Thursday, December 1, 2011

FranktoidTM No. 5 - America: Made in China?

The other day I was having lunch at an American restaurant, located in an American city, with a very distinct American theme. While I was mowing down my American cheeseburger, I overheard some lawyer looking types talking in the booth next to me. They were worried about the current global debt crisis and the impact it could potentially have on the American economy. When one of them said the largest single holder of U.S. government debt was China, with 26 percent of all foreign-held U.S. Treasury securities, I was shocked. I know 26 percent might not seem like a huge percentage to everyone, but let me put this in perspective.

Some of the most recent studies put the total of imported Chinese goods that are sold in America at less then 3 percent! I know, it's hard to believe. (I think 2.7 percent was the exact figure)  Now I don't know about you, but it seems like everywhere I look all I see is "made in China". Take the MiC (Made in China) challenge yourself. The next time you go to the store check the items in your cart. I'll bet at least 99% of it is MiC. Getting back to the perspective part, if all the acres of MiC stuff that I see are only pegged at 2.7%, that 26% mentioned earlier now looks ginormous.

Not that there is anything wrong with Chinese goods. After all, this is America, land of the free, home of the brave and the First Amendment. Nothing says America like baseball, Chevrolet, and apple pie, right? Judge for yourself. I snapped the following pictures at the American themed restaurant I was at. It also purportedly had some of the best apple pie around. I just hope it wasn't made in China...

Nothing says "American" like a flag made from baseballs...

Unless the baseballs are made in China!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

FranktoidTM No. 4 - From Hybrid Cars To Solar Powered Homes, What's Next?

By now, everyone has either seen or read about hybrid vehicles. Weather it's gasoline/electric or pure battery powered, folks seem ready to accept these vehicles as the next generation of personal transportation. While they haven't perfected the solar powered car yet, the solar powered home is a reality and available to almost everyone. With battery technology advancing in leaps and bounds, it makes you wonder what's next on the horizon. Well, would you believe a battery powered building? That's right, a commercial building that has been converted to run off of batteries.

What I believe is the first building on the West Coast (and maybe in the United States) to be battery powered, Winston Chung Hall is located on the University of California, Riverside Campus. Named after the billionaire entrepreneur and businessman Winston Chung, this research facility now houses some of the most advanced batteries in the world. Inside sources confirm that only the first floor of the building will initially be battery powered, with the other floors to be added at a later date pending further battery installations as determined for power usage.

For all the tech hungry people out there, here are some specs on the power source. First off, these ain't your grandfather's golf cart batteries. They were developed and manufactured by Winston Global Energy, which also makes electric taxis (currently for use in Europe) and a state-of-the-art electric R.V. chassis. The buildings battery pack boasts 330 batteries producing a total of 1.1 megawatt hours. Each unit is 1000 amp hour, yttrium-iron sulfate construction. Projected power demand reduction is 185 kw at a savings of $22,000 per year. Now I know what you're thinking, these things must be massive, right? To quote Frank the Pug from the movie Men In Black: "You humans. When are you gonna learn that size doesn't matter? Just 'cause somethings important, doesn't mean it's not very, very small." I think Winston took the pug's advice, as you will see in these exclusive photos.

Your looking at 40 feet of batteries in a standard hallway.

Here is a close-up of the battery packs. They look like giant Lego blocks...

These are the massive transfer switches that will handle the switching from the grid to battery power and vise-versa.

This is the power inverter that is exclusive to this system.

This is one of the European all electric taxis. It's even right hand drive! That's an all electric big rig in the background.

Here are both taxis that were on display. These were not small and looked very roomy.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Barnquest - One Guys Search For The Elusive Barnifus Findicus

I am going on a vision quest, an adventure, a walkabout, a mission from God, all in an attempt to find the Barnifus Findicus; otherwise known as the "Barn Find". More elusive then a Chupacabra, an authentic Barnifus Findicus is a rare find as they are generally hidden from view their entire life. Many folks are fooled by imitations falsely disguised to look like it, and the latest trend of locating barn finds, crudely resurrecting, and then driving them in all their patinaed glory isn't helping much either. Armed with fresh cash from a recent vehicle sale, I set out to find this elusive beast.

