Wednesday, January 22, 2020

North Main - Chapter One

My first real performance car that I rode in was my Cousin Mike's 1972 Chevy Camaro Z/28. If I remember correctly I was about 10 years old and didn't know squat about cars. My cousin was in the Navy, stationed in Southern California, and had just bought a bright red Z/28. It was equipped with the optional LT1 350 small block V-8 and a Muncie M-22 "rock crusher" 4-speed manual transmission. While on leave he drove it to our house and offered to take my dad for spin. When Mike asked me if I wanted to go I couldn't say "heck yeah" fast enough! I thought this was so cool. A chance to hang out with the guys and listen as they talked car stuff. I could have smelled the testosterone in the air if I even knew what that was back then. As all three of us walked out of the house and towards the car it was suddenly happening in slow motion for me, like in the movie Armageddon when the astronauts are walking to the space capsule. My first ride in a muscle car and I couldn't wait!

Before the ride began my cousin went over the finer points of his new ride which included popping the hood and showing off the engine compartment. Typical Navy guy, all technical and knowledgeable. My dad and him talked mechanical Russian, as in I didn't understand a thing, so I just stood there and pretended to understand. After what seemed like a Catholic High Mass the mechanical tour was over and we were ready to take "the drive". Dad was riding shotgun so I was regulated to the back seat. Sitting back there on the recessed seat cushion behind a high back bucket seat, I really couldn't see anything, so I scooted over and sat on the hump in the middle of the back seats. To this day I can still see the shifter vividly in my mind - a brushed aluminum Hurst T-handle on a shiny chrome lever poking out of the center console. A mesmerizing site of pure mechanical brawn for a 10 year old. When my cousin fired up the engine my ears heard the sweet sound of mechanical lifters for the first time in my young life. Of course I had no clue what was making that watch-like ticking sound, all I knew was that I liked it. Notching the manual transmission into first gear, Mike slipped out the clutch and the Camaro lurched forward eagerly. As my cousin rowed through the gears on the 4 speed, my eyes were fixated on the tach, watching the red hand sweep the face back and forth. My ears were filled with a combination of the throaty exhaust and the legendary wine of the Muncie transmission. The shifting, the tach, and the revving of the engine all combined was almost hypnotic. The faster he went, the harder I was being pulled backwards into the seat as the G-forces took over completely and held me prisoner against the black vinyl. That feeling of raw horsepower was unreal and unlike anything I had ever felt before. The whole experience ruined me forever as I was now obsessed with muscle cars!

Soon I started noticing muscle cars all over. Super Sport Chevelles, Novas, GTOs, 442s, and a few that I did not recognize but they looked awesome. On one Saturday I was walking up the street to my friend Ken's house when I spotted one of the coolest cars I had ever seen. Sitting in Ken's driveway was an orange '56 Chevy 2 door sedan with mag wheels and a perfect, sinister looking stance. On the rear quarter panels the name "sandman" was painted in gold leaf. This was my beginning of a love affair for tri-fives that I still have to this day. I found out the wicked looking 56 belonged to their gardener and after that I use to see it around town with a mower sticking out of the trunk!   

Although I was hopelessly hooked on horsepower it would be quite a few years before I owned anything even close to what I had experienced with my cousin's car. The first V-8 powered car that I actually drove was my sister's 1966 Ford Mustang. It was only a two barrel 289 with a C4 automatic transmission but it looked pretty good with it's U.S. Indy slot mags and blue paint. Equipped with Cherry Bomb glasspacks, the engine sounded faster then it actually was. It was a huge step up from an anemic 1300cc 4 cylinder Datsun pickup, which was what I happened to be driving after I got my drivers license. Remember what I said earlier about cruising being a precursor to racing? Well, one fateful Saturday night I was doing just that - cruising, in my sister's Mustang. I had just called it a night and had gotten on the freeway to head home when a couple of guys in a 71 or 72  Mustang Mach 1 pulled up in the lane next to me on the freeway and started goosing the throttle. I could hear the roar of the Mach 1's engine over my high winding 289, but it didn't intimidate me. Heck, I didn't know enough yet for it to intimidate me! Before too long the passenger was shouting out his window at me, "North Main!" Another words, if I wanted to race, meet them there. Not quite knowing what to expect, I quickly exited the freeway and headed towards North Main.

