Sunday, February 26, 2017

1970 Buick Riviera GS - The Opposite of Love Is Indifference

I was a junior at St. John's University in New York when I took a course called "Marriage and The Lord". It was part of the religious curriculum St. John's required and it was in that class that I learned that the opposite of love is not, as many people would presume, hate, but rather indifference. Psychologically and physiologically, hate and love are the same thing but apathy? That's an entirely different ball game. That table set and, again, this is a car blog and not a theological debate, I don't hate the 1970 Buick Riviera. I wouldn't kick it out of my garage if by chance it ended up there somehow, but I know that I'd always want for something else instead. I found our subject car for sale on Craigslist in Cleveland, Ohio.

At the time I learned about the differences between love, hate and aparthy, I was dating a girl that I may have ended up marrying simply because she was the person I was dating as "the time to get married" approached. Truth of the matter was, I didn't love her. Didn't hate her either. Instead, I was in a sorry, miserable state of ambivalence that so many people live their entire lives in. Personally and professionally. That relationship was, again, like the bulbous rear end on this 1970 Buick Riviera. The fender skirts, or what some refer to as "spats", only adding insult to injury. It's somewhat interesting but it doesn't come close to the near perfection, in my opinion, of a 1966-1969 Riviera. I love me some Bill Mitchell era Buick but here's proof front and center that he was human just like the rest of us. By the way, I promptly ended that relationship. Ended it even before I had found someone else too.

Based on how poorly the 1970 Buick Riviera sold compared to the 1966-1969's that came before it, I wasn't alone being indifferent towards it either. What saves this particular car from the ignominy of its less than flattering hips is that at least it's a Riviera "GS", or "Gran Sport". The "GS" package denoting a "heavy duty" suspension that lowered the car an inch. That's a lot and no doubt makes this car less "floaty" by literally having less suspension travel. Not sure how much it actually improved handling overall since the "GS" package didn't come with a tire upgrade. I did call to ask to take it for a test drive. More on that in a second or two. Also, that lowered height does give this very large car more of a pronounced "haunch" than "lesser" Riviera's. That's a good thing as it helps to minimize the sheer bulk of the rear end. Dual exhausts were not a factory option and do seem out of place on a parade vehicle.

Bless her heart, that girl I was dating did do her best to save our relationship and make me happy but it just wasn't going to work because I was indifferent towards her. Just like this big old Riv can't be saved by it being a "GS". Were this even a 1969 Riviera GS with an asking price of just $6,000? I think our woebegotten 1977 Corvette might get listed on Craigslist but then again, a 1969 Riviera GS in this condition is not going to be listed for so little money. Incidentally, the "GS" package on the Riviera, also came with a 3:42.1, posi traction rear end replacing the stock if staid, 2.78:1 , single poke pumpkin. Quite the numerical step up and while no doubt helping to make the most of the new for 1970 455 cubic inch V-8's impressive 510 pound feet of torque, it did owners of these cars no favors at the gas pump. Then again, if you could have afforded a 1970 Buick Riviera, you probably weren't complaining about bad gas mileage. Figure 6-8 miles per gallon on average. I kid you not. 

After I broke up with that girl I eventually lost contact with her. It was best. She'd turn into a blubbering mess every time she'd see me in the immediate weeks and months after I called everything off. She too went to St. John's. She seemed so bad off that I thought to myself, arrogantly, that I had damaged her and that she was destined for a sad, lonely, pitiful life. Ha. As if. She found me not too long ago on Facebook and turned out that she had found someone not too long after I had broken up with her, married him and they had two boys. Facebook photos painting a picture of what would appear to be happy family. So much for her sad, lonely life. Not unlike our big hipped Riv here. I called the number in the listing wanting to just take it for a spin. Why? Sorry. It's just what I do. I'm a big time waster for people. Anyway, I called the number and the car had been sold. Pretty quickly too as it turned out. I might be indifferent towards it but just like that guy who married my old girlfriend, not everyone is. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

1980 Vanguard Comuta-Car - Vestige of The Gas Price Shocked 1970's

During my recent search for an inexpensive car to replace our "old" Camaro, I came across this thing for sale on Craigslst over on Cleveland's east side. Asking price, $1,000. That part of town is deep inside what is referred to as the "Snow Belt", if we get 5 inches over here on the west side they'll get 10, and I first thought it to be some sort of far out snow mobile. While something as off beat as that wouldn't seem out of place in the garage of one of the old money homes out there, what this is is quite possibly even stranger. Behold a vestige of the 1970's gas crunches, a 1980 Vanguard Comuta-Car.

