Monday, February 28, 2005

Holy Miami Vice!

This 560 SEC is not an AMG Hammer. The ebay seller says it is a Hammer, but it isn't. The Hammers were based on the 300 W124 bodystyle like my beloved turbo diesel station wagon. Though my wagon and the Hammer share certain similar exterior characteristics, there is absolutely no overlap in performance.

AMG practically invented 'eurostyle' in the 80s. The whole 'white out' approach of painting everything that could be painted and tacking on air dams became the new standard in car design. When was the last time you saw a new car with a contrasting color bumper? Or, gasp, a chrome bumper?

This is a Mercedes 560 SEC, not a W124. The seller also says this car was not created by a tuner, but AMG and Renntech were both tuners at the time (in 1999, AMG has became part of DaimlerChrysler.) But these are nitpicks and do not pay this car its due. The ebay ad is more entertaining and informative than an entire issue of European Car magazine. The highpoint of the ad is the invoice. A sample line item:
Labor to Remove, Crate, Ship and Replace Interior
To and From California $2000
The invoice total is a mind boggling $202,370.70. You'd think they would have rounded it down to an even $202,370. A true 'spare no expense' project. I would love to see the entire invoice. $700 for window tinting and 2 hours for mounting and balancing the tires seem a little excessive, but I am not accustomed to high-end work.

If Mercedes can be accused of over engineering, then AMG is practically criminal. The DOHC AMG heads are notoriously problematic and no wonder. Retrofitting an engine with double the cams? It's like a modern Ardun. No wonder Renntech reverted back to the SOHC heads. Not a cheap retrofit, but when you are already in for $200k, what is another $20K?

So, it is an absolute period piece, it is way ahead of it's time, the documentation and provenence seem solid, the performance is amazing and it has been fastidiously maintained. So, why am I not buying it? First of all, it's white. Second of all, it is the single most gold package automobile on earth - even though it is without the actual gold package. This thing looks ridiculous! This car screams, 'I snort my coke off a glass coffee table!' Its the Patrick Nagel of automobiles. This thing is more black lacquer than black lacquer.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

What does fast look like? Part V

Dominic sent me a photo of his bad ass Nambian-built, Toyota 2WD pick-up based Uri off-road vehicle. It is impossibly cool and there is nothing like it stateside. I have always been a sucker for light 2WD off-road vehicles as it seems so much faster to fly over the rocks than climb them with a four-wheel drive.

The ultimate 4WD 'looks fast as hell' has got to be the Parnelli/Stroppe Baja Bronco. As a kid these looked so damn cool and AFX even made a slot car version of the baja-style Bronco. If you can tolerate tinkly midi embedded web music, follow the link backwards for all the cool AFX slot cars. Turns out I am not that strong.

Not having read about the Parnelli/Stroppe Bronco since I was six years old, I had no idea it was such a high performance, high tech, TIG welded chrome moly tube pure race car (Check out the PJ in the grill. ) The completely handmade custom aluminum body is exquisite in its detail and craftsmanship. In the photo above, check out the slight lip on the rear wheel well radius - beautiful.

This truck looks fast as hell. The flat black hood, the hood pins, the fantastically over the top wing, all the freehand painting, the cartoon-y Bronco logo, the open face helmets and goggles and best of all, sponsored by Olympia beer. Makes me want to immediately put on my macrame beer can hat and have a cold one in a freeway bag.

Seemingly hours into W124 Mercedes ownership, I was very nearly stranded in a parking lot as the key refused to turn. Mercedes quality, engineering, overengineering, reliability and unreliability is a topic of nearly limitless discussion as evidenced by the "Is Merecedes too troublesome?" (sic) thread on the fantastic ShopForum site. It's true, Mercedes can be million mile cars but they require meticulous maintence, which means a spotless ownership record. My 1987 300TD is a one family car with a thick manila folder of repair receipts but I am not fooling myself. Ownership of an aging Mercedes is not for the empty pocketed optimist.

