but it sucked) and especially with regards to the Aspens it was based on, profit crushing recalls. Hey, just because a car is old doesn't mean it's cool. Case. In point.
Thirty six years old and still an abysmal, awful automobile.  
I left out bad styling because that's subjective. Personally, I think this car is generic in a way that many cars are today and that's fine. To a point. Certainly helps if a car is at least somewhat special looking to help owners get over how all around lousy it is. Like my 1977 Corvette for example. It too is an unholy piece of crap but at least it's good looking. Make that really, really good looking. It's also a Corvette and not a Dodge Diplomat.
Please, don't drink and drive.
Amazingly, Chrysler pushed these slobs out through 1989 although many of them were "fleeted out" to the limousine and service industry. Any average joe who bought them may have been over served Macallan.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Little Red Corvette - Winter Storage

Early this fall I made the executive decision to not put our Corvette into storage this winter. That storage money going a long way towards my replacing the power steering rack, changing the shocks, repairing the parking brake, getting new tires and finally, if I have time and money left over, a rewire of the dashboard topped off with a new dash board cover. Projects take time and that means time away from us enjoying our car during the summer months. Better to do them in the winter when there's little chance of an afternoon soiree along Lake Erie.
Well, no sooner had winter hit than disaster almost struck. Last Sunday, as I attempted to pull her out on our lightly snow packed driveway so I could start work on the Monte Carlo's ABS issues, she decided she didn't want to stop and proceeded to nearly careen not only off the center post of the garage but almost into our Tahoe. The only thing stopping her from an expensive, low speed crash was my throwing the damn thing into neutral.
Turns out what I thought was a puddle of water under the rear of the car was actually a shit ton of brake fluid; the rear cross over brake line had failed. Lovely. With the front brakes locked up and the rear wheels continuing to turn the car slid uncontrollably. With not one but two wheels churning thanks to a 3.08:1 posi rear, you can only imagine how close I came to disaster. Let's put "replace rear brakes lines" at the top of my Little Red Corvette's winter to do list. While I'm at it I might as well replace as many of them as I can.
It's going to be an interesting winter. Stay tuned. Woof.

Monday, November 17, 2014

1954 Chevrolet 210 - Happy Days

I couldn't have been 10 ten years old when the gentleman who lived across the street from us bought a new-to-him, 1954 Chevrolet 210, two door sedan. Seeing that it was the mid 1970's and that the car couldn't have been more than twenty years old at the time mattered little to me. I thought it looked like something straight off the set of Happy Days. In other words, I thought the car was prehistoric.

Having recently purchased a twenty year old Camaro, it has never occurred to me that it was that old but according to the calendar, it most certainly is because twenty years is twenty years regardless of whether that's 1955-1975 or 1840-1860. Of course, as we age, time compresses so everything is relative but still, metaphorically speaking, our twenty year old Camaro is not nearly as old as that '54 Chevrolet was all those years ago.
That's a testament to the fact that automobile design and engineering hit an acceptable plateau of sorts sometime over the last twenty, twenty five years.  While cars in 2014 are certainly far superior to what they were in 1996, they're not nearly as superior as 1975 automobiles were to 1954 automobiles. That's saying a lot too considering how crappy 1975 cars, particularly American makes, were to even 1996 cars.
Then again, think about how superior 1954 cars were to 1935 cars. The leaps and bounds in engineering where nothing short of remarkable. The buyer of this 1954 Chevrolet when it was new most likely marveled at its smooth, modern lines and relative ease of operation. Chances are, that person may have had a car at some point in their life that had a crank starter and didn't even have a heater. Perhaps in their childhood they got around in horse and buggy.

I recently went for a ride in a new Ford Escape and was impressed with its fit, finish and overall modern design. It rode and handled extremely well too. Despite all that and what appeared to be a TV right in the middle of the dash, I wasn't nearly as impressed with it as you would think I would be since the overall driving dynamic is not that much better than anything that I have now. Trust me, I'm not being "that old guy" who doesn't embrace change either. Y'see, I'm not only the owner of a twenty year old Camaro, but the owner of a fleet of vehicles with an average age of twenty three. I know an old car from a new one and appreciate the old as well as the new. Although old cars today aren't nearly as old as they used to be.