I had never heard of these things before let alone seen one. Growing up on Long Island a stone's throw from some of the toniest and wealthiest communities in America during the two gas crunches of the 1970's, to say nothing of growing as close as I did to Manhattan, I would think that I would have seen some well-heeled trendsetter who had money to blow on such whimsy scooting around in their "Comuta-Car". I never did until now. And in Cleveland, Ohio of all places. 

In response to the first gas crisis of 1973-74, The Vanguard Comuta-Car began life in 1974 when Sebring-Vanguard, a small company in Sebring, Florida  began manufacture of small, enclosed, wedge shaped electric "cars". Originally known as "CitiCar", they were little more than a golf cart with a plastic covered safety cage. When the hysteria over $5 a gallon gas died down as gas prices stabilized in the mid to late '70's, understandably, interest in the "CitiCar" waned. Sebring-Vanguard's sold the design to a company known as "Commuter Vehicles" in 1979 and the vehicle's name was changed to Vanguard Comuta-Car. 

Originally powered by six, six volt lead-acid batteries connected to a 3 1/2 horsepower electric motor. weighing as much as 1,300 pounds, performance of the "CitiCar" was "relaxed"; some would say dangerously slow. Two more batteries and a jump to a 9 horsepower electric motor improved performance enough to the point that a top speed of 45 miles per hour was theoretically possible. Ample for around town or in the "citi". At just 8 feet long, and that includes the massive bumpers fore and aft that also house the batteries, these tiny things make today's "Smart Car" appear out and out gigantic.

The Comuta-Car was never meant to replace your regular car but was intended to save your regular car for more important tasks. And save the precious fuel in its tank. I know. It makes absolutely no sense but keep in mind we're talking about something from the gas priced shocked 1970's. 

I get what the gist is or was of these things only because I grew up in those times of never before seen gas hikes and 8 mile per gallon Buicks and Cadillacs, However, I can't imagine anyone really commuting anywhere in a CitiCar or Comuta-Car and not many people did. Approximately 4,440 Comuta-Cars were sold. A impressive number when you think about it. Tough to find sales info on sales of the original "CitiCar"

We know people who live in Lake front homes here in Cleveland that are set far off the main road. Some of them do have golf carts to help them traipse around their property and during winter, one of these would be nice respite from the cold weather. That Saturday morning jaunt to the mailbox can get pretty chilly this time of the year, this wimp of winter not with standing of course. Watch out for that chipmunk.

The listing is gone so perhaps someone swooped in an picked this thing up. Ad said that it literally had to be "picked up" since the batteries were dead and it hadn't run in years. Note the dollies. Someone either bought it or the owner gave up trying to sell it. I'll keep a lookout if you're interested. And if I see it "commuting" around town I'll be sore to grab my cell phone and snap more pictures. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

1996 Chevrolet Camaro - Pearl Earring

The only difference between our old 1996 Red Camaro on the left and our new 1996 Red Camaro on the right was the interior trim packages. Our old Camaro, the one with the blown head gaskets, had the premium package.

Our "new" Camaro had the drab, gray base interior which wasn't nearly as nice as the  bright and cheery interior of our old Camaro. I told my older son that I was thinking of swapping  the interiors of the two cars and he told me he'd like me to do so but only he said, he being the gentleman that he is, "if it wasn't too much work". Half lying I told him that it wasn't and I quickly got at it. Our younger son, bless his heart, is much less the car person his brother is and could care less about such things.

Swapping the interiors required my dismantling of the interiors of both cars. While not a difficult process, well, getting the seat belts and dash board out was quite challenging, it was labor intensive and time consuming but I knew it would be worth it in the end; the color contrasts between the gray of the new Camaro and the red and black of the old, while not being stock and certainly not available from the factory, would be quite handsome. Also, many parts of the old into the new would make this transition that much easier for me as well. The most stressful thing about dismantling the interior of our old Camaro was fearing that I'd find some evidence of the boys behavior that their mother and I would be upset with.

