Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dance Like No One Is Watching, Blog Like No One is Reading

I started this blog more than three years ago after being inspired by several on line columns and being turned down by those columns when I inquired about being a contributor. Their loss. Besides, who needs the aggravation of doing a ton of work for little or no pay anyway? If anyone wasn't going to be paid it was going to be me and me only.

I've enjoyed doing this blog because no one tells me what to write about, gives me deadlines or edits what I write. It's all on me. I hate being told what to do anyway. Along the way I've been pleasantly surprised by the amount of page views I've accrued. What's more surprising is the wide variety of different blogs that have gotten traction.

Let's review some of my most viewed posts. Some I'm quite fond of and can understand why they've gotten traction, others - I have no clue. Again, please understand that I don't do posts to garner page views but it's nice that some do get read.

I appreciate you being here even if it's most likely accidental.
A old wreck I found around the corner from my house. Who knew Pacers were so popular. Perhaps it was my title that includes small block Chevy?
Can't go wrong combining cars and rock icons. Even Buicks.
The success of this post is almost as startling as the apparent wide spread appreciation for this unsung, when new, hero. I identify personally with the car. New, old and in complete disrepair.
I wrote this because I love the car. I had no idea so many did too.
Ford Maverick Grabber - Act As If
Same as the Electra although "act as if" may have generated more views for what it implies as opposed to folks wanting to read about some junky little Ford.
1975 Chevrolet Monza Town Coupe - Weren't the 70's a Drag?
I credit the John Lennon quote making this post as sticky as its been. We're talking about a Chevy Monza. C'mon.
Current event posts almost always get traction.
B-52 fans doing google searches.
Quite possibly my most inexplicably strong post. Must have been picked up by forums.
Great song from a very popular, contemporary artist. Music and cars make great posts.
Subject matter in the title must have proved interesting. This is a post about a car I regret not buying. Nothing more, nothing less.
No idea why this post has done as well as it did except for the fact it's a GM B body post.
People love posts about Yankee Stadium.
No idea. Perhaps the title?
Not my favorite post or title. Bad play on words. Still gets hits.
My most viewed post combines it all. Cars, music, hot artist.
My favorite post is also one of my most read and that's very satisfying. The title is primed for views too but I'm most proud of how this post combines my family with my experiences with the difficulties I had growing up with my father.
I thank you for taking the time to read my blog even though I know you're here not for my benefit. Just as though I write this blog for no one else but myself. Like they say, Dance Like No One Is Watching, Blog Like No One is Reading It.
Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Little Red Corvette - I Make Plans The Corvette Laughs

Instead of storing our Corvette this winter, my plan was to keep it in our garage and use the money we would have spent on storage on parts for it. What's more, I'd do the very time consuming projects when the car was off line anyway during the winter instead of during prime nice weather weekends. As infrequent as they are up here. Love ya, Cleveland, but your weather sucks all year long. As inconvenient as this will probably be, I'd rather have the car off line and on "jack stands" when we couldn't use it in the first place.

My primary project for the winter was going to be replacing this dash board top or pad. It's cracked and falling apart and needs to go but it's much more complicated process to get it off than it looks and requires my near complete dismantling of the lower dashboard to gain access to the hardware that holds it in place. Time consuming. I figured as long as I'm in there I'd rewire everything in back of the firewall replacing the dash speakers and upgrading the radio to one of those new retro modern set ups. Such a plan.
You make plans and God laughs. So do Corvettes. No sooner had I made this executive decision that I noticed that there were more drips than usual on the garage floor. What's more, the usually very stiff steering on the Old Girl was getting even more stiff. Sure enough, what had been dripping occasionally, the power steering valve body assembly, was all but gushing power steering fluid. Great.

