Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Good Parent - Giving Your Children What They Need, Not What They Want

Towards the end of the classic 1971 film, "Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory", based on the book of the same name, the ususally affable Mr. Wonka flies into a rage at Charlie and Grandpa Joe for stealing Fizzie Lifting Drink.

In this scene, the most powerful and significant in the entire film, Mr. Wonka gives Charlie what he needs as opposed to what Charlie wants

Wonka, from what we gather, is not a parent. However, if he were, would be the kind of father that we would all benefit greatly from.

If we've done our jobs as parents, children understand that we only want what's best for them and only do things for them, including disciplining them, with that - and only that - in mind.

It's understandable why children would want to disconnect from their parents after being disciplined. After all, they're human beings; us parents don't like being disciplined any more than they do. If children understand that we only want what's best for them, the amount of time it takes for them to accept their discipline and eventually appreciate the lesson learned. The more they understand their parents role in their lives, the quicker said acceptance and appreciation.

It's at this crux that Mr. Wonka conveys what he wants Charlie to do. One could argue that his bed side manner rude and insensitive, but Wonka is clearly heartbroken at having to discipline Charlie. It's obvious he had Charlie in mind to be the winner all along. Wonka doesn't shirk his responisility as a parent and as harsh as it may seem, tests Charlie effectively.

Charlie gets the message and passes the test with flying colors. It's at this edge that many parents fail as parents and sadly, ultimately, fail their children.

Remember, we're their parents, not their friends. Give your children what they need.

Friday, March 24, 2017

1972 Plymouth Duster - Al Bundy's Dodge

Aside from watching "Married With Children to see what Christina Applegate was wearing or not wearing, when the show was first on Fox in the late 1980's I thought there was really nothing more to it than trashy, lowest common denominator guffaws; and I loved every minute of it. And while the show was seminal to the degree that it reset TV sitcom's boarders, the show was the antithesis of any other TV sitcom that had come before it, what I came to appreciate during the show's interminably long run was just how consistently strong the show's writing was.

That said, it is unreasonable to believe that all gags in any forum that's centered around humor could possibly work every time. "Married" was no exception. Particularly with regards to "Al Bundy's Dodge".

The casting of a brown 1972 Plymouth Duster as Al's car was curious since there's nothing that unusual about those cars. The Duster, introduced in 1970, was the coupe variant of the Plymouth Valiant sedan and was one of the few bright spots for Chrysler in the 1970's. Few would argue that the car wasn't an attractive design, a solid performer (relatively speaking) and was free from many of the pitfalls that cars of its era, like the Corvair, Vega, Pacer and countless others succumbed to. Also, there's nothing "funny" about these cars that would invoke ridicule. Unless you've driven one of these fairly large "compact' cars not equipped with power steering.

Wouldn't something whimsical like even a VW Beetle filled the bill better?  Many of the jokes surrounding "Al's car", though, were brilliant. For example,  when Al's car is stolen, Marcy sarcastically chastises Al for "leaving his car out on trash day". Funny line but the joke has really nothing to do with the car itself; it could have been any car for that matter. Also, with "Al Bundy's Dodge" being a Plymouth, was that miss identification of the car supposed to be a joke of some sort or was it an err in writing?


What's more, with Al, portrayed with exacting precision by the legendary Ed O'Neil, apparently having his Dodge when he graduated Polk High in 1966, the use of any car from 1972 makes no sense chronologically. Does that matter? Well, no not really but if the devil is in the details, it's disappointing this was overlooked.

While it's not out of the question that Al could love anything like his "Dodge", us "car guys" have  near inexplicable attachments to old cars, had the actual car itself been more memorable it would have made for a better joke and have made the car as memorable as the Ford Torino from "Starsky and Hutch". What's more, it would have made "timeline" sense. Of course, "Married With Children" was about a highly functioning dysfunctional family and not a car, but would, for example, "Starsky and Hutch" have been the same show if they used a plain, brown Torino sedan? Or even worse, a red Duster with white striping?