Thank goodness I didn't find anything save for this pearl earring. I texted our older son this picture of it and he texted me back immediately an "LOL" and said he knew who it belonged to. So did I, that's why I texted it to him. It was his first girlfriend's and he remembered the night that she "dropped it" in the car and their frantic, fruitless search for it. We texted back and forth briefly reminiscing about her and his breaking up with her more than two years ago right after Thanksgiving. That was a tough thing for him to do but he needed to make a break from her. Little did he know at the time that while breaking up a relationship can be hard on the person calling the shots, it can be even tougher on the person getting broken up with. I've always shuddered at the thought of someone ditching either of our boys and the emotional carnage that could ensue.

Our boys call us so infrequently that any time that they do, regardless of the time of day, I fear the worst. In fact, our older son has yet to call me from college when something isn't wrong. Our younger son does call us occasionally with good news. The older one? Never. So you can understand my controlled hysteria when our older son called my cell phone just after 11 pm this past Saturday night. Had he been in an accident? Was he in jail? A million thoughts rocket through your mind in the fleeting seconds before you can hit "answer" on a cell phone. What was it? He was sobbing on the phone when I answered it and my heart sank and stomach flipped over. I breathed a slight sigh of relief when he told that his girlfriend had just broken up with him.

I never met this girl. His mother had and loved her, but I was surprised to hear that they were as serious as they were. Or as serious as he thought they were. I was under the belief that they were just good friends but apparently the poor kid had fallen in love with her and wanted to take their relationship to the next level. She had just left his apartment after breaking up with him and he called me needing to talk to someone. He was a sobbing, emotional wreck just like the time he broke up with his first girl friend but only worse. He sounded wounded. Hearing or seeing our boys so upset is quite possibly the hardest thing I have to endure as a parent and as the boys have gotten older, the anxiety in anticipation of them being upset only gets worse. Doing parenting right is not for the faint of heart.

What do you say to anyone let alone your child when they're that upset? Frankly, there is nothing you can say when emotions are so fresh and raw. He's four hours away and I did my best to give him as a big a long distance hug as I could muster through the phone. I did so by doing what I always do when someone I love is upset. I let him vent. 

This is new turf for him. Strapping, confident young men like our son aren't supposed to ever lose at anything let alone at love. But it happens. And when it does it gets ugly. I don't believe that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger but I will say that it can make us cynical and less trusting if not closed off. Remarkably, though, at the end of our twenty minute call he sounded better and thanked me for picking up the phone. He was even laughing about the antics he and his friends were up to the night before. "Dad, I did a keg stand!" Amazing that he went from blubbering mess back to his fun loving self in such a short period of time. I hung up with him and looped in his mother about what was going on. I told him I'd call him the next day just to see how he was doing.

I called him the next day and he sounded almost completely fine and was all but joking about what had happened. Almost. I could tell that he was still smarting but he was in a much better place than  when he first called me the night before. He's home in a week for spring break and it will be nice to see him. The Camaro will be finished and I can't wait for him to drive it. He'll have  a lot on his mind and for certain that girl will dominate conversation while he's here. The only advice I can give him is to keep his chin up and focus on his studies. And continue to let him vent. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

1992 Infiniti Q45t - Digging In The Wrong Direction

Aside from the fact that we allow the creators of "The Shawshank Redemption" to take more than their fair share of poetic license along the way to making us believe the number of coincidences that occur in the short story and film, there are a number of valuable lessons we can learn from Andy Dufresene, Red, Brooks, and Warden Norton.  One of the most important being that, in life, you need to first and foremost work smart. After all, had Andy not worked smart, in addition to working hard, he may have ended up in Shawshank's kitchen or laundry and not where he ultimately wanted or needed to be.

Despite working as hard as they did, Nissan dug in the wrong direction when they debuted their wonderful Infiniti Q45 in the United States for model year 1990. A re purposed version of the Nissan President, a long wheel base vehicle previously sold only in Japan that was primarily used by corporate executives and government dignitaries as a limousine, the Q45 was lauded for its crisp handling, superb ergonomics (interior design), powerful engine and impeccable assembly. That said, did Nissan end up in Shawshank's mess hall with the Infiniti Q45? Well, not exactly but they certainly didn't end up at the end of a sewer pipe to later cash in hundreds of thousands of dollars of laundered money.