Technically, there are not many barns in Southern California, so locating an actual "barn find" here would be akin to finding the Holy Grail. I am hoping to find a car that has been languishing in a garage for a couple of decades or more, but I would probably settle for a vehicle that has been somebodies yard art and is ensconced with weeds. At first I will concentrate on a sub-species of Barnifus Findicus known as Bigius Ponticus (full size Pontiac), but I will also keep my eye out for a Largus Oldsmobilus. If I'm really lucky I might even spot a Giganticus Moparus!

Short of canvassing the entire countryside block by block to locate my prize, I had to utilize a more systematic approach to my search. My plan was simple, I would just ASK - as in Ask Someone you Know! Ok, technically thats "asyk", but that word doesn't exist. Actually, looking at it spelled out, "asyk" almost works... maybe. Anyways, no sooner then I had put the word out that I was looking for bottomless money pit, err, I mean project car, the leads started flowing in. Of particular interest was a 60's something Plymouth that I got a lead on from work. The story went that the owner had bought his house 15 plus years ago and the Mopar was in the garage. Apparently it came with the sale of the house and supposedly had been in there since the late 70's. I got the contact information and started calling... and calling.... and calling, all to no avail. It's not that the owner didn't want to sell, it's that he didn't care weather he sold it or not. Timing was everything here and I had to catch him at just the right moment. Well, I kept calling but other leads were coming in and I was getting impatient. That money was burning a hole in my pocket! My interest was really piqued after a brief conversation with the owner. Although he didn't know the exact year of the car, he told me it was a 2 door with a 440 and a stick shift. When I asked him how he knew it was a 440, he said it was on the hood. That's all I needed to hear! Holy big block Batman! After numerous attempts to get the owner to call me back and even one unannounced visit to his house, I finally gave up. I even "googled" his address and used their mapping program to "see" the house and yard, hoping for a view of an open garage... Hey you never know, it might be possible, but I think I will have better odds with the lottery.

This quest has truly been an eye opener for me. The market is really changing and due to the current economic status of our country, there are some incredible deals to be found. "Strike while the iron is hot" as some might say, but that is easier said then done if you do not have the monetary means to do so. Now, here are a few pictures for your viewing pleasure from my Barnquest...

Found: 1966 Pontiac Starchief Executive. This was found sitting on jack stands behind and old airport hanger. I don't think it had been washed since the Carter administration. It was missing the engine but other then that was 100 percent complete, including a nearly mint interior.

Found: 1967 Oldsmobile 442. This was actually a barn find once removed. The seller reportedly found this in a barn and bought it from the original owner. It was 100 percent original but it was also almost 100 percent junk. The car was sporting more rust then the Titanic and the interior looked like it was home to various rodents over the years. To say this car needed a complete restoration is a total understatement. Hey, I know, let's get it to run and drive it cross country! You could use old street signs to patch the huge holes in the floorboards. That might keep the rodents out...
Found: 1961 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88. This car was a 4 door hardtop that was also bought from it's original owner and was being offered for sale. In my opinion this was the bargain of the bunch, even though it was leaking more oil then the Exxon Valdez. This baby was rock stock, right down to it's original A/C compressor. Although primered, the body was super straight and rust free. The car oozed cool all the way around. Have you seen the dash on one of these?

                                                                                                                                                               Check out this dash! Talk about retro, this thing reeks of sixties styling. The cat eye gauges are bitchen. Even the steering wheel is cool looking. The vinyl trash bag needs to go along with the lone fuzzy dice, or would that be die?
I'll leave you with the tail shot of the Dynamic 88. Olds was heavy into the "rocket" theme during this era. The backend almost looks like a spaceship or something and the tail lights look like afterburners.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Passing the Torch

They say all good things must come to an end, and that's what happened to the Mercury. No, it didn't get wrecked or stolen, I sold it. I had some really neat plans for it, but life happened. Reality sucks. A car like this does not come my way that often, so it was a little hard to see it go. I am really kind of bummed out. On the other hand, I did get a really good price for it, given the current state of the economy. The reality is that people are still losing their jobs or getting layed off, businesses are closing, and everything just keeps getting more and more expensive. With all thats going on I should consider myself lucky.

Well, there was something positive about selling the Mercury. After paying off some crushing debt I did end up with a small amount of extra cash. Gee, what am I going to do with that? I smell a project car on the horizon...