"Hello, Police? I'd like to describe a... Missing person. How tall? About four feet tall, five feet wide. Smoke belching out the rear, weighs two tons. No, it's not Oprah. No, it's not Delta Burke, who'd call to report her missing? No, it's my Dodge. Hello?"
-- Al Bundy (Episode #7.24)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

1969 Ford Torino GT - Bell Bottom Jeans

We don't see fastbacks like this 1969 Ford Torino GT today because two door sedans are as in vogue as typewriters and 8 track tapes. Shame too considering how striking fastbacks can be even if this example is a tad awkward looking. Yellow green paint not withstanding. There are far better examples of fastbacks done well out there, like our 1965 Ford Mustang 2+2, but I find imperfection far more interesting than perfection. 

Once almost as ubiquitous as two door cars themselves, there hasn't been a two door fastback sedan produced by an American automobile manufacturer since the brutal 1978-80 Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon and Buick Century coupes. They also made a four door version that was somehow not as bad as the two doors but that's not saying much; it was still homely. The current Corvette and a myriad of domestic "sporty cars" since 1980 have been fastbacks but their designs were unique to the model and shared no body panels with any sedan. 

It's interesting to determine why some successful design fads disappear. Was it just because people got tired of it? Then again, "success" in this context is subjective; one person's fastback design is an other's bell bottom jeans. Will fastback two sedans make a comeback? After all, everything old eventually becomes new again. I wouldn't count on it in a market where cross over sport utility vehicles are literally taking over. A 1969 Ford Torino GT looks as out of date as a black and white movie made during the 1930's. 

Two door sedans were popular years ago because manufacturers sold them for less than their four door versions. Makes sense when you think about it; it took less material to make a two door sedan than a four door sedan did. People would tolerate the inconvenience of a two door in the interest of saving money. As four door sedans became more affordable, sales of two door cars dropped. To make two door sedans more appealing, designers began raking the windshield back and swooping the rear ends. Even if it made two door sedans even less practical by reducing the amount of rear seat head room, designers were successful in creating a marketable design. This of course decades before the acronym "SUV" or "CUV" were coined. 

Even if that marketable design had nothing really going for it aside from being, subjectively, good looking. The 1968-70 Torino was an upmarket sub model of the Fairlane and mechanically in base form, was nothing remarkable. Our freshly painted subject propelled by Ford's ample but hardly roaring 302 "2V" V-8. The Torino GT was also available with Ford's 351 V-8 in various states of tune as well as a bevy of 428 engines including the vaunted 428 "Cobra Jet" with 335 horsepower. 

The market shift away from two door sedans was still years away when our subject here was brand new with its original coat of paint. The personal luxury car boom hadn't really taken off either so gives you an idea of just how old this car is. The best we can hope for with regards to the return of a fastback is to hope that one of the Big Three comes up with a fastback cross over. Hard to believe we haven't seen one up to this point but something tells me as designers continue to push the design envelope on CUV's, we will. Sooner than later too. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Leaking Shower P-Trap - Wow, You Got Off Easy

Recently my wife and I noticed that the same area in our kitchen ceiling where I had repaired a leak in our master bedroom shower several years ago was again showing signs that something was wrong. I pulled everything apart and much to my surprise I found the shower drain was leaking. Again. Well, what else could it have been? But still, damn.

I shouldn't have been surprised since I had tried to patch the leak last time as opposed to literally fixing it. Big difference. This time I decided not to take any chances and called a plumber to get an evaluation and most likely a professional repair of whatever needed to get fixed. How much could it run, right? After all, this is a drain and not a water line and I had already done all the hard stuff like cutting open the ceiling. The service charge for someone to walk through our front door was a more than reasonable $29. C'mon in, dear plumber pal of mine!  

Imagine my shock and dismay when he gave me this repair estimate of almost $700 to replace the "p-trap" that he said had a hairline crack in it. Love how he calls it, "an investment". Good thing he was such a nice guy otherwise I would have told him where he could put his "investment". 

That initial service fee of $29 was more like the initial service fee you pay when you first step inside a New York City taxi. Faster than the way a NYC cab fare escalates, he had his hands around my wallet for $81 since he had spent some time trying to fix the leak before giving my wife and I his grim diagnosis. Frankly, I thought the whole repair would have run me around $100, maybe $200 but $700? I paid the $81 fare to get him out of my house and while I still had a leaking shower drain, just like when my ancient cars start acting up, at least now I had a professional diagnosis and I knew what needed to be done.