There were several reasons for that. First, given what it was, where it was being sold for the first time and for what it was being sold for, the original Q45 was a BMW 5 series without being a BMW. And BMW's, particularly back then, weren't for everyone; BMW having the market on dour, high performance automobiles pretty much all to themselves. A drab, ostentatious free, business first cockpit, in a car with an adjusted sticker price of approximately $75,000 in 2017 dollars for sale in the U.S. in 1990? Despite its brilliant execution, the interior of "the Q" fell way short of what well heeled buyers in this country expected of a luxury automobile.

What's more, the ride and handling of the original Q45, our subject car is a 1992 Q45t, was far too "sporty" for most of the targeted clientele. Some say "sporty", some say "stiff", others say "bone jarring"; perspective buyers of the original Q45 said, "let's take that also new for 1990 Lexus LS400 with the flashy interior and supple yet compliant ride for a test drive". No surprise, the Lexus LS400 crushed the Q45 at the box office.

Nissan broke through a wall and little rock hammer in hand, found they were not were they intended to be. Many blame this "prize fight belt buckle" front end for the Q45's less than stellar opening weekend but there was more to it than that. While this bizarre, grill less front end has aged better than say, the front end on an Edsel, it's still a curiosity that Nissan styled the front end of the original Q45 like this when their homeland model featured a more conventional, chrome festooned, if not Lexus LS400 type front end. Infiniti updated the Q45's front end with the front end from the President for 1994 but it turned off perspective buyers who appreciated the original front end while doing little to appeal to Lexus buyers.

While Nissan's luxury division certainly has cache today, it's not at the level of Lexus and chances are it never will be. It was or isn't, after all these years, for a lack of trying either for there have been several Infiniti models, the original Q45 included, that have been outstanding. However, as we've seen time and time again, an outstanding automobile is not a harbinger of strong sales. Hard work after all, in and of itself, is over rated. Combine hard work with working smart, in this case developing an automobile that its target market really wanted, and it would be hard to argue that today Infiniti wouldn't be every bit the Lexus that BMW is a Mercedes Benz. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

1961 Rambler Classic - My Old Man

The Zac Brown Band's new song, "My Old Man", is, not surprisingly given the song title, an ode to his father. The songwriter's appreciation of his father, drenched in a unusually sparse yet melodramatic production, makes Dan Fogelsberg's, "The Leader of the Band" sound like an EDM track. While it is sonically reminiscent of past Zac Brown "classics" like "Goodbye In Her Eyes", "Highway 20 Ride" and "Colder Weather", it lacks either of those songs sweeping emotional depth. "My Old Man" is little more than a sopping wet 3 1/2 minute "I love you dad" that is as disingenuous as a Hallmark card,

Of course, this being a primarily a blog about cars, "My Old Man" makes me think of my old man and the cars he owned. Now, in fairness, my old man wasn't a "car guy" so I have to forgive him for a slate of utterly forgettable automobiles that he had when I was a child. As we've discussed before, many of the cars we own are reflective of who we are or want to be and my father's cars, many of which were mere appliances, are the only tangible insight I have into a man who wouldn't let me close enough to him to get to know him. Thus, I'm left grasping at straws or hubcaps attempting to get to know a man through the cars he owned. My opinion of them be damned, today we examine another of the cars he owned, a 1961 Rambler Classic. An automobile as enigmatic as he was.

Presumably, my old man bought into AMC's advertising that the Rambler was, albeit smaller than most offerings from the "Big Three", a better automobile. I surmise that he  bought his gray on red, painted white steel roof '61 Rambler around the time I was born in 1964. I think his Rambler's shade of gray, even though the finish on it was shot, somewhat more becoming of it than our subject car's Walter Mitty beige. Note the roof of our subject is painted the same color as the side trim. Obviously, this car is attempting to be more than what it is.