Anyway, I searched through all the ShopForum threads and found this unlikely sounding solution to jiggle the errant tumblers into submission by way of palm sander. It sounded like bullshit. It sounded like something a farmer would say while stroking his beard, like the time he jammed a wad of chewing tobacco in a crankcase that threw a rod. In short, a bar stool repair scenario that even the drunks are starting to believe. But I'll be dipped if it didn't work. Just a squirt of miracle product PB Blaster Miracle Nut Buster and a palm sander and I was able to turn the key and remove the lock cylinder per factory procedure.

This tip is Babar approved!

Monday, February 21, 2005

1987 Mercedes 300TD

Though it looks like any other 1980's Mercedes E-class, this is actually a very rare 1987 Mercedes 300 TD (Touring Diesel) station wagon and it is the newest addition to the Hooptyrides fleet. This is the second 1987 300TD that I have owned which I immediately regretted selling. And I have continued to regret.

From the Mercedes Illustrated Buyer's Guide:

The modest 300E hides its capabilities... The 300E is among the world's best cars for the driver. Precise steering and comfortable ride make them particularly good long-distance cars... Discussing the handling of these cars is academic. Anything that you can do to break them loose on the public road is not only irresponsible and illegal, but also unlikely.
With absolute conviction, I can say, the 1987 Mercedes 300TD is one of the very best automobiles ever made. Though I don't have 7 friends, should I acquire a few more, I will be able to bring them with me in absolute comfort. It is a 6 cylinder turbo charged diesel and it was only available in 1987. The W124 body cars (the 80s E-classes) were the last true Mercedes that felt like they were machined from a single block of steel. Though diesel is often snickered at as being a poor performer and a black smoky mess, it does not tell the true appeal of diesel. First off, the smoke. Hell yes it smokes. Big clouds of smoke. That fits clearly into my favorite category of problems - the Department of Somebody Else's Problem. If I drove the car from the rear bumper, it would be my problem.

Sure, the prior 4 and 5 cylinder, non-turbo charged diesels were slow as hell, but that's why the 1987 Mercedes 300TD is so great. Only 1987 saw the full 6 cylinder diesel performance. The acceleration is not bristling, but the speed is absolute. At high speed, the Mercedes W124's hunkers down and holds the road like no other car. The driver feels absolutely connected, aware and uncommonly safe. It is a car for individuals that enjoy driving and don't want to be divorced from the action. It is a car of respect. I do not feel abused and cheated as I do in most modern cars.

The W124 represent an absolute end of a marquee. Mercedes Benz has sold its soul as they tried to be more like BMW and Lexus. They lost the uniquely Mercedes feel of absolute integrity as they tried to build a light and nimble car like the BMW. The new Daimler Chrysler's are not Mercedes' and they failed to be as good at being a BMW as BMWs already are.

The 300TD is not a Bugatti or a Porsche GT, it is a car for practical people that want to be treated tenderly. It is a transition car - a throughly modern driver that still has a soul. I will buy as many 1987 300TDs as I can find and keep them in mothballs in the desert so I will never have be without.

Just to get it sorted, a carefully selected used Mercedes will require initial year repairs equal to the purchase price of the car. And for ever after, you will spend that initial purchase price again and again. A poorly researched and carelessly selected Mercedes has no upper monetery limit. $1000s of dollars per month until you cry uncle.

Recently, I was very impressed by a stylish and subtle homemade hood ornament. Since I debadged the 300TD to further its stealth qualities, I am in the market for such a hood ornament. The elephant is pretty damn close. The aesthetics, materials and quality of knitting are dead on, though I think the scale is off. Just a little bigger would be perfect.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Sometimes, once you start buying original equipment Mercedes wheels, you just can't stop. These wheels escaped the ridiculous chrome plating craze of the 80s which is second in stupidity only to the ridiculous gold plating craze of the 80s. In its absolute zenith of class, the wheels would be chromed and the Mercedes center emblem would be gold plated. Mercedes dealers would gold plate the emblems and add a 'Gold Package' line item to the window sticker.