The kicker was about a month during that miserable Thanksgiving snow and ice storm, I needed to move it out of the garage and she slid uncontrollably on an ice patch. Not unusual for a Corvette to be bad on ice but I felt the rear tires still rotating when I floored the brake pedal. Something was very wrong. Quick check of the master cylinder and there was no brake fluid in the reservoir that was closest to the booster. Great.
After trouble shooting I found that this rear brake line cross over to have a nasty leak right there in the middle of the line. The rear brakes don't have a chance. Chalk up yet another problem with this car that I have no idea how to fix. Again, not knowing how to do something has never stopped me before so let's have at it.
It's going to be a fun winter. Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Old Man, The Long Haired Kid and The Green Cordoba

Disciplining our children is never easy and it is, if you really love your children, one of the most important things you can do for them. You must remember, you are not their friend; you are their parent. Below is a true story and one that I think of often when I am faced with the inexorably difficult challenge of having to discipline our boys.
Shopping for a used car when I was a kid was arduous because we didn't have the internet to streamline the process. It was grueling, and time consuming  sifting  through the classified ads in the local papers and checking the community bulletin board at the big local supermarket to see if anyone was selling a car. What's worse, when I would find an interesting car in the paper that I could afford, often times the traipse out to the car required a very long drive. And rarely if ever were things nearly as good as advertised.  
One day during my car search I was looking through the papers and I came across an ad for a 1976 Chrysler Cordoba. The ad went into a fair amount of detail about the car's "mint" condition and low mileage. The price was also obscenely low at just $1,800. While the price was about $800 more than I really wanted to spend, I noticed that the exchange on the phone number was the same as the town I lived in. If the car was available it at least would be a short trip to find out that owner wouldn't budge on the price. If this mint condition, low mileage cruiser was even still available.
Much to my surprise and delight, when I called, I found the car was still available. The gentleman on the phone couldn't have been friendlier and told me that the car was immaculate and had just 43,000 miles on it. I got the address and I jumped on my bike and hot tailed it on over.
The car was gorgeous. I don't care for green, particularly on cars but it worked on that Cordoba. The white wall tires were perfect, the car's chrome and Corinthian leather trimmed bucket seats in showroom condition too. There was a floor mounted shifter (rare in those days) and under the hood Chrysler's 400 cubic inch V-8 without any Lean Burn equipment. Nice. An ebullient man of about 48 to 52 years old came barreling out of the house introducing himself with a warm handshake and threw me the keys telling me to have a good time. And I did.
When I got back to his house The Old Man could see that I was quite enamored of the Cordoba. I thought it one of the finest cars I had ever driven and I let him know that emphatically. We walked inside his house talking about town we lived in and how great the Islanders were. Once inside, I asked him what his best price on the car was. He asked me what I was willing to pay. Before I answered him I asked why he was selling the car.
The very talkative Old Man suddenly went quiet. He looked down at the floor of his pristine dining room where we were talking and he looked out of the window. He then looked me in the eye just as a tanned, athletic, long haired teenager, a little younger than I, walked into the room. The kid looked at me intently, incredulously but sadly all the same. Something was up.
"That Cordoba is a car that I had bought for him", the old man said gesturing to the long hair standing on the other side of the room in house that could have been designed by the same person who designed the house I grew up in. "He and I have a problem...he just doesn't listen...and I have to sell it."
He didn't need to say anymore for me to realize that this selling of the car was punitive. The look on the kid's face said to me, "dude, please don't". I felt as though I was a pawn in a father - son war were the father was going to make a huge mistake regardless of what his son had done and I wanted no part of it. I felt sick to my stomach as I fumbled through my near insulting counter offer of around a thousand dollars. The Old Man patted me on the back and shook my hand laughing that that amount of money wouldn't do. I was relieved. The long hair slithered back out of the room.
I jumped on my bike and bolted home taking one last, long glance at the car and feeling very bad for the kid. Very, very bad for the kid. Ironically, I bought another Cordoba not a week or so later and drove by the house where the Green Cordoba was several times over the ensuring weeks and months just to see it again. It was gone.
As my children have gotten older, I've grown to feel even worse for The Old Man than I've ever felt for that kid.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