 Before the Merc sailed off into the sunset I did manage to get some really nice photos of it. Behold the Mercury Monterey in all of it's glory:

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fat Tuesday

Not that it is that hard to tell, but I only write as a hobby, and it is a part-time hobby at that. It does make it a little easier when you write about something that you like. If I had the time I would probably also blog about model trains, sunken ships, home repairs, and other testosterone heavy subjects. I think most writers and bloggers like to be recognized at one point and everyone likes positive feedback. You write, and write, and write and wonder who is reading your work. Did they like it? Hate it? Did you make someones day? Make them laugh? You can go years without hearing anything positive or negative. Receiving feedback of any type is good, positive comments are great, but having your work acknowledged in another blog is like icing on the cake.

Recently I received an email from a wonderful artist named Beth Niquette. Along with her kind words of praise she informed me that I was included in a feature on her web page called "FATuesday Artist Spotlight" which she created, in her own words, "to showcase inspiring Artists and to provide a forum for all Artists to share their work with one another..."  You can check out her page here.

Remember, Social Media is the modern day word-of-mouth and probably 100 times more powerful. If you like what you read, share it with your friends! As for me, I only have one critic to answer to...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Mercury is Rising

The mercury is rising where I live, both literally and figuratively. Over the 4th of July weekend we saw triple digit heat here which actually ended up being a good test for the Mercury's new cooling system. The Holiday weekend also marked the completion of the Merc, or at least as complete as my funds will allow at the moment. The important thing is that it's running, looks good, and I'm now able to take it to car shows.

Here is the engine all detailed in period correct black and gold. Yes, the flames on the air cleaner are gold also!

Here is a shot of the rims that are now on the Merc. I actually managed to stuff 275/60/15's in the rear wheel openings! You can also see the retro-red painted brake drums.

And now the moment that you all have been waiting for. Here is the Mercury in all of it's final glory...

As with most of my cars, it will never be completely done. I can think of at least a half a dozen things that I could do next, if I only had some extra money. I have said it before and I'll say it again, when you have the money you don't have any time and when you have the time you don't have any money. Unfortunately, due to the current state of the economy, I'm in the crap load of time category right now with no end in sight. Just thinking about it ticks me off. Now my mercury is rising...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Give Me a Brake, Part 2

So I thought I would update the curious on the current state of the Merc's brakes. Given the condition that the front brakes were in, it should have came as no suprise that the rear were equally as bad. Although I really wanted to do a disc brake conversion on the front, it just wasn't in the budget, especially after discovering that all the brakes needed replacement.

I have also learned that I should stop looking at stuff, because everything that I touch on the Merc either needs repaired or replaced. Knowing that I am the third owner I have concluded that the first owner really took good care of the Merc and apparently owned it for quite awhile. The second owner did not own it for very long, used and abused it, and repairs were done either without common sense or with just plain stupidity. So now, not only do I have to repair items that are wore out, but I also have to repair (and find) mistakes. So far the list includes a leaking freeze plug, wore out radiator, bad spark plug wires, missing carburetor base gasket, leaking power steering ram, pump, and hoses, door locks not working, no keys, bad battery cables, missing battery hold down, missing thermostat, missing trunk lock, and that's just what I've found so far. What have I gotten myself into?

After removing all the wore out parts, I throughly cleaned the backing plates which seemed to be caked with 49 years of crud.

Here it is all cleaned, painted and ready for new parts.

Finally, new brakes! The original drums were pressed onto the hubs but the replacements are slip fit.

Of course that meant that I had to press in new wheel studs, but that gave me the opportunity to completely clean and detail the hubs.

I'll spare you the before shot of the rear brakes. Suffice to say it was polar opposite of what you're viewing here.

Why is it so much easier to remove stuff then it is to replace it? Notice the radiator missing? It was junk...

Work is progressing at a slow but steady rate. I am hoping to drive the big Merc to a major car show in a couple of weeks, but the jury is still out on weather or not it will be done in time. I guess "done" is a vague word, because is any project car ever really done? I'll leave you with those words of wisdom and a recent photo of the Merc wearing it's new shoes. Stay tuned, there's more to come! Now I need a break...