There is no greater put down than to call somebody 'Gold Package.'

Miraculously, the new exhaust system for the 1961 Mercedes 190b has arrived. It is suprising that USPS will allow something to be shipped that is packaged like this. The only thing that separates this from an incendinary device is a fuse and a wind up alarm clock. Much more terrifying than appearances was the price tag. Cost more than I paid for the Mercedes.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

What does fast look like? Part IV (Disappointingly, fast appears to be subjective)

Ben Kraal sent me an email to make the case for Mazda RX-3 replete with enough doodads to shame an Indian passenger bus. On paper, this seems like a slam dunk for fast. Four round headlights, a black gaping grill, bolt-on fender flares, a none too subtle front spoiler and a pair of screwy rear view mirrors nearly mounted on the bumper. If 'first rear view mirror to cross the finish line, wins', this RX-3 would indeed be fast.

But it looks like a cheap Chinese toy and they didn't know when to stop adding chrome bits. Looks like the London East End wide boys. Looks like a Datsun B-210 Honeybee circa 1981 with a $100 Pep Boys gift certificate.

Holy camber!

To make his case, Ben sent a link to coverage of a Tokyo Classic Car show that is side splittingly funny. Though comical, this Carol 600 is a seriously clean race car despite the rear tires looking like some sort of flotation device. Check out the interior shots (1, 2).

And this little pickup is so cute that I could just kick it.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

What does fast look like? Part III

The Hurst Barricuda "Hemi Under Glass" was A Rolling Research Laboratory. It said so, right on the door. The idea was to move the Hemi engine over the rear wheels to improve traction but the result was immediate wheel standers at every launch.

Yesterday, I couldn't remember where I had seen the understated but wicked fast gold and black color combination. I thought it was from a Trans-Am era BOSS Mustang, but while driving on the freeway, I remembered it was the Hemi Under Glass.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Garage Life, Part II

Thankfully I am in possession of Garage Life magazine number 22 and it only cost $29. It turns out the Kinikuniya is indeed in Little Tokyo, nearly impossible to find on the second floor of Weller Court.

Perhaps Garage Life 22 is the best magazine of all time. It is difficult to say and it is early to make a statement so bold. The competition is considerable - the New Yorker about the guy that jammed his house full of teacups and stolen rare books, the Smithsonian with the American Chestnut, the Harpers about the Museum of Jurassic Technology, the 1918 National Geographic with the 20 page article on the North American Beaver - but Garage Life can not be oversold. It is a terrifically obsessive magazine about individuals insanely maniacal about garages. I have posted the most extreme garage, but there are other equally compelling articles about smaller, less dramatic garages that are even more precious. I can't scan the whole damn magazine.

In the center diagram you can see the poodle run with the poodle's three small trees. Below that are what appears to be the poodles collars, which are named: Carrera,Targa, Ruf Porsche, Cayenne and Modena. Just under the collars is a photo of the poodle toy display case. It's nice this fellow is not obsessive only about cars.

The center covered atrium is remarkably similar to the Philip Johnson Rockefeller Townhouse. Except, instead of a single, perfectly groomed tree for contemplation, there is a Ferrari F40.

This Philip Johnson townhome was at East 52nd. If anybody knows what the status of this house, I would love to hear an update. My knowledge stops at a 1989 Sotheby's auction catalog. Who bought it?

I assume that left side vent photograph explains how the occupants are not poisoned by carbon monoxide.

The Philip Johnson townhouse was commissioned by Mrs. John D. Rockfeller. She gave it to MoMA in 1958 and those dumbasses sold in the 1964. Remind me to never give MoMA anything beyond admission fees.

Initially, I thought this garage/house was obsessive, but now it makes perfect sense to me. Just like the Philip Johnson Townhouse. Not quite as pure and minimal as the townhouse and I could do with 4-5 fewer poodles, but still, it all seems quite reasonable.

Nostalgic Hero, or What does fast look like? Part II

While searching for Garage Life magazine, I stumbled upon this astonishing magazine. I am a sentimentalist to be sure, but nobody has ever called me Nostalgic Hero. Someday.