I''ll never know why he bought it instead of any number of more stylish automobiles available at the time but, again, my opinion be damned. Besides, discussing how out and out right unsophisticated and clumsy looking I think this car was, that is getting into the murky nitty gritty of subjectivity. I wasn't around then to persuade him not to buy this car so perhaps, just perhaps, he thought he was buying something that was as stylish and up to date as a '61 Chevy, Ford or one of those far out, downsized Chryslers. Sigh. Rambler sales by the early 1960's had risen to third behind Chevrolet and Ford so he was not alone in driving one. Again, my opinion be damned.

Unlike years later when my old man purchased a Buick Electra and then a Cadillac DeVille, cars that he purchased that I was in the decision making process on and, what's more, that he was quite fond of, I don't recall my old man ever having anything nice to say about the Rambler. He complained constantly that the car was not as good as "American Motors" cars used to be. Not sure how he came to that conclusion seeing that he never owned an AMC before but he had a sour disposition towards that car that bespoke of a man who felt he had "been had". In those post war, early TV years, there was allegedly truth in advertising. Just goes to show you that back then, as today,  people believe want they want to believe.

My old man's Rambler broke down so much that his mechanic, a wild, cantankerous man named "Ziggy", was a regular in our home. Yes, he made house calls. Ziggy took such liking to me that he would let me be his assistant when he was working on the Rambler. Can't blame me then for being thrilled when the Rambler would stop running. Which, again, was quite often. Ziggy's ability to diagnose what was wrong with the Rambler and get it running was quite impressive. It was like bringing the dead back to life. Sometimes, though I wish he, wasn't so good at it.

That glorious day came when the Rambler over heated and the block cracked. That was the nail in the coffin for the little bomb and I was over the moon excited. Over the moon excited about not only the Rambler going into the shredder, but giddy with anticipation thinking about what block long rocket ship my old man would replace it with. And, what did he replace it with? Lord, God almighty, a 1968 Ford Ranch Wagon. 

I hate to say that I hated the Rambler much in the same way I hate to say I hated my old man. I think it is fair to say, though, that I didn't like the Rambler and, sadly, I didn't like who my old man was either. He passed away twenty years ago this November and while I've emotionally reconciled that he just couldn't be whom I wanted or needed him to be, old man to old man, I do have to wonder why and how he was the parent that he wasn't. No doubt in a heated exchange he'd say much the same thing about me as a son - but it's not his place to say that. What a child thinks of a parent far more important than what a parent thinks of their own children. My flippant opinion of Zac Brown's artless "My Old Man" stems as much from rote jealously that Zac Brown has a father so wonderful that he'd write a song about him as much as I think the song is as interesting as a 1961 Rambler. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

New York Islanders - NHL Gypsies

This just in. The operators of the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn have all but told the New York Islanders that they will not be playing there after the 2018-19 season. What's more, the owners of the Islanders, who paid $485 million for the team knowing they were moving the team to "New York City" after the 2014-15 season, have no intention of moving the team back to Long Island where a freshly renovated but significantly smaller Nassau Coliseum awaits.

Apparently  there is so much cache to having a franchise west of the Nassau County line that the Islanders new owners won't consider moving the team back to "Long Island". They claim they're committed to New York and not Long Island per se yet their team is called "Islanders". Don't waste time trying to figure this out. Long Island's relationship with the City of New York is a weird one. It's as if Long Island is the annoying little brother to the City that just won't go away. 

So, where will the Islanders play after 2018-19? Rumor and speculation is running wild that the Islanders will either share Madison Square Garden with the New York Rangers or, get this, another arena will be built in Greater New York for them. Some say in the area of Citi Field where the Mets play. That's in "New York" by the way less than ten miles west of the Nassau County, or "Long Island" line. I don't know which rumor is more implausible but the bottom line is the Islanders are, once again, in big trouble.

First off, there's no way the Islanders will share a building with the Rangers and New York needs another major league sports venue like Youngstown, Ohio needs another meth lab. Worst is, not only should the Islanders never have left "Long Island", Brooklyn, like Queens where the Mets play, is on the same land mass as Long Island but it's not considered "Long Island" (it's a New York thing, you wouldn't understand) the Islanders shouldn't even exist in the first place. That's not mean spirited "Rangers fan" speak either. It's the truth.

