Laissez les Crapheaps Roulez! 24 Hours of LeMons hits Louisiana once again Wednesday, Nov 17 2010 

You heard right, it’s the time of year again: the 24 Hours of LeMons is back in full force!

If you haven’t heard of the series, well, shame on you. I’m here to help, though.

Many moons ago, LeMons Chief Perpetrator Jay Lamm decided to take all of the glitz and glamour of the classic 24 Hours of LeMans endurance race… and flush it down the proverbial shitter. Just like LeMans, this is a 24-hour endurance race, testing not only the drivers’ skills but also their pace, their stamina, and their ability to keep a car running for an entire day.

Except that these cars can’t cost any more than five hundred dollars.

The result, of course, is a race filled with miserable clunkers festooned with hilarious decoration. Combined with two badass judges with even badasser facial hair and with a penchant for hilariously humiliating penalties, it makes for an utterly hilarious weekend.

In the words of the LeMons perps—and I may be paraphrasing: “Racing isn’t just for rich idiots anymore. Now it’s for all idiots.” Well, if these “idiots” are anything like the Cajun Jihad team from last year, pictured below, then I say let ‘em run wild!

I bought a fancy 3G plan for my fancy new iPad, and my friend Derek is bringing his fancy camera. I’ll be covering the race, from the race, all weekend, and I’ll be doing so over at The Hooniverse.

See you there!

How to Make a V8olvo for Over $500 Friday, Jan 8 2010 

You might think this Volvo 940 is owned by someone with a refined sense of irony. You’re probably right.

You’re probably wrong, too.

After noticing the oversized exhaust pipe, the R-type wheels, and the gauges running up the A-pillar, I figured I might actually be onto something. I know the V8olvo has been done before, and for under five hundred dollars! But if you’ve got more cash than that, why stop there?

In the name of Truth, my brother–who just acquired a Volvo 940 himself–and I elected to eat our Mr Roo’s po-boys inside instead of at home.

We took a seat near the window to make sure it didn’t run away, and near po-boy’s end we saw two men walking up to it. I stepped (okay, ran) out of the restaurant and asked the man what he had under there.

“LS1. Wanna see?”

Unlikely but possible, indeed. Be sure to check out the full-size photo for maximum effect.

We’ll be following suit in about three years, I think.

YOU'RE NEXT

1969 Chevrolet Kingswood Sunday, Jun 14 2009 

IMG_0382There was a time at which much of the common man’s life, aspirations, and disposition could be determined simply on the basis of which Chevrolet he owned.  Before the days of meaningless trim levels like ST and GLX (grand luxury excitement?), a car’s equipment level and often its bodystyle were directly affected by the name carried on its flank.

IMG_0378I’d venture to say that everyone’s pretty familiar with the sedans by now.  The Bel Air had been the name of GM’s full-size car since 1950; in ’58, the lesser Biscayne was first offered for the budget-conscious, and in that same year the Impala name came to represent their halo model, complete with the six-taillight design that would come to represent the Impala for years.  1965 brought the Caprice, an even more high-zoot model than the Impala, and a nameplate that would stick around, for better or much worse, until 1996.

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The Impala was the best-selling of all the models, still cheaper than the equivalent Olds, Pontiac, Buick, or Caddy, but well-equipped.  Think of it this way: most of the Camrys you see clogging up our roads are LE models, which falls nicely between the DX/CE and the XLE as the mid-range, reasonably well equipped trim; this is exactly the role the Impala filled four decades ago.  A man who drove a Bel Air just wanted a standard family sedan on his modest means; a Biscayne owner was a no-frills kind of dude who didn’t need eight cylinders or power brakes; a Caprice man was either aspirational or a Chevrolet executive that couldn’t be caught driving anything else.  Got a family?  Get a wagon.  Simple.

Well, that changed in 1969.

IMG_0381

You see, in that year, Chevrolet thought it prudent to give entirely new names to the full-size wagons.  The spartan Brookwood complemented the Biscayne, the Townsman was counterpart to the Bel Air, the Kingswood was a wagon-shaped Impala, and the big-money Kingswood Estate, replete with wood paneling paneling wood paneling and a slightly upgraded interior.  Everything but the Brookwood was V8-only, as is appropriate.  This one looks like it could use a 427.

