Tuesday, July 31, 2012

More Variety From Sharonville

           Here are some more of the variety of cars that we at the Annual Sharonville Car Show earlier this year. As you can see, there are always lots of cars to see and plenty of different kinds so no matter what your taste, you can find something that you like. Oh, and yes, that's one of the official Batman replica cars shown here. Told it there was something for everybody.

The Rarest Most Popular Car Around

            How is it popular for a car that during its heyday was the most popular selling car in the UK and one of the best sellers throughout Europe and even into America today be so rare? We’re not talking some great grandpa of a car from the early 20th century. This is a car that ruled the British roads in the 1960s and into the 1970s.
            Greg Shooner has just such a car in his 1970 Austin America. He bought the car about three years ago from the owner who lived in Louisville, KY.
            Greg admitted that he was looking specifically for an America when he was car searching. “This is third one I’ve owned. My very first car in high school was an America,” he said. Though that car was an automatic and not the sexiest or the peppiest, Greg still loved it.
            “You always love your first car. The best car you ever own is your first car. Even it’s actually a terrible car. It’s your first one,” he added.
            One of the biggest drawbacks of that first car was that it sported an automatic transmission and at the time these cars were only sold in the USA as automatics. Greg stated without hesitation that the automatic transmission in that first car was terrible and that he much prefers the manual four speed in his second and current car. “It was a car made for a four speed,” he said. “It drives the same as a Mini.”
            With good reason. The car that is the America was originally manufactured by the British Motor Corporation, later British Leyland, beginning in 1962. At the time BMC was the largest automobile company in Great Britain and, similar to how General Motors had various brand names within its holding, released cars badged by MG, Riley, Woolseley, Mini and, yes, Austin.
            What was originally coded the ADO16 came to market as the Morris 1100 in 1962 and sported a 1098 cc transverse mounted four cylinder engine. In 1967 the car received a 1275 cc option that would carry it through the rest of its life, ending in 1974.
            Essentially what British Leyland did was take the basic construction of the car, engine, frame, suspension, etc. and re-body it slightly to make it brand specific. But essentially it was the exact same car.
            These cars had a number of unique features that set them apart from others around the world. They sported single caliper disc brakes in the front, were front wheel drive, had rack and pinion steering, and sported a hydrolastic suspension. There were no springs or dampers in this system. Instead, the car road on fluid filled units that were interconnected between the front and rear.
            “If, say, the rear end compresses,” said Greg as he pressed down on the left rear quarter panel of his America, “the front would go up keeping the car perfectly level.” He added that because of this and despite the high profile of the car, it tightly hugs the curves.
            “I really have to try, go into a corner hard to try to get any sway at all,” he said.
            So why is a car that was seemingly ahead of its time, affordable and wildly popular so rare these days? Simple; they are prone to rust.
            “Most of the cars they imported to America have probably disintegrated by now,” Greg explained. While there aren't exact numbers, Greg has found that his is one of only a handful of unrestored, rust free models still on the road.
            His is in such great shape because it was stored in a climate controlled garage in 1975 and didn’t come out until he bought it in 2008.
            While the engine was understandably locked up and he needed to fix the brakes, clutch, battery and give it a tune-up, the car is almost brand new. There was no rust, he said. The rubber, normally something that easily crumbles away with age, especially in a British car, and the upholstery foam in the seats are like show room new.
            The car gets about 30 miles to the gallon and actually measures more leg room than some Rolls Royce models. Those are just a couple of the reasons Greg drives the car on a fairly regular basis.
            He said he doesn’t drive it if the weather gets bad or there is salt on the road, he averages about three days a week. Even with it garaged for all those years he has managed to add to the total of 55,600 miles the car has traveled.
            Even though his wife refers to it as his “clown car,” Greg finds a great deal of satisfaction in it. “It’s a winner. I really like it,” he said.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Volkswagon Thing