1976 Chevrolet Malibu Classic - What Will The Neighbors Think?

At what point does an old car become too old and too expensive to be used as a daily driver? Ten, twenty, thirty years old? How about almost forty? I found this old beauty on ebay the other night with an asking price of $7,500 and with just 14,000 miles on it, you could say that it's a steal for that money. However, it is a 1976 Malibu Classic and in the collector car world, it's an albatross. It's really not worth anything above and beyond what it is; a 38 year old car with low mileage in very good condition. A 1976 Monte Carlo with this kind of mileage on it would probably retail for almost double this asking price. Especially a Monte Carlo with this handsome color scheme.
Makes me wonder, though, what would it be like to use this car as a daily driver? Since it's all but worthless in the collector car world and will not appreciate further (the asking price is pretty ambitious in the first place), the value in this car is in its superb condition. So, why not? What could go wrong? I'm actually more than half serious about this.
The biggest obstacle for me would be getting my wife on board with it. Long putt. I can hear her now, "we already have the 1977 Corvette that's falling apart and you want to use an even older car as a daily driver?" Women and their logic.
Anticipating possibly needing a replacement for my 2002 Chevrolet Monte Carlo in 2015 and facing down college tuition bills, I did an exhaustive search of and unearthed what I believe to be the best car available (for me) here in Cleveland, Ohio for $7,500; this plucky, handsome  1999 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP with 43,000 miles on it. Yes, this car is 16 years old. This Grand Prix GTP is an explosive high performer compared to the old Malibu, is better in winter weather because of its front wheel drive and is supremely more comfortable than the Malibu.  
It should also be a bit better on gas than the Malibu although the supercharged 3800 was never known for its stinginess. Overall, much like the Malibu, the value in this car is in its very nice condition and, actually more importantly than the low mileage on the Malibu (on really old cars low mileage means next to nothing), its low mileage. A challenge with a 16 year old Pontiac priced this high, though, is that very few banks and/or credit unions will give you a loan for it. You can't charge the full purchase price of it on a credit card either although you can put some of the purchase price on a card. So, in the end you've got to have cash to get it home. And even $5,000 cash is a lot for a lot of people - especially folks looking for a "cash car". What's more, insurance companies will only give you "book" for it if, heaven forbid, something happens to it. Last check on had 1999 Grand Prix' valued between $2,300 and $3,700. That's quite a "spread" between book value and what this car's asking price is. A tree falls on this car and you're out that difference. Think about that.
This Malibu, according to the NADA buyers guide, is valued around $5400 so there's some wiggle room with the asking price here. Not $2,000 but perhaps enough to be able to get this car out the door, with tax and registration for the asking price. Chances are you'll get some money off the asking price of the Grand Prix but your money is "safer" in the Malibu. Best we talk to our insurance agent about what we would get for the Malibu if it got totaled or stolen. If it's two grand more than the old Grand Prix then this begins to really interesting.
Another obstacle to over come is what people would think of me if I drove this as a daily driver. As a cool, old Chevy in the garage it's one thing. As a daily driver it's another thing entirely. Perhaps I'm over thinking this but I can't help recalling how dated and weird I believed it was that when I was a kid our neighbor drove around in a 1952 Pontiac Chieftain. That was the mid 1970's so that meant that old Pontiac was a mere pup at twenty two or twenty three years of age. This oldster is going to be thirty nine in 2015. What would the neighbors think? I shouldn't care of course but I do. I drive a car that's thirteen years old as it is and my son uses a car that's nineteen years old and no one says anything about how old they are but my son's car is also a Camaro so it gets a "coolness" hall pass of sorts. So, again, how old does a car have to be too old to drive as a daily driver?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Hummer H2 - Painfully Full

Perhaps the Hummer H2 was "macho" and "cool" when first introduced in 2003 but by the time it left the market in 2009, that market had long forgotten what it was all about at first.  Like the 1973 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, it became something of an icon above and beyond the vehicle that inspired it. With the Monte Carlo, its inspiration was the cars of Great Gatsby era. With the H2, it was the legendary HUMMVEE or H1 of Desert Storm fame (Hummer being derived from HMMWV, High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle). Unfortunately, just like the Monte Carlo, the H2 also became something of a joke as well.  Shame, too considering how capable and well engineered the H2 was.
Contrary to what some may believe, the H2 was not a GMT800 (Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban) with a different body bolted down on top of it. Although, if you're aware of GM's history of cost savings/cutting corners, you could fathom how many may have thought that and in many ways wonder now why GM didn't do that knowing that the GMT800 was such a great platform. No, sir...the H2 was its own massively heavy, gas swiling beast that had a fairly long, unusual and uniquely American gestation period.