At this point in my young life I had cruised quite a bit and of course heard about all the street racing at North Main. I had even ventured down there to watch a few times in the aforementioned Datsun mini truck, but this was the very first time I was going there to actually race! I was excited beyond words and nervous as hell. As I exited the freeway and headed up the long stretch of North Main Street, I could see the parking lights of all the cars up in the distance, parked on both sides of the street. Approaching the end of the line of cars, I promptly pulled over and parked. I didn't even get to shut off the engine when the driver of the Mach 1 pulled up and signaled me to go over to the starting line which had just cleared. As I was heading towards the line I stopped before I got to it and attempted to do a huge burnout to heat up both my rear tires, or so I thought. Whereas my burnout consisted of a single skinny line of  Firestone G-70-14 rubber, the Mach 1 laid down two healthy lines of rubber as only a Ford 9 inch Detroit Locker with pos-a-traction torque twister tires can do. Suddenly there I was at the starting line with a very healthy sounding Mach 1 next to me. What the hell was I thinking? My sister's small block equipped Mustang was no match for this big block brute! When down track was clear the starter turned and gave us the signal to stage. The Mach 1 was holding his brakes and loading his torque converter big time as I could hear his engine over mine. My engine was just idling as I was waiting for the signal to go. Quick as a flash the starters hands were down and I mashed the gas pedal to the floor. The 289 revs quick and I was manually shifting the C4 trans, so as soon as the tires started to loose traction I shifted up into 2nd gear. Lacking the engine torque to continue to spin the tires through 2nd gear, my Mustang just hooked up and took off like a rocket. My competitor in the Mach 1 was not so lucky. As soon as he released the brake his tires went up in smoke. Realizing his predicament he immediately up-shifted only to be foiled by the outrageous torque of his big block Ford. As he continued to smoked his tires down the track and loose traction, I was pulling farther away. I will never forget that feeling when I crossed the finish line and realized that I had won. To say I was on a mechanical high would have been an understatement! More then a few people that evening were surprised to see I had beat that particular big block Mustang, but none more then me! 

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

North Main - Prologue

A note from Frank: Just over a year ago, in November 2018, I posted that I would be sharing with you the first chapters of a book I am writing called North Main. As 2019 comes to a close and without further ado, I present to you the first chapter of my book:

My generation was the very last of the Baby Boomers, and as such I grew up in the 60's and 70's. It was 1980 when I started driving and muscle cars were cheap and plentiful. I had a good job at one of Southern California's largest independent auto parts stores plus I still lived at home. Consequently, there was a constant revolving door of cars in my parent's driveway (much to my mother's dismay) and fixing them up just came natural to me. Much like someone that takes to a musical instrument at an early age, I was very adept at working on vehicles. As long as I can remember I was always curious about how things worked and was very mechanically inclined. Combine that with a appetite for V-8 engines, add in the lack of local drag racing facilities (yes, even back then), some friendly rivalry, and you have a recipe for trouble.

The trouble I'm referring to is cruising and street racing. As bad as some folks think it is, street racing was just another part of growing up for me. It's not that the "events" were any safer or any less crowded, but perhaps a bit more organized as they were held in a dedicated spot and not just anywhere or at anytime. In all the years that I followed street racing, I cannot recall any deaths from it, and only one solo wreck. Sure, there were a few close calls, but that was because of the drivers being idiots. There seemed to be more potential for trouble if you went cruising, and cruising was usually the precursor to that night's street racing, so it just happened that I was part of the cruise scene also. Cruising was absolutely huge during this period in So Cal. In my neck of the woods if you were not cruising Market Street in Riverside you were on the infamous E street in San Bernardino. Cruisers came from all over, some just to cruise, some to race, and others to make trouble.