Apparently, I'm naive when it comes to what tradesmen are allowed to charge when it comes to home repairs these days. He claimed the estimate was all by the book too. Yeah, but whose book? I get that they have over head and are entitled to make a profit but, c'mon. $700 to replace a couple of pieces of PVC pipe? I shudder to think what plumbing fees would run on a major renovation if just changing a shower drain could be so expensive.

A wonderful associate at Lowe's answered all of my questions and everything that I needed to do the job myself cost me, you sitting down?, a whopping $27. Yes. Twenty. Seven. Dollars. I've never done much plumbing but with the prospect of not so much saving but not spending so much money, what did I have to lose? The nice plumber even said that he would apply the $81 he charged us already and apply it towards the estimate if we decided to have him come back and do the work. I had literally nothing to lose and roughly $600 to gain. Or not spend.

Now, I have to wonder if he would do that if I brought him back in after I had screwed something but I'll never know since I was able to complete the job with little drama. It did take me most of a Sunday afternoon and some deep throated creative combinations of swear words but I can take, "replace shower drain p-trap" off my bucket list. By the way, talk to any plumber or electrician and they will tell you that a lot of their work involves picking up where a customer either got stuck or screwed something up.

Almost forgot to mention that when I was talking to the associate at Lowe's, when I told him that a plumber wanted $700 to replace my shower drain he said, "Only $700? Wow, you got off easy".

1990 Cadillac Eldorado - Time Marches On

Based on how the passage of time morphs our view of events and circumstances of the past, not just events of the recent past, mind you, but history in general, it's safe to say that the passage of time will change our perspective on "now" in ways we can't even imagine are possible. Whether we like it or not and regardless of which side of any line we currently have decided to stand on. Case in point, years ago, I found these "little" Cadillac Eldorados to be the embodiment of everything that was wrong with GM. And now, remarkably, I find them to have aged into pretty neat little cars.

The 1986 Cadillac Eldorado was a remarkably progressive design for GM; I didn't say it was a good idea, though. It was even more of a break from tradition than their 1979 Eldorado was and that's saying a lot since the 1979 model was a significant paradigm shift for GM; General Motors previsouly selling the size of their automobiles as much as styling; the larger the automobile in the garage the more well off its owners were. Or portended to be. Small car, small person. While the Cadillac Eldorado had ballooned to near unnavigable proportions by the end of the 1970's, the downsized 1979 Eldorado was lauded for not only it's engineering and packaging but for it's styling as well. The 1979 Eldorado had lost the better part of two feet of length and more than one thousand pounds and was without question still considered a prestige automobile. However, not willing to leave well enough alone and evolve the 1979 Eldorado further, GM rebooted the platform it was based on completely for 1986. This time, downsizing that resulted in a near watershed automobile for 1979 instead resulted in an ill conceived and poorly received automobile. That's not just opinion; Eldorado sales crashed.

GM responded with impressive swiftness to cratering sales by making the Eldorado more "Cadillac-like" for 1988 by adding and inch and a half fore and aft to it while retaining the previous car's relatively diminutive 108 inch wheelbase. Doesn't sound like a lot and in photos it's difficult to notice the subtle improvement in appearance between a 1986 and 1988 Eldorado but the extra sheet metal worked wonders to mitigate the 1986 car's stubby appearance. What's more, Cadillac increased displacement of its transverse mounted, division exclusive V-8 engine for 1988 from 4.1 to 4.5 liters nudging horsepower to 155 from 135. More importantly, torque increased from 200 to 240 foot pounds.

Shame that Cadillac rolled out the stubby 1986 Eldorado saddled with the woe-be-gone 4.1 liter V-8 first and not at least this car. There was also a touring edition of this Eldorado, our subject is a fairly baroque "Biaritz", that added a sports tuned suspension along with some hunky cladding that at first seemed as out of place as sneakers with a tuxedo. Then but it was a harbinger of where Cadillac would attempt to go in the future.

Have to wonder if Cadillac had rolled out a Northstar V-8 powered 1992 Eldorado back in 1986 first and improved upon that car, if Cadillac would have weathered through the 80's and 90's better. than they did. Certainly couldn't have been worse. What's more, they might be ahead of where they are now. That being habitual also rans in the luxury car market despite producing some remarkable cars.