            What were they thinking? How could the people behind the highly successful VW Beetle make something like this?
            The truth is that the Volkswagon Type 181 Kurierwagon was not originally designed to be sold to the public. In the 1960s, the German government was in need of a light weight, durable and inexpensive vehicle to serve a number of functions. VW, who had turned down a request a decade earlier to make such a vehicle, had seen the success in the United States of people using the Beetle to create off road dune buggies.
            Using the Beetle as the basic building block, they created the vehicle to answer the government’s call and in 1968 began rolling them off the assembly line. The vehicles proved to be a hit. And in 1971 they exploded their market by making them available to the general public, first in the US and Mexico and later in other parts of the world.
            With a surprisingly high ground clearance and a curb weight just a touch over 2000 pounds, the Thing, as it would be called (among other fun names such as the Safari – a fallout of its use in the Wild Animal Safari attraction at Kings island Amusement Park), proved its worth time and time again.
            Governments and individuals fell in love with the affordable reliability of the car. While the styling wasn’t anywhere near luxurious and the shape was something you either loved or hated, the vehicle sold very well into the early 1980s, even after VW had upped the specs and rolled out the Type 183.
            Now you don’t see that many of this run car driving around but I was lucky enough to spot one at a recent show. They aren’t very comfortable but they can be fun to drive and they will always get people to turn their heads and look.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Renegade

            “It’s a renegade. It’s a little bit of everything put together. That’s what a renegade is,” said Weldon Haynes as he explained the name of his chopped 1951 Mercury.
            This car that he bought as a mere shell about 10 years ago truly is a little bit of everything with some individual touches thrown in. For example, the car sports Packard tail lights, the fenders, which were straight on the original Mercury, have been flared, the grill was custom made in California. The explanation for these changes is quite simple. “I just think it looks better,” said Weldon.
            “I’m 71 years old and I grew up with customs,” he added, While he didn’t actually do the work on this car he has personally chopped and rodded several cars in the past, including a Ford that is still in his stable. Instead, a good friend of his, who has since “retired” from customizing, did this car.
            Perhaps the most difficult decision Weldon had to make with this car was what color he wanted to have it painted.
            “I didn’t want red. Green doesn’t show up. Black, might as well not even paint it. I wanted something to jump out at you and pop. So I settled on orange,” he said.
            This renegade attitude has worked. In 2005 at the Annual James Dean Run Car Show, Walden’s car was selected to be the T-Shirt car. What that means is that his car was drawn and used as the logo on all the t-shirts and other memorabilia. “I was quite an honor,” he said. “At least I thought it was an honor.”
            He explained that his car was one of between 150 and 200 cars in the Mercury “corral” at the event and the folks in charge decided that it was the perfect model.
            When he isn’t crisscrossing the region watching his son play baseball, Weldon will drive his car to shows. But even when he isn’t able to head out to shows he still drives his chopped masterpiece around.
            “I drive it. I don’t believe in trailers. If you’ve got Hot Wheels you carry them around. A car is for driving,” he said, summing up his personal philosophy.
            “I think having people look at you as you drive it around and give you a thumbs up, to me that’s the best part about it,” he concluded. Spoken like a true renegade.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

An Unlikely Indy Car

            Charles Barngrover recently got the opportunity to run his classic car around the famed brickyard at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Without a doubt that would be a thrill for anyone but for Charles it was a little extra special. You see, Charles doesn’t own a Vette or a Ferrari or a Jaguar. No, he owns a 1961 Nash Metropolitan.
            Four years ago Charles bought the car off of EBay. “I guess a grandfather had passed and his kids didn’t know what to do with it,” he explained.
            He hadn’t gone out specifically looking for a Metropolitan or even a Nash but he knew that he wanted something a little out of the norm. “There are so many ’57 Chevys and Mustangs out there. This was different,” he said.
            Nash first rolled out the Metropolitan in 1954 as a low cost, reliable compact car. Subsequently, Nash merged with Hudson to for American Motors which allowed the car to be sole under the Hudson banner as well.
            While the 1950s and 60s was the heyday of monuments to massive steel cars, the Metropolitan was different. It was a small car that was less than 150 inches long and weighed only 1850 pounds. Manufactured in England it sported a 1200 cc or 1500 cc engine that didn’t produce a lot of power but gave the owner a solid 35 to 40 miles per gallon. The last of the Metropolitans rolled out in 1962.
            “I don’t know what the gene is that makes people like old cars,” he said but admitted that he has it in his own DNA.
            Charles never owned a Metropolitan or a Nash for that matter but he did have some early connections. “Back in the 50s my family had a Rambler,” he said of another AMC classic, one that was instrumental in taking market share away from the Metropolitan. His very first car was something of a harbinger of this car. “My very first car was a 1957 Beetle.”
            A retired Associate Dead of Business at the University of Cincinnati, Charles found that his Metropolitan was in pretty good shape when he first bought it. “I re-painted it and cleaned it up a little,” he said. It is in beautiful shape and he wants to keep it that way.
            Mostly Charles just drives the car to shows and around on single errands. “You get nervous leaving it in a parking lot. It’s so easy for it to get dinged up,” he said, stating a fear of all classic car owners. Still, he does enjoy brining it out to shows for people to see.
            “People are always coming up and telling me stories about when they had one or there was one in their family,” he added. “That’s the fun part about shows for me. I get to meet a lot of folks.”
            Because his car is in such impeccable shape and is such a rarity as well, he was recently invited to a big car show hosted by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
            “One of the perks of being invited to that show is you get to drive around the track,” Charles explained with a smile. So he and his 1961 Nash Metropolitan got to run where so many legends have driven.
            Jokingly he said that the top speed of his car is the speed limit. But still, he got to do something that most car enthusiasts only dream of doing, driving around that brickyard track.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Shriner's Car and Bike Show