The trouble makers were almost always from out of town, drunk or stoned, and there would usually be two of them. If they didn't try and use their fists, they would brandish tire irons, baseball bats, and once I even saw a handgun. I can still see a fight that took place right in front of me in a fast food drive thru line! Like I said, there was more potential for trouble if you were cruising.   

Back when we street raced, there were no look outs, police scanners, two-way radios, or any other stuff like what is portrayed by Hollywood. When I first started attending the races, Police presence was sporadic. We figured most of their resources were consumed with all the cruisers, giving them tickets for being to low, having tinted glass, too loud of exhaust, and my personal favorite - exhibition of speed. (for chirping your tires!) We gathered far away from homes and people on a stretch of road known as North Main. By the time it was all over, anybody who was anyone in street racing knew about North Main. The bulk of my "experience" happened there and it became a very popular place to race, but it was this popularity that eventually got the undivided attention of the local Police. I witnessed Police raids, blockades, and even car chases as the authorities cracked down on us "juvenile delinquents".

You could find me almost every Saturday night cruising Market Street and then eventually ending up at North Main. I was not a huge player on the street racing scene, but I knew a few who were. My primary role was as an observer or occasionally as a wrench, as I worked on a few of the faster cars back in the day. I also had a keen eye and would often scope out the competition prior to a race. Now-a-days nitrous is bragged about and shown off almost to excess, but back then if you were on "laughing gas" you generally hid it from prying eyes. Some guys went to extreme measures to hide their N2O systems, but I would generally be able to spot them. Here is a brief list of some of the other items I would check for: the unique smell of av-gas in the fuel tank, plexi glass windows instead of factory safety glass, gutted interiors replaced with sheet metal, racing slicks, ladder bars and other full race stuff. Most of the cars were true street cars, but towards the end things were getting so crazy that full blown race cars on trailers started showing up. For me, that was the beginning of the end.

How long street racing has been around and how dangerous it is has been debated quite a bit, with pros and cons on both sides of the fence. Street racing has been portrayed many different ways in the movies, media, and on the internet, with the vast majority of those portrayals being completely fictional. We all know street racing is unlawful, but this is not a debate about weather you think it's a good or bad idea. The story that is about to unfold here probably won't change anyone's opinion on the subject either. Rather, it is a first hand account of street racing and the cruise scene in the early 80's, as I witnessed it. So regardless of what you might have read in the past or what movies you may have seen, this is the real deal. So sit back, buckle up, and lets go for a ride...

Monday, December 30, 2019

It's a Given

The other day I was working on my '56 Chevy "Time Warp" and was preparing to mount my old school Carver stereo amplifier in the trunk area. I decided it would be best to mount it on a piece of wood instead of directly to the metal, so I sauntered over to my work shed where I keep all my wood working stuff. After rifling through a few stacks of good used wood, I procured a piece that would work nicely. After some minor trimming and smoothing of the edges I perused my collection of hardware to find just the right length screws to attach everything. It was at that moment that I realized how convenient it was to have these extra items at my fingertips, as most people would have to stop, make a trip to their local hardware store, purchase wood, spray paint and fasteners, then get back home to start again and hope they didn't forget anything.

I guess I really never thought about it before because for me it was always this way. Growing up, my father's garage and basement was a literal hardware store. Lumber, nails, screws, paint, iron pipe fittings, tools, electrical switches, and even a kitchen sink! If I needed something chances were good that I would find it out in his garage. To the casual observer my dad's garage probably looked like a collection of junk. There was a labyrinth of skinny pathways that weaved their way throughout the garage. It was here that I discovered and developed my ability to visually recall items that I had seen previously, albeit only briefly, due to the fact that none of it was organized. One might say it was developed out of shear necessity but whatever the reason it has served me well throughout my work careers.