Saturday, April 30, 2011

FranktoidTM No. 3 - Big Brother is Older Then You Think

Who doesn't hate traffic light cameras? Your city's bean counters, that's who. They just love all the revenue these "silent cops" bring in. Well you can send your thank-you cards and notes of praise to Germany, Frankfurt to be exact, because that's where it all started back in 1968 in an effort to catch drivers who were dashing illegally through traffic lights. The early photos included a record of the date and hour, plus the number of seconds since the light changed. So you see, Big Brother has been around quite awhile, and he appears to be of German decent. That's enough to drive a person to drink...

German beer anyone?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

FranktoidTM No. 2 - AMC's Amitron

Did you know that AMC debuted an all electric commuter car in 1968? The Amitron, a three-passenger electric car, was jointly developed by American Motors and Gulton Industries. With a range of 150 miles and an average speed of 50 mph, the Amitron was way ahead of it's time. Of special interest is that it was equipped with lithium-nickle fluoride batteries. Can you imagine if they had continued to develop this car where we would be with battery technology today?

Looks kind of like a mini AMC Pacer...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Frank's Factoids

I think it's time for a new feature here at the Amberlight Garage. In an effort to share some of my vast knowledge and incalculable bullcrap, I have created "Franktoids". Franktoids are my version of automotive related factoids, or any factoid that I feel like writing about. What I like about factoids is that they could be true, unverified, questionable, or just pure BS. We here at the Amberlight Garage will strive to bring you the most accurate Franktoids possible, perseverant to our brains capabilities or our internet search engine, whichever has the least amount of traffic at the time. Without further ado, I present the very first Franktoid:

FranktoidTM No. 1 - AC Cobra's Big Brother

Most folks have seen or know about the AC 427 Cobra. This was the car that put Carroll Shelby on the map in the mid-sixties. Did you know that the AC 427 had a big brother? It was called the AC 428, and like the name implies, it was equipped with the Ford 428 cubic inch big block V-8. Available in either a fastback or convertible body style, it could be ordered with either a manual or automatic transmission. Capable of a 150 mph top speed and quarter mile times of 13.8 seconds, the AC 428 lived up to being the big brother of the Cobra.

Behold the AC 428 convertible. Looks kind of like a Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder, doesn't it?

Photo: AC Cars Ltd.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

New Old Stock

I am sure most of you have heard the acronym "NOS". To some folks it stands for the popular power adder Nitrous Oxide Systems while others know it as New Old Stock, as referenced in auto parts. The only difference is you say the letters individually instead of as a word. NOS parts are old, original parts that happen to still be new. New is a relative term here because with NOS, it just means that is was new back when it was originally made. In the case of, lets say a Pontiac, this means a GM badged part ( Delco, AC, PMD, Harrision, etc.) that has a GM part number on the box. In spite of being brand new and unused, a NOS part could be in any condition, due to shelf wear, age, weather damage, poor original quality, or other circumstances. As we all know, not all parts stay "new" with age. Some deteriorate and others are replaced with superior, and sometimes safer, designs. NOS also has a little brother named NORS, otherwise known as New Old Replacement Stock. This is a brand new, unused part made by (or boxed as) someone other than the vehicle's original manufacturer. For the Pontiac example, this would mean a non-GM part. Having worked as a parts store counterman for over 15 years back in the day, I am very familiar with aftermarket replacment parts. From time to time I would even find an OEM part in the box! This was because the aftermarket companies would buy their parts from the OEMs when they were unable to get it from their regular supplier. In some instances, the replacement part may be of higher quality than the original GM part due to more modern materials or a superior design. Old merchandise from the attic or back room of the local auto parts store (such as Moog, TRW, Fram, etc.) is considered NORS.

Imagine if you could buy your favorite classic car as NOS. Yeah, I know, you probably have a better chance of winning the lottery then finding an NOS vehicle. Sure, there have been "time capsule" cars go across the auction block with a few hundred miles on them, but how many of those rare finds would qualify as "new old stock"? Most of these cars have hundreds if not thousands of miles on them and obviously have been sitting a very long time in who knows what kind of conditions.

Here is an example of a "time capsule" car discovered recently by the auction house Gooding & Co. I think this would also qualify as a barn find, albeit probably the last all original, un-restored 1964 Shelby Cobra literally sitting in a barn!