It all started with AM General, the old military vehicle producing arm of of the Kaiser-Jeep  corporation. AMG had long been building large, powerful and supremely capable vehicles for the military and began selling a civilian version of the HMMWV (Hummer H1) a year or so after it became famous during the much televised coverage of the first Persian Gulf War in 1991. In 1999, General Motors purchased the brand name and marketing rights to "Hummer" while AM General continued to manufacturer the vehicles at a specially constructed plant in Mishawaka, Indiana. To broaden the market appeal of Hummer, AM General, under contract with GM and with copious amounts of help from GM, debuted the Hummer H1 inspired H2 in 2003. It was a very substantial vehicle made up of 3 sections. The front used a modified GM 2500-Series utility frame, the fully boxed midsection was  exclusive to the H2 while the rear section used a modified GM 1500-Series frame. Frankentruck to say the least although it's difficult to believe many buyers of an H2 cared about such details. With a Hummer H2, it was all about The Look. Such is the case with most SUV's but with the H2, it was more like going back to the buffet table even after you were already painfully full than most other SUV's of its ilk. Somehow, though, it worked. To a point.
It worked to a point only inasmuch as if there was a market for vehicles that weighed more than three tons and had a sticker price north of $50,000. As you can imagine, that market is somewhat narrow. Bundle polarizing styling, horrible gas mileage, skyrocketing gas prices and a cratering economy and you have a recipe for a GM investment that got shown the door quickly during reorganization.
The late Chuck Jordan, GM's President of Design from 1986 through 1992 remarked about the tailfins of the 1959 Cadillac and chucked that, "It seemed like a very good idea at the time". History repeating itself once again; you have to wonder what he'd say about the Hummer H2.



Saturday, December 20, 2014

Snow Tires For The Camaro. No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.

Driving any car not to mention a Camaro in winter up here in Cleveland, Ohio is a dicey proposition. A Camaro that's, for argument's sake, twenty years old? As if age makes any difference as to whether or not a car is good or bad in snow makes any difference but the age of our Camaro doesn't help winter weather traction; Camaros without proper winter gear up gear are hazardous in winter.

