Sunday, April 12, 2020

The American Ride

I ran across this short film by Motorsports Molly, it kind of has an American Graffiti vibe to it. I thought it was very cool, check it out...

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

FranktoidTM No. 21 - Cancellations are now a Pandemic

As I write this from my isolated room, on my freshly disinfected keyboard, sipping herbal tea laced with honey and self quarantined in my house, I can't help but wonder what is next? I just received an email that a car show I was registered for in early April has been cancelled. Another notification said this upcoming weekend's Cars and Coffee was also cancelled. The more I looked, the more was cancelled. Nascar, cancelled. Long Beach Grand Prix, cancelled. Monaco Grand Prix, cancelled. NHRA, cancelled. Supercross, cancelled. I could go on and on but I think anyone reading this knows the impact that COVID-19 is having globally. Is it fear or precaution that is driving us? Whatever it is, it's having a heck of an affect and is starting to concern me to the point of worry.

We all have a front row seat in this and are witnessing unprecedented events that are unfolding all around us. From collapsing financial markets to the closing of restaurants and everything in-between, it's the stuff of nightmares. Some folks blame the media, some blame the man in the White House, and others simply blame mankind. With all the finger pointing it is easy to forget what is most important - you.

We are all in this together. I was really hoping that people could put aside their political differences as this pandemic wanes on but there are more then a few individuals that are showing their true colors. Even worse, there are subhumans taking advantage of people during this time. Currently things are very fluid and there are a lot of uncertainties and unknowns, like the future of my job. What I do know is that we will get through this, I don't know exactly when, but we will, although there is likely to be more cancellations before we do.

I wish all of my readers the best of health. Please stay healthy and lets fight this together, and if it turns out to be a big nothing burger, then at least we didn't throw caution to the wind. With a little luck and a lot of faith maybe we can cancel this virus!

Saturday, February 15, 2020

North Main - Chapter Two

Shortly after my shenanigans with my sister's Mustang I was told that I was not allowed to drive it anymore. This was probably for the best as I had also recently performed my own testing with the car to see if it would actually do 160 MPH, because that was what the speedometer maxed out at. I mean, why would they put it on there if the car wouldn't do it, right? At least that was my thinking at the time as best as I can recall. I decided to conduct my test on a long stretch of a two lane road that was buried back in the orange groves near my house. It only had one stop sign and that was towards the end of the road where it made a sharp right. Staging the car at the opposite end of this road, I did absolutely nothing to prepare for my top end speed test. Tire pressure checked? Nope. Lug nut torque? Nope. Engine oil level? Why? I did check the fuel gauge prior to departing and managed to put $3.75 worth of gas in the tank. I was also very safety conscience and actually used my lap belt. What could go wrong with bias ply tires and manual drum brakes? I think I was reading too much Mad Magazine because Alfred E. Neuman was definitely having a negative influence on me. What, me worry?

In the end my top speed test was successful, sort of. I did manage to bury the speedometer needle at the 160 MPH mark, or at least that was where it was bouncing to. I know I was well over 100 MPH and was fixated on the speedometer, and not the road ahead, when I suddenly realized that I was very quickly running out of road. That stop sign was coming up faster than a Japanese bullet train and I needed to get that Mustang stopped now! Luckily I did not panic and mash down on the brakes, but rather I slowing starting braking at first and gradually increased my pedal pressure. The only problem was that I wasn't really slowing down, at least not as quickly as I had envisioned. I could now clearly see the stop sign ahead of me, glowing red in color, almost as if by anger. Why wasn't I stopping? More pedal pressure, then more pressure, then with both feet pressing for dear life on the pedal. I witnessed a car drive across the road at the stop sign ahead, the very same stop sign that I was barreling towards! The interior of the Mustang reeked of hot brakes and I was pulling on the steering wheel with my hands so I could exert even more leg pressure on the brakes. Suddenly both rear tires locked simultaneously and the car started to skid like it's on ice, right through the stop sign! I swear it happened in slow motion because I could totally see the stop sign to my right as the Mustang seemed to slowly skid past it. Stopped at the intersection was a nondescript Plymouth of some sort. I could clearly see the driver's angry scowl on his face as I skidded through it. Ours eyes locked for a second and I saw his squint a little, and then I noticed the white collar and black shirt. He was a priest! Not only was I going to die but I was going to hell as well!