History always being revised, if Cadillac ever goes on a 1980's esque, product swoon again, today's lineup will be revered as the greatest line up of Cadillacs since the days of V-16 lore. Which we all know to be complete bunk. Today's Cadillacs are the greatest Cadillac's ever, V-16's and what not not withstanding; everything being relative. These "little" Eldorado's, though, never got their fair shake because they were (somewhat) unfairly compared to the wonton styling excesses of what came before them. Not to mention Cadillac did a pretty bad job of rolling out their first attempts at these things but such was GM years ago. They kept at it until they got it right no matter how much money and market share they lost. And then when they finally did get it right they deep sixed it. By the way, I'd be hard pressed to believe that driven back to back and based purely on driving dynamics that anyone would choose a 1979-85 Eldorado over even a stubby 1986-87 Eldorado. Styling wise there's no comparison but to the seat of your parents there's no question the little Eldo was the far superior automobile.

Our blue on blue, 101,000 mile subject might be a tad over priced with an asking price of some $5,500 but it's not absurdly priced. It's as clean as whistle too. Aging electronics scare me but if I needed a cheap cruiser quick, I might be inclined to take it for a spin and talk the lot down closer to $4,000 if not $3,500. This car will handle very well, is comfortable, relatively quick in an old fashioned big torque V-8 kind of way and if you stay off the gas, should deliver low 20's at the pump.

My sentiment towards these cars is nothing short of remarkable considering I wouldn't have been caught dead in one of these when new. Then again, back then, this car was lambasted for what it wasn't and not for what it was. Just as, for instance, we'll never know how good a job Gerald Ford could have done since he was judged so harshly by association when he was in office. Time marches on and changes everything. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

2013 Chrysler 200 S - This Car Makes Me Sad

The "original" Chrysler 200 was hopefully the last Chrysler product that triggers my gag reflex and makes me mutter, "who the hell would buy that"? Homely, primitive and expensive, the, again, original 200, makes me sad. Sad that one of the Big Three could still crank out junk reminiscent of 1980's Detroit well into the 21st Century and sad that some people actually bought them. New or used. Well, perhaps with cratering resale values the owner of this car, needing a cheap ride fast, got one for little money but starting a conversation with, "so, you drive this shit box 'cause you got a good deal on it"? wouldn't exactly warrant an honest or respectful answer.

Hard to believe it was more than twenty years ago that the original Chrysler Sebring coupe and convertible replaced the late and not always great LeBaron. The K-car derived, Chrysler LeBaron convertible of '80's and '90's fame was a junker too but at least it served a niche. Actually, that car created a niche and was quite successful too and whatever ethos that car had carried over to the first generation Chrysler Sebrings. Some of us of a certain vintage may recall a Plymouth Sebring in the early 1970's. Ah, now that was a car. Anyway, I'm sure there was a perfectly good marketing reason why Chrysler changed the name of the car from LeBaron to Chrysler Sebring too. If you denote a hint of sarcasm with that statement you would be correct. Chrysler being Chrysler, they managed to mangle the Sebring several times over and across a couple of different platforms, one being supplied by Mitsubishi for two door variants, before they slapped "200" on the side of the last of the woeful, sorry lot.

Chrysler even aped some of the "classic" styling cues from the 300 for the 200. I guess if you didn't know that this was a 200 from this angle you might be inclined to think it was a 300. As if that's a good thing. 

Now, I don't hate the Chrysler 300 this is obviously styled after, I just don't like it very much. So, through that lens, if I'm not doing jumping jacks over the 300, why would I be drawn to it's emasculated, even homelier facsimile? No one's asking me to take this car off their hands anyway so why do I care? I don't but I do feel bad for the person who bought this car thinking they got a "lot of car for the money". What they got for their money was a lot of junk. 

The interior of these cars might look posh but it's posh in a souless rental lot kinda way. These 200's are narrow, are particularly cramped in back and visibility is terrible. A pedestrian could get lost behind one of those A pillars. By the way, I didn't sneak inside our subject car to snap this photo. I was never comfortable photographing the inside of stranger's cars from the outside and having been bagged a time or two for doing so, I've taken to googling pictures of my subject car's interiors. God bless the internet. 