Nowadays folks like my father are called "hoarders", which is just a newer term for the old "pack rat" label or the more mellow "junk collector". My dad grew up during The Great Depression so that might have had something to do with his "saving" tendencies and the fact that he did not want to throw away anything that was still usable or good. He was a true jack-of-all-trades. One might say that he was repurposing stuff before the term was even used. Although I am a lot more organized then my dad was I do have a problem throwing away good used parts. I sell a few here and there but some of the stuff you can't even give away. People would rather just buy brand new, a few swipes on their phone or a few clicks of the mouse and before you know it, there it is on your doorstep. So much for environmental sustainability.

Maybe it was the way I grew up but I don't feel complete unless I have these "extras" around that I can utilize when needed. I think the challenge is maintaining an even balance of this stuff so you do not get overwhelmed, or worse, get labeled a hoarder. Of course it helps that I can repair almost anything, or at least try. This concept seems to be totally lost on the newer generations. For me, it's a given.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Getting Grilled

I received an captivating email last month from an author asking if I was interested in reviewing his latest book. As I perused the email I soon discovered that it was an automotive related book, and one about classic cars to boot! Right up my alley to say the least so I was really anticipating checking it out.

The book in question is titled Great Grilles of the '50s written by Mark Misercola and Hank Kaczmarek. In brief, I was told that it is "a coffee table retrospective that provides the stories behind the designs of some of the most iconic front grilles from Detroit’s golden era of design, including the 1953 Olds Fiesta, 1952 Packard Caribbean, 1957 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer and the ‘57 DeSoto Fireflite. It also has a chapter on Dagmar bumpers." What I actually discovered was a whole lot more...

First off, this is not one of those outlandishly sized coffee table books that is almost the size of the table! In my humble opinion, it is perfectly sized and also fits well in my book shelf, not that it is going to be there anytime soon. The vast majority of the photographs are color with the few exceptions being the period black and whites. Don't let the title fool you either, this is not just a compilation of classic automobile grilles. In between the hardback covers, the pages are chocked full of information pertaining to each model, from "Fast Facts" and a "Grille Tech Sheet", to options and current values. There is even a paint code/color chart for each car! How cool is that? I have a feeling that this book is going to take up permanent residence on my coffee table.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book! Plus, it also doubles as a great reference for facts and figures on the particular cars. This is a must have for every collector car enthusiast old and young alike and you can order your very own copy by clicking right HERE.

After you get your copy and before you get too absorbed in it, turn to page 49. Gracing that page is my favorite photo in the book and a car that is on my personal bucket list, a 1959 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer. This car is a rolling piece of virtual art that would have Charles Phoenix, the Ambassador of Americana, saying: "Yes ladies and gentlemen, this is the all new for 1959 Custom Royal Lancer by Dodge, behold the glory!" Special thanks to Mark Misercola for contacting me about his book and M.T. Publishing Company for providing the copy.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Russia Collusion is Alive and Well

BREAKING NEWS: Frank's Classic Car Blog indicted on multiple counts of Russian collusion, Amberlight Garage seized for evidence!

Yes folks it's true, I was caught "red" handed, no Soviet pun intended. The counts in question are the top 15 and number 2 to be specific. There is also email evidence, so I suppose the warehouse housing my massive, liquid cooled servers will also be seized! But before you go believing this fake news, let me explain first.

I received an interesting email earlier this month from a Russian bot... er, I mean from a web site Project Manager. The agent, oops, I mean the Manager informed me that Frank's Classic Car Blog has been included for Russia's Top 15 Most Popular Car Blogs. See, there is the 15 reference. But what about the number 2 you ask? Well good readers, that is where this very blog placed on their hit list. Did I say hit list? I meant list, just plain list...