The Priest in the Plymouth continued on his journey, probably upset that I had caused him to take the Lord's name in vain, but unfazed. I wish I could have said the same for me. Remember what I said earlier about the road making a sharp right? Well, the Mustang ended up skidding through that turn and straight into a dirt berm. As luck would have it the stang ended up mostly climbing up the berm. I say mostly because that bit of off-roading did not come without some consequences. After rolling off of the dirt hill backwards I finally brought the car to a complete stop and quickly got out to assess the damage. To my enormous relief all that I noticed, besides the stench of hot brakes, was a bent front bumper. The bumper was actually still fairly straight horizontally but was bent vertically at an upward angle. With smoke still coming off of the brakes I fired the engine back up and headed for home, too full of adrenaline to be scared over what had just transpired. As I was driving home the adrenaline started to wear off and was quickly replaced by fear. How the heck was I going to explain the bent front bumper? My sister would be livid! My dad would be pissed! I would be in big trouble!

It has been reported that people in fear for their lives can suddenly sum up super human strength. That is what I needed to straighten out that front bumper, or did I? Maybe all that was needed was super human thinking because as I was taking the long way home, in hopes of coming up with a good excuse, an idea suddenly popped into my head. I quickly made a detour to a local parking garage and after a brief search found the exact parking spot that I was thinking about. The space in question had a large, low cement out cropping that created a pocket of sorts at the head of the parking spot. I would see cars nosed in there, the concrete hovering only a foot or so above their hood. This would be perfect for my idea! I figured that if a bumper jack worked from the ground up, it should also work from the ceiling down.  Do you see where I'm going here? With the Mustang nosed into that spot I pulled the jack assembly out of the trunk and proceeded to use it on the front bumper, upside down! That low, concrete overhang worked perfectly. I had to move the jack around to a few different spots on the bumper to get it even, but before long that front bumper was just about as straight as it had been before my "accident". Thinking about it now, it's kind of funny how I was so worried about the front bumper when I probably also boiled the brake fluid and crystallized the brake shoes from heat. Ignorance is bliss...

Now that the Mustang was off-limits to me and my dad was driving the only other cool vehicle we owned, the Datsun mini truck, I was left with the family station wagon to drive to school. It was either that or take the bus! My jonesing for my own car continued and was made even worse after I had went for a ride in my best friends 1967 Pontiac GTO. It originally was his dad's car that had been carefully stored in his grandfather's garage for years and then was given to my friend Duane on his 16th birthday. The goat was equipped with a 400 cubic inch V-8 and a Muncie 4 speed transmission. Just what every 16 year old needs, right? Well on this particular ride along Duane had just finished installing a tri-power carburetor setup on the goat. This time it was me riding shotgun as we took off down the street, slowly at first, and then Duane mashes down on the gas pedal and starts rowing through the gears on the Muncie. As he revs the Pontiac big block dangerously toward the tach's red line, I was suddenly transported back in time to when I was riding in my cousin's Camaro, as the g forces pulled me once again mercilessly into the black vinyl bucket seat. Just like when I was 10 years old that feeling of raw horsepower overtook me and left me wanting more. The roar of the big block V-8, the shifting, and the multiple carbs! I could actually hear the carburetors sucking air or maybe that was me trying to catch my breath... It is hard to put into words all the emotions that are felt but if you have ever been in that situation you know the feelings I am trying to convey. After this thrill ride I vowed to somehow procure my own ride come hell or high water.

 I begrudgingly drove the station wagon to school daily and parked it in the back parking lot as far away from everything as possible. Now I know some wagons can be cool but this one was the farthest thing from cool and big enough to hold a baseball team. My family just happened to own one of the largest vehicles General Motors ever made, a 1970 Chevrolet Kingswood Estate station wagon. Heck, even the name is long! This thing was a tank and built like one also. Optioned with a 400 cubic inch engine, a TH400 transmission, and a third row seat, it rode on a 1/2 ton truck suspension and also used the brakes and rims from the same. To make matters worse, it also had a luggage rack on the roof and stickers on the rear side windows from all the states we had traveled to in it. And, for a finishing touch, a "Have You Dug Wall Drug?" sticker was plastered on the rear bumper. If this were not enough incentive to get my own car, I don't know what was. As it turned out I would not have to drive this bulging behemoth for too long as I had recently spotted a very cool looking car in my neighborhood that I was hoping I could talk the owner into selling to me, but I was about to discover that I was not the only one looking at this particular vehicle...

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.