Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Targa Florio

I was obsessed with race cars from a very young age. When I was 6 years old my dad took me to my first race, the Inaugural California 500. This was held at the brand new Ontario Motor Speedway and featured Indy style open wheel race cars. Ontario Motor Speedway (OMS) was known as the "Indianapolis of the West" and was the first and only automobile racing facility built to accommodate major races sanctioned by all of the four dominant racing sanctioning bodies. Although the racing was great, the thing I remember most was the souvenir that I got that day. There was a poster vendor and I recall that I didn't really like the plain looking OMS or driver posters that everyone seemed to be buying. What caught my young eye was a large color poster of a red Ferrari 330P3. In large print across the bottom were two words: "Targa Florio".

That poster hung in my room for years. I think I was about 10 years old when I finally found out what the Targa Florio was. I have never forgot that name or poster. Fast forward to the present day. Yet another interesting email pops up in my inbox. This particular one just happens to be from Antonino Salemi, the Director of the Floriopoli Natural Museum in Sicily. For those who are not familiar, Floriopoli is the temple of the legendary Targa Florio.
Floriopoli 1968
Mr Salemi wrote to tell me that the Floriopoli Natural Museum has started a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to restore Floriopoli, an important place of history of the legendary Targa Florio. They are calling it the "Rebirth of Floriopoli" and you can view their campaign here:  http://kck.st/1CtaiPG Check out this link here  for more information on the museum itself.

Lets back this project and be a part of history at the same time. There are some cool rewards depending on what your pledge is. Personally I chose the 65 lira pledge (about $72 USD), which includes a exclusive book on the history of Floriopoli autographed by the director of the museum. Do yourself a favor and check it out: http://kck.st/1CtaiPG

Thursday, July 23, 2015

FranktoidTM No. 15 - Safety First

Safety equipment on vehicles today is not only the norm, it's expected. And as manufactures have discovered, it is a big selling point. It was not too long ago that safety was actually the last thing on a automobile engineer's mind. It wasn't that safety items weren't thought of or invented, it was that they were expensive to put in a mass produced vehicle. I don't know if back then it was too hard to sell a consumer on safety items or if the major automobile corporations just didn't want to spend the money to make their vehicles safer.

There were a few car companies that use to exist that were way ahead of their time, both in innovation and safety. The stories vary but some were bought out and others were driven out of business. This was usually because of a superior design or feature that if left unchecked, could potentially catch on with consumers and eventually force the large manufactures to adopt a similar feature or design which would ultimately affect their profits. Heck, there was even a movie made about one such company called Tucker: The Man and His Machine. Another company that was ahead of it's time was Kaiser Motors Corporation. As early as 1950, the then Kaiser-Frazer Corporation started engineering safety features into their cars. By 1953 Kaiser had what they called "the world's first 'safety first' car". To quote General Manager Edgar F. Kaiser, "We chose safety before horsepower." In brief, these safety features included the following:
1) A padded crash panel which extends the full width of the dash.
2) Seat design that cradles passenger weight at a point near the center gravity, below the tire line.
3) Extra leg room so that passengers ride in a safer semi-reclining position.
4) A safety mounted one piece windshield designed to "give" upon severe impact.
5) Location of the hand brake brake in it's most accessible position.
6) All instrument panel controls recessed below the dash surface.

This was 1953 folks! Jump in a '53 Ford or Chevy and see how many of these features they have. It wasn't until 1959 that Congress passed legislation requiring all automobiles to comply with certain safety standards. Keep in mind that even seat belts were an option back then that you had to pay extra for and that's only if the manufacturer offered them. Believe it or not seat belts were not made mandatory in passenger vehicles until 1968. So the next time you go new car shopping take a minute and think about this: most of the safety features on today's cars that we take for granted weren't even available to most of our grandparents...

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Land of the Lost

Do you remember that time in your life when you were between 18 and 21? I remember it well and refer to it as the dead zone. I was too young to go to the clubs or bars and too old to hang out with the High School kids. The paradox of the dead zone is that you are old enough to vote and buy cigarettes but forget about buying any alcohol or blowing your money on gambling. We all spend three years exiled in the dead zone, but as soon as you turn 21 a whole new world opens up and that zone becomes a distant memory.

 I have recently discovered an automotive equivalent of the dead zone and it lives in the land of the lost. What is this vehicular heresy that I am eluding to? Well my faithful readers, it is none other then the classic American four door sedan. Now I'm not talking about a Ford Taurus or Buick Regal, but referring to select, full-size old school 4 doors like the Pontiac Star Chief, Oldsmobile Delta 88, Ford Galaxie, Buick Electra, and of course the Cadillac Sedan DeVille. It seems like these are the classic cars that nobody wants, except maybe the Caddy, at least that's what I have observed. I purposely left out the Chevy Impala because these seem to be collectable in any configuration. Why is it that these more-doors are treated like the bastard step child? I think the four door variant of the full size sedan actually looks shorter then the two door version, but this fact has yet to dissuade the masses to embrace these monoliths as equals to their two door counterparts. I guess I really can't complain too much as it was this very attitude that enabled me to score a sweet deal on my large and in charge '67 Olds Delmont, which has proven to be a very reliable vehicle.