This past spring we had to replace the tires on this car since they were dry rotted. Dry rot is where what appear to be perfectly good tires with lots of tread start falling apart because they're old. A set of Goodyear Eagles would have run me about $800 and while they're excellent all season tires, they would not give us the winter traction we need for a car that has most of its weight in front of the steering wheel and is rear wheel drive. This is a seriously bad winter weather automobile.
I shopped around and got a great deal on a set of comparable to Goodyear Eagle, all season tires for less than half the cost of the Eagles. Score. What's more, when I told the guy at the tire shop my problems with driving this car in winter, he recommended a set of Bridgestone Blizzaks winter tires. These winter tires are made of a special rubber compound that remains soft and gooey in winter weather giving the car they're on great winter traction. They have to come off when the weather warms up because they will literally melt.  Now, while that would mean an additional set of tires and all that comes with it, the cost, estimated at the time to be around $450, was worth it since last winter this Camaro sat in our garage literally for the first four months we had. Yes. I bought a Camaro in mid November at the cusp of winter. No wonder I got such a great deal on it.
He also recommended I wait until Black Friday to get a good deal. Great! Who needs an extra set of tires sucking up space in the garage anyway. So, I waited.
 First problem I ran into when it came close to Black Friday was finding out that the shop wanted $70 each time we needed to swap the snows onto the existing rims. That's $140 a year. Ugh. What if I got another set of rims and had them install them once? Challenge here is that a well worn set of these rims are going for north of $300 a set on ebay. That's a ton. A set of new or new old stock would be more than $300 each. No. Not going to happen for snow tire rims.
What's more, after I did my research, I found that these rims, in addition to being awesome looking, are unique. Unique in that they have the "old" 4.75 inch GM bolt pattern and are  16 inch rims. That a big deal? Yes, since GM didn't make many 16 inch rims with that 4.75 inch bolt pattern. Camaros, Firebirds, Corvettes and... There aren't any others.
The only option was to find a set of 15 inch rims with the 4.75 inch bolt pattern; that is combination is still plentiful and relatively easy to find. I found a set of these 15 inch, steel 1987 Camaro rims on Craigslist for $100 and they fit our bolt pattern. I consulted with the tire shop that I was getting the tires from and got the ok that a smaller rim and tire from what was on the car originally would be safe. Off I went to get my Blizzaks.
I put the rears on first and then the front. The first problem I had was that these rims wouldn't fit around the hub on the rotor. Not a problem. The ill fit appeared to be minor so I tapped out the center until the rims fit around the center hub. A little bit hillbilly but it worked. I bolted them down and got ready to roll.
Problem was, when I went to pull the car out of the garage for a test drive, the car wouldn't move. Stuck. Dead. No. Go. What the hell?? I had also adjusted the rear brakes when I was putting the rears on so I thought, perhaps, I had adjusted them too much and they were stuck on.
So, I pulled the backs back off and adjusted the rear brakes again. I rolled the rear axles too so I was sure there wasn't a massive mechanical problem with the rears. I put the car back down and sure enough, it still wouldn't move. What was going on??
Well, turns out these goddamn 15 inch Craigslist rims wouldn't clear the front brake calipers and when they're bolted onto the rotors the caliper gets compressed locking the front brakes.  Great. I just dropped $300 on tires and another $100 on these rims; now what do I do?
Spacers. Spacers is what I do. Or did. After much research, this problem is not unique, apparently and the solution is spacers. Many 4x4 modifications require spacers to allow after market rims to fit over factory brake calipers. Also, pushing the wheels out from the car also gives additional stability off road. A set of these manly looking spacers ran me $43 and that included shipping. So, I got lucky. Or lucky the second time. The first set they sent me was the wrong bolt pattern. You can imagine my frustration.
I thought I'd like the Gen 3 rims on our Gen 4 Camaro but I'm not crazy about it. That's just me. My family didn't seem to notice or care. What really bugs me is how goofy the front spacers make the fronts look.
The 1987 rims bolt up and push the tires outboard of the axles. The axles on 1982-1992 Camaros designed with this in mind so everything is neat and tidy. The 1993-2002 Camaro has wheels that are flush to the bead of the "front" of the tire and the axles were designed with that in mind. So, when you put 1987 Camaro rims on a 1996 Camaro, the tires are pushed outside the fenders. It's especially cumbersome looking at the front. Especially when you complicate matters with a set of  1 1/2 inch spacers. Now I'm looking for mud flaps to protect the front fenders from damage from road debris.
Next time you see something odd on a car, you can almost rest assured it was done with the best of intentions. No good deed going unpunished.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Movie Cars - The Griswold's "Wagon Queen Family Truckster"

During our annual viewing of "Christmas Vacation" recently I noticed that the Ford Taurus wagon the Griswolds were using to fetch their Christmas tree was a woody Taurus wagon. Interesting. Ford never made a woody Taurus wagon so obviously the woodie Taurus was an homage to the "Wagon Queen Family Truckster" from National Lampoons's "Vacation". What with all of the "Trucksters" used in "Vacation" either destroyed in the filming or having had their modifications removed, we can only speculate as to why the producers of "Christmas" chose to modify a Ford Taurus wagon rather than build another Truckster. Then again, "Christmas" was not a "road movie" like "Vacation" was so there was no need to draw attention to the Griswold's family car. Even the use of a late '80's LTD Country Squire, that wasn't a "Wagon Queen", would have drawn undue attention.

We first see The Truckster near the beginning of "Vacation" when Clark attempts to trade in in his aging 1970 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser for an "Antarctic Blue Super Sports Wagon" with the CB and "Optional Rally Fun Pack". One thing leads to another and before Clark can tell the salesman he's going to take his business elsewhere, he has no choice but to drive home in a brand new "Wagon Queen Family Truckster". Eagle eyed spotters - note that the Vista Cruiser at the end of this scene is a 1972 Vista Cruiser and not a 1970 as in the beginning.  