Power rear windows, three-row seating… it’s a shame more Average Americans don’t see these old wagons, shift their desires, and lobby and focus-group Detroit into giving us proper family cars again.  It’s about time.

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MIDSHIP AMUSEMENT: 1991 Honda Beat Thursday, Apr 9 2009 

img_0407Me and the Beat, we go back a long way.  Ever since that giant book of convertibles I had in something like first grade, I’ve remembered the Beat because it stood out from the ’56 Cadillacs and ’64 Continentals and whatnot.

It’d be a decade before I had any idea what the hell keicar meant, but to this day, among the Honda That’s and the Suzuki MightyBoy, the Mitsubishi Town Box and Daihatsu Move, for me, the Beat stands alone.

IMG_0413Japanese automotive taxes are quite strict: very specific size, displacement, and power regulations group cars into categories determining the road tax they must pay; Japanese cars are more often than not designed to fit snugly into these categories to make them more attractive for potential customers.  Japan’s Camry, in the ’90s, was an entirely different car from the one all the export markets were given simply so theirs could be small enough to fit into a lower bracket than the export car.

These cars show Japanese automakers’ most extreme efforts.  There’s a very specific reason all the tiny cars you could buy in Gran Turismo had 660cc engines that made exactly 63 horsepower.

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In March 1990, Japan raised the K-class maximum displacement from 550 to 660cc.  This may be the move that incited Honda to show the world they could make a keicar exciting.  Utilising a 656cc straight-3 with something called MTREC (translation: one throttle valve per cylinder), the Pininfarina-penned Beat made–you guessed it–63 brake horsepower at 8100 rpm (damn! that’s a lotta revs!).

Honda went on to sell the basic Beat design in 1995 to MG who then used it to build the MG F, which was the basis for the MG TF, which Hammond built into a limousine on Top Gear two years ago.  Nice.

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1941 Cadillac Saturday, Mar 14 2009 

caddyhood

The 1941 Cadillac.

What is there to say about a Caddy?  A Caddy back when a Caddy was the car, more specifically.  Before the invasion of America by the Germans that eventually led Mercedes-Benz to be considered the epitome of luxury and the subsequent usurping of the throne in 1990 by the Lexus LS400,  Cadillac was it.

Back in the ’50s and ’60s (I’m told), your net worth could be pinpointed by which GM-branded car you drove.  The poor have Chevrolets, the slightly richer have Pontiac, the next step up drive Oldsmobiles, the reasonably well monied bought Buicks, and the real players all drove Cadillacs.

Like this one.

Like this one.

1941 saw a whole mess of improvements and alterations to the Cadillac.  The 1940 models (excepting the Sixteen) was rather plain-looking with a regular bar grille just like any ol’ Chevrolet.  In ’41, though, the bar grille was replaced with an egg crate, which simply exudes luxury, somehow.  Other improvements were made as well: the headlights were mounted flush with the fenders for the first time on a Cadillac, one of the taillights flipped up to reveal the fuel filler, and Cadillac’s first air conditioner was offered on this car, although it was enormous and could only be turned off by removing a belt in the engine compartment.

leftMore importantly, ’41 was Cadillac’s return to a “One Make One Engine” policy.  After discontinuing production of the Series 90 (or Sixteen), the 346 cid V8 powered everything they made.  Mated to that engine was perhaps Cadillac’s most pivotal development yet, and one that would arguably ruin the automobile for decades to come: Hydra-Matic.

The first fully shiftless transmission in the luxury class, the Hydra-Matic was developed by Oldsmobile the year before and became an option on the Caddy in 1941.  However unfortunate it is that Cadillac led to the removal of quite a lot of the purity and fun of driving, it’s a decision that makes sense–a Cadillac driver should not be required to do something so plebeian as shifting his own gears!  This is a task best left to someone else, like a servant or a torque converter!  It doesn’t seem like three-on-the-tree would be quite as visceral as a proper stick.

I can’t stay mad at you, Cadillac.

Did I mention that the gas filler is part of the driver’s side taillight fixture? That needs to make a comeback.

lowside

1957 Austin A35 Monday, Feb 16 2009 

 

Hello.  I'm Austin.

Hello. I'm Austin.