Our subject is a 200 "S" meaning it has an upgraded touring suspension and the only thing redeemable about this car, Chrysler's "Pentastar" 3.6 liter, 283 horsepower V-6. This car can go from 0-60 in 6.4 seconds; that's not modern muscle car fast but that's more than enough scoot for any family car. That big V-6 might even be enough to swing my rental lot vote to a 200 car away from a far superior Passat or Fusion but I know that I'd quickly regret it since power is nothing without control. The 200's wobbly handling negating any fun from it being over powered. 

With the Pentastar V-6 and firmer suspension, this car is probably the best it could be. Then again, that's like Cleveland Browns fans being relieved their team didn't go 0-16 last year when they eeked out that one win over the Chargers. 

To further illustrate how miserable an automobile this is, the car that replaced is perhaps the "least good" family sedan on the market today. That's saying something because that car is actually a very nice automobile. Despite being handsome and intelligently designed inside and out, though, it falls short on certain metrics that differentiate a good car from a great car. And with cars today being as generally spectacular as they are, there's no place for anything that's anything less than fantastic. Where does that leave this car? "Who the hell would buy that"? is where it's at. That's where. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

1965 Sunbeam Tiger - Mauled At First Site

I don't recall when or how it was that I was first mauled by a Sunbeam Tiger but it was probably at a car show back on Long Island in the mid 1980's. I had never seen anything quite like it before let alone heard of one and having a thing two for off beat, quirky, less than perfectly designed, purpose built automobiles it was love at first sight. I still have trouble looking past those vestigial tail fins that look like they were lobbed off "My Old Man's '61 Rambler". Despite that, the Sunbeam Tiger is still a favorite of mine and I found our 1965 subject on ebay with bidding at more than $49,000 at the time I wrote this. And the reserve had not been met. Nice to know there are people like me who feel the same way about these cars.  

"Sunbeam" was a small, independent, British manufacturer of automobiles and motorcycles that was acquired by the British manufacturing conglomerate "The Rootes Group" in 1936. In 1953, Sunbeam introduced a diminutive two passenger touring car they dubbed, "Alpine". The Sunbeam Alpine went through several iterations up until the early 1960's and all of them had one nagging little problem; they were woefully under powered. In a market that was becoming more and more crowded with similar fare that was, arguably, more handsome, the little Alpine needed a good kick in its bonnet to stay competitive. 

Despite their abhorrence to performance cars, executives at The Rootes Group acknowledged that adding more power to the Alpine would give it something its competitors, save for the AC Cobra, didn't have; the ability to accelerate quickly. With that, they consulted with Carroll Shelby who recommended the installation of the same 260 cubic inch Ford Windsor V-8 that transformed the AC Ace into the AC Cobra. The "little" Ford engine fit perfectly in the Alpine thanks to its size and the fact that its distributor was in front of the carburetor and air cleaner rather than behind it. Note that there's no room for the distributor behind the air cleaner on our subject car. While certainly no rocket booster, the 164 horsepower Ford engine, which developed roughly twice the horsepower of the Sunbeam Alpine's tiny in line four cylinder engines, was able to vastly improve performance of the Sunbeam Alpine. Ford Windsor V-8 powered Alpines were dubbed, "Tiger". 

On line auctions are a good bell weather as to the value of something and the retina searing amount of money our little '65 here is commanding tells us that Sunbeam Tigers are worth their weight in rubber. Or red paint. Fifty plus years later, Sunbeam Tigers are, for arguments sake, as valuable as Porsches and Jaguars of the same vintage. Which, when you think about it, is absolutely, dare I say, absurd. 

Absurd because this is, let's be honest, an awkwardly styled automobile. Triumph's TR4 and TR5 from this era are far better balanced designs. The after market wheels and tires helping to add some much needed butch and it sure looks as though some wheel spacers have been added up front to help out handling. But oh, those tailfins. Make it stop. 

What those handsome Triumph's never had though, was the direct or indirect breath of Carroll Shelby bestowing a Ford Windsor V-8 in it. That's what makes Sunbeam Tigers as precious as they are. 