My larger then life Olds-mo-bubble is a daily driver and as such, I get to observe people's reactions to it as I ooze into work and back home each day. Maybe it's where I live but most folks don't seem to take too kindly to OFDs (old four doors). I have had people laugh at it (ironically they were walking); chuck food at it (who throws a cupcake? Honestly!); try to run me off the road (I think they were texting but it still happened); challenge me to a race with their Prius (the Prius won); and of course flip me off ! In all honesty the middle digit salute was probably due to one of the following. I was either: A) driving too slow because they were following too close or B) spraying their windshield with oil residue and carbon from my exhaust because they were following too close. Either way, they were following too close. I actually took my OFD to a car show once. As soon as I pulled into the roped off area where the cars were located a person quickly told me that the spectator parking was located outside the roped area and could I please park there! I just drove away... Another time I was at a gas station filling up my ginormous tank of an Oldsmobile when this environmentalist type came up to me and accused me of increasing the earth's carbon footprint! She continued to spew more vile from her mouth as she drove away in her Prius. (I think it was the same Prius that beat me!)

Seriously, these full size, four door "B" bodies just don't seem to be that collectable. You know what? I don't really care and neither should you. In fact, every classic car lover should go out and purchase one right now. Most of them can be found dirt cheap, parts are readily available, and most of them are reliable as hell. Remember, these were the family sedans of the 60's, way before mini-vans. BOP's of this era that were properly maintained were known to go well in excess of a quarter million miles on their original engine and chassis. Some of the transmissions were problematic but that's because most folks back in day did not use trans fluid coolers and also used their cars to tow camping trailers and such. Remember, this was pre-SUV so if any towing was to be done, the family sedan usually got delegated to do the task. So while folks are laughing at my OFD, throwing food at it, running me off the road, blowing my doors off, and flipping me off, I'll continue to cruise in comfort with the A/C blowing cold and the 45+ year old suspension design smoothing out the rode for me. What do you think? Are you going to join me in the land of the lost or do you believe these cars belong in the "dead zone"? Either way it's a win-win for me, unless you drive a Prius....

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Cuba's Classic Cars

It's no secret that Cuba has been off limits for decades. Nobody knows what really goes on over there except what is occasionally leaked by the media. Growing up I had heard stories about all the classic cars roaming the streets in Cuba. I can vividly remember when I was a young boy, overhearing my father talking to a friend about Cuba's old cars. After High School, I worked in one of Southern California's largest auto parts store and we actually had a few customers who use to purchase older car parts to ship them back to their relatives in Cuba. As I got older, I managed to find a couple of articles about Cuba's classic cars, but those were few and far between. Not much seemed to come out of Cuba, except maybe a few cigars.

My curiosity about Cuba was rekindled when it was reported that President Obama had taken steps to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba. As you may have guessed my interest lies in the classic cars, not the cigars. In a perfect world I would be able to go to Cuba and photograph all these cool old cars, but that dream will have to be put on my bucket list, right under "photograph Jay Leno's car collection". Instead, I was actively looking for some recent pictures or video of current-day Cuba, specifically their classic cars. As luck would have it, this gem of a video showed up in my inbox and is the work of Brian Van Der Brug of the Los Angeles Times. In his own words, "The island is a treasure-trove of vintage American automobiles. These are not just for show; they're everyday workhorses that are part of the legacy of the country's isolation."

Special thanks to Bich Ngoc, also of the LA Times, who not only has read my blog but also was kind enough to provide the following link. Click here or on the link below the picture to see the video.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Chrysler Turbine Car

Here is a cool video I ran across about the 1963 Chrysler Turbine car. This one is owned by Jay Leno and has some amazing footage.

Friday, January 23, 2015

FranktoidTM No. 14 - Another Real Barn Find!

Just when you thought all the barn finds were gone, BAM!, another one shows up. What makes this one so great is that I was fortunate enough to actually be present during both the "discovery" and the purchase of it. A good friend of mine called to tell me about a potential barn find that he was going to look at and was kind enough to ask me to tag along. Faster then you can say "road trip" I said yes! The car was located in such a far away, remote area that he figured it was either going to be a real find or a total piece of crap. The word "barn" here is a bit ambiguous, as the building was actually made of steel but that's close enough in my book. The car in question is a 1962 Pontiac Bonneville 2 door hardtop. Although this was not a 421 Super Duty car is was ordered with a 389 V-8 rated at 235 horsepower and 402 pound-feet of torque! Pontiac Bonneville's were equipped with the division's highest horsepower rated V-8s, as they were Pontiac's costliest and most luxurious model throughout the 1960s.

Here was our first look at the Bonneville. All original paint and interior and it was still wearing bias ply tires!
The interior was in decent shape for being all original. Check out the original red and clear steering wheel.
The engine was all original and all the accessories were intact. Notice the old school battery!
This is the moment that you realize you want this car.
Here is the Bonneville out in the open and ready to be loaded on the trailer.
This is where you realize it's going to be a tight squeeze. They didn't call it the Pontiac Wide Track for nothing!
I knew it was going to be close, I just didn't realize how close!
Safely loaded with just enough wiggle room, we were ready to hit the road for the long drive home.
On the road with the Pontiac in tow.
We finally arrive at the shop where most of the mechanical restoration will take place.

Now that the Bonneville is securely stored in the shop the fun can really begin! Stay tuned as my friend tears into this Pontiac with wild abandon and discovers some good things along with some stuff that ain't so great. Whoever said this hobby was easy? Not me, that's for sure.