          On a warm, humid day with thunderstorms and rain threatening the sky, the 3rd Annual Shriner's Car & Bike Show was held at Quaker Steak and Lube. It's a shame that the weather was so uncooperative. In its first two years this show has had a large turnout with proceeds going to support the wonderful work of the Shrine, including the Cincinnati Shrine Burn Institute. I was told that they had expected as many as 200 cars to show up and while the live band still played, once the rain stopped, only a handful of cars actually braved the elements.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Parade Route Hot Rods

          They're everywhere it seems. Go to just about any parade in North American and you will see them driving among the walking and marching throngs, zipping behind the floats and between cars filled with local dignitaries. They are Shrine Cars.
          Custom bodied go-carts sporting five to eight horse power engines taking up large spaces in the parade route in order to loop and maneuver through pre-set patterns, this slice of Americana goes back, it seems, to before recorded history since no one seems to know exactly when they were started. But there they are, possibly second or third generation Shriners at the wheel, sporting their classic chapeau, the Fez, running figure eights and circles with the throttle wide open, wind blowing the tassel behind them. Fabricated mini Corvettes and Mustangs and flame sporting hot rods all tearing up the road in order to entertain and spread the word of this organization's good deeds.
          When I was growing up I got some first hand experience with a Shrine Car go-cart. Sometime in the mid to late 1960s my father, proud Shriner that he was, decided to leave the drum and bugle corp unit of which he was a cymbal playing member and, along with a handful of other adventurous gearhead rebels decided to form the Syrian Shrine Motor Pool. From clashing cymbals to Mustang bodied go-cart my dad just climbed the cool ladder.
          My brother and I would drive that go-cart all over the neighborhood, even taking friends and neighbors along for a ride. Hey, there was plenty of room in that seat when you were 11 years old. Driving up and down the mean streets of our subdivision and even standing up to the obnoxious neighbor up the road who threatened to have me arrested until my dad took a turn and shut him down elevated my status among the neighborhood cool.
          Sure it was just a go-cart but it had a lot more kid cool juice than the Pontiac Tempest that the old man drove at the time.
          I remember so many times just driving around and feeling the wind in my face. It couldn't have been much because I think wide open I could still probably beat it with my three-speed bike with its banana seat and "Easy Rider" handle bars. But it wasn't my legs providing the power. I could hear that engine, not so much roar but at least whine behind me and smell the gas and oil and exhaust. It smelled of freedom.
          In the summer of 1971 we moved across town and my father, for reasons I didn't know at the time, decided that he was going to leave the Motor Patrol. He sold the go-cart. I was getting ready to head into high school so I couldn't be that upset at the loss. Besides, I was banging away on the guitar and bass by then and dreaming of being in a rock band. But for a couple of years, until I turned 16 and started driving real cars, something was missing; that freedom that I felt when I smelled that gas and oil and exhaust and heard the whine of that Briggs and Straton engine.
           Recently I was taking pictures of a holiday parade for an on-line magazine when I heard and saw them. Not one but two units of Shriner Cars, two Motor Pools, keeping the tradition alive. Long live that tradition. And as Donald Fagen and Walter Becker so profoundly declared, "I'm never gonna do it without the Fez on."