The Skyline GT-R holds a reverential place in Japanese auto history without a parallel in the United States. There is no single car in Europe or the US that commands the respect of the Skyline. The Mustang? A Cobra? A Mini Cooper S? The fact that there is no one US/Europe car, that it is open to argument, is what separates it from the singular legend that the Skyline holds.

This is what fast looks like. Grills should be a black, gaping void. Functional spoilers are a must. The screw on fender flares are too damn cool and over the wide tires with black Panasports? That is a bad ass look. The discreet exhaust right in front of the tire - best I have seen since the Trident Exhaust. The oil cooler on the front looks damn serious, especially when you hit the parking stop at the liqour store.

Please contact Hooptyrides Consulting to discuss our new production automobile, the Competition.

Like this GT-R, like a 2002, like a Datsun 510, the Hooptyrides Competition will be a squared off sedan with an actual trunk. The edges will be sharper than a 510 and the hood will dip in the center a little more than this GT-R. That ridge on the bottom of the GT-R door will be kept and played up a little. There will be removable fender flares that will extend over the stock tires and optional larger fender flares will be available to bolt on for race day tires mounted on black Panasports or magnesium look Torque Thrust-Ds.

  • Gaping black abyss of a grill
  • Four round headlights to cover with masking tape
  • A functional trunk with brackets for the optional fuel cell
  • Optional 6 KC light bar over the roof for rallying or driving through Manchuria
  • Black bullet rearview mirrors
  • Stick shift with a cue ball knob
  • All interior trim will be removable
  • Serious racy seats like the Recaros in the old Scirocco's
  • Removable metal bumpers
Available in a host of serious color combinations - 76 ball orange and blue, Sunoco cobalt and yellow, McLaren orange, Martini bright white with red and blue stripes, Gulf GT-40 orange and blue, psychedelic Porsche 917 blue and green and my favorite, a color combination that I can not find, a deep, deep gold with fat black racing stripes down the middle. All cars will have a black outlined white circle on the doors - ready for your number on race day.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Garage Life

The Kinikuniya book store in the Little Tokyo Yaohan center had a fantastic selection of Japanese magazines. I would devote hours to reading Cutie, Fruits, Gothic Lolita, Smart, the drifting magazines, the classic car magazines and the endless volumes on importing and customizing the Chevy Astro van.

I am, admittedly, obsessive about my garage. I view it as an end in itself. Certainly, it is a tool and the path to completing all sorts of projects but the garage needs to stand alone. A garage that makes no apologies. I am always shocked when people don't want to hang out in the garage. I even had a jukebox to sweeten the deal. It didn't work and now Sammy has it.

As long as you are obsessively interested in something, you will eventually find a Japanese magazine that seems like it was written for no one else. Whether interested in Western shirts, Levis, bomber jackets, Coleman camping equipment, Red Wing boots, retro sneakers or Rolex watches, there is a magazine for you. And these are no flimsy get rich quick schemes; they are beautifully printed, wonderfully photographed and exhaustive. True labors of love by passionate individuals.

The magazine written for me is called Garage Life. Insane coverage of absolutely sick garages. The more sane Japanese garage owners had floor to ceiling windows separating living space from garage so they could keep an eye on their Bugattis and Alfa Romeos. If I had a Bugatti, I would probably want to keep an eye on it, too. Those that slipped over the edge had cars in their bedrooms. In a country where people are expected to sleep in a chest of drawers, a garage must be quite a luxury. Stupidly, I didn't buy a copy of Garage Life, and when I thought better of it a couple of weeks later, Kinokuniya had abandoned their Little Tokyo outpost and pointed me to some far Orange County beach. Ostensibly, I could order online from their West Coast location but it is awfully confusing and lord knows what I would end up with. $20 for a fish head would be a lousy way to start the day.

There is hope, as it appears they have opened a new Little Tokyo location hidden on the second floor of a mystery address.