The Islanders were founded in 1972 for no other reason that to block the World Hockey Association, a rival league to the NHL, from getting a toehold in the New York area. The brand new Nassau Coliseum having language in its leases that prohibited minor league teams from calling the venue "home". Since Nassau County deemed the WHA a "minor league", it was able to block out the WHA from putting a team there. What about the ABA you say? That's a good question. What do you get when you combine Nassau County, City of New York and NHL politcs together? A mindless circus. That's what.

The whole notion was bunk because the WHA was able to put a team in Madison Square Garden, home of the mightily entrenched New York Rangers, of all places. The New York "Raiders" moved out of midtown after just two seasons to the leafy confines of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, a suburb of Philadelphia. Incidentally, the Raiders became the New York Golden Blades for their second season in NY and became the "Jersey Knights" when they moved south. The Knights moved to San Diego after 1974 and the whole franchise folded after the 1976-77 season. The WHA merged with the NHL in 1979. Some threat to the NHL, right?

Meanwhile, back at the Nassau Coliseum, Long Island is stuck with the worst team in NHL history. That's saying a lot to in the era of early NHL expansion given that there were a lot of really, really bad teams in the NHL back then.  That dreadful start, however, meant the Islanders got the first overall draft pick of amateurs in the spring of 1973. Having the first pick overall not necessarily a guarantee of future success but the  Islanders got lucky. Denis Potvin, a highly touted 19 year old defenseman from Ottawa was available. Islanders GM Bill Torrey would make a number of astute, some would say lucky, draft picks over the next several years and built what was without question one of the greatest teams in sports history. That team goes largely unnoticed because it was just a hockey team.

You can't argue with success; it is what it is. However, in the case of the Islanders, after the team stopped winning, they became literally victims of their own success. Had they not won like they did early on in their existence, they would have left the Island and become like the California Golden Seals, Minnesota North Stars, Hartford Whalers, Winnipeg Jets, Atlanta Flames et al. NHL gypsy teams looking for a home.

Wait, isn't that what they are now? 

Triumph TR7 - Dope

In past blogs we've discussed that the reason that we find things visually attractive or stimulating is because when we see something that we like, it triggers the pleasure or reward centers of our brains. Same goes for seeing something you haven't seen in a while. A long while for me, actually with regards to what I guesstimate to be a 1979 Triumph TR7 "drop head" coupe. "Drop head", incidentally, is what our friends across the pond refer to as a convertible. 

It's ironic that I found the TR7 alluring when I was a kid; after all, I am and always have been abhorrent to change. Change meaning that the all new for 1975 TR7 replaced an apple of my eye, the mighty Triumph TR6. Triumph continued to produce the spectacular but old school Spitfire along side the TR7 so, perhaps that assuaged my verklempt that the TR6 was no more.

Anyway, I don't know when it was that I first saw a TR7 but it knocked me sideways. What Triumph marketed as, "The Shape of Things To Come" dumped a ton of my dope for me. What a fantastic looking little car. 

I being far too young to drive when these first came out and there being far too few of them ever exported to this country to even think about purchasing when I came of age, I've never, sadly, had the opportunity to drive one. However, based on road test reviews at the time time and knowing now what the subtle language that described how miserable a car they were, it would probably be best that I never get behind the wheel of one. Remember what we've said in the past about meeting your idols. Best you don't. 

The best that was said for the TR7 years ago was that they were an improvement, driving wise, over the TR6. The TR7 apparently as significant improvement over its predecessor as say, the 1984 Corvette was over what it replaced. 

Then we get to the subject of build quality. Legend has it, there was none. What with the falling apart of Triumph's parent company British Leyland and myriad strikes and morale problems on assembly lines, the Triumph TR7 quickly developed a notorious reputation. A reputation for unreliability that was so bad that no matter how many improvements were made to the car over the years, the dye was cast. The new Triumph was a loser. 

The joke with our lovely but fairly worn little subject here is that I found it in the parking lot of a mechanic's garage. I can only wonder what horribly expensive problem it may have. Cooling system shot? Tranmission locked up? Electrical gremlins? What could it be? Some things, like my dopamine dumping appreciation of the design of this car, never change.