The Griswold's "Wagon Queen Family Truckster" began life as a 1979 Ford LTD Country Squire. "Vacation" was shot in 1982 (released in 1983) and since Ford had changed little styling wise on the car since they introduced it in 1979, it made sense from a budgetary stand point to use a 1979 Country Squire as the basis for the Truckster instead of a brand new one.


There's conflicting information as to whether George Barris, the famed Hollywood car designer whose most famous work was the Lincoln Zephyr based Batmobile from the 1960's Batman TV series, designed the car or not. What we do know for certain was that it was designed  intentionally to be the most hideous car it could be.

Not unlike looking at an Edsel today, it's interesting to note that the passage of thirty plus years has actually made The Truckster less ugly. The pea green Truckster, resplendent with fake wood paneling that even covers part of the hood, eight headlights and a grille area largely covered by bodywork, was funnier looking years ago because the joke was about the ubiquitous woody station wagon. Keep in mind that 1983 was the year that Chrysler introduced their revolutionary K car based minivan and SUV's being used as everyday vehicles was almost of unheard of. Especially in suburban America. In 1983 America there really was no other real family hauling vehicle to choose from aside from less utilitarian based four door sedans. Think of the Truckster as a great big collective inside (outside?) joke. 

Of course, the best part about the "Vacation" movies was Clark Griswold played magnificently by Chevy Chase. If "The Truckster" poked fun at the family car then family man Clark Griswold poked fun at family men; thin line to walk. Shouldn't family men have taken exception to Chase's Clark Griswold for making fun of them? Well, the could have but by and large they didn't. Other actors could have been cast in the roll and have been as effective, different but nonetheless effective, but Chase's deadpan portrayal of lovingly absurd Clark was subtlety magnificent. Clark Griswold is an example of what a loving, modern family man should be - family focused, loving, approachable, fun, accepting and understanding. Clark Griswold was the father you wished your father was.

Merry Christmas from The Connolly's and The Griswolds!


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Red Camaro - Rear Brake Cylinders

I found some brake fluid inside the left rear wheel of our Camaro recently when I was fitting it with a rim for snow tires. Great. Just Great. I swear, having old cars is like having old pets or young children; you just never know what's going to wrong next.
I enjoy working on my cars and it saves quite a bit of money too. I only pay a shop to do work if I absolutely can't do it myself or, as is most often the case, I don't have the time. Now, I've never changed a brake cylinder before in my life but not knowing what I was doing has never stopped me from doing anything. So, let's have at it. 
Turns out drum brakes are quite simple. In theory at least. When you press the brake pedal down, you're forcing hydraulic fluid to push out plungers inside that (leaking) "cylinder" between the blue spring on the left and the green spring on the right. Those plungers push those semi circle pads, or shoes, against a cast iron drum (that I've removed) and through friction, the drum brakes help the car to stop. I say help because on our Red Camaro, like most cars, the front discs do most of the braking. At issue here is that the cylinder is leaking and needs to be replaced.
Save for a seized up brake line bolt that I promptly rounded off, thank goodness for penetrating fluid and vice grips, this was a straight forward process.

The biggest challenge was bleeding the brakes lines. Apparently, air got into the system when I removed the brake line. Hydraulic systems are closed and any air that gets inside those closed systems will stop those systems from working.  Patience and a second set of hands, actually feet to be exact, and all is good.
The handsome new cylinder looking quite at home in the left rear brake housing of our Red Camaro. I have to do the other side as well and I'm not looking forward to the possibility of another seized up brake line bolt.
Our 13 months so far with this almost twenty year old car has been fairly challenging. Helps that we have other cars to use  when something goes wrong. Also helps that I'm pretty good with a wrench. If you're thinking of purchasing an inexpensive old car and using it as a daily driver and you're not good with a set of sockets, you might want to think twice about it. Or find a good, cheap mechanic.
There has been a fair amount of drama around the Blizzacks but I'll save that to blog about once the real life ordeal is settled. Stay tuned.