Apparently the new home of the Amberlight Garage

Friday, March 1, 2019

FranktoidTM No. 20 - If Books Could Talk

What if books could talk? I'm not talking audio books here, but pulp and ink, hold in your hands physical books. With the ever increasing popularity of the internet one might think that print is dead, but I am here to tell you that it is nowhere near being put in a pine box. I have to admit I am a bit of a bibliophile when it come to automotive books. My love for ink on paper lies between vintage vehicle repair manuals and collector car reference books, but just about anything automotive gets my attention. I was lucky enough to score a first edition Motor's Manual recently in almost perfect condition.

Because books are so physical I think they have more meaning then something you would read electronically. Case in point, addressing a book to someone or writing a personal greeting in it. I usually check the inner flap of books that I am interested in and occasionally there will be something written in there. What a person has written can really make you stop and think. Was this someone's favorite book or a gift? Did the owner pass away and it was donated? Were they even aware that something was written in it? These personalized words are pieces of a puzzle that will never be completed but they were all somebody's property at one time and obviously meant something to them. If that book could talk, what would it say?
Words are simplistically powerful.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Every Car Has a Story

When I bought my current project vehicle, a '56 Chevy I refer to as "Time Warp", the story I got was that it had been sitting for decades. From the minimal information that I received, it went something like this: original owner passes away, car is left as-is in a garage for decades, nobody in the family wants it, wife finally decided to sell it. I knew it had a back story and I wanted to find out what it was. People make a lot of memories with their cars and they don't always sell them because they want to. Have you ever wondered if your classic ride was somebody's wedding car? Maybe it transported a significant other to the hospital for the birth of their first child? Was it someone's dream car or perhaps their very first vehicle? There are many possibilities but one thing remains constant - they were part of someones life.

I can vividly remember my blue 1969 Chevelle Malibu, almost every detail of it. One constant memory of this car was right after I had installed a radical 396 big block in it. It was during the summer and I had just got the swap completed on a Saturday evening. In my haste to get it on the road I just bolted some mufflers right to the header collectors. This big block sounded loud and wicked! What better way to test it then to go cruising, so that is exactly what I did. My Chevelle also had a pretty decent sound system and I will never forget the song that I had blasting over my stereo when I made the right turn to get into the Gemco parking lot where everyone was hanging out. The song was Working For The Weekend by Loverboy and every time I hear it, it takes me back to that evening. Isn't it funny how music can do that by triggering our memories and transport us back in time? Music and memories go hand in hand, some happy and some sad. Sometimes though, it is just the vehicle that triggers your memories, no song required. Case in point for me was one late summer evening around 1991. I am leaving work at the auto parts store and as I am walking out into the parking lot, I see this beautiful blond that I had recently met sitting on my car's fender waiting for me. Although I did not know it at the time, the gorgeous gal marring my Chevelle's paint finish would soon become my wife.

 I wish I knew more of the story on my '56 Chevy. I did find out that it was the car that the previous owner's daughter had learned to drive a stick shift in. That's always a cool memory for our generation and I am sure she remembers it well. Do you remember what vehicle you learned to operate a clutch in? Mine was a 1967 Datsun pickup. I went to the city dump with my dad and we had just finished unloading our junk out of it. He was sweeping the bed out and asked me to move the truck forward a little bit, while he was standing in the back! I don't know what he was thinking because up to that point I had never operated a clutch before. I think I was like 14 or 15 and I had watched him drive plenty of times (dad was a truck driver) but watching and doing are two completely different things. I remember stalling the engine out a few times before he patiently instructed me on how to slip the clutch. I managed to creep the truck forward without knocking him off of his feet so I guess I was successful. After I turned 16 and got my driver's license he taught me how to drive a big rig. Talk about confusing, my first time behind the wheel was in an old Mack with a Triplex transmission which included a twin stick Brownie box. My father was a master at driving and shifting these mechanical marvels and it is an experience I will never forget. Every car has a story, does yours?