The Austin A35 was the successor to the Austin A30 which was, according to Austin, the “new Austin Seven”.  The Seven was Britain’s equivalent to the Model T Ford, wildly outselling every other car in Britain throughout the ’20s; true to form, the A30 was also very successful, selling nearly a quarter million cars between 1951 and ’56.  

a35-rearq

Austin’s answer to the Morris Minor, the A30 was one of Britain’s first monocoque designs.  This allowed high strength and low weight, which allowed the 0.8 litre engine (forty-nine cubic inches, take that America!) to give the Austin a blistering top speed of at least 63 miles per hour.

a35-profile

The A35 featured such luxurious and upscale features as a painted grille with chrome surround (replacing the A30′s chrome grille) and actual blinking turn signals instead of semaphores or “trafficators”.  It was thus named because of the new, more “powerful” 34 horsepower engine. It therefore performed slightly better than the 28-horse A30, which took 28 seconds to get to sixty.

Count that out.  Then imagine merging onto a motorway.

 Cor, it’s a cute little thing, though.  I wonder if this guy is using it to just run about town, ’cause hey, who needs a valid American number plate for that, right?

a35-badge

1955 DeSoto Fireflite Saturday, Jan 31 2009 

fireflitehood

In order to get this series off to a fortuitous start, there are a few criteria I have to meet.  The first car in a DOTS series should be at least 50 years old, should be from a defunct manufacturer, and should have at least a three-tone paint job.

This car has all three.

firefliteleft

The Fireflite was introduced as the top-of-the-line DeSoto in 1955.  With 255 horsepower (huge for its day) in that enormous body, I bet this thing is a hoot to drive.

This beautiful car’s master owns a store on Magazine called Sputnik Ranch, which specialises in cowboy boots but sells all kinds of other odd nicknack.  The gentleman crosses the street occasionally, I’ll sell him cigarettes, and he’ll tell me about some of his experiences with the car.  He’s evidently registered the car on some sort of list that film companies use to solicit period-correct cars in a certain area.  This car may well have starred in Benjamin Button.

desotorearq

Design this elegant and this refined would reignite the public’s desire for American cars, I think.  Why is it that all the raddest cars were made by all the companies that don’t exist anymore?

Oh, and that’s second to the best hood ornament ever.

Rest of the gallery available here.

Stickshifts & safetybelts, bucket seats have all got to go… Saturday, Jan 31 2009 

I started this blog without any direction.

I’m a fan–no, a connoisseur–of a lot of things.  Cars, cigars, movies, music… to varying extents, I love them all.

I can’t really review them all, though.  Music?  Easy enough.  Movies? I have a Netflix.  Cigars? Well, yeah.  But cars?

Cars were my first love.  Evidenced by late ’80s video footage of me behind the wheel of mom’s Mazda 626, I’ve had the driver’s itch (no, not that one) probably since birth, or conception.

I started to fulfill that urge on a daily basis five or six years ago with a 1996 Toyota Camry V6, in white.  I loved the hell out of that car.  Roary, torque-steery fun off the line, no-ABS fun all over the place, it was a solid ride.  Through friends, parents, and jobs, I’ve driven a smattering of cars ranging from the Pontiac Grand Am to the Porsche Cayenne S, from the 1965 Studebaker Cruiser to the 2009 Toyota Land Cruiser, whether for half a minute or half a week, and I have at least vague impressions of them all, but there isn’t a whole lot of content to write about.  And rarely have I been able to drive the version of the car I wanted to drive: my dad went from an automatic IS 300 to an automatic G35; the first may well have been on rails and the second accelerates like it has a few fiery twigs up its bottom, but neither were as rewarding to drive as they could, or should, have been.

 

Alameda, explained

Alameda, explained

Some backstory: the best blog on the interwebs has been gracing us with a feature entitled Down on the Street, in which legendary minx Murilee Martin brings us photos of a different interesting old car every morning, all shot on the streets of his native island of Alameda.  He calls Alameda the “island that rust forgot”; the combination of old, no-garage construction, always unsalted roads, and somewhat wacky residents means the island is home to myriad largely unrusted vintage iron parked, well, down on the street.

 

Uptown New Orleans is a similar place.  No road salt (we never need it), no garages (most of the houses were built before or near 1900), and no dearth of interesting folk create a perfect environment for the same kind of thing Murilee finds in Alameda.  And I’ve been inspired.

So, one of the functions of this blog, at least, is going to be the exposition of certain interesting and/or old cars I see around the neighbourhood (and elsewhere).

We open tonight.

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