Photo: Gooding & Co

Yes, I would have love to discovered that Cobra, even though it's not NOS. Although it is pretty darn close, with less then 1000 original miles purported to be on it. I'm leaning toward barn find on this one because when I think of a "time capsule", I feel that the object should be in a sealed container or sarcophagus or something. While on the subject, undoubtedly the most famous time capsule car was the '57 Plymouth Belvedere that was buried in a concrete tomb back in 1957 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Unfortunately, when the car was unearthed, it looked like the stearn section off of the Titanic. Apparently, the lid of the concrete tomb that was built for the Plymouth was porous concrete instead of structural concrete. This makes a big difference when it comes to keeping the inner contents dry. My guess is they were trying to save weight because the lid had to be hoisted into place. Gee, a couple 5 gallon buckets of Henry Roof Cement would have done a world of good here.

The same car.... only rustier!

(AP Photo)

See, what did I tell you? Titanicville! The only thing this boat is missing is coral.
(AP Photo)

It seems to me that time capsule vehicles don't exactly live up to their name, unless the final objective is dirt and rust! I doubt that I will ever find a true NOS vehicle, so I guess I'll have to settle for the next best thing. What's that you ask? Well, it's what I call "NOD", as in New Old Design. Currently, there are three NOD cars being made, and unless you have just landed on this planet, you have either heard of or seen all three.

First on the list of NOD vehicles is the 2011 Ford Mustang. Way cool retro styling combined with high horsepower and good gas mileage make for a great combination. I'm talking 19 city / 29 highway miles per gallon from a 3.7L V-6! 305 horsepower is nothing to sneeze at and the 6 speed automatic gives you the best of both an automatic and manual trans. Want a 5.0? It's back and meaner then ever with double overhead cams, 32 valves and 412 horsepower. When you sit in the drivers seat the view of the instrument panel is pure 1967. Totally classic.

NOD vehicle number two is the Chevrolet Camaro. Chevy started the horsepower war last year with their 300 horse V-6. Not to be outdone by Ford in 2011, Chevy upped the ante of their 3.6L V-6 to 312 horsepower. MPG is rated at 17 city and 28 highway. A 6.2L 16 valve V-8 is also available with 426 horsepower. Ironic horsepower number, isn't it? Unfortunately, when you sit in the drivers seat the first item that you seem to notice is the overly chunky steering wheel and then the squarish instrument pods that look somewhat like a 1969's dash, only throughly more modern. To me, the new Camaro looks only vaguely like the '69 model that inspired it.

NOD number three is none other then the Dodge Challenger. Dodge has done an incredible job designing (or should I say coping) the new Challenger. Out of all the NOD vehicles, the Challenger looks the most like the '70 model that it was designed after. This car is so close to the original that it could almost pass for a time capsule car. V-6 engine specs are almost identical to the Mustangs, but the claim to fame here is the legendary Hemi engine. None of the other production V-8's even come close to the optional 6.4L Hemi's 470 horsepower and 470 foot pounds of torque. Out of all three cars, the Challenger is the most expensive, but nobody said horsepower was cheap.

As you can tell, I did a bit of research on today's modern muscle cars. Partially for fun but mainly because I was in the market for a new vehicle. With the kids now being young adults, I felt like it was time for a sportier car, and I managed to narrow my choices down to the three aformentioned vehicles. I guess I was a little burned out on SUVs and four doors. Like all of my vehicle purchases, I throughly investigated my potential acquisition, although this time I had to factor in that my better half would be driving this new car the majority of the time. So which NOD muscle car won out?

Behold the new 2011 Ford Mustang

This car totally reminds me of my red '67 Mustang fastback that I use to own many years ago...

My 1967 looked just like this one except mine was a 390, 4 speed car. It's total déjà vu when I drive the 2011 Mustang, maybe not so much on the torque side, but the horsepower is about the same! You gotta love technology.

Ford sure has done their homework on this one. My only complaint about the Mustang is that I don't get to drive it enough. If I'm lucky enough I will remedy that situation later this year with the addition of another Mustang. That's right, I am so impressed with the new Mustang that I would buy another one! Or maybe I'll buy a restored '67 fastback just like the one I use to have. Or maybe I can find an NOS Mustang that has been buried with a dehumidifier in a time capsule that was coated in roofing tar. Hey, you never know, it could happen. They found a Shelby Cobra buried in a barn, right? I better go check my lottery tickets...