And you either get that or you don't. No sense explaining it either if you don't. Understanding that helps one appreciate everyting that's wrong with this car. The tailfins, the awkward proportions, the clumsy, lazy styling. Look at that top. Are they kidding? No, they're not and it's one of many things that makes a Sunbeam Tiger a Tiger and not an Alpine. 

Here's the listing if you're interested. Good luck and happy bidding. Oh, and if you win the auction, happy explaining to everyone what it is exactly you just dropped all that money on. Email me if you need help. Cheers.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

1965 Ford Mustang Fastback 2+2 - Visceral Appeal

I don't see what so many people find appealing about 1964 1/2 - 1966 Mustangs. The similarly themed musings from General Motors, albeit several years late to the stable, I find to be far stronger designs. Even the tarted up 1964 Plymouth Valiant Chrysler called "Barracuda", a car incidentally that beat the Mustang to the pony car punch by some two weeks, I find to be a far better design. However, my disdain for Mustangs goes out the proverbial windshield when the Mustang we're discussing are 1965-66 Mustang Fastback 2+2's. Our somewhat clumsily and over restored subject is a 1965.

I could embarrass myself metaphorically gushing over how viscerally appealing I find these cars but I won't. These cars, even woe-be-gone six cylinder models like our subject here in "you've got to be kidding me" red elicits my deepest of deep throated muffled grunts of approval. This is a good looking car. Wonky rear suspension, white wall tires, red paint, wheel covers and all.

Contemporary road test reviews of the first Mustangs were anything but flattering of anything but the way the cars looked. Crudeness and primitive dynamics aside, the original Mustang sold in droves because Ford marketed the bejeezus out of it prior to it's launch in April 1964. Rock bottom pricing had a lot to do with these things flying out of dealerships as well. Combine good looks, a boat load of marketing, cheap stucker prices and a perfect timed launch what with "Baby Boomers" coming of age and Ford it's no wonder Ford had a geyser on the hood of its fancy Falcon.  Not my cup of tea, mind you, but much like begrudgingly giving due respect to a sports team you're not a fan of, I can understand the appeal of the 1964 1/2 "notchback" Mustangs. The Fastback 2+2, which came on stage for 1965, again, a different story completely.

Now, had these cars had at least a modicum of European handling prowess, like a Ford 260 V-8 powered Sunbeam Tiger of similar vintage, and I might have less disdain for them. As such, they're little more than a flashy tissue box of pretense. The Fastback 2+2 just a much better looking tissue box than the notchback models. 

Would one of these find its way into my mid '60's fantasy garage? Perhaps. But over my dead body would it be one with the base, 240 cubic inch in line six. Remarkable that there's even one of these left still running let alone one slathered with in fresh coats of Ford engine blue. How fun would this thing be with an '80's vintage 5.0 HO engine down there? 

Styling wise, the Ford Mustang Fastback 2+2 was a looker from every angle. Even if this car is saddled with that boat anchor six up front. All fluff, no stuff. Great looking fluff nonetheless but still, fluff. 

Said fluff coming with an admirable amount of practicality. Although, I can't believe that anyone would buy this car because of its fold down rear seat and easy access cargo area. I'm sure there were though. Note that Ford's gas tank filler pipe is behind the rear fascia and not a protrusion into the trunk/cargo area like on the Plymouth Barracuda of this vintage. 

The term ergonomics hadn't been coined in the 1960's but contemporary road test reviewers also skewered the interior design of these cars. That massive steering wheel necessitated by the lack of power steering in some of these cars like our subject here. Sparse instrumentation a function of the car's low sticker price. Note how far away that shifter is too. Don't long for one of these cars thinking the driving experience is going to be sublime. 

General Motors laid in wait and sorted out many of the issues of the original Mustang by the time they launched their game changing Camaro and Firebird for 1967. Not coincidentally, the first year that Ford addressed many of the original Mustang's shortcomings too. Plymouth retooled Barracuda for 1967 as well transforming into a most elegant and very viscerally appealing automobile. While I find the Camaro and Firebird far better designs and are actually better cars than the early Mustangs, they don't hold a candle to the visceral appeal of the 1965-66 Ford Mustang Fastback 2+2. Grunt.